Announcing The Best of Israel 2014 Tour

The Grace College and Theological Seminary

Alumni And Friends Invite You On:

The Best of Israel • 12 Day Tour • May 30-June 10, 2014

"Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem." Psalms 122:2

Day 1: Departure
Today we embark on our Journey to the Holy Land. Prepare yourself for a life-changing experience. Get some rest on the flight…tomorrow you will be walking where Jesus walked!

Day 2: Arrive Israel
Arrive in Israel and travel northward to our hotel for one night in the coastal area near Tel Aviv. The remainder of the day is free to walk along the Mediterranean, relax, and have dinner. The time is right for a personal devotional with the sunset over the “Great Sea.” Meet your Israeli guide, enjoy a time of prayer of thanks for safety and the special blessings ahead, a prayer for the people of the "Promised Land," and a good night’s rest.

Day 3: Caesarea, Megiddo & Mt Carmel
After breakfast, we travel by private motor coach along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to Caesarea, where Gentiles first heard the Good News from Peter and were baptized. We’ll see the Roman Amphitheatre, harbor/palace area and aqueduct, and then journey on to Mt. Carmel, where Elijah challenged King Ahab and the prophets of Baal. Next we travel through the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo, the Armageddon Battlefield, where archaeologists have unearthed 20 levels of civilization. We will have free time, dinner and overnight lodging for the next three nights in the Tiberias area on the Sea of Galilee.

Day 4: Dan, Caesarea Philippi, Bethsaida, Corazim, Capernaum
Following breakfast, our morning travels take us to two valuable northern sites emphasizing the loss of God’s blessing on Israel. Dan is where the children of Israel fell to the depths of pagan worship and Caesarea Philippi which is also the site of Peter’s Confession. Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum formed what has been called the "evangelical triangle," because most of Jesus’ miracles in Galilee were performed in these cities. Of special interest are the ruins of a 1st century synagogue in Corazin, the House of the Fisherman in Bethsaida and Peter’s home in Capernaum.

Day 5: Jordan River Baptism Site, Nazareth, Mount of Beatitudes
We begin our day with a visit to the Jordan River Baptismal site. A mid-morning drive through the hills of Galilee takes us through the area ofCana and Nazareth, the boyhood home of Jesus, where we visit the Nazareth Village – a wonderful recreation of Biblical times with costumed guides. Continuing toward Tiberias we drive up to Mt. Arbel for a spectacular view of the northern Sea of Galilee allowing for an excellent time of teaching on the region of Jesus’ ministry. This afternoon we travel on to the site of the multiplication of loaves and fishes and the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee followed by a relaxing boat cruise. A brief scripture reading and devotional on board brings to life the experiences of Jesus and the fishermen disciples. We dock at a working Kibbutz and visit the famous Fisherman Boat from the days of Jesus, a conclusion to a wonderful day.

Day 6: Beit Shean, Bethany & Dead Sea Spa
We begin our day by traveling southward to Beit-Shean/Scythopolis, the most magnificent archeological site in Israel, located at the strategic juncture of the Jezreel and Jordan valleys. Like Jericho, it has been almost continuously occupied throughout history. After defeating Saul and his sons on Mt. Gilboa, the Philistines hanged their bodies on the walls of Beit-Shean. During the intertestamental period, the city was renamed the "Scythopolis". Archaeologists have uncovered a huge number of ruins of the Roman/Byzantine Scythopolis. During the time of Jesus, Scythopolis was one of the chief cities of the Decapolis -a league of ten cities sharing Greek culture and government. Following the fertile Jordan Valley southward, your guide will point out the agricultural restoration of the “Land of Milk and Honey,” the Kibbutz system and Israel’s intricate irrigation development. We pass ancient Jericho, view from a distance this city famed as the oldest in the world, before coming to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, where Elijah and Elisha crossed the Jordan as well as the area where the children of Israel led by Joshua entered the Promised land. Our lodging for the evening is at the Dead Sea – the lowest place on earth. Spend time in the special spa and enjoy a dip in the Dead Sea for a relaxing float before dinner.

Day 7: Masada, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea Scrolls, Abraham’s Tent
Our day begins with a cable car ride to the mountain top fortress ofMasada. Here our guide will treat us to the history of the famous zealot stand. Afterwards we proceed to Ein Gedi, "Spring of the Goat," an oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea. Because of its warm climate and abundant supply of water, the site developed a reputation for its fragrant plants and date palm groves. This is where King David hid from Saul, and where God defeated the enemies of the Israelites by praise and worship led by King Jehoshaphat. Next, we visit Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. This afternoon we will take part in the Genesis Land/Dinner in Abraham’s Tent, where we enjoy a trip back in time: a reliving of life in the time of the Patriarchs, complete with costume, dramatic presentation, and authentic food. Our lodging for the next five nights will be in Jerusalem.

Day 8: Around Jerusalem, Bible Times, Holocaust Museum
Passing by the Protestant Cemetery, we visit the "Upper Room" just outside the Zion Gate where the disciple whom Jesus loved laid his head on His breast and where later Thomas cried, "my Lord & my God." An interesting and educational time awaits us at the Israeli Museum. Walk through collections of centuries old Israeli artifacts including the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a then a guided walk through an accurately detailed model of Biblical Jerusalem will help to prepare you for what you will experience in the following days. We conclude the day with a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, for a needed reminder of what the Jews have suffered as a people.

