Thursday, December 09, 2010

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #47, “Let Us Rise Up and Build” Ezra 1-8, Nehemiah 1-8

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #47, “Let Us Rise Up and Build”
Ezra 1-8, Nehemiah 1-8


The nation of Israel was carried off into captivity by the Assyrians in 702 BC. The nation of Judah followed in a series of invasions, first by the Assyrians (who reduced Judah’s land mass to an area just around Jerusalem) and completed by the Babylonians around 586 BC.

According to tradition, many in the nation of Israel gathered while in captivity and performed a second Exodus to the north, where they have not been heard from since. Those who remained in Assyria were generally absorbed into their new community, and eventually lost their Israelite identity. Meanwhile, Jeremiah had prophesied that Judah would remain in captivity for 70 years and then return.

Isaiah also prophesied regarding Judah, saying they would remain captive until the future king Cyrus would restore them to their lands (Isa 44-45). Scholars disagree as to when this portion of Isaiah was written. Many claim that it was written not by the original Isaiah, but by a later follower of Isaiah, in the period during which Cyrus of Persia was, indeed, king. This second, or Deutero-Isaiah supposedly used current events to establish prophesies added to Isaiah (First Isaiah or Proto-Isaiah). However, several studies show that the evidence for a 2 Isaiah is not as compelling as some would think.

My good friend (now deceased), Marc Schindler explained that the name “Cyrus” probably wasn’t the original term used, but was replaced by Jews in Cyrus’ day in order to encourage him to restore them to their lands:

“If you accept the Book of Mormon as true, there is no Deutero-Isaiah "problem." However, I feel that the Book of Mormon cannot only withstand the challenge, but the issue can actually be used to illuminate the nature of Isaiah and shed light on why this is such a profound book. When the Deutero-Isaiah theory first became current, there was a lot of emphasis on the difference in vocabulary and word patterns between the various parts of Isaiah. However, as McKenzie points out above, this is no longer an issue. (Besides the study he refers to, there have been word pattern studies done by computer analysis of the Hebrew text at BYU that show no significant differences between the various parts of Isaiah.)
There are two issues: the insertion of Cyrus's name, and the totally different historical context of the latter part of Isaiah. As McKenzie points out, it's not enough of a defence simply to say, "well, you know those 'higher critics,' they don't accept prophecy anyway-they just can't swallow the reality of prophecy," but the issue is that that's not the way God works. There are plenty of examples of specific prophecy in the Old Testament (i.e., Isaiah 7:8, where Isaiah prophesies that within 65 years Ephraim will be destroyed-note that this is in "Proto-Isaiah" and its authorship is not questioned), but prophecies have to make sense to the people to whom they are addressed, and as McKenzie says, the name "Cyrus" and the concept of the Persian Empire wouldn't have made sense to Isaiah's contemporaries. Furthermore, it is the nature of apocalyptic scripture to lay things out in a vision which is symbolic in nature (cf. Daniel's vision of the idol with clay feet, and John's symbolism of angels and beasts)....
when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, they read what Isaiah wrote, and because there were references to Babylon, assumed that he was talking about events in their day. While this might technically have been correct, they missed the point that Isaiah's prophecies were primarily concerned with the latter days. In editing the book as they passed it down, they substituted the name "Cyrus," which by that point did make sense to them, as he was an historical figure, for what was there originally. We don't know, of course, what "Cyrus" might have replaced, but from the context it appears as if it was a messianic type meant to refer to the 2nd coming of Christ.”

So, Jewish leaders show king Cyrus of Persia a copy of the Jewish scriptures (possibly translated into Persian), where a name for the future messiah was replaced with the king’s name. A spiritual last days event of the Messiah saving Israel from spiritual Babylon becomes King Cyrus saving the Jews by restoring them to their ancestral homeland.

Construction of the Temple

About 50,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city, but mostly to rebuild the temple. The people of Samaria offered eagerly to help. Samaria included the former lands and capitol city of the kings of the nation of Israel before being carried off by Assyria. While many Israelites remained in the land, there were also many people from other areas of the Assyrian nation that were transplanted into the location. This was done to destroy the original tribal nationalism that was inherent in any conquered people. If they were not living in and beholden to the land of their ancestors, they would eventually be absorbed into the new cultures.

The Samaritans were a mixed race, part Israelite and part everything else the Assyrians could replace them with. Because they were not “pure blooded” Israelites, the Jews in Jerusalem rejected their offer of assistance, intent in building the temple and city on their own.

Later, after Alexander the Great conquered the area, the Samaritans would ask for and be granted the right to build their own temple at Shechem. Their temple was run by Levitical priests who had a falling out with those in Jerusalem, and had settled in Samaria a few years before.

