Ezra – 419

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750px-NY-419.svg419 words.

That is the total length of the prayer of repentance out of the mouth of Ezra when he arrived in Jerusalem and saw the rampant sin that had already infected God’s newly-released people.

Ezra was a priest and a scribe and was commissioned by Darius, King of Persia, to travel with a second group of Israelites from Babylon to Jerusalem – joining with the original group which had left with Zerubbabel – for the purpose of helping reestablish the Law into the lives of the people and their newly rebuild Temple (Ezra 7).

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, after about a 4 ½ month journey, Ezra found this original group completely mixed with the pagan cultures living around them. (This may seem petty to us – but if you remember, it was this exact mindset which eventually led the people to adopt their idol worship and vile sacrifices to false gods (such as burning their own children and temple prostitution). So this is a big issue. When Ezra finds out about this – he is grieved. He tears his garments. He plucks out his beard and hair. He then sits in astonishment for the rest of the day, (all signs of inward mourning over a great calamity – Joshua 7:6; 1 Sam 4:12; etc). That is quite a reaction!

Which brings up a great point for us to ponder…

Is this how you react to sin… yours or someone elses?

Do you react with grief and mourning when you find out someone who should know better is living in unrepentant sin – or do you easily dismiss it or ignore it?

After his day of mourning – Ezra immediately falls upon his face and prays a prayer. (Ezra 9:6-15).

419 words.

He doesn’t mince words or attempt to justify the actions of his people – but instead uses words like “ashamed” and “blush” (vs 6). He doesn’t blame God for their situation, but attributes the recent decades of calamity and heartache to sin just like this (vs 7). He acknowledges that God has shown them great grace by causing Cyprus to release them (vs 8 & 13).

Ezra didn’t hide it – didn’t excuse it – didn’t write a new doctrine to justify it… he repented and was grieved. Then he stood up and led the people in undoing the damage – correcting the error (not an easy thing to do… but necessary) – and then doing things the correct way.

That is what true repentance brings… correction and then resolve to turn from that sin.

The end result of those 419 words is that the entire nation repented and turned back to the Lord. The Temple worship was re-established and the city of Jerusalem was strengthened in preparation for the next phase… the rebuilding of the walls under the leadership of Nehemiah.

First repentance and the Temple (Ezra) – then the rebuilding of the walls (Nehemiah).

And it all started with 419 words.

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK

Ezra

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ezraOriginally, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were both combined into one book – with 685 verses numbered from Ezra 1:1Neh 13:31. In Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament – as well as early Christian documents – they were treated as one book entitled “The Book of Ezra”. Eventually the book was divided into two sections and called “Ezra 1 & 2” – and then finally titled what we now know as “Ezra” and “Nehemiah”.

The book of Ezra picks up the history of the Jewish people as it ended in 2 Chronicles 36 – with Cyrus, King of Persia sending the Israelites, who had been held captive in Babylon, back to Jerusalem with all of their possessions, along with orders to rebuild the Temple and the city. There is great debate as to why Cyrus would do such a thing – but it is clear by reading the historical accounts that this was not out of character for him. Obviously (from our perspective) God had a hand in this and was, once again, intervening for His people.

The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are the final books included in the History section of the Bible; and although they appear in a certain order in our Bible – that is not the order in which they actually occurred. The account in Esther took place while the Jews are still in Babylon and under the rule of Darius the Mede, while Ezra and Nehemiah take place some years later under Cyrus. As well, the events of Ezra and Nehemiah are more contemporary then first appears. The main theme of Ezra is the rebuilding of the Temple, while the main theme of Nehemiah is the rebuilding of the city and the walls of Jerusalem. Both of these building projects actually took place around the same years – but since the Temple is more important then the city walls, Ezra is placed first in the canonical order.

Although the authorship of the book of Ezra has been attributed to Ezra (a scribe and priest), that doesn’t mean that he was present during all of the events described in it. In truth – the first sections (which deal with the first wave of returning exiles under Zerubbabel) was probably copied by Ezra from documents recording the event. Ezra himself did not return to Jerusalem until much later, sent by Artexerxes, King of Persia, for the purpose of helping establish God’s law back into Israel and teaching the people how to obey it (Ezra 7:25). By this time the Temple was mainly finished and the walls were well on their way. (Nehemiah would be sent later as governor to ensure the completion of the work – with the help of Ezra the scribe – along with some prophets).

Just from the first few chapters of Ezra we see how difficult a task it was going to be in rebuilding this once magnificent city. Enemies of the Jews still lingered in the land surrounding Jerusalem, and the last thing they wanted to see was this city restored to her former glory. Almost immediately, we see these enemies sticking their noses into the work – attempting to stop its progress and hinder the end goal.

This brings up a great comparison to our own lives. As in any work of the Lord – the Enemy wishes to hinder it and prevent it from happening. He uses many tactics to aid him in this goal – from fear and intimidation to civil authority and persecution. We, today are not immune to these ageless strategies – as we obey the Lord and do the work of His kingdom in our own day. Honestly – it is those who do not face resistance who need worry. To not face any persecution or to not have anyone attempting to sidetrack your obedience to the Lord is a sure sign that you are probably not doing anything of value in the first place. The enemy basically leaves alone those who are no threat to him!

Very early on we can garner much encouragement and motivation from Ezra’s account. Encouragement in that, if you are enduring opposition in your walk of faith, stand firm and continue to do what God has told you to do in the face of pressure… and God will carry you forward. On the other hand – if you can look at your daily life and find no signs of resistance then it may be time to re-examine your walk – and seek ways to become the threat you were called to be!

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK