Synopsis Ezra 9:3-11 6/30/2020
After a while, the people reported to Ezra that some of the Israelites had taken foreign wives. Of course, he perceived this as a great sin, especially for the priests. So, Ezra was devastated by the news. He felt ashamed and unclean.
And he worried that God would be so offended that He might cease being merciful. Specifically, he was concerned the God might force the Israelites once again to burdensome slavery.
Ezra’s Guilt and Shame
Ezra was so humiliated by the idea of Israelites taking foreign wives that he could not look toward the Temple. And he even tore his cloths because of his grief.
Guilt and Shame
When I sin, I feel guilty. When I fail to meet the standards that God has made clear, then I feel shame.
Of course, this is how conscience works. My mind compares “what should be” against “what actually is”. And when I fail the legitimate standards established by God, I become instantly and viscerally aware of my moral shortcoming.
I doubt there is anyone immune to occasional feelings of guilt and shame. So, maybe it’s safe to say that everyone naturally experiences this. But, it’s what I do with these kinds of moments that makes the difference.
If I use them as a springboard for repentance, then my conscience has had a perfect work. It has served to restore my awareness of God. And it has functioned to motivate my return to right relationship.
However, if I don’t yield to my conscience with repentance, then I will process guilt and shame differently. By disavowing honest guilt and shame, I mentally establish a different standard of behavior that legitimizes the things I do and delegitimizes God’s standard.
Of course, this path is fraught with the perils of superego and the kind of constant, nagging sense of shame that never really goes away.
So, learn to embrace shame when it is appropriate. Use it to motivate a repentance that causes restoration with God.
“If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” 1John 1:9
Synopsis Ezra 6:15-7:10 6/16/2020
The Israelites completed the house of the Lord six years after King Darius began his reign. Afterward, they dedicated the new Temple. And then they set up the priest’s schedule according to their clans. Then, at the appointed time, the community celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Years later, a new king named Artaxerxes ruled over Persia. He became aware that an Israelite named Ezra was exceedingly wise and knowledgeable in the law of God given through Moses. And so, he sent him to Jerusalem to administer the region.
Darius and Jerusalem
The king of Persia saw value in restoring the Temple in Jerusalem. And so, he supported the effort to rebuild and to ensure that it was properly staffed and operated.
Good and Synthetic Community
Synthetic communities are those founded on some sort of social contract. And all of us on earth live in some sort of synthetic community. But as believers, we primarily live in the context of authentic community.
Now, under many historical circumstances, synthetic communities usually enjoy the good that the authentic community produces. Good tends toward stability. For this reason, in many synthetic communities, participation in the authentic is actually encouraged.
If this is your liberty, then celebrate. And exercise your freedom to worship God by the way you act – in the way that you love – in the good that you do.
“Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God.” Rom 13:1
Synopsis Ezra 4:7-17 6/10/2020
After the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon, they began rebuilding the Temple. However, the local inhabitants felt threatened by this. And so, they did what they could to stop the Israelites.
Initially, they worked to discourage the Israelites from completing the work. But later, after their efforts failed, they wrote to King Artaxerxes. In their letter, they warned the king that if the Jews rebuilt Jerusalem, they would eventually rebel against the kingdom.
Jerusalem of Exiles
God brought the Jews out of their exile. And he returned them to Jerusalem.
Of course, their sudden appearance made the surrounding people nervous. So, the people of the surrounding lands resisted God’s plan. Even though, in the long run, His intentions towards these very same people was for good.
God and the Nations
When I was a stranger to God, He led me through some really difficult circumstances. During that time of my life, if I thought about God at all, I mostly remember feeling resentful for the difficulties I occasionally faced.
But in accordance with His deeply mysterious sovereignty, there was a certain necessity in it. God loves the nations. And, ultimately, He has already won the victory over the great adversary of humankind. Yet, in a similar way, all of what we experience is necessary – both for us and for the fulfillment of His purpose.
All of our days somehow contribute to the victory that He has already wrought. And since this is the case, the level of my peace corresponds to depth of my faith.
