(45) Weeping and Fasting and Malachi
Background information: As the Bible account draws closer to the present day, it becomes easier (though never trivial) to date events. When Haggai and Zechariah date their prophecies according to the reign of Darius, other historical documents lead to fairly precise dates. Darius 1 came to the throne of Persia in September 522BC, but wasn’t properly accepted until 521BC. The “second year of Darius” (Haggai 1:1) thus begins in April 522BC, and the Temple is finally dedicated in March 515BC (Ezra 6:15). Bible language also changes with time and culture. Ezra’s account of official letters going back and forth to Darius is written in Aramaic, while his descriptions of Temple observance are in Hebrew. Interestingly, when Passover is celebrated in the new Temple (April 515BC), the name of the Passover month becomes Nisan (Babylonian) rather than Aviv (Hebrew—Deuteronomy 16:1)
With work proceeding on the new Temple, the people ask Zechariah how they should commemorate the past.
1. Read 2 Kings 25:8-10, Zechariah 7:1-7. The exiles have commemorated the destruction of Jerusalem with weeping and fasting year after year. What’s wrong with that? How might this apply to, say, giving up chocolate for Lent?
2. Read Zechariah 7:8-10. What did God really want—from their ancestors? From them? From us?
3. Read Zechariah 8:3-8. Has this come to pass yet?
4. Read Zechariah 8:9-13. What does the promise that Judah and Israel will be a blessing mean?
5. How should we commemorate our past?
Ezra gives a very immediate Aramaic account of what happens while the Temple is being built.
1. Read Ezra 5:2-4. Why is this scary?
2. Read Ezra 5:8-17. Why might Tattenai be opposed to the building of the Temple? What might he hope to achieve with this letter?
3. Darius finds the original decree from King Cyrus and upholds it. Read Ezra 6:6-12. What is the attitude to God?
4. Read Ezra 6:14-19. Why would they keep the we’ve-done-it celebration separate from Passover? How well do we include God in secular celebration, and how well do we separate secular and sacred festivals?
Background information: The book of Daniel offers examples of dates that are less easily identified. For example, Daniel refers to Darius the Mede, but Darius is Persian, so… Three suggestions are: that this is a different Darius; that the names of Cyrus and Darius got confused; or that Darius, the Persian who conquered the Medes, could well have been celebrated as Darius the Mede. This Darius did organize his kingdom into satraps (Daniel 6:1-2) and did issues decrees according to the Laws of The Medes and Persians (Daniel 6:8) so it seems a fairly likely interpretation. However, it dates the later chapters of Daniel at sometime after 522BC, by which time Daniel (exiled around 598C) might be over 80 years old!
1. Read Daniel 6:1-4. Would Darius be more likely to promote a young man or an old man? How old did you imagine Daniel was when thrown to the lions?
2. Read Daniel 6:6-9. How have people been compelled to betray their faith at other times in history? How might this relate to, say, the eating-food-sacrificed-to-idols debate in the early Church?
3. Read Daniel 6:10. How does Daniel’s response fit with Paul’s injunction to early Christians?(Read 1 Corinthians 8:9)
4. So Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den. Read Daniel 6:16-23. What is Darius’ attitude to God?
5. Read Daniel 6:25-28. How does this fit with what we’ve seen in Ezra?
Background information: Cyrus the Medo-Persian king conquered Babylon. Cambyses, son of Cyrus was the next king. Guatama stole the throne afterward by pretending to be Cyrus’ son. But Darius, a trusted ruler, got the kingdom back. Xerxes 1, probably the same person as Esther’s King Ahasuerus (and the Ahasuerus in Ezra), is Darius’ son. This would mean the book of Esther starts around 483BC (Esther 1:1-4). The exiles started returning around 538BC and the Temple was rededicated around 515BC.
Xerxes’ kingdom faced internal unrest in Egypt and Babylon. In 480BC Xerxes tried to invade Greece and was defeated. In 465BC he was killed and his son Antaxerxes took the throne. Antaxerxes reigned from 465BC to 424BC, and the kingdom gradually shrank during this time.
Meanwhile the Temple was rebuilt and work began on a new Jerusalem, much to the dismay of non-Jewish neighbors.
1. Read Ezra 4:6 If Ahasuerus and Antaxerxes reign later than Darius, why might this be included earlier in the book of Ezra? Why shouldn’t we assume old histories to be chronological?
2. Read Ezra 4:11-16. Why would they imagine a new Jerusalem to be a threat?
3. Read Ezra 4:18-23. What stops us from building for God?
Read Ezra 7:1-6. Ezra and Nehemiah are relative late-comers to Jerusalem. Before their arrival, the Temple is restored but not the city. The kingdom is in disarray and probably dominated by powerful priests. The people are ruled by a governor rather than a king. It’s reasonable to guess that this is world the prophet Malachi spoke to – he mentions a governor (Malachi 1:8), careless sacrifices (Malachi 1:14), corrupt priests (Malachi 2:7-8), and failure to tithe (Malachi 3:8), and he describes a way of life that’s painful and hard.
1. Read Malachi 1:2-3. What happened to the Edomites when Jerusalem fell? Would this reminder be comforting to people who feel like they’re being oppressed by their neighbors? Do we ever ask “How have you loved us?”
2. Read Malachi 1:6. How might we answer God’s question? And how might he answer ours?
3. Read Malachi 1:8. How can we determine what is worth offering to God in our lives?
4. Read Malachi 1:11. Has this happened yet?
5. Read Malachi 1:12-13. In what sense might we be guilty of this? (Traditionally, the Lord’s table was a festive, wonderful place to eat.)
6. Read Malachi 2:1,7-9. In what sense might churches or church leaders be guilty of this? (Read James 2:15-17)
7. Read Malachi 2:10. Who might we or our leaders deal treacherously (break faith) with?
8. Read Malachi 2:16. How does or doesn’t this apply to modern ideas of divorce?
9. Read Malachi 3:1-2. Who might be the messenger? Why would his coming (or second coming) be hard to endure?
10. Read Malachi 3:5. Do the sins included or not included in this list surprise you?
11. Read Malachi 3:8-10. Is this about following the law of tithing or trusting the love of God?
12. Read Malachi 4:1, 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Corinthians 3:15. Is fire good or bad? Is suffering good or bad? (And did you know these verses are part of where the idea of purgatory comes from?)
13. Read Malachi 4:2. The Sun God was symbolized by a disc with wings. It’s almost as if Malachi is telling how much better the real God is than the idol. How might we describe how much better God is than modern idols?
14. Read Malachi 4:5-6. Who do we believe this means?