The Power of Intercession.

Ezra 9-10, Hebrews 5

O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.  Ezra 9:6 NLT

We live in the age of the individual. Even as believers, we tend to view our lives independently from those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We focus on our own personal walk with Christ. We worry about our relationship with God and how well we are living the Christian life as individuals. But throughout the Scriptures, the emphasis is always on the corporate body of believers. God sees us as His people and views us collectively. God does care for each of us as individuals and loves us for who we are, but He also sees us as part of His family, as members of the body of Christ. We must always understand that our sin, while committed as individuals, always impacts the entire body. Individual sin has corporate consequences. Like a cancer, it can spread throughout the body, infecting and influencing others, and causing a sense of corporate culpability. Ezra understand this truth. When it came to his attention that there were many living in the land of Judah who had violated God's commands and had intermarried with the various people groups surrounding them, he realized that God viewed their guilt from a corporate perspective. Ezra had not sinned, but he immediately went into mourning. He fell upon his knees and spread out his hands to God. While innocent of any wrong-doing, he included himself in the sins of the people. “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads” (Ezra 9:6 ESV). He refers to “our iniquities” and “our guilt.” Ezra alone goes before God and confesses the corporate sin and guilt of the people of God. “Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:15 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Ezra makes it clear that God is totally just in all His actions toward the people of Judah. If God chooses to punish them for their sin, He will be justified and right. He is holy, just, and righteous. They are guilty as charged and deserving of any punishment He should choose to mete out. But Ezra also knows that God is merciful, gracious and a God who shows favor when none is deserved. The very fact that they were back in the land at all was the result of God's mercy and grace. “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery” (Ezra 9:8 ESV). God had returned them to the land, not because they deserved it, but because He chose to shower them with His undeserved favor. And yet, they had responded with continued disobedience to His revealed will. Ezra knows what they deserve. But he appeals to God's love and mercy. He asks God to forgive them yet again.       

What does this passage reveal about man?

The truly amazing thing about this passage is the impact that one man could have on the entire nation of Judah. Just as the sin of one infects the whole, the prayers of one can have a cleansing influence over the entire group. Rather than sit back and smugly gloat over his own sinlessness, Ezra chose to include himself in the sins of the people. He knew that God viewed them as a whole. Their corporate sinfulness would bring corporate punishment. They were to have remained pure as a nation. They were His people collectively, not just individually. Ezra knew this well, and so he did what no one else seemed willing to do – he went to the Lord in prayer and interceded on behalf of the nation. He mourned, fasted, confessed and called out to God. And his actions not only got God's attention, but that of the people as well. “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1 ESV). One man had a powerful influence over the nation. His willingness to intercede on their behalf led to corporate confession. Ezra’s actions led others to step up and speak out. Shecaniah, convicted by Ezra's prayers, came up with the plan to put away all the foreign wives they had married. In other words, he knew that confession was going to have to be accompanied by a course correction in terms of their behavior. They were going to have to do something about their sin and repent of it. And that change was going to come at a high cost. They were going to have to remove the negative influence from their lives, even thought it was going to hurt. Confession must always be accompanied by concrete steps of action. “Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives” (Ezra 10:11 ESV). Sin always has consequences. And true confession always has next steps.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

None of this would have taken place had not Ezra been willing to intercede on behalf of the people. He alone was struck by the severe nature of their predicament. He recognized the danger they were in and knew that God would be completely justified in punishing them for their sins. So he stepped in and called out to God on behalf of the entire nation. We need more men and women with the spirit of Ezra today. The church of Jesus Christ is wracked by sin. We have “intermarried” with this world. We have compromised our convictions and cozied up with the world, allowing it to diminish our influence and dim our light. The church has become complacent and allowed the love of the world to infect itself. We are weak and ineffective. We have lost our influence. But just as in the days of Ezra, all it takes is one man or woman to step in, stand up, and speak out. We must be willing to come before the Lord and intercede on behalf of the body of Christ. We must be willing to say what no one else is willing to say. We must recognize that our sense of corporate culpability. I am reminded of the words of the Lord found in the book of Revelation. To the church in Ephesus, He said, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4 ESV). To the church in Laodidea, he said, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15 ESV). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have a High Priest in Jesus, who is interceding on our behalf. He knows our weaknesses. He understands our struggle with sin. Which is why He left us His Spirit to assist us as we live in this world. But we must also intercede for one another, confessing our sins, admitting our guilt, and calling on God to extend mercy and grace in our time of need. James would remind us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16 ESV).

