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Ezra 1:15; Nehemiah 8:16; Jeremiah 29:1014comment (0)

July 18, 2013

By Jeffery M. Leonard

Related Scripture: Ezra 1:15

Bible Studies for Life 
Assistant Professor of Religion, Samford University

God Restores His People

Ezra 1:1–5; Nehemiah 8:1–6; Jeremiah 29:10–14

The Promise of God (Jer. 29:10–14)
To open the Book of Jeremiah is to peer into the heart of one of God’s most troubled servants. In the centuries leading up to this prophet’s ministry, the people of Judah had held to the belief that Jerusalem was the city of God, and the city of God would surely never fall. Jeremiah was given the unenviable task of proclaiming to the nation that this belief would not hold true. The sins of the people had grown too great. Zion would fall.

From the start, we see Jeremiah’s hesitation. God has to warn the prophet not to break down before the people, to become a piece of iron and bronze hardened to the task set before him (Jer. 1:17–18). At times, the terrible message of doom would be too much for the prophet. Overwhelmed, he would cry out, “Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me” (Jer. 4:19). At his lowest point, worn down by constant insult and reproach, he would even lament, “You deceived me, LORD, and I was deceived. You overpowered me and prevailed” (Jer. 20:7–8).

Despite the urgency of Jeremiah’s plaintive calls, the nation would not repent. Even when the leading lights of the nation had been exiled to Babylon, the people consoled themselves that this was just a temporary state of affairs. In the end, Jeremiah would be forced to write a letter to the people in exile, warning them that their days of punishment were not at an end; they were only beginning. “Build houses,” “settle down,” “do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you,” Jeremiah would write (Jer. 29:5–8).

The Return of God’s People (Ezra 1:1–5)
The chapters that recall the bitter tears Jeremiah shed as he uttered his message of doom to the people are dark waters indeed. Here and there, though, we find glimmers of hope. Jeremiah’s warning that 70 years must pass before Babylon’s hegemony would end also contains a word of hope: Babylon’s rule would end. There would be a day when God would call His people home again.

The man who would bring about the release of the captives in Babylon was the Persian king, Cyrus. In the years immediately prior to Babylon’s fall, Babylon’s king, Nabonidus, had scandalized the nation by replacing the chief god, Marduk, with another god. Incensed, the Marduk priests openly called for Cyrus to invade their city, and when he did, hailed his victory as one orchestrated by Marduk himself.

But Israel’s prophets insisted on a contrary view. The Book of Isaiah declares that Cyrus was the LORD’s anointed, raised up just for the purpose of delivering His people. Speaking to Cyrus, the LORD proclaims, “For the sake of my servant Jacob and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name and bestow on you a title of honor, even though you do not know me” (Isa. 45:4). Calling for a second exodus, this time from Babylon not Egypt, the Book of Isaiah encourages the people to return to their rightful home.

The Response of God’s People (Neh. 8:1–6) 
Life in Israel after the exile was not like life before. Reduced in size and power to the tiny Persian province of Yehud, hemmed in on every side by antagonistic neighbors, poor and powerless, the nation cried out for leaders to guide them through this difficult time. The leaders who emerged would turn out not to be kings but priests. Using the Law as their guide, the priests would work to provide order and stability to a people shell-shocked by defeat and exile.

The real work of restoring the people would come, of course, in the day-to-day application of Torah to life. The process began, though, when Ezra called the people to the inauguration of a new era in the life of God’s people. As the people stood and Ezra read to them the words of the Torah, they marked together a pivotal moment, a transitional moment in the life of the nation. Lacking judge or king, prophet or power, henceforth they would be people of the Book.

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