Godly Dedication – Ezra 6:13-22
This week we once again resume our series, “Rebuilding God’s Community.” Thus far in the series we’ve seen the Exile Ended and thereafter we saw Restoring Worship through the rebuilding of the Temple foundation. This morning we progress in the story of Ezra and see the Temple fully rebuilt and dedicated to God. This is chapter highlights God’s faithfulness or dedication to his people and their dedication to him. This two way godly dedication is illustrated in three different ways, Physical Dedication, Spiritual Dedication and finally a Promise-Filled Dedication.
God’s dedication was huge deal since His people faced considerable opposition throughout chapters 3-6 as they settled back into their land. Two weeks ago, we learned that they were able to soundly lay the Temple foundation. Still, it was anything but smooth sailing from then onward. Foreign governors such as Tattenai successfully conspired against Israel and halted the rebuilding effort for years. He claimed and successfully convinced Artaxerxes in a letter to that should he allow the Temple to be completed the Jews would stage a rebellion and refuse to pay their taxes. This made things tough later on even as Darius came into power, because they still faced possible extermination while his decree stood during Darius’ reign. However, despite the danger and continued opposition God was merciful to them. He opened the way for them to inform Darius of Cyrus’ decree stored in the Royal Records. And Darius, much like Cyrus, didn’t just allow the work to resume, but actually supported the rebuilding of the Temple. God was dedicated to His people and their good. He’d returned them to their land, returned himself to them and they reflected this godly dedication by returning themselves to him.
Physical Dedication (vv.13-15)
13 Then, because of the decree King Darius had sent, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates carried it out with diligence. 14 So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant 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 sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
Having a physical place to worship God became significant throughout Israel’s history, from the time of Abraham, a land of rest, filled with God’s presence and blessing was anticipated. The promised land took a while to get to, yet God was with His people wherever they went. He dwelt in pillars of cloud and fire as he led people to this land of promise. On the way there He gloriously and powerfully descended upon mount Sinai in a terrible storm cloud. And while there he commissioned some of His people to build a place so he could permanently dwell with His people. First came the Tabernacle, and much later Solomon built the Temple as a greater permanent place for God to indwell after it was dedicated. The story that followed was one of good godly kings, many horribly wicked kings and an ever-worsening problem with idolatry. These led to the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, in the latter one the Temple and the city of Jerusalem were completely destroyed. In the minds of the nation this no doubt caused them to question the power of the God of Israel. Yet in that time he inspired books to encourage them and remind them of his faithfulness and dedication. That very dedication led to a much-needed exile for Israel’s chastisement and God’s glory in having them return to Him wholeheartedly. Ezra shows us that the exiles eventually returned to the land as according to the promise in Deuteronomy 30.
God’s dedication to the needs of His people was and is great, since their dependence always brings Him joy and glory. Isaiah 65:24 depicts their ongoing dependence as part of the unimaginably glorious setting of the New Heavens and New Earth. God’s dedication never changes and neither does His people’s dependence on Him. One of their greatest needs upon their return to Israel was a tangible place to worship God as a community. In v.13-14 he displays His dedicated provision through decrees and resources from Persian kings and even turning opposition into support for rebuilding the Temple. All the while their spiritual need for godly preaching and teaching was also met, as v.14 tells us, the elders and people prospered under the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah as the Temple was rebuilt.
Our situation is very much a mirror to what the newly returned exiles experienced. We long to return to our church building, the physical place of corporate worship. The lockdown has been hard without it, however, God has provided for our needs. Spiritually God has provided our needs through the faithful ministry of his word every Sunday during this lockdown. God’s also prepared platforms like YouTube and WhatsApp for His Church’s use, to feed and encouraged the faith of all believers during even a global pandemic. Physically God has provided more than what we need with fibre at the church and receiving the blessing of a motorised main gate. Our dependence and his dedicated provision must continue to bring him glory and praise from our hearts and lips.
