Click here for today’s reading http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezra%204-6&version=NIV
There is a LOT going on in today’s reading none the least of which is God’s love and dedication to HIS people, the struggles that HIS people had by simply trying to follow HIS will, and the character of God. The book of Ezra opens in 538 BC, 48 years after King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem. We read very familiar names along the way…Jeremiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Cyrus, ….and the list goes on. God gave HIS people explicit instructions to rebuild the Temple and they did as the Lord asked, but they were met with lies, deceit, discouragement, fear, and more which caused at least a 15 year delay in building the Temple. SO… in case you desire to simply say these chapters are about the rebuilding of the Temple. STOP…think about your life (and I’m doing the same with mine). Think about the times you KNOW God has told you to do something but everything you can possibly imagine gets thrown in your way….so much so that you stop to re-evaluate if you heard HIM right. (Am I right??) Today’s chapters show us in detail how the enemy is alive and well and will do ANYthing to lie to us, confuse us, cause fear, and take us off the right path. So read closely….I would LOVE to hear how God spoke to you today.
Let me just say that as wonderful a read as today’s Scripture was….you may have found it a bit confusing like I did. I had to reread it a few times. The thing I had to continually remind myself of was that these three chapters were written a bit out of order. We will take it one chapter at a time plus I thought giving you a little detail on the 4 Persian Kings who ruled in Ezra’s day might be helpful. Here are the 4 Persian Kings:
- Cyrus, we are familiar with him because he is the one that made the decree to free the Jews. He sent Zerubbabel to Jerusalem, funded the project, and returned all the treasure to the Holy Land that Nebuchadnezzar had so rudely taken and used. Cyrus was the one mentioned in Isaiah. He reigned from 559-530 B.C.
- Darius, Supported the construction of the temple. He reigned from 522-486 BC.
- Xerxes also called Ahasuerus, (Esther’s husband) allowed the Jews to protect themselves. He reigned from 486-465 BC.
- Artaxerxes (Nehemiah was this king’s cupbearer) reigned from 465-424 BC. He allowed Ezra and Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem.
Isn’t it wonderful to see how God used people who did not believe in HIM alone (they just added HIM to their list of gods…..ummmm………never a good idea!!) Yet…. God used each of them!!!
CHAPTER 4 – The FIRST thing we read is that “the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the lord, the God of Israel, they came ….and said let us help you.” Right out of the starting gate they have opposition. We know from 2 Timothy 3:12 that all believers can EXPECT opposition!! Discouragement and fear began to work on the people. We can also see that the love for money has always motivated decisions. The temple stopped construction for 15 years here!!! OYE VAY!! BUT God was watching over them. God was in control of and watching out for HIS REMNANT!! It is also interesting that records and letters were thoroughly searched and researched before ANY king gave the order to cease or begin the building of the Temple!! Hummmmmm….. I wonder if that is a message to us today? A message letting us know that we are to research the Word, pray to God, and KNOW His Word before we simply flit off to do our own things. Time spent with God is never a waste of time and the more we KNOW HIM, the more difficult it becomes for the enemy to take us off track. In “little” things….our enemy wants us to believe that we are not special and we are way too messed up for Jesus to love. BUT if we KNOW God’s Word, we KNOW these things are nothing but lies and in direct opposition to God’s Word.
CHAPTERS 5 and 6 — King Darius supported the temple construction and God used the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Haggai will be our next read) as instruments to give the message from the Lord. The temple was completed at the time the Feast of Unleavened Bread would be celebrated. How fitting! This feast was to remember Israel’s deliverance from Egypt in the Exodus. God has now fully delivered them from Babylon. This feast was/is better known as the Passover Feast. It is the last feast Jesus had with his disciples before HIS death and RESURRECTION. The feast before our Easter!! The feast to celebrate OUR DELIVERANCE from eternal death and damnation. WOW!!
Don’t you just love how ALL the pieces fit so well as the Master puts them all together.
Sharing HIS love,
Click here for today’s reading http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezra%201-3&version=NIV
I don’t know about you but before last year, I tried to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in the order given. I would study. I would read. I had some very favorite books and of course the Psalms, Proverbs, and the NT would usually be where I landed. Then God lead me to an online Bible Study where I read the Bible for the first time chronologically….and OH HOW my eyes were opened. I certainly don’t understand it all, but for the first time….things flowed. I could see how things occurred historically and I could not put it down. I pray God blesses you greatly as you see things unfold as close to chronological as possible. Some of you may have read it this way before and that is totally awesome. Whether this is your first time reading it chronologically or your 100th…I pray God blesses you in ways you NEVER expected.
