The dawn and early light of Solomon’s reign was marvelous. If the kings and people of Israel had continued to add luster to that godly glow, the blessings would have multiplied. Sadly, that “golden age” did not last.
After an illustrious beginning, Solomon made some serious mistakes. He led the people of Israel into terrible sins. As punishment, God determined to rend the kingdom from his house.
God sent a prophet with an important message to Jeroboam, a talented and industrious young man in Solomon’s administration. “And it came to pass at that time when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way; and he had clad himself with a new garment; and they two were alone in the field: And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces: And he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee” (1 Kings 11:29-31). What a horrifying prophecy for Solomon and the nation! What a terrible rebuke!
God would punish the erring king but needed to do so in a way that would not break the promise He had made to Solomon’s father, David. The prophet continued powerfully: “But he shall have one tribe for my servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel” (verse 32).
Yes, God remembered His promise to David and would leave one tribe under the control of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, to fulfill that promise. God also emphasized the link between that promise and His select city! He would retain one tribe in that royal line “for Jerusalem’s sake,” the one city within Israel—and among all cities on Earth—that He had chosen for a special purpose!
This was for David’s sake—andfor Jerusalem’s sake. God made clear to Jeroboam the value of the house of David and of Jerusalem!
“But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it unto thee [Jeroboam], even ten tribes. And unto his son will I give one tribe, that David my servant may havea light alwaybefore me in Jerusalem,the city which I have chosen me to put my name there” (verses 35-36).
Despite Solomon’s disloyalty, God’s plan to preserve the royal lineage of David—and its connection with His chosen city—remained fixed.
Israel’s Tragic Fall
God divided the kingdom in two, but in His love and mercy He still desired to prosper both of the resulting kingdoms. He promised Jeroboam that if he obeyed as King David had, “I will be with thee, and build thee a sure house, as I built for David …” (1 Kings 11:38). He also revealed that His punishment on Judah would be temporary (verse 39).
Sadly, the ambitious and self-seeking Jeroboam spurned God’s directive and led an apostasy against David’s throne. Following his lead, “Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day” (1 Kings 12:19). So antagonistic was Jeroboam that he deliberately led the Israelites away from David’s throne and from Jerusalem by establishing alternative places of worship. He compounded his sin by instituting a counterfeit religion, a fraudulent priesthood and spurious “sacred” festivals (verses 26-33).
These wicked acts represent the extreme opposite of God’s thinking. Whereas God loves David’s house and His chosen city Jerusalem, Jeroboam was stirred by the devil to loathe and scorn them!
Tracing the history of the 10-tribed kingdom of Israel after this moment vividly illustrates the danger of turning away from the Jerusalem vision. It causes you to embrace deceptions and delusions. It invites catastrophe!
From this time onward, Israel never had another righteous king. The kingdom suffered through the instability of nine distinct dynasties and experienced an endless string of curses that culminated in ignominious defeat and captivity. You can read more about this disastrous turn of events in “Israel: The Way of Jeroboam,” Chapter 9 of my book The Former Prophets (free upon request). In describing the cause of Israel’s woes, God repeatedly points back to Jeroboam’s sin of treachery against David’s throne (e.g. 1 Kings 16:2, 25-26, 31; 22:52; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29-31; 13:2; etc).
It is a stern warning, written in blood, that we cannot afford to forget.
‘A Lamp in Jerusalem’
The kingdom of Judah also suffered tremendously, but for David’s sake and for Jerusalem’s sake, God preserved the throne of David. Unlike the northern kingdom, Judah maintained one continuous line of rulers, governing from Jerusalem. This provided a measure of stability, and even periods of honor, that the northern kingdom never enjoyed.
