Ezra 1

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.

Ezra Map

II Chronicles 36

Vs. 21, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.”  The chronicler wraps up the history of how God’s people were disciplined through the Babylonian exile.  The last four kings of Judah didn’t bode well as Jehoahaz was exiled to Egypt, while Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah all were exiled to Babylon (vs. 1-14.)   It’s also notable how the evilness of the kings rubbed off on the leaders of the priest and the people (vs. 14).  The prophet Jeremiah had warned Judah of this day, but they would not listen (Jeremiah 25-27).  The chronicler assumes the people knew most of the details from II Kings 25 of the Babylonian invasion (vs. 15-21).

Regarding application…Second Chance.  Vs. 23, “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. Anyone of his people among you—may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up.’”  It was the LORD who had prompted Cyrus king of Persia through the prophecies Jeremiah &  Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28) to help restore His people.  The LORD gave His people a second chance (numerous at that) and He also extends that to us.  As the aftermath of Easter looms over us, this is our opportunity to remember the grace of our Lord Jesus in our lives.  Just as He give us second chances and forgives, we are to extend the same to others.  “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13.

Matthew 2

Vs. 1, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.”  An estimated two years have transpired; Joseph and Mary are living in Bethlehem.  Magi from the east have come to pay homage to the king of the Jews.  It is believed these Magi (magicians, eastern wise men, astrologers) came from Babylon which is about 900 miles!  We are not given the number of wise men, but they more than likely traveled in quite large groups.  The tradition of three comes from the three types of gifts presented to Jesus (vs. 11).  Question: How would they have known about this?  The dispersed Jews certainly would have shared the story of Balaam (Numbers 24:17) and his prophecy of a star that will come out of Jacob.  Herod felt quite pressured knowing that he was not the true rightful heir of the Jews, because he was only half-Jew.  Herod the Great ruled Judea and had the favor of both Rome and the leading Jews.  Yet, the baby Jesus was under the protection of His Father!  How interesting that Jesus’ life parallels the Jewish history; Jesus would also travel down to Egypt, and would return back to the land of Canaan.  The Holy Spirit guides Matthew in selecting OT scripture that reminds us (especially the Jews) that Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophecies.  The order to kill the baby boys two years and younger (vs. 16-18) would have been an estimated ten to thirty boys because Bethlehem was a very small town.  Lastly we see, Jesus and family return to region of Galilee in the town of Nazareth (vs. 21-23).

Regarding application…A Right Response.  Vs. 11, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”  What a contrast when you compare the magi to the response of Herod and all of Jerusalem (vs. 3).  Though Matthew’s gospel is targeted towards Jews, the ones who respond right are Gentiles.  We don’t know the magi’s hearts when they bowed down to worship or if they even knew the ramifications of it.  However, their response reminds all of us that Jesus is not only the king of the Jews, but came to save the whole world.  Question: How do you respond when you come before the Lord?  God’s response was to give His one and only Son (John 3:16).  Let us consider how we respond.  In a world that is often me-centric, it’s time to be a giver rather than a taker.

Hebrews 8

Vs. 1, “Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.”  Like any good presentation, we see the author of Hebrews give us a summary of the main point and central focus of the letter.  Jesus is the high priest that continues to serve in our lives today!  Jesus is not in some man-made tabernacle, but Jesus is at the right hand of the Father.   Jesus is ministering in the heavenly tabernacle not the copy of it that was on earth (vs. 3-6).  It served a temporal purpose, but Jesus serves eternally.  The old covenant was fulfilled and made perfect (due to man’s sinfulness) through the new covenant (vs. 7-13).  Moses was the old covenant mediator, but Jesus is the perfect mediator.  The fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jeremiah 31:31-34) came to pass.

Regarding application…Is the Old Covenant Bad?  Vs. 13, “By calling this covenant new, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”  Question: Who gave us the Old Covenant?  God had His purpose for His promises given to His people at that time.  Both the old and new covenants were given for the good of God’s people.  Both covenants offered blessings.  Jesus did not come to abolish God’s law (Matthew 5:17), but He came to fulfill God’s ultimate promise to love His people and be a blessing to His nations.  God has written His law in our hearts and our minds, we are without excuse!  Let us therefore make every effort to honor Him in all that we do!  Question: What can you honor him with today?