Day 9: Jesus’ Steps, the Last Days – Messianic Lecture
Today we walk where Jesus walked; beginning the day with a panoramic view of the city, Mount Moriah and the Dome of the Rock from atop theMount of Olives and then the Garden of Gethsemane. How many have wished to be whisked back in time to get a glimpse of our Lord or hear His voice if only for a moment? To walk between the ancient olive trees, read the scriptures of Jesus’ prayer and take time for personal reflection is important here. Next we visit the House of Caiaphas where Jesus was beaten and spit upon. See a pit where he may have been held for the evening and the ancient hillside steps he walked as he was taken to be condemned. On our way into the city we will visit the Wailing Wall and then the fascinating Rabbinical Tunnels leading us through the Second Temple era. The tunnel and exhibit give a clear understanding of the amazing construction of the Temple Mount, giant stones, water supply and Roman street where our Lord was led to judgment. Before exiting the tunnel we see the immense cornerstone rejected by the builders. We move on to the Judgment Hall of Pilate, hear of those who conspired against Him and are reminded of His brutal beating and humiliation. From here we will also be able to see the Pool of Bethesda, Stephen’s Gate and St. Ann’s Church. This evening we enjoy a special lecture by a local believer prior to dinner, giving us a perspective of Messianic life in Israel.

Day 10: City of David, Jeremiah’s Cistern, Hezekiah’s Tunnel
We begin our sightseeing just outside the Dung Gate on the southeastern hill below the Temple Mount in the City of David. It was during the time of Solomon that the city limits extended past this part of Jerusalem. We visit Gihon Springs, the original water source for Jerusalem, view new excavations including a typical Israelite four-room house, the lower city wall and the cistern where Jeremiah was imprisoned. A highlight today will be a water walk through the incredible Hezekiah’s Tunnel to the pool of Siloam, the place of Jesus’ miracle in John 9. Before returning to our hotel, our guide will take us to an overview of the city from the hillside overlooking Jerusalem and the Gehenna Valley. This meaningful teaching time will bring together the many things that you have seen to date.

Day 11: Way of Suffering, Garden Tomb, Pentecost, Bethlehem
While walking along the Via Dolorosa, we are reminded of His way of suffering along with a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Our guide will explain the differing opinions on the route that Christ was led and the actual place of crucifixion and burial is a very interesting study. The climax of the day is the area of Golgotha (place of the skull) and theGarden Tomb, where we celebrate the resurrection with communion and a time of praise. This afternoon we visit the Southern Wall Excavations. This southern side of The Temple was the main entrance for the common folk, whereas the Priests and Levites had their own entrance from the higher eastern side. Parts of the giant stairs, which led to the Temple Mount from the courtyard have been unearthed along with the purification pools. From here Jesus entered the Temple Mount and drove out the vendors and money exchangers who were exploiting the people. It is also likely that this is the place that Peter stood and preached and where thousands were saved and baptized on the Day of Pentecost. We will enjoy a challenge from God’s word and a song before an optional time this afternoon. Those who wish may stay in the city marketplace for shopping, while others may choose to spend the remainder of the day surrounding the birth of Christ, with a visit to Bethlehem.

Day 12: Home
A very early morning departure for the Tel Aviv Airport for our flight homeward will allow for arrival home by early afternoon.

Important Note: Although the itinerary above obviously emphasizes the spiritual aspect of this marvelous country, our guides are also experts in and passionate about the miracle of the return of the Jews and the restoration of the state of Israel. This fact, along with many modern day topics (military, politics, education, and other cultural aspects), will be woven into the commentary in order to give you well rounded information.

Please note that the itinerary is subject to change while touring for the best interest of the group.

Price Per Person:

Based on double occupancy


$950.00 single supplement

Information & Reservations:

Dr. Tiberius Rata, Professor of Old Testament Studies • trata
574-372-5100 ext. 6439

Tammy Denlinger, Director of Alumni Relations • denlintl
574-372-5100 ext. 6129

Reservation Form Pilgrim Policies Insurance Info

Price Includes:
Roundtrip Air from Chicago, air taxes and fuel charges (currently estimated at $600.00 – subject to change), 10 nights lodging at 5 star Israeli hotels, breakfast and dinner daily, full time English speaking tour escort, services of air conditioned deluxe motor coach, all guides, entrances, touring and transportation as appears on itinerary, baggage handling at hotels (one piece), tips to driver, guides, and hotel staff ($110.00).

Not Included:
All lunches, optional travel insurance (6% of tour cost), optional credit card payments (additional 3% of the total bill).

© 1987-2008 Pilgrim Tourss Travel Insurance Passport & Visa Travel Agents Reservations & Payments Ministry Services Contact

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Go Encounter Romania 2012

Here is a brief report of our Go Encounter Romania 2012 trip.

We want to thank all of you for your love, prayers, and financial support. May the good LORD richly replay your kindness and generosity.

