Archive for the ‘Ezra’ Category

Ezra 10

Ezra 10 still has him confessing the people’s sins to God.  “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly”.  He did it publicly, and from the bottom of his heart.  This was not a show.  He humbled himself as their leader and brought the gravity of the situation to the people.  Ezra was “mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles”.

It is one thing for Ezra to feel convicted, but he also has to make sure that flows to the people.  They were there watching him on his face before God weeping for their sin.  Because of his actions, the people were also convicted of sin and the need to confess and repent. They too were in sorrow over the sin.  Confession of sin is a foundational part of spiritual revival.  It happens when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see the real condition of our heart.  That is when we know we are getting close to God.

The people hear the message that they have to separate themselves from any foreign wives.  Confession was step one, but repentance had to follow.  That meand taking action.  Ezra appeals to the people to take the hard step and repent from their sin.  The people agree to do what was required, although some asked for time to make the transition.  Then it was decreed that “if anyone did not come within three days, by order of the officials and the elders all his property should be forfeited, and he himself banned from the congregation of the exiles”.

Everyone had to be accountable.  They each were examined over a three month period to see if they had repented.  The chapter ends with a list of those whose wives refused to embrace the God of Israel and had to be divorced.  “On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to examine the matter; and by the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women”.  One by one, the people came and were questioned in their obedience.  This was a big step in getting the people right with God.

Ezra 9

Ezra 9 has a transition from good news to bad news.  After his arrival and the proper accounting of all the gifts brought from Babylon, Ezra was presented with bad news. The spiritual condition of this remnant community was bad and this was evident in their failure to separate from the impure people that live here.  “For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands”.

This is a big problem.  First it violated God’s law.  But the real challenge was that as these communities intermarried, there would be no areas left untouched – business, government, social life would all be impacted by the pagan influence.  It’s bad enough that this is happening, but then this part of the report hits Ezra.  “And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost”.  We’re violating the law of God but the worst offenders are the leaders.  They were leaders but leading the people in the wrong direction.

Ezra is overwhelmed by the news.  It is serious stuff.  “As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled”.  He is shocked by the disobedience.  This is a big deal.  So big that he tears his clothes and plucks hair from his own body.  Ouch!  That is a strong reaction.  But he models the strong response and makes it evident to all in his patch that this is not only unacceptable, it requires a complete turnaround through repentance and confession of sin.

And that is exactly what he does.  He goes to God in prayer.  He confesses.  “We have forsaken your commandments”.  He lays out the sin of the people clearly at God’s feet and offers no defense for their actions.  They have sinned, plain and simple.  Guilty as charged.  “We are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this”.  No sense making excuses, there are none to explain this disobedience.  Sin is a choice – always has been – always will be.  These people made a choice to disobey God’s law.  They now will have to face the consequences as they call on the mercy of God.  Sin always carries a price.  The only hope is that God’s mercy will be unleashed

Ezra 8

Ezra 8 begins with a list of men who were heads of houses and accompanied Ezra from Babylon.  There was quite a list of people that made the trip, but as he took the census Ezra discovered there were none along who were Levites.  So he sends for “leading men….who were men of insight”.  Ezra knows the Levites were special in God’s kingdom and he wanted them along so he sends some of his men to request that they “send us ministers for the house of our God”.

So they came and Ezra “proclaimed a fast there….that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods”.  Ezra knows the path ahead is not going to be easy and would be filled with enemy interference.  Ezra was ashamed to ask the king for protection since he had told him earlier that God’s hand was all he needed to protect him.  So he didn’t want to now come running asking for a band of soldiers to accompany them.  Rather he has the people seek God.  “We fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty”.

And God is faithful as He always is.  They took off carrying all sorts of gold and silver and other valuables – a real target for their enemies.  Ezra split the valuables between twelve men who carried it carefully to Jerusalem.  God took care of them.  “The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way”.  God didn’t use force – He used His power to lead them safely to the city.  He is able, more than able, to meet every need we have.

They came into Jerusalem and took the gold and silver and vessels to the temple.  The priests weighed the items that were brought and all the weights added up.  There was obviously potential for some of the treasure to disappear along the way before being brought to the temple, but obviously Ezra selected trustworthy men.  They sacrifice and worship and brought money and messages from the king to the governors there.  But most of all, “they aided the people and the house of God”.  They were ministers of the gospel and focused on helping people and serving God.

Ezra 7

Ezra 7 has Artaxerxes on the throne.  “Ezra….was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses….and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him:.  Quite a position of honor and respect – the king gives Ezra whatever he wants.  But he goes further.  Not only what Ezra wants and needs, but he also lets any people go too.  “I make a decree that anyone of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you”.

He is sent by the king to go check out Judah and Jerusalem and is given any resources he needs – including all the money he wants.  “With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs….and you shall offer them on the altar”.  Pretty big order, but no limitations on the funding.  The king even gives more freedom.  “Whatever seems good to you and your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God”.  This is pretty wide open.  Ezra has lots of rope.

