651.) Nehemiah 1

October 31, 2011

Nehemiah 1   (NRSV)

Nehemiah Prays for His People

Some 1,000 years after the time of Moses and some 400 years before the birth of Jesus, the nation of Israel and the Jewish people were in a desperate state.  Their nations were destroyed — first the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel and then the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah.  The city of Jerusalem was completely conquered by the Babylonians and the once-glorious temple of Solomon was destroyed.

When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they deported almost everyone from the city and the region, and for some 70 years, Jerusalem was a ghost town, with the potential to end up like many ancient cities — completely forgotten except to history.

When the Jews were deported to Babylon, they began to make homes for themselves there. They settled down, and many still followed the God of their Fathers, but they did it from Babylon, with no desire to return to the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Some of these faithful Jews were raised up to places of prominence in the governments they were deported to. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego became leaders in Babylon; Esther was made queen in the courts of a Persian king.

But after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, they were given the opportunity to return to their homeland, the Promised Land.  Out of the some two or three million Jews deported from the land, only 50,000 decided to return to the Promised Land.  That’s only something like 2%! But they did return, and in the days of Ezra, they rebuilt the temple and laid a spiritual foundation for Israel once again.

The Book of Nehemiah begins 15 years after the Book of Ezra ends, almost 100 years after the first captives came back to the Promised Land, and some 150 years after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed.  After this long time, the walls of the city of Jerusalem were still in rubble.  Before this, citizens of Jerusalem had tried to rebuild the walls but had failed.  In Ezra 4:6-23, we see that some 75 years before they tried to rebuild the walls, but were stopped by their enemies.  No one thought this obstacle could be overcome, so the walls lay in ruin and the people stayed in trouble.

–David Guzik

The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah. In the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capital, 2one of my brothers, Hanani, came with certain men from Judah; and I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem.

Psalm 137:5-6 (New International Version)

If I forget you, Jerusalem,
   may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
   if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
   my highest joy.

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3They replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”

4When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.


5I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments;

Nehemiah praises God for who God is.

6let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. 7We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses.

Nehemiah confesses his sins and the sins of the people.

8Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples; 9but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place at which I have chosen to establish my name.’

Nehemiah holds God to his promises.

10They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great power and your strong hand. 11O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man!”

Nehemiah volunteers to work for God’s purposes.

At the time, I was cupbearer to the king.

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Music:

When singer/songwriter Jodi Lavender Aldredge read Nehemiah’s prayer (Nehemiah 1:5-11), she was moved by his passion and was inspired to put Nehemiah’s prayer into song.

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The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Images courtesy of:
Nehemiah.   http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_fgxC7AODmrc/S3129xP05sI/AAAAAAAAAvw/xPYCktz4cjQ/s400/nehemiah_t.jpg
Pray for the impossible.  http://gbcdecatur.org/files/PrayForTheImpossible.jpg

650.) Psalm 76

October 28, 2011

Psalm 46:9-10 (New International Version) He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 76 (New King James Version)

To the Chief Musician. On stringed instruments.
A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.

1 In Judah God is known;
His name is great in Israel.
2 In Salem also is His tabernacle,
And His dwelling place in Zion.
3 There He broke the arrows of the bow,
The shield and sword of battle.  Selah 


4 You are more glorious and excellent
Than the mountains of prey.
5 The stouthearted were plundered;
They have sunk into their sleep;
And none of the mighty men have found the use of their hands.
6 At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
Both the chariot and horse were cast into a dead sleep.

Exodus 15:1 (New International Version)

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:

   “I will sing to the LORD,
   for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
   he has hurled into the sea.

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7 You, Yourself, are to be feared;
And who may stand in Your presence
When once You are angry?
8 You caused judgment to be heard from heaven;
The earth feared and was still,
9 When God arose to judgment,
To deliver all the oppressed of the earth.  Selah  

Psalm 9:8 (New International Version)

 He rules the world in righteousness
   and judges the peoples with equity.

10 Surely the wrath of man shall praise You;
With the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself.

from Whispers of His Power,
by Amy Carmichael

Ps. 76:4 (Septuagint) — Thou dost wonderfully shine forth from the everlasting mountains.

Ps. 76:10 (Septuagint) — For the inward thought of man shall give thanks to Thee, and the memorial of his inward thought shall keep a feast to Thee.

There is nothing in all creation, and so nothing even in you and me, that can discourage the Lord the Conqueror.  Because He does wonderfully shine forth, therefore our inward thoughts can give thanks and keep a feast to Him.

There are caterpillars with skins so transparent that we can see the green of the leaves they have been fedding on, their “inward thoughts.”  Suppose our minds had transparent skins so that our thoughts could be seen, what would be seen?  Self-loving thoughts?  Self-pitying thoughts?  Lazy thoughts about our work?  Unkind thoughts about others?  Would these be seen?

