Category Archives: Israel

“The Eyes of the LORD Run to and Fro” (Zechariah 4)

Scripture reading – Zechariah 4

We have considered the rich symbolism of Zechariah’s visions in our study of the Book of Zechariah: 1) A horsemen [a pre-incarnate appearance of Jess Christ] riding a red horse, among a grove of myrtle trees (1:7-17); 2) Four horns, that represented four world powers (1:18-21); 3) A surveyor [a pre-incarnate appearance of Jess Christ] measuring Jerusalem (2:1-13); and 4) Joshua, the high priest, changing from “filthy garments,” representing Jerusalem’s spiritual cleansing and restoration (3:3-10). Today’s Scripture reading brings us to the fifth vision.

Zechariah 4 – The Fifth Vision

The angel, whom I believe was Christ incarnate, came to Zechariah and finding the prophet sleeping, awakened him and said, “What seest thou?” (4:2)

Zechariah observed and described “a candlestick all of gold [a golden lampstand], with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes [funneling oil] to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: 3And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof [providing oil]” (4:2-3).

Having described the vision, Zechariah wondered at the meaning and asked, “What are these, my lord?” (4:4) Answering a question with a question, the angel asked Zechariah, “Knowest thou not what these be?” (4:5) The prophet was then made to understand the vision was a message he was to convey to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah (4:6-14).

An Interpretation of the Symbols of the Vision (4:2-3, 14)

When it comes to symbols in the Bible, one must interpret scripture with scripture to understand both the meaning and application. We know the lampstand was indicative of light and reminds us of the golden lampstand (menorah) that was in the tabernacle, and the Temple, and I believe was a picture of Christ who is “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). The seven bowls of the lampstand were fed by seven pipes (4:2), through which oil passed from two live trees (4:3). I believe the two olive trees (4:3) were symbolic of the offices of the high priest (Joshua) and the political leader of Judah (Zerubbabel). Verse 14 would seem to prove that interpretation for there we read, “These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (4:14).

The Purpose of the Vision (4:6-11)

As he set his heart to build the Temple, Zerubbabel found he was facing opposition from within and without. Should he lean upon his own strength and resources, the building of the Temple was doomed to fail. Facing a “mountain” of discouragement (4:6a), the message from the LORD to Zerubbabel was summed up in this: “This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (4:6b).

The LORD assured Zerubbabel, a “great mountain [would] become a plain” before him (4:7a), and with His blessing, the foundation would be laid, and “His hands shall also finish it” (4:9). After all, “the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth” were upon Zerubbabel (4:10).

Closing thought – Believer, apart from the LORD’s blessing, there is nothing we can do of lasting value when we face “mountains” of opposition. Yet, humbling ourselves before the LORD, we can trust He will not only bless, but will strengthen us. In the words of Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”(Philippians 4:13).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Jerusalem and the Wall of Fire (Zechariah 2-3)

Scripture reading – Zechariah 2; Zechariah 3

Our study of the Book of Zechariah continues in what is admittedly a challenging passage of Scripture. It has been observed by many that Zechariah is apocalyptic, and is to the Old Testament, what the Book of Revelation is to the New Testament. The visions of the prophet embraced both an imminent implication, and a far-reaching application, thus giving us a glimpse of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom.

So far, we have considered the first (1:7-17) and second (1:18-21) of the eight visions of Zechariah. Today’s study will focus upon the third (2:1-13) and fourth visions (3:1-10). As you will see, the visions abound in symbols, whose interpretations have given cause for much debate through the centuries.

Zechariah 2 – The Third Vision: The Surveyor (2:1-13)

Zechariah’s third vision was of “a man with a measuring line in his hand” (2:1). Seeing the man, the prophet asked, “Whither goest thou?” (2:2a) The man answered, “To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof” (2:2).

Who was the man with the measuring line? Zechariah identified him in verse 3 as “the angel that talked with me” (2:3). I believe he (2:1) was a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. A second angel then appeared in the vision, and the first angel commanded him, saying, “Run, speak to this young man” (whom I believe was Zechariah, 2:4). The second angel was the bearer of good news for Zechariah, and foretold, “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein” (2:4).

Though the city was desolate at the time, and the Jews were exiles in Babylon, the angel foretold a future day when Jerusalem would be a bustling city, “without walls” (dwelling in peace), and its population overflowing its boundaries (2:4b). The reference to Jerusalem in this passage is still future, for that city is today surrounded by nations that would destroy the Jewish State. Yet, there is coming a day when Jerusalem will have no need of walls, for the LORD promised He will be to that city “a wall of fire round about” (literally, a ring of fire, 2:5).