The king also sends a letter notifying everyone to do what Ezra says.  “Whatever Ezra….requires of you, let it be done with all diligence. Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons”.  This is CYA kind of thinking.  The king wants to keep God happy, and knows Ezra is his main way to make that happen.  So he basically writes a blank check and sends him on his way to return to Jerusalem and worship God.

But the king even gives him more power – to “appoint magistrates and judges….those who do not know them, you shall teach”.  It is one thing to give away your money, but now the king is giving away power.  And Ezra is told “whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on him”.  No mercy, no room to disobey.  The king wants Ezra in charge of keeping the people on the straight and narrow in obedience to God.  You disobey, you die.  Ezra “gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me”.  He pulled together his team and heads off.

Ezra 6

Ezra 6 has king Darius making a search for the historic records that Tattenai had asked about.  And “a scroll was found….Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt”.  That was what the elders of Judah had hoped for – that the edict would be found and they would be able to continue building.  Darius sends this word to Tattenai and others of his oversight team there: “keep away. Let the work on this house of God alone”.

That was a God thing in and of itself.  But Darius goes much further.  “Let the gold and silver vessels….be restored and brought back to the temple”.  So all the items that had been taken previously were to come back.  But wait, there’s more good news.  This rebuilding project was no small task.  Darius gives this additional good news.  “The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue”.  Not only was the project approved, the items were to be restored, and the costs of the workers were to be covered.  That’s more than an answer to prayer.  It’s a miracle of huge magnitude.

Darius does have a bit of a selfish motive.  He wants it completed “that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons”.  Might as well get some significant benefit out of the deal.  But he goes on to make it clear just how much he is supporting this effort.  It isn’t a little push.  He is dead serious.  “I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill”.  Don’t mess with Darius’ direction here.  It will be fatal.

Quite a change from being told to stop the project and build no more.  The elders made an appeal and trusted God to take action.  As a result of that appeal, God moved and “the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah”.  The project was completed rather quickly and they sacrificed and celebrated together.  God had taken action in their circumstances and given them reason to celebrate!  “The Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God”.

Ezra 5

Ezra 5 has the people of God going forward with the work of rebuilding the temple.  God sends prophets to help get things started again.  “Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah….prophesied to the Jews”.  The prophets come and rebuke the people.  Haggai’s words are recorded in the book that carries his name, but he tells them to get to work.  The people were content to let the cause of the Lord suffer at the expense of their comfort. So “Zerubbabel….and Jeshua….arose and began to rebuild the house of God”.

But it didn’t go unnoticed.  ““Tattenai the governor….came to them and spoke….Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure”?  He and his companions wanted to know why the work of building both the temple and the wall had resumed.  But he is more reasonable that previous rulers, and listens to the request to send a letter to the king to get his take on what was happening.  He asked to speak to the elders who were in charge, and they shared the names.  But God was with them.

“The eye of their God was on the elders….they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius”.  These folks were believing in the word from the prophets to continue building.  They knew it wasn’t approved by the king or man, but it was God’s desire.  So they continued.  And when Tattenai asked them why, they had clarity in their response.  “We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago”.  This is God’s idea and they are committed to accomplishing it.

They ask Tattenai to seek the kings direction regarding the decree made earlier by Cyrus.  Tattenai sends a letter that seems to fairly represent their story. “Therefore, if it seems good to the king, let search be made in the royal archives there in Babylon, to see whether a decree was issued by Cyrus the king for the rebuilding of this house of God”.  Tattenai asked King Darius to research the matter, to determine if the rebuilding of temple and Jerusalem was royally sanctioned.

Ezra 4

Ezra 4 has a big change of events.  “When the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple….let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do”.  The enemies weren’t truly offering to help.  They wanted to infiltrate and stop the building.  But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the leadership saw right through the ploy.  “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord”.  So this first attempt to derail the project doesn’t work.

But they don’t give up.  They used some different tactics:

  • the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build
  • bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose
  • wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah

But these didn’t work.  The work continued and the enemies of Judah and Jerusalem know they have to stop things before the walls are rebuilt.  So they go political and reach out to the king.

They decide to send a letter to the king that painted a picture that allowing the rebuilding to continue will yield a bad situation for the king based on history.  The letter said “They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city….this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired….it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor….You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city”.  It was a warning that if the king doesn’t intervene, bad things will come.

Artaxerxes the king bites hook line and sinker.  He tells his representatives to “make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me….and take care not to be slack in this matter”.  Not only putting a stop to the project, but instructing that to happen sooner than later.  He was afraid of the potential that a rebuilt Jerusalem would have to his future.  And as a result, “the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped”.  Big detour on the plan to rebuild God’s temple and city.

