16 April 2016

Stone 15 - Ezra

We ended 2 Chronicles with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Israelites being exiled from the land and brought to Babylon. Ezra picks up after the 70 years of exile prophesied by Jeremiah have passed and the Israelites are allowed to return.

Return, Rebuild, Restored
Ezra begins with a repeat of the last few verses of 2 Chronicles which is the decree of King Cyrus in Persia allowing the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem. In total, a bit over 42,000 Israelites returned to Jerusalem along with their servants and animals (Ezra 2:64-67).

Restorations began and sacrifices started to be made again. **I would like to make an observation on Ezra 3:3 --  It says that they set up an altar and made burnt offerings in the morning and evening even though they feared the surrounding peoples. (emphasis mine) -- how about that? It is fair to note that the surrounding peoples happen to be worshippers of idols and false gods. The fact that they were God's chosen people meant that the surrounding people likely felt some fear or resentment that might provoke them to persecute the Israelites. Seems no different from today if one thinks about it. Many people, for many reasons, both secular and religious, are persecuted out of fear or resentment. One need only look as far as our middle schools to see this...** But they sacrificed to the Lord despite that fear. They held true to their convictions.

As they are working on the rebuild, they are approached by their enemies who offer up some help with the project (Ezra 4:1-2). The Israelites declined the offer (v. 3), to which the response was to become vengeful and hinder their progress (v. 4-5). They even went so far as to send a letter to the king at the time, Artaxerxes, to convince him that the project was a threat to his kingdom (Ezra 4:11-16).

The king agreed and ordered the project be stopped (Ezra 4:21). **Another note here is that we see how the government has interfered with religion. Do you think that the government put a halt to the progress of the establishment of temples for worship to false gods? I make no claims here but it would be an interesting question to have answered. Even before the time of Christ and what we call Christians today...

Now construction had been on hold for many years until the next king - King Darius - came along (Ezra 4:24). A couple prophets came along - Haggai and Zechariah - and encouraged them to continue (Ezra 5:1-2). They were asked about the project and mentioned that King Cyrus ordered that it be done so the governor at the time over the region sent a letter to King Darius requesting verification (Ezra 5:17). The decree was found and King Darius ordered that they be allowed to work unhindered (Ezra 6:6-7).

Enter Ezra
After some time, Ezra shows up on the scene. We learn that Ezra was quite the scholar of the Law (Ezra 7:6). Ezra brings with him several more people from Babylon with the King's blessing as outlined in his letter to Ezra (Ezra 7:12-26).

So Ezra completes the journey to Jerusalem and finds out that the Israelites have been marrying people from the surrounding tribes. This was forbidden - forbidden because of the idolatry among them. marrying them was only going to bring idolatry into Jerusalem. This displeases Ezra (Ezra 9:10-11, 10:2).

**Interestingly, the response is to send away the wives from the foreign lands. I do not believe that this is in any way a justification of divorce. This is an isolated case where the entire nation of Israel was in jeopardy due to the widespread infestation of idolators among the people. It needed to be purged to help make them right with God again. The church today is not a spiritual nation as Israel was at that time - a believer who marries an unbeliever and falls away will not bring about the same judgement for the entire church. Thus we would not expect this to be a viable solution today.

Sometimes, getting right before God means making some tough decisions that other people will take issue with. Ezra's situation was no different. Can you imagine what some people likely said? Breaking up families on such a large scale including the children could not have been simple.

The enemy is subtle and crafty and our response is important. Expect opposition when you attempt to follow the Lord and make advancements in your walk.

Next week we will go through Nehemiah and the continued rebuilding of Jerusalem and the restoration of God's people.

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