18 May 2010

Return TO Captivity

The book of Ezra focuses on the rebuilding of the temple that took place following the Babylonian captivity.

A first group of Jews returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel during the days of Cyrus the king (chapters 1-2). Under Zerubbabel's leadership, the altar of sacrifice was reestablished, and the foundation of the temple was laid (chapter 3). In chapter 4, the adversaries of Judah rise up in opposition to the rebuilding of the temple and are successful in having the work suspended, by order of Artaxerxes.

The work was taken up again due to the prompting of God's prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and the confirmation of Cyrus' decree by King Darius (chapters 5-6). Sometime later, Ezra, the ready scribe with a prepared heart (7:6-10) leads a second group back to the land and returns the vessels of service to the house of the Lord (chapters 7-8).

The book concludes in chapters 9 and 10 with a depressing but instructive glimpse at human nature.

A little review before we jump in. What is the book about? The rebuilding of the temple upon the return from Babylonian captivity. Why were the Jews in captivity? For forsaking the genuine worship of the one true God and following after the gods of the heathen. What led them to do that? Mingling themselves with the people of the land instead of destroying them like God had commanded.

Guess what the people are doing before the book that describes their return from captivity is even finished? The very thing that led to their captivity in the first place.

Ezra 9:1-3
1 Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass. 3 And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.

The rest of the chapter records Ezra's prayer of confession. Here's how he wraps it up:

Ezra 9:13-15
13 And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; 14 Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping? 15 O Lord God of Israel, thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this.

Before we leave the scene shaking our heads in disgust and disbelief, let's take a moment to recognize that we're often guilty of the same. Has not God punished us less than our iniquities deserve? Has not God given us a great deliverance? Has He not saved us from our sins by His marvelous grace?

And have we not been often drawn back into the very things that condemned us? Have we not often returned to the very sins that put us in danger of everlasting judgment? Yeah, we're clean escaped, but every now and again for some strange reason, that pile of vomit we left not long ago starts to look inviting (2 Peter 2:20-22).

That's human nature. But by the power of the indwelling Christ (something we have these Jews didn't), we are called to live above human nature.

God give us more Ezras who tremble at the word of God (9:4) and pray and confess and weep (9:5; 10:1) and strive against sin (Hebrews 12:4) in our homes, in our churches, in our individual lives. Amen.

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