A Warning to the Jews Dwelling in Babylon (2:6-9)

There is some debate as to the timing of the vision, and some suggest it predated the Jew’s return from exile. Nevertheless, the warning is for any who would presume to live in safety in Babylon. So, the Lord warned them to get out saying, “7Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon” (2:7). The Gentile nations who had oppressed and spoiled Judah and Jerusalem, would be judged, and learn that God’s people are “the apple of His eye” (2:8), and precious in His sight (Psalm 103:13; 116:15).

The Second Coming and the Millennial Kingdom (2:10-13)

Zechariah’s third vision concluded with the LORD calling the people of Jerusalem to “Sing and rejoice,” for He promised to “come…and dwell in the midst” (2:10). In that day, not only the Jews, but “many nations” will celebrate Christ dwelling “in the midst,” and all would know the God of heaven, “the Lord of hosts hath sent” Him to reign on the earth (2:11).

Zechariah 3 – The Fourth Vision: The Cleansing and Restoration of Jerusalem

Two individuals appeared before the LORD in Zechariah’s fourth vision: “Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD [preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ], and Satan standing at his [Joshua’s] right hand to resist him [Joshua]” (3:1). The high priest, being Israel’s representative before the LORD, was the symbol of the nation, while Satan, who was the fallen angel Lucifer, was (and is) the personification of pride, rebellion, and wickedness.

Reminiscent of Satan appearing before the LORD to accuse Job (Job 1), that wicked one was present to accuse Joshua, and to resist the LORD who promised to restore His people to Jerusalem (3:2). The LORD rebuked Satan, and declared He had “chosen Jerusalem,” and boasted, “Is not this a brand [Jerusalem] plucked out of the fire?” (3:2b). The LORD had employed the heathen to punish His people for their sins, and though Judah and Jerusalem had passed through the fire, God promised He would pluck them out (3:2b).

Joshua’s Appearance (3:3-5)

The Joshua of Zechariah 3 was not the servant to Moses, who led Israel to conquer the Promised Land; but rather, this Joshua before us was the high priest who served as the spiritual leader of the post-exilic Jews (Haggai 1:2, 12; 2:4). As high priest, Joshua’s “filthy garments” personified Israel’s spiritual condition in captivity (3:3).

Because the LORD is intolerant of anything that is not pure and holy, He commanded, “Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him [Joshua] he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment” (3:4). Commanding a “fair mitre” (an unsoiled headdress) be placed upon Joshua’s head (3:5), his garments were changed, symbolic of God’s people repenting of their sins, being cleansed and restored to the LORD (3:4-5). Knowing Joshua served before the LORD as the representative of Israel, he was charged to obey the LORD, and keep the charge of the courts of God’s Temple (3:6-7).

Notice three symbols of the Messiah were given: Priests (for the LORD is the believer’s High Priest, 3:8a); the “BRANCH” (3:8b; 6:12; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6);  and a Stone, with “seven eyes” (seven being the number of completeness, and speaking of the LORD’s omniscience, 3:9).

Our devotional concludes with a blessed promise of peace and blessings, for when Christ reigns, “every man [shall call for] his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree” (3:10).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The LORD Has Chosen Jerusalem (Zechariah 1)

Scripture reading – Haggai 2, Zechariah 1

This is the second of two daily devotionals. The prophet Zechariah was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai. Both prophets ministered in Jerusalem during the post-exilic era (Ezra 1:1-2). Zechariah, a young prophet at the time, had the same task as Haggai: To challenge and exhort God’s people to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

While the prophecies of Haggai focused on encouraging the Jews to finish rebuilding the Temple, the prophecies of Zechariah had a far-reaching context. In fact, the prophecies of the latter were not only applicable to the Jews of his day, but to all believers who live in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ when He returns as the Messiah King.

Zechariah 1:1-6 – Zechariah’s Commission

Zechariah announced with exactness the date his ministry as prophet began in Jerusalem, for it was “in the eighth month, in the second year of Darius” (520 B.C.,  1:1), and two months after the commencement of Haggai’s ministry (Haggai 1:1). Born in Babylon during the captivity, Zechariah’s ministry was to convey to the Jews the LORD’s displeasure for neglecting His house (the Temple, 1:2). Their failure provoked God’s wrath; however, the LORD was longsuffering. He commanded Zechariah to say to the people, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts” (1:3).