The Bible as we typically know it is grouped by topics in the OT and in the NT such as history, poetry, and prophecy. Ezra is one of the HISTORY books so it is in the Bible with other history books. If we were simply reading the Bible in the order it is currently organized then we would have read this BEFORE the Prophecy of the captivity. NO wonder I was so confused!! Regardless of how you read the Bible…God promises that HIS Word will not return void and THAT is always a good thing!! God is ALWAYS a good God!! AMEN!!
Before you start with Ezra, go back one page in your Bible and look at the last verse of 2 Chronicles. You will see we are picking up right where we left off before we read the Prophet books. Ezra was the author of the Chronicles, Ezra, possibly Nehemiah, and a Psalm. Since we KNOW the scriptures, we can take the Prophets words now and apply them. Look at Isaiah 44 written 200 years BEFORE this event:
who carries out the words of his servants
and fulfills the predictions of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’
of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be built,’
and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’ who says to the watery deep, ‘Be dry,
and I will dry up your streams,’
who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd
and will accomplish all that I please;
he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,”
and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” ‘
I know I have used this Scripture before, but I am always amazed at the prophecy and its fulfillment!! And there it is…right before our very eyes!! The first group lead out of captivity was by Zerubbabel. We also know from the scriptures that Cyrus would be from Medio-Persia (remember the statue in Daniel and the animals from Daniel’s dream/vision). Cyrus’s decree went out to all 12 tribes but from the list created in chapter 2 in Ezra there are ONLY 2 of the tribes…Judah and Benjamin. WHY?? Because these two tribes were the only ones returning. Remember not all the Israelites were in a hurry to return “home.” They had been in captivity for 70 years, basically an entire generation (prophecy fulfilled). They had grown used to the way things were in captivity so only some chose to return to Judah.
In 2:63 write a note that he is Zerubbabel.
Chapter 3. As you read this chapter, think about God’s character. God does NOT gain joy or happiness in disobedience… EVER!! When the final judgment comes, God will be grieving when He pronounces final judgment on those who refused to make HIM their Lord and Savior. This is why it is so important that we share the gospel with as many as possible. We never know who we may help to make a choice to turn their lives over to the very God who created each of us. God took the ones He loved after warning them for HUNDREDS of years to return to His ways BUT they refused listen. Sooooo HE had no choice but to create a circumstance of captivity and exile for a period of time in their life. The captivity and exile are no over and we witness people returning to God. God is a gentleman and He will NEVER override our free will. He desires that we CHOOSE HIM…not be forced to obey Him. God tells us that HE disciplines those HE loves. Discipline works!! I am not referring to child abuse or beating, discipline can come in many forms and as we all know….some of us respond to the slightest discipline while others don’t respond until the discipline is severe. As we read Chapter 3 we went ALL the way back to Leviticus!! God KNEW that HIS people coming out of captivity needed to be reminded of HIS laws and the way things had been laid out hundreds of years prior to this point. God’s people were being retrained/re-educated about feasts and offerings, worshipping the Lord in a way that honored HIM. The captivity/discipline worked! HIS people were listening and were craving to know more of God.
Did you notice that some of the people were weeping and some were rejoicing when they saw what they saw upon their return? Many rejoiced for the first time in 70 years!! In verse 12 we are told that the older priests were weeping when they saw the foundation of the new Temple because they remembered the Temple of Solomon in all its glory. They were grateful to have a place to worship again; yet they were deeply saddened because they knew the new Temple would not be as glorious as the first one. Solomon’s Temple was a Temple at the hub of a thriving city. Zerubbabel’s was surrounded by ruins. Verse 13 points out that the celebration after laying the new Temple foundation was marked by contrasts of emotion….shouts of joy and sounds of weeping. The Holy Spirit can stimulate us both to rejoice over the goodness of HIS grace and to grieve over the sins that required God to correct us/them. When we are in the Lord’s presence, we may feel conflicting emotions. It is totally possible to be full of joy as we praise God and offer thanksgiving for ALL HE is and ALL He has done for us. However, at the very same time we can feel sobered and deeply saddened by our own shortcomings.
Sharing HIS love,
The Book of Ezra does not specifically name its author, although scholars believe it to be the Priest Ezra. Interestingly we will witness that Ezra does not appear in the book until chapter 7. At this point the writing switches from third person to first person which lends credibility to scholars believe and study as to who the author actually is. The date of the writing is believed to be between 460 and 440 B.C
Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible. They both give and account for one of the most important events in history…the RETURN from exile. Both books have a lot in common:
- They both cover about 100 years of history.
- They both begin in Persia but end in Jerusalem.
- They begin with a king’s decree.
- Both books include prayers of confession (Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 9).
- Both books end with the purification of their people. An important chapter to reread would be Jeremiah 29 because it goes along with both the Book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah.
