Ezra 10:5-17

So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. And they took the oath.Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.

A proclamation was then issued throughout Judah and Jerusalem for all the exiles to assemble in Jerusalem. Anyone who failed to appear within three days would forfeit all his property, in accordance with the decision of the officials and elders, and would himself be expelled from the assembly of the exiles.

Within the three days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. 11 Now honor the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”

12 The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: “You are right! We must do as you say. 13 But there are many people here and it is the rainy season; so we cannot stand outside. Besides, this matter cannot be taken care of in a day or two, because we have sinned greatly in this thing. 14 Let our officials act for the whole assembly. Then let everyone in our towns who has married a foreign woman come at a set time, along with the elders and judges of each town, until the fierce anger of our God in this matter is turned away from us.” 15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah, supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite, opposed this.

16 So the exiles did as was proposed. Ezra the priest selected men who were family heads, one from each family division, and all of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to investigate the cases, 17 and by the first day of the first month they finished dealing with all the men who had married foreign women.
(Ezra 10:5-17 NIV)

As we pick up from our last few times together, we see Ezra leading a national movement of repentance over the sin of intermarrying with non-Jewish women.  This repentance then led to revival across the land, not by force, but by Ezra’s example.

Shecaniah, one of the Jewish leaders, agrees with Ezra and wants to see the nation obey the Lord and enjoy peace and blessing restored.  Shecaniah makes a proposal to end the unlawful marriages and cut their ties with the ungodly people around them.  Sheacaniah also prompts Ezra to lead the people out of sin and back into right relationship with and obedience to the Lord.

In today’s passage, we see Ezra respond to Shecaniah’s request.  Ezra ends his emotional cry before God, gets up, and prepares to put the proposal into action (v. 5).  Verse 6 tells us that Ezra is still fasting as a sign of mourning over the nation’s sin.

The first thing Ezra requires is an oath (a promise) from all the people that they will obey the Lord and stick to the plan of separating themselves from their non-Jewish wives, children, and the non-Jewish neighbors around them.  The people agreed.

Ezra then retreated to one of the side rooms of the Temple.  The religious leaders then drafted and sent out a proclamation that a national “town hall” would be held in Jerusalem in three days.  Attendance was mandatory; the penalty for not showing up was forfeiture of all land, possessions, and banishment from Jewish culture (v. 6).

In verses 7-8, the proclamation went out, and in verse 9, the people gathered in Jerusalem.   Ezra records that the attendees gathered in the open area in front of the Temple, and were trembling because of the nature of the meeting as well as the rain.

Can you see this scene in your mind’s eye?  The leaders have called everyone together to address this terrible sin of the nation.  All the returned exiles are here, standing in the mud, shivering from the cold, and in the pouring rain, trembling on the inside, waiting to hear their fate.

In verses 10-12, Ezra addresses the crowd, admonishes them to obey the Lord, and separate themselves from their non-Jewish wives and their relationships with the non-Jewish community around them.  Remember, this was not an ethnic or racial separation – this was a spiritual separation.

The people reply in agreement (vv. 12-14); however, they ask to amend the process to be carried out at a community level.  They ask that a thorough investigation will be made to ensure compliance is one hundred percent to avert God’s hand of judgment.  Only four people objected; the proposal carried the day.

Ezra agrees to the people’s request; people return to their homes and Ezra names a responsible person from each of the family heads to carry out the investigations.  The detailed review began in each family group in their respective towns and villages across the land, with local officials overseeing the process.  The entire process took 3 months to complete.  Ezra records the dates according to the Jewish calendar; using our modern calendars, the process started in January and finished in March.

Today’s passage is a grim reminder that sin weighs us down and causes great heartache.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us to avoid the entanglements of sin that prevent us from running the race that God has set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Today’s passage is also an incredible example of the power of godly influence – not by force, but by example.  Ezra lived his life fully engaged –  “all in” – for the Lord.  When confronted with the sin of the nation, he wept openly and repented before Almighty God.  The people saw Ezra’s heart, turned to the Lord in repentance and prayer, and a revival was born.

