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235

CHAPTER XV.

EZRA.

RESTORATION FROM BACKSLIDING, OR INDIVIDUAL FAITHFULNESS IN A TIME OF

GENERAL UNFAITHFULNESS.

Keynote: 2 Cor. vi. 16-18.

THE books of Ezra and Nehemiah contain the story of the faithful remnant, who went up out of Babylon, during the time of the captivity, to rebuild the temple and the walls of the city. They present us with a picture of restoration from backsliding, and of individual faithfulness in a time of general unfaithfulness; and seem to me to be a type of every true effort made now, by any Christian heart, after a closer walk with God.

We live in a dispensation that seems to have failed almost as grievously as did that of the Israelites. The Church of Christ is full of worldliness, formality, and even idolatry. Many of the Lord's own people are carried away captive into the spiritual Babylon; and there is needed now, as much as there was then, a faithful 236 remnant, "whose spirit God has raised" to go up to build the house of the Lord, and to rebuild the walls of the spiritual Jerusalem.

These two books of Ezra and Nehemiah set before us in type, the blessed truth, that the general unfaithfulness or corruption of all around us, need be no hindrance to a faithful walk on our part, and that there is a path opened, by which we may individually separate from all that is opposed to the Lord, and may return to Him with a renewed consecration of ourselves, body, soul, and spirit, to be His temple, and to bear witness to His indwelling presence.

No especial tokens of God's power attended this work of the remnant. It was a humble, and, as it were, a hidden work; and yet the promise concerning it was, Haggai ii. 9: "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts." When all Israel was faithful, it was an easy thing for each individual Israelite to be so. But in the time of Israel's captivity, it required peculiar devotedness of heart to "go up out of captivity," and was therefore peculiarly pleasing to the Lord. And just so, I believe, there is for us now, an especial sweetness and joy in a path which is one of hidden faithfulness, with but little of outward glory or honor connected with it. As our Lord says, "Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company and shall reproach you, and shall cast out your name as evil, 237 for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in like manner did their fathers unto the prophets."

In Ezra we have the rebuilding of the temple, and in Nehemiah the walls of the city are rebuilt. The inward restoration must come first. As the building of the temple in the first place, seems to me to have been a type of the soul consciously surrendering itself to be the temple of the Holy Ghost; so now the rebuilding of this temple, typifies, I think, the restoration of the soul from backsliding or wandering, and a fresh surrender of the heart to the Lord, to be possessed and indwelt by Him. It is what is happening, I believe, in very many instances in the present day. Believers are, as we know, being brought to a sense of their distance from the Lord, and are groaning under their captivity to their enemies. The song has gone out of their hearts, and the language used by the exiled Israelites to describe their own sad condition, is the language found to be most appropriate to theirs: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down: yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's songs in a strange land?" Ps. cxxxvii. 1-4. And these have heard, as plainly as Israel of old, the call to go up to Jerusalem to build the house of the Lord 238 and many have obeyed this call. To such, this book of Ezra will be full of wonderful teaching.

A few points deserve especial notice. First of all, it was a voluntary thing on the part of those who went. It was only such as went willingly, who could go at all. But of all these a loving record was kept in God's own Book; see chap. ii. "Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city; which came with Zerubbabel." The whole number being 42,360. ii. 24.

And to all the ages of believers since, has this sample- page out of the Lord's book of record come, to teach us that not even a cup of cold water, given in the name of a disciple, shall lose its reward. Sometimes we have been inclined to wonder why there should occur, now and then, in the Bible, these long lists of names. But if we think of them thus, as sample pages out of the Divine book of records, they assume a deep and precious interest. Just so, doubtless, is our Father keeping the record of those now, who, in these days of half-heartedness and degeneracy, are offering themselves to Him in a glad surrender, to be His temple, and to be filled with His abiding presence!

None were allowed to serve who were strangers to Israel, Ezra iv. 1-3, nor even those among the Israelites themselves, who "could not show their Father's house, 239 and their seed, whether they were of Israel," see ii. 59-62. So only the true children of God, and those moreover also, who know of a certainty that they are His children, can ever enter upon this glorious work of consecration and restoration. It is essential to notice this. It is not conversion we are speaking of here, but restoration. The children of Israel were not now being brought out of Egypt, but restored from Babylon. And the first point to be settled always, in every such restoration, is that of assurance, the knowledge that our sins are forgiven, and that we are in very truth the children of God. We must be able to "shew our Father's house," and to "declare our genealogy," or we, too, shall be "put from the priesthood."

In chapter iii. the children of Israel, who were thus a numbered and recognized people, "gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem;" and under the direction of Joshua and Zerubbabel, they "builded the altar of the God of Israel to offer burnt offerings thereon." This must always be the first step in the restoration of any backslidden heart. The burnt offering altar represented Christ as the atoning sacrifice, making us at one with the Lord. The whole thought of this offering was at-one-ment. It was "an offering by fire of a sweet savour unto the Lord," Lev. i. 9; and proved to the offerer, in a way he could not mistake, his acceptance with God. To set up the burnt offering altar, for us, therefore, signifies a realization of our perfect acceptance, or at-one-ment with the Lord. And the returning 240 heart needs this assurance, before any other step can be taken.