Or would our happy thoughts be seen keeping a feast to God?  Think of it — all our big thoughts and little thoughts, like big children and little at a birthday party, keeping a feast, singing and praising and being glad because of our loving God!

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11 Make vows to the LORD your God, and pay them;
Let all who are around Him bring presents to Him who ought to be feared.
12 He shall cut off the spirit of princes;
He is awesome to the kings of the earth.

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Music:

“Joy to the World!”  Isaac Watts wrote this famous hymn in 1719, basing the text on Psalm 98.  I think the piece deserves wider play than just the Christmas season!  As we have read now in Psalm 76 and as Watts wrote in his poem, the Lord comes to judge the world and to receive honor and to rule with grace and blessing and peace.  Here is John Rutter’s Handel-esque arrangement, with the Cambridge Singers.

Verse 1

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and angels sing,
And heaven and angels sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and angels sing.

Verse 2

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Verse 3

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Verse 4

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

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New King James Version (NKJV)   Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Images courtesy of:
broken shield.   http://melpyke.com/imgsize.asp?tn=8256_399488&x=250
Ps. 76:4.  http://x65.xanga.com/613e067b03034275365379/z219468092.jpg
Red Sea.   http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-4K2mWOxn9AA/Tl5ZNmkIsAI/AAAAAAAABTA/hOJ-InEdg7E/s400/Egyptians%2Bdrown%2Bto%2Bthe%2BRed%2BSea%2B-%2B%2BGoogle%2BSearch.jpg
birthday party.  http://www.great-birthday-party-ideas.com/image-files/kids-party-ideas.jpg

649.) Ezra 10

October 27, 2011

The Bible tells us: Do not be unequally yoked 🙂 with unbelievers.

Ezra 10 (New Century Version)

The People Confess Sin

1 As Ezra was praying and confessing and crying and throwing himself down in front of the Temple, a large group of Israelite men, women, and children gathered around him who were also crying loudly. 2 Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel the Elamite said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying women from the peoples around us. But even so, there is still hope for Israel.3 Now let us make an agreement before our God. We will send away all these women and their children as you and those who respect the commands of our God advise. Let it be done to obey God’s Teachings.

We can trust that although these women and children were sent out of the Israelite community, God, who is Love, did not abandon them.

4Get up, Ezra. You are in charge, and we will support you. Have courage and do it.”

Joshua 1:7-9 (New International Version)

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

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5 So Ezra got up and made the priests, Levites, and all the people of Israel promise to do what was suggested; and they promised.6 Then Ezra left the Temple and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While Ezra was there, he did not eat or drink, because he was still sad about the unfaithfulness of the captives who had returned.

One Bible commentator has said — “The man who sets himself ‘to seek, to do, to teach’ the law of God invariably brings himself into places where sorrow will be his portion, and intrepid courage necessary.”

7 They sent an order in Judah and Jerusalem for all the captives who had returned to meet together in Jerusalem. 8 Whoever did not come to Jerusalem within three days would lose his property and would no longer be a member of the community of the returned captives. That was the decision of the officers and elders.

9 So within three days all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered in Jerusalem. It was the twentieth day of the ninth month. All the men were sitting in the open place in front of the Temple and were upset because of the meeting and because it was raining.

Ahoghill, Northern Ireland

Ezra 10:9 (English Standard Version)

And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain.

This response has been seen again as the Holy Spirit has moved upon the people of God.  In March of 1859, at the beginning of a great move of God that would bring more than one million souls to conversion in Great Britain, some unordained men with a passion for revival preached at the First Presbyterian Church in Ahoghill, Northern Ireland.  There was such a large crowd at that meeting that they had to dismiss the meeting out of fear that the balconies would collapse under the weight of so many people.  They took the meeting to the street right outside the street, and in the freezing rain James McQuilkin preached to 3,000 people in the streets, with many of the listeners falling to their knees in the wet and muddy street because they were so moved by the conviction of sin under the preaching of these laymen.

–David Guzik

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10 Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and have married non-Jewish women. You have made Israel more guilty.11 Now, confess it to the Lord, the God of your ancestors. Do his will and separate yourselves from the people living around you and from your non-Jewish wives.”

12 Then the whole group answered Ezra with a loud voice, “Ezra, you’re right! We must do what you say.13 But there are many people here, and it’s the rainy season. We can’t stand outside, and this problem can’t be solved in a day or two, because we have sinned badly. 14 Let our officers make a decision for the whole group. Then let everyone in our towns who has married a non-Jewish woman meet with the elders and judges of each town at a planned time, until the hot anger of our God turns away from us.” 15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel, Jahzeiah son of Tikvah, Meshullam, and Shabbethai the Levite were against the plan.