May we live “all in” for the Lord as Ezra did.

Watch and see what God does around us when we give Him our all.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ezra 10:1-4

10 While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly.Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
(Ezra 10:1-4 NIV)

By way of review, Ezra has been in his position as a teacher and religious leader in Jerusalem for 4-1/2 months when some Jewish people bring a serious matter to his attention.  Some Jewish people were intermarrying with the local non-Jewish people, and the religious leaders (the priests and Levites) were among the worst offenders.

Ezra reacted strongly, weeping and repenting of the nation’s sins before a holy God.  As we concluded chapter 9, we listened to Ezra’s prayer to the Lord.

As we begin chapter 10 today, we see Ezra switch from first person voice to the third person voice, as if someone else were narrating the remainder of the chapter.  It will be important to watch the interaction between Ezra and the people.

In verse 1, notice how the repentance of one (Ezra) brings about the repentance of many (men, women, even children).  Notice what Ezra was doing:   praying, confessing, weeping, prostrating himself before God.  Also, notice what Ezra was not doing:  separating himself from the Jewish people, preaching hell fire and brimstone from a self-righteous perspective, or disregarding sin and God’s Law and saying it was OK.

Ezra’s repentant attitude initiated repentance in others, as we saw above.  And that repentance in others then initiated action on their part.  One man – Shecaniah – stepped forward to confess the corporate sins of the people before God and before Ezra.

Shecaniah sought forgiveness and reconciliation of the nation before God.  Shecaniah knew God’s heart, and knew that if they confessed their sin and repented that God would turn His anger and judgment away from His people.  Shecaniah saw hope for the nation, and that hope resided in God alone.

Notice that Shecaniah’s confession and desire for reconciliation with God was genuine and heartfelt.  Ezra did not coerce or in any way force the people to take action; this was the real deal and was divinely prompted.

In verse 3, we see Shecaniah’s proposal.  He recommended renewing the covenant with God in obedience to God’s Law, to send away (divorce) all the non-Jewish wives and any children from those unions.  Shecaniah did not recommend this action as a means of avoiding trouble, but as an act of obedience to God’s Law (Deuteronomy 7:2-4).  As we stated in previous sessions, this was not a matter of racial purity, but of spiritual obedience and worship of God alone.

Verse 4 is Shecaniah’s call to action with Ezra:

  • the realization that they needed to change, and to do so quickly
  • the request for Ezra to lead the Jewish people in this change
  • the reminder that Ezra had the responsibility to lead
  • the reassurance that the nation would follow Ezra’s lead and obey God

This is a difficult passage, to say the least.  The idea of mass divorce seems uncharacteristic to the heart of God (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:3-9, 1 Corinthians 7:10-16).  Yet, as we look at God’s commands, we see that these marriages were never sanctioned or even allowed by God in the first place.

As we try to understand the issues going on here, we must look back at the roll call of the first group of exiles to return to Jerusalem.  They seemed to be mostly men, while women and children were mentioned on a passing note.  It appears as if the religious leaders tried to solve the problem of finding wives for their sons themselves, rather than seek God and depend on the Lord for the right thing to do.

So what would an alternative be?  In Genesis chapter 24, Abraham was faced with the same dilemma.  Abraham trusted God and sent his servant back to his homeland to find a godly woman for Isaac.  Abraham did not bow to peer pressure from the ungodly locals, nor did he use the marriage of his son to make a treaty with those living around him.  He chose to trust God with finding his son a godly wife.

So what do we need to send away from us that leads us away from following God?  What are we substituting for our dependence on and satisfaction with the Lord?  What are we putting ahead of God?

This is not a call to misery and self-deprivation, but to holiness and freedom and joy that is found in obedience to Christ alone.

May we walk with Him today, enjoying His company and the joy He offers despite our circumstances and hardships.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ezra 9:5-15

Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed:

“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.

