Thursday, 12 June 2014

(164) June 13: Ezra 1-2 & John 19:23-42

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

To discover:­­
As you read consider how we see hope for the kingdom.

To ponder:
Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539BC. A year later, fulfilling Jeremiah (Jer 25v8-14, 51v11), God “moved” the heart of the mighty Persian king to do his will. Cyrus’ proclamation was a political move to ensure stability throughout his empire, but it spoke much truth, acknowledging God as sovereign over the world, and himself as God’s servant (Is 44v28), appointed to do what Judean kings had failed to do – build God’s temple, and settle the people securely in the land. Here there is astonishing affirmation that no earthly power can do anything but God’s bidding, and his purposes are therefore certain. God should therefore be thanked for providential changes in society that give us opportunities for the building of his kingdom and our enjoyment of freedom as Christians.
            In declaring the people of Cyrus’ empire are to provide the Jews with wealth, goods, livestock and offerings, we see the return is like the Exodus in which the Egyptians gave the Israelites similar (Ex 11v2, 12v35-36). The phrase “came up from Babylon” (1v11, 2v1) implies the same. In Israel’s history, the return from exile is no less significant in affirming God’s commitment to his promises.
            The inventory focuses on the return of items stolen from the temple, signifying the re-establishment of the kingdom. The numbers don’t add up to the given 5,400 suggesting it is not exhaustive. The list of returnees is likely to include those from subsequent returns too. We will see Sheshbazzar to be the first governor in Judea, Jeshua, the High Priest, and Zerubbabel as key in the rebuilding of the temple. In all there are twelve leaders, again signifying the re-establishment of the kingdom - akin to the twelve tribes. Indeed, the list is described as people of “Israel” not just Judea, implying the unification of the north and south. Here we should remember some of the faithful from the north had emigrated south to worship God rightly at the temple (2 Chr 30v11). They would therefore have been included in the exile, and their descendents in the return.
            As in Chronicles, the list then focuses on those involved in the work of the temple and the descendents of Solomon’s servants. This looks back to Solomon’s glory days as the model of what was to be desired, and forward to the promised Christ who would perfectly fulfil God’s covenant with David (1 Chr 17v11-14) by establishing an everlasting kingdom with a temple at its heart. To the post-exilic community, the book therefore begins affirming the importance of continuity with the nation’s past history and worship. The church must look to its past in the teaching of the apostles, and to the future when Christ will return and establish it in all perfection. Both keep us from being compromised by the biases and temptations of the present.
            The careful notes where people’s descent could not be proved is inserted to show things were done with great care for the purity of the nation and those who served at the temple. Presumably, those unable to demonstrate they were priests could be counted clean and eat the food after there was a priest with Urim and Thummim because he could consult the LORD as to their credentials.
This care challenges our contemporary lack of concern over ensuring, as far as we are able, those in our churches do actually believe, and those ordained to ministry are actually called. It also proves the concern of the author with accurately recording Israel’s history, suggesting apparent discrepancies with detail are likely to have an explanation other than inattentiveness.
            The chapter ends recording this was a significant return (3v64) with the elders readily giving offerings to help in the rebuilding of the temple, and the priests, Levites and people resettling the towns that were their inheritance since the land was settled. Once more, it seems the kingdom is being re-established.

Praying it home:
Praise God that he is sovereign over all the decisions of men, able to move their hearts as he pleases. Pray that the government in our land would favour the church and Christians in such a way that enables them to flourish in their work of evangelism and discipleship.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Ezra, click here.
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