16 So the returned captives did what was suggested. Ezra the priest chose men who were leaders of the family groups and named one from each family division. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to study each case.17 By the first day of the first month, they had finished with all the men who had married non-Jewish women.

The whole process took many weeks, because so many men had taken pagan wives. The questioning was necessary because they needed to examine if one of these wives had genuinely decided to serve the Lord God and to forsake her native religions.

 If the pagan wife had decided to keep her primary allegiance with her former people and their idols, she could not live among the covenant community and had to be divorced.

 To the end of the chapter, there is a list showing that only about 114 of these pagan wives refused to embrace the God of Israel and had to be divorced. Yamauchi calculates that it was less than one-half of one percent of the people who were guilty of this pagan intermarriage and who had to divorce their wives. Though it was such a small percentage, it still had to be dealt with strongly – and it was. It also shows that most of the foreign wives joined the people of God in their heart as well as their home.

–David Guzik

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Music:

“Sweetly Broken”  by Jeremy Riddle.  We all need to face our sins honestly.  Christ will help us do that — and then forgive us.

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Those Guilty of Marrying Non-Jewish Women

18These are the descendants of the priests who had married foreign women:

From the descendants of Jeshua son of Jozadak and Jeshua’s brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah.19 (They all promised to divorce their wives, and each one brought a male sheep from the flock as a penalty offering.)

20 From the descendants of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah.

21 From the descendants of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah.

22 From the descendants of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.

23 Among the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (also called Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.

24 Among the singers: Eliashib.

Among the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem, and Uri.

25 And among the other Israelites, these married non-Jewish women:

From the descendants of Parosh: Ramiah, Izziah, Malkijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malkijah, and Benaiah.

26 From the descendants of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Elijah.

27 From the descendants of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza.

28 From the descendants of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai.

29 From the descendants of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Jeremoth.

30 From the descendants of Pahath-Moab: Adna, Kelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh.

31 From the descendants of Harim: Eliezer, Ishijah, Malkijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon,32 Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah.

33 From the descendants of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei.

34 From the descendants of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel,35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Keluhi,36 Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib,37 Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu.

38 From the descendants of Binnui: Shimei,39 Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah,40 Macnadebai, Shashai, Sharai,41 Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah,42 Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph.

43 From the descendants of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah.

44 All these men had married non-Jewish women, and some of them had children by these wives.

Ezra here disappears from the Biblical record for about thirteen years, when he appears again in the Book of Nehemiah. His passion then was the same as it was at the end of the Book of Ezra: to transform the people of God by bringing them the Word of God.

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New Century Version (NCV)   The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Images courtesy of:
eggs.  http://www.crewchurch.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/yolks.jpg
The task ahead of you . . .   http://glitter69.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/christian-glitter-graphics-a86.gif
Ahoghill, Northern Ireland.   http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/14909176.jpg

648.) Ezra 9

October 26, 2011

"Ezra in prayer" -- engraving by Gustave Dore, 1865. (Coloring added.)

Ezra 9 (New Century Version)

Ezra’s Prayer

1 After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “Ezra, the Israelites, including the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the people around us. Those neighbors do evil things, as the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites did. 2The Israelite men and their sons have married these women. They have mixed the people who belong to God with the people around them. The leaders and officers of Israel have led the rest of the Israelites to do this unfaithful thing.”

The problem is not primarily ethnic.  Rather, it is religious — the Jews have adopted the evil practices, the abominations (as the King James Version puts it) of their neighbors and wives.

Ezra 9:1-2 seems to recall passages from the Law of Moses against intermarriage with the surrounding Canaanite tribes – in particular, Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-4. We may see this conviction of sin on the part of the people and their leaders, and the way that the conviction of sin was phrased, to indicate (spiritually speaking) that Ezra’s arrival to bring the ministry of teaching God’s word was bearing fruit. The people heard the word, looked at their lives, and saw that the two did not match.

–David Guzik

3 When I heard this, I angrily tore my robe and coat, pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat down in shock.4 Everyone who trembled in fear at the word of the God of Israel gathered around me because of the unfaithfulness of the captives who had returned. I sat there in shock until the evening sacrifice.

5 At the evening sacrifice I got up from where I had shown my shame. My robe and coat were torn, and I fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God.

