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

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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 4: THE PREACHER’S DOWNWARD MUSINGS…Continued

The Preacher is quite pessimistic and the level of seeming despair is evident when he reasons after beholding the defenseless oppressed and those crushed by the strong and mighty:

“Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.(Vv.1-4)

The oppressed and their tears exacerbates the Preacher’s experience as he considers the lack of comfort the downtrodden receive, “…they had no one to comfort them…” and the power of those oppressing them.  The weak ruled by the mighty, the defenseless overcome by the strong, and bitterness is the soup of the needy.

The Preacher saw acts of oppression which caused him to conclude that the “dead” (v.2a) are better off than the living.  That’s pessimism on steroids, to congratulate the dead over against the oppressed, but the Preacher is not yet finished.  Not only are the dead praised for not being in the muck of life, but those who have never come into existence are better off than the dead.  How can one be better off than the oppressed and the dead if they aren’t or never have been?  In his view, to behold the evil his eyes have witnessed and the damage inflicted on the soul is so severe, that seemingly what can’t be—a knowing and non-existent knower—is better than the alternative of existing and thus suffering horrible ills.   

While there’s oppression and evil, there’s also liberty and goodness, but then again the gloom that looms over a life without God is acutely unbearable.  I have not experienced the evils many have through the annals of time, but I have experienced despair and wrestled with dark thoughts of suicide because of suffering.  For the follower of Jesus, under such circumstances, Paul reminds us that God is working on our behalf behind the scenes:

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”   (Romans 8:28-30)

So, when despair seems to be swallowing you up believer, know that it is momentary and that the heavenly Father, has not abandoned you, but is rather working through the pain to make you more like Jesus.

To the non-believer or skeptic, my suggestion is for you to investigate the claims of Christ to see whether or not they make sense to you.  For of all the authorities that command us how to live, only Christ Jesus claimed to be the uncreated creator who is self-existent and conquered the grave through the resurrection.  To dismiss his claims, which came through eyewitness accounts as mere fantasy, is not only pedestrian but a brazen refusal to behold the immense evidence to support his claims.

LORD, when darkness comes remind us that you truly are our light, that a life without you truly is meaningless, ugly, cold, and gray.  Teach us to look to you when suffering seems too unbearable and grant the grace required for us to finish the race set before us as we look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.

(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)

 

 

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

 

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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 ESTHER: THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD THROUGH A PAGAN RULER

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            The book of Esther is another marvelous account of the annals in the mosaic of Israel.  The book reads like history, not fantasy where Jewish enemies as in the past sought to destroy them, but God in his providence rescued them through a non-Jewish king named Ahasuerus.

This is a colorful account of a young beauty named Esther who was taken into Mordecai’s home after she became an orphan.  She was left with no kin to care for her, nevertheless God’s sovereign hand was moving behind the scenes.  Today we don’t talk much about God’s providence in the Church and for that matter in the world at large.  We prefer to use words like “chance” or “fate” or “karma” to describe uncanny situations that seem to be going one way, but turn instantly on a dime.

God’s providence among other things concerns the attributes of His power, knowledge, wisdom and goodness that for reasons unknown to creatures He performs for His names sake.  That means that at the center of all divine activity is the renown of the NAME, for unlike the creation which is finite and needy, the God of scripture is infinite and self-existent.  Thus, to attach supreme value to anything other than the ultimate is ultimately irrational and absurd, it is sinful and God is perfectly holy, without any sin.  That is why God does everything for the renown of the NAME.

I’ve read this account several times and peculiar to this book is the mentioning of the Jews but never of God’s name.  It’s as if Israel’s redeemer is preaching to the nations through them with a specific message that needs to be heeded but so often neglected.  The truth is that Israel’s history is the story of God’s dealings in space and time with a particular people to preach a specific message.

This message is one of favor being bestowed on them through a pagan ruler, the king of the land whose heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD, for He turns it wherever He wishes.  Among other things, this is a reminder to God’s people that even if rulers despise God, they are not ultimate God is.  This means that God will see to it that His hidden purposes are established while simultaneously working through the creature.  The scriptures teach that when a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at piece with him.

America needs a move from God in order to deliver us from our own cultural captivity of irrationality grounded in a darkened mind because of our many stony hearts to His law and ways.  God have mercy on your people, including those who have been grafted into the vine by Christ’s great rescue on Calvary’s bloody cross.

(SDG)

Reflections from NEHEMIAH 1-4: RESTORING WORSHIP IS COSTLY BUSINESS

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Our rebellion results in the desolation of our souls.  Only after contrition and repentance before Yahweh is complete are we His people ready to rebuild that which our sin decimated.

Nehemiah loved God’s people and Jerusalem, for biblically, worship and the land are always closely linked.  The land prospers when the worship of Yahweh obtains but desolation is assured when idolatrous wayward people have their own way.  Nonetheless, God’s promise of returning back to the land from Babylonian captivity after seventy years had come to fruition.

As the kings cupbearer, Nehemiah had favor with Artaxerxes such that he was granted royal support to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild its walls:

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel. (2:1-10)

And yet, Nehemiah had enemies that would linger whose sole purpose was to mock, threaten and discourage the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and infrastructure:

“Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?”Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.” (4:1-5)

 Nehemiah, like a recon man, did not show his hand in the land until after he examined the damage that needed reparation (2:11-18).  Among those involved in repairing the broken down walls were priests, goldsmiths and perfumers yet the nobles did not support the work (chapter 3).

Opposition is often manifested through mockery fueled by anger.  These two go hand in glove by those who hate righteousness and laud wickedness (4:1-3).  The way to combat such spiritual warfare (and it is spiritual wrestling) is sometimes through imprecatory prayer directed to Almighty God.  This type of intercession is pivotal for combating the dangers we His people confront.  When our passion is the renown of God’s Name, He hears our cries evidenced in Nehemiah’s experience (4:7-14).

In order for the work to continue, the laborers needed protection and this through swords, spears and shields.  That is, after the intercession was offered, the people still needed to arm themselves:

“When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. 19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” 21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.”  (4:15-23)       

I have often felt that that the walls have been torn down in the American church because the culture, not the scriptures, are what dictates to many professing Christians what they believe.  Included in the range of issues are: the issue of origins (a-la Darwinism), the status of the unborn (Abortion), the meaning of marriage (a-la same-sex “marriage”), embracing a pluralistic view of salvation (a-la any religion can lead you to Jesus), etc.  It’s only because of His great mercy we’re not wiped off the face of this earth.

Personally, I’m often overwhelmed and burdened with the sin of unbelief that keeps me from pursuing God in the midst of my anxieties, fears and doubts.  Fortunately, God’s word here in Nehemiah reminds me that where God guides He will provide the necessary resources to accomplish the tasks put before us.  So LORD we look to you to be our strength, light, and courage as we your people endeavor to be salt and light in this land.  Help us be faithful stewards of the gifts given to each one of us for the common good of the Church and our Neighbors.  Give us a renewed vision of your Holiness!

(SDG)

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

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          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)