Author: gracepoint

July 7, 2020

Nehemiah 4- 2020-07-07

Journal

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Commentary:

NEHEMIAH 4

4:1–3[…] Sanballat’s earlier allegations of rebellion, easily dismissed by Nehemiah (2:19–20), now give way to a vitriolic questioning of the returnees’ ability to complete the job. […] Sanballat scornfully calls into question either their own unrealistic expectations or their ability to expedite matters—or both. Finally, he queries the wisdom of salvaging burnt and thereby weakened stones for the rebuilding. Tobiah’s own contemptuous contribution likewise focuses on the work on the wall itself, by suggesting that its fragility would be exposed by a scampering fox—a creature known to haunt the stones of ruined cities (Lam 5:18), but hardly sizeable enough to dislodge them in normal circumstances.

4:4–5 Unlike Neh 2, this explosion of mockery and criticism is merely reported by Nehemiah rather than addressed to him, so it is perhaps not surprising that his response is not to his enemies (as in Neh 2) but instead to his God. That his prayer lacks any introduction (e.g., “and we said”) strengthens the assumption that it has been inserted into the narrative by Nehemiah himself, but within the narrative as it stands it also contributes to the impression of both extemporaneity and spontaneity. Nehemiah’s awareness that news of their progress had caused their enemies to despise (בזה/bzh) them (2:19) leads naturally now to a plea that God would hear their prayer “for we are despised” (4:3). The plea for God to “hear” is of course common currency in psalmic prayers of petition generally (Ps 27:7; 30:10) while prayers for deliverance from an enemy (Ps 44; 74; 77) and those of an imprecatory spirit (Ps 137; 109:6–19) are also well represented among the Psalms. […]

4:6–9 Nehemiah resumes his account with a progress report on the wall, emphasizing the completion of the circuit (“all the wall”) up to half its projected height. Given that it was the community’s lack of capacity to reconstruct the wall that was the object of their enemies’ mockery, Nehemiah’s progress report here confirms that his prayer that God would turn their enemies’ taunts back on them (4:5) has been answered—thanks in no small part, he notes, to the commitment of the people who “had a mind to work” (4:6). Nehemiah furnishes further evidence that the opposition continues to mount as the wall climbs higher by once again reporting the reaction to the repair of the wall and more specifically to the progressive “closing of the gaps.” […] Here as earlier (4:1) there is great anger, but instead of mockery, Nehemiah now reports a plot to “fight/make war” in or against Jerusalem and cause confusion (4:2). […] As before (4:4–5), the response reported by Nehemiah includes an appeal to “our God” (4:9), and while the prayer itself is not included, it is—as before—offered up by the community (“we prayed”) rather than merely by the leader. Just as Nehemiah himself had combined prayer with practical action in the throne room of Artaxerxes (2:4–5) so here prayer is accompanied by the very pragmatic posting of a protective guard round the clock (4:9).

4:10–13 […] That this campaign of (mis)information threatens to further undermine the builders’ efforts is confirmed by Nehemiah’s report of the reaction of those living in the vicinity of their “enemies” and thus most susceptible to such rumors: “They said to us repeatedly [lit., ‘ten times’] from everywhere [i.e., various outlying regions]: ‘Return to us!’ ” (4:12). With Jerusalem inevitably destined to bear the brunt of any attack, it is only natural that families would want their loved ones home and out of harm’s way. Nehemiah’s response is, however, to rally the people, either in areas that were particularly vulnerable or more likely in a single space that was particularly visible, mobilizing and arming the “people” in their relevant families to literally stand in the breach (4:13).

4:14–15 Nehemiah preserves here only an excerpt from what may well have been a longer speech, clearly designed to bolster sagging spirits. […] Nehemiah does not suggest here that the God they are to remember will fight their battle for them; rather, he encourages the returnees to “fight for” each other—with the mention of brothers, sons, daughters, wives, and houses presumably offering a catalog of things most worth fighting for. […] Nehemiah heeds his own advice, remembering YHWH by attributing the frustration of the enemies’ plot to God himself—though one may doubt whether this particular interpretation of events would have been shared by Sanballat and his allies, as Nehemiah perhaps innocently suggests (4:15). While the success of Nehemiah’s tactic is signaled by the return of the people to their work on the wall (4:15b), he was evidently persuaded that sufficient threat remained to assign half of his own men to an armed security detail to provide reassurance to the workers on one hand and a visible deterrent and capacity for rapid tactical response to any attack on the other.

