Chapter 23 – The Holy Spirit in the Days of the Restoration

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Zechariah 4: 6.

The restoration was a period of Jewish history as distinctly marked as the Patriarchal or the Mosaic age, the times of the Judges, or the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. It followed the captivity, and was intended to prepare the way for a yet greater event, the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It was one of the most marked periods of divine working in the Old Testament, and it is full of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. This little message which Zechariah gave to his people as the motto of that Restoration, more fitly than any other word expresses its entire history. It was a movement, not of human power, but of the Holy Ghost.

It was unaccompanied by the miraculous signs which attended almost every other important period of Old Testament history; but its providential miracles and its manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit were even more signal and wonderful than the miracles of the wilderness and the land of promise.

Let us trace the workings of the Holy Spirit through this wonderful period.

1. The first stage might be described as the ministry of prayer. We have an account of it in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel. “In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. And I set my face upon the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.”

When God is about to work out any great purpose, He usually lays it as a burden of prayer upon the heart of some of His saints whom He can fully trust. So He called Daniel, His tried servant in Babylon, to this high ministry of prayer.

We cannot fail to notice the connection of Daniel’s prayer with Jeremiah’s prophecy. Seventy years before, the prophet of God had announced, not only the fact, but the duration of Judah’s captivity; and Daniel had been carefully studying the sacred scroll and marked the period of his people’s affliction. Now that the time seemed to have run its course, he was encouraged to go to God in intercessions and plead for the fulfillment of His promise and the accomplishment of the inspired prophecy.

Some would have said that, because God was going to do it, they should not be troubled about it. Why not wait and let Him work out His own counsel? But to true faith the promise of God is a direct incentive to prayer.

True faith always finds its warrant in the Word of God, and because it has pleased Him to commit Himself to us in the Word of Promise, we feel encouraged to present our petition, and to believe for its answer.

Not lightly did Daniel pray, but for three full weeks he humbled himself in fasting and prayer before his God. He was not praying for himself. He was not borne down by the weight of his own trial and care. His prayer was wholly disinterested and altogether for his country and his people and the glory of his God.

This is true prayer, and this is divine partnership with God Himself. This is the highest and holiest ministry given to mortal, and brings us into direct fellowship with our ascended and interceding Lord.

Not in vain did Daniel thus cry to heaven. In due time a messenger came to him from the sky, and directly announced to him; first, that he was greatly beloved; and, next, that his prayer was heard and answered, and that from the very first day that he had set himself to ask it of God, God had recorded the answer in the decrees of the throne, and had set in motion all the forces of His power to accomplish it.

Indeed, this mighty angel had been three weeks on his way, hindered by the powers of darkness, and the principalities that rule over the governments of this world.

What a vision this gives us of the living forces of the world unseen, and of the power of prayer to press through all those labyrinths of evil to reach the heart and hand of God and the scepter of the universe!

Dear saint of God, you may be humble and unknown, you may have little talent and little wealth; but alone in your closet, you can touch the confines of the world, and set in motion forces which will influence the destiny of nations.

Yonder in Babylon we see a lowly suppliant on his face before God, in sackcloth and ashes and deep earnestness of heart. It looks to us like a spectacle of impotence. But wait; look a little further. Stretch your vision to the far circumference of yonder circle, and you shall see a mighty conqueror pausing in his career of triumph, issuing a decree from his throne, recognizing the power of Jehovah, and bringing all the forces of his government to carry out the prayer of that saint of God.

You shall see a long train of captives hastening from their exile to their distant home, and centuries on centuries of national prosperity reaching away down to Messianic times, and far beyond to millennial ages, all is the result of the prayer of Daniel, the beloved of the Lord.

The angel that came to him told him of the years that should intervene until the close of the Old Testament dispensation. He told him of the coming of the great Messiah. He told Him of His sacrifice and its blessed efficacy. He told him of the trials and troubles that should come to his people afterwards, and he reached out to the most distant ages, down even to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in His glory. O friends, when you talk to God and rise out of your own troubles, and stand with Him in the high and holy ministry of prayer, you get a much larger answer than you expect. God not only gives you what you ask, but He gives you an eternity beyond. “Lord, teach us to pray.”

