Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Arc de Triumph

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Daily Bread for May 23, Ezr 8-10

Today’s readings are Ezr 8-10.

Ezr 8:1-20 establishes Ezra and his party as having the genealogical heritage to work in the Temple. These historical records ensure the priesthood will continue in proper order. 
We get a glimpse of Ezra’s faith and prayer life in Ezr 8:21-23.  He decides to place his complete trust and confidence in God for his protection and that of his men (Ezr 8:21-23).

Ezr 9:1-2 reveals that the people have, once again, intermarried. Apparently, while they were in exile, many of the Jewish people acquired pagan spouses. Concerned that they are falling into familiar sin, as their fathers did, Ezra prays and confesses on behalf of the people (Ezr 9:3-15). In this case, Ezra becomes the mediator/advocate of the people. But, Ezra is a prophet as well. He speaks the truth to the people, calling them to repent. 

Ezr 10 shows the people falling under conviction and deciding to "put away" their marriages to non-Jews. All the text reveals is that the spouses and families were excommunicated. The word for "put away" is not the same word for divorce, indicating extraordinary measures are being taken to correct a sin that should never have happened in the first place.

What we see in the Book of Ezra is the serious nature of maintaining purity and holiness. God sent Ezra to Jerusalem to oversee the spiritual welfare of the Jews as they rebuilt the city and the Temple. When he arrived, it became apparent that they were falling into the same wicked lifestyles that happened before the exile. God had specifically told them not to intermarry so as to avoid bringing pagan worship and idolatry into their homes and communities. They were doing it again!

We should be careful not to take the actions of Ezra as prescriptive to the current times. The Bible treats divorce as a gravely serious matter. However, nothing was mentioned in the passages about responsibility, property and whether support was offered. We don't have all the details of what happened, but we can assume tough decisions were made. We can also assume that many lives were upended and hearts were broken.

While all the measures enacted in Ezra may not be prescriptive, the lesson it teaches is. Believers are not to marry outside the faith. It can have grave consequences. The deeper lesson here is that the union of dark (godless) and light (godly) should never be attempted. Those who are one with Christ should not unite with those who reject Him.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Daily Bread for May 22, Ezr 4-7

Today’s readings are Ezr 4-7. 

As work on the temple continues, some neighbors in Samaria, enemies of Judah, try to join the effort, most likely to sabotage the work. Judah does not trust them nor are they true followers of God (Ezr 4:1-3). Judah wisely sends them away. The Samaritans, at this point, are primarily a mixture of pagan settlers, brought there by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:24-41).

The Samaritans appeal to the new Persian king, Artaxerxes, accusing the Jews of being a rebellious people, telling him only part of the story and the king orders a halt to the work. The king’s hasty decision is a classic case of reacting when only hearing one side of the story (Ezr 4-23).

Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, prophesy to the Jews to resume work. The governor over the area, Tattenai, a friend to the Jews, writes to the new king, Darius, asking him to search the archives to get the whole story (Ezr 5:1-17) and see that the work the Jews were doing was decreed by Artaxerxes’ predecessor.

Darius does his due diligence, finds out the Jews have been misrepresented and not only allows the work to resume but blesses it in a mighty way (Ezr 6:1-12). Once again, those who oppose God have been thwarted by their own hatred of His people. Their plan has backfired. The effort to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem is funded even more lavishly than before.

The temple is completed and dedicated in 515 BC. Notice that, every time the dwelling place of God is dedicated, there is much shedding of blood. This pattern shows us that it takes the blood of a sacrifice to establish God’s dwelling place among His people. One day, in about 33 AD, the blood of his Son will be shed to establish His dwelling place in His people.

The Levites and priests are re-installed, worship resumes, the Passover is celebrated, and the feasts are reinstituted. The former exiles give thanks to God (Ezr 6:13-22). Ezr 6:27 reveals that God was behind the protection and provision of His people, just as He has always been, even to the point of transforming the heart of a pagan king.

In Ezr 7:1-26. King Artaxerxes, who may have been the son of Esther's husband, King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes) recognizes Ezra's qualifications and passion as a spiritual leader for the Jews. He sends Ezra back to Jerusalem with abundant blessings and authority to establish godly spirituality and a judicial/civil system according to the law of God.

The king had been used by God (Ezra 7:27-28) to recreate a divine theocracy in Judah. The king not only has decreed it, but he has funded it as well.

God has caused the history of empires to change, all for the sake of His name, His reputation, and His faithfulness. We've watched Assyria invade Israel. Then we witnessed as Babylon overtook Assyria. After that, the Persians conquered Babylon. Then God turned the hearts of the Persian kings to favor Israel and send them home (Ezr 7:27). 

The exiles leave Babylon the same way they walked out of Egypt, with all the riches of the region in their possession. It’s another type of Exodus!

God orchestrated it all, from their captivity to their freedom, to refine His children and return them to their homes. He comparably orchestrates our lives, using everything we go through to bring us into our eternal home.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Daily Bread for May 21, Ezr 1-3

Today's readings are Ezra 1-3.

Hebrew tradition holds that Ezra and Nehemiah were written by the same author (probably Ezra) and are a continuation of the story told in 2 Chronicles. Ezra was likely written sometime around 400 BC or shortly after that.

Ezra speaks of the period immediately following Babylon's defeat by Persia. The Assyrians conquered Israel, the Northern Kingdom and carried them into captivity. The Babylonians and Chaldeans conquered the Assyrians and Judah, the Southern Kingdom, taking them into captivity. Early in the sixth century, the Persians conquered the Babylonians.

The historical perspective of Ezra is a stunning peek at God’s grace as He redeems His people. In 538 BC, the Persian King, Cyrus, releases the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

They return to Jerusalem in three waves, the first led by Sheshbazzar, a Jewish prince, in 538. Later, in 515 the new Jewish governor over Jerusalem, Zerubbabel, along with Jeshua, Zechariah, and Haggai, begin work on the temple.

Ezra arrives with a second wave in 458 BC, initiating reforms in worship and practice of the faith.

Around 445 BC, Nehemiah and the third wave arrive to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

The overall theme of Ezra is how God uses pagan leaders and kings to restore His people. When Cyrus, a pagan king, sends the Jews back to Jerusalem, temple services are renewed, and the Law of Moses is revived. Notice how God used pagan nations (Assyria and Babylon) to refine His people. Now He uses them again to redeem His people.

As we look at Ezra, chapter by chapter, King Cyrus, moved by the Lord (Ezra 1:1), allows the Jews to begin returning to Jerusalem 70 years after Judah is taken captive by Babylon. Jeremiah's prophecy (Jer 29) is fulfilled precisely. So is Isaiah’s, (Isa 44:2; 45:1) which was written over two hundred years before Cyrus became king!

The Lord not only prompts Cyrus to release the Jews, but He also stirs the hearts of some of the Jews to go (Ezra 1:5). Notice that the ones whose hearts are stirred are from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, once again being called “Israel.” The northern tribes are scattered. The southern tribes are the remnant of the original Israel and are assigned that name.

Why did they need their hearts stirred? For many, life in Babylon was the only life they ever knew. Many were born and raised outside of Israel. God leads them to leave their homes and start over in what is for most of them, a new land. These are the plans God spoke of in Jer 29:11. They leave with great wealth and many of the temple articles and utensils (Ezr 1:6-11).

Why only some of the people and not all? This is a characteristic of God and how He moves among His children. As He did with Gideon and the three hundred men (Jdg 7:1-8), God moves with a small number of people, making it impossible for anyone other than Him to receive glory for His work.

Ezra 2 gives us a registry of the returning remnant. This detailed list is a record of how accurately the prophecy has been fulfilled pinpointing the event and the people involved in history. The list includes the leaders (Ezra 2:1-2), the general population (Ezra 2:2-5), temple personnel (Ezra 2:36-54), and some undocumented folks (Ezra 2:59-63). In a way, the mention of the undocumented people affirms the accuracy of those who were documented. It shows that the list has been meticulously assembled, leaving nothing out.

The priority of the new community is worship, as we see in Ezra 3. The altar is rebuilt, sacrifices are re-instituted and the feasts are observed. The temple still needs work, though. Its construction continues.

God has sovereignly moved in His people and in the nations of the world. His children took Him for granted, became divided, turned away from Him and suffered the consequences. Out of His great love for them, He has used pagan nations to refine His people by oppression, then restored them into a right relationship with Himself and reunited them. In these first chapters of Ezra, we see the result of everything the Jews have been through, starting with captivity by the Assyrians, then by the Babylonians. Ezra makes it apparent that some of them remained faithful to the point that they were willing to uproot their families and begin a long and dangerous sojourn in obedience and trust to their God. The result of their obedience is a return to the Promised Land and worship of the one true God.

