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Ezra overview

DAILY DEVOTION
FOR
THURSDAY, MAY 21

                                                     
SCRIPTURE: Ezra overview
Author:  Jeremy Witt
 
Ezra is a book of the Old Testament that was originally together with the book of Nehemiah as one book.  Most likely both Ezra and Nehemiah wrote the book together, and was written in the first person in many places.  It is also possible that they each wrote their respective sections.  However, authorship is debated today.  Regardless, both accounts give an account of the return of the Jewish exiles who had been taken to Babylon and returning to Jerusalem.  For the sake of this devotional, we will first focus on Ezra and then move to Nehemiah as we reach that part.  The prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are contemporaries of Ezra and Nehemiah.  Reading alongside would add to our understanding as many of the prophecies came during the reconstruction.
 
Ezra’s name means “help”, and he is a priest who led the people back to Jerusalem with the blessing and financial support of Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia.  This will fulfill a prophecy by the prophet Jeremiah that exiles would one day return to Jerusalem.  Another example of God being faithful and true. 
If you remember your world history, the Medes-Persian took over control from Babylon in 539 BC and established an empire centered in modern-day Iran and extending from Greece to Egypt and to the western edge of modern-day India. 

Some important names to know as we read Ezra are Cyrus the Great, Zerubbabel, Haggai, Zechariah, Darius 1, Artaxerxes 1, and Ezra.  Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah will help rebuild the Temple, the city, and the walls of Jerusalem.
 
As one would expect, Ezra the priest will focus upon the Law.  Zerubbabel was responsible for the rebuilding of the Temple.  Ezra’s role was to reestablish worship at the Temple and observing the Law or the Torah.  Nehemiah will focus upon the rebuilding of the wall and will help bring back a national spirit in Jerusalem.  Written approximately 450 BC and possibly started while in exile and then finished in Jerusalem.  Ezra follows closely to 2 Chronicles in its account of the return.  The Jewish exiles have been in exile for approximately 50 years when Ezra leads a small group back to Jerusalem. 
 
(*Extra credit information – 1 & 2 Chronicles was at the end of the Jewish Bible to be a summary of all of Judah/Israel’s history.  Its placement in our bibles seems odd as Chronicles and 1 & 2 Kings have similar information.)
 
In chapters 1-6, Zerubbabel (the name means “planted in Babylon”) will work towards the rebuilding of the Temple.  He will lead the original wave of exiles returning to Jerusalem.  He will build the altar first and then the Temple in chapters 3-6.  The older exiles who saw the previous Temple weep for it paled in comparison to the original.  The newer exiles cheered.  (See Leviticus 9 and 1 Kings 8 for Temple dedications for comparison, especially for the clear sign of God’s presence which was absent in Ezra.) 


Chapters 7-8 introduce us to Ezra who is a priest serving as a teacher of the Law.  He is appointed by Artaxerxes to lead another wave of people back to Jerusalem.  Ezra sought to bring people to spiritual renewal and worship.  Ezra finds out that many had married non-Jews and leads the people to renewal, but also to renounce these marriages (divorce) based on the Law.  Needless to say, this was not easy and would be very non-politically correct today.   (The purpose was to be pure and set apart for God in every aspect of their lives.)  God never told Ezra to do this, but Ezra was pressured by leaders to do this.  Malachi the prophet speaks towards in his letter on this issue that God hates divorce. (Malachi 2:13-16)

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2 Thessalonians chapter 3

 DAILY DEVOTION
FOR
WEDNESDAY, MAY 20

                                                     
SCRIPTURE: 2 THESSALONIANS 3
Author:  Jeremy Witt
 
As we come to our last chapter, Paul closes his letter as he did most of his letters with a personal greeting.  It actually started at 2:13-17.  He reminds the hearers that they are loved by God and chosen by God, and then that God has saved them and is making them holy.  He then moves to share our faith with others.  This is the same for us today.  God loves us, offers salvation, and then we are to share that with others.
 
Encouragement in the midst of persecution follows along with obedience to Jesus in 2:15-16.  He prays for comfort and strength.  As we move into chapter 3, Paul is “practicing what he preached” by asking for prayer as they share their faith with others.  Verse 2 really sticks out to me.  Paul aligns himself with the Thessalonians by asking to be “rescued from wicked and evil (perverse) people.” When we are in the midst of suffering, persecution, etc., no one enjoys it but when it is done by evil people, it is worse.  The best of us are able to pray for their enemies, but many of us might want to live out our fleshly desires and retaliate (This is my admission and confession by the way.) 
 
It is the end of verse 2 that gets me most.  In the NLT, it reads “for not all have faith.”  I was born in Texas and lived there for the first 6 years of my life.  I have lived in Oklahoma from 6 years old to 23 years.  I was in seminary in Texas for 3 years, and then moved to Alabama for 4 years, and finally back to Oklahoma for the last 12 years.  Why in the world am I mentioning this?  I have lived in what I would call the “Bible belt” and what I would call the “buckle of the Bible belt.”  I have assumed in a lot of situations that the people around me were Christian yet Paul reminds me that “not all have faith.” 

I (we) must be careful not to assume this.  People in Marlow drive by our church and many call themselves “members” yet they rarely, if ever, attend worship.  I realize fully that membership and worship attendance does not save a person.  However, I read in Scripture the evidence and fruit that salvation will develop in a person.  I believe that we must realize and admit that “not all have faith” and that by associating with a church does not bring salvation.  This applies to people inside the church and especially outside.  Remember the apostasy that we talked about in yesterday’s devotion.  This is the group of people that will fall away and would call this place their “church.”  We must share Jesus with all and not assume. 
 
Paul continues to encourage and in verses 3-5.  Paul reaffirms to avoid the idle, but he goes into greater detail in verses 6-13.  Whether they were just not working and just waiting for Jesus’ return, or “assisting” others in their business, Paul calls for honest work and faithful living.  In verse 15, Paul clarifies how to avoid them while not being religious jerks (my words).  This will go along with “doing so in love” as Paul will say throughout the New Testament.
 
In many of Paul’s letters, he will say that he is writing this with this own hand.  This brings confusion to some, so let me explain.  Paul used a “scribe” or a “secretary” to write down Paul’s words as he spoke.  There is an official name but I can’t find how to spell it correctly.  (Emanuesis is my best guess.)  His purpose in this was to make it more personal for the hearers which also brought more encouragement and strength to them.  If Paul were to do this today, we would think he was yelling at us since he wrote in “large letters” or capitals.  For those of you who are not big texters, using all capitals is understood to be yelling or loud.

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