Father, Your Church is in need of healing. We are weakened by compromise and complacency. We have fallen in love with the world and allowed it to distract us from our true calling as Your children. Lord, give me a sense of corporate responsibility. The sins of the one affect the many. But the prayers of the one can go a long way in bringing about corporate confession and healing. May I be an intercessor in this day. Amen

Entering God's Rest.

Ezra 7-8, Hebrews 4

So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.  Hebrews 4:11 NLT

Ezra would lead a remnant of Israelites on a 900-mile journey from the land of Babylon to Jerusalem that would take four long months. He clearly knew that God was behind this endeavor because he had seen God bring it all about. King Artaxerxes had decreed that Ezra would lead a group of Jews back to the land of promise and had provided funding for the trip. Ezra's response was, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the kings mighty officers” (Ezra 7:27-28 ESV). Ezra was encouraged by what he had seen his God do. He knew the hand of God was one him, so he would gather the people together and plan for the trip that God had ordained. It would be hard. It would be long. It would be dangerous. So he called the people to fast and pray, seeking God's divine protection and “a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (Ezra 8:21 ESV). And God heard their prayers and He answered. Four months after having left Babylon, they would arrive in Jerusalem, tired, but thankful to God for His hand in making their trip possible. “The hand of our God was one us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way” (Ezra 8:31-32 ESV).

But not everyone made the trip. Not every Jew was willing to leave the safety of Babylon to make the long, arduous trip back to Jerusalem. Many had grown comfortable with their lifestyle in captivity. A great many of the Jews had been born in Babylon and had never set foot in the land of Judah. So they were reluctant to make the trip. Ezra even had a difficult time finding enough Levites to return with him. This was the tribe God had appointed to serve in the Temple. They were the spiritual leaders of the people of Israel, and yet when Ezra gathered all the people to prepare for the trip to Jerusalem, he said, “I found there none of the sons of Levi” (Ezra 8:15 ESV). Not everyone shared Ezra's enthusiasm and optimism for returning to the land, even though it was in direct fulfillment of God's promises.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was orchestrating all the events in such a way that His divine will was being fulfilled just as He had planned. Once again, He would use a pagan king to accomplish His will. He would use King Artaxerxes' fear of divine retribution to motivate him to send the people of God back to the land. Artaxerxes would write, “Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons” (Ezra 7:23 ESV). This great and powerful king feared God. His actions were motivated by self-protection. We don't know how God communicated His divine will to Artaxerxes, but it is clear that this man was not willing to anger God by disobeying His will. And yet, there would be countless Jews who would refuse to return to the land. They would choose remain in captivity, even though God was providing them with a miraculous opportunity to return to the land He had given them many years earlier. God was faithfully keeping His promise to return them to the land, but many of them would refuse to go. The people of God would reject the offer of God for His divine protection, provision and peace. After 70 years in captivity, He was offering them the chance to experience His rest and peace once again. But they would refuse.      

What does this passage reveal about man?

