Synopsis Ezra 10:17-44 7/3/2020
After he arrived in Jerusalem, Ezra dealt with the issue of intermarriage. Many of the exiles who had previously returned from Babylon had either taken wives from the local population of non-Israelites. Alternatively, some had given their daughters in marriage to non-Israelites.
Ezra had determined that situation offended God’s plan to rebuild Jerusalem and the nation. And so, he and the other leaders in Jerusalem forbade intermarriage. Also, together they required that anyone who had already intermarried to renounce the relationship. Otherwise, such people would be cutoff from the nation.
Once explained, the people agreed. And so, those guilty acknowledged their guilt. And then they separated themselves. Interestingly, Ezra listed all the men who had intermarried by name.
Ezra Listed by Name
The men who had taken foreign wives were listed by name. They became a part of the official record for their misdeed and for the repentance.
Listed by Name
One of the great challenges of our time is managing personal technology. From an historical perspective, we live in a time when someone documents almost every aspect of our lives. Even an ordinary person accepts nearly constant public video monitoring. And, I know that my apps constantly record my email and voice communications. And I still chose to use them. In fact, I may even choose to record my own biometric data through these apps. I do this knowing that my information will most likely be shared in the “cloud”.
This is no rail against technology. Technology is what it is. And the trends of technology do not surprise God. He is also the creator of the ability to make technology.
But what I increasingly tell my children is to remain aware. Technology is changing the way that both reputation and history work. And just like everything, it is fitting to thoughtfully recognize these trends. I must consider the appropriate use of technology from the perspective of contributing to what is really good, and true and beautiful.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Phil 4:8
Synopsis Ezra 10:6-16 7/2/2020
The issue was Israelite exiles intermarrying with the local people after the exile. Many of the returning Isrealites, including
Ezra left the Temple. And almost immediately he went to Johanan’s house. As a community leader, he repented with fasting because of the Israelite’s apostasy.
The other leaders agreed with Ezra’s concern about intermarriage. And so, together they called for an assembly of all returning exiles throughout the territory of Judah. The leaders demanded that all the men come to Jerusalem for a solemn assembly. They even threatened anyone who refused with the seizure of their property.
At the assembly, Ezra and the leaders called upon all the people who had intermarried to separate themselves from the foreigners. Most all the people agreed to this demand. As a result, the people disengaged themselves from the foreigners who lived around them.
Ezra separated the people from the surrounding nations. And he did this even though the law of Moses made specific provision for the merciful treatment of foreigners. Not only that, but the law even made provision for foreigner adoption into the nation.
However, he knew that integration couldn’t come at the expense of the essential character of the Authentic Community. He knew that the terms of the Authentic community and covenantal. Therefore, they couldn’t be compromised. Any attempt by the Israelites to live more like the peoples around them would only cause them to no longer be Israelites – no longer part of the authentic community.
Depending on background, the Christian command to separate myself seems a little strange. But like all humans, I live in a synthetic, social contract community. And in this context, separation means that I have chosen to live in accordance with the precepts of the authentic community. I have chosen to love God and love my neighbor regardless of how I fit in with the values of my neighborhood.
“”Therefore, come forth from them and be separate,” says the Lord, “and touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.’” 2Cor 6:17
Synopsis Ezra 9:12-10:5 7/1/2020
Many of the Israelites who had returned from Babylon chose to marry foreign wives. Even the leaders and the priests, which was specifically prohibited by the law. After he arrived, the people reported this development to Ezra.
So, Ezra prayed to the Lord. And he wept bitterly because he feared the Lord. In this way, he acknowledged the people’s guilt.
Many of the Israelites felt remorse at a result of Ezra’s despair. So, one of the leaders encouraged Ezra to lead the people in disavowing the marriages that had been made with foreign wives. And he vowed, along with the priests and Levites, to support Ezra’s demand that the foreign wives be sent away.
Act of Repentance
Sending away the foreign wives was a difficult remedy for the Israelites. The intermarrying had already happened. And these marriages had already produced children and combined fortunes.