“But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage.Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.

10 “But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands 11 you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. 12 Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’

13 “What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this. 14 Shall we then break your commands again and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? 15 Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”
(Ezra 9:5-15 NIV)

As we began chapter 9 last time, Ezra was 4-1/2 months into his new role of teaching God’s Law to God’s people in Jerusalem.  Some of the people came to Ezra and told him that God’s people were intermarrying with the local non-Jewish people.  If that was not enough bad news, the worst was that the ones who knew better – the priests and the Levites – were leading the way in their own families!

Ezra knows what God has said about this issue, and he reacts with deep grief.  The people join him in remorse, repentance, and mourning over the sin of the nation.

Today’s text – the remainder of chapter 9 – is Ezra’s prayer of confession and repentance over the sins of the nation.  This is not Ezra’s personal confession, but rather, a corporate confession on behalf of and as a member of the Jewish exiles living in Jerusalem, Judah, and Israel.

Ezra begins with expressing his guilt and shame over the sins committed (v. 6).  Ezra recalls that the generational sin that is happening is what exiled them in the first place (v. 7).  Ezra acknowledges that God’s discipline of His people was fully deserved.

Ezra also sees God’s hand of grace upon them – after 70 years, God has allowed them to return to His promised land (v. 8).  Even as captives living under the rule of a foreign king, God has granted His people favor and allowed them to rebuild the Temple (v. 9).

Ezra again confesses the guilt of the nation (v. 10), recalling God’s commands to rid the promised land of its spiritual impurity and to not further pollute it by intermarrying with people who worship other gods (vv. 11-12).

Ezra recognizes God’s grace and mercy (v. 13), and with a broken heart, asks God if they had worn Him out to the point that He would just wipe them off the face of the earth forever (v. 14).

In the final statement of his prayer, Ezra admits the sin of the nation before a holy and righteous God, and confesses that they bring nothing to Him other than their sin and repentance (v. 15).

When confronted with the sin of the nation, where does Ezra turn, and what does he do?

Ezra turns to God in prayer and repentance.

What would our response be if someone came to us with the same news?  Would we turn to God (repentance), would we give our agreement to the sin (assimilation), or would we show indignation and judgment (self-righteousness and separation)?

Notice that even though Ezra is not guilty of this sin, he identifies with the nation, using words like “we”, “our”, and “us”.  Yes, God holds individuals responsible for their sin, but he also holds nations accountable for their sins.

Ezra desires that the righteousness of the nation be restored, for the good of all, both current and future generations.  Ezra’s confession shows his heart before the Lord and his desire to see the nation repent and change.

Ezra has faith in the Lord’s ability to break the bondage of this generational sin.  Ezra does not take God’s mercy for granted.  He understands God’s desire to bless His people, to do good to them and for them when they choose to walk with Him and obey His commands.

May Ezra’s prayer be our prayer for our respective nations, wherever we might live around the world.

Blessings,

~kevin

Ezra 9:1-4

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.
(Ezra 9:1-4 NIV)

As we quickly review our progress through the book of Ezra, we reviewed the details of Ezra’s trip from Babylon to Jerusalem in chapter 8.  With his official duties related to leading the group of exiles to Jerusalem now complete, Ezra and the exiles settled into their roles within Jerusalem and the Temple.

As we begin chapter 9, the timeline is approximately four and a half months after Ezra and the exiles arrive in Jerusalem.  Ezra must now face his first major order of business.

Chapter 9 is central to the meaning and message of the book of Ezra.  Here we see life with God as it should be vs. life in Israel and Jerusalem as it is.

So what is this major issue that Ezra must deal with?  Members of the community approached Ezra and let him know that some of the exiles had intermarried with the locals.  Worse yet, the very ones who should know better – the priests and Levites and other leaders – are the worst offenders!

In verse 2, the phrase “holy race” might be more literally translated “holy seed”.  This phrase is not genetic in its meaning, but rather, spiritual.