2. The next stage of the working of the Holy Spirit is seen in the providential movements which introduce the Restoration.

The first and most remarkable of these was the career of Cyrus. More than a century before, the prophet Isaiah had described this extraordinary man. He had even called him by his name and pointed him out as the special instrument of the divine purpose in the restoration of Israel. “Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him two-leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut: I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: and I will give thee treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel, mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name; I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.”

What a wonderful picture! What marvelous prophecy, and how literally it was fulfilled in the romantic story of Cyrus, his rapid career of conquest, his capture of Babylon, the establishment of his universal empire, and then his remarkable part in the restoration of Israel and the rebuilding of the temple!

The next chapter in this extraordinary series of events is the proclamation of Cyrus in the first verses of the book of Ezra. “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, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, the Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who 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. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, besides the free will offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem. Also Cyrus the king, brought forth the vessels of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods; even those did Cyrus bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer.”

Here we see the conqueror of the world, in the very flush of his renown, turned aside by a divine impulse, and constrained to carry out the very purpose and will of God.

Oh, how wonderful the power of the Holy Ghost! He is able to deal with the hearts and minds of men, the highest as well as the lowest, and to overrule even their selfish ambitions and plans for the carrying out of His own purposes and the building up of His own kingdom.

He who has sent us His ambassadors to the nations has declared, “All power is given unto me, in heaven and in earth.” “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it withersoever he will.”

Could we but believe more definitely in the power and providence of God, how much larger would our plans of service be, and how much less would we fear the oppositions of men!

We are living in the days when we may especially claim the overruling providence of God in the affairs of men, and when we may call upon the Holy Ghost to cooperate with the Church of Christ in sending the Gospel to the world, and hastening the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the history of missions there have been some very wonderful instances of God’s interposing power through the affairs of nations.

The story of Japan, the story of Siam, the story of Madagascar, the Indian Mutiny, and the history of China for half a century are full of romances of providence as significant as the story of Cyrus. God has many such things in store for the hearts that can trust Him.

Oh, let us understand the immensity of our God and the far-reaching scope of His providence and His power, and enter into partnership with Him in His great design to give the Kingdom to His Son. The Ancient of Days has come, and is judging among the nations, to give the Son of Man His Kingdom, dominion, and glory. Let us recognize His Presence, and let us claim, as in the days old, the operation of His mighty power.

How sublime and solemn the spectacle upon which the eyes of the Church are gazing today! The mighty Colossus of China, so long opposed to foreign influence and the Gospel of Christ, is being broken to pieces like a potter’s vessel, and plowed up as with the plowshare of God to prepare the way of the Lord. Doubtless it is in answer to some prayer of faith. Doubtless it is preparatory to some glorious aggressive movement of faith and evangelistic zeal. God help us to understand our times and to understand our God, and to be worthy of our high calling as workers together with Him!

Another extraordinary providential working of the Holy Ghost during these days is found in the story of Esther. It was another miracle of Providence, although on a different plane, and in a simpler sphere. This time a nation was to be delivered from extermination. The very race of Israel was to be preserved so as to form a line through which Christ could come. The devil had determined to blot out their existence, but God raised up a little maiden to be His instrument for their deliverance.

He had given Esther a beautiful face and a fair and attractive form; and these were trusts which He meant her to use for Him. He gave her favor in the eyes of the king, and He introduced her to his palace and his throne. Dear young friend, your face, your form, your place in society, these are mighty trusts to use for God. Take heed how you use them. There came a time when Esther must stand forth and fulfill her high commission, and even risk her life for the sake of her country. She hesitated; and had she faltered it would have involved, perhaps, not only the ruin of her people, but the destruction of herself and her father’s house. God gave her grace to be true, and through her true, brave stand, her people were delivered.

The enemies of God were caught in the snare which they had prepared. So God today is working through individuals as well as nations. May He enable us, like Esther of old, to understand His solemn message, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Quite as remarkable is the story of Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the returning captives. It was no small undertaking to conduct a band of 50,000 unarmed men and women and children across that vast desert, but Ezra so fully trusted God that he would not even ask an escort. How touching his language! “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all of our substance. For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, the hand of our God is upon all of them for good that seek him: but his power and his wrath is against all that forsake him. So we fasted, and besought our God for this; and he was entreated of us.” (Ezra 8:21). “Then we departed from the river of Ahava, on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem ; and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way. And we came to Jerusalem.”

This was the work of the Holy Spirit, and thus He loves to guard and guide those who trust in Him. Their task was a most difficult one. First, they attempted to build the temple without restoring the walls. Their primary object was to set up the worship of their God, and they trusted Him to be a wall of fire round about and the glory in the midst.

They were surrounded by jealous foes who tried in every way to defeat their plan, and sometimes succeeded in delaying their work; but through innumerable vicissitudes and deliverances God safely brought them, until the temple was renewed, and the walls arose under Nehemiah, and the social and political foundations of their national life were once more restored.

This is the true secret of success in every work for God. This is the true meaning of the Church of Christ today. God is her Living Head, and the Holy Ghost is her all-sufficient Defender, her All-sufficiency and Guide; and those who fully trust Him never fail to find Him true and equal to all their exigencies and needs.

3. THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE MESSAGES OF HIS INSPIRED SERVANTS. While God raised up Cyrus, Zerubbabel, Joshua, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah to lead this great restoration, He also sent His prophetic messenger to aid them by his counsel. By their divine messages, there were three special prophets connected with the work of the restoration, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Malachi’s work belongs properly to a later period, and closes the Old Testament dispensation. Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries. The one was an old man, the other was a young man. God has need of both classes in the ministry of His Church. We have time at present to refer to Haggai’s messages only.

There were several. The first was one of stern rebuke. The people had begun to forget their great trust, and, instead of rebuilding the house of God in Jerusalem, were erecting for themselves costly homes and becoming absorbed in selfish comfort and ambition. The prophet comes with a very solemn rebuke. “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?” His heart-searching cry is, “Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.”

His message was not in vain. The officers and the people rose up and went to work with fidelity and zeal.

Seven weeks later Haggai is authorized to deliver to the people a very different message full of divine encouragement and glorious promise, “Yet now be strong, O Zerubabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, the 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: according to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.”

The Holy Spirit was to be their guide and strength. Again and again the phrase is repeated, “Saith the Lord.” It was the word of God, the presence of God, the Spirit of God, that was to be their dependence and their divine resource through all this great undertaking. And then the promise reaches out into all the grandeur of a millennial vision.

“For thus saith the Lord of hosts, Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.

“The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts. The 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.”

They were building a house that was to be visited in the coming centuries by the Son of God Himself, and that was to be glorified by His miracles of love and words of grace. Little did they realize the glory, the latter glory for which they were laying foundations. In a still later vision the prophet looks forward to the overthrow of nations and kingdoms, and the coming of the Lord Jesus Himself, and the recompense which then will await Zerubabel and his faithful laborers when the Lord shall make them like a signet of glory and honor.

This may be the glory of our work. This is the glory of all work done in the power of the Spirit. It is done for the coming of the Lord, and it will receive its recompense in that day of manifestations. Oh, let this be our high ambition!

Perhaps the house we build for Him will yet be trodden by the feet of the Son of man. The souls we bring to Him shall be presented in that day as our crown of rejoicing and His. The world that we win for Him shall be our kingdom as well as His in the day of His millennial reign. Yes, if we may but haste that coming and prepare the way by the evangelization of the nations, it may be our blessed hope and transcendent privilege, ourselves to live to meet Him in His glorious advent, and to welcome Him back to the world for which He died, then to share with Him the days, the ages of blessing and glory, which fill the vision of the prophetic age.

Oh, let our work take hold upon His coming, and be dignified and glorified by the same promise that cheered the heart of the restoration workers, “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts.”

The prophetic messages of Zechariah were still more rich and full, but we must defer to another chapter the unfolding of his sublime and instructive images of the Holy Ghost.