THE RETURN OF THE FAITHFUL REMNANT OF JUDAH
Part I: YESHUA AND ZERUBBABEL LEAD THE FIRST RETURN
Biblical Period 9
Lesson # 21

Lord of the mighty and the meek,
This lesson reminds us that meekness is not weakness.  When we are meek we seek our strength in You: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."  When the Children of Israel obediently yielded themselves to You, Lord, You put in motion the plan to return them to the land you had promise their father, Abraham.  The journey back was almost as difficult as the journey that took them into Exile and yet their hearts were encouraged because they were going home.  Our journey thought this life is often just as rugged but we know that the success of that journey is not determined by the fat paycheck or the praise of our peers, but by what lies at the end of the earthly journey.  Beloved Holy Spirit guide us in our study and give us the wisdom and insight to apply the lessons of the struggles Old Testament Covenant people to our own lives.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 "The forgetting of the Law and the infidelity to the covenant end in death: it is the Exile, apparently the failure of the promises, which is in fact the mysterious fidelity of the Savior God and the beginning of a promised restoration, but according to the Spirit.  The People of God had to suffer this purification.  In God's plan, the Exile already stands in the shadow of the Cross, and the Remnant of the poor that returns from the Exile is one of the most transparent prefigurations of the Church."  CCC# 710

"This is what Yahweh says: 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you,' declares Yahweh, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
-Jeremiah 29:10-11

In approximately 594BC this was the prophecy of hope given to the doomed covenant people of Judah by the Prophet Jeremiah.  The seventy-year period began with the destruction of the Temple in 586BC by the Babylonians and the exile of the people.  The debt was completed with the return and the rebuilding of the Temple in 5l6BC. The 70-year captivity was the debt Judah owed Yahweh for the 490 years in the Promised Land that the 7th year Sabbath rest had not been observed. 

"In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia--to fulfill the word of Yahweh through Jeremiah--Yahweh roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom: Cyrus king of Persia says this,' Yahweh, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  Whoever there is among you belongs to the full tally of his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem, in Judah and let each survivor, wherever he lives, be helped by the people of his locality with sliver, gold, equipment and riding beasts, as well as voluntary offerings for the Temple of God which is in Jerusalem." Ezra 1:1-4

Readings for Biblical period #9: THE RETURN OF JUDAH

Cyrus, King of Persia and the Decree of Return 2 Chronicles 36:22-23;
Isaiah 44:28; 45:1-13;
Daniel 10:1
Return of the Exiles Ezra 1:1-2:70
The Summons to Rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem Haggai 1:1-15
The 8 Visions of the Prophet Zechariah Zechariah 1:1-6:15
The Jerusalem Temple is Rebuilt Ezra 3:1-6:22
Ezra Returns to Jerusalem Ezra 7:1-8:36
The Reforms of Ezra Ezra 9:1-10:44
Esther, Queen of Persia Esther 1:1-10:3
Nehemiah Returns
Jerusalem's Walls Are Rebuilt
Nehemiah 3:1-4:23
Ezra Reads the Law to the People Nehemiah 8:1-9:38
The Prophecy of Malachi Malachi 3:1-3; 3:19-24
Alexander the Great and
the Conquest of the Levant
1 Maccabees 1:1-10

The events in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther took place during the rule of the Medo-Persian Empire.  These two kingdoms (the Persians would become dominant) came from northeast Mesopotamia which is present day Iran.  The Medes and the Persians joined forces to defeat the Babylonians whose homeland was modern day Iraq. (note of interest: Sadam Hussein had been rebuilding the ancient city of Babylon; it was his goal to restore to old Babylonian Empire).  The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther return to the Biblical theme of the preservation of the faithful remnant, the "holy seed" promised in Genesis 3:15 from which the Messiah will come.

