Tag Archives: Ezra

Through the Bible, June 22

Reading: Ezra 7; 9:1-10:17

Summary: Ezra was a teacher, specifically of God’s Law.  His contribution to the “restoration of the Jews” following Babylonian captivity was to guide them in knowing and practicing God’s word.  That could, at times, be very challenging when the people had long neglected God’s word.  And it was that very fact that hand landed them in captivity in the first place.

Old habits die hard, but Ezra was a leader strong enough to not allow these returned Jews to fall into those old ways.

Devotional Thought:

Hating God’s Word

How do you feel when you read God’s word?  Encouraged? Built up? Motivated?  Happy?   Comforted?  Hopeful?

Of course, many circumstances go into our emotional response to the Bible.  But surely, one of the reasons we love the Bible is because it can make us feel so good.  It can give us comfort for our grief, hope for our despair, joy for our sorrow, strength for our weakness, and so on.  How marvelous are the “words of eternal life.”

Just as for every day there is a night and for every laughter there is a tear, so also there is another side to what God’s word can, and should, do for us.  Think about the response of Ezra and the people.  They trembled and Ezra tore his clothes, pulled hair from his head and beard and sat appalled (Ezra 9:3).  This was all because the people heard the word of God and Ezra heard of the faithlessness of the people.

Sometimes the Bible makes us feel so good, but it might also make us feel so bad.  Remember Jehoiakim reacted violently (literally cutting up the scroll of Jeremiah with a knife and burning it in the fire) and Felix became alarmed (Jer. 36:23; Acts 24:25).

The real test of our love for God and His word doesn’t come when we’re made to feel better by it, but worse.  It’s not when I love what it says, but when I hate it.  What comes next tells everything about us.

June Week 4 Bible Reading Introduction

Week 4: The Old Testament Story Concludes

June 22-28

         Ezra, for whom the book is named, leads another group of Jews from the land of their exile back to the land of their heritage.  While Zerubbabel’s focus in the first return had been on rebuilding the temple, Ezra sought to reestablish a viable religious life among those returned Jews.

Still another group is led by Nehemiah whose intent is to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. With that task accomplished he pairs with Ezra to further religious reforms.

The last prophet of the Old Testament and appropriately the last book in the order of our English Bibles is Malachi.  Four hundred years will pass before another voice, directed from heaven, will be heard.  Not coincidentally, John the Baptist will be the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the return of Elijah.

Through the Bible, June 15

Reading: Haggai 1-2

Summary: Haggai, along with Zechariah, is named in Ezra 5:1 in connection with Zerubbabel’s efforts to rebuild the temple.  Prophets have been sent to deliver God’s message to nations, cities, and kings.  Haggai is sent specifically to leaders of the Jewish people attempting to re-occupy Jerusalem to remind them that it is time to rebuild the house of the Lord.

Devotional Thought:

It’s Not Complicated

God’s expectations of humanity are not difficult.  We really can—and must—know what God wants.  The Bible makes these things rather explicit and clear.

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13).

Fear God and obey God–simple enough.

That’s what happened as a result of the message of the prophet Haggai: “…the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God…and the people feared the Lord” (Hag. 1:12).

Here’s the thing, obedience without fear is worthless.  Fear (reverence) without obedience is no fear.  Fear God and obey God.

But what about love? you ask.  Fair enough.

The Bible is also explicit and clear about this too.  Jesus calls it the “great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).

Remember too that “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Love God and obey God.  The same holds true for this pair as well; one without the other is not real or valid.

Fear God.  Love God.  Obey God.

It’s not multiple choice.  It’s not mix ’n’ match.  It’s not pick and choose.

Through the Bible, June 14

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflection: Today is the scheduled catch up day for the second week of June.  Take this opportunity, if needed, to get your reading up to date.  If you are all caught up, you may wish to think on the thoughts listed below based on this week’s readings.

  1. Daniel’s prophecies look toward the coming of God’s kingdom. He places the events in historical perspective even bridging the gap from the present (Nebuchadnezzar’s reign) to the time of the New Testament (Roman rule).  He even prophesies regarding events and individuals from during the 400 year time span between the Old and New Testaments (including Alexander the Great, his four generals who inherit his kingdom, etc.)
  2. The fact that New Testament Christians possessed as their Scriptures what we today would refer to as the Old Testament, they were quite familiar with not only the story that unfolds there, but also the prophecies, visions, and messages of the prophets. So, near the end of the first century, when the church began to be opposed by Rome and subject to persecution, God’s message of defeat to her enemies and ultimate victory over Satan was couched in a message based on symbols and figures.  These the Christians readily understood while the enemy Romans did not.  Thus the book of Revelation is replete with words, ideas, and images taken directly from sources like Daniel and Ezekiel.
  3. Zerubbabel led the first return of Jews to Jerusalem and Judah from Babylon. Later groups would be led by Ezra and Nehemiah.  So, just as there had been three primary deportations of Jews from Jerusalem into captivity, there will also be three primary returns from exile; a nice symmetry as we often find in Scripture.

