Ezra, Ezra, Read All about Him

December 2, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Posted in Ezra | 1 Comment
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Ezra Chapter 10 is an example of sin being dealt with clearly, quickly, and decisively.

Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.

Ezra 10:4

During a time of exile, God’s people had become unclean. They needed to feel the remorse that comes with true repentance, and they needed to take action, which is the evidence of true repentance.

Below are links to the previous lessons on the Book of Ezra:

1. Returning from Exile
2. Different Levels of Separation
3. Leading by Example
4. Beware Fractious Frustraters
5. Getting a Hand, Giving a Hand, and Handing It On
6. Returning to Holiness
7. Post-Exilic Confession

Post-Exilic Confession

November 13, 2013 at 11:17 am | Posted in Ezra | 2 Comments
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Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.

Ezra 9:1-2

One of the most common areas where “exiled” believers fell into unholiness is in the area of sexual immorality. The Jewish men had lusted after foreign women – unbelievers – which was forbidden. We might say, “Well, at least they married them,” but that argument becomes preposterous when you realize that they divorced their Jewish wives to do it! (Malachi 2:10-16)

Ezra found out this was going on because people told him about it. Did this make them a bunch of tattletales or gossip-mongers? No, because the offenders were their spiritual leaders. Ezra did not ignore this information, or sweep it under the rug. He did not preach an ambiguous sermon about it. He did not rush out in anger and confront them about it. No, he began to pray, weep, grieve, tear his clothes, pull out his hair and beard, and confess.

Three of the Old Testament’s great prayers of confession are found in Ezra Chapter 9, Nehemiah Chapter 9, and Daniel Chapter 9.

And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.

Ezra 9:3

Are we this shocked over the sins of God’s people and our own sins?

And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God,

Ezra 9:5

Ezra experienced this “heaviness” as a result of his fasting, and he fasted not to obtain God’s favor, but because he was too sick to eat. Are we sickened by the sin of our spiritual leaders?

Father, I pray that we would return from any areas of our lives where we have been in spiritual exile, and that we would put to use the great gifts You have given us. In the name of Christ Jesus I pray. Amen.

Returning to Holiness

October 29, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Posted in Ezra | 2 Comments
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God made Artaxerxes grant Ezra great authority.

I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and [of] his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee.

Ezra 7:13

The first group of returning exiles, under Zerubbabel, was 50,000. Ezra’s group was 1500 men, plus women and children. The success of a ministry is not numbers. It’s the work of God being accomplished. It’s the lives of people being changed. Most of all, though, it’s the Word of God being obeyed.

God even forced Artaxerxes to fund the mission.

And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem,

Ezra 7:15

And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily,

Ezra 7:21

Ezra recruited exiles. Let’s not forget to reach out to exiled believers, as well as lost folks. Once these recruits got together, they did not rush out on their own. They humbled themselves and prayed.

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.

Ezra 8:21

Like Abraham’s servant when he went to find Isaac’s bride, they understood the importance of seeking God’s favor, and God was with them.

They arrived.

Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth [day] of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way.

Ezra 8:31

They gave an accounting.

By number and by weight of every one: and all the weight was written at that time.

Ezra 8:34

They worshiped.

Also the children of those that had been carried away, which were come out of the captivity, offered burnt offerings unto the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety and six rams, seventy and seven lambs, twelve he goats for a sin offering: all this was a burnt offering unto the LORD.

Ezra 8:35

There was no lamenting for the “good old days” like in Ezra 3:12.

They obtained clearance from the civil authorities.

And they delivered the king’s commissions unto the king’s lieutenants, and to the governors on this side the river: and they furthered the people, and the house of God.
Ezra 8:36

In Chapter 9 we see a major problem with the people as they returned from exile. They were used to living an unholy life.

For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

Leviticus 11:44-45

Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.

Leviticus 19:2

Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 20:7

And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.

