Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mystery Jerusalem Rising Ch 10 | True Prophets vs the Profitable Prophets - Part 2

In the last chapter, I showed the colossal failure of the monarchy. The monarchy corrupted the people, the priests, and the prophets. The end result was the people of God were deported from the Promised Land. In this chapter, I will show the work that God did in the midst of this failure to both preserve them and prepare them for the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus.

God acts according to the Elijah Principle
In 1 Kings 18, which records the great contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Elijah demonstrates a vital principle. The “god of this world1” operates by manipulating the cultural trends and passing it off as God acting culturally. God, however, often acts counter-culturally.In the case of Elijah, God told him to stack the deck against himself in the showdown with the prophets of Baal. Elijah started the contest outnumbered 850 to 1. He then drowned the sacrifice with water so that it could not burn through any natural means available to one living in that time1. God demonstrated his power by burning the sacrifice supernaturally.

God did this to prove His power. It is more common in history for God to move “against the grain”to prove His power. In the Old Testament, God moves to preserve both his word and his people. Psalm 12 provides an excellent teaching on divine preservation. There is a battle between crafty words of deception and the word of God

 Verses 1-4 documents the dangers to God’s people posed by evil words: “flattering words” and tongues that speak “proud things.” People boast that through the use of crafty language they can prevail, even throw off God’s rule. Words are used to deceive and oppress people.  This danger is so acute that the very existence of a faithful remnant of God’s people is endangered.

God, however, has a plan to deliver His people (Psalm 12:5-7). The Lord is going to cut off crafty language (verse 3). He shall preserve them by preserving His Word. The Lord signals in verses 5 that “now will I arise; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.” Verses 6-7 gives the two-fold plan. He is going to preserve a pure word, and He is going to preserve a faithful people.
“Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.2They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things: Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?

“For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.6 The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.7 Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”
- Psalm 12: 1-7

God preserves his Word
There are three major instances in the Old Testament in which God preserved His Word. Rediscovery of the Mosaic Covenant during Josiah’s reign, Jehiochin’s surrender,  and the ministry of Ezra.

During the fifty-five year reign of Manasseh, the conversion of Judah to idolatry was so complete that the priests forgot that the Mosaic covenant even existed. The document containing the Mosaic covenant was rediscovered during the 18th year of Josiah’s reign when Josiah asked Hilkiah, the High Priest, to count the silver that had been placed in the house of the Lord. Hilkiah re-discovered the book of the law:
“And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, Thy servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of them that do the work, that have the oversight of the house of the Lord. And Shaphan the scribe shewed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.

And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, saying,Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.”

- 2 Kings 22:8-13
Josiah proceeded to jump start a national revival to try to turn the nation back to God. While the revival was short-lived, it spurred renewed interest in not only the books of the law but other important documents in the history of Israel.

It is politically correct in a number of circles to speak of Hebrew roots and Jewish traditions. According to this text, Manasseh wiped out from Jewish culture the knowledge of God and subverted the temple into pagan worship (2 Kings 21). There was an absolutely minimal level of knowledge that Josiah would have had prior to discovery of the book of the law. He would likely have had the memory of Mannaseh’s testimony of how God judged him for idolatry and his subsequent repentance (2 Chronicles 33). Josiah would likely be aware of the proclamation of the prophets that the Lord sent (2 Kings 21:10). Josiah would also have a minimal level of general revelation to his conscience (Rom2).  While this started his search for God, the successful revival of Judah would depend of the recovery of the documents and application of its principles of God's written Word. Everything we know about Jewish life prior to this time is known solely on the basis of the recovered historical documents.

When Nebuchadnezzar deported Judah to Babylon, there were actually two waves of deportation. One occurred during Jehoiachin’s reign (2 Kings 24:10-16) and the other during Zedekiah’s reign (2 Kings 25:8-11):

When Jerusalem was besieged during Jehoiachin’s reign, the king of Judah peacefully surrendered to the king of Babylon (2 Kings 24:12). Both the royal family and the skilled labor was deported to Babylon (2 Kings 24:14). This included the intellectual classes.

Zedekiah was installed as king over those who remained. Zedekiah rebelled and Jerusalem was once again besieged. This time, instead of peaceful surrender, Zedekiah attempts an escape. Zedekiah is captured; his sons are killed and his eyes are gouged out.Zedekiah is bound in chains, the temple is plundered, and all great buildings are destroyed (2 Kings 25:1-11).

A comparison of the two deportations shows that Zedekiah’s deportation was accompanied by much more violence than Jehioachin’s. While Jehiochin’s deportation was not a voluntary one, there is no evidence from the narrative to support the idea that violence was used as the means to forcibly relocate people. Since Jehoiachin peacefully surrendered, the implication would be that his government cooperated with and complied to demands made by Nebuchadnezzar’s officers. Nebuchadnezzar’s officers told Jehioachin that the skilled laborers and intellectuals were required to relocate to Babylon; in response, these people packed their bags and followed Nebuchadnezzar’s officers to the place that was assigned for them to live.

The significance of this forced, but otherwise relatively peaceful, deportation is that the documents necessary to preserve the light God gave to Israel traveled to Babylon and survived the deportation. These documents would include copies or originals of the books of the Mosaic Covenant, copies or originals of the books of history documenting Israel’s history during the rule of the judges, and copies or originals of the official accounts of the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah. These documents would later be used to reconstruct the spiritual life of Israel.

Proof that numerous documents survive the deportation can be found in Ezra. Ezra 2 shows that most of the priestly families kept detailed documentation of their genealogies. Ezra 7:1-5 shows Ezra’s genealogy. God raised up Ezra for a very important mission described in 7:6-10
“This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him…

“For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.”

- Ezra 7:6,9-10

Ezra is classified as a “scribe.” Scribes were literary experts. Scribes were the precursor to modern textual scholars. Ezra’s job, as a scribe, was to handle texts. Verse 6 says he was “a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given.” This meant two things: he had access to the source documents of the law of Moses and also the skills necessary to properly handle those documents.Verse 11 describes Ezra as a scribe of “of the words of the commandments of the Lord” The phrase “of the words of the commandments” is a reference to the diverse manuscripts, the words themselves, and not to the concepts or legal principles of the law. Nehemiah 8:1-2, in particular, describes Ezra as having possession of the books of the Law of Moses.

Additional evidence that Ezra had access to numerous pieces of manuscript evidence is provided in a letter King Artaxerxes of Persia sent to Ezra authorized him to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:12-26). Artaxerxes authorized Ezra to “enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand.” The “law of thy God which is in thine hand” no doubt refers to the various manuscripts that were in Ezra’s possession.

Ezra’s task was to seek the law. He would study the ancient manuscripts and then present them in a systematic form to Israel. Ezra compiled much of the Old Testament. Ezra painstakingly pieced together sources into an easy to understand narrative. In the book of Kings*, for example,  Ezra cross-references reigns of different royal administrations from diverse official documents* to weave a single narrative. Ezra also meticulously cites from source, assuming the readrr is familiar with the source documemts.

There are those who believe that Ezra's role in compiling OldTestament books means he was engaging in revisionist history. These theological modernists argue that Israel was a polytheist pagan nation from the beginning and that they did not embrace monotheism until Israel’s return from the Babylonian captivity. They would argue that Ezra and his contemporaries manufactured the history that has been handed down. The modernist theory, however fails.

There are three reasons why the Modernists claim that Ezekiel’s history is manufactured is not plausible: The abundant use of sources known to his readers, the negativity and counter-cultural perspective of the narrative, and the early consensus within the Jewish community of Ezra’s work.