Ezra’s declaration was easy to say but a big thing to actually do. Divorce is never easy. And when offspring are involved, losing access to children isn’t just hard, it’s counterintuitive. It is hard to even imagine. All of this was a painful, big, deal.
Repentance – No Going Back
There is no “going back to the way things used to be”. Once moral failure has entered into being, it exists. Repentance isn’t wishing my evil acts away – like I could make them unexist through my remorse.
Instead, repentance is making the choice to respond to my circumstances rightly. It is a returning to the way of Christ by accepting “what is” and making the best of that.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
Synopsis Ezra 8:29-9:2 6/29/2020
After completing a three day fast, the returning exiles brought their treasures to the Temple. And there, they deposited them. The people also offered a large quantity of burnt offerings.
After all this, Ezra and the leaders presented their orders from the king to the local governors. As a result, the governors gave the Israelites their full support.
God Went Ahead of Ezra
God went ahead of Ezra as he journeyed. He protected the returning exiles from robbers along the way. And He gave them favor with the governors and other local officials as they arrived.
If God Has Called, Then God Will Provide
God has created each of us with a purpose and a plan. So, as I journey through life responding to His purposes and His plans, I can have confidence. For, if I am following in His way, then He will provide for every need.
“My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:19
Synopsis Ezra 8:16-25 6/25/2020
Ezra assembled the returning exiles near the Ahava river in Babylon. As he prepared for the journey back to Jerusalem, he recognized the potential for danger.
The caravan was carrying a large amount of wealth. So, it was susceptible to thieves. As a result, Ezra ordered a fast. And in this way, the group prayed to God for protection.
Ezra recognized that fasting harmonizes the body in a unique way to the will of God. His intent was to ensure that the whole community was entirely united with God during this passage.
Fasting shines light on the natural weakness of my will. Without it, I have the tendency to think that I’m fine – to think that I’m under control. But when I fast, I become acutely aware that I am not under control.
My body has something to say when it comes to self-denial. And like an unruly child, it does its best to intimidate and dominate my soul. Fasting is nothing other than standing up to the bully child even though it is always easier to give way.
“No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” 1Cor 9:27
Synopsis Ezra 7:26-8:15 6/24/2020
Ezra praised God for the favor he received from the King of Persia. And then he recruited other Israelite exiles to make the return trip with him. Many of these were priests and leaders in the community. And there, near the river, Ezra assembled the group.
Followers of Ezra
Filled with the promise of returning to Jerusalem, Ezra attracted followers who risked safety and security for the unknown. These people had built lives in Babylon. And so, while they were filled with expectancy, they were also aware of the danger.
And yet, they followed Ezra anyway.
Being a Follower
The principle reason I am reluctant to follow is the fact that I give up autonomy when I do. And the truth is, I like being in control. What’s more, I especially don’t like being out of control.
There is a certain delusion at work here. I tend to think that independence equates to freedom. When, in fact, it does not such thing. I don’t know the future. So, my sense of control is always an illusion.
Ultimately, freedom is found only when I temper my behavior in accordance with the leadership of the one who made me.
“But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Mark 13:32
Synopsis Ezra 7:11-25 6/17/2020
The scribes copied the commissioning letter give to Ezra by King Artaxerxes. In it, the king specifically delineated the scope of Ezra authority. Additionally, Artaxerxes authorized a large amount of provisions that he committed in support of Ezra’s mission. Finally, he made Ezra and the other Temple servants free from taxation.
Artaxerxes and Jerusalem
King Artaxerxes honored God. So much so, that he put significant resources into re-establishing the knowledge of God amongst the people.
Wisdom of God in Culture
The wisdom of God’s law is evident in the justice and compassion it evokes from the people who follow God. These are, after all, universally desirable. Everyone seeks justice in defense of their cause. And everyone who really thinks about it wants goodness for the commonwealth.
In seeking justice and compassion, we serve as light and salt in an otherwise dark and tasteless world.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.” Matt 5:14
Synopsis Ezra 6:4-14 6/15/2020
King Darius replied to the letter from the provincial governor. The governor wanted instructions on how to respond to the Jews who were rebuilding the Temple.
