Ezra, Looking Back
Picture the priest Ezra speaking to the builders and worshipers in Jerusalem:
You know well how we have come to this place and the work which is before us.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
Looking Back before US
Our focus in Ezra’s story today begins in ‘the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam.’ Ezra chronicles time beginning with genealogies from Adam to the tribes of Israel. Then he proceeds to the united kingdom of David and Solomon. Finally he reveals a story from about five hundred years before the construction of the second Temple.
If today you and I looked back 500 years we would record important events of the 16th century. From our contemporary perspective it would compare to chronicling the turbulent times of Martin Luther.
Our forefathers fled wars in Europe which had caused the deaths of 10-20% of the population. Therefore colonies of the new world became a promised land for those persecuted for varying religious beliefs.
Return now to Ezra’s perspective of history looking back as if you were telling the story of the US in the 1600’s. Once again, imagine Ezra telling the story.
A Story from Israel’s Past
While we rebuild the Temple of the Lord let me tell you a story from the chronicles of our history.
2 Chronicles 13:
Now there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam… 9 Have you not driven out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for yourselves like the peoples of other lands? Whoever comes for ordination with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are not gods… so there fell slain of Israel 500,000 chosen men.
Imagine: a half million men chosen by God fell on the battlefield due to the sins of Israel.
2 Chronicles 14:
Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David.
And Asa his son reigned in his place. In his days the land had rest for ten years. 2 And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. 3 He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim 4 and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment…
Do we 'Seek the LORD..and keep the law and commandment?'
9 Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and 300 chariots, and came as far as Mareshah.
Many of their fathers had been slain on the battlefield and now a defeated army of Israel must face a million mighty warriors.
10 And Asa went out to meet him, and they drew up their lines of battle in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. 11 And Asa cried to the Lord his God,
“O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.”
12 So the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. 13 Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar, and the Ethiopians fell until none remained alive, for they were broken before the Lord and his army.
Ezra’s lesson to a people looking back
Asa’s Religious Reforms
The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded, 2 and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin:
The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.
3 For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law, 4 but when in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them.
Do we do that? In our current distress will we turn to the Lord?
5 In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for great disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. 6 They were broken in pieces. Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every sort of distress.
7 But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”
Asa Takes Action
8 As soon as Asa heard these words, the prophecy of Azariah the son of Oded:
- he took courage
- and put away the detestable idols..
- and he repaired the altar of the Lord..
- 9 And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin..
- 10 They were gathered at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of the reign of Asa. 11 They sacrificed to the Lord on that day..
12 And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul,
13 but that whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman. 14 They swore an oath to the Lord with a loud voice and with shouting and with trumpets and with horns.
15 And all Judah rejoiced over the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around.
16 Even Maacah, his mother, King Asa removed from being queen mother because she had made a detestable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the brook Kidron. 17 But the high places were not taken out of Israel.
Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days. 18 And he brought into the house of God the sacred gifts of his father and his own sacred gifts, silver, and gold, and vessels. 19 And there was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Asa.
Looking Back – Ezra’s lessons for US
Americans and others tend to look back only briefly at history with eyes that will not see. And any mention of Christ Jesus or the Lord God will quickly repulse those with ears which refuse to hear.
We evaluate our present dilemma in terms of who we think has wronged US.
Justice and righteousness fail in our palaces of partisan politics where mention of the Lord is anathema to reelection.
A cynical nation cries out to the masses without one plea to Almighty God. Do we not justify our ungodly actions and inattentive inactions by a tolerant accomodation of our own self-righteousness?
Why do we not cry out to the God of our founders? (That is what King Asa did when he faced certain defeat.)
WE THE PEOPLE have forgotten the Lord. Surely the decline of our nation will outpace the fall of forgotten mighty empires.
As Lesson for US from Ezra Looking Back
Will it take a leader of another nation to lead US back to the Lord? That was the history behind the story Ezra tells here.
And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily.. – Ezra 7:21
Ezra was living in Babylon when in the seventh year ( c. 457 BCE) of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, the king sent him to Jerusalem to teach the laws of God to any who did not know them. source
In the 20th year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, (445/444 BC), Nehemiah was cup-bearer to the king. Learning that the remnant of Jews in Judah were in distress and that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, he asked the king for permission to return and rebuild the city.
Ezra tells of a King Asa, five centuries earlier, who the Lord used to restore Jerusalem (for a time). Then Nehemiah follows with the proclamation from Artaxerxes, king of Persia, to rebuild Jerusalem.
Yet Israel will again turn from the Lord and captive Israel will await a Messiah to save them from evil.
When will the nations of these last days remember the love of the Lord?
For the Messiah Jesus has come to us. He was sacrificed for our sins and rose from the grave in victory! And our Lord will return on the clouds in victory over sin and death. Jesus calls out to the downtrodden souls of humble sinners.
God rules over the nations and loves our worship and praise. He came to us in Person in Christ Jesus.
When will you look up and cry out to the Lord?