Ezra made abundant use of sources known to his readers, particularly in the books of the Kings. We frequently see the following formula “Now the rest of the acts of… …are they not written in” throughout the books (1 Kings 11:41; 14:19; 14:29; 15:7; 15:23; 15:31; 16:5; 16:14; 16:20; 16:27; 22:39; 22:45; 2 Kings 1:18; 8:23; 10:34;12:19; 13:8; 13:12; 14:15; 14:18; 14:28; 15:6; 15:11; 15:15; 15:21; 15:26; 15:31; 15:36; 16:19; 20:20; 21:17; 21:25; 23:28; 24:5;1 Chronicles 29:29;2 Chronicles 9:29; 13:22; 20:34; 25:26; 26:22; 27:7; 28:26; 32:32; 33:18; 35:26; 36:8). Ezra cites at least twelve previously existing sources 3.

Ezra cited these sources as questions, obviously assuming that the reader would be familiar with these sources. If these sources were either non-existent or communicated a narrative that contradicted the narrative Ezra was putting forth, then Ezra’s version of Israel’s history would not likely have been received as historical.

Most revisionist histories tend to be overly optimistic, glossing over the negatives of a nation’s past. For example, American history emphasizes the narrative of liberty while glossing over atrocities committed against blacks and Indians. This is rather typical of national histories, which are often used as apologetics of the ideals of the nation. The narrative of Israel’s history, however, is filled with negative and dark images that paint the people of Israel in a very bad light. The negativity and counter-cultural perspective of the narrative of Israel is very rare in history. Israel’s history, reflecting a sober introspection of the true nature of the nation, is the least likely of all nations of antiquity to be revisionist.

Ezra’s work was well received with the community of Israel. Consensus within the Jewish community of Ezra’s work would be unlikely if Ezra was trying to replace a pro-pagan narrative of Israel’s history with a monotheistic narrative, citing sources that either did not exist or contradicted him. Ezra’s narrative was well received because his contemporaries, many of whom have access to their own copies of the manuscripts, saw that his scholarship was impeccable.

Ezra’s renown as scholar positioned him to exert a profound influence as a teacher of Israel. Ezra, along with the priests, both taught the people and helped them understand the Law of Moses. This set the stage for national revival in Israel.
“And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month…
 “…And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
“Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”
- Nehemiah 8:1-2,5-8

God preserves His People
The imprisonment of Manasseh by Assyria was a low point of the spiritual life of Judah. Previously, he subverted the nation and the temple into pagan worship. He was so successful that Judah forgot the Law of Moses. In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, Hilkiah rediscovered the book of the Law of Moses in the temple while counting silver. When this book was delivered to and read to Josiah, the king rent his clothes. He sent messengers to Huldah the prophetess, who confirmed that God was going to remove Judah from the Promised Land (2 Kings 22:8-17).

Josiah escalated a campaign to jump-start national revival (2 Kings 23; 2 Chronicles 34). He went on a campaign to annihilate idolatry and turn Judah back to God. He not only destroyed altars but killed those who did sacrifices. He read the law to the people and led Judah in recommitment to the Mosaic Covenant. This revival was successful in the short term.

“ And the king went up into the house of the Lord, and all the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the priests, and the Levites, and all the people, great and small: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book.And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.
And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the Lord their God. And all his days they departed not from following the Lord, the God of their fathers.”

– 2 Chronicles 34:30-33

While Josiah’s revival was successful short term, it failed to stop the idolatry long-term and it failed to stop judgment from falling on Judah. It did have long term fruit: It renewed interest in the Mosaic Covenant. This renewed interest would have also sparked interest other documents pertinent to the histories of Israel and Judah. This interest meant that steps would be taken to make sure that  important documents survived the deportation into Babylon; the survival of these documents was essential for both maintaining the light God had given and restoring the national life of Israel after she returned from her exile.

God did not abandon Israel during her captivity. He sent Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah beforehand to warn the people of the impending Babylonian Captivity. Ezekiel, Daniel, and Habakkuk~ were prophets who ministered during the captivity. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi~ were prophets who ministered post-captivity.

