“Ezra” series: (post #2)
Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem. And all those who were around them encouraged them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered. (Ezra 1:5-6, N.K.J.V.)
When God relocated the people of Israel out of their enslavement in Egypt and into their promised land of Canaan, He had the Egyptians foot the bill. Even before He sent Moses back to Egypt to lead that exodus, He told him concerning Pharaoh:
“So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:20-22, N.K.J.V.)
God’s word on that matter did come to pass (Exodus 12:35-36), and the Israelites eventually used many of those Egyptian items to build the Tabernacle, Israel’s first site of worship (Exodus 25:1-9). That set a precedent for what would happen centuries later when God was ready to relocate some of the Jews out of their captivity in Babylon and into their homeland of Judah to build a new temple in Jerusalem. As our text verses tell us, all the Babylonian neighbors of those Jews encouraged (aided, helped, assisted) them by giving them articles of silver and gold, other precious things, and livestock.
Even Cyrus the Great, Persia’s king, gifted the returning Jews. As a matter of fact, he gave them the most important items of all. I’m talking about the holy, consecrated items that had previously been used in Solomon’s temple, the temple the Babylonians had destroyed. The Babylonians had loaded up all those items and carried them to Babylon in keeping with the erroneous idea that having the vessels from a rival god’s temple somehow transferred that god’s power to the new owners. Ezra 1:7-8 says regarding those items:
King Cyrus also brought out the articles of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and put in the temple of his gods; and Cyrus king of Persia brought them out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.
Following that passage, the chapter’s next three verses (verses 9-11) provide us with a partial listing of those items. The list reads as follows: 30 gold platters, 1,000 silver platters, 29 knives, 30 gold basins, 410 silver basins, and 1,000 other articles. Verse 11 says that in total the number of articles of gold and silver were 5,400. Each of those thousands of items had long ago been a part of the decor of Solomon’s temple.
If you know your Old Testament history, you know that some of these items had recently been used in Babylon by the Babylonian ruler Belshazzar. In Daniel chapter 5, we find the story of how Belshazzar threw an elaborate feast in honor of 1,000 of his lords. As the wine was flowing liberally at that feast, Belshazzar commanded that the gold and silver vessels from Jerusalem’s temple be brought forth, and Belshazzar, his guests, his wives, and his concubines proceeded to drink from those vessels and sing praises to the Babylonian gods who had defeated Israel’s god. But that same hour Belshazzar saw the fingers of a man’s hand appear out of thin air and start writing on one of the walls of the room. The handwriting read: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
Since none of the Babylonians could interpret the words, the elderly Jewish prophet Daniel, who had long ago been a part of that first wave of deportees who had been taken from Judah to Babylon, was called in to help. He explained to Belshazzar that the fingers of the hand had been sent from God and the words meant:
- MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it.
- TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.
- PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
That same night Belshazzar was put to death as Cyrus the Great’s Medo-Persian army captured Babylon, the capital city of the empire. Cyrus then placed a Mede named Darius in charge of the city while he himself ruled over the colossal Medo-Persian empire. Darius grew to have great respect for the elderly Daniel, and some commentators believe that God worked through Daniel’s wise counsel to prompt Cyrus to issue the decree that is recorded in the closing verses of 2 Chronicles and the opening verses of the Ezra.
As long as I am passing through here, let me also mention that the most famous item from Solomon’s temple is conspicuously absent from the list of items provided in Ezra 1:9-11. That item was the Ark of the Covenant. When Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian forces destroyed the temple and ransacked its items, did they not take the Ark of the Covenant back to Babylon? Evidently not. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, let me encourage you to read my blog series entitled “The Ark of the Covenant.” In those posts, I go into great detail about the history of the Ark and offer some possible explanations as to what happened to it.
For now, though, let me just wrap up this second post from the Ezra series by saying that when God flips a script, He really flips a script. When your former persecutors become your benefactors, you’ll know that God has flipped your script. When your former enemies become your supporters, you’ll know that God has flipped your script. When those who once worked against you start actively working for you, you’ll know that God has flipped your script. Do you believe that God still does such things? If you do, then don’t hesitate to ask Him to flip that script that has been hindering you for so long. Why should you hesitate to ask when it just could be that God’s handwriting on the wall stands ready and willing to pronounce the downfall of your oppressors and bring about a new status quo in which you will be able to move into a brighter future?