Some of the prophecies fulfilled by the return of Israel from exile:

Scripture Reference Prophecy when made date fulfilled Significance
Isaiah 44:28 Cyrus would be used by God to guarantee the return of a remnant.  Jerusalem would & the Temple would be rebuilt 688BC 539BC God named Cyrus, "shepherd," even before he was born. God knows every- thing.  God controls history! Cyrus, king of Persia 559-530BC
Jeremiah 25:12 Babylon would be punished for destroying Jerusalem and exiling God's people 605BC 539BC Babylon was conquered by Cyrus of Persia. God may seem to allow evil to go unpunished but consequences for sin are inevitable
Jeremiah 29:10 Judah would spend 70 years in exile, after which God would bring His people back to their land. 594BC 538BC Cyrus allows the return of the Jews to their homeland.  The 70 years of captivity can span the years from the first deportation to the first return (70 yrs) or from the destruction of Solomon's Temple in 586BC to the building of the Second Temple in 516BC= 70 yrs.
Daniel 5:17-30 God had judged Babylon and her empire would be given to the Medes and Persians who would be the next world power 539BC 539BC Belshazzar was killed that night in a surprise Persian invasion.  God's judgment is inevitable; until that time He allows us the freedom to repent and to seek His forgiveness.

 

EZRA LEADS THE SECOND RETURN
THE BOOK OF EZRA (ESDRAS I)

Tradition credits Ezra with writing most of 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Psalm 119.  The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are a continuation of the history found in II Chronicles. Ezra is also credited in Jewish tradition with leading the council of 120 men who established the first record of an Old Testament canon.  Ezra's name in Hebrew means "help".  This priest/scribe was surely Yahweh's "help" sent to help the people return to the land of Judah.

The book of Ezra begins in the year 538/7 BC, 50 years after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, defeating the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and carrying the people away to Babylon as captives. Just as Jeremiah and Daniel had prophesied, the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians in 539 BC.  The Persians allowed the captives to own land and to rise to prominent positions within the nation (i.e. Daniel and Mordecai, consolers to kings and Esther, queen of Persia) but King Cyrus went a step further in 538 BC when he allowed many groups of exiles, including the Jews, to return to their homelands.  These groups probably included a faithful remnant of Israelites who returned to the Galilee.  Although their return is not recorded in the Bible, the Gospels clearly indicate that these Israelites of the Galilee did not drift into the schism of the people of Samaria but were faithful to the Temple and the Old Covenant sacred assembly centered in Jerusalem.

Just as the Jews were taken out of Judah in 3 waves of exiles (605, 597, 586BC), they were to return in 3 successive stages.  The book of Ezra relates the story of two of the returns from Babylon'the first led by Zerubbabel to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple in 538-7BC (Ch. 1-6) and the second under the leadership of Ezra, the priest and scribe, to rebuilt the spiritual condition of the people in 458BC (Ch 7-10). The 3rd and final stage would be led by Nehemiah in 444BC.  Israel's second Exodus is not as impressive as the first because only a faithful remnant returned.  Sadly many Jews chose to remain in Persia.  Persian records indicate that many Jews in exile had accumulated great wealth.  These people preferred wealth and security to the sacrifice that God's work would require in rebuilding their homes in Judah; perhaps their condition was like what Jesus spoke of in the Gospel of Mark: "Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful."  -Mark 4:18-19.

SUMMARY THE BOOK OF EZRA

BIBLICAL PERIOD #9  THE REMNANT OF JUDAH RETURNS
FOCUS RESTORATION OF THE TEMPLE RENEWAL OF THE TEMPLE
COVENANT THE SINAI COVENANT
SCRIPTURE 1:1-------------3:1---------------------7:1------------------9:1--------------10:44
DIVISION The First Exiles of Judah Return The Rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem The Second Return of the Exiles The Spiritual Restoration of the People
TOPIC Joshua and Zerubbabel Ezra
First return = 49,897 Second return = 1,754
LOCATION PERSIA TO JERUSALEM PERSIA TO JERUSALEM
TIME 22 years [538 -516 BC]
Edict of Cyrus to the dedication  of the Temple in Jerusalem
1 year [458 - 457 BC]

TIME LINE BC
WORLD EMPIRE: PERSIA

Judah vassal state of Persia-----------------------------------------------------Greek Empire--Hellenistic States------

538               516               483-473                 458                  444       336             323                     250

1st return     Temple in     Esther Queen    2nd return    3rdreturn      Alexander   Alexander      Greek
of exiles      Jerusalem    of Persia               w/ Ezra        Nehemiah   the Great    dies                translation
to Judah      rebuilt           rebuilds walls                                                 invades                              of O. T. =
                                          of Jerusalem                                                  Persia                                Septuagint

Please read 2 Chronicles 36:22-23;
Isaiah 44:28; 45:1-13;
Daniel 10:1: Cyrus, King of Persia and the Decree of Return

Question: When did the Prophet Isaiah make his prophecy about Cyrus of Persia?  What is the paradox of the title conferred upon the as yet unborn Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1?