“and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” Rom 8:17
Synopsis Ezra 3:9-4:6 6/9/2020
The Levites were placed in charge of the construction of the new Temple. And so, on the day that the foundation of the Temple was laid, they made a big ceremony. The priests put on their special robes and blew trumpets. And the musicians played cymbals and sang songs of praise to God. And all the people shouted with joy.
However, at the same moment, some people in the assembly cried in sorrow. Those who were old enough to have seen Solomon’s Temple were saddened because of the reduced glory of the Second Temple. As a result, there was a curious mixture of jubilation mixed with lament.
The leaders of the surrounding communities were bothered that the Jews had returned. And they were especially frustrated that Israel was rebuilding the Temple. They viewed this as a threat to their power and authority. And so, they did whatever they could to frustrate Israel’s efforts to rebuild the Temple.
His Love Endures Forever to Israel
The people cried, “God’s love endures forever!” Israel interpreted the return of the exiles and the reconstruction of the Temple as a sign of God’s unfailing love. Accordingly, they rejoiced.
His Love Endures Forever
What is God’s sign of love to me?
He gave His life to save me. He did not spare His own Son.
By this I am saved. So, what more could I legitimately want?
“What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” Rom 8:31-32
Synopsis 2Chron 8:12:9:2 3/10/2020
King Solomon was careful to offer burnt offerings on the altar of the Lord. And he was especially careful to make the required sacrifices on sabbath days and on the special holidays designated by Moses.
Likewise, Solomon appointed the priests in their divisions, in accordance with the rotating schedule that David had created.
It seemed as though, everything Solomon did worked out well. In fact, he even built a fleet of ships in the south. And then he sent them to Ophir to obtain gold. And he obtained much gold.
After this, the queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem. She had heard of Solomon’s great wisdom. And so, she decided to see if the reports were true.
Solomon Did Everything Well
Solomon’s commitment was to do everything he did as well as possible. He was committed to excellence because he was working to please God.
Do Everything Well
I know that I often fail. I fail morally. And I fail to achieve my goals. In fact, I am naturally more aware of my failures than anybody. This is my experience.
But, despite my many failures, I keep trying.
For me, it sometimes seems that the biggest temptation is to simply quit. And, it is then I recognize the power of faith that carries me a little further. So, I try not to look past “a little further” and just keep trying.
When I do find success, it’s almost always because I kept going “a little further”.
“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will act. And [he will] make your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like noonday.” Psa 37:6
Synopsis 1Chron 7:10-27 12/10/2019
The chronicler gave a brief description of the tribal lineages of Dan and Naphtali. After this, he described the circumstances of Ephraim’s life.
Ephraim was the son of Joseph and the patriarch of the tribe of Ephraim. Apparently, two of his sons were killed in a raid on their cattle. Although Ephraim was deeply affected by the loss of his son, eventually he was comforted from his loss. After which, he and his wife conceived another child.
The chronicler points out that Ephraim’s offspring included Joshua, son of Nun, one of the greatest of all Israelite leaders.
Ephraim experienced the terrible loss of a beloved son. And his loss grieved him so much that his family grew concerned for his well-being. And so, they came together to comfort him.
Through this intervention, his family helped him put the pieces of his life back together so that he could carry on.
In a curious retrospective, the author seems to indicate that part of this consolation was that his line had been preserved. So the anticipation was for what Ephraim’s future generations might be. Accordingly, from this line came Joshua, one of the greatest leaders in the history of Israel.
Family Grief and Recovery
Raising children is not for the faint of heart. It is fraught with every kind of danger imaginable. And sometimes in the process of child rearing, our hearts become grieved. Of course, the unimaginable pain of losing a child is the extreme. But there are other losses that can be deeply grievous to parents.
Yet, most commonly, children survive childhood and go on to make make a positive contribution. And as they do, they become a hope for the future.
As a parent, I anticipate the contribution my children will make. And when I see actual evidence of their contributions, I rejoice both in their personal success and in their ability to make a positive difference.
As Christians, we are called to disciple others as they begin the process of entering into relationship with Jesus. But we do this with trepidation. The truth is, it’s a risky business to disciple other people. So when we do, it feels somewhat like natural child rearing. For this reason, we can, like Saint Paul, rightly call those with whom we invest our time and energy, “spiritual children”.