To enlighten His prophet, the LORD came to Zechariah in eight nighttime visions. The visions gave the prophet a glimpse of future blessings, and the LORD’s promise to pour out His glory on His people if they would repent of their sins and turn to Him. Briefly, today’s devotional will consider the first and second visions.

The first vision: Horsemen among a grove of myrtle trees (1:7-17)

Zechariah saw a “man riding upon a red horse…among the myrtle trees…and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white” (1:8). While the number of horses is not given, we notice the horses had riders (1:10-11). I believe the man on the red horse was “the angel of the LORD” (1:8-12), a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. Zechariah 1:11 reveals the vision occurred at a time when the nations of the world were at peace (the Persians having subdued the nations of the Babylonian empire). The Jews, having served Babylon in captivity for seventy years, were not at peace (1:12).

 

Indicating a season of judgment would come upon the Gentile nations for their harsh treatment of His people, Zechariah cried out against the heathen and declared for the LORD, “I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. 15 And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease [peace] (1:14-15). Then, the LORD promised to show mercy, and prosper His people if they would rebuild His Temple (1:16). What a joy it would have been for the impoverished Jews to hear Zechariah prophesy, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem” (1:17).

The second vision: “Four horns” representing four world powers (1:18-21)

We have noted in earlier devotionals that horns were symbols of strength, power, and authority. The four horns represented four Gentile nations that had and would “scatter Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem” (1:18-19). Historically and prophetically, we know those nations were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome (reminding us of Nebuchadnezzar’s image which represented the same nations, Daniel 2). In the vision, the LORD sent “four carpenters” [builders] who were to “cast out” or cut off the “horns of the Gentiles, which lifted up their horn over the land of Judah to scatter it” (1:21).

Closing thoughts – The four carpenters were not identified, but we have here a wonderful reminder how the LORD had not forgotten His people, nor the wrongs they suffered. God was waiting for the Jews to repent of their sins, that He might defeat their enemies, and overwhelm them with His blessings.

Is the LORD waiting on you? He promises to bless His people when they confess their sins, repent, and turn to Him.

Psalm 51:10-12 – Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2)

Scripture reading – Haggai 2, Zechariah 1

The Book of Ezra revealed there were adversaries who disrupted, and for 15 years curtailed the work on the Temple. They had made a pretense of assisting in building the Temple; however, Zerubbabel wisely refused their offer (Ezra 4:1-3). Those same enemies accused Judah’s leaders of sedition (Ezra 5:3-17).  When Darius became king of Persia, the enemy accused the Jews of lacking authority to build (Ezra 6). This is the first of two devotionals for today’s Scripture reading.

Haggai 2

The LORD countered the voices of the enemies and critics, and sent His prophets (Haggai and Zechariah, Ezra 5:1), who encouraged the people saying, “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel (the civic leader), saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts” (2:4).

Assuring the people the LORD would fill the new Temple with His glory (2:7), Haggai declared, “8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts. 9The 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” (2:8-9).

How did the LORD fill the second Temple with His glory, especially since there is no record of such an event as it was with Solomon’s Temple? (1 Kings 8:10-11)

Though the second Temple lacked the beauty and splendor of the first, unbeknownst to the Jews, the LORD Himself would one day grace its halls with His bodily presence. Jesus, the incarnate, virgin born Son of God would be dedicated there as an infant (Luke 2:25-38). As a boy, he would be found both listening and questioning the rabbis regarding the Word of the LORD in the Temple court (Luke 2:46-52). As a man, Christ brought to the Temple a message of hope and peace for all men (2:9; Luke 4:17-22).

A Question of Holiness and Contamination (2:10-19)

Haggai’s fourth message to God’s people was recorded in the closing verses of this brief book. Stirred by the messages of Haggai and Zechariah, the Jews were building the Temple with a zeal that would finally see it completed. The sermon was delivered two months after the third message, and the subject was on God’s stipulations for purity and holiness (as opposed to that which is unholy and “unclean,” 2:12-13). The implication of the lesson was, the LORD only accepts and blesses that which is righteous (2:14). When God’s people sin, they sacrifice His blessings, and invite His judgment (2:15-19).

A Challenge to Zerubbabel (2:20-23)

On the same day he delivered the fourth message to the people building the Temple, Haggai had a final revelation for Zerubbabel, the leaders and governor of Judah (2:20-23). Who was Zerubbabel? He was a leader of the tribe of Judah, but more importantly, he was of the linage of David, and named in the lineage of Christ (2:6; Matthew 1:12-13).