Our life-changing experience of the Go Encounter Romania 2012 team of Grace College started at Chicago’s O’Hare International airport on May 20, 2012. Long before the trip started we prayed for each other and for the children to whom we were going to minister. However, none of us would have anticipated what God will do in our lives.


Our main ministry was at Casa Dorca in Prilipet, a village in the southwestern part of Romania. Our motto came from Psalm 68:5, "Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation."

We had Bible Studies with the children in the afternoon after which we would do crafts and play games. Here, Janae is helping Sami create a book mark. Here are Janae’s thoughts about the trip. “Going to Romania was an incredible experience. We got to encounter so many cross culture experiences and learned lots of things about the Romanian culture. I loved getting to know the kids, spending time with them and showing them the love of Christ. The people in Romania have incredible servants hearts and I know that is one thing that the whole team was blown away by. God is so good and I am so thankful for the opportunity that I was given to go to Romania. Thanks to all who supported me and prayed for our team. Thanks to Dr. Rata an Dr. Harstine for leading our team well and last, but not least thanks to the people in Romania who we came in contact with that made an impact on our lives by serving and loving us.”

kids from Casa Dorca. When thinking about the trip, Casey notes, “I can’t express how grateful I am that God sent me on this trip. Not only did I richly experience the Romanian culture, but by God’s grace, I was also able to meet some amazing servants of Christ who demonstrated what it truly means to be selfless. I was so blessed by the kids, the churches, and my teammates and leaders. Most of all, my eyes were opened to the fact that God is working in Romania and all around the world!”

Playtime in the courtyard: Esther with Debora and Natalie with Bebe. Esther writes, "Growing up as a missionary kid, I had an idea of how a mission trip goes. We would be helping kids at an orphanage, helping the orphanage and serving as God’s sons and daughters to these children and adults. I knew from prior trips that the feeling of "mission trip high" would be there at the end, but this trip was different. I have never physically felt a hole when leaving a place, but Romania and the children and people there will always be in my heart. Every day, I look at my Mudlove band and see the words "Isus" and remember the people I met, the servent’s hearts that I experienced, and the kids that touched my life. God broke all my molds and expectations I had, and formed ones that will never be broken. I thank God for this opportunity and I can not wait until I get to go back, but if not go back, at least have an opportunity to share my stories and have people praying and maybe even supporting Casa Dorca."

Jake with Bebe and Cipi with Beni. Cipi grew up at Casa Dorca and is now a university students studying foreign languages. He served as one of our very able interpreters.

We visited numerous village churches. Here we are at Moceris with brother Danila, the administrator of Casa Dorca.

Katie with Alexandra, Denisa, si Vanesa. Katie states, "Romania was unbelievable. The people were all generous and kind. I learned more from the kids and workers there than I thought possible! I can’t wait until I get to return!"

I was grateful to have my friend and colleague Dr. Michael Harstine, professor of business, as a co-leader.

Sydney with Beni. Here are Sydney’s thoughts about the trip. “Going to Romania was such a blessing! It was awesome to see the Lord working through our team interacting with the orphans and other people of the Romanian culture. As much as the children learned from us, I learned much more from them and I’m thankful for that. It was a life changing experience and I’m great full to God for the opportunity to have traveled to Romania.”

Ashley with Sami in the bus on the way to our 2-hour cruise on the Danube.

Joe was our accountant and, besides Jack, the only guy who was able to withstand the heat in the kitchen.

Nina with Denisa. Nina’s thoughts about the trip: "Going into the trip, I was going to fill a requirement for Grace and help out in an orphanage. However, the Lord had way more in store for my team and me than I ever imagined! The people that we came in connection with showed the love of God, had a servants heart, and gave us all when they have very little. It blew me away. It was awesome to see the body of Christ working on the other side of the world! They reminded me of the joy that we a believers find in Christ. I’ll be forever grateful for this experience, and I pray that I can return to Casa Dorca sometime in the future."

With Beni and Bebe. Right now, adoptions from Romania are not possible but the legislature is working on new regulations that might open up adoptions in the future.

Julia with Sami and Sydney with Beni. Here are Julia’s thoughts regarding the trip. "During the trip to Romania, my eyes were opened to see things I had not seen before. It was really neat to see how some people in a different culture lived their lives every day. Staying in an orphanage while we were there was also a very rewarding experience. One thing I learned while staying in the orphanage was that we must not forget those who care for the orphans. A lot of people might focus on how they can help the orphans, and while that is very important, we also must not forget to help those who are helping the orphans. Our group was asked to not forget those who work in the orphanage. It was also really cool to see how they had church in a different culture. I was encouraged to see other believers living their lives for Jesus in Romania. Experiencing some Romanian culture firsthand was also a lot of fun! I feel very blessed to get to go on this trip and experience it with our amazing group."

We did a lot of singing. Janae, Natalie, Ashley, and Casey are singing their hearts out at the Speranta Baptist Church in my hometown of Resita.

Joe and Jake with Beni. Jake thinks about how God worked in his life during this trip. “I started the trip thinking that this is just a requirement for a course. Now after what I have experienced, I now know that this was an event caused by God to help me grow in my faith. I would more than gladly give my time again to experience Romania with same itinerary and group as before.”