Ezra 3

Ezra 3 has Jeshua and Zerubbabel stepping up to lead the charge to “built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it”. Scripture tells us it happened in the seventh month.  This was an important month on the spiritual calendar of Israel. In the seventh month they celebrated the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Trumpets, and the Feast of Tabernacles. “The people gathered as one man to Jerusalem”.  This was an encouraging sign of obedience among the returned exiles. In a time of small resources and great work to be done, they took the time and money to observe the commands to gather in Jerusalem for the major feasts.

Jeshua and Zerubbabel were the two main leaders in this rebuilding project, beginning their work with building the altar that stood outside the temple on the temple mount in Jerusalem. “The foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid”.  Long before they could rebuild the temple, they wisely started with building the altar for burnt offerings and other sacrifices. But once that was in place, they began to work on the temple itself.

  1. They built the altar first because it something they could do relatively quickly and easily.
  2. They built the altar first because they understood its spiritual significance.
  3. They built the altar first because it was an act of obedience to do so.

So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea”.  Once the work of restoration began at the altar of sacrifice, they followed through by assembling and hiring the workers they needed to build the temple.  This shows that they used Gentile money to purchase the supplies (from Gentile Lebanon) to build the second temple.  Cyrus not only authorized the building but also helped fund it as well.

They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the Lord”.  This was a full team effort.  All hands on deck were needed as it was a huge task.  They made progress and as they did, they didn’t forget to stop and worship the Lord.  “They sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever”.  It was a joyful occasion. Since the destruction of the temple under the Babylonian conquest there had been no proper place for sacrifice and worship for the people of Israel.  They shouted praise to God for His goodness and blessing!

Ezra 2

Ezra 2 contains the list of the families and individuals who made the return to Judah and Jerusalem, now that it was a province of the Persian Empire.  There are eleven names here, but Nehemiah’s copy of the list preserves one more, so one may have been lost during translation or copying of the book.  “They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town”.  Zerubbabel was the appointed governor over the province of Judah. He was also a descendent of the last reigning Judean king.

This list names the heads of families, with the numbers of the men of those families. It means that the total number of people would be more, because they are listed and counted by heads of families.  There are some discrepancies in the numbers from here in Ezra to the list in Nehemiah.  Commentaries say that in Nehemiah they were only six hundred and fifty-two. Here in Ezra it seems seven hundred and seventy-five marched out of Babylon, or gave in their names that they would go; but some of them likely died, others changed their minds, others were hindered by sickness, or other casualties, happening to themselves or their near relations; and so there came only six hundred and fifty-two to Jerusalem.

Many of the listed had names that were a result of the practice of giving Babylonian or Persian names to Jews in captivity.  The names and meanings are certainly different the biblical names that had been prevalent.  Ezra also lists the priest and Levites returning from exile.  Only four of the twenty-four divisions of the priesthood established by King David are included here. Most of the priests stayed behind in Babylon.  The total number of Levites was actually less than the number of priests that returned. This means that a remarkably small percentage of the Levites returned from Babylon.

The chapter ends with a summary of the returning exiles.  The size of this entire group is here stated to be about 50,000. However, this was only the first wave to return from the Babylonian captivity and includes only the heads of families. The approximate total of the returned exiles was probably somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000.  Many remained in Babylon, being unwilling to leave their possessions.  After two generations in exile, there was again a substantial presence of Jewish people in the land that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is a wonderful fulfillment of God’s promise to bring Israel back from exile.

Ezra 1

Ezra 1 has Cyrus taking the throne in Persia “that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled”.  God gave the Persian king a sense of urgency about rebuilding the house of the Lord and the walls of Jerusalem.  It happens in his first year as king, not down the road in his reign.

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom”.  Cyrus made a decree giving the Jewish exiles in his empire the right to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.

Cyrus has a special place in God’s plan here.  Cyrus says God “has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem”.  That’s a pretty bold proclamation.  It is a remarkable recognition of God’s hand upon his life.  He knew God had a plan for him to achieve.  It’s a call similar to the one David received and Solomon fulfilled, to go and build the temple of the Lord.  So he calls on the people to return from exile and be part of the rebuilding of their land.

Only a small percentage decided to return from exile; but those who did needed the encouragement to know they were making a valuable contribution to God’s work.  Though the returning exiles were a minority, they were a spirit-stirred minority. They were dedicated to the difficult and discouraging task of returning to a ruined city.  It was essential that God move the spirits of these returning exiles, because they faced many difficulties:

  • The journey itself was long, dangerous, and expensive.
  • They returned to a city in ruins without proper homes, roads, or support systems.
  • They didn’t have all the resources they needed.
  • They didn’t all return to Jerusalem but spread out over the province of Judea.
  • They had many enemies.
  • Their land was actually the possession of another people.

Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away”.  When Jerusalem was conquered the remaining treasures of the temple were taken to Babylon.  Now those things are being returned.  They were carefully listed and managed by Sheshbazzar who was the prince of Judah.  They were valuable and it shows the generosity of Cyrus as he returns the treasures of God’s house after they had been lying in a heathen temple for the last two generations.  God has a plan that Cyrus is fulfilling!

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