In Exodus 19:5-6, God commands His people to live in covenant relationship with Him.  This involved living in harmony with God, loving God on the inside (with their hearts), and obeying His commands on the outside (with their words and actions).

Prohibition of intermarriage with non-Jews was a key part of living in that covenant relationship with God.  In Exodus 34:11-16, God specifically told Moses and the Israelites not to make any treaties with the local people.  In Deuteronomy 7:3-4, God told the Israelites what would happen when they intermarried with the locals.  The hearts of the men and women would be led away from the Lord to serve other idols, and God’s righteous and jealous anger would be turned toward His people because of their disobedience.

This spiritual purity that God ordained was key to the covenant relationship with His people.  The breach of this spiritual bond was the reason for the downfall of both Israel and Judah.  The capture and exile of the Jewish people (as we studied in Jeremiah) was God’s righteous anger against His people for their unfaithfulness to Him.

Verses 3 – 4 capture Ezra’s reaction to this devastating news.  In Ezra’s ancient culture, inward conviction of the heart was coupled with the outward manifestation of the emotions.  Ezra’s weeping, fasting, the tearing of his garments, and the pulling out the hairs of his head and his beard all signified the degree of grief he experienced over this terrible news.

And Ezra was not the only one experiencing this reaction.  Verse 4 says that “everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” gathered around Ezra, likely having the same response as Ezra.

What happens when we fully understand God’s holiness?  Hebrews 12:18-29 (especially verse 21) give us a glimpse of what it means to come before the presence of God Almighty.

Does sin break our heart as it did Ezra’s?

Remember that Ezra was not brokenhearted over his own sin, but over the sin of the nation.  Had history taught them nothing?

It’s fairly easy to sit in self-righteous judgment over others who are opposed to our views, whether spiritual, political, economic, or any other topics.

Ezra had the king’s blessing to carry out judgment against those who broke God’s Laws.  And as we shall see in Chapter 10, Ezra does deal with the issue.  However, the first thing Ezra does is recognize God’s holiness and righteousness and tremble before Almighty God over this grievous sin of the nation.

May we take time today to come before the Lord in repentance and worship.  If you have a few moments, read the rest of Ezra 9 (verses 5-15) and join Ezra in his prayer.

Blessings,

~kevin

Ezra 8:21-36

21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

24 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, namely, Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their brothers, 25 and I weighed out to them the offering of silver and gold and the articles that the king, his advisers, his officials and all Israel present there had donated for the house of our God. 26 I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 27 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and two fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold.

28 I said to them, “You as well as these articles are consecrated to the Lord. The silver and gold are a freewill offering to the Lord, the God of your ancestors. 29 Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in the chambers of the house of the Lord in Jerusalem before the leading priests and the Levites and the family heads of Israel.” 30 Then the priests and Levites received the silver and gold and sacred articles that had been weighed out to be taken to the house of our God in Jerusalem.

31 On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way. 32 So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days.

33 On the fourth day, in the house of our God, we weighed out the silver and gold and the sacred articles into the hands of Meremoth son of Uriah, the priest. Eleazar son of Phinehas was with him, and so were the Levites Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui. 34 Everything was accounted for by number and weight, and the entire weight was recorded at that time.

35 Then the exiles who had returned from captivity sacrificed burnt offerings to the God of Israel: twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven male lambs and, as a sin offering, twelve male goats. All this was a burnt offering to the Lord. 36 They also delivered the king’s orders to the royal satraps and to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, who then gave assistance to the people and to the house of God.
(Ezra 8:21-36 NIV)

In yesterday’s passage, we heard Ezra begin speaking in the first person and of current events.  Ezra’s first words were a doxology to the Lord, thanking and praising God for all He had done, was doing, and was about to do in the future.

Ezra then took a roll call of the family heads going with him to Jerusalem.   As Ezra looked over the roles represented, he realized there were no Levites among the assembled caravan.  Ezra reached out to the head of one of the Levite clans with a request for participants, and volunteers from both the Levites and the temple servants stepped forward.

As we begin today’s text, we see Ezra continuing the details of the preparation for the journey, the actual trip, and the arrival in Jerusalem.  When Ezra summarized the journey in Ezra 7:9, we saw the journey took four months.  Today’s text provides the details of those four months.

Ezra begins with the preparation for the trip in verses 21-30.  If you’ll remember from our introduction to the book of Ezra, we noted that Ezra was most likely the author of the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Chronicles.  As a historian, Ezra had recorded God’s promise to King Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14 (“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”).

As a practitioner and servant of the Lord, now Ezra had to live out his faith and obedience to God’s Word that he had recorded years before.  With everyone who will go on the trip now assembled, Ezra declares days of fasting and seeking the Lord.  Ezra declared those days set aside to seek God, humble themselves before Him, and pray for their journey.

In verse 21, we see that the headcount Ezra provided in the first part of chapter 8 was of the men (as heads of families) only; now we see that children and spouses were also part of the journey.  Ezra was also in prayer about the possessions they were taking with them – all the offerings of gold, silver, money, and other valuables that the king and others were sending to the Temple as offerings to the Lord.

Ezra had been talking about his faith and the greatness of God with King Artaxerxes; now he had to live out his faith, to walk the talk.  Ezra knew of the dangers and perils of the trip, and the bandits that loved to steal valuables from traveling parties.  Ezra now had a choice to make – a crisis of faith – to trust God for protection as God had promised, or to use the king’s army to provide protection for the trip.

Ezra chose the Lord, but began by fasting, seeking God’s face, humbling themselves, and praying for the Lord’s protection and provision.  In verse 23, Ezra notes that God assured them of safe passage.  They didn’t move until God responded.

In verses 24 – 30, Ezra records the inventory and accounting for the gifts to the Lord that were set aside for the Temple.  Again, Ezra was very careful to have accountability before the Lord for this task.  Ezra engaged priests from the traveling party to help with this work.  Ezra charged them with the responsibility and authority to transport these gifts, with a careful count and weight measures recorded for each and every gift.  Ezra declared both the gifts and the priests who transported them holy to the Lord, set aside for God only during the journey as well as when they reached the Temple in Jerusalem.

Verse 31 records the trip as successful; verse 32 shows Ezra’s consideration for the weariness of the journey and rest for all involved.

Verses 33 – 36 provide closure to the trip itself.   In verses 33-34, Ezra has all the priests who carried the offerings and holy objects check them in at the Temple.  Ezra notes that the inventory was taken, compared to the counts and weights recorded at the beginning of the trip, and everything was accounted for – nothing was missing.

Verse 35 records the worship service and the sacrifices made to the Lord in honor of arriving safely in Jerusalem.

Verse 36 records Ezra dispatching his official duties with the regional governors, officials, and rulers.   Ezra read King Artaxerxes’ letter and decrees; all the officials responded in support of the king, of Ezra, of the Jewish people, and of the Temple.

As I read and studied this passage, I was struck by Ezra’s high view of God:

  • he put God first and foremost in everything he did
  • his careful preparation – spiritually first, through fasting and prayer
  • he walked the talk and practiced what he preached
  • he trusted God, even when would have been easy to accept the king’s protection for the journey instead of relying on the Lord
  • his attention to detail and accountability for the gifts entrusted to him
  • his spiritual leadership in engaging others with the work of the Lord (transporting the gifts, declaring both the gifts and the priests who bore them as holy)

I am humbled by Ezra’s role model.

May we seek to honor God in every part of our lives as Ezra did.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ezra 7:27-8:20

27 Praise be to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way 28 and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.

