Israel 2016

Israel 2016
Roman architectural influence in Bet Sean, Israel

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for Sep 16, Ezra 1-3

Today's readings are Ezra 1-3. Tomorrow's are Ezra 4-6, Psalm 137.

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 thereafter.

Ezra writes of the period immediately following Babylon's defeat by Persia. In 538 BC, the Persian King, Cyrus, releases the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

They return 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.

Between 458 BC, Ezra arrives with a second wave, 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 to refine his people. Now He uses them again to redeem His people.

In Ezra 1, 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 is fulfilled precisely. Note, the Lord not only prompts Cyrus to release the Jews, He has also stirs the hearts of some of the Jews to go (Ezra 1:5). Why did they need their hearts stirred? For many, life in Babylon was the only life they ever knew. Moany 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. 

Ezra 2 gives us a registry of the returning remnant, a record of how accurately the prophecy has been fulfilled and a document that locates the event in history. The list includes the leaders (Ezra 2:1-2), the general population (Ezra 2:2-5), Temple personnel (Ezra 2:36-54), some undocumented folks (Ezra 2:59-63).

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. Out of His great love for them, He has used the nations to refine His people by oppression, then restored them into a right relationship with Himself. He said He would do it this way. 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. The result 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.

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