Wednesday, December 7
Who would have thought that there would be a story about camping in the Bible. The book of Ezra goes on to tell about how Ezra went with a company of people and those of Levitical heritage on a journey to the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. They had a long, dangerous trek ahead of them sometimes even camping in enemy territory. They did not ask for soldiers or guards to protect them for their journey because they had said to the king that their God would protect them. They were placing their trust in God to see them through the rough territory and prayed specifically for Him to protect them, their children, and their possessions. God honored their trust in Him and protected them. When they arrived at Jerusalem they were able to give the gifts that King Artexerxes had sent, and able to offer the appropriate sacrifices. They were also able to deliver the king’s edicts to the governors in the provinces beyond the river, and so Jerusalem’s neighbors began to show support for Jerusalem and the people who inhabited it, and the temple of God.
Then it is brought to Ezra’s attention that God’s people have been intermarrying with the idol worshipping people of the area around Jerusalem. God had specified that the people should not intermarry as not to become entangled in the worship of other false gods within their homes, and the pagan influence that would be brought upon their children. God wanted to keep his people from being drawn into pagan idol worship as they were so prone to being drawn into. Ezra went into a time of mourning for the situation of God’s people. He pleads with God for forgiveness for the people’s sins of disobedience. A time of group repentance was held and sacrifices made to pay for the sins of disobedience to God in marrying foreign women who did not worship God thus concluding the book of Ezra.
What caught my eye was that Ezra and his company of people camping along the way decided to ask God for His protection instead of asking the King for a human army of protection. They could have been attacked at any time by enemy forces, but because they chose to ask God for protection and trust Him – God protected them. Have you ever asked God for his protection? Are there times that you have felt God protecting you? God is faithful to his promise that when we place our trust in Him, He will bring us through whatever situation we find ourselves in. Key thought: Place your trust in God because he is faithful to his promises.
Tuesday, December 6
Some people really make your day, others – well they can really make your day worse. With so much discouragement for the Jews in rebuilding the city of Jerusalem God decided to send several prophets to encourage the people in finishing work on the temple. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were especially influential in bringing God’s encouragement to the workers rebuilding the temple. A governor named Tattenai from beyond the river tried to put a stop to the rebuilding process by asking who had given them permission to rebuild the temple. He wanted a detailed, official report from King Darius of who had truly funded this rebuilding project, why this temple was being rebuilt and any details that might cast a negative light on the Jews rebuilding of their city. King Darius looked into the matter and discovered that king Cyrus had indeed been moved by God to let the Jews rebuild the temple and their city with part of the bill being paid by the Babylonian empire. Darius was so moved by the reading of the documents that he decreed that anyone who opposed the rebuilding project should be put to death and their home destroyed. So the Jews were able to complete the rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem with the encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah.
The city was beginning to take shape, and this is where Ezra whom the book is named after comes onto the scene. He was a priest and scribe in Babylon who had favor with the Babylonian king after Darius which was king Artaxerxes. Ezra was decreed by the King to go to Jerusalem and select men who would be rulers over the city and set up the civil government of the city, appointing magistrates and judges for the people. But King Artaxerxes didn’t send them empty handed. He sent them with many gifts to embellish the temple and many measures of wheat, wine, oil, and salt that would be needed. He even gave authorization to use the royal treasury money for whatever else they needed to ensure that proper temple worship could be accomplished. This greatly encouraged Ezra and the people of God in Jerusalem.
Thinking about the many players in this account of the rebuilding of the temple it seems to me that there are those who are determined to bring the people encouragement and those who are determined to bring the people discouragement. Are there people like that in your life too? You may have noticed that there are some people who lift up your spirit, and some people who bring your spirit low. Notice how God knew the discouraging people who brought the people down, and would send someone like Haggai or Ezra along to lift the people’s spirits up again? Does God do this for us too? Has he ever sent someone to encourage you and lift up your spirit when you were discouraged? Maybe He has used you to help lift up the spirits of someone else just like he used Zechariah, Haggai and Ezra. They brought an encouraging word to the people. Will you let God help you to be an encourager to someone else this week? Key thought: Ask God to help you be a person who lifts others up rather than a person who brings others down.
Monday, November 5
God could have used a U-Haul truck when His people were allowed to go back to Jerusalem after being taken captive into Babylon for 70 years. God moved King Cyrus of Persia to allow the repatriation of the Jews back to their home in Jerusalem. There were a lot of people who went , especially those who were from priestly lineage. To find out just how many people went on this journey back to Jerusalem take a calculator and add up the number of people listed in chapter 2 verses 2-65! They also had to pack up all the dishes that were to be used in the house of God that had been previously ransacked from God’s temple in Jerusalem some 70 years before. That’s a lot of people, and things, to move all at once.
When the Jews did return to Jerusalem they began to re-instate the priestly duties of sacrifices even though the foundation of the new temple had not yet been poured. They also began to celebrate their festivals as was their religious custom. Cyrus had agreed to help them build the temple so orders for the cedar wood from Lebanon which was to be used, were issued. The main contractor of this building project was a man by the name of Zerubbabel. His job was to take this pile of rubble and figure out how to help make it into a beautiful place for God’s temple once again. The people were overjoyed when the foundation of the new temple was laid and a celebration was held. Things seemed to be looking up for God’s people but then some of their jealous neighbors in the land began to complain. They sent complaints to Cyrus and the following kings of Persia making up all sorts of claims about the Jews who had returned which were not necessarily true. So, with the distractions of unhappy neighbors in the land, and many hassles and arguments about the rebuilding that the Jews were doing, soon they became discouraged and left the project of rebuilding God’s house undone. Not until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia did the completion of the temple happen.
Having been through a recent cross country move myself what caught my eye was all those dishes that were to be used in God’s temple that had to be transported. 5,400 to be exact! They were made of gold and silver so they would have to be packed very carefully as not to be scratched or broken. This gives dish duty a whole new meaning. In my move a few of my dishes broke. Thinking about this it makes me think of how broken the city was and the temple of God was when the people returned to their beloved city. They must have been excited at first at the prospect of going back, but once there I’m sure that seeing all the brokenness of the city must have been very discouraging.
Think about one of the greatest things God can do — He can fix what is broken. Sometimes we may feel broken , or tossed about by the circumstances in our lives. So did the Jews. The good news is that God can fix what is broken. He helped the Jews to rebuild the temple to Him, and their lives after being exiled for so long – He made them beautiful again. He can help us too by fixing the broken parts of our lives and shaping it into something beautiful. Key thought: Think about how God has helped to fix the broken parts of your life and think about how He chooses to make it beautiful.