4:16–20 Whether the rulers of the people had ever been fully engaged in the manual labor on the wall (cf. Neh 3), they are now withdrawn from the front line and positioned “behind” the people doing the work (4:16b–17), in all likelihood to protect the fledgling community’s small corps of leaders. Given that they would form the bulk of any fighting force, even the workers themselves are armed—the basket carriers with a stone or other missile in their free hand (4:17) and the builders with swords on hips (4:18) to keep both hands free. Recognizing that “we are separated far from one another on the wall” (4:19 NRSV), Nehemiah’s plan to muster the people by means of the trumpeter at his side draws on time-honored traditions of Israel’s military history (Judg 3:27; 6:34; 7:18) as does his reassurance that “our God will fight for us” (Neh 4:20; cf. Deut 1:30; Josh 10:14).

4:21–23 […] While a system of rotating watches will have allowed a workforce restricted to Jerusalem to “labor by day” having also stood “guard for us by night” (4:22), the more pertinent purpose of the restriction may well have been to prevent the leading figures and their servants from heeding the cries to “return to us!” (4:12), which may well have continued in outlying areas despite Nehemiah’s efforts to quell them. Acknowledging the importance of setting an example, Nehemiah makes a point of noting the visible vigilance of him and his closest colleagues, with sentiments such as “never took off our clothes” and “weapon in our right hand” (4:23) being roughly equivalent to sleeping with one’s boots on and a pistol under the pillow. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 38-40.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 4:1-23

 

1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.

6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. 9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

10 In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” 11 And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” 12 At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” 13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19 And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20 In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”

21 So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. 22 I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” 23 So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 4:1-6

  • What does Sanballat’s ridicule reveal about the apparent impossibility of the project to rebuild the wall?
  • Reflect on the words: “the people had a mind to work” (the NIV says “the people worked with all their heart”). What lesson does this give regarding how best to respond to scorn and ridicule directed at Christianity?

Nehemiah 4:7-23

  • What lessons can I learn from how Nehemiah responds to the overwhelming set of circumstances, including external threat and internal loss of strength?
  • The people’s view that “there is too much rubble…we will not be able to rebuild the wall” turns out to be an inaccurate reflection of reality. What is God’s message to me from this chapter regarding situations toward which I feel too weary and unable to tackle?

Prayer 

June 18, 2020

Ezra9- 2020-06-18

Journal

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Commentary: 

Ezra 9

9:1–2 […] The problem voiced by the chiefs (9:1a) relates to the intermarriage of Israelites, including primarily or initially some of their fellow chiefs (9:2b) with the “peoples of the land” (9:2). That such a practice represents “faithlessness/sin” (9:2) in their own eyes is explained by their association of the “peoples of the land” (i.e., those who were not identified with the returnees) with the abominations of a list of nations that is generally familiar from the Pentateuch (e.g., Gen 15:19–20; Exod 3:8). The tradition assumed here seems to be drawing upon a combination of Deut 7:1–3, which proscribes intermarriage with the usual seven nations indigenous to Canaan, and Deut 23:2–7 which excludes from the community Edomites and Egyptians up to the third generation and Ammonites and Moabites altogether. […]

9:3–5 […] If he had offered instruction on the passages of which the chiefs seem to be aware, but was himself -unaware of the scale or existence of the problem, Ezra’s dramatic reaction here may well be intended to suggest the strength of his own personal shock and dismay. If, however, as is perhaps more likely, Ezra was already specifically aware of the problem, the strength of Ezra’s response here will be primarily for the benefit of galvanizing the community into the appropriate response.