Answer: The paradox is that this is a royal enthronement title conferred on a foreign ruler who does not "know" Yahweh in covenant. Cyrus is prophesied by name and receives the title of Yahweh's "anointed one" which has been reserved for the kings of Israel up to this time and which will became the title of the future "Savior-King".  If you do not accept the multiple Isaiah theory that two or three men wrote the Book of Isaiah, a suggestion found no where in any ancient Jewish or Christian commentary, then this prophecy was made over a century before the birth of Cyrus.

Modern scholars who reject prophetic prophecy have proposed the multiple Isaiah theory as an explanation for how Cyrus' name and the prophecy of the return to Judah and the building of the Temple could be introduced to the Biblical text over a century before these events occurred.  Their theory is that instead of God ordained prophecy, a second Isaiah living at the time of Cyrus introduced this king's name into the Biblical record as though Isaiah had written a prophetic statement.  Isaiah began his prophetic ministry c. 740 BC and his ministry continued for 40 years until his martyrdom c. 700 BC.  Cyrus II the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, became king of Anshan, a vassal kingdom of the Medes in 559 BC.  He conquered Babylon in 539 BC and issued his decree allowing the conquered peoples of the Babylonian Empire to return to their ancestral lands. He was killed in battle in 529BC. Cyrus' name in Persian kurash means "shepherd" and so Isaiah makes a play on the words in Isaiah 44:28 when he writes "..  say to Cyrus, 'My shepherd.'  He will perform my entire will by saying to Jerusalem, 'You will be rebuilt,' and to the Temple, 'You will be refounded.' ".." In Hebrew Cyrus' name is koresh.

Please read Ezra 1:1-2:70: Return of the Exiles

Question: What is the mission of the first group of returning exiles lead by prince Sheshbazzar of Judah?

Answer: To rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem.

Question: What was the number of returnees in the first groups and how does this number compare to the census of the people of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in Numbers 1:27-28 and 36-37?

Answer: The total number of the returnees from both tribes was 49,897 where as the numbers of men only from the tribe Judah coming out of Egypt had been 74,600 and for Benjamin 35,400.  The majority of the people decided to remain in Persia.

Please read Haggai 1:1-15: The Summons to Rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem

Haggai was among the last of the post-exile prophets, along with Zechariah and Malachi.  His prophetic ministry is precisely dated from the end of August to the middle of December 520 BC.  The first wave of returnees were soon deeply discouraged by what they found in their homeland.  The task of rebuilding their homes and establishing their fields seemed overwhelming.  Their leaders Zerubbabel, a descendant of David who was serving as the Persian governor of Judah, and Joshua the high priest were also discouraged and had not yet begun rebuilding the Temple. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were called by God to encourage the people and their leaders.

Question:  What is Yahweh's command through his prophet Zechariah to Zerubbabel, Joshua [Hebrew = Yehosua or Yeshua, English = Jesus], and the faithful remnant?  What blessing is promised if this command is fulfilled?

Answer: The command is to rebuild the Temple and that prosperity would follow.  The people and their leaders were obedient to God and the work on the Temple began on the 24th of August c. 520 BC.

Question: What is significant about Zerubbabel in God's plan of salvation? See Matthew 1:12 and Luke 3:27.

Answer: In the genealogies of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew [traditionally understood to be Joseph's lineage = the legal line] and in the Gospel of Luke [traditionally understood to be the lineage of Mary = the physical line], from King David the line splits between David's sons Solomon [Matthew] and Nathan [Luke] but is restored in the person of Zerubbabel. Zeruabbabel becomes the center of the messianic line, sealing both branches together.  It is the fulfillment of the prophecy made by Haggai in Haggai 2:22-23

Question: What is the two-fold focus of Haggai's message of restoration?