And yet Ezra and his small band of faithful followers would make the trip. They would take God up on His offer and walk the 900 miles back to Jerusalem. They were willing to suffer the dangers and difficulties all along the way, with their kids in tow, the treasures given to them by King Artaxerxes hidden among them, and their sights set on their final destination. The writer of Hebrews addresses another group of God's people, the believing Jews who were living out their faith during difficult days, surrounded by all kinds of opposition and enemies. These Christian Jews were finding it difficult to remain faithful to God's call on their lives. They were being tempted to give up and give in to the pressures to compromise their faith. So the writer reminded the, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.  For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:1-2 ESV). He uses the history of their own people to remind them of the need to remain true to their calling. Their ancestors, who had made the trip from Egypt to the land of promise under the direction of Moses, had failed to enter the land the first time. When they had arrived at the edge of the land, they discovered it was filled with “giants.” So rather than trust God and enter, they gave in to their fears and turned away. That entire generation of Jews would die off in the wilderness as they wandered for the next 40 years. The author uses this historic event was a warning. “ Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 4:6-7 ESV). He strongly encourages them to remain obedient and faithful, and to “strive to enter tha rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 11:11 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The rest spoken of in this passage is a future rest. It has to do with the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises of eternal life. He is speaking of our final inheritance, set aside for us by God, and made available to us by our relationship with Jesus Christ. Peter reminds us of the nature of this inheritance. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see” (1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT). In this life, we are to live with our hopes set on what is to come. This world is not our home. The things of this earth are a mere shadow of what is to come. Our expectations of greater things to come should motivate us to remain faithful in this life – regardless of the difficulties we may face along the way. Peter goes on to say, “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT). Keep you eye in the prize. One day you will enter that rest. But in the meantime, stay focused. Stay faithful. Keep walking. Keep trusting.

Father, help me to never lose sight of what really matters. Don't let me make this world my home. I don't want to be like those Jews who were willing to stay in captivity when they had been given the chance to experience Your power, provision and peace. They were unwilling to step out in faith and suffer the pains of the journey, but they missed out on Your rest. While I know I can't lose my salvation or do anything to cause You to disinherit me, I don't want to be unfaithful or ungrateful for all that You have done and are going to do for me in the future. I want to remain true. I want to walk in faith. I want to trust You through it all until You accomplish it all, just as You have planned and promised. Amen

The Constant Danger of Unbelief.

Ezra 5-6, Hebrews 3

And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:18-19 ESV

Unbelief is a constant reality – even for the believer. But how can that be so? How can you be a believer and yet not believe? It's simple. Belief is not just a state of mind, but must always be accompanied by action. In other words, belief must be visibly tied to faith. During the days of Ezra, after King Artaxerxes ordered the cessation of all construction activity on the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews would stop all work for nearly 16 years. In spite of the fact that God had miraculously arranged for their return to the land under King Cyrus, and the king had provided the funds necessary to rebuild the Temple, the people stopped believing. Rather than step out in faith and trust that God would protect them, they simply gave in and shut down all construction. That is, until Haggai and Zechariah the prophets of God stepped in. With the encouragement of these two men of God and the leadership of Zerubbabel, the grandson of King Jehoiachin, the people stepped out in faith and began to build once again – even in the face of opposition. They were immediately confronted by their enemies, who questioned by whose authority they had restarted the construction. But rather than give in to the pressure, the people continued to work. And believe.

The news reached King Darius, the new ruler in Persian, that the Jews were rebuilding the Temple, in violation of the decree of his predecessor. But he also received word that the people of Judah were justifying their actions because they had originally been given permission by King Cyrus. A search of the royal records revealed that the Jews were right. A decree had been issued and they were fully in their rights to rebuild the house of the Lord. So King Darius issued yet another decree, providing them with permission to continue and he ordered that their work be paid for out of the royal treasury. Then he threatened death to anyone who tried to prevent the Jews from accomplishing their objective.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The people of God just needed to believe in their God. He had told them rebuild. He had provided the help of a pagan king to make it all possible. The problem came when the people started facing opposition. Doubt began to creep in. And doubt almost always leads to disbelief. Then disbelief leads to disobedience. And disobedience inevitably results in a lack of God's rest. Throughout the history of the Hebrew nation, God kept trying to prove to His people just how trustworthy He was. He bailed them out time and time again. He provided miracle after miracle. He defeated their enemies for them. He clothed and fed them. He made them a mighty nation. But they continually struggled with unbelief. They lacked faith. They could claim to believe in God, but their actions proved otherwise. And yet, God still wanted to prove His trustworthiness to them. When Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the people to keep on building and they obeyed, in spite of the opposition, it was an act of faith. They had no idea how the king would respond to the letter that was sent to him. They had no guarantee that the king would respond favorably. But faith doesn't dwell on possibilities. It focuses on the God of the impossible. Jesus Himself, said of His Father, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). When faced with a test of his faith, Moses was reminded by God, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not” (Numbers 11:23 ESV). The prophet Isaiah would tell the people of Israel, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1 ESV). God is the God of the impossible. But we must not only believe it cognitively. We must put shoe leather to our belief and act on it in faith.     