Vali broke his femur and had been in bed for three months. He was ecstatic when Jack gave him his tennis racquet.

Michael served as a great student leader. He preached the Word day after day with passion and accuracy. I can’t wait to see how God will continue to use him. Here are Michael’s thoughts, " I am incredibly thankful to God for allowing me to go on the Romania 2012 trip. We were blessed to serve the kids at Casa Dorca and build relationships with them. We were also incredibly blessed to be served by those at the orphanage and to be shown great examples of a humble servant of God. I hope to go back in the future!

The last day in Romania we visited Castelul Huneazilor which dates back to the 15th century.

We are grateful to God for a wonderful, unforgettable experience. May HIS name be praised!

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Go Encounter Romania 2012 summary


We want to thank all of you for your love, prayers, and financial support. May the Good LORD richly repay with kindness and generosity.

The life-changing experience of the Go Encounter Romania 2012 team of Grace College and Theological Seminary started at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on May 20, 2012. We prayed for each other and for the children to which we were going to minister. However, none of us would have anticipated what God will do in our lives.

Our main ministry was at the Casa Dorca in Prilipet.

We had Bible Studies with the children in the afternoon after which we would do crafts and play games. Here, Janae is helping Sami create a book mark.

One day we took the kids on a two-hour cruise on the Danube. Here Casey is pictured with a few of the kids from Casa Dorca.

Play time in the courtyard: Esther and Natalie with Debora and Bebe.

Jake with Bebe and Cipi (a university student who grew up at Casa Dorca who served as an interpreter for us) with Beni.

We visited numerous village churches. Here we are at Moceris with brother Danila, the administrator of Casa Dorca.

Katie with Alexandra, Denisa, si Vanesa.

I was grateful to have my friend and colleague Dr. Michael Harstine, professor of business, as a co-leader.

Sydney with Beni. Here are Sydney’s thoughts about the trip. “Going to Romania was such a blessing! It was awesome to see the Lord working through our team interacting with the orphans and other people of the Romanian culture. As much as the children learned from us, I learned much more from them and I’m thankful for that. It was a life changing experience and I’m great full to God for the opportunity to have traveled to Romania.”

Ashley with Sami on the bus on the way to the Danube.

Among other things, Joe was our accountant and one of the only guys (besides Jack) who was able to withstand the heat in the kitchen.

Nina with Denisa.

With Beni and Bebe.

Julia with Sami and Sydney with Beni.

We did a lot of singing : ) This is at the Speranta (Hope) church in my hometown of Resita.

Joe and Jake with Beni.

Vali broke his femur and has been in bed for three months. He was ecstatic when Jack gave him his tennis racquet.

Michael served as a great student leader. He brought the Word day after day with passion and accuracy. I can’t wait to see how God will continue to use him.

The last day in Romania we visited Castelul Huniazilor which dates back to the 15th century.

We are grateful to God for a wonderful, unforgettable experience. May HIS name be praised!!!

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Ezra 5: Rebuilding Continues

I. 5:1-2 The rebuilding of the temple starts again

5:1-2 Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. 2 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

After sixteen years of the reconstruction work being at a standstill, it is the Word of the LORD that jumpstarts the process anew. The prophetic office did not die during the Babylonian exile and God’s prophets did not become extinct. A prophet was an intermediary who communicated God’s message to His people, and during this time of crisis God uses Haggai and Zechariah to reinvigorate His people. The book of Haggai focuses on the necessity of rebuilding the temple while Zechariah focuses on God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Both Haggai and Zechariah speak “in the name of the God of Israel” who was “over them.” God was over both the prophets and the people, and believing that He is sovereingly in control gives the leaders incentive to resume the work of rebuilding. Zerubbabel is identified as “governor of Judah” by Haggai, and he plays an important role both in Ezra and Nehemiah. Jeshua (Joshua) is identified by Haggai as a high priest, so Zerubbabel and Jeshua served both as civic and spiritual leaders (Haggai 1:1 — Some people assume that Zerubbabel is not mentioned again because he was removed from office due to seditious activity, but that argumentum e silentio is pure conjecture). The prophets continue to offer support to the leaders and the people as the rebuilding continues – both spiritual and material help – illustrating the concept of teamwork being characteristic of doing God’s work.

II. 5:3-5 The rebuilding of the temple is challenged again

5:3-5 At the same time Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and their associates came to them and spoke to them thus, "Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?" 4 They also asked them this: "What are the names of the men who are building this building?" 5 But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it.

Tattenai appears as “governor of across the river” in a Babylonian document dating back to June 5, 502 BC (Myers, Ezra/Nehemiah, 44). As representative of the Persian Empire he wanted to make sure that the Jews are not revolting against the establishment. Furthermore, he asks a most logical question, “Who is in charge here?” Unlike previous times, the work is not stopped, the clear reason being that “the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews.” When something is “under the eye of God” in the Old Testament, it is under His watch (Judges 18:6; Psalm 33:18; Zechariah 9:1). Thus, what gives the people of God success is not their skill but God’s protection and providence.