Leviticus 20:26

Thou shalt sanctify him therefore; for he offereth the bread of thy God: he shall be holy unto thee: for I the LORD, which sanctify you, am holy.

Leviticus 21:8

But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

I Peter 1:15-16

Why should Christians live a holy life? I can give you many reasons, but the main reason is: because God has commanded it. At least eight times in Scripture Gods says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” And he is primarily talking to believers. Believers should not look, think, talk, and act like the sinful world, because sinful things and sinful ways are not holy, and God says, “Be ye holy.”

Getting a Hand, Giving a Hand, and Handing it On

October 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Posted in Ezra | 3 Comments
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It is interesting to note what Ezra himself saw as the reason for his success.

This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.

Ezra 7:6

For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.

Ezra 7:9

And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.

Ezra 7:28

And by the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel; and Sherebiah, with his sons and his brethren, eighteen;

Ezra 8:18

For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.

Ezra 8:22

Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way.

Ezra 8:31

Ezra recognized that “the good hand of the Lord was upon [him].”

Artaxerxes was called Artaxerxes “the Long-Handed,” and we are reminded of the far-reaching consequences of breaking the laws under our own system of criminal justice when we use the phrase, “the long arm of the law.” Artaxerxes’s influence was certainly widespread, but he was really being used as God’s “long hand.” God’s hand moved Artaxerxes’s hand to sign the decree which granted the authority that Ezra needed.

Ezra Chapter 7 takes place 60 years after the dedication of the temple in Chapter 6. The Jewish remnant was having a difficult time when God raised up Ezra to lead the second group of refugees from Babylon to Judah. Ezra came from a Godly line of priests, and he knew who they were, and he sought to honor their memory. It’s one thing to be left a great material inheritance by your ancestors, but it’s even better to be left a spiritual inheritance. What a waste it would be if your grandparents and their parents deposited spiritual wealth into your account, and you are now squandering it.

Ezra was a student of the Scriptures.

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

Ezra 7:10

He read the Word, he obeyed the Word, and he taught the word. All Christians should be teachers. You may not have an official “classroom of students,” but if you think you don’t have anybody to teach, let me introduce you to your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your co-workers, etc. Find some children whose parents don’t come to church, or some single parent who could use some help, and share what God has shown you in His Word.

Different Levels of Separation

September 23, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Posted in Ezra | 2 Comments
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Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel; Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.

Ezra 4:1-3

The return from exile by believers excites opposition from the enemies of God. Exiled believers can benefit greatly from the prayers, support, and even advice of Christian brothers and sisters, but we must be careful of bringing insurgents into the midst of the family of God. There were some Samaritans who wanted to ride along – without Godly intentions – on the coattails of God’s returning people. Christians must interact with worldly people, but we must not partake in their sinful activities.

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,

II Corinthians 6:14-17

Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Ezra 4:24

It was ungodly fear that caused the work to stop.

Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Ezra 4:4-5

Believers should not be afraid of anything, except God. A person who does not fear God should be afraid of everything else.

Ezra 4:6-23 is a break in the narrative, giving the history of the work of the exiles being attacked. It deals with the rebuilding of the temple, not the city.

Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.

Ezra 4:12

Ezra 4:12 is the first time in the Bible the people of Judah are called “Jews.”

In Ezra Chapter 5 the Lord sends preachers to get the people to stop working on their own houses, and to re-start doing the work of God

Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.

Ezra 5:1-2

Haggai and Zechariah were the main prophets.

And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.

Ezra 6:14

In the kingdom of God, our work is building, not fighting, not celebrating, not boasting – but we must be careful to build on the principles found in the Word of God. Works of God not built on words of God are doomed to fail.

And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy,

Ezra 6:16

The Babylonians had destroyed the temple in 586 B.C. The completion of the work of rebuilding the temple was in 515 B.C., a period of 70 years, fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy. Ezra 6:13-18 describes the dedication of the temple in 515 B.C., but the Jewish holiday Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication in 165 B.C. when the temple had been defiled by gentiles and a group of brave Jewish warriors, led by Judas Maccabeus, recaptured it, cleansed it, and re-dedicated it to the Lord.

And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

Ezra 6:22

Darius is sometimes called the king of Assyria, although we usually refer to him as the king of Persia. Persia had conquered Assyria, so he was king of Persian and king of Assyria. The Jewish people that couldn’t work on the temple because they couldn’t prove their lineage were still welcome to worship and to participate in the dedication of the temple.

And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat,

Ezra 6:21

Our position as Christians should be that all who profess an interest in God are welcome in church, even though not everyone is qualified to serve in all ministry positions in the church.

Returning from Exile

September 5, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Posted in Ezra | 3 Comments
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In 538 B.C. approximately 50,000 exiled Jews left captivity in Babylon to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city. After the decree of King Cyrus which authorized them to do this, some of the Jews wanted to return and some didn’t.

Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.

Ezra 1:8

Sheshbazzar was probably Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah. It was not unusual for Jews born in a foreign land to be given a foreign name in addition to their Jewish names.

Ezra Chapter 2 contains genealogies. These were important to the Jewish people for two reasons: One, they needed to be able to prove they had an inheritance of the rights and privileges of being Jewish. Two, they didn’t want their mission corrupted by outsiders.

Those who returned took singers with them. Believers today sometimes sing songs which sound joyous to the world, but which also carry an undertone of grief to those sensitive to the Spirit. (Psalm 137:1-4) Coming back early from exile should be a time for truly joyous singing, which honors the Lord.

What did they do first when they were ready to begin rebuilding? Lay the foundation? No. Gather supplies and materials? No. Set up an altar and sacrifice? Yes! If you are a Christian, but you have been in “spiritual exile” – disobediently out of God’s will – when you return, you should get back to basics: do the fundamentals, present yourself as a living sacrifice to God.

Note the emphasis on unity: they gathered together (Ezra 3:1); they stood together (Ezra 3:9); they sang together (Ezra 3:11). When you come back from a spiritual exile, get in unity, “togetherness,” with other believers who are following the foundation of the pattern: repentance; confession; prayer; reading and heeding the Word; obeying the Word and the Spirit; growing in faith.

In Ezra 3:11 the unity was interrupted when the joyful shouting was interrupted by loud weeping. These “ancient” men were upset because the “new” did not meet their expectations, and, in their mind, did not measure up to the “old.” As believers today, if we go into exile, and then come back, we may find things changed. The music may be different. The “style” of worship may be different. The age of the leaders may be different. The Word of God is never different, but older believers must not insist that the younger believers conform to every old tradition.

If you find yourself in exile from the will of God, one thing is clear: God’s commandment – you really don’t have to search very far in the Scriptures to find it – is that you return from exile. Return to the center of God’s will for your life. God will enable you to do it.

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

I Thessalonians 5:24

God is faithful. His faithfulness is not dependent on our faithfulness.

If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.

II Timothy 2:13

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Philippians 1:6

Leading by Example

April 12, 2010 at 10:42 am | Posted in Ezra, Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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The city of Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple there had been destroyed. The city walls were breached and broken. The Jewish people were in captivity in Babylon. Then, one day, God caused a faithful group of His people to return to Jerusalem to undertake the imposing task of rebuilding the walls, repopulating the city, and restoring the temple.

Progress was being made until around 530 B.C. For about 10 years the people were forbidden to continue by the Persian king, Artaxerxes, and they worked on their own houses, rather than the house of God.

Two main factors got God’s people back on track, and motivated them to resume God’s work. One was Godly preaching.

Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.

Ezra 5:1

There is power in the prophesying (preaching) of God’s Word.

The second factor was that the ones doing the preaching were not afraid to get their hands dirty, and set a Godly example by practicing what they prophesied.

Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.

Ezra 5:2, emphasis added

Spiritual leaders are often called upon to use their mouths, but they should also be willing to use their backs.

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