The Remnant Gets to Work

Ezra 3

March 24

Today, our reading is from a new book of Ezra. Interestingly, at the start of the year when I signed up for a random week to write for Seek Grow Love, I had no idea I would have just finished reading the book of Ezra with my daughter. I can’t say that means much though other than I am a little more knowledgeable on the history than I would have been a month ago. A few things to know about the book of Ezra are:

  • A Jewish man named Ezra wrote Ezra.  
  • Ezra was born in exile in Babylon into a Jewish priest’s family and lived the first part of his life there.
  • He was a scribe, writing the books of the Torah and the Prophets. So, he knew God’s law and instructions regarding the temple and sacrifices well.
  • Ezra was written before Chronicles (the books covered earlier this week) but the story itself took place after the stories retold in the book of Chronicles.
  • Time-wise, the book covers the period when a remnant of Jews in Babylonian exile are allowed to return to Jerusalem to start rebuilding the temple and the years following that.
  • Ezra means “help” or “helper” in Hebrew.

In Chapter 3 of Ezra, we see that the rebuilding began with the altar. This allowed the Jews to offer sacrifices for their sins again according to the instructions given in the law of Moses after so many years without them. Verse 1 tells us this started in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, which was considered to be their most sacred month and included several important celebrations including the Feast of Tabernacles.  This feast is one Zechariah speaks of being celebrated in Jerusalem in the millennial kingdom after the return of Christ and some Christians celebrate it today. So, the time period for starting this project was a joyous one.

Verses 7-10 highlight the next part of the project, which was starting the rebuilding of the temple itself, and ends with men weeping and celebrating. We see mixed emotions of excitement, nostalgia, guilt, and hopefulness throughout this book, and we can certainly relate to this as Christians today.

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. (Ezra 3:11)

Despite opposition, the temple did get rebuilt. And while it was also destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans, the ultimate sacrifice for our sins was not destroyed and will never be destroyed.  Just like the remnant of Jews who returned to Jerusalem from the exile, the New Testament speaks of a remnant who will be left when Jesus returns whenever that is. Nowhere does the Bible speak of the large masses of “anyone who tries to be a good person” being guaranteed eternal life. It does speak of things like a narrow road, the eye of a needle, and a remnant. Fortunately, no matter how many times we wander off the path, we will be welcomed back and forgiven like the people of Israel if we turn and seek.  Interestingly, there is still a “remnant” of the second temple in the temple mount in Jerusalem which now supports the holy Muslim site of the Dome of the Rock and is the source of some ongoing tensions. Ultimately, Jesus will return to reign in Jerusalem, and all nations, tribes, and tongues will worship him and recognize him as the Messiah, the begotten Son of God.  Bring on the Feast of Tabernacles. Bring on the recognition that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Let’s get this party started.

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What stands out to you most in this chapter? What would God want you to learn from this chapter?
  2. What were the obstacles in the way of the remnant completing their task? Is there a neglected project for God that He would be pleased to see you attacking this week? What obstacles are in your way and how will you overcome them?
  3. Do a little research on the Feast of Tabernacles. What was the purpose of the celebration? Envision the remnant celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles in the Kingdom with Jesus in Jerusalem. What similarities and differences will this celebration have to the one Ezra wrote about in Ezra 3?

Give Careful Thought to Your Ways

Haggai 1 – 2

The book of Haggai records events that took place in 520 B.C.  The foundation of the temple had been laid in 536 B.C. (Ezra 3:8-13), but building stopped because of opposition.  In Haggai 1:2, we see that people were making excuses, “The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.”  The people themselves were living in fine houses, but just hadn’t gotten around to building God’s temple.  Their priorities were wrong.

God pointed out that He had been undermining the people’s prosperity because they hadn’t made God a priority.  Haggai 1:6 tells us, “You have planted much, but have harvested little.  You eat, but never have enough.  You drink, but never have your fill.  You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

Once confronted with this, the people obeyed God and began to work on the temple.  The word of the Lord came to Haggai again in chapter 2, where God told Haggai in 2:9, “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house, says the Lord Almighty…”

Interesting.  When Solomon’s temple was dedicated, fire fell from heaven to consume the offering, and God’s shekinah glory appeared so the priests couldn’t enter the temple.  The ark of the covenant, the representation of God on earth had been there.  But in this new temple, there was no ark of the covenant, no urim or thumim, no fire from heaven, no shekinah glory.  So how would this new temple have greater glory than Solomon’s magnificent temple, you may ask.  Here’s how:  Over 500 years later, Jesus taught in this new Temple.

Further, God promised that starting on that very day, God was going to bless them because of putting one stone on another.  In Haggai 2:19, we read, “From this day on I will bless you.”  Because they were finally putting God first in their lives.

