Day 270: God's Favor with Ezra
Ezra 7:1-26 Ezra, a priest in the line of Aaron and an expert in Jewish Law who served as a civil authority for Persia, was sent by King Artaxerxes II to teach and enforce the Law in Judah. He was given sweeping powers over the enforcement of the Law and the support of the Temple. The “Law” refers to the five books of the Pentateuch, which include the vast body of moral, dietary, and ceremonial laws given to the people by God through Moses. These books contain the contents of God’s covenant with his Chosen People. God was absolutely faithful to this covenant, regardless of all the violations by the people of Israel over the centuries. (CCC 702, 709)
Ch 7:27-28 Blessed be the Lord: We bless the Lord when we show gratitude and give him praise for the many gifts he lavishes upon us. However, the greatest way of giving God glory is to fulfill his will. (CCC 2026-2028)
Ch 8:1-30 The book turns to a first-person narrative from the mouth of Ezra himself. The journey of the returning exiles was undertaken almost as a pilgrimage in a spirit of trust in the Lord for his protection together with a deep awareness of the sacredness of their mission. The exile and the return of the Judeans would result in a more reformed and spiritually renewed people since the exile indeed can be seen as a purification from their many infidelities. (CCC 710, 1081)
Zechariah 7:1-14 After the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 587 BC, it was decreed that all of Israel should observe a fast on the anniversary of its destruction to remember that terrible day. Now that the reconstruction of the Temple had begun, there were many exiles still in Babylon who were not sure whether they should continue the annual fast. They brought this question before the Temple priests and prophets, but they did not get an immediate answer. The prophet Zechariah, however, stressed that the mass exile was a consequence of sin, and reparation through fasting was still needed.
Ch 7:8-10 Oppression of the poor, widows, and strangers were cited frequently and elicited strong rebukes among the prophets since care for the downtrodden was an important component of the Mosaic Law.
In the heart: The heart expresses the deepest sentiments of a person’s being, the “seat of moral personality” where the fundamental choices of following the ways of God or disregarding them are made. (CCC 1867, 2419, 2448)
Ch 8:1-23 Zechariah answered the question about fasting with ten prophecies. The first five reiterated how God would dwell in Jerusalem and reunite his people and grant them peace. The next five prophecies encouraged the building of the Temple and the practice of the moral law. They prescribed fasting and proclaimed Israel as the hope of the world. Israel received high praise since the Savior of the world would come directly from out of the Chosen People. (CCC 846, 1811)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Restoration of the Twelve Tribes
With the northern ten tribes of Israel assimilated to the people around them, it is only the remnant of the Southern Kingdom of Judah that returns to the Promised Land.
As seen in the period of the Exile, this remnant of God’s people is referred to as the “Jews.”
Jews are also Israelites, descendants of the Royal Kingdom and nation of Israel, but the term “Israelites” also encompasses the whole house of Israel, all twelve tribes.
It is the restoration of this whole house of Israel that the prophets look forward to in the age of the coming Messiah.
Ezra and Teaching the Torah
The man who spearheads the second wave of return is a priest named Ezra, the son of Seraiah, descended from the line of Aaron the High Priest of ancient Israel and “a scribe skilled in the law of Moses” (Ezr 7:6).
The narrator is unambiguous about Ezra’s sense of mission: He had “set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezr 7:10).
As a priest and an ardent student of the Torah, Ezra was prepared by the Lord to rebuild the lives of God’s people both in worship and in the study of God’s word.
Like Zerubbabel before him, Ezra sets out with the blessing of the Persian king.
The letter from King Artaxerxes II, which Ezra carried, parallels that of Cyrus in that it decrees that aid be given to the returnees both for their travel provisions and for the rebuilding of the TEmple in Jerusalem.
Again, the Exodus tradition of “the plundering of the Egyptians” is evoked by the letter’s mention of the silver, gold, and other supplies the king gives to Ezra and his company.
Moreover, Ezra’s commission to appoint magistrates and judges in Judah recalls Moses, who appointed delegates and judges in that first Exodus (Ex 18:13-27).
