Friday, March 31
What a powerful passage. If you would like a visual of the valley of dry bones, I recommend checking out this minute and a half Youtube clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dafYxu8cQQ).
While we can pull out hundreds of things to say about this passage, I am going to stick to two simple ideas. Ezekiel 37 acts as a double prophecy. In other words, we can expect two different things to happen:
- God will restore Israel and make a nation again from the scattered people. He will bring his chosen people back to the promised land.
- God will establish His kingdom on Earth. We know that Jesus is coming back to Earth again to reign until God Himself reigns above all men.
We see in Ezra and Nehemiah that prophecy number one is fulfilled as the temple is rebuilt. In the New Testament we also get a glimpse at prophecy number two. When Jesus died on the cross we know that the curtain was torn and we have hope in the future Kingdom! After all, Jesus did preach most about the kingdom of God during his time on earth.
As my dad says, he has two major goals in life: 1. To be sure he maintains a strong relationship with God, and 2. To get as many people into the Kingdom as possible. I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to live forever on the streets of gold glorifying God and Jesus all day long! How are you furthering the Kingdom cause through your everyday actions?
Revelation 21:1-4: Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!” God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or morning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Saturday, December 10
After the wall was completed the people gathered at the square which was in front of the Water Gate and they had Ezra read the books of the law to them and had them explained to them. The people were so moved that they bowed down low and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Nehemiah and Ezra told the people not to mourn but to keep the day as holy to the LORD, to go and feast and be filled with joy because the LORD is their strength. They were encouraged to make shelters of branches to help celebrate. This was the custom that was known as the feast of booths or tabernacles that is celebrated to this day by the Jews. Ezra read the law daily for the entire celebration lasting 7 days, and then there was a solemn service held on the eighth day.
After the reading of the scriptures something very interesting and dramatic happens. The Jews separate themselves from any foreign people in their city and they fasted and smeared ashes and dirt upon themselves, wore itchy sackcloth, and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. Then in the hearing of the people the leaders told of the goodness of the LORD to the people throughout generations past. Telling of all His mighty deeds. Then the people all sign an agreement to follow the commands as God laid them out in His law, and to live holy and pleasing lives to the LORD from that time onward. This national repentance and reconciliation was done in order to please the LORD. Whenever God’s people do what pleases Him, His blessings are soon to follow.
What catches my eye about this is that the people hold a national time of repentance. Could you imagine what would happen if we tried to do this today? I’m sure the news stations would be all over it in an instant. Watch out CNN! The interviews could be quite interesting , and could lead to some very juicy gossip to be sure. The point is that people today rarely apologize for anything. They find it even more hard to change their ways . You may have some examples of people you know who don’t apologize when it would be appropriate to do so. You might also know people who say they are going to change their ways but find it difficult to set any new pattern in their behavior. Personally, if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a person struggling with addiction say they are going to quit – I would be very rich indeed! I’m not saying that it is impossible for a person to change but it is in reality quite difficult for people to change their attitudes which are then reflected in their actions.
The Jews had this same difficulty. They had a national time of repentance and even signed the document but as history unfolds we can see that they were not very good at keeping their promise to God. It’s important to keep your promises to God. Repentance is all about changing your ways. It’s good to apologize to God when appropriate but even better is to change your behavior so that you don’t have to be in the situation where you need to apologize! God wants us to be sincere in our words and our deeds. Are there any of your actions that you need to apologize to God for, and change? What do you think is the first step you can take to help change your ways so that they are pleasing to God? God’s blessing follows true repentance. What blessings do you think God might have in store for you when you are in right standing with Him?
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 14
The list of names continues, and a majority of the words in these first two chapters are name. We have the list from Adam to Jacob in chapter 1, and then the tribes of Israel through the time of David. There are many names in here that are familiar, and many that I don’t recognize at all. What is the purpose of this genealogy? Who wrote it? Why was it written? Who was it written for? Why do I care?
Although scholars do not all agree about who wrote it, and we can’t know all the details about why it was written, both Jewish and Christian traditions provide the same possible answer. The writing is credited to Ezra, as are the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. 1 and 2 Chronicles were written after the return from exile, probably during the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
God’s chosen people had been in exile for 70 years. At least most of the people returning to Jerusalem had never actually been in Jerusalem, and all they knew was the Babylonian captivity. This book was probably written as a reminder and source of hope for God’s people. The genealogy shows them where they came from, reminds them of their great ancestors, the growth of the Israelites into a great nation, and where they fit into God’s plan.
So, the hard question for me is still why do I care to read all of these names, most of which I can’t pronounce. If we want to understand and learn from the Israelites, Gods chosen people, we need to understand what was important to them. Their genealogy and history of their people was one of these important things to them. It was used to show how they were all related together, and remind them of all the great people in the history of their nation.
As you read this, try to read every name. Try to think about the names, and why the ones you know were important to the history of Israel. Try to imagine going to your promised homeland that you had never been to, that was destroyed, that needed tons of work, and think how knowing your history would give you hope.
What do we use to give us hope? What do we need to look at daily to remember the hope we have?