Ezra 1–5: Return & Resistance

Read the Bible in 2011Week 46: Tuesday

“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia,
in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the
mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the
spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a
proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and
also put it in writing, saying:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.’”
Ezra 1:1–4

Tuesday’s Bible reading is Ezra 1–5. The opening verses of Ezra repeat the ending of 2 Chronicles by reiterating the proclamation of Cyrus. God’s promise made through His prophet Jeremiah is fulfilled and the people begin to return to the land of Judah. The first two chapters record those who return, while chapter three opens with the building of the altar in Jerusalem and the reinstitution of sacrifices to God. The foundation of the temple is laid, accompanied by the praise and joy of the exiles, but also by the weeping of those who had seen and remembered the temple built by Solomon.

In chapter four trouble begins.

“Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.”
Ezra 4:4–5

Their enemies not only actively discouraged and frightened the people, but they also sent lying accusations to the new king of Persia, Ahasuerus, who then decreed the building be stopped, and it is done so by force. The people had seen God’s hand in the edict of Cyrus, only to be met with adversaries and discouragement when they began their work of rebuilding.

I find events of my own life reflected in this history, don’t you? Even after having seen and known God’s deliverance and help in the past, at times the opposition we face can lead to great disheartening. The last few weeks have been so difficult that I’ve felt I’m being ground down into dust. Today I come to Ezra and the reminder of the opposition faced by God’s people in the past. I don’t know what I would have done without God’s Word this past year. The New Testament writers exhort Christians to help each other, but when consistent encouragement is thin on the ground, God is faithful in the provision of His Word, and once again in the timing of these readings He gives me help.

The meaning of the names of Ezra and Nehemiah is fascinating to me:

“The name Ezra seems to be an Aramaic form of the Hebrew ‘ezer, help. The name Nehemiah, Hebrew Neḥem-Yah, means the comfort of Jehovah. These two books are treated as one by Hebrew scribes; there is no gap in the MT between the end of Ezra 10 and the commencement of Nehemiah 1, and the verse statistics are given for both at the end of Nehemiah. The theme of this composite book is a record of the reconstruction of the Hebrew theocracy upon the physical and spiritual foundations of the past. As God protected His remnant from the hatred of external foes, so also He delivered them from the insidious corruption of the false brethren within the commonwealth.”1

The Jews had a hard and momentous work to do. Even without opposition, the size of the task would have been intimidating. Stay in God’s Word and read it, and be encouraged in the work you have to do, no matter how difficult and not matter your adversaries.

__________
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1Gleason L. Archer, Jr., “Postexilic Historical Books: 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 410–411.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

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