Solomon prayed on his knees (1 Kings 8:54), the Psalmist called us to kneel (Psalm 95:6), Daniel prayed on his knees (Daniel 6:10), people came to Jesus kneeling (Matthew 17:14, Matthew 20:20, Mark 1:40), Stephen prayed on his knees (Acts 7:60), Peter prayed on his knees (Acts 9:40), Paul prayed on his knees (Acts 20:36, Ephesians 3:14), and other early Christians prayed on their knees (Acts 21:5). Most importantly, Jesus prayed on His knees (Luke 22:41). The Bible has enough prayer not on the knees to show us that it isn’t required, but it also has enough prayer onthe knees to show us that it is good.

 Ezra also spread out his hands to the Lord. This was the most common posture of prayer in the Old Testament. Many modern people close their eyes, bow their head, and fold their hands as they pray, but the Old Testament tradition was to spread out the hands toward heaven in a gesture of surrender, openness, and ready reception.

–David Guzik

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6 I prayed,

“My God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are so many. They are higher than our heads. Our guilt even reaches up to the sky.

Ezra had a heart for holiness.  When he found out that God’s people had been faithless in matters of worship and marriage, he tore his clothes, pulled his own hair, and sat in mourning for an entire day. Then at the time of the evening sacrifice he bowed down before God and offered a prayer of confession, in which he numbered himself among the transgressors.

7 From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we, our kings, and our priests have been punished by the sword and captivity. Foreign kings have taken away our things and shamed us, even as it is today.

8 “But now, for a short time, the Lord our God has been kind to us. He has let some of us come back from captivity and has let us live in safety in his holy place. And so our God gives us hope and a little relief from our slavery.

“The Jewish commentator Slotki  observes poignantly: ‘A little grace had been granted by God to his people; a small remnant had found its weary way back to its home and driven a single peg into its soil; a solitary ray of light was shining; a faint breath of freedom lightened their slavery. How graphically Ezra epitomizes Jewish experience in these few words!’”

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9
Even though we are slaves, our God has not left us. He caused the kings of Persia to be kind to us and has given us new life. We can rebuild the Temple and repair its ruins. And he has given us a wall to protect us in Judah and Jerusalem.

10 “But now, our God, what can we say after you have done all this? We have disobeyed your commands11 that you gave through your servants the prophets. You said, ‘The land you are entering to own is ruined; the people living there have spoiled it by the evil they do. Their evil filled the land with uncleanness from one end to the other.12 So do not let your daughters marry their sons, and do not let their daughters marry your sons. Do not wish for their peace or success. Then you will be strong and eat the good things of the land. Then you can leave this land to your descendants forever.’

13 “What has happened to us is our own fault. We have done evil things, and our guilt is great. But you, our God, have punished us less than we deserve; you have left a few of us alive.14 We should not again break your commands by allowing marriages with these wicked people. If we did, you would get angry enough to destroy us, and none of us would be left alive.15 Lord, God of Israel, by your goodness a few of us are left alive today. We admit that we are guilty and none of us should be allowed to stand before you.”

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Music:

“Nothing in my hands I bring — simply to thy cross I cling.”  No excuses, no justifications, no spin — just confession.

“I Lay My Sins on Jesus” — and for that, we praise the Lord.

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New Century Version (NCV)   The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Images courtesy of:
Dore.   http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/bible-images/hires/Ezra-Chapter-9-Ezra-Kneels-in-Prayer.jpg
praying on her knees.   http://agodlywoman.org/images/Kneeling_Prayer_Silhouette-330×600.png
verse 8.    http://revivingremnants.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/ezra9-8.jpg

647.) Ezra 8

October 25, 2011

At least when they packed to travel, they didn't have weight limits on their bags or size limits on their liquids!

Ezra 8 (New Century Version)

Leaders Who Returned with Ezra

1These are the leaders of the family groups and those who were listed with them who came back with me from Babylon during the rule of King Artaxerxes.

One Bible commentator has said, “There was little at Jerusalem to attract a new expedition; for the glamour which had surrounded the first return, with a son of David at its head, had faded in grievous disappointments; and the second series of pilgrims had to carry with them the torch with which to rekindle the flames of devotion.”

2 From the descendants of Phinehas: Gershom.

From the descendants of Ithamar: Daniel.

From the descendants of David: Hattush3 of the descendants of Shecaniah.

From the descendants of Parosh: Zechariah, with one hundred fifty men.

4 From the descendants of Pahath-Moab: Eliehoenai son of Zerahiah, with two hundred men.

5 From the descendants of Zattu: Shecaniah son of Jahaziel, with three hundred men.

6 From the descendants of Adin: Ebed son of Jonathan, with fifty men.

7 From the descendants of Elam: Jeshaiah son of Athaliah, with seventy men.

8 From the descendants of Shephatiah: Zebadiah son of Michael, with eighty men.

9 From the descendants of Joab: Obadiah son of Jehiel, with two hundred eighteen men.

10 From the descendants of Bani: Shelomith son of Josiphiah, with one hundred sixty men.

11 From the descendants of Bebai: Zechariah son of Bebai, with twenty-eight men.

12 From the descendants of Azgad: Johanan son of Hakkatan, with one hundred ten men.

13 From the descendants of Adonikam, these were the last ones: Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, with sixty men.

