Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 7: IT’S BETTER TO MOURN THAN IT IS TO REJOICE? 

ecclesiastes

There’s nothing new under the sun which includes our bent to avoid the issue of death.  Whenever I talked to my father about death he almost always side-stepped the conversation by changing the topic to one that was more “happy”.  The Preacher’s instruction here is hard to swallow for a society that worships wealth, health, entertainment and the absence of pain.  Death simply decimates those aspirations and reminds us that our appointment with it is looming:

A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
(Vv.1-2)

The house of mourning says the Preacher is “better than” or “preferable to” the “party” because it lurches us into questioning the meaning of life and forces us to confront our inevitable death.  A funeral, not a feast wakes us up to the ultimate issue of life after death which the naturalist denies (ala atheism), or the monist attributes as illusory (ala Buddhism or Hinduism), but Christian theism explains so well in the Gospel accounts and in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

LORD, help us and teach us to live our lives in light of our appointed death today in word and deed.  May we hold on to things loosely in light of eternity as we serve our fellow man for your NAME’S sake, and may we be vigilant.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 5: HOW TO PROPERLY APPROACH GOD

This chapter starts off warning against being foolish when approaching God in worship:

“Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God. (Vv.1-6)

Our demeanor here seems to be foolish and evil if we think that our primary function of worship is to “offer” religious duty to God (as if He needed anything from us).  The sacrifice of fools prevents them from principally “hearing” the law of the LORD when it’s read and explained.  There are several lessons I have derived from this text.

First, my heart must first be instructed through God’s self-disclosure in Scripture through my mind before any offering I give is acceptable to God.  That is, clear instruction on God’s intended meaning in Scripture precedes and is to inform the worshipper on how to approach this great God.

Second, if primacy to the aforesaid is not given, then idolatry will follow which at its core takes God’s name in vain (i.e., misrepresents His nature and character) and leads the devotee into bondage because God’s truth is substituted for a lie.  Right doctrine is necessary for right living.

Third, the fool apparently parades his folly through much “speech”.  That is, the fool has forgotten to consider that true worship can’t be bifurcated or separated from the knowing and doing dynamic.  It is the two-sided coin of acceptable worship before God for when we don’t follow through on what we have vowed (promise made), sin results.  For as the standard of truth, goodness and beauty, God always does what He says and says what He does.  His people are to follow suit.

What a difficult concept for us to consider and live out in a culture that largely de-values truth telling on the one hand (e.g., P.C. speech), but deeply longs for it on the other hand.  Jesus said that believers must be people whose word can be counted on:

33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”   (Mt.5:33-37)

The fourth lesson is that it’s better to refrain from speaking than to proceed and to sin (v.6).  I have often dishonored people and God with my speech.  This human malady has been around since the beginning of time and is out of control through our social media forums.  Believers need to be very careful how they speak about people with whom they disagree for human beings are precious image bearers not accidents of evolutionary theory.

Of all the created order, what separates human beings from it is the capacity we have for communication through words.  It is the instrumentality of words that the soul reveals ideas which have the power to either edify or decimate individuals, communities, provinces and even nations.

Like many of you, I’m prone to much speech.  My tone, timing, and audience make the art of communicating well difficult to master.  But believer and unbeliever alike will give an account to God for every idol word that comes out of our hearts.  This is sobering and worthy to consider.

(SDG)

 

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 3: THE PREACHER ON TIME & ETERNITY

“There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven__” (3:1).  This chapter doesn’t feel as gloomy as the first two but he considers the issue of “time”.  What is time in this context?  According to the Preacher, time is a successive series of events which begin and end (e.g., a time to give birth, a time to die 3:2).  There are several aspects I want to consider.

First, there once was a “time” I did not exist, then came the time of my birth, and a day awaits when I will finally die.  One day, life as we experience it and know it will no longer be.  But will “I” or “we” cease to exist?  There are some who would concur that eventually we go out of existence.  However, according to the Scriptures and especially in the Gospel accounts (i.e., Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) you and I will either live forever in the blessed presence of Christ or in the eternal wrathful presence of God called hell.

Second, the Preacher acknowledges that God has made all things appropriate in their time (v.11) and He has also set eternity in the hearts of men (v.11b).  What’s interesting to me is that God, “in” time, which will never end, has placed eternity into men’s hearts.  I’m not altogether certain why that is but the purpose seems, “so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (v.11c).

This beginning and end seems to refer to “everything under heaven or the creation”.  Eternity here can very well be the state in time where man will forever gaze into the works of God, eternally beholding the Master’s handiwork in order to marvel at the immensity and the intricacies of His glory.

Third, the preacher knows that rejoicing and, doing good in one’s lifetime is the ultimate goal for existence (v.12).  This after all is in the contexts of eating, drinking, and laboring.  The one who recognizes that these activities are good must then acknowledge that they come from God.  This is not luck, fate, karma, nor destiny.  Instead, it’s the kindness of the Creator toward the creature who too often does not give honor nor give thanks to Him.

It’s been my experience even as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, that I have not found any delight in work but rather loathed it.  I often have not been thankful nor appreciated the skills for earning wealth I possess.  Perhaps you can relate friend to this kind of experience.  We need to pray that these three activities are seen for what they are—good.

This is important because too often, we tend to miss the splendor of the mundane by longing for the splendor filled day.  According to the Preacher, (v.22) “…nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities because that is man’s lot….For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?” The three activities (of eating, drinking, and laboring,) apportioned to us (by God) are our lot.  Enjoying them now is all that we are assured.  For when we die these activities, like our lives will cease.

What a challenge to be in the moment and maximize our joy in these activities, rather than squander the opportunity “in the time” allotted to us.  These are all gifts from God.  Today LORD God, give us your people the wisdom to live in light of eternity in this present fleeting life.  Teach us LORD to be happy in the lot you have determined for us to experience by keeping us from forfeiting said delight through actions and thoughts that dishonor your name.

(SDG)

 

 

ECCLESIASTES: WHAT IS THE MEANING OF VANITY?

Ecclesiastes-Main

        

In Hebrew, the word for vanity is hebel—הָ֫בֶל, which means “vapor” or “breath”. This word is dominant in the book of Ecclesiastes compared to the rest of the Old Testament books.  Hebel can refer to that which is, worthless or       unsubstantial such as an idol (Jer.10:5) or life itself (Job 7:16).[1]  This word is found in contexts where the activity engaged brings no profit be it through: Egypt’s might (Is. 30:7); idol worship (Dt. 32:21) or Abel and Cain’s labor (Gen. 4).

Hebel evaluates people and things making value judgements on them and concluding that these lack any real “substance.”[2]  Deceitfully gaining riches in light of our finitude for example is hebel—worthless.  Among our worthlessness under the sun is our might, beauty and youth all of which in our culture are worshipped (Prov. 31:30; Is. 30:7; Ec. 11:10).[3]

To the Preacher, it is death that precisely makes life meaningless or vain (Ec.3:19) and that is why he is so pessimistic about human existence.  In Ecclesiastes the dominant use of hebel is the universally considered devaluation of a person or thing.[4]  The nihilism is very dark and gloomy for life without God is no life at all.  That’s the message, that’s the reality check, that’s the abyss.

(SDG)

[1] BDB, Pg.210

[2] TDOT, Pgs.313-314

[3] Ibid., Pg.319

[4] Ibid., Pg.319

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 2: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS—VANITY Part 2

In my struggle and acquaintance with failure concerning every sector of existence (E.g., moral, practical and contemplative) the Preacher’s outlook is not re-assuring but utterly depressing.

Vanity, futility, empty, meaningless are all man’s endeavors under the sun and thus so is his life.   The Preacher indulged himself with pleasure and came up empty whether sexual, intellectual or acquisitional pleasure, it’s all empty:

“I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had home born slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines.(2.1-8)

He became greater than all of his predecessors and still his activities are considered useless (Vv.9-11).  There’s no boasting here but deprecation of all the things worldly men (of which I once numbered) would die for!  Wine, women and song, riches and pleasures galore—empty says the preacher!

He understood that wisdom far excels folly as the light conquers the darkness and yet even this to him is vain because like the fool so the wise man will die and his memorial will be forgotten:

“So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done? 13 And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. 15 Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.” 16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! 17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.”   (2:12-17)

The herald understanding his plight completely despaired of life, his legacy and his toil, the accumulation of which is vanity (2:18-23).  Yet, he reflects on the good life and considers that its basis is found in God alone and happiness is to be had in Him alone:

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? 26 For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” (2:24-26)

God gives wisdom to the wise and good person but for the sinner (who in this context is the opposite) their task is gathering and collecting for those God sees as good.  The struggle and restlessness this nihilistic Preacher is enduring is horrible to bear.  The Preacher is saying that existence without God is empty, a breath not worth taking, toil that leads to “nowhere” in the blink of the eye.

What a dark hole his soul sank into, what an empty chasm he’s fallen into, what a dingy dungeon is his abode, the abyss has (almost entirely) swallowed him up.

God and the meaning of life is the question for the man who has wandered from the paths of righteousness.  His plight is a warning to all who do shun God, deny his existence and indulge in fleeting pleasures—emptiness is the reward.  Why?  Because all pleasures in life that put God at the periphery are vain being He is the giver and sustainer of life in whom there is no darkness at all.

The Preacher is warning me to flee all pleasures that have not God at the hub, to consider the vanity of life without Him and to pursue Him in my gloomiest hour for He alone will not disappoint.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 1-4: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS

REFLECTIONS FROM THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES

My goal in writing reflections from Ecclesiastes are the following: First, to encourage you the reader that if you will pay attention to the words on the page and listen carefully you will mine a lot of truth for life without the need of a commentary or any secondary source (although I provide a lexical explanation for the word vanity here).  That is, “take up and read” to enrich your soul Christian.

Second, I write to give you a model of how observations can be done in scripture that do not read into the text something foreign to the author’s intent.  This will help you experience the joy of discovery and increase your confidence in your ability to comprehend God’s word.

Third, by doing the above my hope is that you will be able to hear God’s voice all the more clearly and follow Him all the more closer.  For, it is the word of God that is forever settled in heaven, and not our subjective impressions however valid they may be.  That is, we have a more sure word of prophecy according to Peter—meaning the inscripturated word of God—then a glorious experience we may claim to have (2 Peter 1:16-21).  Too often we Christians have bizarre ideas of what “God” is supposedly speaking to us and when it contradicts the Bible, be assured we are not hearing his voice.

ECCLESIASTES 1-4: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS

The pace at which time moves astounds me.  The year is almost up and what was true for Solomon applies to me “A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.” (1:4) It’s a humbling fact—the span of our lives, my life, is ever so slight!  The letter of James in the New Testament agrees:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. ” 

This pessimistic account from the Preacher king, though negative is true.  Nothing is new under the sun but foolish mankind would disagree (1:9).  Of particular interest and serious consideration is the task of exploring wisdom concerning the created order, which from his view is the acquisition of affliction and grief:

12 I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. 14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.(1:12-14)

According to Solomon, wisdom and its acquisition is burdensome, unlike Proverbs, this book hits us with a bombshell affirming life’s futility.  With the acquisition of wisdom there’s much grief and the end of increased knowledge is pain:

16 I said to myself, “Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind. 18 Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.”   (1:16-18)

What a realist view of labor and what a downer for someone who wants to pursue the knowledge of God.  There is however here more than meets the eye.  There’s something the Preacher—Solomon the wisest man to have ever lived other than Christ Jesus—wants the reader to get his angle, but it’s going to require more reading to grasp his thought.

LORD, help us understand this book in light of its purpose and message.