These are the family heads and those registered with them who came up with me from Babylon during the reign of King Artaxerxes:

of the descendants of Phinehas, Gershom;

of the descendants of Ithamar, Daniel;

of the descendants of David, Hattush of the descendants of Shekaniah;

of the descendants of Parosh, Zechariah, and with him were registered 150 men;

of the descendants of Pahath-Moab, Eliehoenai son of Zerahiah, and with him 200 men;

of the descendants of Zattu, Shekaniah son of Jahaziel, and with him 300 men;

of the descendants of Adin, Ebed son of Jonathan, and with him 50 men;

of the descendants of Elam, Jeshaiah son of Athaliah, and with him 70 men;

of the descendants of Shephatiah, Zebadiah son of Michael, and with him 80 men;

of the descendants of Joab, Obadiah son of Jehiel, and with him 218 men;

10 of the descendants of Bani, Shelomith son of Josiphiah, and with him 160 men;

11 of the descendants of Bebai, Zechariah son of Bebai, and with him 28 men;

12 of the descendants of Azgad, Johanan son of Hakkatan, and with him 110 men;

13 of the descendants of Adonikam, the last ones, whose names were Eliphelet, Jeuel and Shemaiah, and with them 60 men;

14 of the descendants of Bigvai, Uthai and Zakkur, and with them 70 men.

15 I assembled them at the canal that flows toward Ahava, and we camped there three days. When I checked among the people and the priests, I found no Levites there. 16 So I summoned Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, who were leaders, and Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of learning,17 and I ordered them to go to Iddo, the leader in Kasiphia. I told them what to say to Iddo and his fellow Levites, the temple servants in Kasiphia, so that they might bring attendants to us for the house of our God. 18 Because the gracious hand of our God was on us, they brought us Sherebiah, a capable man, from the descendants of Mahli son of Levi, the son of Israel, and Sherebiah’s sons and brothers, 18 in all; 19 and Hashabiah, together with Jeshaiah from the descendants of Merari, and his brothers and nephews, 20 in all. 20 They also brought 220 of the temple servants—a body that David and the officials had established to assist the Levites. All were registered by name.
(Ezra 7:27-8:10 NIV)

In the last section, we heard King Artaxerxes’ decree and read the letter he sent with Ezra as the Jewish contingent prepared to leave Babylon and go to Jerusalem.  Ezra’s training and mission were to teach God’s Law to God’s people and to oversee religious matters among the Jews living in Israel and Judah.

The king had selfish interests in mind, mainly the preservation of his kingdom and his family.  Yet, God still used the king’s self-serving interests for His glory and the good of His people, as He prepared the nation for Messiah to come.

Starting with today’s passage, we see Ezra writing as himself, chronicling current events in the first person.  The history lesson and background is complete – it’s time to see what God is doing in Ezra’s life and in the lives of those whom God had given him charge over.

In 7:27-28, Ezra’s first words in his own voice are praise and thanksgiving for what God has done and is doing.  Ezra felt God’s favor and was moved to worship.  Through the worship, Ezra was encouraged and strengthened to do what God had called him to do.

In 8:1-14, Ezra calls out those who volunteer and meets them at a central meeting place, where he takes a quick census of who has come and how many there are in each family unit.

In 8:15-17, Ezra realizes that no Levites are represented in the volunteers, and requests the head of the Levite family to ask for volunteers.

In 8:18-20, the Levite volunteers come forward, along with the temple servants.

So why were there no Levite volunteers in the original group?

Quite possibly, life for the Levites was better in exile than back in Jerusalem.  If we look back to the original census of exiles that went from Babylon to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:36-42), we see the priests who volunteered far outnumbered the Levite volunteers – more than 12 to 1.

The Levites were subservient to the priests and were dependent on the priests for their food allowance.  When the priests were selfish and uncaring about anyone but themselves (remember the priests acting badly from our study of Jeremiah?), the Levites suffered, some to the point of starvation.

God had specifically told the Levites that they did not receive an inheritance of land in the Promised Land (Numbers 18:24); they were entirely dependent on the generosity of the people and the goodness of the priests.  When the people and the priests walked with God, they displayed the goodness of God and the Levites were well cared for.  When the people turned to themselves, and the priests looked after their own interests, the Levites suffered.