Much like the term “Quakers” of the more recent past, “all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” (Ezra 9:4; Isa 66:2, 5) evidently became a way of referring to a party within the returnees distinguished by their particular reverence for and interpretation of the Torah (Ezra 10:3). Their sympathies may well have been wholly or partly prompted by Ezra’s ministry, but their solidarity with him is unmistakably expressed here by their sitting “appalled” with Ezra, in much the same manner as Job’s friends do (2:13).

9:6–7 Now that others have expressed their solidarity with him, Ezra commences his confession by identifying with the community’s sin (“our iniquities”) in spite of his own individual innocence. It is precisely because the community’s sins and iniquities have “climbed to the heavens” (9:6) that Ezra is ashamed to “show [lit., lift] his face” (Job 22:26) to the God of the heavens (Ezra 1:2; 5:11–12; 6:9–10; 7:12, 21, 23). […] Ezra here insists that the sins of his own generation have added height to the tower of trespasses already erected in the preexilic period.

9:8–9 The guilt of Ezra and his contemporaries is all the greater, he admits, because of the grace that the “remnant” (i.e., the community associated with the returnees) has experienced “for a brief moment” (i.e., since the edict of Cyrus). The “givenness” of this grace is expressed in the gift of “a stake” (NRSV; lit., “a tent peg”) in the holy place, which likely intends a contrast to the nomadic transience of exile (see, e.g., Isa 33:20). […] . While Ezra’s prayer acknowledges that the “bondage” (Ezra 9:8–9) of exile is not ended, God’s graciousness is seen in the extension of love to them, such that their Persian overlords (as in 7:28) have in turn allowed them a minirevival (9:8–9) defined in terms of restoring the ruins of the temple and setting up a “wall” in Judea and Jerusalem. […]

9:10–15 […] Like the prayers of lament found in the Psalms, Ezra’s prayer displays a profound awareness of the problem in the relationship between God and his people. […] Ezra’s prayer includes features such as a request for attentiveness, a historical recital/reflection, and rhetorical questions toward its conclusion. Given Ezra’s role and activities as described earlier in his memoir, it is hardly surprising that even when praying, he is also preaching/teaching Torah (primarily as mediated by Deuteronomy). [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 26-27.

Bible Text:

Ezra 9:1-15

1 After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.” 3 As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. 5 And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God, 6 saying:

“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. 8 But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. 9 For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.

10 “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, 11 which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. 12 Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’ 13 And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, 14 shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? 15 O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.”

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 9:1-2, 10-14

  • What was the Israelites’ crucial mistake? In what ways have I “not separated [myself] from the peoples of the lands with their abominations”? How is God warning me through this passage?
  • What is especially tragic that “in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost“?

Ezra 9:13-15

  • Based on this passage, what are the components of genuine repentance? What is the proper posture when coming into the presence of God?

Prayer 

June 16, 2020

Ezra8- 2020-06-16

Journal

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Commentary:

Ezra 8

8:15–20 […] Reporting his review of those assembled, Ezra notes, but does not explain, the initial absence of the Levites (about which one may thus only speculate), but his immediate action to remedy the situation provides advance notice of their importance for his mission. The list of those sent to recruit Levites seems to include a suspicious number of “(El)nathans,” but the importance of the embassy is underlined by Ezra’s sending of those who are “leaders” (8:16) and “those who are wise” (or perhaps “those skilled in instruction”). Nothing is known of Casiphia, nor its leader, Iddo and his brethren, but the nature of the request, “send us ministers for the house of our God” (8:17), and the speedy compliance (8:18) suggest that Casiphia may have been a spiritual center for the exilic community (or at least some Levites), though one may only speculate regarding what worship facilities it may have offered. […]

In keeping with the reduced enrollment generally in the second return, significantly fewer Levites (38) volunteer than in Zerubbabel’s time but their descent from Merari (entrusted with the transport of sacred things; Exod 6:16; Num 3:17) may be relevant given the role that some of them will be asked to fulfill (8:24–30). The temple servants who will return (220) are also reduced in number in comparison with earlier times but are apparently still too numerous to mention by name in the context of Ezra’s memoir (8:20). Whether it is the provision of all of these or Sherebiah alone that is understood to betoken God’s favor, Ezra voices his conviction that the Levitical addition to the traveling party is a sign that the specifically “good hand of God” (7:9; cf. 7:6, 28: “hand of God” simpliciter) is now resting not on him alone, but also “us.”

