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Ezra was the second of three key leaders to leave Babylon for the reconstruction of Jerusalem.  While Zerubbabel would rebuild the Temple (Ezra 3:8), and Nehemiah rebuilt the walls, Ezra would restore worship. Ezra was a scribe and priest sent with religious and political powers by the Persian King Artaxerxes to lead the group of Jewish exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:8, 12). During the 70 years of exile, there was much intermarriage between the Jews and Babylonians. Ezra condemned mixed marriages and encouraged Jews to divorce and banish their foreign wives. While this sounds almost inhumane in our world today, Ezra was basing his position on what we would hear later from the Apostle Paul who is quoting Ezekiel:

(2 Corinthians 6:14:18) 1 – “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

In marriage, those who do not have the same faith or in the case of the Israelite and the Babylonian, even the same god, were sharing an impossible relationship. Ezra knew the difficulty of rebuilding the people’s trust and faith in their God and was using Scripture’s own advice to help him with the task.  Ezra would also renew the celebration of festivals and supported the re-dedication of the temple and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem walls by Nehemiah. Ezra’s goal was to implement the Torah, and his impeccable priestly and scribal credentials allowed him to remain the model leader.

(Ezra 7:10) – “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”

The book of Ezra continues from where 2 Chronicles ends, with Cyrus II, king of Persia, issuing the decree that permitted the Jews of his kingdom to return to Jerusalem. God is universally sovereign and can even use a polytheistic (believing in multiple gods) king of Persia to make possible His people’s release. He used Artaxerxes, another Persian king, to authorize and finance the trip and Ezra to teach God’s people His Law. This same king also helped Nehemiah restore some measure of respectability to God’s holy city.

Ezra came from Babylon to Jerusalem expecting to find the people happily serving God. What he found was just the opposite. He was sadden by what he saw but never gave up on God. Ezra wanted God to change the situation and blamed himself for not being able to change people’s hearts. Ezra wanted the people to know how important and essential the Word of God was to their daily lives and to their salvation. Nothing supersedes the worship of our God, and obedience to that command is not optional.

A sovereign God looks over and protects His sheep, always keeping His promises and providing encouragement through the people He sends.

(Ezra 5:1–2) – “Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.”

Even when God’s plan seems to be interrupted, interfered with, or stalled, as with the rebuilding of Jerusalem, God always steps in at the appropriate time to continue His plan.

Ezra’s effective ministry included teaching the Word of God, initiating reforms, restoring worship, and leading spiritual revival in Jerusalem. These reforms magnified the need for a genuine concern for reputation and for the public image of God’s people and city. Ezra encouraged the people to think about what the world saw, dilapidated city walls around God’s city. Interesting question isn’t it? What does the world think of our own country today with its crumbling cities, crime, political divisions, drug problems and uncontrolled debt?  Does the world see us as a country with a covenant relationship with God? What distinguishes us as God’s people?  Ezra was an encouragement to God’s people to magnify worship as their top priority, to emphasize the need for and use of God’s Word as the only authoritative rule for living, and to be concerned about the image God’s people show to the world.

Our goals should always be worthy in God’s eyes as well as our own. Yesterday’s problems will become today’s successes if the hand of the Lord is in them. Ezra’s goal was to be worthy in God’s eyes, and he effectively used the memories of seventy years of exile to rebuild God’s city and rebuild His people too.

Contemplations

  • Why is worship and God’s Word so important in restoring a nation?
    • Ideas to Explore: True restoration cannot occur without God’s help. People must change inside to be fully repentant and not repeat past mistakes. Do you think that there is instructive material in Scripture that is helpful to humankind?
  • The nation of Israel needed three things to start over, a temple, to use the temple properly and to be safe in their city. Why are these three things so important to in a Godly society?
    • Ideas to Explore: These are the three things’ people need to change and become better people – God knows best. It is the first commandment from God. We can benefit from history.
  • Why was Ezra so effective?
    • Ideas to Explore: How did his education and experience play a role in his success? What did the pagan king see in him that instilled confidence and support? What did the people of Jerusalem see in Ezra?
  • How does the Word of God restore a nation?
  • Ideas to Explore: God’s Laws are the foundation for humanity. People eventually corrupt any good law with more laws so going back to basics is always better.  Does God’s hand have to be in any plan to change people for the better?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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