III. 5:6-17 The rebuilding of the temple is reported to Darius

5:6-10 This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and his associates the governors who were in the province Beyond the River sent to Darius the king. 7 They sent him a report, in which was written as follows: "To Darius the king, all peace. 8 Be it known to the king that we went to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God. It is being built with huge stones, and timber is laid in the walls. This work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands. 9 Then we asked those elders and spoke to them thus, ‘Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?’ 10 We also asked them their names, for your information, that we might write down the names of their leaders.

Tattenai and the other officials were “imperial troubleshooters, armed with powers of punishment” (David J.A. Clines, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, NCB (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 85-86). They were considered the king’s eyes and ears and were part of the king’s elaborate spying system. The region “Beyond the River” is the Trans-Euphrates region, west of the Euphrates River that included Israel (Outside of Ezra-Nehemiah, the expression “Beyond the River” also occurs in Joshua 24:3, 14-15 and Isaiah 7:20). The report includes 1) an evaluation of the construction, 2) a conversation with the Jewish leaders regarding the construction, and 3) a request of inquiry into the historical archives regarding the decree of Cyrus the Great. It is fascinating that these officials refer to the Jerusalem temple as “the house of the great God” (The phrase can also be translated “the great house of God” but it would be unlikely that these Persians would be monotheists worshiping the One True God, Yahweh). Have they concluded that Yahweh is indeed a great God, or are they just offering “a token of reverence for the God of this territory” (Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 82)? It is certain though that these officials recognize that the Jews are diligent in their work, and moreover, that the work is prospering. Even so, Tattenai and the other officials want to know whether the Jews have the proverbial work permit , and also the names of their leaders. It could be that Tattenai was impressed with the massive structure and thought it looked “more like a fortress than a sanctuary" (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: History (Colorado Springs: Victor, 2003), 614)!

5:11-12 And this was their reply to us: ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. 12 But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia.

The Jews introduce themselves as “the servants of the God of heaven and earth,” thus exalting God as the Creator God, a notion that was novel to the Persians who worshiped Zarathustra. The Jews give Tattenai a compressed history lesson dating back to Solomon, who is declared “a great king of Israel.” Their historical account is complete in the sense that it does not omit the sins of the people which caused their loss of country and temple. Breneman correctly points out that “the Jews, understanding the theological reasons for their calamity, did not hesitate to tell their neighbors why they had suffered that exile” (Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, 111).

5:13-17 However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt. 14 And the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple that was in Jerusalem and brought into the temple of Babylon, these Cyrus the king took out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; 15 and he said to him, "Take these vessels, go and put them in the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its site." 16 Then this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and from that time until now it has been in building, and it is not yet finished.’ 17 Therefore, if it seems good to the king, let search be made in the royal archives there in Babylon, to see whether a decree was issued by Cyrus the king for the rebuilding of this house of God in Jerusalem. And let the king send us his pleasure in this matter."

Ten times in the Old Testament Cyrus is called “king of Persia,” yet here he is presented as “king of Babylon.” Indeed, on the Cyrus cylinder are the following words, “I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad” (ANET, 316). Since the Persians have defeated the Babylonians, Cyrus became also the king of Babylon when it became a part of the Persian Empire.

Tattenai’s letter to Darius relates the Jews’ account of Cyrus’ edict (1:1-4), the return of the vessels taken from the temple, and the appointment of Sheshbazzar as governor (1:8, 11) (an appointment which affirms that during this time “governing authority was separated from religious authority” — Sean E. McEvenue, “The Political Structure in Judah from Cyrus to Nehemiah,” in CBQ 43 (1981): 353). However, even though Sheshbazzar started the work on the foundation of the temple, it was Zerubbabel who completed it (3:10). A period of 16 years has passed between the original attempt to rebuild in 536 BC and the resumption of the work under Darius in 520 BC. Since a regime change has taken place, Tattenai advises Darius to check the historical records and verify the authenticity of Cyrus’ decree. Williamson suggests that “the formula ‘if it pleases X’ is another standard feature in official Aramaic epistolography” (Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, 80).

Since the temple was the symbol of God’s presence with His people, it had to play a crucial role in the life of the Israelites. Even though the church building has not replaced the temple, the principle of the importance of God’s presence remains. While human obstacles are ever present, Christ’s followers need to always seek and rely on God’s presence which is one’s source of strength and solace.

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Ezra 4: Opposition Arises

I. 4:1-3 The source of the opposition

(There seems to be a repeated pattern in chapters 4 and 5: Encounter (4:1-5; 5:1-5), Request (4:6-16; 5:6-17), Decree (4:17-22; 5:1-12), and Enactment (4:23-24; 5:13-15). See Stefan C. Matzal, “The Structure of Ezra IV-VI,” in VT 50/4 (2000): 566-568)

4:1-2 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the LORD, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, "Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here."