8:21–36 […] As elsewhere in Jewish literature and practice of the postexilic period (10:6; Neh 9:1; Esth 4:3, 16), the offering of prayer is enhanced by fasting (Ezra 8:21, 23)—a tangible expression of the community’s humble hope for the “straight/smooth road” through the wilderness envisioned in Isa 40:3. Having proclaimed the fast (Ezra 8:21), Ezra then reports not only the community’s prayer, but the divine protection afforded—visible of course only from the vantage point of the journey’s end (8:31–32), but reported here to emphasize the efficacy of the community’s petitionary faith.

Ezra’s setting apart of twelve priests (8:24; cf. 2:2; 6:17; 8:3–13) is not likely to be accidental (though here all are members of a single tribe), nor is his listing of the donors and the careful accounting of their contributions (8:25–27); by doing these things Ezra celebrates yet again the support of the crown and the community for the worship of YHWH. In emphasizing that both the Levites and their freight are “holy” (8:28), Ezra acknowledges the appropriateness of the descendants of Merari for the transportation of the sacred vessels. It is precisely because these and “the silver and gold” are for “YHWH, the God of your fathers” (8:28) that Ezra provides clear instructions to ensure that they arrive safely, not merely in Jerusalem, but “within the rooms of the house of YHWH” (8:29; cf. Neh 10:37–39; 13:4–9). Ezra’s issuing of orders to “guard” and to “weigh” the treasure out on arrival will have been intended to protect both the precious goods against thievery and the porters (and Ezra himself) against any suggestion of personal profit or mismanagement.

[…] In the record of the burnt offerings made on their arrival, the recurring appearance of twelve (“bulls for all Israel” and “male goats” as a sin offering) and its multiple (ninety-six rams) strikes that same chord of continuity with the distant past (Num 7) as was struck more recently in connection with the restoration of the temple (Ezra 6:17). [1] 

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 24-25.

Bible Text:

Ezra 8:1-20

1 These are the heads of their fathers’ houses, and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylonia, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king: 2 Of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom. Of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel. Of the sons of David, Hattush. 3 Of the sons of Shecaniah, who was of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah, with whom were registered 150 men. 4 Of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah, and with him 200 men. 5 Of the sons of Zattu, Shecaniah the son of Jahaziel, and with him 300 men. 6 Of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him 50 men. 7 Of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him 70 men. 8 Of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him 80 men. 9 Of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him 218 men. 10 Of the sons of Bani, Shelomith the son of Josiphiah, and with him 160 men. 11 Of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah, the son of Bebai, and with him 28 men. 12 Of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him 110 men. 13 Of the sons of Adonikam, those who came later, their names being Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, and with them 60 men. 14 Of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zaccur, and with them 70 men.

15 I gathered them to the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the sons of Levi. 16 Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of insight, 17 and sent them to Iddo, the leading man at the place Casiphia, telling them what to say to Iddo and his brothers and the temple servants at the place Casiphia, namely, to send us ministers for the house of our God. 18 And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion, of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi, son of Israel, namely Sherebiah with his sons and kinsmen, 18; 19 also Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, with his kinsmen and their sons, 20; 20 besides 220 of the temple servants, whom David and his officials had set apart to attend the Levites. These were all mentioned by name.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 8:15-20

  • In light of King Artaxerxes’s decree (ch. 7), why would it be a sad picture to have a lack of Levites among those who had assembled to return?
  • Consider what the conversation must have been like between Ezra’s representatives and Iddo, and between Iddo and Sherebiah, and the others. What were the issues and stakes involved, and why is Sherebiah’s (and the others’) decision so beautiful?
  • Recount a time when I placed the call of duty higher than my own needs, comfort and plans.

