Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

The Temple that was destroyed by the Babylonian forces
Sacrifices and offerings

The inter-testamental period
The priesthood

The destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the army of Nebuchadnezzar changed the culture and politics of Israel for centuries. The northern kingdom of ten tribes had already been overthrown by the Assyrians. Totally absorbed, they have been lost to history. The sovereignty of the southern kingdom (Judah) passed from the Babylonians to the Persians and then to the Greeks, after which the territory of Israel was the object of Egyptian conquest and then Syrian.

It was a widely held view that the Babylonian exile was the result of national failure to obey the divine code delivered to Moses and accepted as law by the nation. Idolatry and neglect of the Torah had brought judgment upon the nation. They had lost the tenancy of Israel in accordance with the terms of the Land Covenant. Canaan was designed to be a home for Israel. A home that would be a place of safety and peace where they could live in comfort – a place where there would be food and drink to sustain them, and protection from outside influences. It had been all this to them – a fertile and well watered country that provided a balanced diet for its occupants. The peace and safety was provided by the Lord.

But the Land Covenant, which had expanded the land aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant, had made the occupation of Canaan conditional on obedience and faith. It was also an incentive to godly living. And as an incentive it was of five star quality - walk with God or lose your homeland – it could not be clearer. Moses, God’s spokesman, inspired in his oratory, reminded the nation that exile awaited any generation that turned from the Lord. Having used the carrot, that is, declaring that obedience brought blessing, he wielded the stick - disobedience brings judgment. “And it shall be, that just as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other.” (Deut. 28:63-64) And the promise for obedience was not simply occupation of the designated territory, but blessing – blessing on the nation, blessing on families, blessing on crops. In addition, there would be protection from any nation that had ambitions to conquer. This was an agreement that was heavily weighted in favour of the nation. But sin makes a person foolish, and Israel played the fool with other gods that could neither bless nor protect. She reneged on her relationship with the Lord and was exiled as a result.

The Return of the Exiles

But, in the purposes of God, the displacement of the Jewish nation had a time limit. There was an ‘until’; it was to last 70 years as prophesied by Jeremiah. And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years (Jer. 25:11). The captivity of Israel ended at the time appointed when Cyrus permitted those Jews who wished to, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. The book of Ezra records the fact. Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia:
All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May 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 God), which is in Jerusalem.
(Ezra 1:1–3)

Those that returned to Jerusalem and Judea after the Babylonian exile resolved to organize themselves into a different kind of community. They would be a nation given over to Torah and religious observance. The priestly class came to have political dominance, certainly from the time of Ezra. The High Priest would be the supreme ruler both politically as well religiously. Since sovereignty over the province of Judea was held by foreign emperors civil rule no longer rested with the house of David. In the land, the High Priest held primary authority, an office that was hereditary and occupied for life. There also developed a council of elders as his advisors and administrators of government. Thus Judea became a separately administered province with the rebuilt Temple at its centre and the High Priest at the helm.

It was Ezra, a priest, who gave substance to the desire to return to Torah observance. He determined that the remnant that returned to Jerusalem and Judea could not obey the Law if they lacked knowledge so he set in motion a programme to educate the nation in the Law of Moses. He set up a school for Scribes (Sopherim) who would master the Mosaic code and then be able to pass their knowledge to the wider public. Ezra, long considered the founder of Jewish legalism, gave impetus to the formulation of a binding set of rules to be imposed on the Jewish nation. These legal requirements were still in place at the time of the Messiah and indeed, to a degree are still observed to this day.

In this fashion, the Jewish people became a nation dominated by two different groups – the interpreters of the Law, the Scribes, and the operators of the Temple, the priests. The government of Israel would ultimately rest in a body called the Sanhedrin which would be dominated by two parties, the Pharisees and the Saducees. Scribes had allegiance to the party of the Pharisees while the High Priest and the chief priests were Saducees.

So it was subsequent to the exile and the return to the land that the character of the nation was reformed. The pious among them considered it their chief occupation to fulfil with zeal and conscientiousness the Law as expounded by the Scribes. The success of the work of Ezra’s reforms can be measured in that, at the time of the Macabees and the conflicts that took place at that time, the religious party interpreted the command to observe the Sabbath so strictly that they would rather die than fight on that day.

Monday, September 12, 2011

New Books from the pen of Bryan W. Sheldon

Jesus of

Nazareth :More than

just a Messiah.

About the book:

The life of Jesus of Nazareth has divided history into two. His influence has been felt all around the globe. His followers number millions. His teaching has guided nations. What was there about Him that should have such an enduring effect? The key to the answer lies in who He was. The Church has long held that He was God revealed in flesh - “the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance  of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.” This belief has come under attack once again. This modest volume offers some Biblical evidence in support of the doctrine of the deity of Christ in the hope that some will find it helpful in repelling the arguments of those who wish to diminish the One who died for the salvation of sinners, at the same time strengthening an appreciation of the greatness of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Living for God:
The Principles and Practice of Discipleship

About the book:

The call to discipleship is seldom heard today. This book places before all those who have been blessed with the salvation provided by the Son of God, the challenge of Christian living. It suggests that it will require the full use of one’s abilities, energy and resources; but while the cost might appear to be heavy, the rewards will be immense and the quality of life will be special. This title revises and enlarges the previous volume ‘Discipleship Considered’. It now includes studies in the lives of Daniel, Joseph, Hannah, Ruth and Esther.