Changing the Way We See Things
By the end of the Old Testament Israel had slipped into spiritual blindness.
There has been a tendency to read the words of Ezra and Nehemiah as if the choices they made and things they said were endorsed by God. But they are history books left for our learning, the LAST history books of the Old Testament before “the sun set on the prophets” Micah 3:6.
To hear God’s message of the time we have to listen to the voice of God’s prophets – Zechariah and Haggai who prophesied during the building of the temple during the reign of Darius, and Malachi who spoke just after them and left the last words from God we have for 400 years until the New Testament.
The great irony of these times is that while Ezra, Nehemiah and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem declined offers from foreigners to help build the temple, and later forced Jewish men to send away foreign wives and children (or else they would lose their land) – Back in Persia – Esther the Jewish girl married a FOREIGN King and saved the nation!
In stark contrast to the actions of Ezra/Nehemiah, God’s prophets of the time spoke of including foreigners and condemned actions which excluded them. They also condemned divorcing wives and hard heartedness to their children. The last words of Malachi said that a time would come when Elijah would come to turn back the heart of a man to his neighbour (defined later by Jesus as any nationality) and the heart of a man to his son ( an allusion to the time when the men of Israel had sent away their foreign wives and children due to their hard heartedness)
Mal.4:5 “And, behold, I will send to you Elias the Thesbite, before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes; who shall turn again the heart of the father to the son(children), and the heart of a man to his neighbour, lest I come and smite the earth grievously.” From Septuagint version (the version commonly quoted by the New Testament writers)
This is the message of Elijah. At the end of the Old Testament hearts were “set like flint”. They had their own interpretations of God’s laws and were inflexible about how they administered them. Men ruled. Foreigners were not welcome to help build the temple. Foreign wives and even their own children were sent away. God said that He would send Elijah to change hearts. When John the Baptist came he condemned the Pharisees for their trust in their ancestry and purity and not understanding what God really wanted. Before Jesus returns hearts set like flint also need to change.
CONTRAST BETWEEN ACTIONS OF JEWISH LEADERS &
WORDS OF PROPHETS
SENDING AWAY WIVES AND CHILDREN – DESPISING FOREIGNERS
|History written by Ezra||God via Malachi|
|Ezra 10:2.. “Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these (foreign) women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law….15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah, supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite, opposed this.”
Consider the possibility that the group in verse 15 who opposed the great divorce are right to do so.
Mal 3:16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife, ” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.”
Mal.4:5 “And, behold, I will send to you Elias the Thesbite, before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes; who shall turn again the heart of the father to the son(children), and the heart of a man to his neighbour (foreigners included), lest I come and smite the earth grievously.” From Septuagint version (the version commonly quoted by the New Testament writers)
BUILDING GOD’S HOUSE
|History written by Ezra||GOD VIA HIS PROPHETS|
|Ezra 4:1-3 “When the enemies of Judah (enemies from Ezra’s perspective) and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord”
|God’s house was to be for ALL nations. “Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say,“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”” Isaiah 56.3-5Note: Jesus applied the prophecies in Isaiah to His own day, not a distant kingdom age.“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for ALL nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ Mark 11:17 quoting Isaiah 56:7“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Exodus 22:21
The Jewish leaders at the end of the Old Testament refused foreign help but David was the friend of foreigners and Solomon let gentiles help build the first temple and as a consequence it was blessed.
2 Sam 5:11 ”Now Hiram king of Tyre sent envoys to David, …they built a palace for David. Then David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom.”
1 Kings 5: 6 “My men will work with yours, … You know that we have no one so skilled in felling timber as the Sidonians.”
When Hiram (Lebanese) heard Solomon’s message, he was greatly pleased and said, “Praise be to the Lord today, for he has given David a wise son to rule over this great nation.”
THE ACTIONS OF EZRA & NEHEMIAH WERE IN CONTRAST TO SOLOMON’S INCLUSION OF GENTILE HELP
NEHEMIAH SHUT GATES
GOD SAID THE GATES SHOULD AND WILL BE OPEN
|History by Nehemiah||God via His Prophets|
|Neh. 13:19 “When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. … Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you.”
|Mal. 1:10 “Among you the doors shall be shut, and one will not kindle the fire of mine altar for nothing, I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. 11 For from the rising of the sun even to the going down thereof my name has been glorified among the Gentiles; and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord Almighty. ” (Septuagint)
Isaiah 60:10 “Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you…Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night,
Matt. 23:13 “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
Zech. 8:16 “Speak truth every one with his neighbour; judge truth and peaceable judgment in your gates: and let none of you devise evil in his heart against his neighbour”
Nehemiah was closing gates to keep foreigners out, God was saying via His prophets of the time that foreigners were welcome and the gates should be open.