Most of Judah’s kings were evil. The kingdom endured terrible times under some exceedingly wicked rulers. Yet even then, God perpetuated the royal line and the Davidic covenant. 1 Kings 15 describes the short reign of Abijam over Judah. He was a wicked king, yet verse 4 says, “Nevertheless for David’s sake did the Lord his God give him a lamp in Jerusalem, to set up his son after him, and to establish Jerusalem.” A similar statement is made during the reign of evil Jehoram: “he did evil in the sight of the Lord. Yet the Lord would not destroy Judah for David his servant’s sake, as he promised him to give him alway a light, and to his children” (2 Kings 8:18-19).
Satan is always trying to stamp out the throne of David and to lead God’s people into sin. At one point, a violent plot was executed to erase David’s line entirely (2 Kings 11:1). But God protected one heir—Joash (or Jehoash)—and preserved the royal lineage.
Under Joash’s reign and the influence of Jehoiada the priest, the house of Baal was destroyed and the covenant with God renewed. Joash even repaired the temple that was broken down (2 Kings 12). Sadly, after his adviser Jehoiada died, Joash descended into idolatry. He ended up being killed by his own servants in a conspiracy (2 Chronicles 24:24-26).
Amid these dark and difficult times, a few bright periods arose when a righteous king would restore godly worship to Judah. The kings who followed the virtuous example of their father David enjoyed success. The same is true of God’s kings today—and it will hold true forever!
‘I Will Defend This City’
King Hezekiah was one of the most upright kings to rule Judah after the time of David. “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did” (2 Kings 18:3). What high praise from God! Hezekiah cleansed the temple Solomon had built. He restored the priests and the Levites to their God-ordained duties. He reestablished the message of God in the kingdom. Under his leadership, while he strove to follow King David’s righteous example (2 Chronicles 29:2, 25-27, 30), the whole nation turned away significantly from its idolatry and toward God.
Hezekiah’s rule includes one of the most inspirational chapters in the history of Jerusalem.
During Hezekiah’s reign, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered and taken captive by the mighty Assyrian Empire (2 Kings 17:5-6; 18:9-12). The Assyrians posed a formidable threat. Soon after, they began attacking towns in Judah.
At that point, Hezekiah’s faith wavered. He sent a message to Assyria’s King Sennacherib offering to pay for the Assyrian armies to withdraw. Sennacherib responded by demanding a monstrous sum. Hezekiah weakly complied—but to make matters worse, shamefully, he collected the extortion funds by raiding God’s temple! (verses 13-16).
Hezekiah assumed he could buy protection by looking to a man—a monumental mistake. This tribute only emboldened unscrupulous Sennacherib to redirect his attack on Jerusalem. Sennacherib sent a dispatch to Hezekiah proclaiming that after attacking Egypt, he would sack Judah’s capital city. In it, he insulted and taunted the great God—all to his shame!
At last, Hezekiah chose a different response: He went to the temple and cried out to God (2 Kings 19:14). He would no longer rely on men or wealth for protection. He started looking to God. And marvelous things began to happen.
God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and sent the Prophet Isaiah to him with a message. This king and prophet were now working together. Isaiah said, “Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city [Jerusalem], nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord. For I will defend this city, to save it,for mine own sake,and for my servant David’s sake” (verses 32-34).
Sennacherib’s army had descended on Jerusalem by this point. A forbidding force of 185,000 soldiers surrounded the city! No one could enter, and no one could leave. The inhabitants faced imminent ruin.
But God fulfilled His promise. One morning, as the watchmen searched the enemy camp, they were met with a shock! Astoundingly, every last soldier in Sennacherib’s immense army was dead! God had sent an angel to destroy them. What power the great God has! A massive, mighty, well-armed, well-trained, ruthless army is no match for a single angel of God!
When Judah’s king turned to God, God miraculously, spectacularly protected the city—for David’s sake and for His own sake! God defended Jerusalem!