Of course, this doesn’t imply some special claim concerning the other person. After all, we are all children of God. No more, no less.
But when I chose to share my life and faith with others, I often experience a sense of anticipation at what might come from those that I have attempted to point toward Christ. And this consolation overcomes much trepidation.
“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” Rom 8:28
Synopsis 2Kings 24:16-25:7 10/28/2019
When the Babylonian army besieged Jerusalem, King Jehoiachin surrendered in order to preserve the city. As a result, he was taken into exile along with key members of his family and along with thousands of Israelite soldiers.
King Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon. So, he made Jehoiachin’s uncle the new king over Judah. Although his name was Mattaniah, Nebuchadnezzar changed his name to Zedekiah. Accordingly, Zedekiah served Nebuchadnezzar for nine years.
But after that, Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon. And almost immediately, Nebuchadnezzar brought his army to besiege Jerusalem. The siege lasted more than a year before Zedekiah attempted to flee toward the Arabah wasteland. However, the Chaldean soldiers working for Nebuchadnezzar captured him and brought him to the city of Riblah.
Nebuchadnezzar dealt harshly with Zedekiah’s rebellion. At Riblah, he brought out Zedekiah’s sons and killed them in front of the Israelite king. After this, he poked out Zedekiah’s eyes so the death of his sons would be his last visual memory. After this, he took him back to Babylon where he placed him in prison until he died.
Babylon: Fear and Faith
Zedekiah was faithful to Babylon for almost nine years. But then, something happened. As a result, he decided to break faith with Nebuchadnezzar. For whatever reason, he sensed that faithfulness was no longer required.
From the Babylonian perspective, the failure to remain faithful was perceived as faithlessness. In other words, broken faith was no faith. Zedekiah’s breach revealed his obedience was only, ever the result of fear. Although Nebuchadnezzar had made personally made him king, Zedekiah was never committed to the Babylonian empire. In this sense, the Babylonian king saw him as a mere opportunist.
Jesus: Fear and Faith
It’s somewhat easy to come to God when my life is a mess. I cry, “Jesus take the wheel” not when I find myself overwhelmed with love for God. Instead, I generally only want God to take control when everything is a mess. So my crying out is really more an attempt to avoid the pain and suffering of the mess that I’ve made for myself.
And God will accept this for a while. He really will take the wheel. And very often, He will even grant relief from the disasters that I create through my own selfishness and pride.
But His ultimate purpose is that I grow up. He wants to support my adult effort to bless others, not my adolescent disposition to create chaos and then hope somebody else will save me.
“when I am afraid, in you I place my trust.” Psa 56:4
Synopsis 2Kings 23:32-24:5 10/23/2019
The people made Jehoahaz king after Josiah, his father, died in battle. However, Jehoahaz reigned for only three months. The scripture reports that, unlike his father, Jehoahaz did evil.
His reign ended when Pharaoh Neco took him prisoner in the Judean town of Riblah. Of course, Neco’s forces were the same ones who had killed his father.
So, Pharaoh Neco installed another one of Josiah’s sons as king. This man was named Eliakim. But, Pharaoh called him Jehoiakim. He was twenty-five when he became king. And he reigned for eleven years.
During the time of Jehoiakim’s reign, Babylon became a major world power under the rule of their king Nebuchadnezzar. And so, Babylon attacked Jerusalem as part of its campaign to dominate the region. They besieged the city. And so, King Jehoiakim sought terms.
Accordingly, Jehoiakim agreed to become a tribute paying vassal to Babylon. So, he served Nebuchadnezzar in this way for three years. But then, when Babylon’s principle army was far away, he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar’s rule. As a result, the Babylonians returned and sacked Jerusalem.
Because Hezekiah was able to resist the Assyrian siege a century before, the Israelites living in Judah believed that Jerusalem was somehow magically protected by God. In this way, they once again objectified God.
People and Things
But God’s agenda was not for a city. He cared about Jerusalem only to the extent that it contributed to His purposes. It was the people that mattered. And not just the people of Jerusalem, but all of creation.