Spiritual Dedication (vv.16-18)
16 Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. 17 For the dedication of this house of God they offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred male lambs and, as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, one for each of the tribes of Israel. 18 And they installed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their groups for the service of God at Jerusalem, according to what is written in the Book of Moses.
God’s people must be dedicated to him as a reflection of His own dedication. Spiritual Dedication is a matter of the heart, reflected in action even though it’s impossible to ever repay God for His unceasing goodness to us both now and in eternity one day. Speaking of the heart, dedication is a really solemn sounding word in English, not that it’s wrong, however, there’s more to it than that. Verse 16 presents another way of thinking to us when it comes to godly dedication in that Israel celebrates the dedication of the Temple with joy. Both sacrifices and installing the priestly order for worship in the Temple are included in this joyful celebration.
Joy is a vital part of our Spiritual Dedication to God; for Israel this was expressed with many animal sacrifices, displaying God’s mercy according to Israel’s sacrificial system. Likewise our dedication to God today should be joyful, because he provided His Son Jesus to be the one perfect sacrifice the rest of the sacrificial system pointed to. God permanently dealt with our sin and saved us through Jesus’ death on the cross. God has provided His global Church family with people who faithfully preach the gospel of Christ. He’s given us and many other churches faithful ministers like Douglas who carry out their calling to preach Christ to God’s people regularly. He’s given us the Holy Spirit who lives in us as a seal on those he’s saved. The Spirit leads our lives, makes Scripture clear and enable us to live according to it. In his great faithfulness God makes sure that we remain in Christ, through whom the character, power and promises of God are revealed and in whom He carries us to eternity for the praise of his glorious grace.
Promise-Filled Dedication (vv.19-22)
19 On the fourteenth day of the first month, the exiles celebrated the Passover. 20 The priests and Levites had purified themselves and were all ceremonially clean. The Levites slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles, for their relatives the priests and for themselves. 21 So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbours in order to seek the Lord, the God of Israel. 22 For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.
God is fully dedicated to keeping all his promises. All for the glory of His name He kept his promise to bring Israel out of exile. The Passover celebration was then appropriately mentioned right after the dedication of the Temple. The appropriateness was because the exile was similar Israel’s captivity in Egypt and the Exodus. The major difference was that Israel has instead become like Egypt, nevertheless, God faithfully delivered them from their idolatry through the exile. Deliverance from exile is specifically promised in Deuteronomy 30, the chapters before 30 speak of rebellion punished by exile. Chapter 30 itself is full of hope for restoration, promises of purification and renewal of their dedication to Him. Verse 21 beautifully illustrates God this exact promise fulfilled as some Israelites completely separate themselves from Gentile practices to seek God wholeheartedly. In His great mercy God even makes the king of Assyria favourable enough to support rebuilding the Temple. This very same king’s predecessor exiled the Northern kingdom of Israel. But now he was an instrument of blessing to the returned exiles of the Southern kingdom.
The Passover, especially after the exile, is a beautiful picture of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. The Lamb of God died in our place to perfectly and permanently deliver us from our sin and idolatry. The moment we believed in Him as our Lord God and Saviour he saved us into a new and holy way of living, fully dedicated to God who kept his promise to save us from our sins. This is clear in Romans 6(:1-14) where our call to worship came from, where Paul tells us we’ve been set free to a new life with Christ, a life in which we’re dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
We serve an indescribably good and glorious God who is dedicated to us for His glory’s sake. God provides for us physically, digitally and above all spiritually. During the toughness of the lockdown he is building and rebuilding His community. In our case he physically blessed our church with constant feeding from God’s word and physical blessings. Remember and thank God’s for His dedication, for he laid Christ as our sure foundation on which to build His Church. Joyfully reflect God’s dedication with thanksgiving for every blessing and good thing He’s given to each of us. Rejoice especially in His greatest gifts to us His Son, the Spirit, and His Word. Never forget the never-ending mercies of God we depend on each and every day.