Sunday, January 1, 2017

Ezra 1 & 2

On weekend days we read from the Old Testament (the part of the Bible before Jesus came) and on weekday days we read from the New Testament. In a year we will read a chunk of Old Testament and all of the New Testament. Today's reading in our daily plan is Ezra 1 & 2. Last year in our reading plan we read 1 and 2 Chronicles. Ezra is the next book in the Bible.

Take a moment to pray, asking God to speak to you from this passage. Then read, using the following notes and questions to help you get everything out of the passage.

SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
  • The first couple verses of Ezra are almost identical to the last two verses of 2 Chronicles (the previous book in the Bible). The reason was probably to let the readers know that Ezra picks up where 2 Chronicles left off.
  • Cyrus (1:1) (the king of Persia from 559 to 530 BC) began ruling over Babylon in 583 BC.
  • The Jews (the people of "Jerusalem in Judah") had been taken and forced to live in Babylon, beginning in 605 BC. Now, about 70 years later, Cyrus announces (1:3-4) that the people can begin returning to their homeland. This was an exciting day of restoration and hope for the Jews.
  • The people prepare to return and rebuild the temple (1:5 and following), all the people giving generously to this project. King Cyrus returns the things the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, had stolen from from the former temple (1:7-8).
  • The people again give generously towards the rebuilding of God's temple in 2:68-69.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • A hundred years before all this, God had given a man named Isaiah a prophecy (see Isaiah 44:28 - 45:6) that a ruler named Cyrus would help the Jews return to their homeland. God gave another man, named Jeremiah, a prophecy (see Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10) that the Jews would remain in captivity for 70 years. Even when times are tough, we can turn to and rely on the promises God has given us. He is totally reliable. So, no matter what's happening, we can have hope.
  • Cyrus was not a Jew (the Jews were the only one's who believed in God back then) but God worked through him to returned the exiled Jews to their homeland. God is not limited to our resources or to the ways we might expect Him to work. So, when a situation seems hopeless, remember that you have no idea how God might work in it and carry out His plans.
  • The Jews had been far from home for a long time, forced to live in another nation. They didn't have a lot, but they gave a lot. When it came to honoring God, they wanted to be as generous  and give everything they could. We see something very similar in the New Testament:
    • "Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do." (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • When things look bad in your life, do you have hope because you know that God can work in ways (and through people) that you would never expect, and because you are counting on His promises? You should! Check out some (and considering memorizing a few) of some of the promises God has made to you:
    • And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
    • For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
    • And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
    • And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
    • And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:38)
  • Do you ever use "not having a lot of money" as an excuse for not giving generously back to God? ("Back" because the Bible says that everything you have actually belongs to God. We never really give to God; we just give back to Him from what He's allowed us to hold on to and use of His.) We see in the Bible that people who put their faith in God loved Him so much they couldn't let their poverty keep them from giving back generously. So, how could you start giving more generously to God?