The LORD made a far-reaching promise to “Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth” (2:21). Babylon had been overthrown, and Persia ruled the world, but the LORD reminded Zerubbabel He alone was sovereign and nations rise and fall within His divine providence (2:22). No king or kingdom is so strong that the LORD will not overthrow and “destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen” (2:22).

Closing thought – Haggai closed with a wonderful, Messianic promise (2:23). The LORD revealed Zerubbabel was chosen by “the LORD of hosts,” and one of his lineage would bear the “signet” (typically a ring monarchs used to seal covenants or legal documents in wax). The Messiah would come not only through David (2 Samuel 7:12, 16), but also through Zerubbabel, for he had been chosen! (2:23).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1)

Scripture reading – Haggai 1

The book of Haggai falls chronologically at the conclusion of Ezra 4 and the commencement of Ezra 5. The dateline of Haggai is, as the opening verse states, “In the second year of Darius the king [king of Persia], in the sixth month, in the first day of the month” (Haggai 1:1). Incredibly, eighteen years had passed since Cyrus, king of Persia, had declared, “The LORD God of heaven…hath charged me to build Him an house (Temple) at Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2), followed by an edict freeing the Jews to return to their homeland (Ezra 1:3).

As is often seen when great works are undertaken, there was initial enthusiasm as the people erected the altar and then set themselves to the task of clearing the rubble in preparation for laying the foundation for the new Temple. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel (also known by his Babylonian name, Sheshbazzar), who served as governor of Judah, and was of the Davidic line (named in the lineage of Jesus Christ, Matthew 1:12-13), the preparations to lay the Temple foundation were halted when adversaries opposed the work and discouraged the people (Ezra 4).

It was at this time, a time of discouragement, that God raised up two prophets to minister in Judah. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah, both mentioned in Ezra 5:1, were contemporaries in Judah. Though the book of Haggai is only two chapters in length, it carried an important message for that prophet’s generation, “Get to work!”

Haggai 1

Facing opposition to the work on the Temple, the people’s focus and labor moved from rebuilding the Temple to building their homes.  The Temple was neglected for ten years, while the people labored in their fields and lived in the comfort of their “ceiled houses” (1:4).  When they were reminded the Temple was unfinished, the people answered, “The time is not come, the time that the LORD’S house should be built’ (1:2).

Does that sentiment remind you of someone you know?  Perhaps yourself?  Many believers do not reject outright the opportunity to minister and serve the LORD; yet, we may be guilty of procrastination, and suggesting by our words or attitude, “the time is not come” (1:2).

The LORD had been longsuffering with His people; however, the time of reckoning had come and He sent Haggai to prophesy and rebuke the people for failing to build the Temple.  Haggai admonished the people, “Consider you ways!(1:5, 7). He warned the LORD would withhold His blessings, and their labor in the fields would be futile until the Temple was built (1:6-11).

The problem was not what they had done (building homes for their families and planting crops), but what they had failed to do.

Leaving no doubt why they struggled, and the harvests were so little, Haggai detailed five effects for their failure to build the Temple: Poor harvests; ceaseless hunger; unquenchable thirst, futility in achieving comfort, and financial distress (1:6). Haggai proclaimed:

Haggai 1:9 – 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 unto his own house.

Godly men that they were, after hearing the Word of the LORD spoken by the prophet, Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest, “obeyed the voice of the LORD their God…and the people did fear before the LORD” (1:12).

Closing thought (1:13-15) – Because the people responded with humility, the LORD encouraged them saying, “I am with you, saith the LORD,  14 And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (1:13-14).

Meditate on this: You will want for nothing when God’s purposes and His glory are your priority: “For the LordGod is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace [favor] and glory [honor]: no good thing [blessing] will he withhold from them that walk uprightly [blameless]” (Psalm 84:11).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

A New Beginning (Ezra 6, Psalm 137)

Scripture reading – Ezra 6, Psalm 137

We are continuing our study of Israel’s history after the Jews returned from exile. With the decree of king Cyrus to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (1:1-3), one might think the work on the Temple would be without opposition. After all, God’s people came to Zion with the affirmation of the king, his assurance of financial support, and the command for those Jews not returning to support those who were (1:4-11).

Fifty thousand Jews responded to the prospect of going home to the land God had promised Israel (2:1-70). After arriving in the land and settling in their homes, the people set about the task of building an altar (3:1-4) and laid the foundation of the Temple (3:5-11). A celebration began when the last stone of the foundation was set in its place, (3:11); however, rejoicing was soon followed by sorrow. There arose enemies who opposed the work on the Temple (Ezra 4). When they failed to halt the work (4:1-11), they appealed to the king of Persia (4:11-16) and accused the children of Israel of plotting a rebellion against the king.

