Saturday, 14 June 2014

(166) June 15: Ezra 6-8 & John 21

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.


To discover:­­
As you read note how God shows himself sovereign over all.

To ponder:
Darius finds Cyrus’ decree in the archive just as the Jews said. The dimensions commanded for the temple (6v3) seem unfeasible and may reflect an error in the decree. But what is significant is that because God brought around the crisis in which Darius was consulted, his people now receive significantly more help than Cyrus was prepared to give (6v6-12), and out of a concern that the priests pray for the benefit of Darius and his sons. When faced with a crisis, whether national or pastoral, we should not forget by God’s hand it may create an even better situation than that which preceded it.
            Because of Darius’ support, the work was completed in 516BC as the elders kept building and prospering under the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah. It reminds us of the constant need to hear God’s word if we are to keep at his work. The command of God here is linked to the decrees of the great Persian kings, showing their decrees were his doing (see 6v22). This is a dominant theme in the book (7v27-28, see Prov 19v21, 21v1).
            With echoes of the dedication of the first temple (1 Kgs 8), this one was then dedicated with joy, and the Passover celebrated at the right time and according to God’s law. We should note that despite their concern for purity (4v3) the people happily welcomed God-fearing Gentiles to the Passover who sought God and had turned from the unclean practices of their neighbours.
            As chapter 7 begins the book jumps 57 years, showing its concern just with significant events. Ezra is introduced with lineage from Aaron, leading a second wave of returning exiles. Ezra is an example to Christian ministers as one who was well versed in God’s law, and committed to studying, observing and teaching it. He had also somehow gained favour with Artaxerxes, who gave him “everything he asked for.” We are told why: “The hand of the LORD his God was upon him.” And because of this “gracious” hand he and those with him made the journey safely in four months.
            Artaxerxes letter shows he was willing for any Israelites to go with Ezra, and had commissioned him to enquire of God’s law and take silver and gold from the Babylonians and Jews to ensure offerings were made in the temple. The Jews were permitted to use any surplus as they saw fit. Up to a limit, the king even ordered the treasurers of the province to give whatever was necessary and not require revenues from temple workers. Echoing Darius (6v10), this was so there would not be “wrath against the king” and “his sons.” This doublet suggests Darius and Artaxerxes are modelling an attitude to God’s people that should be seen as appropriate, right and wise for secular rulers today too. Indeed, the suggestion is that those who do not bless God’s people are in danger of his displeasure and judgement (see also Gen 12v3).
            Artaxerxes also commissioned Ezra to appoint magistrates and judges to administer God’s law throughout the region. His political model was a pluralistic one in which God’s law would be adhered to in this province, and no doubt that of other gods in other provinces. This would ensure stability of the various peoples Persia had conquered. 7v26 notes the tension of working this out. On pain of death the people are not only to obey God’s law but that of the Persian king too. Of course, where the two conflicted, they should have known God’s law takes precedence (Acts 4v19).
            Whether as author, editor or just a source, Ezra now speaks in the first person, praising God for governing the king and his officials to achieve all this (7v27-28), and noting how this gave him courage – as it should us. His concern for the temple is seen in not leaving without Levites to aid the work there, and God’s grace was displayed in them being capable. Ezra also appointed priests and Levites to take and guard the articles donated for the temple.
The gospel Ezra shared with Artaxerxes was that God’s gracious hand is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger against those who forsake him. Because it might suggest he didn’t actually trust this to be true, Ezra was ashamed to ask for protection for the journey and so proclaimed a fast to pray for safety. God answered. After resting for just three days on arrival, the silver, gold and articles were then passed to those at the temple, the returnees offered burnt offerings in devotion to God, and Artaxerxes’ orders were delivered to his officials.
           
Praying it home:
Praise God for the good he is working for the growth of his kingdom in your country today. Pray that ministers would teach carefully and faithfully how Christians are to live in this context.

Thinking further:
None today.
                                                          
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