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)

 

 

 

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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)