The adversaries identify themselves as those who were brought to Israel by Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, the youngest son of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:37 and Isaiah 37:38 recount the assassination of Sennacherib and the beginning of the reign of Esarhaddon). Esarhaddon ruled Assyria from 681-669 BC and repopulated the land after many were taken into exile. Such repopulations were not so unusual since other Assyrian kings such as Sargon II (722-705 BC) and Ashurbanipal (669-633 BC) did it during their respective reigns. The request of the adversaries seems innocent, “Let us build with you,” and seems to have the right motivation, “for we worship your God as you do.” The adversaries suggest that they are converts to Judaism since they have been worshipping Yahweh since arriving in the land. However, the Chronicler clarifies that these adversaries were not monotheistic, but rather syncretistic in their worship, “So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away” (2 Kings 17:33). Batten suggests that the adversaries are Samaritans (Batten, Ezra and Nehemiah, 127), although many scholars reject that hypothesis, calling it anachronistic (See Williamson, Ezra/Nehemiah, 49; Blenkisopp, Ezra-Nehemiah, 107).

4:3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, "You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.

In today’s world, the leaders would certainly be called exclusivists, and probably culturally insensitive as well. However, it is important to note that they were concerned with the purity of the people and not concerned about their popularity index. The leaders were expected “to maintain the integrity of the Jewish community” and thus continue God’s “plan of redemption" (Brenemen, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, 97). They also make reference to Cyrus’ edict (1:2-4), thus giving their adversaries both a spiritual and a political reason for not accepting their help.

II. 4:4-5 The persistence of the opposition

4:4-5 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

The opposition’s first weapon is discouragement, which then led to fear. This fear was supposed to paralyze the people of God, and in some respects it did, but only for a while (4:24). Corruption was alive and well even then, and the opposition found corrupt counselors to carry out their plan. Blenkinsopp suggests that these counselors were “officials in the imperial bureaucracy” (Blenkinsopp, Ezra-Nehemiah, 108). The people of God had a divinely-appointed purpose which the opposition tried to frustrate. We are reminded that opposition is not necessarily a sign that we’re doing something wrong, but it can be a sign that we’re doing something right. The Chronicler shows the opposition as being constant and continuing throughout Cyrus’ reign (559-530 BC), until the reign of Darius (522-486 BC).

III. 4:6-22 The many faces of opposition

4:6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

While verses 5 and 24 relate information from the reign of Darius, verses 6-23 are from later times, namely, the reigns of Xerxes (486-465 BC) and Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC). It is clear that the main concern of the author is not to give us a chronological line of events, but rather he wants to stress the theme of persistent opposition that spanned more than a century. The adversaries take the political route of addressing their grievance to the king himself. Ahasuerus is identified with Xerxes, although we are not told the content of the letter addressed to the king. Rabbinic tradition asserts that the adversaries ask the king to stop the work of rebuilding the temple (Rosenberg, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 131).

4:7 In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated.

Ezra 4:8-6:18 is written in Aramaic, the “diplomatic lingua franca of the Persian empire, and translated into Persian" (Blenkinsopp, Ezra-Nehemiah, 112). The Hebrew employed suggests that Bishlam “was the leader of the group – the group of archivists whose report is the source of the Aramaic letters in Ezra 4:8-6:12" (Richard C. Steiner, “Why Bishlam (Ezra 4:7) Cannot Rest ‘In Peace’” in JBL 126/2 (2007), 401).

4:8-16 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows: 9 Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their associates, the judges, the governors, the officials, the Persians, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River. 11 (This is a copy of the letter that they sent.) "To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now 12 be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. 14 Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, 15 in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from of old. That was why this city was laid waste. 16 We make known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River."

Those who address Artaxerxes are identified not as lower class citizens, but rather scribes, commanders, judges, governors, and officials who were foreigners deported to Judah by Osnappar, who is probably Asshurbanipal (668-627 BC). The opposition’s hatred is evident in their referral to Jerusalem as “that rebellious and wicked city.” The adversaries suggest that the future looks bleak for the Persian court if Jerusalem is rebuilt. They imply that the Jews will then stop paying their taxes and the royal bank of Persia will thus be depleted of funds. Yamauchi indicates that the tax “has been estimated that between $20 million and $35 million in taxes were collected annually by the Persian king" (Edwin Yamauchi, “Archaeological Backgrounds of the Exilic and Postexilic Era, part 3,” BSac137/547(1980), 201).

4:17-22 The king sent an answer: "To Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. And now 18 the letter that you sent to us has been plainly read before me. 19 And I made a decree, and search has been made, and it has been found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. 20 And mighty kings have been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid. 21 Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. 22 And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?"

The king’s research revealed that indeed Judah’s kings had a history of revolt. It could be that Hezekiah’s revolt against the Assyrian king Sennacherib was chronicled (2 Kings 18:7). However, there had also been other kings who rebelled against their oppressors. Both Jehoiakim and Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:1, 20), and both suffered the consequences. The adversaries’ letter was deemed credible and the king’s decree -motivated by personal reasons – was clear; the work was to stop and it had to stop immediately.

IV. 4:23-24 The consequences of opposition

4:23-24 Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. 24 Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

The narrative switches from the time of Artaxerxes (465-424/3) back to the time of Darius (522-486). This is “the first chronological anomaly that occurs in the book of Ezra…To this point the narrative has followed a strictly chronological line despite the numerous gaps left in the history" (A. Philip Brown II, “Chronological Anomalies in the Book of Ezra,” in BSac 162/645 (2005), 38). Ezra tells the story out of order to remind the reader that, in spite of opposition, King Darius supported the work of reconstruction. Indeed, under Darius “the Persian Empire reached its greatest power and splendor" (Brenemen, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, 106).