14 From the descendants of Bigvai: Uthai and Zaccur, with seventy men.

Adding the counts of the male members of the group together, there was a total count of at least 1,496 men in the group. Adding an estimated number of women and children (Ezra 8:21), we can surmise that the total number of the party coming with Ezra in the days of King Artaxerxes was something like between 6,000 to 7,000 people.

–David Guzik

The Return to Jerusalem

15 I called all those people together at the canal that flows toward Ahava,

I did not realize the Ahava company has been in business such a long time!

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where we camped for three days. I checked all the people and the priests, but I did not find any Levites.

Ezra needed Levites.  They were the “worker bees” of the temple.  So he plans to recruit some.

16 So I called these leaders: Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And I called Joiarib and Elnathan, who were teachers.17 I sent these men to Iddo, the leader at Casiphia, and told them what to say to Iddo and his relatives, who are the Temple servants in Casiphia. I sent them to bring servants to us for the Temple of our God.18 Our God was helping us, so Iddo’s relatives gave us Sherebiah, a wise man from the descendants of Mahli son of Levi, who was the son of Israel. And they brought Sherebiah’s sons and brothers, for a total of eighteen men.19 And they brought to us Hashabiah and Jeshaiah from the descendants of Merari, and his brothers and nephews. In all there were twenty men.20They also brought two hundred twenty of the Temple servants, a group David and the officers had set up to help the Levites. All of those men were listed by name.

21 There by the Ahava Canal, I announced we would all fast and deny ourselves before our God. We would ask God for a safe trip for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road. We had said to the king, “Our God helps everyone who obeys him, but he is very angry with all who reject him.”

They needed protection because the danger was real. There was a constant threat of robbers and bandits, especially because they were transporting so many valuables. Yet because of their dependence on God, expressed through prayer and fasting, God protected them.

“Thus we see that this good man had more anxiety for the glory of God than for his own personal safety.”

— Adam Clarke

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23 So we fasted and prayed to our God about our trip, and he answered our prayers.

24 Then I chose twelve of the priests who were leaders, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their relatives.25 I weighed the offering of silver and gold and the utensils given for the Temple of our God, and I gave them to the twelve priests I had chosen. The king, the people who advised him, his officers, and all the Israelites there with us had given these things for the Temple.26 I weighed out and gave them about fifty thousand pounds of silver, about seventy-five hundred pounds of silver objects, and about seventy-five hundred pounds of gold.27 I gave them twenty gold bowls that weighed about nineteen pounds and two fine pieces of polished bronze that were as valuable as gold.

These are enormous amounts of treasure!  And these priests are to responsible for all of it on a long journey, facing robbers or bandits . . .

28 Then I said to the priests, “You and these utensils belong to the Lord for his service. The silver and gold are gifts to the Lord, the God of your ancestors.29 Guard these things carefully. In Jerusalem, weigh them in front of the leading priests, Levites, and the leaders of the family groups of Israel in the rooms of the Temple of the Lord.”30 So the priests and Levites accepted the silver, the gold, and the utensils that had been weighed to take them to the Temple of our God in Jerusalem.

31 On the twelfth day of the first month we left the Ahava Canal and started toward Jerusalem. Our God helped us and protected us from enemies and robbers along the way.32 Finally we arrived in Jerusalem where we rested three days.

A four month journey from Babylonia to Jerusalem.

33 On the fourth day we weighed out the silver, the gold, and the utensils in the Temple of our God. We handed them to the priest Meremoth son of Uriah. Eleazar son of Phinehas was with him, as were the Levites Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui.34 We checked everything by number and by weight, and the total weight was written down.

35 Then the captives who returned made burnt offerings to the God of Israel. They sacrificed twelve bulls for all Israel,

This is moving.  Although officially only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remain, they offer sacrifices for all twelve tribes.

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ninety-six male sheep, and seventy-seven lambs. For a sin offering there were twelve male goats. All this was a burnt offering to the Lord.36 They took King Artaxerxes’ orders to the royal officers and to the governors of Trans-Euphrates. Then these men gave help to the people and the Temple of God.

This reminds us of the great purpose of Ezra’s expedition. In the final two chapters we will see Ezra administering strict correction as a reformer; but he did not come primarily as a disciplinarian. He came to give support to the people and the house of God, and only dealt with the problems of sin and compromise as necessary in the course of this greater goal.