THE LORD’S TABLE
Nehemiah said the Lord’s table was defiled by foreigners
|History by Nehemiah||God via Malachi|
|Neh 13:6 Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God. I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. I gave orders to purify the rooms… So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task. I also made provision for contributions of wood at designated times” (wood for altar fires)
|Mal 1:11 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with YOU,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. YOU profane my name by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled…my name is to be feared among the nations.”
Note: David shared the shewbread with his men – the criteria- “being committed to God” – not whether they were foreigners. 1 Sam. 23:5
MALE LEADERS WHO DIDN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD
Isaiah 50:6 “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard” Who beat and pulled hair out?
Two people named in Old Testament who carried out this behaviour –
Ezra 9:3 “When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled.”
Nehemiah 13:25 “I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair.” This is the historic record for our learning – we are to discern if what Nehemiah did was right or wrong.
Their descendants (Scribes and Pharisees) did the same thing to Jesus
COMPLETION OF TEMPLE
|ACCORDING TO EZRA
6th YEAR OF DARIUS
|REBUKE FROM ZECHARIAH
4TH YEAR OF DARIUS
“So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper(from Ezra’s perspective) under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah,( the son of Berekiah) the son of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. 15 The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the 6th year of the reign of King Darius.” Ezra 6:14
|Zech. 7:1 “And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah…
9-12 ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint (Elijah’s mission was to turn the hearts back to children & foreigners) and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by His Spirit through the earlier prophets.
RECORDS MATTERED TO JEWS
|IMPORTANCE OF RECORDS TO JEWS||NO RECORDS NEEDED BY GOD|
|Ezra 2:62 “These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.”
Ez. 7:1-6 “Ezra son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest— this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses”
|Zech 6:15 “Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the Lord.”
THIS PROPHECY WAS CONDITIONAL
“This shall come to pass, if ye will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God.”
John the Baptist
Luke 3:8 “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”
|Nehemiah||GOD VIA ZECHARIAH|
|“Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair.” Neh. 13:24||Zech 8:23 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'”|
What became of Zechariah the son of Berekiah the son of Iddo who prophesied against the actions of the Jewish leaders contemporary with Ezra?
Jesus tells us – “Woe to you, teachers of the law (Ezra was known as “the teacher of the Law”) and Pharisees, you hypocrites!
Matt 23:35 “Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah (son of Iddo), whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”
Zechariah was a “young man” in 520 BC (Zech. 2:3)
As well as Jesus confirmation of this event in Matt. 23:35 “Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” – There is also a reference to it in the Targum on Lamentations 2:20
“Is it right to kill priest and prophet in the Temple of the Lord, as when you killed Zechariah son of Iddo, the High Priest and faithful prophet in the Temple of the Lord on the Day of Atonement because he told you not to do evil before the Lord?” Cited with permission from English translation by C.M.M. Brady
Zechariah’s murder is a witness against those who carried it out – their house would be left desolate until they say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ (Matt. 23:38)
What became of Zerubbabel ? He was not at the dedication of the temple when it was finally completed. Tradition says that he returned to Babylon. Tradition also says that Ezra was buried in Babylon. We know that Nehemiah came and went back to Babylon. Neh. 13:6 “I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king.”
Yet Isaiah had told the Jews that when the chance came they should flee Babylon
Is. 48:20 “Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth; say, “The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob.”
There is a way of thinking which applies passages of scripture wrongly and says
“God says this” – I am righteous for doing what God says. This is the Ezra/Nehemiah way of thinking. There is another way or thinking. Isaiah demonstrates it well –
Isaiah 58 “Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood”?
Worship of God by applying laws wrongly and on a surface level was never what God wanted.
The Ezra way of thinking continued at the time of Jesus, it continues today. He told Nicodemus he had to be born again. Peter struggled with the Ezra way of thinking which elevated Jewish men alone. Jesus showed a better way. He washed the feet of all his disciples, men and women – not just the 12 who were a sub group of disciples at the last supper. Jesus said that if you want to be great you must be a servant of all.
The history recorded in Acts shows Peter choosing between men to fill the place of Judas. After they decided on 2 men they asked God to select between the 2 as a witness to the resurrection. Ironic that Jesus had already chosen Mary Magdalene as a witness to the resurrection, and Jesus had rebuked them for not believing her. It would take a vision of what was clean and unclean before Peter would begin to change his thinking.
Acts 10:28 “And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; (man made law) but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man (meaning human being: male or female) common or unclean.”
But in Acts 1 Peter still hadn’t realised this.
Acts 1:21 “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection. And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen”.
