Pastor's Ponderings: Bible Study on Old Testament book of Ezra 1:1-4 (October 5, 2023)
Blessing and Peace this morning.
Now that the war in Israel with Hamas and others has reached something over 5000 dead, and if my figures are correct, 20,000+ injured, we must all be mindful of the humanitarian crisis which is unfolding before us in the middle east. It is not difficult for us to understand how these two peoples are battling with each other, after all, in our own families and communities we often experience, or even create the very same kinds of division. As Christ's children it is our thanksgiving to our Savior that moves our hearts to compassion for everyone involved in this war. If you have Moslem friends, be sure to check that their lives are safe, yes even here in Tucson. If they are threatened in their places of business and homes, then it is good for us to give them shelter. The very same thing is true for our Jewish brothers and sisters. Peace will only intervene in the midst of this war of mutual destruction and terrorism if we as Christians continue to implore all of God's children to change their hearts for God's Peace for themselves and others. When the rhetoric in our own nation calls for acts of violence against those whose viewpoint differs from our own, or we argue about the varying sources of truth and whether or not they are valid, we must know that others in this sinful world are doing the same kinds of things. Give thanks to God for His eternal loving presence in times of peace and in times of war.
Today, we get to bible study together in the first chapter of Ezra verses 1-4. Let's get some background again. With the northern kingdom of Israel already dispersed or in exile about 100 years earlier, the southern kingdom, Judah, is pretty full of itself with thinking that they were pretty sure that the North's exile was due to the failure of the people to worship in Jerusalem. However, in the south it was the same problem as in the north. The people of God were detached from God and broken in their relationships with one another. (remember Christ's great commandment) What would come to pass was that in the southern kingdom of Judah there would be a preliminary deportation to Babylon of the king, (Jehoiachin) the people who served him directly, the priests, the teachers, the wealthy influencers, etc. which happened in 597 BCE (before the Common Era) They elected a new king, son of Jehoiachin to serve, and began to live their normal lives of separation from God and one another, thinking that Babylon had everyone it wanted already. But, in 587 the Babylonians returned to take the rest destroying the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. After this exile, Babylon was eventually be conquered by the Persians and King Cyrus. In doing so he also inherited all of the problems of having a large foreign community in his land. In this time few, if any of the people, were still alive who had any memory of Jerusalem or the temple of Solomon. In this opening passage Cyrus is offering the opportunity for any Jew to return to their homeland, but encouraged those who remained behind in Persia to financially support the mission of those who would return to rebuild their city and the temple. It had been, as Jeremiah had prophesied, 70 years that the Jews of the southern kingdom had been in exile. Jeremiah wrote to the exiles early on that they should settle in, build homes, start businesses, and more, instead of thinking that God would restore them quickly to their homeland. Indeed, by the time Cyrus offers to send people back to Palestine, most of the Jews are pretty comfortable in their lives. This journey would be nothing like the one from Egypt recorded in Exodus. When communities of people become refugees, and they enter into a new place, they at first hope to return to what they had, yet as the time passes, refugee camps often become "home” instead of a temporary place to stay. That is exactly the circumstance for the Jews in Persia. Jeremiah's prophecy of 70 years was not for that specific time in years, but instead for a lifetime. It is just like God's action with those who wondered in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. After the building of the Golden Calf, the Hebrews were told that no one who lived in Egypt would ever enter the promised land. In both of these settings it is God's justice that is handed down in the short term, but it is in faithfulness God's action fulfilled over the long term. Have you ever waited for God's answer to your prayers, and wondered how God might choose to make it all work out? Sometimes it takes a long time for us to understand that God has been at work over months or years preparing us to receive His final answer. Cyrus was, in some ways, a willing servant of God in making it possible for the Jews to return from exile. We must always remember that God uses both the faithful and those with no faith at all to accomplish His ends. God never steps away from His Children. He is always working to complete His Will in our lives.
Thanks for spending time with me today.
In Christ's love, Pastor Kim Taylor