Answer: Restoration of the Temple and restoration of the people of the covenant.

Please read Zechariah 1:1-6:15: The 8 Visions of the Prophet Zechariah

Zechariah's first prophecy is dated October-November 520, two months after the first prophecy of Haggai.  The prophet's 8 visions, begin in February 519 BC.  Like his brother prophet Haggai, Zechariah is concerned with the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, but he is even more concerned with the spiritual restoration of the nation and the moral conduct of commitment to a life of holiness that is required of a covenant people.

The Eight Visions of Zechariah

VISION SCRIPTURE
1. The Horses among the Myrtle Trees 1:7 - 17
2. The Four Horns and Four Craftsmen 2:1 - 4
3. The Man with the Measuring Line 2:5 - 17
4. The Cleansing of Joshua, the High Priest 3:1 - 10
5. The Golden Lampstand and Olive Trees 4:1 - 14
6. The Flying Scroll 5:1 - 4
7. The Woman in the Bushel Measure 5:5 - 11
8. The Four Chariots and the Votive Crown 6:1 - 15

Zechariah's visions are filled with vivid and mysterious symbols.  An angel interprets some of the visions but leaves other symbols unexplained.  Like the visions of all the prophets, Zechariah sees only the peaks of God's plan without viewing the intervening valleys.  These visions mix God's plans for the future of Judah's enemies, restoration of the Temple, and of the first advent of the promised Messiah.

Please read vision #1 The Horses among the Myrtle Trees in Zechariah 1:7-17

Question: What are the 70 years that the angel of the Lord refers to in verse 12?

Answer: The 70 years of exile in Babylon [see Jeremiah 25:1-14].

Question: Who are the "nations now at ease" or the "complacent nations"?

Answer: Judah's neighbors who have profited at her expense.

Question: What does Yahweh tell the "Angel of the Lord" to promise Zechariah?  This promise is repeated 3 times in verses 14, 16, & 17.

Answer: Yahweh will be compassionate and will restore Jerusalem.

Please read vision #2 The Four Horns and Four Craftsmen in Zechariah 1:18-21

Question: What are the 4 horns and the 4 smiths or craftsmen?

Answer: In Scripture horns are symbolic of power and strength.  These are the four nations that were hostile to Judah. These 4 nations may be the Aramians, Assyria, Egypt, and Babylonia or the horns may represent any of the nations that were hostile to the covenant people since the number 4 symbolizing universality [4 is the number of the earth].  The 4 smiths are the angelic powers who will bring God's judgment upon those nations.

Please read vision #3 The Man with the Measuring Line 2:5 - 17

This vision is similar to Ezekiel's vision in Ezekiel chapter 41. 

Question: What message does the angel with the measuring-line give to Zechariah in verses 5-9?

Answer: That Yahweh Himself will defend Jerusalem and be a "wall" against her enemies.

In verses 10-13 the people are encouraged to flee Babylon and return to their land before Persia [Babylon] is plundered by those she has enslaved [the Greek invasion].  This is followed by a promise in verses 13 and 14 that is reminiscent of Ezekiel 34:11-25 "For the Lord Yahweh says this: Look, I myself shall take care of my flock and look after it.  As a shepherd looks after his flock when he is with his scattered sheep, so shall I look after my sheep.  I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered on the day of clouds and darkness. [...]  I shall rise up a shepherd, my servant David, and put him in charge of them to pasture them; he will pasture them and be their shepherd.  I, Yahweh, shall be their God, and my servant David will be ruler among the.  I, Yahweh, have spoken. I shall make a covenant of peace with them."

Question: What is the promise of this prophecy in Zechariah 2:5-17?

Answer: The coming of the Good Shepherd, pointing to Jesus the Messiah, son of David.

There is also a warning in 2:6-7 to the captives who did not return to Jerusalem. They are urged to leave quickly because Babylon would be destroyed and because its sinful pagan culture would cause God's people to stray from their call to holiness.  The majority of the people rejected these warnings and remained in Babylon.  Only a small faithful remnant returned.

Question: What promise is given in verses 9-12?