The Samaritans were incensed, to be rejected by the Jews. While many Samaritans were not literal descendants of Israel, many were at least partially descended from it. Those immigrants into the land had taken Jehovah as their God, for he was the god of the land. Their worship was different than the worship of the Jews. It was the version developed or at least influenced by apostate Israel prior to their destruction. Family lines could not be corroborated. The Samaritans were rejected, and the Jews would still hate and distrust them centuries later. However, Jesus would acknowledge that the Samaritans were indeed members of Israel, but tell a Samaritan woman, “ye worship ye know not what” (John 4:22).

The Samaritans would begin attacking the Jews and sabotaging their efforts to build the temple. Finally, the Jews gave up the endeavor. It would be another fifty years before Nehemiah would be sent to be the governor of Judah. He was king Artaxerxes’ right hand man, and asked the king permission to build a wall of protection around the temple. Given permission to build the wall, Nehemiah went with the intention to not only build the wall, but to build the temple. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah would insist that the temple needed to be rebuilt, or the Jews would never be a people of Jehovah.

Governor Nehemiah and his scribe Ezra guided the building of the temple, and of the city wall. In these we see an important concept. The city wall meant protection from Judah’s physical enemies. The temple symbolized protection from the spiritual dangers in the world. Both were needed, and both needed to be constructed at the same time.

Modern walls of protection

Later, among the first actions by modern prophets in establishing a new place of gathering would be to begin preparations for a temple. Joseph Smith built a temple in Kirtland, Ohio. Once the Saints moved to Missouri, plans were immediately established for a temple in Independence. After being chased from Jackson County, Missouri, the Mormons set up further north. One of their first acts there was to plan a temple in Far West. Again, chased from Missouri, a temple in Nauvoo became one of the first efforts among the saints. Nauvoo was successfully built because the saints had time to also establish “walls” of fortification, including their own militia. Finally, in the first week Brigham Young was in the Great Salt Lake Basin, he set a marker for the future temple.

Today, we have about 150 temples in operation or under construction worldwide. The effort to bring the walls of spiritual protection closer to the Saints is an enormous, but important, task in these last days. Brigham Young foresaw the day when hundreds of temples would be upon the earth:

"To accomplish this work there will have to be not only one temple, but thousands of them, and thousands and tens of thousands of men and women will go into those temples and officiate for people who have lived as far back as the Lord shall reveal.: -- Brigham Young, June 22, 1856 Journal of Discourses, 3:372

"I want to see the temple built in a manner that it will endure through the Millennium. This is not the only temple we shall build. There will be hundreds of them built and dedicated to the Lord. This temple will be known as the first temple built in the mountains by the Latter-day Saints. And when the Millennium is over, and all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, down to the last of their posterity, who come within the reach of the clemency of the gospel, have been redeemed in hundreds of temples through the administration of their children as proxies for them, I want that temple still to stand as a proud monument of the faith, perseverance and industry of the Saints of God in the mountains in the nineteenth century."
--Brigham Young, October 6, 1863, Journal of Discourses, 10:254

In 1990, few would have imagined the day for one hundred active temples was only ten years away. And the focus from ancient times among God’s people was that their salvation depended upon access to a temple.

But why?

Anciently, God spoke with man face to face in sacred places. The first place was in the Garden of Eden, where the Lord spoke with Adam. After being cast out of the Garden, Adam was out of God’s presence for years. He then could only discourse with angels (Moses 54-8). Only near the end of his life, was Adam brought back into God’s presence at Adam-Ondi-Ahman. There, three years before his death, Adam gathered his righteous children around him. Christ appeared and blessed Adam, as his children praised him, calling him Michael the archangel (D&C 107:53-57).

This is what sacred space is all about. At Mount Sinai, Moses tried to bring the Israelites back into the presence of God, but they refused and were left with the Levitical priesthood, which contains the ministering of angels (D&C 84:18-27). Today’s temples are sacred space established so faithful saints can prepare to see the face of God and live.

No wonder it was so important to the survival of the Jews anciently. The temple was needed so individuals could approach God’s sacred space and commune with him. The ancient temple was not just for animal sacrifice. Samuel’s mother prayed there for a son, and received her petition. John the Baptist’s father was serving in the temple when Gabriel the archangel told him he was to have a son. Even the Jerusalem temple, based upon the Aaronic/Levitical Priesthood, opened the windows of heaven so people could receive revelation.

Today, righteous people can receive revelation in the temples. Many attend when they have struggles weighing on their minds and receive inspired answers in what to do. Many see angels and other wonders in the temples of God. And those who are prepared can see Christ and become a living witness of his resurrection.

Yet today, many of our temples are under-utilized. We are so busy with life and distractions, as was ancient Israel when it was destroyed, that we don’t have time. Or so we say. It is time we stop putting off the temple, as did the original Jews who returned to Jerusalem, and start building the sacred space within our own hearts by attending more often. That is one of the main ways we prepare ourselves to see Christ. What could be more important than that?


Marc Shindler’s explanation of Deutero-Isaiah:


Samaritan temple:



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