Prayer 

June 15, 2020

Ps19- 2020-06-15

  • Bible Text: Psalm 19

    To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

    1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
        and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
    Day to day pours out speech,
        and night to night reveals knowledge.
    There is no speech, nor are there words,
        whose voice is not heard.
    Their voice goes out through all the earth,
        and their words to the end of the world.
    In them he has set a tent for the sun,
        which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
        and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
    Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
        and its circuit to the end of them,
        and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

    The law of the Lord is perfect,
        reviving the soul;
    the testimony of the Lord is sure,
        making wise the simple;
    the precepts of the Lord are right,
        rejoicing the heart;
    the commandment of the Lord is pure,
        enlightening the eyes;
    the fear of the Lord is clean,
        enduring forever;
    the rules of the Lord are true,
        and righteous altogether.
    10 More to be desired are they than gold,
        even much fine gold;
    sweeter also than honey
        and drippings of the honeycomb.
    11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
        in keeping them there is great reward.

    12 Who can discern his errors?
        Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
    13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
        let them not have dominion over me!
    Then I shall be blameless,
        and innocent of great transgression.

    14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
        be acceptable in your sight,
        Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

June 12, 2020

Ps15- 2020-06-12

  • Bible Text: Psalm 15

    A Psalm of David.

    1 O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?

        Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

    2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right

        and speaks truth in his heart;

    3 who does not slander with his tongue

        and does no evil to his neighbor,

        nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

    4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised,

        but who honors those who fear the Lord;

        who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

    5 who does not put out his money at interest

        and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

    He who does these things shall never be moved.

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

June 11, 2020

Ezra7- 2020-06-11

Journal

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Commentary: EZRA 7

Bible Text: Ezra 7:11-28

11 This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, a man learned in matters of the commandments of the LORD and his statutes for Israel: 12 “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven. Peace. And now 13 I make a decree that anyone of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. 14 For you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the Law of your God, which is in your hand, 15 and also to carry the silver and gold that the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 with all the silver and gold that you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia, and with the freewill offerings of the people and the priests, vowed willingly for the house of their God that is in Jerusalem. 17 With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and you shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God that is in Jerusalem.   18 Whatever seems good to you and your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God. 19 The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. 20 And whatever else is required for the house of your God, which it falls to you to provide, you may provide it out of the king’s treasury.

21 “And I, Artaxerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence, 22 up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. 23 Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons. 24 We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll on anyone of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.

25 “And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God. And those who do not know them, you shall teach. 26 Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.”

27 Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem, 28 and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 7:12-26

  • Notice the remarkably high degree of reverence King Artaxerxes gives to “the God of Israel” (v.15), equating him with “the God of heaven” (v.21), and the high degree of respect the king has for the priesthood (v. 24).  What can I infer about the source of the king’s attitude?
  • Reflect on the role of this one person, Ezra, along with his character, piety and wisdom (v. 25), in advancing God’s will and bringing about a huge blessing to God’s people. In what ways can I emulate him?

Ezra 7:27-28

  • How did Ezra respond when he realized that the hand of the Lord was on him?
  • From what do I take courage and strength to gather and motivate others?

Prayer 

June 10, 2020

Ezra7- 2020-06-10

Journal

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Commentary: 

EZRA 7

7:1–6 […] As with previous lists (cf. Ezra 2), the paramount concern is to establish continuity with the past—extending in this case back to Aaron the chief or first priest of Moses’s time. Irrespective of its provenance, the length of the genealogy requires the narrative to resume by clarifying that it was “this Ezra” (7:6a) who came back from Babylon. Whatever else a “scribe” may be equipped and called upon to do (7:12, 21), the emphasis here in the description of Ezra is on his proficiency in the “Torah of Moses, which YHWH, the God of Israel, had given.” While the text notes that Artaxerxes too is generous (“giving all for which Ezra asked”), it is at pains to clarify that the gift of Persian royal favor and provision derives ultimately from the “hand of YHWH his God which was upon him [i.e., Ezra].”