Artaxerxes, king of Persia, ordered a search of the archives of the kings (4:17-22). Finding Israel and Judah had a history of rebelling against the occupation of their lands and cities, the king decreed the work on the Temple to cease (4:23-24).

Sixteen years passed, until the LORD sent His prophets, Haggai and Zechariah (5:1), who “prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem (5:1). “2Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God…and with them were the prophets of God helping them” (5:2). Again, the enemies of God’s people rose up to oppose them, and then appealed to the king (5:3-17).

Ezra 6

King Darius commanded a search be made of the archives (6:1), where it was discovered Cyrus, king of Persia, had commanded the Temple be built (6:3). Additionally, the king  had made provision for sacrifices, and given the dimensions and material composition of the Temple (6:3-5).

In a twist of humor, and serving as a testimony to the sovereignty of God, the attempt of the enemy to derail the work on the Temple concluded with the Jews being favored by the king. King Darius not only commanded the Jews’ enemies financially support their work, but also supply what was needed for food and sacrifices (6:6-10). Giving warning to any who might oppose them, the king proclaimed, “I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this” (6:11).

Ezra 6 concluded with a glorious celebratory dedication of the new Temple (6:15-17). The priests and Levites were divided and assigned their duties “as it [was] written in the book of Moses” (6:18), and the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were renewed (6:19-22).

What a wonderful, providential turn of events in the lives of God’s people! Knowing a king of Persia could not rescind a law once it was avowed, the LORD had preserved Cyrus’ decree for the Temple to be rebuilt. Darius was bound to the king’s edict, and moved to ensure it was fulfilled.

Closing thoughts – Notice Psalm 137 affords us a perspective on the sorrows the Jews bore during their years in Babylon. The children of Israel took for granted the grace and mercies of God, and continued in their sins until there was no remedy but the judgment of the LORD. God raised up many prophets to warn Israel and Judah, should they continue in their sins He would deliver them to their enemies.  Yet, they would not heed the warnings of His prophets, but continued in their sins until all was lost.

Arriving as captives in Babylon, the Jews were haunted by the memories of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Temple destroyed by fire. So, we read, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion” (137:1).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Discouragement: The Devil’s Favorite Tool (Ezra 4; Ezra 5)

Scripture reading – Ezra 4; Ezra 5

With the foundation of the Temple laid, the air was filled with the sound of trumpets and cymbals, and the people “sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel” (3:11). The shouts of the younger generation, mingled with the tears of the “ancient men” (3:12), were “heard afar off” (3:13). Unbeknown to the people, their adversaries heard the noise of the celebration, and determined to halt the effort to rebuild the Temple (4:1). Ezra wrote, “the adversaries [enemies; foes] of Judah and Benjamin heard [took notice] that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel” (4:1).

Ezra 4 – Four Methods the Enemy Employed to Discourage God’s People (4:1-16)

On the pretense of friendship, the adversaries came to Zerubbabel (whom I believe was identified in Ezra 1:8 by his Babylonian name, “Shesbazzar, the prince of Judah”), and suggested Assimilation. These enemies had been a part of the Assyrian policy to resettle a conquered land with people of other nations. Though they were a wicked, idolatrous people, they said to Zerubbabel, “Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither” (4:2). Zerubbabel and Jeshua, joined by “the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel” (4:3), rejected the pretext of assimilation, saying, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us” (4:3).

Undeterred in their desire to hinder rebuilding the Temple, the enemies began a campaign of Aggravation (4:4-5). As time passed, “the people of the land [foreigners occupying Judah’s land] weakened the hands [the resolve] of the people of Judah, and troubled [terrified] them in building” (4:4). They even “hired counsellors [conspirators; agitators] against them, to frustrate their purpose” (4:5).

When assimilation and aggravation failed to stop the work on the Temple, the enemy turned to Adjudication, and addressed a letter to the king of Persia, and challenged the legality and legitimacy of the work to rebuild the Temple (4:6-10).

When all else failed, the adversaries of the people made a fourth attempt to impede the work on the Temple, and brought false Accusations against the Jews. The enemy employed two tactics in their spurious charges against the Jews: Deception; though the people were building the Temple, the enemy charged them with “building the rebellious and bad city” (4:12). The second tactic was Distortion, for the enemy questioned the integrity of God’s people, and implied the Jews were rebuilding the fortress of Jerusalem to the end they might rebel (4:13-15). The false accusations against the Jews were so serious, they eventually moved the king to send a letter to Jerusalem that demanded the work cease (4:23-24).

