(Today’s post by Adam Cooper)
I don’t know about the rest of you but I didn’t really enjoy school when I was younger. I was not, and still am not to a degree, much of a people person so that left me open to teasing and bullying. Well, when I read this portion of Ezra it for some reason transports me back to those days. Remember when the teachers would call on someone to run a “special errand” to the office, and it would never fail that one of “those” kids (and by “those” I mean the ones that always did the picking and bullying) would challenge the kid on the “special errand” by running back to the teacher to get verification that the “special errand” was not a ruse to simply allow goofing off? That is what we have reflected here in Ezra. The exiles have returned from Babylon with permission to rebuild the temple. The prefects or leaders of the gentiles that had inhabited Jerusalem in the Jews’ absence think that the exiles are lying when they say they have permission to rebuild the temple so they run back to the Babylonian King questioning whether the exiles actually have permission to carry out the temple’s reconstruction. A search of the King’s archives turns up the edict and the “bullies” are put in their place and the temple continues to be rebuilt. I know it is worldly of me but I always enjoyed when the bullies were put in their place.
This has to be a challenging time for all parties involved. The Jews have been away for over 60 years. Gentiles have taken over their land and have established governments and rules of law loyal to the Babylonian kingdom. The Jews return with their own leaders and rules of law (though still technically under Babylonian rule) and begin to set up camp and rebuild the great temple of God. It is easy to see why the gentiles would question the validity of what was going on. Put this in perspective: your grandfather moves away from the “family farm house” 60 years ago. He never sells that house but a group of squatters move in and make it their own. Their family has lived there for 60 years. Now you and your family realize that you have a “family farm house” that still belongs to YOUR family and you simply move back in…..while the other residents are still living there. Awkward analogy I know but does it make it any less appropriate.
So on the surface we see this story playing out like it is recorded in the book of Ezra; but what is it that we need to look closer to see?
I firmly believe that almost every aspect of scripture, be it Old Testament or New, points to Christ. The “scarlet thread” some have called it. And I have occasionally been criticized for making or suggestion connections to this “thread” that are considered a tad tenuous. So criticize if you will but chapters 5 and 6 of Ezra play out the grace of God and the story of redemption very well. Humor me if you will: the Jews represent someone who has been long disconnected from God (the lost); the return to Jerusalem represents a return to faith or an acceptance of belief (salvation); the confirmation of the edict from the king represents justification (the Jews were justified in their actions just as we are justified through our faith); the rebuilding of the temple represents the sanctification process (although this process will only be completed upon our reunification with Christ) we are constantly building, improving, and strengthening our faith in Christ as we dwell in this world; and, the gentiles who question the process represent the world challenging our beliefs as we strive every day to continue to sanctify ourselves.
In a recent discussion our Friday morning Bible study (#brofast) remarked at the glory of God in the way the Bible is so multi-layered. A new believer can read a series of verses and gain an insight that is communicated to them, while at the same time a more mature Christian (and by mature I simply mean more confident in their faith and belief) can read the exact same verses and come away with an insight that is communicated to them which may differ from the insight of the newer believer. While both come away with insight, God’s glory is in the way His Word communicates ONE TRUTH using the same Word to two different people at different stages in their belief and faith. This story in Ezra is like this. While some will see the history behind the story and the way God takes care of His people by returning them to their home and giving them another chance, others will see the connection to the “scarlet thread” of Christ and God’s ultimate plan of redemption in giving MANKIND another chance. The insights are different but the TRUTH is the same: God’s grace is sufficient!
My prayer for you today is that you will dedicate time and attention today and every day to rebuilding your temple, strengthening your belief and faith, and remembering that God’s grace is sufficient in all things.