7:7–10 […] Ezra joins a relatively small group of texts in the Hebrew Bible where the verb “to seek” is governed by the word of God (Isa 34:16). In 1 Chr 28:8, David charges the leaders of Israel to not merely “observe” but also “seek” the commandments of YHWH your God “that you may possess this good land and leave it for an inheritance to your children after you forever.” The notion that “seeking” then involves more than merely obedience to, but rather deep engagement with, the written word is reinforced by the instructive references found in Ps 119. […] Ezra’s commitment to a searching enquiry of Torah is accompanied by a conviction (Ezra 7:10) regarding his own practical application of it (“to do” it) and then finally to inculcate this same passion and process within the community through education (“to teach” the statutes and ordinances in Israel). […]

7:11–20 […] As conventional as both phrases are for the Persian crown, that the “king of kings” acknowledges the “God of heaven” must have been a significant encouragement for a community of returnees attempting to reconcile the unlimited sovereignty of YHWH with the undeniable precariousness of their position. […]

7:21–24 That the royal check is not entirely blank and that even Persian largesse has its limits is made clear by what appears to be a separate decree addressed now to provincial treasurers. […] 7:23 confirms that like Darius (Ezra 6) and Cyrus before him, Artaxerxes’s desire to support the Jewish cult in Yehud (“let it be done with zeal”) stems from a calculated and pragmatic piety that seeks to cultivate loyalty among the elite of the religious establishment and appease the gods whose “wrath” he fears might otherwise destroy the empire. […]

7:25–26 […] That Ezra is equipped to proceed according to the “wisdom of your God, which is in your hand” suggests an equation of “wisdom” with “the law of your God,” which the letter has already specified is also “in your [i.e., Ezra’s] hand” (7:14). […] That Ezra’s jurisdiction is limited to the Jewish community/ies within the province is suggested by the mention of “all the people . . . who know the laws of your God” (7:25), but the specification of comparable punishments, listed here in descending order of severity, for the violation of this law and “the law of the king” (7:26), is an indication of both the significance of Ezra’s authority and the importance of his role in educating the local communities (7:25: “you shall teach”).

7:27–28 The first words of Ezra himself encountered in the book that bears his name offer a blessing of YHWH of the sort found in the Psalms (e.g., 28:6; 31:21) and indeed elsewhere on the lips of Israel’s past leaders (e.g., 1 Kgs 8:15). Like Jehoshaphat in 2 Chr 20:6 (after his own reformation efforts), Ezra also invokes the “God of our fathers” (Ezra 7:27; elsewhere only Deut 26:7) and recognizes the “hand” of God (Ezra 7:28; cf. 7:6, 9) as the stimulus for his strengthened resolve and invitation to others to “go up” (cf. 7:9) with him to Jerusalem. The specific catalyst for Ezra’s blessing is, first, his conviction that the same God who “turned the heart” of Darius to complete the temple in Jerusalem (6:22), also “placed in the heart” of Artaxerxes the impulse to glorify/beautify it. The second stimulus is his belief that the same “loving-kindness” of God that was celebrated at the completion of the altar in the early days of the return (3:11) has persuaded the Persian king to allow Ezra to play his part in the further restoration of worship in Jerusalem. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 21-23.

Bible Text:

Ezra 7:1-10

1 Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2 son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub,

3 son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4 son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5 son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest— 6 this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.

7 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 10For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 7:6-10

  • What do we know of Ezra?
  • What is the relationship between the kind of person Ezra was, as described in this passage, and God’s hand being upon him?

Ezra 7:10

  • What did Ezra set his heart to do?
  • What is the relationship between studying, doing, and teaching the Law of the LORD?
  • How am I doing in my own study of, obedience to, and credibility as a teacher of God’s word?

Prayer 

June 9, 2020

Ezra6- 2020-06-09

Journal

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Commentary: Ezra 6

Bible Text: Ezra 6:13-22

13 Then, according to the word sent by Darius the king, Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what Darius the king had ordered. 14 And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia; 15 and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.

16 And the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. 17 They offered at the dedication of this house of God 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. 18 And they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their divisions, for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.