(SDG)

Now Available! Reflections from Ezra, Nehemiah, & Esther

 

Artaxerxes_I

In the Book of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther we can observe that God’s word is central to true acceptable worship before Him.  We also recognize that to worship God as He alone demands is absolutely costly.  And lastly, we see that God’s providence is often demonstrated through even unbelieving rulers in order to accomplish his plans.  So take up and read in order to nurture your soul Christian.  Click REFLECTIONS FROM THE BOOK OF EZRA

Reflections from NEHEMIAH 5-8: THE NEED FOR A RIGHTEOUS GOVERNOR

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            In a day when just (righteous) rulers are needed, our land in America is in a deep drought and famine.  The truth of God is twisted, it is suppressed in unrighteousness and the prevailing “wisdom” calls “right” wrong and what’s “wrong” right.  We are at the cliff’s edge and don’t realize the peril that awaits our steps.  This is difficult to bear.

Israel, God’s people who rebelled, went into exile and now returned to their home land, but they needed to get their lives in order.  This occurs by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly before Almighty God.  To do this, they had to secure their borders first and make sure that they treated their Jewish brothers as covenant people and not strangers of their common wealth (5:1-13)

Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.” There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.” Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.”  Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words.I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. I said to them, “We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?” Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? 10 And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury.11 Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. 13 I also shook out the front of my garment and said, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this promise.

There’s also the need for a governor like Nehemiah whose heart fears God (5:14-19), so that when men threaten the people’s welfare, it is God who these rulers seek for victory, not mere creatures (6:1-14).  This event is not a myth, but written in space time history demonstrated in the census where the names of the sons of men are counted (7:1-73).  Then there’s the need for the Law to be read, explained and understood so that the people may worship the One True God.  This was a radically God centered event in the history of wayward Israel (8:1-12)

And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place.They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.

Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.

So, what do I perceive?  I perceive that the hearts of men are hopelessly broken and in need of the Great Physician to restore them to health.  I can see that Godly leadership is essential for this healing to occur and that a nation is always better off with these than with self-absorbed rulers.  I also recognize that part of what it means to get our lives in order includes performing our civic and religious duties from a Word, Scripture centered point.  Neglect these and the tapestry begins to come apart at the fray.  God, help us your people be like Nehemiah in word and in deed.  (SDG)

Reflections From EZRA 7-10: THE ROAD BACK TO WORSHIP HAS MANY OBSTACLES

Artaxerxes_I

          The story of God’s people is an amazing drama in scripture where the faithfulness of God is placarded behind the backdrop of a rebellious and wayward people who don’t know their left hand from their right.  However, in spite of the dark times, God always seems to exalt a leader whose life is dedicated to the LORD in word and deed.  Ezra was one such man.

A scribe skilled in the Law of Moses who not only studied it but practiced and taught it as well:

 This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him. Some of the sons of Israel and some of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers and the temple servants went up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.  He came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. (Ez. 7:6-10)

Ezra was called by God to restore worship back in Israel for those who returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity.  God’s favor was on Ezra to such an extent that all the needed resources for worship would be granted by King Artaxerxes (7:11-28).  This is an example, among other things, of how there is a time and purpose for everything under heaven (even the restoration of worship after God disciplined His people), of how the income of the wicked is laid up for the righteous, of how the kings heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD that He turns it wherever He wishes, and of how the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it.

Not everyone returned to Israel, but those who did have their names recorded in the genealogies.  Those who did not return valued more their possessions, lands and established relationships over against the God of Israel.  Sadly, their names are not recorded nor remembered in the annals of history, but God knows and named those who are His; and for this reason they will never be forgotten (8:1-14).   Before crossing the river to go back home, Ezra has those traveling camp out for three days in front of the river.  There are many reasons for this, but what’s most obvious is the need for the people to trust in God, not the arm of man, for a safe journey home:

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. 22 For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, “The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.” 23 So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty…31 Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way.32 Thus we came to Jerusalem and remained there three days. (8:21-23; 31-32)

Note that in order for Ezra to speak to the king about the God of heaven who protects His people and executes judgment on the wicked (E.g. Parting the Red Sea; Crossing the Jordan), Ezra had to trust that this was true (which he did from scripture).  Yet the temptation to doubt the creator and fear the creature was very real.  Nevertheless, the God of heaven heard their cry and responded to their desires.  Ezra and the people had to choose in whose word they were going to ultimately place their trust—God’s or humanity’s.  Nothing has changed.