This great Gentile king had already conquered Lachish, Judah’s second-greatest city. He proudly recorded that history on wall reliefs in his palace in Nineveh. On the Taylor Prism, he boasted that he “shut [Hezekiah] up like a caged bird in his royal city of Jerusalem.” But that is where the secular record ends. Through artifacts like the Taylor Prism and Lachish wall reliefs, Sennacherib documented his successful conquests. But regarding Jerusalem, he was mute about the one night that changed everything—for that city, for Judah, and for the Assyrian superpower. The truth is, Sennacherib was utterly ashamed to record what happened! But it is recorded in the Bible.
Remember, the former prophets are prophecy for our day. Assyria factors heavily into end-time biblical events. Jesus Christ Himself even prophesied that Assyria will besiege Jerusalem and crush it underfoot! (Luke 21:20; Revelation 11:2—I discuss this in more detail later in this book). God is going to use the Germans, the modern-day Assyrians, to punish His people just as He did Judah anciently. You can prove the identity of modern-day Assyria from your Bible (request our reprint article “The Remarkable Identity of the German People”).
The Jews today could avoid this fate if they would heed this powerful lesson from King Hezekiah! God Himself would defend them if they would only put their faith in Him!
A Mighty Lesson!
The reliability of this biblical history has been emphatically underscored in recent years through archaeology. In 2009, a small excavation on the Ophel, just south of the Southern Wall of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, uncovered a trove of 34 small clay seals, or bullae, dating to the First Temple period. In 2014, subsequent study showed that one of the seals belonged to King Hezekiah; it was the first time ever that the name of a Judean king had been unearthed in controlled scientific excavations. Then in 2018, Dr. Eilat Mazar announced her belief that another of these bullae is that of Isaiah the prophet. These tiny bullae were used to seal important documents and bear the authority of these men. These two bullae, discovered in the same strata of soil only 10 feet apart, offer strong evidence of how closely these two men worked together.
We were honored to showcase those two seal impressions in a world premiere exhibit at Armstrong Auditorium for nearly a year. Many people visited from around the world. (You can request a free copy of the exhibit brochure, Seals of Isaiah and King Hezekiah Discovered.)
The fact that those two tiny seal impressions survived through more than 27 centuries, only to be revealed during our day, is remarkable. I firmly believe God ensured this discovery to thunder this mighty historical lesson to us in this end time! Those bullae prove what the Bible records is true!
The history of the Isaiah and Hezekiah seals contains a potent lesson about how you as an individual, or even whole nations, can be saved from physical and spiritual destruction!
Ninety percent of Bible prophecy is for this end time. If you understand what is happening in the world, you can see that prophecy is being fulfilled by the week. Humanly, what is taking place can be frightening; the world can appear hopeless. Yet there are biblical examples that offer tremendous hope.
The Bible account of Isaiah and Hezekiah is buttressed by archaeology and by secular history. Prove this, and it will strengthen your faith in God’s Word! I can guarantee that if you do, remarkable miracles will occur in your life.
The kind of faith we need is faith that believes God and His Bible, and then moves forward and acts on that faith. Any faith short of that is a dead faith. Despite the abundance of proof, almost nobody has faith in God and His Word today. God commands us to live by His every word (Deuteronomy 8:3). Faith comes by reading, studying and knowing the Bible, and then applying what it says. This is how you build your faith. God blesses anyone who will live by His every word and strive to obey Him.
The Bible is the majestic, royal Word of God. I can guarantee that if you walk by your faith and act on that faith, God will bless you and will fill your life with miracles and blessings. That is an iron-clad promise from God!
After Hezekiah died, his son Manasseh became king. “And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord …. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, In Jerusalem will I put my name” (2 Kings 21:2, 4). Manasseh brought Judah right back into the paganism his father had worked to eliminate—and God specifically highlights the enormity of his sin in defiling the temple and the Holy City.
Under Manasseh’s rule, the Jews came to have familiar spirits and wizards—rank demonism—provoking God’s anger. “And he [Manasseh] set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the house, of which the Lord said to David, and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever” (verse 7). Here, in this disgraceful context, is this reminder: God had His house built in Jerusalem—the city where He said He would place His name forever!
The desecration of Jerusalem outraged God. He wants that city above all others to remain holy. He had specifically dislodged the Gentiles from that land because of their abominable practices. Yet Manasseh led the nation into evil worse than the Canaanites had done before God drove them out! (verse 9).
After Manasseh’s reign, his son Amon followed in his wickedness. He was assassinated after a short rule, and the throne passed to his son: 8-year-old Josiah (2 Kings 22:1). Nearly three centuries earlier, during the reign of Jeroboam, God had specifically prophesied about Josiah’s righteous rule—even naming him (1 Kings 13:2). It was as if the forces of evil were on notice! Surely Satan tried to do everything possible to prevent someone named Josiah from becoming king—but God is more powerful than the devil.
When Josiah took office, the temple had been desecrated and the Jews’ religion had strayed far from God’s law. But just as God had prophesied, Josiah proved to be one of Judah’s most righteous kings. “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2). He oversaw the renovation of the temple and the restoration of God’s law.
When Josiah wanted to repair the temple, he sent Shaphan the scribe to Hilkiah—the high priest at the time—to collect resources for the repairs (verses 3-4). During the renovation, Hilkiah found the book of the law. When he read it, he became excited, convicted—and alarmed. He immediately showed it to Shaphan, and the two realized the king had to have the book (verse 8; 2 Chronicles 34:14-18). When Shaphan read the law to Josiah, the king was so moved, he tore his clothes! (2 Kings 22:10-11).
That is the response we all should have to God’s law. Are you stirred by that law? Are you alarmed by how most of God’s own people have rejected His law and government today? We should be just as roused and alarmed as Hilkiah, Shaphan and Josiah were! We should react even more emotionally. It takes a strong reaction to establish and keep God’s law and government in the spiritual temple today.
Josiah was so upset by what he read that he sent an entourage to a prophetess to learn when God planned to punish the nation (verses 12-14). He recognized that Judah was in severe trouble and wanted to take all necessary action immediately. We ought to react to God’s law and revelation the same way!
The entourage received bad news that God was about to punish the nation severely (verses 15-17). But because Josiah’s heart was right, God would spare him from witnessing the destruction personally—it would not come until after his death (verses 18-20).
2 Kings 23 shows how Josiah continued to provide zealous and righteous leadership, ridding Jerusalem of its evils. He had the law read to all the city’s residents and the nation. He made a covenant to obey God. He cleansed the temple of all its idols. He destroyed the pagan high places. He burned the bones of the priests on the altars, just as had been specifically prophesied about 300 years before! Verses 15-17 show that Josiah knew he had fulfilled that prophecy.
“And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him” (verse 25). Look at the impact this one man had. It is amazing what one righteous man can do!
Sadly, it would be the last bright spot in Jerusalem’s history for many years.
God Rejects Jerusalem
During Josiah’s reign, God sent the Prophet Jeremiah with some terrifying prophecies. “Thus said the Lord unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 17:19). Jeremiah was to place himself where the kings and rulers entered the city and warn them. God always sends a messenger to warn His people. That message must be declared where the people can hear it.
Jeremiah was to say, “Hear ye the word of the Lord, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates”—and correct them for breaking the Sabbath. He was to remind them that the Israelites had been punished repeatedly for breaking God’s Sabbath and turning away from God (verses 20-23).
There is a cause for every effect. Jerusalem was destroyed because of Sabbath-breaking. And it has been trodden down ever since! Jerusalem is a city in deep trouble today. Why? Because of sin—breaking God’s law.
When Jeremiah spoke these earnest warnings, the religious leaders did not repent. Instead, they turned against the messenger! Seizing him, they hissed, “Thou shalt surely die. Why hast thou prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate without an inhabitant?” They were backed by “all the people … against Jeremiah” (Jeremiah 26:8-9).
God’s own temple worshipers in Israel told Jeremiah to stop proclaiming the message or be killed. They were trying to legally put him to death! The more he prophesied, the more their hatred intensified (see Jeremiah 37).
Jeremiah’s message is mainly for today. It describes a nuclear disaster that leaves Jerusalem and other cities “without an inhabitant”! (e.g. Jeremiah 4:7; 9:11; 34:22). Many Bible prophecies tell us that American and British cities will experience this tribulation soon if they fail to repent. Even God’s own chosen city has descended into such wickedness that it too will suffer this calamitous fate!
Jeremiah was not the only prophet who foretold Jerusalem’s destruction. Other leaders reminded the religious leaders that the Prophet Micah had prophesied in the days of King Hezekiah, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest” (Jeremiah 26:17-18; Micah 3:12).
This horrifying prophecy was fulfilled in 585 b.c. To punish His sinful people, God allowed His chosen city to fall into the hands of “the worst of the heathen”! The Babylonians came in and decimated Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar burned the temple and left the city as a plowed field; it looked like a garbage dump.
The fall of Judah and the desolation of Jerusalem was a terrible tragedy and a profound warning for our day. Zion is a type of God’s true Church today. Jerusalem is a type of all Israel. God’s lukewarm end-time Church will be plowed like a field—torn to pieces. The nations of Israel will become like “heaps” of refuse! These are terrifying prophecies about the nations of Israel, which include America, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other democracies of northwestern Europe. Herbert W. Armstrong preached these prophecies for over 50 years, and they are about to come to pass! People must wake up!
Jerusalem and the cities of Judah were emptied of human beings—“no man dwelleth therein”! (Jeremiah 44:1-3). This is a thunderous warning of the crisis we will experience soon!
“Howbeit I sent unto you all my servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear to turn from their wickedness, to burn no incense unto other gods” (verses 4-5). God always sends His prophets to warn. He does the same today. Still, the people “burn … incense unto other gods.” This refers to temple worship. In this end time, God’s “lukewarm” saints are still religious, but they are not worshiping the true God (Revelation 3:14-22). They refuse to return to the true God.
“Wherefore my fury and mine anger was poured forth, and was kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they are wasted and desolate, as at this day” (Jeremiah 44:6).
Jeremiah was clearly an eyewitness to much of the tragedy in Jerusalem. You can get a sense of his reactions in the book of Lamentations, which Jeremiah wrote. (I explain this in my booklet Lamentations: The Point of No Return.) Lamentations gives the horrendous details of what national fall and enslavement are like.
Smith’s Bible Dictionary states: “The poems belong unmistakably to the last days of the kingdom, or the commencement of the exile. They are written by one who speaks, with the vividness and intensity of an eyewitness, of the misery which he bewails” (emphasis mine throughout). Clarke’s says, “Misery has no expression that the author of the Lamentations has not employed.” It also quotes a man named Dr. South as saying of this book, “One would think that every letter was written with a tear; every word, the sound of a breaking heart: that the author was compacted of sorrows; disciplined to grief from his infancy; one who never breathed but in sighs, nor spoke but in a groan.”
Lamentations is the expression of profound godly emotion. That is because, most of all, it is about God reaching out to His own Spirit-begotten children, whom He loves with a Father’s love, and who have turned away from Him! God loves His people, and He will use everything He possibly canto reach out to His Family members. God will do all He can to touch them with a powerful message!
Jeremiah’s grief was only a fraction of God’s grief over what happened to His people and to His city. When the people of Judah went into captivity and enslavement, God never lost sight of them.
And He never took His eyes off Jerusalem.
Jeremiah had prophesied, “Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Because ye have not heard my words, Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the Lord, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations. … And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:8-9, 11).
This is exactly what happened. The Jews were taken captive by the Babylonians in 585 b.c. and served them for 70 years, until the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians in 515 b.c. (2 Chronicles 36:20). “To fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years” (verse 21). This is saying that from the time they had inherited the Promised Land until the beginning of their captivity, the Israelites had failed to give the land its seventh-year sabbatical rest (commanded in Leviticus 25) 70 times—so God resolved to remove them and give the land those 70 years of rest! What a striking illustration of just how important God’s law is to Him, and how particular He is that it be scrupulously obeyed.