Habakkuk 1

Vs. 3, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.”  Habakkuk is interesting because the whole book centers on dialogue between him and God.  Habakkuk twice has questions for the LORD, and twice, the LORD responds.  The first set of questions (vs. 2-4) ask why does the LORD allow wrongdoing (wickedness – NASB) to prevail.  Judah had lost their good king Josiah and now things were getting worse.  Corruption was rampant and violence was increasing.  Sadly, I think we can relate quite well with Habakkuk in some ways.  Question: How does God respond?  The LORD reminds Habakkuk of the increasing power of the Babylonians.  In fact, the LORD stuns Habakkuk by saying this evil nation who easily defeated the Assyrians and the Egyptians will be coming for Judah (vs. 5-11)!  Needless to say, Habakkuk responds again with questions about how God could not only allow wrongdoing, but allow a more evil people to overcome His own people (vs. 12-17).  Habakkuk uses the metaphor of fisherman who find joy in their catch with how the Babylonians find joy in catching and killing others (vs. 14-17).

Regarding application…Why God?  Vs. 13b, “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”  Question: Is it sinful to question God?  Why does it seem the wicked prosper and righteous suffer?  Why is it so difficult to live a Christian life today?  How long is this suffering and trouble going to last?  The fact that Habakkuk could ask such poignant questions shows us the relationship he had with the LORD.  Secure children are able to freely ask their parents questions without the fear of being punished.  Questions with a sincere heart show reveal sincere faith.  Certainly, we can mock the Lord by asking questions with a hard heart.  But, even in the lines of questions, notice Habakkuk’s recognition of God’s grace and power (vs. 12-13).  In Habakkuk, we see how to deal with our questions and the death and destruction that surround us in this life.  It’s okay to be honest, just don’t ever forget that God is faithful.  The more you know God and His word the more your faith will be grounded!

Nahum 2

Vs. 1, “An attacker advances against you, Nineveh. Guard the fortress, watch the road, brace yourselves, marshal all your strength!”  Nineveh withstood an initial attack in 614 B.C., however, the Medes teamed up with the Babylonians and two years later they won.  In the end, it was the LORD who was against Nineveh/Assyrians.  Nahum describes in vivid color the impending attack (vs. 3-5).  The red color would have belonged to the Babylonians.  It would have been nearly inconceivable to the Assyrians that their great city that could house over 300,000 people would fall (vs. 6-10).  The lion was a symbol of power for the Assyrians.  The reference to the lions’ den (vs. 11-12) is a metaphor for how the Assyrians would take captives to be killed and tortured publicly.  It is a grave thing to do such evil and even more serious when the LORD is against you (vs. 13).

Regarding application…A Stern Warning.  Vs. 13, “I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will burn up your chariots in smoke, and the sword will devour your young lions. I will leave you no prey on the earth. The voices of your messengers will no longer be heard.”  To give us perspective, the Assyrians were being attacked by the Babylonians because of their unrepentant hearts.  There was another prophet who lived in the time of Nahum, his name: Jeremiah.  About 15 years later in 597 B.C., the same empire that would attack and be victorious over the Assyrians would now turn their gaze upon Judah.  The warning that is given to us is that God is against anyone who does such evil.  For the reader today, it seems obvious that the warnings of the prophets like Nahum and Jeremiah should have been taken seriously.  There are warning labels on many of our products that we purchase.  One of the big warnings is for us to check the seal before opening our package (food, medicine, etc.).  If the seal has been broke, that means it could have been tampered with.  Many of us are very keen to ensure that we check these warnings for our physical safety.  How much more than should we heed the warnings throughout God’s word to flee from sinful past and turn to the Lord?

Jeremiah 50

Vs. 25, “The LORD has opened his arsenal and brought out the weapons of his wrath, for the Sovereign LORD Almighty has work to do in the land of the Babylonians.”  While Babylon was being used by God, she became too prideful and arrogant.   It was time to bring war upon Babylon.  While this would apply directly the Babylonians, there was a  dual meaning to this.  Babylon often in Scripture symbolizes the world system.  God would humble and will humble our human system of pride.  He also gives us a wonderful picture of gathering back His lost flock (vs, 6-7) and forgiving the people (19-20).

