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.”

_________________________

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

_________________________

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

_________________________

Music:

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

_________________________

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.

_________________________

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

_________________________

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!’”

_________________________


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.”

_________________________

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.

_________________________

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!

_________________________

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

_________________________

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.

_________________________

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

_________________________

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!

_________________________

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

_________________________

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.

_________________________

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.”

_________________________

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

605.) Ezra 6

August 26, 2011

“For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling.” –Psalm 132:13

Ezra 6 (New Century Version)

The Order of Darius

1 So King Darius gave an order to search the records kept in the treasury in Babylon. 2 A scroll was found in Ecbatana, the capital city of Media.

This is what was written on it:

Note:

 3 King Cyrus gave an order about the Temple of God in Jerusalem in the first year he was king. This was the order:

    “Let the Temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices. Let its foundations be laid; it should be ninety feet high and ninety feet wide. 4 It must have three layers of large stones and then one layer of timbers. The costs should be paid from the king’s treasury.5 The gold and silver utensils from the Temple of God should be put back in their places. Nebuchadnezzar took them from the Temple in Jerusalem and brought them to Babylon, but they are to be put back in the Temple of God in Jerusalem.”

Other similar letters dealing with permission to rebuild subject peoples’ temples have been found among ancient Aramaic papyri.

 6 Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, Shethar-Bozenai, and all the officers of that area, stay away from there. 7 Do not bother the work on that Temple of God. Let the governor of the Jewish people and the Jewish elders rebuild this Temple where it was before.

 8 Also, I order you to do this for those elders of the Jewish people who are building this Temple: The cost of the building is to be fully paid from the royal treasury, from taxes collected from Trans-Euphrates. Do this so the work will not stop. 9 Give those people anything they need—young bulls, male sheep, or lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, or wheat, salt, wine, or olive oil. Give the priests in Jerusalem anything they ask for every day without fail.10 Then they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven, and they may pray for the life of the king and his sons.

 11 Also, I give this order: If anyone changes this order, a wood beam is to be pulled from his house and driven through his body.

Impalement was a common form of execution in ancient Persia; I will spare you the pictures and statues!

Because of his crime, make his house a pile of ruins.12 God has chosen Jerusalem as the place he is to be worshiped. May he punish any king or person who tries to change this order and destroy this Temple.

    I, Darius, have given this order. Let it be obeyed quickly and carefully.

Completion of the Temple

13 So, Tattenai, the governor of Trans-Euphrates, Shethar-Bozenai, and their fellow workers carried out King Darius’ order quickly and carefully. 14 The Jewish elders continued to build and were successful because of the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the Temple as the God of Israel had commanded and as kings Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes of Persia had ordered. 15The Temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar in the sixth year Darius was king.

16 Then the people of Israel celebrated and gave the Temple to God to honor him. Everybody was happy: the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the Jewish people who had returned from captivity.17 They gave the Temple to God by offering a hundred bulls, two hundred male sheep, and four hundred lambs as sacrifices. And as an offering to forgive the sins of all Israel, they offered twelve male goats, one goat for each tribe in Israel.18 Then they put the priests and the Levites into their separate groups. Each group had a certain time to serve God in the Temple at Jerusalem as it is written in the Book of Moses.

Here in this place, new light is streaming
now is the darkness vanished away,
see, in this space, our fears and our dreamings,
brought here to you in the light of this day.

Gather us in the lost and forsaken
gather us in the blind and the lame;
call to us now, and we shall awaken
we shall arise at the sound of our name.

We are the young — our lives are a mystery
we are the old — who yearns for your face.
we have been sung throughout all of history
called to be light to the whole human race.

Gather us in the rich and the haughty
gather us in the proud and the strong
give us a heart so meek and so lowly
give us the courage to enter the song.

Here we will take the wine and the water
here we will take the bread of new birth
here you shall call your sons and your daughters
call us anew to be salt of the earth.

Give us to drink the wine of compassion
give us to eat the bread that is you
nourish us well and teach us to fashion
lives that are holy and hearts that are true.

–Marty Haugen

_________________________

The Passover Is Celebrated

19 The Jewish people who returned from captivity celebrated the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.20 The priests and Levites had made themselves clean. Then the Levites killed the Passover lambs for all the people who had returned from captivity, for their relatives the priests, and for themselves.21 So all the people of Israel who returned from captivity ate the Passover lamb. So did the people who had given up the unclean ways of their non-Jewish neighbors in order to worship the Lord, the God of Israel.

Psalm 14:2 (English Standard Version)

  The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
   to see if there are any who understand,
   who seek after God.

22 For seven days they celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread in a very joyful way. The Lord had made them happy by changing the mind of the king of Assyria so that he helped them in the work on the Temple of the God of Israel.

_________________________

Music:

Psalm 122 (New International Version)

I rejoiced with those who said to me,
   “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
Our feet are standing
   in your gates, Jerusalem.