What does this passage reveal about man?

The people built. Their enemies accused. The king searched the records. But God had the last say. Their faith to keep on building in spite of opposition resulted in them getting to see the hand of God. King Darius would issue a decree that said, in part, “May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God, that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence” (Ezra 6:12 ESV). Man naturally doubts, and that doubt can quickly turn to disbelief and then disobedience – even for believers. The author of the book of Hebrews, in speaking of Moses, said he “was faithful in all God's house as a servant” (Hebrews 3:5 ESV). In other words, Moses did what God called him to do. He faithfully revealed God's law to the people. He faithfully orchestrated and oversaw the building of the Tabernacle. He faithfully led the people, even though they constantly rebelled against him and grumbled and moaned about his leadership. Those people are described in less-than-flattering terms in Hebrews 3. “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?” (Hebrews 3:16 ESV). They provoked Moses for 40 years. They sinned against God by refusing to occupy the Promised Land. They doubted that He could deliver it into their hands. And their doubt turned to disbelief, which led to disobedience, and resulted in them never entering God's rest. The writer of Hebrews warns us: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). The danger for all believers is apostasy, or falling away from God. He is described as a “living God.” This is not about turning away from a dead, lifeless religion, but from the very active, alive God of the universe.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

When we begin to doubt God, it plants a seed that can grow into full-blown disobedience. Which is why the book of Hebrews tells us, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). The presence of the enemies of God is a constant reality for the believer. The key is whether or not we allow ourselves to listen to their lies and fall prey to their words of intimidation. Or will we stand firm on the character and promises of God. There were many in Moses' day who were unable to enter into the rest God had prepared for them, because of unbelief. They failed to step out in faith, enter the land, and watch God deliver on His promises. God never said it would be easy. He just said He would make it happen. All they had to do was believe.

Father, I want to continue to learn to act out what I say I believe about You by putting that belief into action. I want to step out and hold on to Your promises. I want to see You work, even when the odds seem stacked against me. Because You are trustworthy and true. Amen

For A Little While.

Ezra 3-4, Hebrews 2

“What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Hebrews 2:6-8 ESV

Most of us don't like delays. We are an impatient people who can't stand to wait for anyone or anything, including God. When we find ourselves in times of difficulty or facing less-than-acceptable circumstances, we can quickly grow impatient and demand immediate action on the part of God. We want our situation resolved right away. But there are times when God delays; and when He does, there is always a very good reason. When the Jews who had returned to the land began the process of rebuilding the Temple, they immediately found themselves facing strong opposition. The land to which they had returned was filled with people who had been sent there by the Babylonians and Persians. These transplanted foreigners didn't like the prospect of the Jews returning to their land and rebuilding their cities. They saw the Jews as competition, so they began to cause trouble, harassing them and doing everything in their power to demoralize and dissuade the Jews from accomplishing their God-given mission. At the close of chapter 3 of Ezra, the people are rejoicing because they had successfully laid the foundation of the Temple. But then chapter 4 opens up with the arrival of their adversaries. The work of God was immediately met with opposition by the enemies of God. “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build, and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose” (Ezra 4:4-5 ESV). This would go on for years, spanning the reigns of Cyrus and Darius. But one of the things the people of God needed to remember was that God was in control. According to God's divine timetable, this delay would be only for a little while. And while the efforts of their enemies would eventually result in the halt of all construction on the Temple, it would prove to be only a delay, not an end.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There are so many times in Scripture where it appears as if God's people have lost. We are given countless examples of the seeming defeat of God and His people. But time and time again, we are shown that these apparent defeats are little more than delays in God's divine plan. It is important to remember that the book of Ezra, like the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles, was written to an audience who was living long after these events took place. These books were designed to be reminders of God's sovereign power and His ultimate victory over their enemies. The Temple would eventually be rebuilt. The walls of Jerusalem would be restored. The city would be repopulated. And the enemies of God would be proven unsuccessful in their attempt to thwart His will. The writer of Hebrews was also addressing a predominantly Jewish audience, but made up of those who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah. They too were surrounded by enemies. They face opposition and oppression. They were children of God, but they were living under difficult circumstances. So the writer of Hebrews reminds them that they must remember that God was not done yet. The same Jesus in whom they had placed their faith for their salvation was sitting at the right hand of God. This Jesus had taken on human flesh “for a little while.” God had made him lower than the angels “for a little while.” He died and was buried, but only “for a little while.” But then He was crowned with glory and honor, and God put everything in subjection under His feet. It was essential that Jesus become a man “for a little while” so that He might die in man's place. His death, while a blow to the hopes and dreams of the disciples, would prove to be temporary. Satan's apparent victory would be short-lived, because Jesus rose again.   

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have limited vision. We can only see so far into the future and we are prone to judge our circumstances based on our limited perspective. But we must always remember that God is in control and that His plan is eternal, not temporary. God knew that the Temple would be rebuilt. It was part of His plan. He knew that the walls of Jerusalem would be restored. It was part of His plan. He knew that Jesus' death was not permanent. It was part of His plan. But on the day that Jesus died, the disciples could only see that their Messiah and friend had died. Their hopes were dashed. Their future dreams were shattered. Even though Jesus had told them that He would rise again on the third day, they were unable to see past the painful reality of their circumstances. If only they could have understood that all of this was going to be but “for a little while.” God was not done yet. As men, our perspectives are often limited, but our God is not. He is always in control and His plan is always unfolding perfectly and precisely as He has arranged it. The seeming defeats and disappointments of this life are nothing more than a pre-planned delay. The opposition we find ourselves facing are little more than opportunities to watch God work. The enemies of the people of God thought they had won the day when they forced the halt of the rebuilding of the Temple. But little did they know that their victory would be short-lived. God would win the day and have His way. He always does.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

For a little while. I must remember that God is at work and that delays are not the same thing as defeat. In the end, God will be victorious. He wins. At this point in time, His Son is seated at His right hand in heaven. But only “for a little while.” There is a day coming when He will return. And while it may appear that the enemies of God are winning the day, we must never forget that God is not done yet. He will one day send His Son to the earth a second time, and when He comes, He will accomplish God's divine plan once and for all. He will conquer sin and death completely. He will defeat the enemies of God and establish His Kingdom on earth. The rebuilding of the Temple was delayed, but only for a little while. Jesus died and was placed in a grave, but only for a little while. He sits on a throne in heaven, but only for a little while. “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:11-16 ESV).

Father, may I learn to patiently wait for Your will to be done. Help me to remember that in Your grand plan, all apparent delays are only for a little while. You cannot be stopped. Your plan cannot be defeated. Your will – will be done. Amen

The Unfolding Plan of God.

Ezra 1-2, Hebrews 1

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV

God spoke through the prophets. He used these men to communicate His word to His people and to warn them of things to come if they continued to disobey His Law. But He also told them of things He was going to do in the not-to-distant future that would be the result of His grace and mercy. Isaiah the prophet, under the influence of the Spirit of God, had written concerning God, “…who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid’” (Isaiah 44:28 ESV). God had given Jeremiah the wonderful news, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10 ESV). And then we read the opening lines of the book of Ezra: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing” (Ezra 1:1-2 ESV). God was fulfilling His promise.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The book of Ezra, like the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles, was written to the post-exhilic community who had returned to the land. The audience is made up of Jews who had been living in exile in Babylon, but who now found themselves living back in the land of promise. But they had returned to a land that was nothing like what it had been before. They found Jerusalem, the great city of David, in shambles. The walls that had been demolished by the Babylonians seven decades earlier, were still nothing more than a pile of stones. The great Temple built by Solomon was little more than rubble. And yet, God was at work. This entire book is a look back at how God miraculously and graciously provided for His people, not because of them, but in spite of them. These words were intended for the Jews who were living in the land long after the events recorded by Ezra had happened. They were to serve as a reminder of the sovereignty and faithfulness of God. Even after the walls had been rebuilt, the Temple restored, the sacrificial system reinstated, and the city of Jerusalem repopulated, the people of God would still find themselves living in a land surrounded by their enemies, without a king or a standing army, and with little hope for the future. But these words were to be a reminder that God was still in charge. He was in control and at work, no matter what their circumstances might say to the contrary.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

The entire Bible has been given to us to reveal the nature and character of God. It tells us the kind of God we worship. It gives us a glimpse into His divine nature and allows us to see just how holy, righteous, powerful, sovereign, loving, gracious, faithful, reliable and resourceful He can be. Just like the remnant of Jews living in the promised land long after the days of Ezra, we can sometimes find ourselves doubting God's power and presence. We can begin to wonder why He is not as active as He was in the “good old days.” Based on our circumstances, we can easily begin to doubt God or feel like He has somehow abandoned us. But the Scriptures give us proof of God's reliability and trustworthiness. He is always in control. He is completely sovereign over all things, including kings. He has a divine plan that is time-sensitive and He is working that plan to perfection. Our problem is that we can only see our present circumstances and we forget that God's plan is far greater than our personal comfort and convenience. We too often fail to recognize and remember that God has something far greater in mind than our temporary happiness or our deliverance from some particular problem or difficulty. He has greater things in store for us. The challenge for us is to look for the bigger picture of God's plan. We need to open our eyes and see what He is doing on a grand scale. But it is so easy to become myopic and focus on our own personal problems and limit the work of God to our own personal circumstances.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Like Ezra, the writer of Hebrews was addressing an audience of Jews who were living in difficult times. They were surrounded by enemies and suffering persecution for their faith. His readers were made up of Jews who had come to accept Jesus as their Messiah. They had placed their faith, hope and trust in Him as their personal Savior. And as a result, many were suffering rejection from their families and the Jewish community. They were considered outcasts by their own people. By placing their faith in Jesus as their Messiah, they had ostracized themselves from their fellows Jews. But the writer reminds them that their faith in Jesus is worth it, because “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:3-4 ESV). He goes on to quote an assortment of Old Testament passages, using them as proof of Jesus' deity and divinity. He is God's Son. He is the King and Lord. He is eternal and all-powerful. And He sits at the right hand of God the Father. In other words, He is in charge and in control, no matter what their circumstances may say. Oh, how easy it is to doubt God or lose hope in Jesus as my Savior, just because things don't quite go the way I expected them to go. How quick I can lose sight of God's sovereignty and Christ's majesty. I can see Him as the Savior who paid for my sins, but fail to recognize Him as the King of Heaven who is coming some day to put an end to sin and death once and for all. I need to keep a big-picture view that includes eternity, not just my little slice of history. Yes, God is involved in the here and now, but His plan is all about the hereafter. My hope is not to be in this world, but the one to come. 

Father, thank You for the countless reminders in Your Word of just how faithful, powerful, and reliable You are. Forgive me for doubting You so often. Help me to take my eyes off of the world and my own circumstances and place them on You and Your plan for eternity. AmenKen Miller Grow Pastor & Minister to Men