Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Arc de Triumph

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan 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 thereafter.

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, and took 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, about the time Ezra is written, 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, He also stirs the hearts of some of the Jews to go (Ezra 1:5) but also 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.

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