The Levites were a “litmus test” of sorts, showing the heart of the people and of the priests toward the Lord.

Notice how many more temple servants (who were subservient to the Levites) that volunteered than the Levites (8:18-19)!  The temple servants clearly understood their role and readily signed up to serve the Lord when asked.

It’s easy to follow our “natural” direction, isn’t it?

And how hard it is to go against “common sense” and the “way of the world” and follow God!

But the narrow way, the hard way, the way of God’s calling is ultimately the right way.

Paul reminds us of this as he tells the Corinthians that the “wisdom” of the world versus the “foolishness” of God are reversed; that God’s “foolishness” (in the world’s eyes) is greater than any “wisdom” the world has to offer (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).

May we lean on the Lord, and not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Blessings,
~kevin

Ezra 7:11-26

11 This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law, a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the Lord for Israel:

12 Artaxerxes, king of kings,

To Ezra the priest, teacher of the Law of the God of heaven:

Greetings.

13 Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who volunteer to go to Jerusalem with you, may go. 14 You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand. 15 Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisers have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 together with all the silver and gold you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the freewill offerings of the people and priests for the temple of their God in Jerusalem. 17 With this money be sure to buy bulls, rams and male lambs, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem.

18 You and your fellow Israelites may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of your God. 19 Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God. 20 And anything else needed for the temple of your God that you are responsible to supply, you may provide from the royal treasury.

21 Now I, King Artaxerxes, decree that all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates are to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you— 22 up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. 23 Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should his wrath fall on the realm of the king and of his sons? 24 You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God.

25 And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. 26 Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.
(Ezra 7:11-26 NIV)

In our last time together, we saw Ezra introduce himself (in the third person), his mission, and summarize his trip from Babylon to Jerusalem.  As we also discovered, Ezra is writing in his present day, during the reign of King Artaxerxes.

Today, we begin a section (the remainder of chapter 7 and all of chapter 8) where Ezra provides the details of his trip – the preparation, the actual trip, and the completion of trip duties upon arrival in Jerusalem.

Today, we are focused on verses 11 – 26 – King Artaxerxes’ official decree and the letter that he wrote and sent with Ezra.

Here is a summary of the letter’s contents:

  • vv. 12-13 – Permission for Ezra to go and take anyone who is willing to go, especially those who will minister in the Temple
  • vv. 14-16 – The king is sending Ezra to make sure the Jewish people are being taught God’s Law and are living according to God’s Law
  • vv. 17-19 – Gifts and offerings from King Artaxerxes and from the people are being sent with Ezra for worshipping the Lord
  • vv. 20 – 22 – Supplies provided by the king, with the following limits:
    • a hundred talents of silver (7,500 pounds, or 3.75 tons)
    • a hundred cors of wheat (650 bushels)
    • a hundred baths of wine (600 gallons)
    • a hundred baths of olive oil (600 gallons)
    • salt without limit
  • v. 23 – the “why” of the trip and the offerings – to obey God and protect the king and his family (his sons)
  • v. 24 – No taxation of those who serve in the Temple
  • v. 25 – Ezra is to appoint religious rulers and judges over the people so that they can oversee and enforce what Ezra will teach them from God’s Law
  • v. 26 – Ezra and the rulers and judges that Ezra appoints have the authority to enforce consequences for disobedience to God’s Law

 

As we look at this passage today, we see God’s hands of providence, protection, preparation, and provision around the people of Israel, as Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

  • disciplining the children of Israel and Judah for their disobedience
  • restoring them to their homeland
  • teaching them His Laws again
  • building a faithful community that honors Him from generation to generation
  • preparing His people for the coming of Messiah (Jesus)

Just as God used Ezra and the others to carry out His work, the Lord is calling us to be and to do His work to bring glory to His name.

May we be as zealous to be like the Lord and carry out His desires as Ezra was.

Blessings,

~kevin