Exactly 70 years later, this remarkable event happened: “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished”—speaking of the 70-years prophecy—“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, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).
The moment those 70 years of captivity were over, God stirred up the mind of a carnal leader to commission the building of the second temple! What a miracle to receive such support from a Gentile king! God’s Spirit then moved a group of Jews to undertake this construction project by returning to Jerusalem.
Many times God has to correct His people. But He never leaves or forsakes us. And He doesn’t punish more than is necessary to effect our repentance.
In many ways, the work of this small remnant of Jews to rebuild what had been ruined foreshadowed the work of the Philadelphia Church of God (pcg). From our beginning, we have worked to raise the ruins of the work God built through Mr. Armstrong after his successors destroyed it. That makes this history extremely prophetic. You can read all about these parallels in my booklet Ezra and Nehemiah.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were written as one book. Read together, these books reveal essential information on building God’s spiritual temple today.
Ezra 2:64 shows that the Jews who returned to Jerusalem numbered 42,360. It was only a fraction of the 2 or 3 million people who were taken into captivity. God always raises up a people to do His Work—but He always starts small. And the job He requires is generally great. When the pcg began, it started very humbly, with two full-time ministers. Then God added 10 other people.
When a small group of people accomplishes an enormous, miraculous task, it shows that God is behind that work. It still takes effort and sacrifice on the people’s part, but all credit must go to God.
Not many people accepted the challenge to return to Jerusalem. But those remaining behind gave generously to support their effort (Ezra 1:6). Also, Cyrus collected the vessels that had been stripped from the temple when the Babylonians despoiled it—5,400 of them—and returned them so they could refurbish the reconstructed temple (verses 7-11). It was another wonderful miracle revealing God’s favor behind the project.
Ezra Established God’s Law
God chose Zerubbabel as the human leader in rebuilding the temple. This pointed to a latter-day Zerubbabel building God’s spiritual temple in this end time (request my booklet Haggai: God Has Begun to Shake the Nations for more information). All these events, and even specific personalities, have prophetic significance to us during this final era of God’s Church.
Later, God sent Ezra, a “ready scribe in the law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). God wanted to ensure that the people recognized the importance of His law. Solomon’s temple had been demolished because of lawbreaking. For the second temple to succeed, it was imperative that the people keep God’s law! Likewise today, the success of our spiritual building depends on our keeping God’s law and government alive in the Church. Having given us His law, God expects His chosen ministry to administer and enforce it!
The Jews who returned to Jerusalem with Ezra had great courage. Though they had the king’s endorsement, they still faced grave dangers. They traveled through foreign lands and dangerous territory with a weighty offering of gold and silver, making them an easy target for their enemies. Ezra could have received protection from the king, but he chose instead to walk by faith and rely completely on God. He directed everyone to fast and pray (Ezra 8:21-23). With God’s help, they faced their enemies and beautifully passed this test of faith. They made it safely to Jerusalem (verses 31-32).
In the time ahead of us, the pcg will face enemies. We will need God’s protection. We will be tested in our faith. But when we fast and petition God, we will get His attention. God will fully protect us, and we will complete our marvelous commission! Imitating Ezra’s faith will ensure that God supplies the miracles we need.
When he arrived in Jerusalem, righteous Ezra was deeply disappointed by the state of the Jews. Sin was rampant; they had gotten away from God’s law. He prayed a marvelous prayer of repentance on behalf of the people (Ezra 9). He corrected the priests for their lawbreaking (Ezra 10:1-5). Then he corrected the people. He required that all inhabitants come to Jerusalem to hear admonition concerning their grave sins. Anyone who failed to appear within three days would lose their personal belongings and citizenship (verses 7-8). Ezra headed a strong but righteous government.
