Today’s Scripture portion can be downloaded and heard on mp3 audio at files.me.com/parklinscomb/bhibc5.mp3 — please excuse the tongue-tangled pronunciation of some of the names in the genealogy. 🙂
Israel (722BC) and Judah (586BC) had been taken away from the Promised Land and scattered across the span of Mesopotamia, in exact fulfillment with the promises of God, if they turned away from Him.
““But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:…The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, a nation of fierce countenance who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young. “Moreover, it shall eat the offspring of your herd and the produce of your ground until you are destroyed, who also leaves you no grain, new wine, or oil, nor the increase of your herd or the young of your flock until they have caused you to perish. “It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the LORD your God has given you. “Then you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom the LORD your God has given you, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you.” Deuteronomy 28:15,49-53, NAS95.
But God had also promised reconciliation, when they repented.
“‘This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. ‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.” ““For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.” Jeremiah 25:11, 12; 29:10, NAS95.
Seventy years had passed, and now God was keeping His promise, as He always does. He raised up Cyrus, king of Persia, who had a strikingly different “foreign policy” from the previous empires towards the exiles of conquered nations. Cyrus was willing to let the exiles go home and, more than this, to rebuild their temple. The book of Ezra is about the return of the remnant of Israel, the hardship they faced, their challenges, and the testing of their faith.
The Remnant — Much more will be said about the remnant as we press on in our Bible reading into the prophets (especially Isaiah), but given the place where we are in history, we really should at least introduce the idea. God knew that His punishment on His errant people would be severe, but in His perfect wisdom He also knew that such a severe consequence for sin was going to be necessary to finally eradicate the threat of paganism and faithlessness among His people.
““For the LORD has called you, Like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, Even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” Says your God. “For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you. “In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” Says the LORD your Redeemer.” Isaiah 54:6-8, NAS95.
This “holy seed”, this remnant, however, was to be gloriously righteous.
“A highway will be there, a roadway, And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for him who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it. No lion will be there, Nor will any vicious beast go up on it; These will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk there, And the ransomed of the LORD will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion, With everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 35:8-10, NAS95
And — this is what makes it so interesting to Christians — much of it is “double prophecy”, which includes prophecy about the church!
God uses even the Gentiles — Does God use non-Christians, Gentiles, pagans, the atheist or agnostic? Yes. He used Nebuchnezzar as a sort of rod of punishment, and He is using Cyrus now as a restorer of Israel’s fortunes. It has been suggested that God used the old USSR and even Communist China as a means of engendering strong religious interest, while weeding out the lukewarm, and at the same time suppressing religious squabbling and promoting indigenous restoration movements in those countries. Now sometimes evil is just evil, but sometimes God’s hand is at work. Never doubt that God continues to be active in the world — it may not be through miracle, but He’s active!
Restoration provokes joy and sorrow — While the Temple’s foundations were being dedicated, Ezra notes that there was a great mixed shout. Some were shouting for joy that a new beginning had been made. But some were crying out in sorrow, having seen the first Temple’s glory and grieving the reason for its destruction, sin. There’s often mixed emotions at true restoration — of the individual and even of the church.
As an individual disciple is restored there is always joy: “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7, NAS95. But there is also the grief of the individual that always accompanies repentance. Sometimes the individual lets the grief overtake him — “I’m not worthy…”. None of us are worthy of God’s grace, but we’re saved anyway. We must simply never let it discourage us or stop us from living joyfully and thankfully.
The church, too, was once spotless, but the foolishness of men polluted and corrupted it in many ways. Restoration of the church (God’s NT Temple, Eph. 2:21) was hard work, continues to be hard work, too and accompanied by both joy and sorrow — for the same reasons. Joy because the restoration of the church is a new beginning. But also grief, letting the grief of past errors motivate us to never be repeated again.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.