They next laid the foundations of the Lord's house, iii. 10-13; and so great was the joy of Israel at this, that we read "all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid." But they were not allowed to proceed with their work unmolested. In chapter iv. we read, that when their "adversaries" heard that "the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel," they came to them and said, "'Let us build with you.'" And when this was refused, they sought to "weaken their hands," and trouble them, and to "frustrate their purpose." Satan, who is our adversary, cannot endure to see any soul surrendering itself to the Lord to be His temple, and he always puts forth his utmost efforts to hinder all such. At first he seeks to mar the work by his cooperation, trying to bring wrong motives and unlawful means into play; and when this fails through the believer's faithfulness to his Lord, he then rouses opposition and persecution; see iv. 1-16. The result of this was that the "work ceased," and for many years, until the "second year of the reign of Darius," the burnt offering altar, and the foundations of the temple, were all that existed among the Israelites as a witness for the Lord their God. It is true, a prohibition came finally from the king; but many years had passed before this, and it is evident that it was want of faith in the Israelites, that was the real hindrance. Their 241 enemies "weakened their hands," and "frustrated their purposes," and they were discouraged from their work.

I think this is a true picture of that which often happens in the history of a returning soul. The believer restored from backsliding, realizes his acceptance with the Lord, and the foundations of the inward temple are afresh laid with joy. But discouragements arise; the hands are weakened by fear, and the adversary stirs up opposition on every side. Friends grow anxious lest there should be danger of fanaticism; the Church turns a cold shoulder; older Christians remonstrate; until finally the believer "ceases his work," and the temple remains unfinished: the soul stops short of the fulness of the blessing.

The Lord, however, was not content with this state of things. He longed still, as always, to dwell among His people; and in the "second year of the reign of Darius," He sent Haggai to stir them up. "Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house to lie waste?" Hag. i. 3, 4. Moreover he showed them what were the sad results of this neglect. "Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages, to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, 242 and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord. Ye looked for much, and lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man to his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands." Hag. i. 7-11.

I believe these words will find an echo in many disappointed hearts, whose restoration from backsliding has not brought the spiritual prosperity they had hoped for, and who yet have failed to suspect the cause. Spiritual drought and poverty must always be more or less the portion of every believer, who does not know fully the inward building of the temple of the heart, for the Lord to dwell in.

We read, however, concerning Israel, that, at the prophesying of Haggai, "they obeyed the voice of the Lord their God," and "that the Lord stirred up the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts," Haggai i. 12-14. Their fear and discouragement had ended many years before in a decree being issue against them; but now their faith was so strong, that, without waiting for the reversal of this decree, they began to build at once. 243 And the effect of this faith was such, that even their "adversaries," who had stopped them before, were the means of a decree in their favor now, and were even compelled to help them. See chaps. v. and vi., especially vi. 6-9, "And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo: and they builded and finished it." vi. 14.

They then "kept the dedication of this house of the Lord with joy;" and offered abundance of sacrifices, vi. 17, and set the priests and Levites in their rightful places "for the service of God," "as it is written in the book of Moses," vi. 18. When the heart is fully surrendered to the Lord to be His temple, there will always come abundance of sacrifice, and priestly service, according to His own commandments.

Moreover they kept the Passover, the memorial of their redemption out of Egypt, of which all might partake who were purified, and who had "separated themselves from the filthiness of the heathen of the land," vi, 19, 20, 21. And finally, they kept the "feast of unleavened bread with joy; for the Lord had made them joyful," vi. 22. The feast of unleavened bread was a type of holiness, and the joy of being made a partaker of Christ's holiness, will always come to the believer, who has reached this stage in his experience, and who knows that his heart is indeed the "temple of the Holy Ghost."

In chapters vii. and viii. we have the account of Ezra's 244 return to Jerusalem with a further remnant, who were "minded of their own free-will to go up to Jerusalem;" and of this remnant also a faithful record is kept, all of them we read, being "expressed by name," viii. 20. This return of Ezra was for the purpose of instructing the people in the law; for Ezra "was a ready scribe in the law," and we are told that he "had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments," vii. 6-10. A heart-whole dedication will open the inward ear to listen to the law of the Lord, and He will always send teaching therein. Even as we read in John xiv. 26: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."