On a broader level, the second wave of return parallels the Exodus in terms of its spatial movement-from captivity to the Promised Land-as well as its emphasis on the Torah, which is embodied both in Ezra’s love for it and his priestly identity.
Last but not least, these exiles are sealed as participants of a new Exodus when they offer worship to God upon arrival in the Holy City (Ezr 8:35)-the same worship that was the goal of the first Exodus: “When you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain” (Ex 3:12).
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)
Key Event 50: Ezra Returns and Teaches (Ezra 7:1-8:36)
As the people return from exile, the priest Ezra helps revitalize the people's commitment to the Torah, God's Law given through Moses. Ezra recognizes that the exile is a consequence of Israel's unfaithfulness, so calling the people to repentance is critical to experiences God's blessing in the land after exile.
Ezra and Nehemiah are the SAME SCROLL!
So technically, it is Part 1 (Ezra) and Part 2 (Nehemiah)
So when we hit the end of Ezra and begin Nehemiah, don’t be thinking that Nehemiah is BETTER THAN EZRA!!! (Third day in a row 😉)
It’s important to note that there are roughly 60 years between Ezra Ch 6 and Ch 7
Roughly 57 years
60 years give or take (You get to pick since it seems Fr. Mike can’t 😉)
Now we are introduced to the prophet Ezra, sorry to the SCRIBE Ezra
He’s not...well, I guess he’s sort of a prophet too🤔
You know, all these technical terms
He’s a SCRIBE
He’s a PRIEST
We get his pedigree and he comes from the line of Aaron, the CHIEF PRIEST of Ancient Israel
Ezra 7:1, “...Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Merioth, son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of AARON THE CHIEF PRIEST.”
Remember there were three waves of DEPARTURE form the Holy Land to Babylon
Now, there are three waves of RETURN from Babylon to the Holy Land
The first wave is marked by Zerubbabel
The second wave is marked by Ezra
The third wave is marked by Nehemiah
The REMARKABLE thing is that Ezra has INCREDIBLE FAVOR with King Artaxerxes II, King of Persia
We already heard incredible stories about the decrees of Darius and Cyrus
These foreign kings who are saying, “Yes, I will give you all of these things so you can go back home to the Temple and worship God.”
IT IS REMARKABLE
Ezra notes, “All this happens because the hand of the Lord was upon me. It’s not because I was so great. It’s not because I was so super skilled. It was because God’s favor was there.”
It’s worth noting that whenever we had these BLESSINGS in our lives, to be able to say, “GOD WAS PRESENT and it’s not just a coincidence. This is something that happened because God is GOOD.”
Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel.”
There are three things that Ezra dedicated his life towards
Ezra set his heart to STUDY the Word of the Lord
THAT’S WHAT WE ARE DOING FOR THE LAST 270 DAYS!!
We have been letting God’s Word FORM OUR MINDS
We have been letting God’s Word FORM OUR VISION
We have been letting God’s Word PENETRATE OUR HEARTS
The second thing is that Ezra dedicated his life to CARRY OUT GOD’S LAW
It was not this kind of antiseptic laboratory knowledge
He STUDIED it in order to DO IT
He did it to CHANGE HIS OWN LIFE
He did it to CHANGE HIS OWN HEART
The third thing is that he dedicated his life to TEACH THE LAW in Israel
THAT IS JUST...SIGH
THAT IS WHAT WE ARE DOING!!
We are striving to UNDERSTAND the Word of God
So that we can LIVE IT
Then, we teach it to our children, our friends, the people around us, in a class, or to students on campus, or to all of you reading this study guide
IT IS A REMARKABLE GIFT
So next we have The Letter of Artaxerxes to Ezra with all these gifts
One of the things that is really interesting in Ezra 8:21-23, ”Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava (Ahava means LOVE in Hebrew FYI), that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a straight way for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way; since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good upon all that seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all that forsake him.’ So we fasted and besought our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.”
Basically Ezra is saying, “We really talked up the fact that God has got our back. We don’t need any extra help so we better ask God then.”