–David Guzik

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Music:

“O, God, Our Help in Ages Past” sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.  Pieces of Bach’s “St. Anne” fugue open and close the vocal portion.  I am sorry that they didn’t record the whole of the Bach piece!

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New Century Version (NCV)   The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Images courtesy of:
luggage.   http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2009/08/03/article-1203999-05EF9803000005DC-609_470x288.jpg
Ahava.   http://www.hudpleieogmakeup.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Ahava1.jpg
Stick ’em up!    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_5BV_YADVD7o/TNhSdaAoxMI/AAAAAAAAE88/obYna8xzeuE/s1600/Stick+Em+Up.jpg
12.   http://www.freefoto.com/images/2000/12/2000_12_1—Number-Twelve_web.jpg

646.) Ezra 7

October 24, 2011

Ezra taught the Bible to the Israelites.

Ezra 7 (New Century Version)

Ezra Comes to Jerusalem

1 After these things during the rule of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra came up from Babylon. Ezra was the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah,2 the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub,3 the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth,4 the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki,5 the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the high priest.6 This Ezra came to Jerusalem from Babylon. He was a teacher and knew well the Teachings of Moses that had been given by the Lord, the God of Israel.

Here we are introduced to Ezra, and we read that he came from a long line of priests, going all the way back to Aaron himself, the first high priest.  We also learn that Ezra was living among the exiles in Babylon and that he “was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6).  Ezra had worked to gain knowledge of the Word of God. In fact, the rabbis considered him second only to Moses.  Ezra was skilled in the Scriptures, which in his day referred to the Pentateuch.  He was both called and equipped to serve as Israel’s priest.

Ezra received everything he asked for from the king, because the Lord his God was helping him.7In the seventh year of King Artaxerxes more Israelites came to Jerusalem. Among them were priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and Temple servants.

8 Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of Artaxerxes’ seventh year as king.9 Ezra had left Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, because God was helping him.10 Ezra had worked hard to know and obey the Teachings of the Lord and to teach his rules and commands to the Israelites.

Ezra 7:10 (English Standard Version)

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

This verse is one of the Bible’s best summaries of what it means to be a faithful servant of God’s Word. It is a wonderful verse for pastors, for seminary students, for theology professors—really, it is a wonderful verse for everyone. I know this from experience because I embraced this verse early in my time at seminary. I wrote it out on a note card and tucked it into the little Bible I carried in my briefcase. From time to time I would pull it out and meditate on it or pray over it. Over time, God used it to shape my understanding of what it meant to be a student and a teacher, a husband and a pastor. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he can use it to shape your life and ministry, too.

The logic of this verse is impeccable. There were three things that Ezra was committed to doing, and he had them in the proper order, like “A-B-C” or “1-2-3.” In fact, Ezra had them in the only order that makes any sense: he had his heart set on studying, doing, and teaching the Word of God. This was his heart commitment, the direction of his life, the settled intention of his soul.

Start with studying. Before we can do what God wants us to do, or teach anyone else what God wants them to do, we need to know what God wants us to do, and that means studying God’s Word. Ezra had committed himself to doing that. We do not know his study habits, but we know that he was skilled in the Law of Moses. His “delight was in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditated day and night” (Ps 1:2). Since he was raised in a family of priests, he had studied the Scriptures from his earliest childhood. He undoubtedly spent hours each day reading the Bible, pondering its meaning, and discussing its implications with other students and scholars. In those days, a scribe of Ezra’s stature would have committed large portions of Scripture to memory. The unrelenting ambition of his life was to know the Word of God.

But Ezra did not stop there. He did not want merely to learn the Bible; he wanted to live it. So the Scripture says that he set his heart to do the law that he had studied. This meant loving the Lord his God with all his strength and loving his neighbor as himself. It meant keeping the Ten Commandments. It meant following all the regulations for priestly holiness and public worship. It meant doing everything he could to live by God’s law. Ezra understood that the only true theology is applied theology. I am reminded of the parishioner who met the preacher at the door after the service and said, “Pastor, that was a wonderful sermon.” To which the pastor replied, “Well, that remains to be seen, doesn’t it?” This was Ezra’s approach exactly. What good is it to study the Bible, unless we also live by it?

Then there was a third step: teaching God’s statutes and rules in Israel. He wanted to reach his entire nation with the Word of God. He saw that he had a responsibility to the wider spiritual community. It was his calling and privilege to spend long periods of time studying God’s Word. But this was not for his benefit alone; it was for the edification of the people of God. Eventually God granted Ezra his heart’s desire. When he read the Book of the Law to all the people in Jerusalem, he was teaching God’s statutes and rules in Israel–the Bible teacher for the kingdom.