The coming of Ezra to teach the law of the Lord, at once made manifest the sins into which the remnant had fallen, ix. 1, for "the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," Heb. iv. 12. The necessity for a practical outward separation, to correspond to the inward separation, forced itself upon the consciences of the people; and the princes came to Ezra and said, "The people of Israel and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the land doing according to their abominations; . . . yea, the 245 hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass." Ezra was confounded at this discovery, and "sat down astonished until the evening sacrifice," ix. 3, 4. At the time of the evening sacrifice he fell upon his knees and poured out his heart in confession and prayer, ix. 5-15. The hearts of the people also were touched, and they "wept very sore." And they said, "We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them." And at once they set themselves to the work of separation and obedience. All Israel was summoned to gather themselves "together unto Jerusalem" within three days, and "all the people," we read, "sat in the street of the house of God trembling, because of this matter, and for the great rain," x. 9. "Then Ezra arose and made a proclamation:" Now therefore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do His pleasure; and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives. And all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do." Under the direction of Ezra this work of separation from their "strange wives" was at last accomplished; and here the book of Ezra leaves them.

It remains true throughout all generations that "holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, forever." And invariably, from the place where the Lord dwelleth, all 246 evil must be put away. When the soul, therefore, has afresh surrendered itself to the Lord to be His dwelling-place, the searching power of His Holy Spirit begins to reveal the evil, and calls for an entire separation from it.

This matter of the "strange wives" seems to me to be a type of that wandering of the heart from the Lord, which is called "setting our affections on earthly things." The New Testament speaks of it as the "friendship of the world," and in Jas. iv. 4, we are told that this friendship is "enmity with God;" for whosever will be a "friend of the world, is the enemy of God." Also, in I John ii. 15, we read, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The life of separation to the Lord must be real. All that answers to this union with strange wives, must be put away, and also all that which is the fruit of it. The Lord must have our whole hearts, for our love is precious to Him, and anything which entices our hearts from our allegiance to Him must be given up. "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that liveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." "So likewise whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."

A poor woman, living alone in a country neighbor- hood, who supported herself by keeping a little country shop, was greatly stirred on the subject of her soul's salvation, but was continually hindered in all her prayers and efforts, by an indulged sin. She sold ale without a 247 license, and it was by far the most profitable part of her business; but her conscience was uneasy with it, and whenever she prayed or thought of being a Christian, this illicit trade would start up between her soul and the Lord. The struggle went on for many months, and over and over she resolved to give up the ale, but could never quite bring herself to the actual point. Finally, she attended a meeting one night, where the subject of the preacher was the blessedness and the joy of Christ's indwelling presence in the heart and in the life. She listened with delight. Nothing was said about giving up anything; and she said to herself, "Ah, that is just what will suit me, to have Christ always with me in my lonely cottage!" And in the utmost simplicity of faith she began at once to ask Him to come, and believed that He did. The preacher had spoken about His knocking at our hearts for admittance, and about our opening to let Him in, and this poor woman caught the idea at once, and began to say over and over, "I open to Thee, Lord Jesus, and now I believe Thou dost come in, and I am going to take Thee home with me to-night, and keep Thee there. Mind Thee, Lord Jesus, I have let Thee in;" and all the way home, in her lonely walk across the fields, she kept repeating, "Now I am taking Thee home with me, Thou knowest. Remember, Lord Jesus, I am taking Thee home." Gradually, as she thus by faith claimed His presence, she began to feel a sweet consciousness of it; and by the time she had reached her own door, He had become so precious to her, that all else seemed worthless 248 in comparison. All this time she had not once thought of the ale. But as she opened her cottage door, the first thing she set her eyes upon was a large pot of ale standing on the table. At once the thought came, "Oh, the Lord Jesus won't stay if I keep that ale!" And so sweet had His presence become to her by this time, that the ale was as nothing. She kneeled right down beside the table and said, "Now, Lord Jesus, I have brought Thee home with me, and here is this ale, and I know Thou won't stay if the ale does. So please give me strength to heave that ale right out into the road." She rose and lifted the heavy pot, and it was soon emptied of all its contents. Then she returned into her cottage and kneeled down again and said, "Thank Thee, Lord Jesus, for giving me strength to get rid of that ale. And now, if there is anything else in this house, that Thou cannot stay here with, please show me, and that shall go too."

It remains to be true throughout all ages, that as the presence of light must inevitably drive out darkness, so the realized presence of Christ in any heart or any life must inevitably drive out sin. "Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not."

This entire separation from all evil, with a list of those who "gave their hands that they would put away their wives," closes the book of Ezra; leaving Israel thus prepared for the work, which Nehemiah chronicles in the next book.

Does it leave us also prepared for a similar work, dear readers? Has the presence of Christ in our hearts, driven 249 out the sin there, and have we "given our hands" to put away all that is contrary to His will?


Texts on restoration from backsliding, and separation from all evil:--Jer. iii. 12, 14, 22.  Hosea xiv. 4Ps. li. 12Is. lvii. 18Jer. xxx. 17Joel ii. 25Gal. vi. 1Is. x. 21; xxv. 10Jer. xxiv. 7; xxx. 10; xxxv. 3, 7Hosea iii. 5; vi. 1; xiv. 1, 21 Pet. ii. 252 Tim. ii. 212 Cor. vi. 17, 18John xvii. 6, 14-18Rom. xii. 22 Cor. vii. 1Matt. x. 37-391 John ii. 15-17Jas. iv. 4Is. lii. 11, 12.  Eph. v. 1-11.

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