 

Regarding application…God Redeemed Us.  Vs. 34, “Yet their Redeemer is strong; the LORD Almighty is his name. He will vigorously defend their cause so that he may bring rest to their land, but unrest to those who live in Babylon.”  What a fitting reminder of the fact that God is our Redeemer.  Here in our passage, we see God redeeming and forgiving His people.  Yesterday, the message to the youth reminded them that they matter to God and that God redeems them!  I’m sure God’s people often felt despair, but God would remind them that He had not forgotten about them.  That His promises come true!  Keep you head up this week and find comfort in our Redeeming God!

Jeremiah 51

Vs. 49, “Babylon must fall because of Israel’s slain, just as the slain in all the earth have fallen because of Babylon.”  It would be a prophecy of reckoning.  Someone would have to pay for this pride and sin.  The Lord God would warn Babylon of this future if they contiuned down this path.  So God would raise up another leader in Cyrus from Persia and command him to attack Babylonians (vs. 20-24).  He would remind those who got too comfortable in Babylon not to forget what had happened to them (vs. 34-35).  There was no future in Babylon, just as there is really no future in this world for it is a dying world.  We must make do the best we can to trust in God until a better tomorrow!

 

Regarding application…Never Forsaken.  Vs. 5, “For Israel and Judah havye not been forsaken by their God, the Lord Almighty, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel.”  As I reflect upon this incredible journey of God’s people from their homeland, to their sin, to the invasion, to the captivity…and now their restoration…I marvel at God’s faithfulness!  I’m sure there were many doubts throughout the seventy years of captivity, but God would shine through.  It’s just a reminder that there are mountains and valley’s in our lives.  We must do our part to just know His love will never forsake us.  Keep you head up and continue to live on the promises of God!  One day, we too will be restored from this Babylon (world).  Pray for this week and thank God for all the hard workers of the faith and regular workforce on this Labor day!

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Jeremiah 49

Vs. 1, “Concerning the Ammonites: This is what the Lord says: “Has Israel no sons? Has she no heirs? Why then has Molech a taken possession of Gad? Why do his people live in its towns.”  This was a long chapter, huh?  Now, we continue to see the consequences God would put upon the other nations surrounding Israel.  Remember that the Edomites and the Ammonites are descandants of Lot (Abraham’s nephew from Ur).  Ammon and Edom both had history of turning to other God’s and invading Israel…especially after the Northern Kingdom was taken by the Assyrians.  Additional people’s would also be judged…Damascus (Syrai), Kedar & Hazor (Arabians), and the Elamites (Persians).

 

Regarding application...Cup of Consequences.  Vs. 12, “This is what the Lord says: “If those who do not deserve to drink the cup must drink it, why should you go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, but must drink it.”  Hmmm…It’s never easy to read the consequences of those who have turned away from God.  Of course, we read of such things because God is communicating to us that we must double-check ourselves.  Are we going down the road of Pride?  The picture of “cup” is considered God’s wrath.  Yet, again…we see that even those these nations would receive punishment by God…The Lord’s grace in the end would be upon them (vs. 6, 39).  “Just say No” like the Recabites (Jer. 35) and put God first in your life!  Have a blessed Saturday and go to church tomorrow wherever you live :)

Jeremiah 48

Vs. 42, “Moab will be destroyed as a nation because she defied the Lord.”  Question: Who were the people from Moab?  They were the descandants of Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and would eventually become enemies of the Jews.  When the Babylonians attacked Israel, Moab stopped their dispute with Israel.  However, because of their pride…The Babylnonians also attacked them.  They thought that their pagan god would rescue them.  It’s notable that Jeremiah felt sorrow for the Moabites as well (vs. 31).

 

Regarding application…Future Hope.  Vs. 47, “Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in days to come,” declares the Lord. Here ends the judgment on Moab.”  Question: How will this happen?  Remember that Jeremiah is a prophet and here he was prophecying of a time when they not only would return to their land in 538 B.C.  One day Jesus would reign and bring the Moabites and all Gentiles a hope through the cross!  The storyline is familiar: Once in God’s favor, sinned, became prideful, judged others, experience hopelessness, but one day restored!  That’s God’s redemptive work illustrated once again!  Of course, God does this for all of us!  So if you are feeling hopeless…don’t give up!