 Jerusalem is built like a city
   that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up—
   the tribes of the LORD—
to praise the name of the LORD
   according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
   the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
   “May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
   and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
   I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
   I will seek your prosperity.

“Shalom Jerusalem,”  by Paul Wilbur.

_________________________

New Century Version (NCV)   The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Images courtesy of:
Jerusalem.  http://designsbyrainbow.com/wallpaper/jerusalem.JPG
scroll.    http://www.learnersdictionary.com/art/ld/scroll.gif
second temple.    http://bijbelseonderwerpen.nl/engels/kinderen/images/Levend%20water/tempel%20salomo/temple-zerubbabel-22g.jpg
bread and wine.    http://www.reep.org/resources/easter/2003/images/11lastsupper_s.jpg
Passover Seder table.    http://www.lakenormanjc.org/_storage/Pages/1152/passover_Seder.jpg

604.) Ezra 5

August 25, 2011

Ezra 5 (Good News Translation)

Work on the Temple Begins Again

1 At that time two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo, began to speak in the name of the God of Israel to the Jews who lived in Judah and Jerusalem.2 When Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jehozadak heard their messages, they began to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, and the two prophets helped them.

(We will soon be reading the books of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, hearing their encouragement!)

3 Almost at once Governor Tattenai of West-of-Euphrates, Shethar Bozenai, and their fellow officials came to Jerusalem and demanded:
Who gave you orders to build this Temple and equip it?4 They also asked for the names of all the men who were helping build the Temple.5 But God was watching over the Jewish leaders,

Psalm 33:18 (English Standard Version)

 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
  on those who hope in his steadfast love.

_________________________

and the Persian officials decided to take no action until they could write to Emperor Darius and receive a reply.6 This is the report that they sent to the emperor:7

         To Emperor Darius, may you rule in peace.8 Your Majesty should know that we went to the province of Judah and found that the Temple of the great God is being rebuilt with large stone blocks and with wooden beams set in the wall. The work is being done with great care and is moving ahead steadily.9 We then asked the leaders of the people to tell us who had given them authority to rebuild the Temple and to equip it.10 We also asked them their names so that we could inform you who the leaders of this work are.11 They answered,

         We are servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the Temple which was originally built and equipped many years ago by a powerful king of Israel.12 But because our ancestors made the God of Heaven angry, he let them be conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia, a king of the Chaldean dynasty. The Temple was destroyed, and the people were taken into exile in Babylonia.13 Then in the first year of the reign of King Cyrus as emperor of Babylonia, Cyrus issued orders for the Temple to be rebuilt.14 He restored the gold and silver Temple utensils which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem and had placed in the temple in Babylon. Emperor Cyrus turned these utensils over to a man named Sheshbazzar, whom he appointed governor of Judah.15 The emperor told him to take them and return them to the Temple in Jerusalem, and to rebuild the Temple where it had stood before.16 So Sheshbazzar came and laid its foundation; construction has continued from then until the present, but it is still not finished.

   17 Now, if it please Your Majesty, have a search made in the royal records in Babylon to find whether or not Emperor Cyrus gave orders for this Temple in Jerusalem to be rebuilt, and then inform us what your will is in this matter.

_________________________

Music:

We have all had experiences when we knew we were doing the right thing, yet, like the returning Israelites, there are so many problems and delays and set-backs!  Where is God in all this?!?!  As Scripture and this song attest, “Your Love Never Fails.”  We can rest in the Lord as he works all things together for good.  Chris Quilala sings.

_________________________

Good News Translation (GNT)   Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society

Images courtesy of:
map of Persian Empire.    http://www.keyway.ca/gif/persian.gif
Psalm 33:18.    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_2Ks_Im1Ni8c/TSLifQthAlI/AAAAAAAACa0/fg1lCgz1nC4/s1600/Psalm-33-18-Christian-Wallpaper.jpg

603.) Ezra 4

August 24, 2011

Ezra 4 (Good News Translation)

Opposition to the Rebuilding of the Temple

1 The enemies of the people of Judah and Benjamin heard that those who had returned from exile were rebuilding the Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel.2 So they went to see Zerubbabel and the heads of the clans and said,  Let us join you in building the Temple. We worship the same God you worship, and we have been offering sacrifices to him ever since Emperor Esarhaddon of Assyria sent us here to live.

Coptic icon of the Good Samaritan

These people are Samaritans, from the area of the former northern kingdom of Israel.  After Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BCE, many of the Jews of Israel were deported and scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire, never again to return to their homeland.   And the Assyrians settled other deported from their homelands into what had been the northern kingdom.  The remaining Jews and these new inhabitants cobbled together a new culture which included the worship of God and reverence for the books of Moses.  The newly returned Jews refused their help because the Samaritans were seen as half-breeds, both physically and spiritually. 