19 On the fourteenth day of the first month, the returned exiles kept the Passover. 20 For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were clean. So they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. 21 It was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by every one who had joined them and separated himself from the uncleanness of the peoples of the land to worship the LORD, the God of Israel. 22 And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 6:16-17

  • How were the Israelites able to experience joy in the midst of this sad situation of having been in exile for so many years?
  • What is my source of courage and faith? How might I maintain joy and faith in the aftermath of defeat, chastisement, or loss?

Ezra 6:19-22

  • What identity would have been reinforced or rekindled in the returned exiles by the celebration of this inaugural Passover?
  • What are some ways I need to reaffirm my salvation identity in the midst of spiritual setbacks or after repentance?

Prayer 

June 8, 2020

Ps9- 2020-06-08

  • Journal
  • Bible Text: Psalm 9

    To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben.

    A Psalm of David.

    I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
        I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
    I will be glad and exult in you;
        I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

    When my enemies turn back,
        they stumble and perish before your presence.
    For you have maintained my just cause;
        you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.

    You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
        you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
    The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
        their cities you rooted out;
        the very memory of them has perished.

    But the LORD sits enthroned forever;
        he has established his throne for justice,
    and he judges the world with righteousness;
        he judges the peoples with uprightness.

    The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
        a stronghold in times of trouble.
    10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
        for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

    11 Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion!
        Tell among the peoples his deeds!
    12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
        he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

    13 Be gracious to me, O LORD!
        See my affliction from those who hate me,
        O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
    14 that I may recount all your praises,
        that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
        I may rejoice in your salvation.

    15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
        in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
    16 The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
        the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah

    17 The wicked shall return to Sheol,
        all the nations that forget God.

    18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
        and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

    19 Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail;
        let the nations be judged before you!
    20 Put them in fear, O LORD!
        Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

May 27, 2020

Ezra2- 2020-05-27

Journal

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Commentary: Ezra 2

Ezra 2

 

2:1–2 The mention again of Nebuchadnezzar and the circumstances of exile signals a reemphasizing of the continuity of the returnees with the original exiles. That it was their own towns to which they returned reflects and depends on the divinely sanctioned division and allocation of the land described in Numbers and Joshua. Whether intentional or not, the listing of twelve leaders (not including Sheshbazzar) would likely have offered early readers an echo of the twelve sons of Jacob and the eponymous tribes that descended from them. Though not emphasized here, Zerubbabel’s Davidic ancestry may well have reminded ancient readers of the hope of royal restoration (and thus the fulfillment of God’s promise to David in 2 Sam 7) that would wax and wane in the years following the return. […]

2:21–35 Beginning in 2:21 the focus of the list seems to shift from parentage to place…The interest in connecting the returning people to particular places reflects the historic concerns with (re)securing the land that had been promised by God in ancient times. If the people are listed by place name because they are “the poor of the land” (2 Kgs 25:12) who do not hold title to any ancestral property, the list reaffirms the community’s inclusion of those on the margins who might otherwise have fallen by the wayside on their return.

2:36–39 As in Numbers, where the priests and Levites are listed (Num 3–4) following the others (Num 1–2), so too here in connection with this new “exodus,” the attention moves from laity to priests and functionaries—the comparatively sizeable numbers of the latter offer a further indication that worship is not incidental, but remains central to the plans of God and his people.

2:40–42 As Ezra would himself eventually discover (8:15), comparatively few Levites made this journey (2:40). While singers and gatekeepers would later (1 Chr 6) be incorporated into the Levite ranks and classified according to descent (Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun), here they are reported separately. Collectively, they are further testimony to the cultic ambitions and commitments of the returning community.

2:43–58 It is very likely that the temple servants (lit., “given/devoted”), and the sons of Solomon’s servants were responsible for assisting the Levites with some of the most basic tasks relating to worship and the temple. If, as some of the names suggest, this group included foreigners (including, potentially, prisoners of war), their inclusion as full members of the community (as we see in 2:64) suggests that the community continued to be inclusive within the limits of the tradition as they understood it.

