Vs. 1, “While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly.” Ezra’s prayer of confession for the people would spur others to join him (vs. 1-4). What a wonderful reminder of the power of prayer! The reason for the repentance was that some of the Israelites had intermarried with others. Shekaniah’s suggestion may seem harsh (vs. 2), but it was important for Israel to realize the magnitude of their sin. Ezra proceeded to have the people voluntarily take an oath to assemble in Jerusalem (vs. 5-8). It must have taken great courage and much humility to address the people on such a grave matter (vs. 9-15). Question: Why have each of the intermarried families stand before a judge (vs. 14-17)? If the unbelieving spouse became a believer in the LORD, the marriage would be acceptable. What a gracious response to a very difficult matter. The latter half of our chapter (vs. 18-44) gives us those who had sinned; 17 priests, 10 Levites, 3 gatekeepers, and 84 others. Though it may this is a list of shame, we must also commend these men for being willing to make right the violation of disobeying God’s law.
Regarding application…Dealing With Sin. Vs. 2, “Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel.” Living in a sin-filled world is never easy. There are going to be times when people will have to deal with sin in their lives. Yet, by acknowledging God and turning in repentance, there is always going to be hope at the end. There is light at the end of this dark tunnel we travel. The hope for any sinful circumstance is the desire for repentance and restoration. Much props to Ezra, Shekaniah, and the others who had the integrity and courage to make right what went wrong. We are bound to make mistakes, but the measure of any person is how they respond to it.
Vs. 1, “After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices…” Upon arriving and settling in the land, those who had occupied it during the first pilgrimage came to Ezra to report that thing were not going so well (vs. 1-2). Question: What was the big deal? The Israelites who had returned had already begun detestable practices (intermarrying with pagan cultures). All those who knew the LORD already knew that God had prohibited marrying outside the community of believers (Exodus 34:11-16, Deut. 7:1-4). This was not our version of racism, but a measure taken to prevent those who might be tempted to follow other god’s. Ezra’s response is a lesson for all of us (vs. 3-4) as he tore his tunic (a sign of mourning) and grieved the waywardness of his people. After a sufficient time of mourning, Ezra does what we should all do in such situations; he prayed. Ezra’s prayer to God doesn’t involve him elevating himself above others. It is a corporate prayer understanding that they were all together in this. Ezra falls to his knees and cries out to God with much shame. Question: Why? Because the very practices that led Israel to the Babylonian exile were now being repeated again! How could Israel turn so quickly from the grace of God?
Regarding application…Amazing Grace. Vs. 13, “What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved.” Ezra prayed before a God that had every right to abolish His covenant to such a unfaithful remnant. Yet, Ezra marvels at the LORD’s grace. He was not worthy. Israel was not worthy. No one is worthy of a God who is filled with such compassion. There are many voices that attempt to speak truth today. Voices of other religions, voices of teachers and professors, voices of scientific logic, voices of selfishness, etc. Our challenge for us today is to flee from such things that would tempt us away from living the truth in our lives. God has called us as believers to not yoke ourselves with this world (2 Corinthians 6:14). Let us honor God by responding rightfully to His amazing grace!
Vs. 15, “I assembled them at the canal that flows toward Ahava, and we camped there three days. When I checked among the people and the priests, I found no Levites there.” As Ezra would bring the second group of exiles years later, they would be far less in number than the already 50,000 that went before (vs. 1-14). There were probably a caravan of about 5000 (including men, women and children). While still in Babylon, Ezra wisely stops to assess the current situation (vs. 15). To his chagrin, he realizes that there are no Levites with the party. Ezra gathers capable men to travel to Kasiphia to recruit Levites to help serve the priests in the temple and carry holy things being transported to Jerusalem (vs. 15-20). Due to the long journey and the valuable items they were transporting, Ezra ensured there would be accountability and safety (vs. 21-30). The Lord delivered everyone safely and they rightfully sacrificed with thanksgiving in their hearts.
Regarding application…Depending on God. Vs. 21, “There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possession.” Earlier, Ezra had declined the protection and help of King’s troops. Now this is where Ezra puts his faith into action by declaring a fast. Question: Why? Because the trip to Jerusalem carrying such valuable treasures would have been incredibly dangerous. Instead of depending on Darius’s troops or even his own strategy, Ezra depends on God. This reminds us of one of the major themes in the book of Ezra: “God’s sovereignty.” Question: Are you depending on God? What impresses me about Ezra is that had to balance God’s providence wisely as he declined help from some and sought help from others. Likewise, let us be discerning in what depending on God looks like in our life today.
