Thursday morning Bible Study on the OT book of Ezra 4:1-6
Blessings and peace be with you this morning. It seems like forever since we were talking about this text from Ezra. In the middle of all of that was our nation's celebration of Thanksgiving, but now we are back to our regular Thursday study.
Please pray for Holly who was diagnosed with pneumonia at the hospital emergency room. She is on massive doses of antibiotics but is recuperating at home.
There is a really clear message in our passage from Ezra today. We are going to work through the material together and then arrive at the conclusion which I hope will be helpful for us today too. The problem in this reading is that there appear to be several outside sources which are making it particularly difficult for the Judahites to get the rebuilding of the temple moving forward. The very first thing that we encounter is that these people who are being difficult are folks who have, in all likelihood, been living in the land of Israel while the Judahites have been in exile in Persia. One group is definitely the Samaritans. They are a part of the "Northern" kingdom of Israel, while we call the people who were taken into exile Judahites because they were from the "Southern" kingdom which included Jerusalem and the place where the temple was to be rebuilt. The promised land had been historically split between the older tribes and the younger tribes which resulted ultimately in the division of the entire promised land. In the North, many people filtered back during the time that the people of the South were in exile, so they had already established their own patterns of worship, and they were really much more conservative than the people who were returning under the guidance of the Persians. The Samaritans used only the Pentateuch (the Torah, the first five books of Scripture). They did not use history or the prophets as resources for their religious practices. Needless to say, when the Judahites returned they had spent 50 years doing what they considered to be the most authentic worship of the LORD. The problem that initially arose was that the leaders of the Judahites were being bribed by people from the North in order to block the building of the temple. Naturally, the purpose was to cause delay after delay on the process of rebuilding. Eventually the Samaritans approach the current King of Persia appealing to him that they were being ignored in the process of the temple restoration. In the North some of the Jews of the Assyrian diaspora returned, but they returned to Assyria having brought in other peoples who had also been conquered by them. It was into this mix of people with their own religious habits and thinking that the Judahites struggled to get things under way. Today we understand that when indigenous people are presented with a proselytizing new religious group, it is best for the new group to integrate some of the original traditions into the new. (example: Day of the Dead) That creates an atmosphere of greater harmony and acceptance. This should have been the case between the Judahites, the Samaritans, and others.
During the years from the mid-500s BCE to the mid-400s BCE the Judahites took a hard line about including the other communities thinking in any possible in what they were doing. Their fierce restrictive approach during this time really made their lives and the task before them extremely difficult. They were in constant turmoil with the residents who had settled there before their return. And the people of the "North" appealed directly to the new King of Persia for relief.
So, what is it that we learn, because ultimately the temple is primarily rebuilt and the worship of the LORD resumes according to the historical practices of Moses, and also the Jews who worshiped prior to their exile. We should not be discouraged with the work of the Gospel when it seems to be going awry. God always finds a way! I know that sometimes this is difficult to keep in mind, but no matter how a process unfolds, God is able to move His plans forward.
I will be back with you next Thursday. Reminder. Chili Luncheon is this week after Worship.
In Christ, Pastor Kim