2:59–63 The limits of the community’s inclusivity appear to have had implications for those who belonged to specific communities in exile but were unable to establish their genealogical credentials and/or connection to a traditional location in the ancestral land. While the implications remain unclear for the laity, the priests are excluded from facilitating the worshiping community. Given the emphasis on ensuring continuity with the community of origin, such a position, while appearing severe, would certainly have been understandable. […]

2:64–67 The total sum of the preceding numbers is considerably lower (by some 11,000) than the total given in 2:64. While it is possible, as in 1:9–11, that something has been lost in the preceding list, the more likely suggestion is that women have been included in the latter total, but not in the preceding numbers. Both men and women are included in the figures for servants/slaves (2:65), who are included along with the animals (2:66)—a notion that is as anathema to modern sensibilities as it was apparently unremarkable to ancient ones. […]

2:70 Given that some of the priests and temple functionaries clearly (and of necessity) settled in Jerusalem (Neh 3:26, 31; 11:21), why does the text here make a point of suggesting that both they and the rest of the people settled in their towns? By reiterating the same point at the end of the chapter, which he had made at the beginning (Ezra 2:1), the editor/narrator perhaps wishes to emphasize that the return was not merely a symbolic but also quite literal (re)settlement of the land as evidenced by the repopulation of not just Jerusalem, but also the wide variety of cities and towns that are indicated at great length in the lists found in Josh 15:21–62; 18:21–28. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 14-15.

Bible Text:

Ezra 2:1-70

 

1 Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. 2 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.

The number of the men of the people of Israel: 3 the sons of Parosh, 2,172. 4 The sons of Shephatiah, 372. 5 The sons of Arah, 775. 6 The sons of Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,812. 7 The sons of Elam, 1,254. 8 The sons of Zattu, 945. 9 The sons of Zaccai, 760. 10 The sons of Bani, 642. 11 The sons of Bebai, 623. 12 The sons of Azgad, 1,222. 13 The sons of Adonikam, 666. 14 The sons of Bigvai, 2,056. 15 The sons of Adin, 454. 16 The sons of Ater, namely of Hezekiah, 98. 17 The sons of Bezai, 323. 18 The sons of Jorah, 112. 19 The sons of Hashum, 223. 20 The sons of Gibbar, 95. 21 The sons of Bethlehem, 123. 22 The men of Netophah, 56. 23 The men of Anathoth, 128. 24 The sons of Azmaveth, 42. 25 The sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743. 26 The sons of Ramah and Geba, 621. 27 The men of Michmas, 122. 28 The men of Bethel and Ai, 223. 29 The sons of Nebo, 52. 30 The sons of Magbish, 156. 31 The sons of the other Elam, 1,254. 32 The sons of Harim, 320. 33 The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 725. 34 The sons of Jericho, 345. 35 The sons of Senaah, 3,630.

36 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, 973. 37 The sons of Immer, 1,052. 38 The sons of Pashhur, 1,247. 39 The sons of Harim, 1,017.

40 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, 74. 41 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 128. 42 The sons of the gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, and the sons of Shobai, in all 139.

43 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 44 the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon, 45 the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub, 46 the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shamlai, the sons of Hanan, 47 the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, 48 the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam, 49 the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, 50 the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephisim, 51 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 52 the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 53 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 54 the sons of Neziah, and the sons of Hatipha.

55 The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda, 56 the sons of Jaalah, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 57 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, and the sons of Ami.

58 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.

59 The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer, though they could not prove their fathers’ houses or their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: 60 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, and the sons of Nekoda, 652. 61 Also, of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, and the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name). 62These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 63 The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.

64 The whole assembly together was 42,360, 65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. 66 Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, 67 their camels were 435, and their donkeys were 6,720.

68 Some of the heads of families, when they came to the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site. 69 According to their ability they gave to the treasury of the work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priests’ garments.

70 Now the priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel in their towns.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 2:1

  • What can I learn from these Israelite exiles who left the advanced civilization of Persia to return to a Jerusalem in ruins?

Ezra 2:36-57

  • Reflect on the fact that the priests, Levites, gatekeepers and temple servants kept their identities intact during their exile in Babylon, even after the destruction of the Temple.
  • What must I do in order to keep my identity intact throughout changing circumstances?
  • What does the detailed listing of the names of those who returned reveal about God’s heart?

Prayer 

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