Israel’s enemies carried out King Artaxerxes’ ruling “in haste” and used force to bring to a standstill their work of reconstruction. Verse 24 goes with verse 5, with verses 6-23 as parenthetical. Fensham concurs that chapter 4 “is not meant to be in chronological sequence; rather, it supplies us with a logical thought pattern wherein the most important actions of the Samaritans against the Jews are enumerated" (Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 77). Darius I ruled Persia from 522-486 BC and under his rule “the Persian Empire reached its greatest power and splendor" (Brenemen, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, 106). The condition of the city wall at this stage is the condition of which Nehemiah hears (Neh 1:3). Even though the adversaries won this battle, they will eventually lose the war since the wall will be reconstructed in spite of persistent, malevolent opposition.

Opposition to God’s work did not originate, nor did it cease with Ezra and Nehemiah. While this opposition was accompanied by lies, pressures, and persecutions, God’s work succeeded because it was of God and not of man. This truth should be a great comfort and encouragement to Christians in all times and all places when confronted with opposition to God’s work. Even so, today’s Christian leaders should always be on guard, being ready to deal with opposition, being mindful that the Christian does not spend his/her life on a playground, but rather on a battlefield.

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Ezra 3:8-13 Building and Praising

I. 3:8-9 Beginning to build

3:8-9 Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the LORD. And Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together supervised the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and brothers.

The rebuilding of the temple starts in the second month as did the building of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:1; 2 Chron 3:2) (April-May was the beginning of the dry season, thus this would be the proper time to start building). The leaders of the project are named here as Zerubbabel and Jeshua. Sheshbazzar also played a role (5:16), but either he played a lesser role because he was old, or he died before the “second, successful attempt to build the temple” (Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 63). The Levites are appointed to supervise the work, and the minimum qualifying age is set at 20. In the Pentateuch the minimum qualifying age is set at 30 (Num 4:3, 23, 30), but it seems that the age was lowered here due to the smaller number of Levites that returned. It could also be that the “range of functions associated with the Levitical office increased" (Blenkinsopp, Ezra-Nehemiah, 101). The fact that both Yahweh and Elohim were used for the divine name can be seen in the fact that the “House of God (Elohim)” and “House of the LORD (Yahweh)” are used interchangeably.

II. 3:10-13 Praising and giving thanks to the LORD

3:10-11 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel." And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.

The focus here is not on the physical details of laying the foundation, but rather on the joyous ceremony that accompanied it. The details closely parallel the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Chron. 7:6). The trumpets used were not the ram’s horns, but rather the long, straight, metal instruments used for the assembly call (Num 10:2), alarm call (2 Chron 13:12-14), and for celebrations (1 Chron 16:6). The refrain “for His steadfast love endures forever” points to God’s character and nature, and occurs several times in the Psalms (Psalm 100:5, 106:1; 107:1; 118:1-4, 29; 136:1-26), as well as in Chronicles (1 Chron 16:34, 41; 2 Chron 5:13; 7:3, 6; 20:21), and Jeremiah (33:11). The love of God (Heºsed) is a reminder of God’s covenantal love and now they are celebrating it through shouting and singing. God’s covenantal love has been manifested not just in their return to the land, but now in the reestablishment of the temple worship.

3:12-13 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

The prophet Haggai gives us insight into why some people were crying in the face of what seems to be good news. In Haggai 2:3 God is posing a series of questions, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” It seems that the older people who have seen the glory of Solomon’s temple were bitterly disappointed even though the temple had not yet been rebuilt. The foundation alone told them that the rebuilt temple would not rise to the level of the original. It could be that the smaller stones used here did not compare with the huge blocks used in Solomon’s temple (Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 65). The weeping of the older people clashed with the shouts of joy of those who saw the laying of the foundation not as a disappointment but as a great achievement.

The lessons of Ezra 3 are very important for today’s Christian leader. Worship as our response to God’s grace and mercy towards us, needs to be expressed by bringing our best. While the returning community during the time of Ezra brought dead sacrifices (as the Law required) we are asked to bring ourselves as living sacrifices. According to the apostle Paul, this will our spiritual worship which will be acceptable to God (Rom 12:1-2). Besides brining ourselves as living sacrifices, singing praises to God is also part of our response to God in worship. Music then, is not about us, is not about style, but it should always be about Him, the God whom we worship. To this end, contemporary composers and writers have correctly identified God as “our audience of One.”

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Ezra 3:1-7 Preparing to Rebuild

I. 3:1-6 Sacrifices to God: the foundation of worship

3:1 When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem.

The seventh month in the Jewish calendar is the month of Tishri (September/October). This reference probably refers to the seventh month that the Jews have been returned from exile. Most scholars agree that the year is 537 BC (Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 59; Blenkinsopp, Ezra-Nehemiah, 74; Rudolph, Esra und Nehemia, 29). It took the Jews about seven months to settle back into the land and now they are ready to reinstitute the sacrificial system. The fact that they come “as one man”points to their unity of heart and purpose.