How are things going for you?  Does it seem that you’re working harder and harder, but getting farther and farther behind?  Does it seem like your wages go into purses with holes in them?  Could it be that you have prioritized enjoying the good life for yourself, but haven’t made serving God the priority you should?  Only you can answer these questions.

If this is true for you, I challenge you to rededicate your life to serving God wholeheartedly.  He will certainly bless your commitment to Him.  Maybe even materially.  But ultimately, you will gain a far greater reward – eternal life.

I’m reminded of Joshua 24:15, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

May we each say that – and live it.

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Haggai 1-2 and Revelation 14

We’re Marching to Zion

Zechariah 8-14

My mother always loved to put together puzzles, the more pieces, the better. It always amazed me how patiently she would work at it, but in the end, when all the pieces were together you could quite clearly see the complete picture. As I read Zechariah, all the puzzle pieces haven’t been assembled yet, and we can’t see clearly the complete picture, but we can see the incredible love that God has for Israel, the land, and his children.

Chapters 1-6 is about the rebuilding of the physical temple, Chapters 7-8 are about them obeying the laws of God, and Chapters 9-14 tells that God will send a Messiah who will be Priest and King. This Messiah will take away our sin and he will rule over us.

He has promised to bless those who returned from exile to Jerusalem.  In 8:3, He says “I will return to Zion, And dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, The Mountain of the Lord of hosts, The Holy Mountain.” Then we skip down to 8:8 “I will bring them back, And they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, They shall be My people And I will be their God, In truth and righteousness.” He wanted them to build His temple in Zion once again, and he encourages them to let their hands be strong, and not to worry about their enemies because He will protect them.  8:21 says “Let us continue to go and pray before the Lord And seek the Lord of hosts.”  It even says that people from other languages will grasp the sleeve of the Jews and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” He tells the people that He will take care of them. He will protect them from their enemies. He has promised them good things, but it always comes with a choice for the people. It has been a choice for them during this entire story, just as it is a choice for us today. They must obey his commands.

In 9:9, we have a prophecy about Jesus “Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey. A colt, the foal of a donkey.”  This was fulfilled when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in the New Testament. They were looking to their King to come like Thor in the Avengers with power and great glory. They imagined their Messiah coming in on a royal stallion as a warrior to save them. In verses 11-17, he asserts that He will save His people, His flock.  In Chapter 12 he writes about the coming deliverance of Jerusalem. In Chapter 13:9b “They will call on My name, And I will answer them, I will say, This is My people, And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” Chapter 14 is a victorious chapter about the coming of Jesus. When Jesus comes back the Second time, he will be coming as a victorious warrior, who will save His people. 14:9 says “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be- The Lord is one, And His name one.” I may not understand everything that Zechariah is saying but I know the most important thing is that God loves us, one day Jesus will come back as our Messiah, and Savior and will set up the Kingdom of God, and God will dwell with us in Zion. As Zechariah’s name proclaims, “the Lord has remembered”; He has remembered His promise to his children and the promise will be fulfilled.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Zechariah 8-14

Tomorrow we begin the exciting book of Esther (chapters 1-5) as we continue on our

My House Is In Ruins

Haggai

Yesterday we ran across Ezra 5:1-2, which mentions that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah come and encourage the people in Jerusalem to continue rebuilding the temple. As promised, today we are zooming into Haggai’s role in this. How convenient that there is a book in the bible named Haggai that gives us this information.

We know from Ezra 4 that the people in Jerusalem were forced to stop rebuilding the temple by the Persian king Artaxerxes. Some time passes by, and Haggai comes on the scene to prophesy to them. God has some things to get across to them.

The temple sits unfinished, and people of Jerusalem are either too fearful or apathetic to continue working on it. God calls them out on this, saying that his house is in ruins while they are decking out their own. They have been running around doing their own thing, and they never seem to have enough of anything. It’s a rat race. And since the house of God is being neglected, there is a drought in every aspect of their lives. God commands them to get working on the temple again.

This convicts their hearts as it should ours as well. What is the work God has called us to do that we’ve been putting off? What are we allowing to distract us from it? How could we be more intentional about building the opportunities to encounter God in our daily lives?

Heeding this conviction, the people begin building again, but there are some who are discouraged about something we saw in Ezra 3. The people who are old enough to have seen the original temple think this new temple is nothing in comparison. God tells them to take courage, and work, because he is with them. He assures them his spirit is among them as promised when he brought them out of Egypt. That hasn’t changed, don’t be afraid. God tells them he will “shake” things, which at first sounds like an earthquake, but is a dramatic way of saying he will upset the balance. The treasures will be transferred from the nations to his house. He owns all the gold and silver anyway! What doesn’t God own? God promises the splendor of this new temple will be more than the old, and that he will give prosperity.

When you work for God, you do what you can. It is easy to get discouraged. But the one who commissioned you will honor your efforts. He has all the resources in the universe at his fingertips to make it happen. What may be impossible for you is possible for God; he wants it to be your project too.