The antagonism between the peoples was openly displayed well into New Testament times.  Jesus, of course, treated the Samaritans with his usual respect:  the first person to whom he clearly said, “I am the Christ” was the Samaritan woman at the well, and when a Jewish lawyer asked him to narrow the field by defining just who is my neighbor, Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

_________________________

3 Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the heads of the clans told them,  We don’t need your help to build a temple for the Lord our God. We will build it ourselves, just as Emperor Cyrus of Persia commanded us.

4 Then the people who had been living in the land tried to discourage and frighten the Jews and keep them from building.5 They also bribed Persian government officials to work against them. They kept on doing this throughout the reign of Emperor Cyrus and into the reign of Emperor Darius.

Construction of the second temple was begun in 536 B.C. on the Solomonic foundations leveled a half century earlier by the Babylonians.  Not until 516 B.C., the sixth year of the Persian emperor Darius I, was the construction finally completed at the urging of Haggai and Zechariah (6:13-15).

Of the temple and its construction little is known.  Unlike the more famous temple structures razed in 586 B.C. and A.D. 70, respectively, the temple begun by Zerubbabel suffered no major hostile destruction but was gradually repaired and reconstructed over a long period.  Eventually, it was replaced entirely by Herod’s magnificent but short-lived edifice.

–from the Archaeological Study Bible

Opposition to the Rebuilding of Jerusalem

6 At the beginning of the reign of Emperor Xerxes, the enemies of the people living in Judah and Jerusalem brought written charges against them.

7 Again in the reign of Emperor Artaxerxes of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and their associates wrote a letter to the emperor. The letter was written in Aramaic

The Lord’s Prayer, written in Aramaic

From 4:8 to 6:18 this book is not in Hebrew, but Aramaic, the official language of the Persian Empire.

_________________________

and was to be translated when read.

8 Also Rehum, the governor, and Shimshai, the secretary of the province, wrote the following letter to Emperor Artaxerxes about Jerusalem:

9
         From Rehum, the governor, from Shimshai, secretary of the province, from their associates, the judges, and from all the other officials, who are originally from Erech, Babylon, and Susa in the land of Elam,10 together with the other peoples whom the great and powerful Ashurbanipal moved from their homes and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in West-of-Euphrates Province.

11 This is the text of the letter:

         To Emperor Artaxerxes from his servants who live in West-of-Euphrates.

 12 We want Your Majesty to know that the Jews who came here from your other territories have settled in Jerusalem and are rebuilding that evil and rebellious city. They have begun to rebuild the walls and will soon finish them.13 Your Majesty, if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, the people will stop paying taxes, and your royal revenues will decrease.14 Now, because we are under obligation to Your Majesty, we do not want to see this happen, and so we suggest15 that you order a search to be made in the records your ancestors kept. If you do, you will discover that this city has always been rebellious and that from ancient times it has given trouble to kings and to rulers of provinces. Its people have always been hard to govern. This is why the city was destroyed.16 We therefore are convinced that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, Your Majesty will no longer be able to control West-of-Euphrates Province.

17 The emperor sent this answer:

         To Rehum, the governor, to Shimshai, secretary of the province, and to their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of West-of-Euphrates, greetings.

 18 The letter which you sent has been translated and read to me.19 I gave orders for an investigation to be made, and it has indeed been found that from ancient times Jerusalem has revolted against royal authority and that it has been full of rebels and troublemakers.20 Powerful kings have reigned there and have ruled over the entire province of West-of-Euphrates, collecting taxes and revenue.21 Therefore you are to issue orders that those men are to stop rebuilding the city until I give further commands.22 Do this at once, so that no more harm may be done to my interests.

23 As soon as this letter from Emperor Artaxerxes was read to Rehum, Shimshai, and their associates, they hurried to Jerusalem and forced the Jews to stop rebuilding the city.

24 Work on the Temple stopped and remained at a standstill until the second year of the reign of Emperor Darius of Persia.

That is a delay of some 16 years.

_________________________

Music:

What to do, when you cannot do the work you want to do?  When the frustration piles up?  When the disappointment overwhelms?  Scripture suggests singing, and may I add to that suggestion, singing songs of praise and power!  Like this one, which has been translated into many languages since it was first composed by Martin Luther in 1529.  This is a good hymn to know by heart so you can sing it whenever you need it!  “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” sung so wonderfully by the men’s a cappella choir GLAD.  (Note: at 2:25 it should be “his rage we can endure,” not “his rays.”)

_________________________

Good News Translation (GNT)   Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society

Images courtesy of:
stop sign.   http://www.dimensionsguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Stop-Sign.jpg
Good Samaritan.   http://74.53.25.146/~copticon/images/good%20samaritan%20web.JPG?osCsid=b2e92a988b93b01b354101ca951c4757
Aramaic writing.    http://www.christusrex.org/www1/pater/images/aramaic.jpg
coming to stop the building.    http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart/ezra%204%20-%2023%20they%20went%20up%20in%20haste%20to%20jerusalem.jpg