So the group led by Peter had already decided the new person had to be a man. They gave God the choice between the 2 men they had decided on.
It’s hard for some people to see beyond the male oriented way the Bible is written. The women become lost in the “hims” and “men” which the Greek text used to describe a mixed group of people. For example the feeding of the 5,000. Three gospels record that there were 5,000 – meaning men. Only one gospel mentions that there were women and children in addition to the men. It was not the feeding of 5,000 unless you think the women and children don’t matter. Jesus expects us to see past the 5,000, but the Ezra thinking can’t get past it.
THE LAST SUPPER
2 GROUPS – ‘THE 12’ AND ‘THE DISCIPLES’
Jesus shared the last supper with His disciples. In Mark 14 he distinguishes His betrayer by narrowing down the candidates from all His disciples who are there to just one of the 12.
Mark 14:18-20 “Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.” And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, “Is it I?” And another said, “Is it I?” He answered and said to them, “It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish.
This was to distinguish who the betrayer was. It is almost certain the last supper did not just include the 12 male disciples. The reference is made to 12 because one of them would betray Jesus as opposed to all the others who were there in the large upper room. The preparation of this meal for so many required Jesus sending Peter and John to give the women preparing it some extra help. It is absurd to think that Jesus would not celebrate the last supper, a Passover, with his own mother and other disciples who we know were with Him in Jerusalem.
The Passover was for the entire family.
Ex. 12:25 “When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord”.
Surely the writers of the gospels assumed that everyone would know that the passover was for families.
Jesus advocated inviting many when you give a meal, He was accused of being a glutton and drunkard for those He associated with, He encouraged inviting the outcasts to meals. If women were not amongst Jesus disciples then they may as give up on Christianity for all the promises are made to men (to him who overcomes I will give the right to eat of the tree of life).
It is likely that the upper room where the last supper was held was the same “upper room” in Acts 1 where the disciples later gathered. This time the women are mentioned as being present
“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. 13 And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. 14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Men and brethren”
There are many occasions when it sound as if Jesus was alone with the 12 yet others were present too. “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:35
It is language such as “Men and brethren” being equated with male disciples which has clouded the dramatic events of the New Testament which made men, women, slaves and foreigners “One in Christ”
Jesus expects us to perceive the real message of the gospel as He expected it of Jewish leaders such as Nicodemus. Consider the same event in different gospels below.
SAME EVENT IN 3 GOSPELS – After the Parable of the Sower
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven… seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14
But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.
And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,
Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God.
And the twelve were with Him, 2 and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, 3 and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him[a] from their substance.4 And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable:…… Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”
10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that
‘Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.
A BIT OF GREEK
“The disciples” in these passages is masculine plural.
“Those around him” is masculine plural.
If the words are intended to apply to the 12 only, then the meaning is obviously masculine.
But if by “the disciples” is meant “the twelve plus others, including the women” then it is legitimate to consider that “those around him” (though masculine in Greek) and “the disciples” (though masculine in Greek) includes both male and female disciples, assuming the term “the disciples” was applied to women (as we should RIGHTLY assume).
If you wish to describe a mixed company of men and women, in Greek you say “they…” using the masculine.
In the phrase “many others who provided for Him from their substance” “others” and “who” and “their” is feminine, and can only refer to women.
How the BIBLE IS WRITTEN
All the known authors of the Bible are claimed to be male although many books are anonymous and men have attributed male authors to them. Most well-known biblical characters are men, and women make up only 14% of named characters in the Bible (1,181 men are named in the Bible but only 188 women are named). Therefore, the Bible is largely written from a male perspective and the experiences of women in the Bible are interpreted by men. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2 Tim 3:16. We are told that the scriptures are for our learning, and God intended them to be there. Much of scripture is written as history for our learning eg. the words of Jobs friends. We need to discern if the actions of many of the events recorded were right or wrong. Jesus expected Nicodemus to see past the surface. We have the records mostly from a male perspective recording what they did. This doesn’t mean the things they did were right nor that the historical events they recorded had God’s approval. God wanted the records left there for us to learn from, not to follow the same mistakes. Long genealogies of men are recorded in the Old Testament, yet when we come to the gospel of Matthew we are told that genealogies don’t really matter because God can raise up children (not just sons) to Abraham from the stones.
Matt 3:9 “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
The absence of records of women in the Bible doesn’t mean that God loves them any less, or He thinks the records of the men are more important. Men like Ezra thought they were more important. God expects us to think about why things are as they are, not to blindly follow traditions of men.
John 1:11-13 “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
God wants people who bring forth fruit, who are born again. Being a Jew or foreigner, male or female doesn’t matter.
See also – Bloodline of Jesus – Via David or Uriah?