Answer: The "Me" may refer to the Messiah, who will judge all who have oppressed God's holy people and who will then come to live among His own people [fulfilled in the Incarnation of Christ].

Please read vision #4 The Cleansing of Joshua, the High Priest in verses 3:1 - 10

The key to the interpretation of this passage is found in verses 8-10.

Question: According to verses 8-10 when is this vision to be fulfilled and by whom?  See Jeremiah 23:5

Answer: In the future and by the "Branch", the Messiah whose name we know will be Jesus or Joshua, the same name as the high priest of the return from exile. 

Question: Keeping in mind that this vision concerns Jesus the Messiah as well as Joshua the priest as the representative of the covenant people, in Zechariah 3:1-3 why does Satan accuse the high priest Joshua before God's throne and why is Joshua dressed in dirty clothes?

Answer: The dirty clothes represent the sins of the covenant people and all of mankind.  At the heavenly court the angel of Yahweh presides over a court of justice and Satan [literally "the accuser"], the enemy of humanity, stands ready to accuse mankind represented by the priest Joshua. 

Question: Why are the dirty clothes removed?

Answer:  The dressing of Joshua the priest in clean robes represents the redemption of mankind through the redeeming work of the "Branch" who will "remove this country's guilt in a single day." [verse 10], a prophecy fulfilled on Passion Friday 30AD. 

Question: What is the significance of the angel's declaration to Joshua in verses 5-9?

Answer: Joshua is no longer addressed just as a representative of the people.  This is a personal promise pointing to a future priesthood and another "anointed one" who will serve as the people's covenant representative.

Question: What is the "stone" with 7 eyes [the New American translates this line as "with 7 facets"?

Answer: The stone is probably meant to represent the New Covenant Church, which God the Holy Spirit [7 eyes] will fill and indwell.

Question: Who is it who will be the future covenant representative who will have charge over the "house" or Church of Yahweh and who will hold the "stone with the 7 eyes", which represents God the Holy Spirit who keeps vigilance over the whole earth [see Zechariah 4:10 and Revelation 5:6].  See Matthew 16:16-18

Answer: Simon Peter and the future Popes of the New Covenant priesthood.

Question: What is the significance of 3:8-10 of "the Branch" and "On that day invite each other to come under your vine and your fig tree."

Answer: The vine and fig tree are symbols of Israel/ the Old Covenant Church. It was also the custom to gather together to study Scripture under a fig tree.  The fig tree and the "Branch" are also connected in John 1:46-48.  In that passage Philip has told Nathanael that he has found the Messiah.  Nathanael is skeptical until Jesus, the Branch, tells Nathanael "Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree." And Nathanael replies "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel."  Why would that simple statement elicit such a power response from Nathanael?  Had Nathanael been reading the visions of Zechariah about Joshua/Jesus in chapters 2 and 6 and put these passages together with Jesus statement about seeing him under a fig tree to reach the conclusion that this man was indeed the Messiah?

Please read vision #5 The Golden Lampstand and Olive Trees in 4:1 - 14

The New American translation of chapter 4 is missing some lines.  This is the New Jerusalem translation: "The angel who was talking to me came back and roused me as though rousing someone who was asleep.  And he asked me, 'What do you see?' I replied, 'As I look, there is a lampstand entirely of gold with a bowl at the top of it; it holds seven lamps, with seven openings for the lamps on it.  By it are two olive trees, one to the right and the other to the left.'  I then said to the angel who was talking to me. 'What are those things, my lord?'  The angel who was talking to me replied, 'Do you not know what they are?'  I said, 'No, my lord.'  He then gave me this answer,  'These seven are the eyes of Yahweh, which range over the whole world.'  Then I went on to ask him, 'What is the meaning of these two olive trees, to right and left of the lampstand?'  And I went on to ask him further, 'What is the meaning of the two olive branches discharging oil through the two golden openings?'  He replied, Do you not know what they are?'  I said, 'No, my lord.'  He said, 'These are the two anointed ones in attendance on the Lord of the whole world.' "

Question: What does the angel tell Zechariah the golden lampstand represents?  See Genesis chapter 1 and Revelation 5:6

Answer: He said these were the 7 eyes of Yahweh which range over the whole earth, in other words, God the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps you recall the "ruah" of God judging each of the days of creation and making 7 judgments in Genesis 14,10, 13, 19, 21, 25, & 30.   7 is the number of God the Holy Spirit.

