PFOA : Ezra 6
The scheme of Israel’s enemies backfired on themselves. They were hoping for a repeat performance by sending the letter of complaint and warning to King Darius. But this time Darius’ archivists were more thorough and managed to retrieve the scroll containing Cyrus’ original decree that allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. Assistance was to be accorded them, including the return of the holy treasures of the temple that were used for worship.
Based on this, Darius issued a new decree, affirming the permission for Jews to rebuild the temple and further instructing their adversaries in the area not to hinder them but to assist them with materials and funds from the taxes collected in their provinces.
So the temple was completed and there was a great celebration. Since the destruction for the temple by the Babylonians, the Jews no longer had an altar to perform their sacrifices. Synagogues were established during the period of the captivity, but the purpose of these was for prayer and teaching. Without the temple, there could be no sacrifices. You can imagine their great joy at the dedication of the temple with the sacrifices of bulls, rams and lambs (v. 16.17).
And “on April 21 the returned exiles celebrated Passover” for the first time in the new temple (Ezra 6:19, NLT). Incidentally, Jews are celebrating the Passover on April 22-30, 2016.
Historical research informs us that for Cyrus, the Jews were not the only ones who were allowed to return to their former land to worship their god in their own way. This freedom was also given to other nations to restore their religious worship. Darius clarified the motivation for such an enlightened rule: “Then they will be able to offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the welfare of the king and his sons” (v. 10). The king’s subjects were less likely to rebel if they prayed to their gods for the king and his descendants. Looking at it the other way, the king now had some influence on their religions.
In many societies, traditional conservative social values are being abandoned in favour of progressive, secular, pluralistic and humanistic ones. Early this year proposals were debated in Britain to require Sunday schools, madrasahs and after-school clubs to be registered if they provide more than 6 hours of education a week. Although targeted at the Islamic madrasahs, a few of which were putting children at risk of abuse and radicalisation, it is to be implemented “even-handedly” and across the board. The proposal seeks to identify “unsuitable staff” and “undesirable teaching”. “British values” are cited as the criteria and churches are questioning what this means. Christian views on creation, marriage and the exclusiveness of the gospel can be viewed as undesirable and intolerant. The Biblical stand on homosexual behaviour is construed to be homophobic, instigating hate.
The adversary of our faith does not always directly threaten the church with force or persecution. He can be most effective using subversive and insidious means. It is no wonder that our Lord Jesus in his messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor looked for those that stood firm in the faith, that have overcome the temptations and attacks of the evil one (Rev. 2-3).
Dr Tony Chan