Closing thoughts – The antagonism and unrelenting attacks of their adversaries not only discouraged the people, but eventually halted the work on the Temple. Succumbing to spiritual lethargy, it seemed the enemies of Judah and Benjamin had succeeded. The work on the Temple ceased for 15 long years (Haggai 1:2-11), and the jubilation of Ezra 3, turned to sorrow and discouragement (4:24).

Lesson – Of all the implements in the devil’s toolbox, the most effective is discouragement. Believer, faithful servants of the LORD will always have detractors. Sadly, there are some in the church who feel their calling is to be a critic (by the way, they are usually the ones sitting on the sidelines of ministry).

Ezra 5

The work on the Temple had ceased, but the LORD had an answer for discouragement: He sent His prophets! “Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, [who] prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them” (5:1). Haggai preached messages that convicted (Haggai 1:5, 7, 9-11), while Zechariah preached messages of comfort and exhortation [dreams and visions]. Stirred by the prophets of God, Zerubbabel and Jeshua returned to the work, and “began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them” (5:2).

Closing thoughts – No sooner had the work on the Temple begun, than the adversaries returned, asking, “Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?” (5:3). Recognizing there was nothing they could do or say to appease their adversaries, the men working on the Temple answered the question with their own question: “What are the names of the men that make this building?” (5:4) Stated in another way: What business is it of yours, who has commanded us to build? We do not see your name on the list of contractors!

The elders of the people determined they would not be stopped from building the house of the Lord. They were confident “the eye of their God was upon” them (5:5). Once again, their enemies accused the Jews to the king (5:4-5). Unwittingly, they gave him cause to search the historical records of the kings of Persia, remembering the decree of a Persian king could not be rescinded (5:6-17).

As you will see, the tide will turn in Ezra 6 when the enemies opposed to rebuilding the Temple, will be forced to finance it with their own offerings.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Tears of Joy, Mingled with Tearful Memoires (Ezra 3)

Scripture reading – Ezra 3

As we have seen, the Book of Ezra marked the end of a 70-year period of captivity for God’s people. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 B.C. While the LORD sent prophets to call the people to repent, and encourage them with the promise the Jewish people would one day be restored to their land, the majority dismissed the prophets. With the fall of Babylon, many despaired of ever seeing Mount Zion. Then, king Cyrus of Persia decreed, “The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (1:2).

Two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, responded to the Spirit of God, and along with certain priests and Levites, returned to rebuild the Temple and city of Jerusalem (Ezra 2). Ezra 2 concluded with God’s people arriving in Jerusalem, bearing the offerings of the people who remained in Babylon. With them were the silver and gold vessels Cyrus had released from the treasuries of Babylon.

Ezra 3

Some suggest the difficult journey from Babylon to Jerusalem could have taken as much as four months. Perhaps allowing another three months for the people to rebuild their homes, villages and towns, it was “when the seventh month was come…the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem: (3:1). I suggest three observations for the sake of our study.

A Shared Purpose (3:1, 3-11)

The people “gathered themselves together as one” (3:1). Setting aside their personal interests for the sake of the whole (for they had been building their homes, and planting crops), they “gathered” as one (3:1). They worked together, worshipped together (3:3-5), sacrificed together (3:6-8), and rejoiced together (3:10-11).

A Shared Sacrifice (3:6-7)

Notice the use of the plural pronoun “they” (3:6-7). They came together to “offer burnt offerings unto the LORD” (3:6a). They gave what they could out of what they had, for “they gave money [silver and gold] also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat [from their livestock], and drink [from their vineyards], and oil [from their groves]” (3:7). They recognized the LORD was proprietor of everything they possessed (Haggai 2:8).

A Shared Joy (3:10-11)

I have learned the happiest believers are those who have set aside personal agendas for the opportunity of serving the LORD and others. Because they shared mutual purpose, and a mutual sacrifice, they shared in the celebration. It was natural that they rejoiced as one, when the final stones of the foundation were laid (3:10).

For the celebration, the priests wore their finest robes and sounded the shofar. The Levites, “with cymbals,” lifted their voices and praised the LORD according to the “ordinance of David king of Israel” (3:10). The people, singing and shouting as they praised the LORD, were so loud their voices were heard by their enemies (4:1).

Closing thoughts (3:12-13) – Unfortunately, there were some who did not share in the joy and celebration when the foundation to the Temple was laid. A discordant sound was heard in the midst of the celebration, for certain “ancient men” (elderly priests, Levites, and tribal leaders) remembered seeing the Temple of Solomon before it was destroyed (3:12). They lived in the past, and scoffed at the work that was done.