God restores Israel in time for the Messiah
Jeremiah prophesied that all of the nation in the region of Judah would be captive in Babylon 70 years(Jeremiah 25:9-12). This seventy years began when Babylon conquered Assyria in 609 BC. It ended when Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon in 539 BC.

After the fall of Babylon, there were three decrees given by the new occupiers of Judah that would allow for the Israelites to resettle the Promised Land:  Decrees from Cyrus, Darius1, and Artaxerxes.
Within the first year after Cyrus conquered Babylon, he gave the decree for the Israelites to return to Judah and rebuild the temple. This is the decree, which was proclaimed in about 538 BC:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,’Thussaith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

“Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.’
 Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.”

- Ezra 1:1-5
A number of people who returned to Israel was 42,360 free people and 7337 servants (Nehemiah 7:66-67; Ezra 2:64-65). The people would begin to rebuild the temple according to the decree of Cyrus, but during the reign of his son Cambyses or Artaxerxes4 the enemies of Israel accused them of being a seditious people. They succeeded in getting an injunction to stop building that remained in force until the reign of Darius 1(Ezra 4).

During the reign of Darius1, Israel petitioned him to allow the rebuilding of the Temple to resume rebuilding. They appealed to the original decree by Cyrus authorizing the rebuilding. Darius authorized the building to resume and issued an injunction against the enemies of Israel barring them from interference.

Darius’ grandson, Artaxerxes, sent Ezra and Nehemiah to Israel and gave them authority (Ezra 7;Neh 1). These two would rebuild not only the city and the wall but the cultural and spiritual life of the nation. Nehemiah was the governor who supervised the building program and Ezra supervised the restoration of the worship.

After the temple was rebuilt, Ezra led a push to promote understanding the Laws of God. Ezra was accompanied by 13 other leaders, including Nehemiah, and a host of Levites. They called Israel to a solemn assembly (Nehemiah 7:73-8:18). The solemn assembly began with intensive teaching from the Scripture, followed by seeking God for seven days and solemn assembly on the eighth. Each day during this eight day festival there was public Scriptural teaching. This eight-day festival-solemn assembly occurred during the feast of tabernacles (Lev 23:34-36; Joel 1:14, 2:13-15; Acts 1-2 see chapter  26).

Ezra used a grammatical-historical hermeneutic to restore spiritual life. Nehemiah 8:8 reveals their task of not only telling the scripture, but also of explaining: “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”  The prevalence of idolatry under Manasseh, the Israelites quick return to idolatry after the death of Josiah, and seventy years of living in a foreign, Pagan land all but destroyed any antebellum Israelite culture of devotion to Yahweh God. It is only be “reading distinctly, ” using a grammatical-historical method to recover information about the antebellum Israelite culture can the spiritual life of the Israelite community be reconstructed.

1 Another name for Satan
2 Today we know that phosphorus burns underwater, but this would not have been known to the Israelites of Elijah's time, neither would any charleton have known how to handle it to successfully pull off any kind of hoax. Phosphorus was discovered in  1669 by Hennig Brand. Prior to this time, no one alive could have faked the miracle God did for Elijah.
Weeks, Mary Elvira (1932). "The discovery of the elements. II. Elements known to the alchemists". Journal of Chemical Education. 9: 11. Bibcode:1932JChEd...9...11W. doi:10.1021/ed009p11.
Cited in Wikipedia
3 Ezra's sources included
(The Book of Samuel the seer, and in
The Book of Nathan the prophet, and in
The Book of Gad the seer,
Chronicles of the kings of Judah,
Chronicles of the kings of Israel;
The Vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz;
Book of the kings of Judah and Israel,
Book of Jehu the son of Hanani,
The Book of Nathan the prophet, and in
The Prophecy of Ahijaht heShilonite, and in
The Visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat,
The Story of Iddo the seer)
4 The "Artaxerxes" that put an injunction against rebuilding the temple  in Ezra 4 was known to secular history as Cambyses

No comments:

Post a Comment