The Book of Ezra is devoted to events occurring in Israel at the time of the return from Babylonian captivity (which began in 538 BC) and the years following their return. The emphasis in Ezra is on the rebuilding of the Temple. It covers the return from captivity to rebuild the Temple up to the decree of Artaxerxes, which is the event covered at the beginning of the Book of Nehemiah. Haggai was the main prophet in the day of Ezra, and Zechariah was the prophet in the day of Nehemiah. Ezra was a priest, the great grandson of the priest who found the lost scrolls in the deserted temple who brought them to King Josiah who began a revival (Jeremiah’s dad)! Like….WOW!!!
We will see extensive genealogical records (oh boy… I know lots of names…..). So why does God feel it important to include such extensive genealogies? The ones in the book of Ezra establish the claims to the priesthood on the part of the descendants of Aaron. Remember….most of God’s chosen people have been in captivity and in exile for at least 70 years. They lived in a different culture with different gods…different rules…and probably didn’t think a lot about genealogies or even the law of God. So God wanted to be sure they KNEW.
I found Ezra 3:11 to be so appropriate for THANKSGIVING!!! “With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: ‘He is good; his love to 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.” Don’t you just LOVE God’s timing!!!!!
Look at this Scripture — Ezra 7:6, “…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.”
The book can easily be divided into two basic sections:
- Chapters 1-6—The First Return under Zerubbabel, and the Building of the Second Temple.
- Chapters 7-10—The Ministry of Ezra. Time flies in many of these Books and Ezra is no different. Well over a half a century passed between chapters 6 and 7. Many of the characters of the first part of the book had died by the time Ezra began his ministry in Jerusalem. We will read a prayer of confession of sin as well as subsequent separation of the people from the sinful practices into which they had fallen in Babylon but also while they were in Jerusalem…..remember that is why God was so upset with HIS people….because they REFUSED to TURN BACK to HIM!!!
The Book of Ezra a continuation of the biblical theme of the REMNANT. Think about that for just a moment. The theme of the REMNANT is prevalent throughout the Bible.
- Noah and his family were saved from the destruction of the flood as a REMNANT.
- Lot’s family was saved from Sodom and Gomorrah because they were part of the REMNANT.
- 7000 prophets reserved in Israel despite the persecution of Ahab and Jezebel….. reserved as the REMNANT.
- When the Israelites were taken into captivity in Egypt, God delivered His REMNANT and took them to the Promised Land.
- Some fifty thousand people return to the land of Judea in Ezra 2:64-67, and yet, as they compare themselves with the numbers in Israel during its prosperous days under King David, their comment is, “We are left this day as a remnant.”
- The remnant theme is carried into the New Testament where Paul tells us that “at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5).
- Although most people of Jesus’ day rejected Him, there remained a set of people whom God had reserved and preserved in his Son, and in the covenant of His grace.
- Throughout all generations since Christ, there is the REMNANT of the faithful whose feet are on the narrow road that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14). This REMNANT will be preserved through the power of the Holy Spirit who has sealed them and who will deliver them safely at the last day (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30).
The Book of Ezra is an AWESOME reminder of the HOPE and RESTORATION that our precious Lord and Savior is and has for each of us if we believe in HIM!! NONE of us is without sin. We live in a world of hurting people who try to live their lives with their own reasoning, feelings, emotions, thoughts, and teachings and if these things are not based on the MOST HIGH GOD and HIS LIVING WORD then we can live a life wandering through the wilderness without thoughts of hope or restoration. BUT….JESUS changed ALL that for each of us. There is great hope that ours is a God of forgiveness, a God who will not turn His back on us when we seek Him in repentance and brokenness (1 John 1:9).
And remember in Daniel when Gabriel came to tell him about the spiritual battle that was happening? Remember the Scriptures from the New Testament which points us in the knowledge that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling own of strongholds? Well…..we will see the opposition of the adversaries of God concerning the rebuilding of the temple in Ezra. We will witness a very typical pattern of the enemy who wants to “kill, steal, and destroy” our very souls for all eternity!! Our enemy will use anything and anyone to deceive us. The enemy will even use those who would appear to be in sync with God’s purposes to deceive us and attempt to thwart God’s plans. Ezra 4:2 describes the deceptive speech of those who claim to worship Christ but whose real intent is to tear down, not to build up. We are to be on guard against such deceivers. God warns us to not follow false prophets.
KNOW what the LORD says —– This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:10-14 NIV.
We all read Exodus when Moses led God’s Chosen People out of Egypt. NOW, we will read about a second Exodus. In this second Exodus, Ezra will be God’s instrument to lead God’s Chosen People out of Babylon. We will witness exactly how God will use this man for HIS purpose!!
Sharing HIS love,