Bear in mind that this is the goal of all your studies. You do not study God’s Word only for your own benefit, but for the sake of others. The knowledge you gain is a sacred trust that God has given you in order that you might give it away. So set your heart to study the Word of God, and to do it, and to teach it to wherever God calls you.

–Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, former Senior Minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, now President of Wheaton College in Illinois

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Artaxerxes’ Letter to Ezra

11 King Artaxerxes had given a letter to Ezra, a priest and teacher who taught about the commands and laws the Lord gave Israel. This is a copy of the letter:

12 From Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven.

Greetings.
13 Now I give this order: Any Israelite in my kingdom who wishes may go with you to Jerusalem, including priests and Levites.14 Ezra, you are sent by the king and the seven people who advise him to ask how Judah and Jerusalem are obeying the Law of your God, which you are carrying with you.15 Also take with you the silver and gold that the king and those who advise him have given freely to the God of Israel, whose Temple is in Jerusalem.16 Also take the silver and gold you receive from the area of Babylon. Take the offerings the Israelites and their priests have given as gifts for the Temple of your God in Jerusalem.17 With this money buy bulls, male sheep, and lambs, and the grain offerings and drink offerings that go with those sacrifices. Then sacrifice them on the altar in the Temple of your God in Jerusalem.

18 You and your fellow Jews may spend the silver and gold left over as you want and as God wishes.19 Take to the God of Jerusalem all the utensils for worship in the Temple of your God,20 which we have given you. Use the royal treasury to pay for anything else you need for the Temple of your God.

21 Now I, King Artaxerxes, give this order to all the men in charge of the treasury of Trans-Euphrates: Give Ezra, a priest and a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, whatever he asks for.22 Give him up to seventy-five hundred pounds of silver, six hundred bushels of wheat, six hundred gallons of wine, and six hundred gallons of olive oil. And give him as much salt as he wants.23 Carefully give him whatever the God of heaven wants for the Temple of the God of heaven. We do not want God to be angry with the king and his sons.24 Remember, you must not make these people pay taxes of any kind: priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, Temple servants, and other workers in this Temple of God.

25 And you, Ezra, use the wisdom you have from your God to choose judges and lawmakers to rule the Jewish people of Trans-Euphrates. They know the laws of your God, and you may teach anyone who does not know them.26 Whoever does not obey the law of your God or of the king must be punished. He will be killed, or sent away, or have his property taken away, or be put in jail.

27 Praise the Lord, the God of our ancestors. He caused the king to want to honor the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.

Proverbs 21:1 (New International Version)

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD;
he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

28 The Lord has shown me, Ezra, his love in the presence of the king, those who advise the king, and the royal officers. Because the Lord my God was helping me, I had courage, and I gathered the leaders of Israel to return with me.

Ezra had the will to lead.

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Music:

It has been a long haul for these Israelites.  They know the story — how God chose them, out of His goodness, to be His people, and gave them the Law and kings and prophets and priests.  And how they disobeyed so intentionally and constantly that God had to send them out into exile, for they were unworthy, unteachable, unreachable.  And here, wonder of wonders, God in His lovingkindness calls them back to Himself and to Jerusalem.

Michael W. Smith and “Never Been Unloved.”

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New Century Version (NCV)   The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Images courtesy of:
Ezra teaching the Law.   http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-2N7qzgSPb2Y/TdEfFNwzCrI/AAAAAAAABT8/ulONox2mv-o/s1600/Ezra.jpg
reading the Bible.    http://biblestudyjames.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/student_reading_bible-Study-James.jpg

645.) Proverbs 16

October 21, 2011

Proverbs 16 (New International Version)

 1 To humans belong the plans of the heart,
but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue.

2 All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the LORD.

from Experiencing God Day-by-Day,
by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby

GOD WEIGHS YOUR MOTIVES

How quick we are to question the motives of others, yet we are so slow to question our own!  When others harm us, we may assume the worst of intentions.  When we are guilty, we often excuse our offenses, concluding that others are far too sensitive!  Regardless of how we monitor our motives, God weighs them in His scales of righteousness.  It is futile to try to deceive God with our pious justifications, for He sees our hearts.

Is it possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason?  Of course!  You can attend worship services with a heart that is far from worshipful (Isaiah 1:10-17).  Could you show concern for the poor and yet have a heart that is opposed to God?  Judas did (John 12:4-8).  Could you make bold statements of love for Christ and actually be aiding the work of Satan?  Peter did (Matthew 16:21-23).  Could you offer sacrifices to God and be in total disobedience to Him?  King Saul did (1 Samuel 13:8-9).  Could you pray with the wrong motives?  James said you can (James 4:3).