Devotional Thought:

Whether You Do or Don’t, Do

When the people of Israel had the opportunity to return to their homeland from captivity after Babylon fell to Persia, some of them did, but not all.  Of those who did, the Bible says it was ones “whose spirit God had stirred to go up” (Ezra 1:5).  But it wasn’t everybody.  It wasn’t Daniel or Ezekiel, it wasn’t Ezra or Nehemiah—though both of these would eventually go.  Most of the Israelites stayed where they were.

The point is that not everyone is willing, able, or even should do everything.  And just because someone isn’t doing what I’m doing does not make them somehow “less than.”  What is more, even if God stirs my heart to do something, it doesn’t somehow make that more important than what you are doing, or necessarily that you should do what I’m doing.

But also notice this, of those who remained behind the Bible says they “encouraged them” (Ezra 1:6; NASB).  The ones who did not go, did what they could to help those who were going.

Isn’t that true of every endeavor, even in the Lord’s work?  Success depends on active, willing participants as well as strong encouragers and supporters.  Everyone does have a part to play.

So, it doesn’t matter if you do or you don’t, you still need to do!

Through the Bible, June 13

Reading: Ezra 4-6

Summary: The work of the Jews-returned-to-Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel was not without opposition.  As a matter of fact, their efforts were legally stopped based on complaints sent back to the king of Persia.

Eventually, the original decree of King Cyrus was located and the work was allowed to resume.  But, the delay had lulled the people into inactivity and the efforts of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (June 15-17 readings) were enlisted to motivate them to focus their efforts on God’s house.

Devotional Thought:

Finished!

Finishing a task can, at times, be challenging—even when we consider it a God-given, noble and necessary endeavor.

Such was the building of the temple following Babylonian captivity.  What better, God-centered, and more important project could be undertaken?  Yet, it almost didn’t get finished. Opponents armed with legal verdicts brought work to a halt.  Time-consuming correspondence finally cleared up the legalities, but during the long delay, enthusiasm waned.  God intervened with prophets to re-energize the people to get the ball rolling again.  Finally, the temple was completed.

Just because what we’re doing is good and right and necessary and even at God’s behest, doesn’t guarantee unhindered, smooth, and enthusiastic progress.  We may experience times of great progress, frustrating delays, opposition, movement by fits and starts, the need for outside intervention to reorient priorities and provide motivation.

Whatever!  Keep moving forward.  Don’t quit.  Don’t give up.

Maybe it’s time to refocus, regroup, and begin again. Troubles and challenges and obstacles along the way do not mean this isn’t what needs to be done.  Otherwise, God’s temple would have never been rebuilt.

Finish!

Through the Bible, June 12

Reading: Ezra 1, 3

Summary: Babylon fell to the Persians.  Babylon had a policy of dealing with conquered people (such as Judah and others) to take them into captivity.  The Persians did not.  The inherited captives of Babylon were allowed to return home.  It all transpired just as God had said through Jeremiah.

The first group of Jews to return to Jerusalem was led by Zerubbabel.  Their primary intent was to rebuild the temple.  The completion of its foundation was cause for great rejoicing.

Devotional Thought:

Go Home

Out of sorts?  Lost?  Troubled?  Unhappy?  Dissatisfied? Hurting?

You probably haven’t always been, have you?  Can you remember a time when this wasn’t the case?

It’s just possible—very possible—that in order to get back where you were, you need to get back where you were.  What I mean is, you need to go home.  Maybe that is somehow true physically, but it is most certainly true spiritually.

Zerubbabel started just such a process when he led the first of the Jews from Persia back to Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 1).  God’s plan and purpose were moving forward.  Eventually, His Son would come in the flesh, born in Bethlehem of Judea. But right now, what needed to happen is these people needed to come home.

Jesus’ famous parable of the prodigal son turned on the realization by that wayward boy that he needed to return home to his father (Luke 15:17-18).