This is a template for our relationship with God. Everything we go through is intended to refine us, turn us back toward God and worship Him.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Daily Bread for May 20, 2 Chr 35-36

Today’s readings are 2 Chr 35-36.

While Josiah continues to enact reforms, including a reinstitution of the Passover (2 Chr 35:1-19), Judah still struggles with the sins perpetrated by the people in Manasseh's time (2 Kings 23:26-27).

As godly a man as Josiah is, he has his own struggles. After ignoring a word from God delivered through the Egyptian king, Neco, Josiah intervenes in an Egyptian attack on Carchemish, a Syrian city.

Josiah’s actions are revealing. He listens to Huldah when she brings the word of God but chooses to ignore Pharaoh Neco when he delivers the word. Josiah fails to heed the full counsel of God, wanting instead to make his own decisions after receiving the blessing through Huldah. Josiah was happy to have the blessing but ignored the warning of doom. As a result, he enters the battle on his own.

We are always at the peril of being left to our own devices when we choose to ignore the full counsel of the word, We have an advantage over Josiah, though. We have the complete Bible to refer to, God's immutable word in writing. We must know what it says and heed it. As believers, we have less excuse than Josiah did.

Josiah dies in the battle and is buried as an honored and godly king (2 Chr 35:20-27). The battle at Carchemish proves to be significant. It is the beginning of the military dominance of the Babylonians who will eventually carry Judah and Jerusalem off into captivity.

Jehoahaz takes Josiah’s place and does evil in the sight of the Lord. Pharaoh intervenes and makes Josiah's son, Jehoiakim, the king (2 Chr 36:1-4). Jehoiakim, even though he is Josiah's son, aligns himself with Pharaoh and becomes an evil king, who is captured by Nebuchadnezzar and taken to Babylon. Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, another evil king, takes his place. He is taken to Babylon as well. Zedekiah. 
Yet another evil king, takes his place (2 Chr 36:5-13).

So, we see that God will hold those who reject Him accountable as He does in the case of the people of Judah. A godly leader, Josiah, brings a reprieve but as soon as Josiah dies, the new king and the people slip backward again.

All four volumes of Kings and Chronicles span most of the Old Testament period from the time of David through the end of the fifth Century BC. Beginning around the fourth century BC is a period known as the “400 years of silence” when there were no prophetic utterances between the end of the Old Testament and the Beginning of the New Testament.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Daily Bread for May 19, 2 Chr 32-34

Today's readings are 2 Chr 32-34.

We see, in 2 Chr 32:1-8, some of the details and planning that go into the defense of Jerusalem when Sennacherib, king of Assyria lays siege to it. Isaiah 36-37 describes how God miraculously delivers Jerusalem from this battle. But now we see that Hezekiah was wise to prepare as well, taking precautionary measures to ensure that his city can withstand the attack.

This is a beautiful example of God's people trusting in Him for a miracle but being diligent to understand that God may work through practical preparation as well. Hezekiah's trust in God is total. But his trust doesn't mean that Hezekiah decides to just "let go and let God." The king of Jerusalem is compelled to carry out his duties and do what he can to walk out his trust in a responsible manner knowing that God can just as easily deliver His people through his careful preparation as He can through a miracle. In reality, God uses both to accomplish His will.

The victory comes, but it is more costly than it seems. Hezekiah, a good and godly king, falls victim to his own pride (2 Chr 32:24-31). Notice, instead of honoring God in all he accumulates, Hezekiah honors himself (2 Chr 32:27-29)! He brags to the princes of Babylon who will later return and take Jerusalem captive. Manasseh, an evil king, takes over after Hezekiah dies.

Perhaps the single statement that sums up this entire divided kingdom period can be found in 2 Chronicles 33:10 "The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention."

Eventually, Manasseh repents and turns Judah back toward God (2 Chr 33:11-17). Amon takes over after Manasseh. He is an evil king, even worse than his fathers.

God was gracious in speaking to Judah, guiding them through their stumble and failures, shedding grace at every turn. Likewise, God is gracious in speaking to us. As we read and study this sad history of two godly kingdoms, set apart for God's glory--just like you and me, we should wonder how often He speaks to us, through something so tangible as His written word, and whether we pay attention.

Josiah, Amon’s son, and a godly king brings another turn around for Israel (2 Chr 34:1-7). Huldah, a woman prophet, delivers God's word to the king as we saw in 2 Kgs 22:14-20. She tells Josiah that God will bless him and his reign, but a day of reckoning for Judah’s unfaithfulness is coming.