TUESDAY, MAY 26
SCRIPTURE: Ezra chapters 3
Author: Jeremy Witt
Wow! Things here are busy. Today the LIFE Center opened back up. Lots of questions by colleagues, guests, etc. are consuming the morning. I received an email at how difficult reopening will be in comparison to shutting down was. I think the email hit the nose right on the head. Why am I mentioning this today with our reading in Ezra? They were trying to reopen Jerusalem and especially the Temple and had a lot of things that they had to do.
The timing of our readings the past year and a half has been amazing for me. From Brother Joe resigning, our search for a new pastor, following a new leader, the whole shut-down, and now the reopening beginning, I have seen the parallels between God’s Word and us. Whoever says that God’s Word doesn’t speak anymore is not paying attention!
We have to put ourselves into the sandals of the exiles as they have returned back to their country. Their history must be speaking and echoing through our ears and our hearts. They are back in the land that was promised to their forefathers. They are back in the land that they lost due to their sinful rebellion against God. They are back 50 years after losing it which was prophesied by many prophets. God had warned them from the very start that this would happen if they did not follow Him. Do you feel some of it now? They do not want to lose their homeland again, so what do they do first?
Verse 1 tells us that they were unified. Granted, they were being led by Zerubbabel who served as governor and had a job to do, to rebuild the Temple. This Temple had been burned by the Babylonians and destroyed as prophesied by the prophets. It was where God’s presence was (the Holy of Holies and the mercy seat). It was built by Solomon who reigned under the greatest expanse of their country and most wealthy.
The Temple was the spiritual center for the Jewish people. But what they needed was to be forgiven of their sins and their father’s sins. Forgiveness was gained by the confession of sins and the shedding of blood. They had not done this for 50 years, so there was a lot to confess and be forgiven of. This is why the rebuilding of the altar was done first. They had learned their “lesson” and realized that God knows, God will fulfill His Word, and they needed to obey as well as repent and confess their sins.
Notice verse 3 that they were afraid of the locals. Some of these were Jews who remained during the exile, but many were not Jewish people and had been settled by some of the peoples that the Jews did not defeat. (This was a reminder that they disobeyed God who had told them to wipe them out. It was also these peoples who had introduced the Jewish people to their gods, and many Jews began to worship them rather than only God.) Despite their fear of the locals, they feared God more. Remember that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10)
The Festival of Shelters mentioned in verse 4 is a 7-day celebration where the Israelites would live in tents, booths, lean-to shelters to remember what their forefathers had done in coming to the Promised Land. This is described in Leviticus 23:33-36.
For those of you who like to see the order, they built the altar first, and then they began to lay the foundation of the new Temple. I imagine that some of you may be unsure of the strategy of this. Why not rebuild the wall first? It would protect them better to do the rebuilding of other buildings next. Humanly speaking, this is wise, however, the Israelites were not designed to be like everyone else. God intended for them to the priests to the nations of the world. They were to live differently, eat differently, and to act differently especially in worship and obedience to the LORD. God would be their protector as He was in the days of the wilderness. He would be their warrior He was as they conquered the peoples who were in the Promised Land. We see indicators of how the Israelites had learned their “lesson” and were returning to the ways of the LORD in these ways.
As we are beginning to return back from the quarantine, what is it that we have learned? What things will we not return to? What things will we do better or completely different? Will we return back to the god of entertainment? Will we return back to the god of selfishness? Will we return back to the god of greed, wealth, and money? Will we continue spending time as a family? Will we be thankful for what we have rather than what we do not? Will we spend time in prayers and going to the LORD?
These are some things that we must realize and understand. Some of the people of Israel went back and they did not do things the same as before. Their “new normal” was different than before. Will we follow their good example?