The LORD confronted the ancients through His prophet Zechariah, and asked, “who hath despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:9-10). The prophet Haggai echoed Zechariah’s sentiment and asked, “Who is left among you that saw this house [the Temple] in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3).

They were elderly men, and it is doubtful they were numbered among those who physically labored on the foundation of the Temple. They were guilty of a sin I have observed of many through the years:

Personal observations: I have learned the voices of critics usually arise from among those who have sacrificed little.

Remember: A critical, negative spirit eventually marks you, and invariably mars you.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Miracle of Israel’s Presence (Ezra 1; Ezra 2)

Scripture reading – Ezra 1; Ezra 2

Our chronological study of the Scriptures continues with our focus being the Book of Ezra. Ezra, the author, will not be introduced to until chapter 7; however, he has given us a record of Judah’s return from Babylonian captivity to the Promised Land.

A Historical Perspective

If you are a student of history, you are aware it is a miracle for any people to return from captivity, and once again become a nation. Apart from Israel, I can give no example of an ancient people who recovered from the desolation Israel suffered. The nations of Philistia, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Amalek, Phoenicia, the Hittites, and Amorites no longer exist. The great empires of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome are mere footnotes in the history of mankind; yet, there is one populace identifiable as an ancient people in today’s world – the Jews.

Although a powerful, influential nation during the reigns of David and Solomon, Israel was and is geographically no more than a sliver of land. Never a great population, or known for military conquests, the Jews, though beloved and despised continue to exist. Of all ancient peoples, why have the Jews continued as a distinctive people?

The presence of a Jewish people in the 21st century is a testimony of God’s Covenant promises to Abraham. God’s promise to bless Abraham and his seed as the stars of heaven, is a promise which continues to this day (Genesis 22:17). Not only has God been faithful to His covenant promises with Abraham, He has also been faithful to His promises to all those who by faith in Christ, become sons of Abraham, of which the apostle Paul wrote, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).

Ezra 1

The Book of Ezra opened with a statement that set the date and timeline of our study, for it was “in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that…the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom” (1:1). The year was about 538 B.C., and the proclamation was issued when Daniel, though aged, was still God’s prophet to God’s people in Babylon. Daniel was near the end of his ministry (having been captive in Babylon for 70 years), but the LORD had chosen a young priest named Ezra to serve Him and His people. While Daniel ministered to a generation who suffered the consequences of their sins, Ezra would be priest to a new generation that would return to Israel, and rebuild their lives and nation.

What an exciting time! Remembering, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Proverbs 21:1), the opening verses of Ezra remind us the God of Israel is Sovereign over heaven and earth (1:1-2). Having conquered Babylon, Cyrus, declared the God of heaven had moved his heart to build His Temple in Jerusalem (1:1-2).

The Liberty to Go Home (1:3-11)

Fulfilling the LORD’s promise to restore Israel and Judah to their land, Cyrus granted the Jews liberty to return home. The king challenged them, asking, “3Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem” (1:3).

Facing formidable hardships, for Jerusalem was in ruins and the Temple destroyed, only a small number (estimated 50,000), responded to the call. Those Jews who chose not to return home, were challenged to financially support those willing to return, providing them with silver, gold, goods, and beasts, “beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem” (1:4).

Only two of the twelve tribes (Judah and Benjamin) responded to the challenge to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple (1:5). The Spirit of God also stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites, who were moved “to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (1:5).

As commanded by the king, the remaining Jewish people in Babylon gave of their wealth and possessions to support those returning to Israel (1:8). Also, king Cyrus retrieved the gold and silver vessels of the Temple that were taken by Nebuchadnezzar (1:8). After accounting for the number of vessels, the king sent them with those going “up from Babylon unto Jerusalem” (1:11).

Ezra 2 – A Census of Families

A census was taken of those departing Babylon, and returning to Israel. The names of families and households were forever recorded in the Word of God, and we will briefly consider them by their occupations. Two men were principal leaders of those returning: Zerubbabel represented the civic leadership of the people (2:2; Haggai 1:14), while Jeshua represented the spiritual leadership (2:2; 3:2; Haggai 1:14). Individual families were recorded (2:3-20), as well as the villages and cities of their lineage (2:21-35). There were priests (2:36-39), Levites (identified as singers and gatekeepers, 2:41-42), and servants who oversaw the menial tasks of the Temple (2:43-54). There were also families identified as “the children of Solomon’s servants” (2:55-58).