What follows is an interesting discussion about how contagious holy and unclean things are. If you are carrying around a holy ribeye steak and it touches your fries or soda, does it make the fries and soda holy too? No. But if you touch a dead guy and then touch your fries or soda, does it make them unclean? Yes. Holiness doesn’t just spread automatically, it takes work. Spreading bad things around takes no effort at all. You don’t have to do anything at all, things will fall apart without your attention. “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the LORD; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.” It’s like there was a contagion of apathy spreading while they were not doing the work, or the work they were doing was with the wrong heart, and things were not going well for them. But now that they are working on the temple according to God’s wishes, they will be blessed. They’ll have enough of everything.

What’s the reason God wants them to build a temple, anyway? It isn’t like God needs a temple. He would be just fine without one. The temple is the way they know how to connect with God and have his life-giving presence among them. To build this temple is to invite his presence. To not build it is to signal to God that they aren’t interested enough in his presence. For us, the temple isn’t a structure we go to, but a kind of metaphor for the sacredness of our own bodies, the network of others in our churches and faith communities, and the use of our time.

At the close of the book of Haggai, God mentions shaking things up in a dramatic way again, and that he will make the governor Zerubbabel a “signet ring” or chosen one. It sounds like God is making him a messiah of sorts. Of course, with hindsight, we know he won’t be the messiah. But he is being recognized by God as a leader of significance. And to add to his significance, he is from the line of David, mentioned in the genealogies of Christ provided by both Matthew and Luke. That’s quite the legacy, when you think about it.

There’s a lot that God wants to do, and he is asking for our cooperation, to take up the projects with him, and by doing so, to invite his presence. My advice to you, and I am speaking to myself as well, is to not put off those good things God has put on your heart to do. Even if you don’t feel ready, you’ve got the support network of the God of the universe, and your brothers and sisters in Christ.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – Haggai 1-2

Tomorrow we read Zechariah 1-7 as we continue on our

The Scourge Of Red Tape

Ezra 4-6 and Psalm 137

Part of today’s reading is Psalm 137. I’m starting with it because this is not a note to end on. Sit with it a few minutes, but don’t take it with you for the whole day. Maybe there is no helping that. 

Psalm 137 is a tour through the raw emotions felt by those in exile. It’s the lament of the desperately misplaced. It’s a prayer to remember their home, Jerusalem, and their former standing with God. It’s a chilling and shocking request for God to repay Babylon for what they did to Jerusalem, concluding with the horrifying mental image of babies being smashed against rocks. The emotions are palpable and powerful.

Let that be a “looking back” exercise from where we are in Ezra. Look how far things have come, from complete and utter despair in a foreign land, to being home again and in the process of rebuilding and restoring. Speaking of Ezra…

When you try to do something worthwhile, there is likely to be a few obstacles. Even the most simple of projects can take twice as long as you’d thought. And that’s without anyone trying to sabotage your efforts.

At this point in the book of Ezra, the people of Jerusalem are working hard on rebuilding the city and temple, probably running into all the usual pitfalls of trying to build things. But they have a much bigger problem: Some locals are trying to stop them from building, even actively sabotaging their building plans.

These locals write the king about the people in Jerusalem, employing disinformation and half-truths, and claiming that they are all troublemakers who will rebel once the city and walls are built. The king Artaxerxes can agree that, historically speaking, they are indeed troublemakers, and he orders the construction halted.

Amidst the long hiatus, the Jews in Jerusalem receive some much needed encouragement from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and are sparked to begin rebuilding again. Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the part Haggai played in this.

Soon after starting the project back up, they are pestered by the locals again, who are questioning if they have permission to build. They provide their entire story, and inform the locals that Cyrus commanded them to rebuild. Word gets back to the king and they do some fact checking in the archives. They find the papers regarding the edict of Cyrus, and the king makes it clear that the original edict stands. The rebuilding will continue, and the efforts will be subsidized by the empire, including animals to sacrifice.

But did you catch what the king’s motivations are? It is “so that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king as his children.” So it isn’t so much for the people as much as it’s to ensure the well-being of the king. What, did you think the king wasn’t getting something out this deal?

Overcoming these obstacles, the rebuilding of the temple is eventually finished, followed by a dedication for the temple, a massive sacrifice to atone for the sins of Israel, the appointing of priests, and observing feasts (think back to the first temple in 1 Kings 8). In other words, they are doing all the things they were not able to do while in exile. Now they have a stronger connection to and reestablishment of their worship and traditions they enjoyed before they were exiled.

It is a joyous day. Indeed they’ve come far toward restoration, but we’re left with an anti-climax and the feeling that there is much work left to be done. You can’t just build a temple, go through some motions, snap your fingers, and declare that the people are restored. There is work yet to be done on the hearts of the people.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Psalm 137 & Ezra 4-6

Tomorrow we will read the two chapter book of Haggai as we continue on the

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