Part of worship involves those with whom we are most close.  The issue of mixed marriages and the named offenders is a radical account of Israel’s faithfulness to the LORD.  That is, they were not to intermarry with foreign women, not because of their intrinsic value as human beings, but for a very practical reason—the foreign women would lead the households to serve the false gods of the nations (which took place in Israel and said idolatry lead to the Babylonian Captivity).

Part of worship that’s acceptable to God is demonstrated by His community through not marrying those outside the faith.  The reason for this again, is not because God’s people are more intrinsically valuable than those outside the faith—we all share equally the image of God which makes humanity the pinnacle of God’s creation precious.  The fact remains that marrying non-believers “usually always” leads God’s people to worship “gods” that promise much and deliver nothing but death at the end of the day (Ezra 9-10).  Note that while most did put away their foreign wives, some opposed including leaders (10:15) which reminds us that there will always be opposition to God’s will among His people.

May the LORD’s strength and goodness be our delight today as we seek to honor and cherish the One who is always good, beautiful and true.  May we say to him as Christ did in  the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father Your will be done, not mine”.

(SDG)

 

 

 

Reflections From EZRA 2-6: THE RETURN HOME TO JERUSALEM

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God’s promise of Exile and return of Israel to the land of their fathers was complete Ezra 2:1-2:

Now these are the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his city. These came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah.

The names recorded of the sons of Israel who returned to the land is worthy of note.  It first reminds us of individuals who actually experienced this discipline from the LORD and consequent return by His mercies.  These individuals did not go unnoticed by God (as we so often think when hard times befall us), but were personally accounted for (2:2-64).  Still yet, something amazing took place—the LORD God remembered the promise given to His people that they would be in captivity for 70 years.

When scripture talks about God remembering it does not mean that He had an actual moment of “forgetfulness”, He’s the all-knowing, all-wise, self-existent God.  Instead it considers how God in time works out the wise counsel of His will toward his covenant children that have been given His assured promise.  In a cold and ruthless world, the tender mercies of God bring here great solace and fortitude to the lonely, broken and wearied heart.  You have not been forgotten.

Possessing the land God had given to Israel was not going to be realized without opposition.  The rebuilding of the temple is instructive for it points to the way a city and its inhabitants come to flourish—by worshipping the Creator and not the creature as ultimate.  And yet, obstacles had to be overcome the ground of which was a lie.  This lie fabricated came to king Artaxerxes ears by those who surrounded the land of Israel.

Through lies and intimidation (which is the field where spiritual warfare is fought) the work God commanded the people to engage was delayed.  Often lies and fear for our personal welfare go hand in glove.  These keep believers from trusting God’s purposes and plans, and that because the word of the creature seems more ominous (4:1-5; 6-24):

The delay refers to the decree of Cyrus that allowed the temple to be rebuilt (5:6-6:14), but ultimately it was God’s protection that emboldened Israel to continue the labor (5:5).  In fact, through the words of the prophets Haggai and Zachariah, God strengthened His people in spite of the threats.

Here I notice the following principles: God always keeps His promises; obedience to God is always costly; and God often uses His enemies to accomplish His purposes.  The apostle Paul notes the reason for why these accounts have been inscripturated in Romans 15:4:

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

He who began a good work in us will complete until the day of Christ Jesus.  It is He who calls us to persevere to the end so that we may be ultimately delivered, saved.  So may we look to You, LORD, today for our strength in the midst of difficulties, and may we Your People run with perseverance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.

(SDG)