The king instructed him to support the effort to rebuild. And, he was specifically forbidden from taking any action that might slow the construction. Additionally, the king instructed the governor to pay the workers and provide the supplies that they needed to complete the project. And this included the animals necessary for the priests to perform atoning sacrifices.
What’s more, the king warned in his letter that anyone who defied his orders would be subject to death.
With the support of protection and additional resources, the Jews working on the Temple reconstruction accelerated their efforts. As a result, they made great progress in the construction.
Flow can be thought of as a state focused effort toward some specific outcome. It occurs when the chain of events necessary to complete a project seem to effortlessly “fall into place”.
And while working in God’s flow doesn’t mean I don’t have to work hard. It does mean that one evidence of God’s favor in a project is that a harmony forms between my effort and the resources necessary to achieve the outcome God intends.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Matt 11:30
Synopsis Ezra 5:8-6:33 06122020
As the Israelites rebuilt the Temple, the provincial officials wrote to King Darius. They wanted the Persian king to know what the Jews were doing. And they wanted to know if it should be permitted.
In their report, they informed the king that the Jews were successfully rebuilding the Temple. And then, they reported the results of their interview with the Jews. In this passage, the Jews recounted how Nebuchadnezzar had exiled the Jews after destroying the Temple. And then, they told the story of how King Cyrus had returned the exiles so that they could rebuild the Temple.
As a result, King Darius ordered a search of the archives in order to validate the Israelite’s claims and decide how to proceed. And after searching, archivist discovered the scroll written by King Cyrus.
From the time of Moses, it was an Israelite cultural habit to write things down. Of course, the Israelites were not unique in this respect.
But, having written records was the first step in creating a historical record. And accurate historical records allowed them to respond to the inquiry of the provincial leaders with integrity.
I know of a man who prayed to God. He was a successful businessman. And he had a nice office. On the wall behind his desk was a large metal ring. And on the ring were recipe-sized index cards with a larger card that divided the index cards into two sections.
Whenever the man had a need, or when someone else identified a need in their life, he prayed. And once he prayed for something, he always wrote down the intercession on the front side of a new card. Then he would attach it to the ring on the “Unanswered Prayer” side of the ring. When the prayer was answered – however it was answered – he wrote down God’s answer. And then he shifted the card to the other side of the ring.
As a result, the man had a ready reference to remember those things he was actively praying for. And perhaps more importantly, he had a record of his prayer intentions including the way in which God had answered his prayer.
He reviewed this often. And by doing so, he was constantly reminded of God’s faithfulness.
So, the moral of the story: record your experiences – especially those encounters with God. Journal in order to remember.
“Now come, write it on a tablet they can keep, inscribe it on a scroll; That in time to come it may be an eternal witness.” Isaiah 30:8
Synopsis Ezra 4:18-5:7 6/11/2020
At the request of the provincial governor, King Artaxerxes stopped the Israelites from continuing work on the Temple or repairing the city of Jerusalem. However, King Artaxerxes died several years later. He was succeeded by King Darius.
So, at the beginning of the reign of Darius, the Jews began to build once again. They were led by Zerubbabel and Jeshua. And this once again provoked the regional governor, whose name was Tattenai.
As a result, Tattenai reported the matter to Darius.
Returned Exiles Obeyed God
The Jews had returned from the exile in Babylon at the direction of King Cyrus. And the expressed reason for this return was to build a Temple devoted to the worship of God.
So, despite the resistance of the people living nearby, the Jews worked to rebuild the Temple. They saw this as God’s work. And they chose not to refuse God’s command.
Deciding Between God and Man
The apostle Paul encouraged the people to live peaceable lives. In this way, he recognized that the goodness of lives devoted to Christ very rarely causes a Christian to be at odds with the law of the land.
But still, it does happen that cultural values sometimes run so contrary to the command of Christ, that we have to choose who we will follow. And when that time comes, then we choose.
“Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges.” Act 4:19