Question: What do the two olive branches discharging oil symbolize?  Hint: Which of Yahweh's representatives were anointed and what offices do Joshua and Zerubbabel represent?

Answer:  Priests, prophets and kings are anointed.  Joshua and Zerubbabel represent spiritual and temporal power.  In Revelation 11:4 the two olive trees represent Elijah and Moses as the Law and the Prophets.  In this vision the two olive trees serve the sacred menorah supplying it with oil just as Joshua the anointed high priest and Zerubbabel, the anointed prince will serve Yahweh by ministering to the covenant community

In verses 6-10 Yahweh makes 3 statements about Zerubbabel:  [The New American translation has this passage in 4:4-10

  1. He will reduce the mountain rubble that was the Temple or the obstacles preventing its rebuilding so that it will be like moving across a "plain", symbolic of the ease in which he will overcome the difficulties, and from out of rubble he will recover the missing keystone or cornerstone with which to rebuild the Temple.
  2. Zerubbabel will both begin and finish the Temple.
  3. "How they will rejoice when they see the chosen stone in the hands of Zerubbabel."  This may be a Messianic statement referring to Psalms 118: 22-27 which begins "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornorstone.." and in verse 26 the Messianic cry "Blessed in the name of Yahweh is he who is coming!  If you remember the prophecy by Haggai in Haggai 2:22-23 you will recall that it is Zerubbabel who brings the two lines of Joseph and Mary together to make possible the birth of the Jesus the Messiah: the cornerstone the builders rejected.

Please read vision # 6 The Flying Scroll in 5:1-11

In this vision Zechariah sees a huge scroll about 30 feet by 15 feet, the dimensions in length and breath of the portico of Solomon's Temple [see 1 Kings 6:3].  The scroll is written on both sides with a list of the individual sins of the people similar to the sins listed in Deuteronomy 27:15-26.  The thief and the perjurer represent all sinners who, according to the Law of Moses, are to be excommunicated from the holy community.

Question: What other important covenant document was written on both sides?  See Exodus 32:15.

Answer: The 10 Commandments.  But there is also Ezekiel's scroll in Ezekiel 2:9-10 and St. John's scroll in Revelation 5:1 which are written on both sides.  The 10 Commandments are the framework of a Covenant document but Ezekiel's scroll and John's scrolls are covenant lawsuits written against and unrepentant Old Covenant Church. Ezekiel's scroll precedes the destruction of Jerusalem on the 9th of Av, 587/6BC and John's the destruction of Jerusalem on the 9th of Av, 70AD.  It is possible that Zechariah's flying scroll may be a warning against the Old Covenant Church since it corresponds to the size of the Temple entrance and since these series of visions point to the Messianic Age?

Please read vision # 7 The Woman in the Bushel Measure in 5:5-11

The sins of the individual were judged in the last vision and now the sin of the community is being removed. 

Question: What does the angel tell Zechariah the bushel and the woman represent?

Answer: The bushel barrel is the guilt of Judah and the woman is wickedness.

The past sins of Judah have been forgiven and the false goddesses have been removed from the land but they have only been taken as far as Shinar, the land of the Tower of Babel, representative of the Gentile nations [Iraq; see Genesis 11:2].  The land has been cleansed and the people purified but the sins of the past are ready to come back if the people welcome them.

Please read vision # 8 The Four Chariots and the Votive crown in 6:1-15

The four chariots are similar to the four horsemen in the first vision.  They are four angels sent out upon the earth by God's command.

Question: What does the angel tell Zechariah that the 4 chariots represent?

Answer: The four winds of the earth who move at God's bidding.  In Hebrew the word "ruah" means  wind, breath, or spirit.