The Jewish Calendar

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3:2 Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.

Jeshua the son of Jozadak (Jozadak means “Yahweh has acted rightly”) is mentioned along with Zerubbabel by the prophet Haggai (1:1), but by this time he has become high priest (In Haggai and Zechariah the high priest’s name is spelled [;vuAhy>, while in Ezra-Nehemiah it is spelled [:WvyE). Jeshua and Zerubbabel appear together throughout Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:2, 3:2; 3:8; 4:3; 5:2; Nehemiah 7:7; 12:1) and in the book of Haggai (1:1; 1:12; 1:14; 2:2; 2:4) (Zechariah 3 has Joshua as a key character while Zerubbabel plays an important role in Zechariah 4).

The returnees understand the importance of worship through sacrifices, and this leads them to build the altar as their first priority. Indeed, God spoke through Moses regarding the importance of bringing burnt offerings (In Leviticus 14:18-20 the Law was clear that the priest must bring a burnt offering in order to make atonement for the person healed of a skin disease. The verb “to atone for” can mean “to wipe away,” “to purge,” “to purify, or “to make atonement.” As a result, he will be pronounced clean and thus forgiven, ready to confidently enter God’s presence. The concept is important to the sacrificial theology of Leviticus because atonement will cleanse a person from all sins, known and unknown. The language employed affirms that physical impurity is purified while moral impurity must be forgiven. Sometimes, the expression burnt offering (Num 15:3; Deut 12:6; 1 Sam 15:22; 2 Kgs 5:17; Isa 43:23) is a figure of speech called merism, and points to all sacrifices. The law’s intent was to ban all sacrifices offered to anyone else but Yahweh). Bernhard W. Anderson notes that “one of the most important items in the baggage that Ezra brought from Babylonia was a copy of the book of the Law of Moses” (Quoted in H.L. Ellison, “The Importance of Ezra,” in EQ 53/1 (1981), 49). The fact that a written Law of Moses existed at this time contradicts Wellhausen’s documentary hypothesis (JEDP) which suggests that a redactor combined all the sources together in the late 5th century. It was the people’s departure from the Law of Moses that resulted in their exile. Now, their desire to obey the Law to the smallest detail indicates their understanding of the correlation between disobedience and judgment, obedience and blessing.

3:3 They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, burnt offerings morning and evening.

During the exilic period non-Jews settled in the land, and their presence now instills fear in the people of God. Later in Ezra and Nehemiah we see that these fears were justified because the Jews encounter much opposition from foreigners. These could include people from surrounding nations such as Ammon, Moab, Edom, Samaria, and Egypt. Ibn Ezra suggests that the people built the altar so that God “would aid them against their adversaries" (Rosenberg, 126). The altar is necessary for the people to bring burnt offerings both morning and evening. This daily morning and evening sacrifice consisted of a lamb prepared in flour and oil, with wine as the drink offering (Exodus 29:38-42; Num 28:3-8).

3:4-6 And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the LORD, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the LORD. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid.

Along with the Passover and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles was one of the three most important religious celebrations for the Jews. The Festival of Booths began on Tishri 15 (September/October), and it was primarily a thanksgiving festival showing gratitude for God’s provision (Exodus 34:22). It also commemorated the wilderness wandering, the booths (Succoth) being a reminder that the Israelites lived in tents during the 40-year commute from Egypt to the Promised Land (23:42-43). It was to Succoth that the Israelites first came after leaving Rameses (Exodus 12:7). The Feast of Booths was observed during the post-exilic period (2 Chron. 8:13; Ezra 3:4; Zech 14:16, 18, 19) and during the early church period. This is the only festival wherein the Israelites were commanded to rejoice before the Lord (Lev 23:40).

Ross explains that the freewill offering “was an offering that could be made any time. The soul of the worshipper might simply be overflowing with joy over God and his benefits. Such freewill offerings were (and are) the essence of a living faith" (Ross, Holiness to the LORD, 182). It is easy to see how the returnees’ feelings of gratitude translated into freewill offerings to the LORD. However, since the foundation of the Temple has not yet been laid, much more work remains to be done. After all, the temple had been central to Israel’s worship and their understanding of God since Solomon first built it in 967 BC.

II. 3:7 Bringing the very best: the materials for the Temple

3:7 So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.

The preparation for rebuilding of the temple parallels the building of the original temple during the Solomonic era. Masons or stonecutters are employed (1 Chron. 22:2) along with carpenters (1 Chron. 22:15), and payment is made in quantities of food, drink, and oil (2 Chron. 2:10). Meyers correctly points out that “no permission from Sidon and Tyre was required since it belonged to the king of Persia" (Myers, Ezra-Nehemiah, 27). The wood from Lebanon has special meaning, always being used in special building projects and portrayed as superior in value (1 Kings 4:33; 5:6, 14; Psalm 92:12; Song of Songs 3:9; Isaiah 60:13; Ezekiel 31:16; Hosea 14:5). Cyrus is credited not only with giving the edict which allowed the return of the Jews, but also with paying part of the expenses necessary for the temple’s reconstruction.

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