There were also some who accompanied and identified with the children of Israel; however, when the records were examined, there was no record of their lineage (2:59-60). Some aspired to be priests, but when it was found there was no genealogical record of their lineage, they were put out of the priesthood (2:61-63).

Closing thoughts (2:64-70) – The total of those who returned to Jerusalem was 42,360; however, it is believed the number did not include children 12 years and younger. Altogether, I suppose there were more than 50,000 who left the comforts and pleasures of Babylon, and embraced the liberty of believing God’s promises and trusting Him. Sadly, I fear the same might be observed in our day.

Are you numbered among those who live by faith, love the LORD, and obey His Word?

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

A Crisis of Faith and Integrity (Daniel 3; Daniel 4)

Scripture reading – Daniel 3; Daniel 4

Scholars suggest a 20-year gap exists between Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image (Daniel 2), and his elevation of one “in the plain of Dura,” outside the massive walls of the city of Babylon (Daniel 3:1). Assuming the passing of two decades, Daniel and his three Hebrew companions were then in their mid-30’s, in the prime of manhood, and serving as administrators in Nebuchadnezzar’s government (2:48-49). Today’s devotional will be focused on Daniel 3, though our Scripture reading includes Daniel 4.

The King’s Idol (3:1-3)

In spite of him confessing Daniel’s God was “the God of gods, the Lord of kings” (2:47), the king had gone his own way, and returned to his idolatry, worshipping and offering sacrifices to idols. Yet, the king remembered the image of his dreams, and Daniel’s interpretation that the golden head of the image represented his realm as king (2:38). The proud king, not content with an image bearing only a head of gold, determined to raise an entire image of gold. Standing an impressive 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide, the golden image towered above men. Understanding the diversity of nations under his rule, Nebuchadnezzar expected all men to worship his idol (3:2-3).

A Crisis of Integrity (3:4-18)

With a day of dedication determined, a herald called “all people, nations, and languages” (3:4) to bow and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (3:4-5). With the warning, Bow or Burn, all men and women were expected to give homage to “the golden image” (3:7).  A sea of humanity gathered before the great image, and when the music was heard, all bowed before the image, with the exception of three men. The assimilation of the children of Israel into Babylonian culture had been universal, with the exception of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel’s absence was perhaps due to his travels on behalf of the king).

There were some Chaldeans who used the occasion to accuse the three Hebrew men, that prompted an inquisition before the king (3:13-15). Although angered by their refusal, and perhaps out of respect for Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar gave Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego a second opportunity to bow before his idol, but also repeated the consequences should they refuse (3:15).

Though far from their home and the godly influences of their youth, the three men proved steadfast in their convictions (Exodus 20:3-5), and recognized two outcomes for their fidelity:  “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 8But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up“ (3:17-18).

The Fire of the King’s Indignation (3:19-26)

Overcome with “rage and fury” (3:13, 19), Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace heated 7 times hotter than normal. The king then commanded his “most mighty men” (perhaps his own guard) to bind and cast Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego into the furnace (3:19-21). The fire of the furnace instantly killed the mighty men when they cast the men into the furnace (3:21-23). Sitting down to observe, the king was suddenly shaken by the sight of not three, but four men walking about in the furnace, and unscathed by its heat and flames (3: 24). Nebuchadnezzar likened the fourth to a heavenly figure, and said he was “like the Son of God” (3:26).

A Divine Intervention (3:26-27)

Humbled by the miraculous preservation of the three men, and the sight of the divine image of the fourth, the king summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego by name, calling them the “servants of the most high God” (3:26). The men emerged from the furnace (3:26), as their accusers gathered and were amazed “the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them” (3:27).

The King’s Invocation (3:28-30)

Realizing only the ropes that bound them was singed by the flames (3:27), Nebuchadnezzar confessed “the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego” had sent His angel to save them (3:28). The king confessed the LORD had overruled his edict, and spared their lives “that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God” (3:28).

Closing thoughts (3:29-30) – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s conviction to worship no other God, inspired the king to dare any of his kingdom to speak ill of their God, and to declare “there is no other God that can deliver after this sort” (3:29). The men were not only preserved from death, but were promoted by the king (3:30).

Believer, you might not face a fiery furnace, but you will certainly face fiery troubles and trials. I urge you to follow Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s example. Before they faced the temptation to bow to the golden image, we can be sure they had determined in their hearts they would trust the God of heaven and only worship and serve Him.

Romans 8:35–3935Who shall separate [come between] us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation [trouble], or distress [hardships; anguish], or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life…nor things present, nor things to come…shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.