Many things cause us to do what we do.  We can be motivated by good things, such as love for God, compassion, generosity, and faith.  Or our actions can come from unhealthy motives such as pride, insecurity, ambition, lust, greed, guilt, anger, fear, and hurt.  It is even possible to do the best things based on the worst motives.  When the Lord measures our motives He looks for one thing:  love.  All that we do should proceed from our love for God and for others (1 Corinthians 13).  Take time to look past your actions to what lies behind them.  Ask God to show you what He sees when He examines your motives.

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3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.

4 The LORD works out everything to its proper end—
even the wicked for a day of disaster.

5 The LORD detests all the proud of heart.
Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.

When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package.
~ John Ruskin

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6 Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for;
through the fear of the LORD evil is avoided.

7 When the LORD takes pleasure in anyone’s way,
he causes their enemies to make peace with them.

8 Better a little with righteousness
than much gain with injustice.

1 Timothy 6:6   (ESV)

Godliness with contentment is great gain.

9 In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the LORD establishes their steps.

There is a phrase in Jewish oral tradition that says, “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.”  The idea was that if a disciple walked behind his rabbi on the dusty roads, he would get covered in his dust.  In other words, you were following him so closely, to be so much like him, that you were glorified to be covered with the dust he left behind. That is how close a disciple wanted to be to his rabbi.  That is how the Lord can establish our steps.

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10 The lips of a king speak as an oracle,
and his mouth does not betray justice.

11 Honest scales and balances belong to the LORD;
all the weights in the bag are of his making.

12 Kings detest wrongdoing,
for a throne is established through righteousness.

13 Kings take pleasure in honest lips;
they value the one who speaks what is right.

14 A king’s wrath is a messenger of death,
but the wise will appease it.

15 When a king’s face brightens, it means life;
his favor is like a rain cloud in spring.

16 How much better to get wisdom than gold,
to get insight rather than silver!

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Music:

1 Corinthians 1:30 (New Living Translation) says,  God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself.  So when we have Jesus, we get his wisdom.  And his truth, for he is the truth (and the way and the life).  And his peace, for he is the Prince of peace.  And his love, for God is love.  He is all we need, for all eternity.  “Give Me Jesus”  by Fernando Ortega.

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17 The highway of the upright avoids evil;
those who guard their ways preserve their lives.

18 Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.

Jesus Christ is a God whom we approach without pride, and before whom we humble ourselves without despair.
~ Blaise Pascal

19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.

20 Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,
and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.

21 The wise in heart are called discerning,
and gracious words promote instruction.

22 Prudence is a fountain of life to the prudent,
but folly brings punishment to fools.

23 The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent,
and their lips promote instruction.

24 Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

“That buzzing-noise means something. If there’s a buzzing noise, somebody’s making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you’re a bee. …. And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey….. And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it.”  So he began to climb the tree.

–Winnie the Pooh

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25 There is a way that appears to be right,
but in the end it leads to death.

26 The appetite of laborers works for them;
their hunger drives them on.

27 A scoundrel plots evil,
and on their lips it is like a scorching fire.

James 3:6 (New Living Translation)

And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

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28 A perverse person stirs up conflict,
and a gossip separates close friends.

29 A violent person entices their neighbor
and leads them down a path that is not good.

30 Whoever winks with their eye is plotting perversity;
whoever purses their lips is bent on evil.

31 Gray hair is a crown of splendor;
it is attained in the way of righteousness.

A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old.  It is easy to love children.  Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children.  But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.

–Abraham J. Heschel

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32 Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

33 The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.

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New International Version (NIV)   Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica

Images courtesy of:
Proverbs 16:3.  http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-AeLAKdA9VPc/TfoWt3lKfOI/AAAAAAAAF4s/irhfeoqEb_I/s1600/proverbs+16+3.jpg
Power . . . and other motives.    http://uploads.ronitbaras.com/2010/09/image9.png
small package.    http://www.visualphotos.com/photo/2×4315943/man_holding_out_small_gift_box_focus_on_foreground_faa036000175.jpg
feet.   http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-7dAPXD4kC1M/TcR53VaYLeI/AAAAAAAACto/9YecAMc5OLE/s1600/jesusfeet3.jpg
truth.   http://propheticalert.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/the-truth-will-set-you-free.jpg
Proverbs 16:20.   http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_6iifp1LS9ng/TOKcFtsAWyI/AAAAAAAAAJI/kGVZdxeE0Z0/s1600/proverbs16_20.jpg
Winnie the Pooh.    http://xlithiumx.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/winnie_the_pooh.jpg
tongue on fire.    http://files.blog-city.com/files/J05/86734/p/f/burn_mouth.jpg
old man.  http://www.southglos.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/E797C0DC-10E4-413F-855B-86A02D1A23A2/0/000001559675web.jpg