God created for His own sake. And His intention is always for good. This is the beginning of God in context.
And I think this is a key part of what it means to remember. Here, in this view of God, I find the possibility of keeping a right perspective on the circumstances of my own life.
Otherwise, I seem to be easily ensnared by my own sense of what matters. All the stuff of life – it’s all His. He created it for His purpose. And that’s not just OK. It is ultimate and transcendent good.
“Worthy are you, Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things; because of your will they came to be and were created.” Rev 4:11
Synopsis 2 Kings 7:10-16 8/16/2019
The four lepers of Samaria had discovered that the Aramean camp was empty. The Aramean soldiers had heard something that sounded like an army of horses and chariots approaching. Thinking they had been outflanked by a foreign army allied with Israel, they abandoned their siege. As a result, the entire Aramean army had suddenly panicked and taken flight.
The lepers had plundered the camp. But before the night was over, they reported to the king of Israel what had happened. The king of Israel received this news with caution, thinking that it might be a trap. But his forces reconnoitered the area and discovered that the Arameans had indeed fled.
And so, the Israelites left the city en masse and plundered the camp. As a result, grain prices immediately returned to their historical averages. All of this was just as Elisha had predicted in his prophecy.
God Bigger than Israelite Imagination
Although the king of Israel couldn’t imagine it, God was still capable of bringing an extraordinary victory. In this way, the lesson was repeated: God was not limited by what the current generation of Israelites thought was possible.
God Bigger Than My Imagination
It’s really like this. My prayers seem to go unheeded. And life doesn’t seem to be working out the way I imagined – the way that I expected. So, the temptation is to think that it will never go the way I hoped.
Accordingly, I find myself beginning to wonder whether or not God is really capable of answering my prayers at all.
Of course, for anyone who has made the effort to track “prayers” and “answers to prayers” in a journal, it comes as no surprise that God always works His will in ways that I could never imagine.
Still, in the absence of the active effort to chronicle and remember, my tendency is to forget and doubt.
“Therefore, I will always remind you of these things, even though you already know them and are established in the truth you have.” 2 Peter 1:12
Synopsis 2 Kings 7:2-9 8/15/2019
The city of Samaria remained under siege by the Aramean army. The famine was so severe that people were in danger of starving.
There were four lepers who were staying outside the walls of the city. They were especially desperate. Believing death was a certainty if they did nothing, they decided to approach the Aramean army and beg for something to eat.
But when they approached the enemy camp, they found that all the Aramean soldiers had disappeared. Something had caused them to abandon their camp. As a result, the four lepers immediately began plundering the camp. Starving, they ate their fill of food. And they also hid many valuables in the surrounding area as they could.
After they had plundered through several tents, their consciences were convicted. They knew that the people of their city were starving, desperate and anxious. So, they decided to inform the king that the siege was broken.
Desperation and Action
The lepers of Samaria were in an especially precarious position. They could never easily enter to the city because the disease made them pariahs. But they could not escape the siege because they had no way to break through the Aramean lines that surrounded the city.
So, in their desperation, they sought a desperate and unlikely outcome. They threw themselves of the mercy from their enemies. But, it was doing just this that they discovered their enemies were no longer present.
And this discovery created the strange possibility of personal gain. In one of the most curious of all scriptural reversals, the four lepers of Samaria were momentarily the richest people in the kingdom. They had an unlimited feast. And, they had unlimited access to the most precious valuables and goods anyone could imagine.
Poverty and Action
Poverty makes people desperate. Someone who is starving will do anything necessary to find food. Survival is an ingrained quality of human life.
So, perhaps the challenge for me is to recognize my utter poverty. The food I put into my body makes me feel temporarily satisfied. And the material goods that fill my house, and my life, make me feel temporarily satisfied. But if I lack what matters in God’s economy, the sense of satisfaction is elusive and ever fleeting.
The riches of God are faith, hope and love. When I feel my lack of these in the same way that I feel my stomach when it’s empty – that’s when I’ll know true poverty. And that’s when I’ll start looking for a real solution.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 5:3