“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 17: AUGUST 8
EZRA 5 – ESTHER 10:3
We pick up today where we left off yesterday, with Judah picking up the pieces after their exile in Babylon. Lots of humbling going on the part of the returnees, lots of vows and promises being made to themselves, to each other, and to God, as well as lots of opposition by those who see the returned Jews and their rebuilding of Jerusalem as a threat.
- Judging by the description of Jerusalem, it was mostly uninhabited for the 70 years of Judah’s exile. Recall from one of the earlier readings that the only people spared during the destruction and slaughter were those of no distinction or power (and thus of no perceived threat) who were left behind to work the land. So the city of Jerusalem had essentially lain fallow for decades, meaning that those who returned to rebuild it certainly had their work cut out for them.
- Whenever the Spirit of God starts a mighty movement in his people, there is always the same degree of opposition that arises to stop it. We saw this with Moses and David at the start of their power, and now we see it with the returnees at the start of theirs. In fact, the opposition prevailed to such an extent at one point that the rebuilding and restoration work was halted altogether. When faith falters, evil gets the upper hand. Those who eventually overcame the opposition were strong in faith and were also guided by others who were strong in faith, like the prophets Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai.
- Interesting detail about how they worked non-stop and with swords at their side to rebuild the city wall. This kind of urgency could be used today in God’s church. Also interesting how only those who wanted to contribute to the rebuilding “free-willingly” (particularly of the temple) were asked to contribute. The same request was made when the tabernacle was being built in the wilderness during Moses’ time. It’s important to God that only those who want to give of their own free will contribute to the building of his house. Jesus later references this preference of God by saying that only those who want to worship God “in Spirit and in Truth” should do so, as “God seeks such to worship him”. God has no use for lip-servers. He would rather that someone be outright oppositional than pretend to love him. God hates deception in matters of faith and the heart.
- Another interesting and highly relevant (to us) detail is how the Levite priests and their assistants were commanded to separate themselves from their “strange” (that is non-Jewish) wives and children, as marrying these women and having children by them was a violation of the law. When the priest class became aware that what they had done was wrong in the eyes of God, they simply did whatever was required to make it right, which in this case was to say bye-bye to the wife and kiddies for life.
- We likely can’t imagine a situation where we would do the same, but still it’s expected of us. All of the married disciples left their wives and kids when they got the call to follow Jesus. If we are commanded to put God ahead of everything and everyone else, walking away from elements that no longer belong in our lives and that in fact prevent us from following Jesus the way we need to follow him should be self-evident. We are, as Paul tells us, priests and prophets, if we’re in the Kingdom and are Spirit-filled born-again believers. Priests and prophets are not to live with people who are not priests and prophets, as it would be a form of spiritual defilement. That’s why Jesus lived separately from his family and former friends, and only laid his head at night among fellow believers.
- We see again in this reading a retelling of the story of the children of Israel from the time of Abraham. The emphasis in this retelling is not so much on the glory and grandeur of God and his wondrous miracles, but on God’s longsuffering patience and mercy. Ezra, who is described as being both priest and prophet, does the retelling. He also reads Moses’ book of the law to the people, and then reminds them of how God gave them chance after chance after chance, even despite their continual backsliding. Ezra also warns the people that worse will happen to them if they backslide after their return to Jerusalem.
- The story of Esther is an intriguing one. If you do some digging, you can find where it fits in the chronology of Biblical events, but it always seems to sit by itself as a guide to Jewish people and a warning to their enemies. The Jewish holiday of Purim emerged from the events that happened to Esther and her uncle Mordecai as they foiled the plan to slaughter all the Jews in the land. The plan was turned back on the conspirators, and they ended up being the ones who were slaughtered, after which all their possessions were given to the Jews.
- It’s a cautionary tale, for sure, and also a reminder that if you mess with God’s people, you mess with God. Even so, there’s something slightly fairy-tale-ish about this story that makes me wonder if some details were added (and others left out) to heighten the impact. I don’t feel the same connection to these characters as I do to others in the Bible who do God’s will. I’m not sure why that is, but there it is. Maybe your impressions of the story of Esther and Mordecai are different than mine.
So what jumped out at you in this reading? I’m guessing that you, like me, are now pretty much able to recite your own summary of the story of the children of Israel, from the time of Abraham up to and including their exile in Babylon. See how effective the mechanism of repetition is? We’ll be encountering even more repetition in the days to come. That’s how God teaches his people!
For a schedule of upcoming readings, see the PDF below: