Ezra, Part 3…

Here, at last, is the third part of Ezra, chapters 5 and 6. Much of these chapters are dominated by letters to and from Persia, but I’ve done my best to boil them down for you. Please don’t hold it against me that I wrote this back in June; I was hesitant about even opening this blog at first, but thanks be to GOD for giving me the courage to do so and the wisdom to seek Him before publishing.

June 6, 2012

For today’s devotional, I read Ezra chapter 5, which continues the account of how the Temple was rebuilt. In the previous chapter, the Jew were approached by Gentiles dwelling in the land; these people were descended from those brought into the land by the Assyrian Empire in 722BC, and who in turn would become the ancestors of the Samaritans. Chapter 4 was the first sign of conflict between the two groups; the Samaritans offered to help the Jews rebuild the Temple, citing their own worship of the LORD since the Assyrian Empire’s invasion, but the Jews refused their offer of aid. Thanks to 2nd Kings 17, we know that the Samaritans’ Gentile ancestors did indeed worship GOD, but only half-heartedly as they continued to worship their idols. This led to further conflict and animosity that would continue until the time of Jesus and the birth of the Church.

After being rebuffed by the Jews, the Samaritans began to hamper the reconstruction efforts, continuing for many years. Following the death of Cyrus, they craftily send an appeal to his successors, claiming that the Jews intend to rebel should their city and Temple be completely rebuilt. As the Persians wrote everything down, an inquiry to the royal archives was made, and a history of the Jews’ past conduct is made. The Persians discover that the Jews do indeed have a record as a thorn in the side of former empires such as Egypt and Babylon, and not wishing to suffer a similar fate, King Artaxerses (mentioned also in Nehemiah) sends a reply commanding for the Jews to cease their labors. Thus, work on the Temple ceases for a number of years.

Chapter 5 shows GOD moving to start things again; He had provided an impetus to rebuild the nation through Cyrus, and now He stepped in to help encourage His people against the opposition. Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, are raised up to speak to the people and, after confronting them for their backsliding, the prophets reignite the reconstruction project. Naturally, this attracts the attention of the Samaritans, who demand to know an explanation. The Jews keep their faith in GOD, who protects them from their enemies, and they send a petition through the Samaritans (how ironic is that?) to King Darius of Persia, citing that they began to rebuild with the permission and urging of Cyrus, requesting that the king search for the proof, which will justify their present labors.

What can be gleaned from this passage? As with any good work, opposition quickly rises, sometimes at a seemingly overwhelming rate. What’s important is to keep on doing what’s right for GOD, even when our neighbors and government seek to oppose and stop the work. Galatians 6 reminds us of this, promising that the reward for our labors will come if we diligently continue in spite of whatever problems may arise to slow us down. GOD is still in control of everything, and so long as we obey and trust in Him, He will continue to work things out, even if the results are not immediately apparent.

June 7, 2012

This morning, I read through Ezra 6, which is in essence Darius’ reply to the Jewish request in the previous chapter. In the letter, we learn that proof of Cyrus’ proclamation was found and thus it has been ratified; Darius does not seek to oppose or subvert it. There are perhaps a couple reasons for this: first of all, the Persians had a legal system where even the kings submitted to the law; once a law was made, even the king himself could not change it. Darius was bound by this tradition, and he respected it by allowing Cyrus’ decree to be fulfilled. I believe, however, that there is another, deeper reason for Darius’ support – GOD worked through Cyrus to bring the Jews home, and now He used Darius to protect them from the Samaritans. In his reply, Darius settles the cultural dispute by commanding the Samaritans to stop causing problems for the Jews, and even going so far as to provide materials for the Jews from his/their own hands. Once again, GOD proves through history that His will shall be done, no matter what men try to do to oppose Him.

What interests me as I look back is that, when the temple was completed and prepared, it was in time for the Passover in the first spring month of their calendar. That is significant, I think, because it symbolized the renewed life of the nation and their covenant with GOD that began in Egypt and at Sinai. They didn’t jump in during the middle or end of the year; GOD provided, and the people were diligent to keep their part, starting from the beginning. (Little side note: my NOAB says that the “king of Assyria” reference is an “anachronistic” reference to the king of Persia, alluding to the earliest exile of Israel under Assyria, which has been reversed/undone.)

In this chapter, we see two different ways Yahweh works His purpose in the lives of humanity; not only does He move through the reigning king to protect His people, but GOD also provided a means for educating, encouraging them in His will through prophets. In essence, the events of this passage reveal another instance of GOD’s sovereignty over the affairs of humanity, just as the Truth Project espouses. Even if the world is in denial about it, GOD still remains in control of all things and works them according to His eternal design.