Category Archives: Prophecy

Zechariah’s Flying Scroll (Zechariah 5; Zechariah 6)

Scripture reading – Zechariah 5; Zechariah 6

Continuing our study of Zechariah’s eight visions, we come to the sixth scene described as “A Flying Scroll” (5:1-4). The seventh vision was of “A Wicked Woman in a Basket” (5:5-11); and the eighth and final vision was one of “Four Horse Drawn Chariots” (6:1-8). I will limit today’s devotional to Zechariah 5, and consider only the sixth vision.

The Sixth Vision: A Flying Scroll (5:1-4)

Having been awakened from sleep (4:1), the prophet turned and beheld what he described as “a flying roll” (5:1). The angel who inquired of Zechariah in earlier visions, asked, “What seest thou?” (5:2) Then, the prophet answered, saying, “I see a flying roll; the length thereof is twenty cubits, and the breadth thereof ten cubits” (5:2b).

The word “roll” was in fact a very large scroll, measuring roughly 15 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Given the dimensions, this scroll was certainly no ordinary scroll (which were roughly 18 inches tall, by as much as 20 feet long, and rolled out as the reader studied its words). Though Zechariah described the dimensions of the scroll, he did not know its meaning.

The angel then revealed what was written in the scroll, saying, “This is the curse [judgment] that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth: For every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it; And every one that sweareth [by the name of the LORD] shall be cut off as on that side according to it” (5:3). Zechariah 5:4 expanded on the initial revelation (5:3), and the LORD declared, “4I will bring it [the curse by the way of the commandments] forth, saith the Lord of hosts, And it shall enter into the house of the thief, And into the house of him that sweareth falsely by my name: And it shall remain in the midst of his house, And shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof” (5:4).

The Interpretation of the Vision (5:3-4)

Though Zechariah found only two of the Ten Commandments written on the scroll (Exodus 20); we can be assured all ten of the commandments were recorded there. It is not disclosed why the vision considered only the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15), and the third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). However, the purpose of the vision is stated, for the scroll [God’s Word and Commandments] was not limited to the Jewish people, but was to go forth from the LORD and “over the face of the whole earth” (5:3).

The Application of the Vision (5:3-4)

The influence of the Commandments on the laws and governance of mankind is undeniable. They are the moral basis of man’s relationships with God (Exodus 20:1-12), and with mankind (Exodus 20:13-17). Every nation that has embraced the Law of God is blessed, but those nations that reject the Commandments are cursed (5:3). Though a man and nation might reject the commandments of the LORD, they are not spared its judgment.

Entering the house as a “flying roll,” the Law remained “in the midst of [the] house” (5:4). Though men might dismiss the weight of the Law of God, we will not be excluded from its judgment.

Closing thoughtBreak the Law of God and you will surely “be cut off” (5:3, 4).

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 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.

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.

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.

Four Beasts, Four Kingdoms, and God Who is Sovereign (Daniel 7)

Scripture reading – Daniel 7

An old adage goes, “Hindsight is 20\20,” and that is certainly true when we are privileged to look at Bible prophecy “in the rearview mirror.” Continuing our chronological study of the Scriptures, we are in the midst of The Book of Daniel, and its engaging and illuminating prophecies. I do not have time or space for an in-depth study of the prophecy recorded in Daniel 7, yet, I pray a simple study and interpretation of today’s Scripture will be a blessing,

Daniel 7

With the historical events of the rise and fall of Babylon behind us (Daniel 1-6), the next six chapters of our study will be prophetical (Daniel 7-12). The year before us is 553 BC, and was “the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon” (7:1). Perhaps remembering the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams (Daniel 7), “Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters” (7:1). As you will see, Daniel’s dream paralleled Nebuchadnezzar’s great image and was a vision of future events.

I suggest there are three parts to Daniel’s dream (7:2-14), with the first section being of four beasts that represented four kings and their kingdoms (7:2-6). The second part of the dream was a dramatic, and terrible transformation that occurred to the fourth beast (7:7-12). The third section was a heavenly vision of the LORD sitting on His throne (7:13-14).

Four Beasts and Four World Empires (7:2-8)

Awakened from his sleep, Daniel wrote, “I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea” (7:2). The “great sea” was the “sea of humanity,” and represented the Gentile nations of the world (Isaiah 57:20; Revelation 17:1, 15). “The four winds of the heaven [that] strove upon the great sea” (7:2) portrayed the judgment of God coming from all directions…the east, north, south, and west winds.

The four beasts of Daniel’s dream were a parallel of the depiction of Nebuchadnezzar’s great image (Daniel 2) that foretold four great Gentile kingdoms. The first beast was depicted as a lion with the eagles’ wings (7:4). Like the head of gold of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, it was a symbol of Babylon. The prophets often depicted Babylon as a lion and eagle (Jeremiah 4:7, 13; 48:40; 49:19, 22; 50:17; Habakkuk 1:6, 9). The “lion-hearted” man was said to have his wings plucked, and to “stand upon the feet as a man” (possibly reminding us how Nebuchadnezzar had been humbled for seven years until he acknowledged God, and then his beastly heart was replaced with “a man’s heart” 7:4).

The second beast in Daniel’s dream resembled a bear with three ribs in its mouth (7:5). Corresponding to the silver arms and chest of Nebuchadnezzar’s image (2:32, 39), the bear represented the Medes and Persians who would overwhelm Babylon in a night. The bear was portrayed as rising up on one side, and must symbolize how the Persians would become the greater of the Medo-Persian kingdoms. The three ribs in the bear’s mouth might represent three kingdoms that were overcome, but that would be mere speculation on my part.

The third kingdom was represented by a leopard with four wings and four heads (7:6). We have the privilege of looking back on history, and know Greece would supplant Persia as the world empire, and was portrayed in Nebuchadnezzar’s image as having a belly and thighs of brass (2:32, 39). The swiftness of the leopard was a tribute to the speed with which Alexander the Great led Greece, conquering the world in three years’ time (334-331 BC). When Alexander died as a young king of 32 years, Greece was divided into four regions and ruled by four generals, hence, the four wings and heads of the leopard (7:6).

Rome, portrayed as a “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly” beast with “great iron teeth” was the fourth beast of Daniel’s dream (7:7). Equivalent to the legs of iron of Nebuchadnezzar’s image (2:33, 40), Rome was portrayed as a brutal kingdom. The ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s image (2:33-35) are represented in Daniel’s dream as the ten horns of the fourth beast (7:7). Representing the strength of a beast, the horn served in the Bible as a symbol of kings (1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 132:17).

The Antichrist: The Rise of the “Little Horn” (7:19-20)

Daniel observed a “little horn” arose in the midst of ten horns (a league of ten kingdoms), and dislodged three horns (kings) in its rise to power (7:8). The prophetic significance was a king would arise in the midst of what would be the Roman Empire, and rise above other kings to reign (7:19-20). Students of prophecy believe the “little horn” will be the antichrist of the last days, for he is depicted as having “eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things” (indicative of pride, boasting, and blasphemy, 7:8, 11, 20, 25). He will be the enemy of the saints, and will reign for 3.5 years (“a time,” being one year; “and times,” two years; “and the dividing of time,” a half year, 7:25).

Closing thoughts (7: 9-14, 26-28) – The reign of the “little horn” (antichrist) will fail, and be destroyed (7:11, 26), when God, who is “the Ancient of days” sits in judgment (7:9-10).  When Jesus Christ, “the Son of man,” descends from “the clouds of heaven” (7:13), the “little horn” (antichrist) will be judged and cast into the lake of fire (7:11; Revelation 19:20). Christ, the “Son of man,” will be sovereign of a perpetual kingdom (7:14, 28; Mark 14:61-62) and will rule the world a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-8). We join Daniel in being overwhelmed by the vision of history that is yet to be (7:28), but resting in the sovereignty of God and His promises.

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.