Weekly Devotionals by Pastor Steve Rowitt, Th.M., Ph.D.
October 7, 2012 – Ezra and the Return from Captivity
Ezra was a member of the Israelite priesthood who evidently held the position of scribe, Ezra 7:1, 10, 25; Neh. 8:9. Ezra was active in ministry during the exile of the children of Israel into Babylon. He was also instrumental in the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and the reestablishment of temple worship in Jerusalem. The altar rebuilt and worship reestablished, Ezra 3:1-6, the laying of the foundation of the Temple, Ezra 3:8-13, and the completion of the Temple and its rededication, Ezra 6:15-22, were all part of the ministry of Ezra.
We are introduced to Ezra as he is leading the first delegation of Jews back to their homeland under the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia. The Persian empire conquered the Babylonians and Cyrus and ruled from 539-530 BC. Ezra is also instrumentally involved in the second group of exiles whose return was promised in the book of Daniel, Dan. 9:25, through the decree of Artaxerxes I, King of Babylon in 445 BCE, Ezra 7:11-26.
It is interesting to note that God moved upon the hearts of several of the heads of families to go and build (rebuild) the Temple in Jerusalem, Ezra 1:5-6. In addition to this, the Jews of the exile found so much favor in the eyes of Cyrus the King of Persia that he returned the Temple treasures that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away with him 70 years before, II Kings 24:13.
We can see how one man can make an enormous difference concerning God’s plans for His people. This is no less true for everyone who has placed their faith in God’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Remembering the instructions that Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus should encourage us that God has plans for His blood-bought, adopted children.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them, Eph. 2:10.
October 14, 2012 – Ezra was a Trustworthy Man
The Word of God tells us that the history of the Older Testament saints is recorded there for our benefit. One of the proofs that the Bible is really God’s Word is the inclusion of both the positive and negative behaviors of those whose lives are chronicled therein. The King had the power to edit any of the records that were kept concerning his reign and often those in charge of recording history removed any mention of anything that would cast them in a less than stellar light, e.g. the failure to mention the Exodus in the chronicles of Egyptian history or the past failures to depict the injustices perpetrated against the American Indians as the doctrine of Manifest Destiny became synonymous with Indian removal.
The Bible does not edit out the murder and adultery of King David, II Sam.11:1-12:23. It does not remove the embarrassing instances involving Elijah’s failures, I Kings 19:1-4, or Peter’s hypocrisy after Pentecost, Gal. 2:11-16.
While looking at these saints who lived under the Mosaic Covenant, it is important to remember that they were not “born again.” They were not permanently indwelled by the Holy Spirit and transformed into new creations, II Cor. 5:17-21. They were looking forward towards the promise of the coming Messiah, saved by grace through faith just as we are today but without the benefit of the New Covenant, Jer. 31:31-37, and the new covenant we enjoy in Messiah Yeshua, II Cor. 3:6; Heb.9:14-16.
We are told that Ezra was a man who had the gracious hand of the Lord upon him, causing him to be devoted to the things of the Lord, And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. On the first day of the first month he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel. Ezra 7:8-10.
We should also recognize that Ezra is completely trustworthy. Artaxerxes is trusting Ezra with all the Temple treasures, all the silver and gold he can obtain as freewill offerings from all the Jews, both in Babylon and in Jerusalem, all the cattle, wine, grain, etc. that can be used in the Temple worship priests, Ezra 7:13-26.
Artaxerxes even opens his own treasury to Ezra to accomplish the reestablishment of God’s Temple and the capital city of Judah, Jerusalem, Ezra 7:21-23. Additionally, Artaxerxes prohibits any of Babylon’s territorial leaders from taxing, imposing tribute or duty on any of the returning Jews, Ezra 7:24. He then instructs Ezra to appoint leaders over the peoples of the Trans-Euphrates who are educated in the Mosaic Laws to teach them. Artaxerxes even puts them under penalty of death, banishment, confiscation of property and imprisonment if they fail to obey the teachings of God’s law, Ezra 7:25-26.
Ezra exhibits one of the hallmarks of a believer in the one true and living God, he is trustworthy or worthy of the trust of others. This is a wonderful attribute of the Messiah, whom God the Father entrusted with accomplishing our salvation. This should also be true of His children, that we should lives that exhibit that we are worthy of the trust of others.
… I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy, I Cor. 7:25b
October 21, 2012 – Ezra was a Prayerful Man
Ezra, like all men and women of God, is a prayerful man. He has told the King that they would not need soldiers to protect the caravan going back to Jerusalem so he proclaims a fast asking God for divine protection, Ezra 8:21-23. Ezra was a man of prayer. He was so moved by the ungodliness of his people that when he receives a report that the children of Israel in the land, including the Levites, had intermarried with heathen women, Ezra 9:1-4, that he prays a prayer of godly sorrow, Ezra 9:6-15.
The response of Ezra to the news of Israel’s apostasy teaches us a wonderful lesson about where to go when we are greatly distressed. Ezra immediately goes to the Lord in prayer. Ezra confesses the sins of the people and acknowledges the Doctrine of Separation instituted in the First Testament, Is. 52:11; Ez. 20:34, 41. This same doctrine is restated by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Corinth, II Cor. 6:14-18. While Ezra was still in prayer the children of Israel gathered around him and began to experience godly sorrow, Ezra 10:1-4.
Following the example of men and women who were prayerful believers prior to the coming of the Messiah, we are instructed to pray without ceasing, I Thess. 5:17. A reference to the constant communion and communication we have with God through the indwelling Holy Spirit. God instructs all of His children to pray, especially when in any distress. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus, Phil. 4:6-7.
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen, Phil. 4:19.
October 28, 2012 – A Man of Faith and Self Sacrifice
It was during this time of apostasy that Ezra lead by example. When preparing to meet with the exiles to confront the matter of unlawful intermarriage, he led the leading priests, the Levites and the all Israel into an oath.
Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib; and when he came there, he ate no bread and drank no water, for he mourned because of the guilt of those from the captivity. And they issued a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the descendants of the captivity, that they must gather at Jerusalem, and that whoever would not come within three days, according to the instructions of the leaders and elders, all his property would be confiscated, and he himself would be separated from the assembly of those from the captivity, Ezra 10:6-8.
It is also important to remember that the enemy of our souls is always going to be in opposition to the plan of God in our lives. The return of the exiles from the Babylonian Captivity was attacked by the Samaritans, Ezra 4:1-5, as well as Babylonians who hated the Jews, Ezra 4:12-16. The latter was a false report by the people in the Trans-Euphrates concerning the Jews living there. They were making false allegations against them (the Jews) that caused Artaxerxes to temporarily stop the rebuilding program in Jerusalem, Ezra 4:18-24.
There is always great opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s children. There is a constant spiritual battle on-going and it is good for us to heed the instruction of the Word of God concerning this warfare. Always remember that we are already victorious over the enemy through the Messiah, Rom. 8:37.
Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand, Eph. 6:11-13