Each of us—all of us—need to be at home with our Father.

It’s time to return.

June Bible Reading Introduction

June Bible Reading Introduction

Old Testament History Ends

Captivity and Restoration

Books: Daniel, Ezekiel, Lamentations, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Old Testament history concludes with God’s people being restored to their homeland and rebuild their nation. It is of great interest to note that when given the opportunity, the majority of the Jewish nation did not return but remained in the lands where they had settled. But, many did return. And as the deportation of htejs3ws from Jerusalem and Judah had taken place in stages, so also would the return occur in stages.

Great emphasis is given in both the historical accounts and the prophetic messages of this time to the future glories of the Messianic kingdom.  It is of no small significance, that the highly symbolic New Testament book of Revelation relies heavily on the language and imagery portrayed in Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah (as well as many other Old Testament books) to convey the message of hope in the eternal kingdom of God.

This closing phase of the Old Testament’s record really does set the stage for much of what we encounter with the Jewish people in the New Testament. We find that more of them live outside of Palestine than in it. Also, there’s a greatly heightened sense of expectation for God’s work among them in sending a Messiah. Further, there’s a decidedly different attitude toward the Law and the gods of the nations, both of which had contributed so directly to their downfall and captivity.

My Delight is the Lord, November 3

Do You Understand?

November 3, Thursday: God’s People

Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-18

Do you understand the Bible? Now there’s an open-ended question. On the one hand, we want to, don’t we? On the other hand, division and confusion in the “Christian” religious world seems to suggest that such understanding is a pipe dream; a noble thought, but a practical impossibility. First, let’s be warned about allowing man’s failure to do something to become an argument that it can’t be done. That’s shoddy thinking. Second, it is very much God’s intention that man understand His word. Notice in this text that the people assembled were ones with the capacity to understand (v 3). The Levites were present to aid in understanding (v. 7). Their efforts resulted in the people gaining understanding (v. 8). And, the concluding result was a people who understood (v. 12). Despite our experience or apparent evidence to the contrary, God expects His word to be understood.

Questions to Ponder:

  • What was the disposition of the people toward the Law? (v. 3)
  • What was the people’s response to the book of the Law being opened? (v. 6)
  • What were the official positions of Nehemiah and Ezra? (v. 9)
  • What was the people’s response to understanding God’s word? (v. 12)

My Delight is the Lord, October 14

God’s Hand

October 14, Friday: God’s Story (1)

Scripture Reading: Ezra 7:1-28

A deep dig into God’s word can be as rewarding as it is challenging. Sometimes no digging is required. Take the introduction of Ezra. The same statement is made about him repeatedly; “the hand of the Lord his God was on him” (v. 6), “the good hand of his God was on him” (v. 9), “the hand of the Lord my God was on me” (v. 28). This notable man enjoyed the favor and blessing of God. Don’t we want some of the same? Well, then, notice this deliberate tie in. Having seen God’s hand, now note what is in Ezra’s hand; “the law of your God…is in your hand” (v. 14) and “the wisdom of your God is in your hand” (v. 25). A connection? I think so. Ezra is renowned for his skill in God’s law (v. 6). He studied it, practiced it, and taught it (v. 10).  The correlation is unmistakable, for God’s hand to be on us His word must be in our hand.

Questions to Ponder:

  • Where had Ezra been? (v. 6)
  • How long did it take to get from Babylonia to Jerusalem? (v. 9)
  • What was Ezra’s task? (v. 25)
  • Though God was with him, what was required for Ezra? (v. 28)

My Delight is the Lord, September 30

Differing Responses

September 30, Friday: God’s Story (1)

Scripture Reading: Ezra 1:1-11; 3:1-13

A singular event can elicit from different people, very different responses. Such was the case of the temple’s foundation being laid under Zerubbabel’s leadership. Some shouted praise for their great joy, others mourned and wept. No doubt part of the reason was the event being viewed from different perspectives. Some had only known the captivity out of which they just came and this was a great, new beginning. No wonder they praised God. Others, by virtue of their age, could remember the utter devastation felt when the previous temple as destroyed. They knew the nation’s sin had brought God’s severe punishment. They had fallen so far and building out of this rubble stirred bitter memories. Here’s a great reminder; not everyone is going to see things as we do, nor we as they do.

Questions to Ponder:

  • Who is credited with stirring up Cyrus? (1:1)
  • What claim did Cyrus make? (1:2)
  • What was the first act of the returning group? (3:2)
  • For what was God extolled? (3:11)