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Ezra 1:16; 3:13, 1011comment (0)

November 30, 2006

By John A. Nixon

Related Scripture: Ezra 1:16; 3:13, 1011

Explore the Bible
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

Seizing New Opportunities
Ezra 1:1–6; 3:1–3, 10–11

The Book of Ezra begins with the story of God’s people returning to the promised land.

Respond to God-given Opportunities (1:1–6)
The writer is clear: the events recounted in this book show God’s faithfulness to His people and His promises (1). The Lord had spoken through Jeremiah. His people would be exiled 70 years in Babylon (Jer. 25:8–11) after which they would return to their land (Jer. 29:10–14).

The writer of the Book of Ezra describes the people’s return to Jerusalem as the fulfillment of this prophecy.
The writer stresses that these events are the result of God’s sovereign work. God “put it into the mind of King Cyrus” to allow the Jews to return to the land (1).

God also “motivated” the spirit of His people to return to the land and rebuild His temple. The writer is clear: Cyrus’ decree was not a mere political ploy; it was God’s hand restoring His people to their land.

The people responded to God’s work with eagerness and sacrifice. The family leaders “prepared to go up and rebuild the Lord’s house in Jerusalem” (5).

It seems that even those who did not return to the land supported God’s work through their eagerness to give.
Moreover those who did return were eager to rebuild the temple and gave freely to rebuild it (2:68–70).

Recognize the Priority of Worship (3:1–3)
God returned His people to their land. Although it was the Southern Kingdom of Judah that was taken captive to Babylon and the Northern Kingdom of Israel had virtually disappeared after its fall in 722 b.c., the writer refers to the returning people not simply as Judah but as Israel (1; 2:2, 70; 6:16, 21).

This reference should be understood in light of Chapter 2 in which the list of the families who returned to the land includes people from the Southern Kingdom of Judah as well as a few descendants from the Northern Kingdom of Israel (cf. 6:17; 8:35). Thus Ezra sees God’s faithfulness in the comprehensive return of His people to the land.

The people first responded to God’s work by rebuilding the altar at the site of the temple (1–6).

The writer stresses that it was rebuilt in accordance with the law of Moses.

The people also worshiped God despite their fear of “the surrounding peoples.” The text stresses that they worshiped together by restoring the burnt offerings for the Festival of Booths (4) and afterward through the regular feasts and celebrations (5).

Whereas these acts of worship show the people’s faith and obedience, their “freewill offerings brought to the Lord” (5) display their love for God.

Rejoice in the Lord’s Help (3:10–11)
The people also responded to God’s work by rebuilding the foundation of the temple (7–9). “When the builders had laid the foundation of the Lord’s temple,” the people celebrated “with praise and thanksgiving.” Their song points readers back to 1 and 2 Chronicles.

When David brought the Ark to Jerusalem and placed it in the tabernacle, the people sang these words (1 Chron. 16:34). When Solomon dedicated the temple, the people sang these words (2 Chron. 5:13; 7:3).
The writer of the Book of Ezra wants readers to see God’s hand at work among His people once again. Yet the writer also shows the mixed reaction to God’s work.

Many people wept in sorrow, while others shouted for joy (12–13). Whereas the writer wants readers to see God’s hand at work, he also points to the future and the hope of greater blessing.

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