Vs. 6, “this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.” We finally are introduced to the man whom the book is named (vs. 1-6). It’s been about 50 years since chapter 6, and during this time the events of Esther transpired. Ezra was sent by King Artaxerxes with other Israelites to learn more about the Law of the Lord (vs. 7-10). It would be a long four month journey. Question: What would cause Ezra to go to Jerusalem? Remember, not everyone from the Babylonian exile returned with the first group. Ezra’s lineage proves his role as a priest and descendant of Aaron. God would prepare Ezra as a scribe in the Persian Empire. Question: Why would King Artaxerxes assist Ezra and the Israelites (vs. 11-26)? Peace in the land is important for any empire at any age. Artaxerxes knew of some unrest in Palestine and wanted to support Ezra’s trip to resolve any issues. It’s also important to know that these pagan rulers were superstitious and valued the prayers of other religions for their own success (vs. 23).
Regarding application…Finding Favor. Vs. 28, “and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.” Question: Why would Ezra be chosen to such a prestigious task? King Artaxerxes clearly had found Ezra to be a man of high honor and someone to be trusted. Throughout this chapter, Ezra reminds us four times (vs. 6, 9, 14, 28) that the hand of the Lord was with him. I’m reminded how Joseph in captivity in Egypt found favor with Pharaoh. Our faith and integrity as believers can actually illicit much favor in this world. When I used to work in the secular field, I often found favor with my bosses. For example, twice a year, I would do retreats for youth ministry (when I was a youth pastor). Without fail, God always opened the door to have my bosses grant me the weekends we needed!
Vs. 1, “King Darius then issued an order, and they searched in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon.” After much suspense, Ezra shares with us the findings of King Darius’ inquiry regarding Israel’s rebuilding of the temple. It’s really fascinating to think how 2500 plus years ago they kept meticulous written letters of authority. Upon the search of the scroll located in citadel of Ecbatana (vs. 2), Darius upholds the decree of Cyrus and even adds some additional stipulations (vs. 3-12). In an interesting turn of events, Tattenai is must assist the Jews financially in the rebuilding process! To Tattenai’s credit, he inquired and then obeyed what the king had instructed (vs. 13). With God’s providence, the completion of the temple (vs. 14-18) came in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius (516 B.C.). God’s people got to have a momentous Passover feast and celebration (vs. 19-22).
Regarding application…God Delivers. Vs. 22, “For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.” Yesterday, we were reminded that God has our back. In our chapter today, we are ultimately reminded that God delivers! Even in the tough times of our lives, God has not abandoned His children. Though the celebration and dedication of the temple paled from Solomon’s days, the Israelites would not be deterred. There are times for everything in this life as Solomon reminded us in Ecclesiastes. When God delivers in our life, what a wonderful reminder that we should take the time to celebrate!
Vs. 1, “Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them.” After many years of discouragement from not rebuilding the temple, God would raise up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (vs. 1-3). They would bring messages of hope and a bit of kicking them in the rear end to wake up out of their fear and complacency. Both of the prophets have books in the Old Testament that give us rich detail in how God spoke through them. Their rebuilding activity caught the attention of Tattenai an official governor of Persia (vs. 3-5). We are given some interesting insight into the letter of inquiry that was sent to the new Persian King Darius (vs. 6-17). We are left with much suspense as we await the response of King Darius!
Regarding application…God’s Has Our Back. Vs. 5, “But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.” What could have otherwise been a huge blow of discouragement was minimized because God’s ever-watching eye was upon them! Ezra gives us insight that God both encouraged and protected them during their rebuilding process. Since the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), we the church have been in a very long but effective building process. The project is not over. God still has work to be done. Like Tattenai, there have been many who have come to discourage the church. But, we are living testimonies that God has had our back since the beginning. Take time to consider how the Lord has specifically intervened in your life to bring hope in the midst of conflict.
Vs. 4, “Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.” Question: Who were these people that were threatening the rebuilding process? They were what became known as Samaritans. They were a mix of Assyrians and Jewish refugees who now lived in the land from the north. While the gesture of help looked nice on the outside, Zerubbabel and Jeshua declined their offer. Question: Why? Because though they claimed they worshipped the LORD, they also worshipped many other god’s. Israel’s refusal for help would bring the true intention of the deceptive offer (vs. 1-5). The latter half of our chapter has confused biblical scholars a bit (vs. 6-24). It seems Ezra took the liberty to add additional opposition that came in later years (30 plus years) during the time of Esther (486 – 464 B.C.).
Regarding application…Opposition. Vs. 23, “As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.” Where God is working, the enemy is lurking. For nearly fifteen years, the enemy was successful in bringing the rebuilding process to a halt! If you lived during that time, it must have been so discouraging waiting for such a long time. Yet, this opposition and conflict that came to God’s people would ultimately bring them the courage to stand up. Like any good movie premise, the antagonist seems to be winning, but the protagonist will eventually overcome. Question: What are some oppositions you are facing in your life? Take heart in the waiting process and know God is not abandoning you. Keep praying and stay plugged into your local church!
Vs. 1, “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled together as one in Jerusalem.” The seventh month (Sept/Oct) in the Jewish calendar would entail major holiday’s such as the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Jeshua the High Priest and Zerubbablel the governor would come together to build the alter for sacrifices (vs. 2). It’s important to understand that the land was not vacant when they had been deported 70 years earlier. Now that the Jews had returned, there was fear of an uprising against them. This would spur them towards wanting to seek protection and thankfully they sought the LORD (vs. 3-6). In that latter half of our chapter (vs. 7-13), they unite together to begin laying down the foundation for a new temple. While there was great rejoicing for this new temple, the elders who had seen the glory of Solomon’s temple wept. I believe they wept because of all the years of trials and consequences during the exile. I believe they also wept because they realized that this temple would not ever have the amazing beauty of Solomon’s temple.
Regarding application…Hope Returned. Vs. 11, “With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” Hope is an interesting thing. Holman’s Bible Dictionary defines hope as this: Hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. Question: What are some hopes in your life these days? If you are a sports fan and into the NFL, you know that today is the big NFL Draft. Every team in the NFL and all its fans around the country are excited to find out who their next hopeful prospect will be. Will Johnny Manziel the great college football quarterback bring a Super bowl to his new team? Sports is a wonderful metaphor for life. We too have the #1 prospect in Jesus and the knowledge that He will return again! There is much hope we have in this life, don’t ever forget that!
Vs. 1, “Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to their own town.” The first pilgrims of the exile begin their long journey home. As I mentioned yesterday, there were approximately 49,000 (49,897 to be exact) who would set the example for all. It’s awesome to see that among this group of people, each of the tribes of Israel was represented (vs. 70). A notable name amongst this list is Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the grandson of King Jehoiachin and would be instrumental in helping Israel rebuild. In the end, each of these people were acknowledged because of their faith to be the first to return in faith and obedience.
Regarding application…Giving Generously. Vs. 68, “When they arrived at the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site.” Question: What would cause the heads of the families to willingly give offerings toward the rebuilding? Imagine if you were part of the first pilgrimage. You finally arrive after months of long travel in eager anticipation of returning to your motherland only to find it in ruins. Rather than grumble and complain, their hearts were moved to want to give above and beyond to help be a part of the solution. What a practical reminder for all of us today! We were already reminded by the generosity of the regions of Achaia and Macedonia from the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians. In all ages and times, we who have much should give much back. We can give our money, our time, our labor, our prayers to being a part of God’s advancing kingdom.
Vs. 1, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:” King Cyrus would eventually conquer Babylon (539 B.C.) and would bring welcome relief to all those under the tyranny of the Babylonians. It’s awesome to realize that God had prophesied through Isaiah years earlier (150 years) that God would raise up Cyrus to help bring His people back (vs. 2-4). Though there were an estimated two million Jews living near Babylon, only 49,000 would be willing to go. King Cyrus would graciously give the articles of the house of the Lord that had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar (vs. 7). He would give the articles to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah (vs. 8-11). Some scholars believe this was actually Zerubbablel, while others say he was a political appointee of Cyrus not recognized by the Jews. The journey to Jerusalem would take anywhere from 3 – 5 months of traveling.
Regarding application…Sovereignty of God. Vs. 2, “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.” Coincidence? I don’t think so. God’s hand of sovereignty is unmistakable! This is one of the overarching themes throughout the book. It’s always surprising to be reminded that God even uses unbelieving leaders of the world to be a part in fulfilling His will. Question: How should God’s sovereignty affect us today? It gives a whole new meaning to everything that we do. Your secular jobs and everyday activities suddenly fall under the umbrella of God’s control. It gives our lives purpose when it doesn’t seem like it relates to the big picture. Take solace in knowing that God can use anyone to bring about His will, even unbelieving people. I remember a former boss of mine gave me a weekend off because I wanted to have a church retreat. Though she was far from a believer, she saw the evidence of my faith and granted me this time off. Though she credited herself for the compassion, I also was thanking God for I knew He was the one that moved her heart.