Most commentaries interpret the chariots as patrolling the world calling the covenant people back to Judah, however, two sets of chariots travel north, another goes south, and the destination of the fourth chariot is unnamed, it could either be going east or west.  Since the covenant people of Judah have been in Babylon, which is directly to the east, the first interpretation seems flawed.  The other interpretation is that the chariots of Yahweh execute judgment on the earth. God does not tolerate sin and is angry with the wicked [Psalms 7:11].  His anger is expressed in judgment.  As much as we prefer to focus on God's love and mercy we cannot escape the fact that anger and judgment are also part of His righteous character.  Repentance and confession releases God's mercy and spares us from the full force of His righteous judgment.  The two sets of chariots going to the north may indicate that the next foreign power used to bring judgment on Judah's enemies may come from a northern invasion with the armies of Alexander the Great, the next world power.

After this vision come words of encouragement.

Question: What is Zechariah commanded to do?

Answer: He is commanded to crown Joshua.

Most scholars believe there is an error in the text here and that it is Zerubbabel's who should be crowned king.  Their point is well taken; Israel/ Judah was not permitted to have a priest-king.  The nation was to be governed by two distinct offices: secular and religious.  In fact, there was to be only one priest-king.  This passage only makes sense if it is about the Messiah Priest-King. God was revealing to His prophet that someone worthy of the crown of David would come to rule as both king and priest.  This man whose name is "Branch" [or Shoot] is the same one prophesized by Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; in Jeremiah 23:5; etc.

Question: In verse 13 this Branch who is crowned is prophesied to do what 3 things? 

Answer: He will form a dynasty, a "branching out"; he will rebuild the sanctuary of God and rule as a king with a priest "on his right".

This reference to a priest ruling with him is another reason many scholars believe there is an error and this passage is meant to be speaking of Zerubbabel.  However, the literal translation of the New Jerusalem text translation "with a priest on his right" should read "with a priest on his throne."  This passage only makes sense if Christ the High Priestly King is governing the Church He has built with a priest appointed by Him to rule His Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.  That man was Simon-Peter and today it is the successor of Simon-Peter, Pope John Paul II, who wears the papal crown and sits on a throne called the chair of Peter in Rome, the geographic center of the Universal Church.

Please read Ezra 3:1-6:22: The Jerusalem Temple is Rebuilt

The priest Jeshua is the same priest Joshua in the Zechariah passages.  For some unknown reason the New Jerusalem translation gives his names two different spellings.  Joshua the priest and Zerubbabel the governor had great Bronze Altar of Sacrifice erected on the old foundations of the previous altar and reinstituted the Tamyid daily sacrifice. 

Question: At what date were sacrifices resumed?  What feast day was the first day of the seventh month on the liturgical calendar?  See the 7 Sacred Feasts document for your answer.

Answer: Rosh Hashanah, "the feast of Trumpets", the civil year.

Two years after the return in c. 536 the foundation of the Temple was laid.  Ezra 3:13 reports that the celebration was so loud that the noise could be heard far way!  The Samaritans heard and wanted to help rebuild the Temple so they too could sacrifice there [Ezra 4:1-2] but Joshua and Zerubbabel and the other heads of Israelite families refused, and so the Samaritans set about making it impossible for them to continue building the Temple.  The work on the Temple ceased and was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius King of Persia in 520BC when Zerubbabel and Joshua again attempted to build the Temple.  Despite more outside interference the Temple was completed on the 23rd day of the month of Adar in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius, or in February/March 516/5 BC.  People who had remembered Solomon's Temple wept at the comparison between the two structures [Ezra 3:12], and unlike the desert Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon God did not light the fire of the sacrificial Altar nor did the Glory Cloud fill the Sanctuary.  The Holy of Holies did not contain the Ark of the Covenant--it was an empty room!  The next month on the 14th day of the month of Nisan [March/April] the returnees celebrated the Sacrifice of the Passover!

Questions for group discussion:

What were some of the problems the Returnees faced in their relationship or lack of a relationship with the Samaritans?

Why didn't the priesthood of Judah immediately embrace the Samaritans when they offered to help rebuild the Temple to Yahweh?

What dangers are there in too zealously embracing the spirit of ecumenism?   When is ecumenical compromise acceptable and when it is not possible?

Resources and recommended reading:

  1. Anchor Bible Commentaries: Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 Maccabees
  2. Navarre Bible Commentaries
  3. The History of Greece, Will Durant
  4. The Ancient Near East, Will Durant

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.