The men of Judah and Benjamin responded to Ezra’s proclamation and assembled before the temple in Jerusalem. Ezra stood up and corrected them publicly. He personally told them, “Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel” (verses 9-10). He was trying to save the nation. Verses 18-44 list the men who had taken strange wives. There were 109 total, including 17 priests and 10 Levites. Ezra listed their names for all to see. Though this would have been embarrassing, it spared the nation grievous punishment. It is a lesson in leadership—God’s way!
The temple restoration was being thwarted by Gentile guerrilla attacks. God comforted His people by sending Nehemiah—whose name means “the Lord has comforted”—to restore the protective walls around Jerusalem.
Nehemiah is an exceptional example of what a man inflamed with the Jerusalem vision can achieve. He put all his skill, energy and dedication into furthering God’s plans for this city, and God used him mightily.
Nehemiah was highly competent. Among the Jewish captives, he had caught the attention of the Persian King Artaxerxes, who commissioned him to serve as something of his personal bodyguard. Nehemiah was also a man of godly passion. He had deep feelings for the reconstruction work taking place in Jerusalem. When he heard of the hardships his people were enduring, he was greatly upset. He wept, mourned and fasted for days, repenting on behalf of his people and praying that God would enable him to assist in some way (Nehemiah 1).
Yearning to help in Jerusalem, Nehemiah courageously approached the king and asked to be temporarily relieved of his duties so he could travel to Jerusalem and support Ezra (Nehemiah 2:5). The king’s kind and supportive response showed that God was answering Nehemiah’s prayer. Nehemiah then asked for letters of recommendation addressed to the governors of territories he would traverse en route to Jerusalem. He also requested a special letter to the “keeper of the king’s forest”: He intended to secure Jerusalem by building an impenetrable wall, and only the finest timbers would do the job. The king granted everything he asked—“according to the good hand of my God upon me,” Nehemiah wrote (verse 8). God will give us similar favor as we rely on Him as this great man did.
As soon as he arrived in Jerusalem, Nehemiah encountered opposition (verse 10). But he worked with the stealth of an expert warrior. He assessed the condition of the walls clandestinely, wisely concealing his movements and even his intentions (verses 11-16). To protect God’s Work, we must always be on guard for enemies and use godly wisdom (Matthew 10:16). We are in a serious spiritual war and must work as men at war.
Nehemiah found that the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls was extensive. Repairing them was crucial if the work in Judah was to continue. Nehemiah realized he would need the help of many hands. He made an impassioned petition to the people, showing them that by rebuilding the walls, they could help alleviate the distress in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:17).
The people responded with full support (verse 18). Nehemiah organized them in and around the city to help fight off the enemy. He divided them into two groups: half to continue the work, the other to protect the workers. Yet even the workers carried weapons in hand while they worked! It was a time for spadesandswords! (Nehemiah 4:17-18).
Nehemiah was a man of great faith and strong emotion. Though violently opposed in the work God had called him to do, through faith he was able to work—and simultaneously fight a war to protect that work! With inspiring leadership, he successfully marshaled the labors of the Jews to rebuild the broken fortresses—and they completed the wall in just 52 days!
This history is essential for us today. Throughout man’s dismal history, God’s Work has always been violently attacked. Satan the devil has always wanted to destroy God’s people and the Work. We must face daily the reality that we are in a war until Jesus Christ returns (2 Timothy 2:3).
This entire chapter of Jerusalem’s history shows the marvelous ruin-raising work that can be achieved when a people have God behind them. It is a tremendous type of the work God’s faithful remnant Church is engaged in today.
And the fact that God did it by bringing the Jews right back to His capital city and allowing them to rebuild there is telling. Again and again God returns His people to His chosen city. Again and again the story of God’s Work on Earth centers around this city. It underscores just how important Jerusalem is to God—how central that city is to our work today—and how important it must be to each one of us!