There is something REALLY GOOD about this
We are going to contrast this a little bit with Nehemiah
Nehemiah Ch 2 sees that the king actually does give them an armed escort from Babylon all the way to Jerusalem
He sees that as GOD’S FAVOR
God is providing an armed escort through the king for Nehemiah
And here is Ezra saying, “Well, I was ashamed to ask the king for an armed escort because I had already talked up and bragged about our God who would protect us because we are seeking his face.”
There is something GOOD about BOTH of those things
It wasn’t like Ezra said, “I was too ashamed to ask the king for help, and therefore I just relied on MYSELF.”
Ezra said, “I was ashamed to ask the king for help, so I RELIED UPON GOD.”
THAT IS NOT A BAD THING!!
Nehemiah, for his part, said, “No, I rely upon God to give me what I asked the king for.”
BOTH OF THOSE ARE COMPLETELY LEGITIMATE WAYS TO WALK IN THE LORD!!
The ONE way to NOT walk in the Lord is to be ashamed to ask the king for help and also to NOT ASK GOD FOR HELP
So in this case both men, Ezra and Nehemiah, will have asked God for help
God provided that safety for both Ezra and Nehemiah in the persons of the guard and armed escort that he had given to them
So it’s kind of a unique thing
And they returned to Jerusalem
We got Ezra all the way and the priests that he had to recruit to go back to the Temple
We are going to get the last couple of chapters of Ezra tomorrow
Ezra is going to do something interesting tomorrow, but we will get there THEN
Onwards to Zechariah
Zechariah Ch 7 is about Hypocritical Fasting
The people are back in Israel
They are basically saying to Zechariah, “Ok so we’ve been fasting this whole time here in Judah on the fifth month and the seventh month. Can we keep that up, or is that done now that you all are coming back, all the exiles are returning. Are we done with fasting on the fifth month and the seventh month?”
It is really interesting that God only declared one day of fasting, THE DAY OF ATONEMENT, in Jewish life (Do you remember when we first learned about The Day of Atonement? Go back and read Day 41: The Day of Atonement in The Bible in a Year Study Guide to refresh your memory 😁)
There were FOUR MORE DAYS that were introduced because of the Fall of Babylon and all the tragic things that happened
But then the people picked up fasting on the fifth month and the seventh month
WHICH IS NOT A BAD THING!!
Obviously you’d think, “Yeah I’m going to commemorate these difficult times and difficult moments.”
THAT IS A GOOD THING TO DO!!
As Catholic Christians, we fast EVERY SINGLE FRIDAY
There is a degree of penance that we do every single friday to COMMEMORATE AND REMEMBER the Death of our Lord, Jesus Christ
We also CELEBRATE EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY to COMMEMORATE HIS RESURRECTION!
THERE IS SOMETHING GOOD ABOUT THIS
What Zechariah is pointing out is, “Ok you fast and everything. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with this. But what happens is, the rest of the time you eat and drink like your lives are your own. Yeah, you give God a little pittance. But the rest of your lives you treat like God is not part of them. You treat like your food is yours, your drink is yours, your lives are yours. Instead of saying, ‘No, my food, my drink, everything I eat, everything I drink, everything I do is for HIM.’”
Zechariah is dialing in on something that is COMMON TO ALMOST ALL OF US
How many of us have made it a regular habit to say, “Yeah I go to church on Sundays, but the rest of the week is MINE.”
“Maybe I give that tithe to the Lord, but the rest of that is MINE.”
As opposed to saying, “God, the entire week is YOURS.”
“God, my entire paycheck is YOURS.”
“God, all my life is YOURS.”
What FASTING and PRAYER are meant to do is to get to the CORE of us where we realize, “MY ENTIRE LIFE IS GOD’S”
So this little FASTING I’m doing today
This PRAYER I’m doing today
This OFFERING I’m lifting up to the Lord right now…
Is a sign of the fact that my ENTIRE LIFE BELONGS TO GOD
Zechariah points out to the Jews of the day and to US RIGHT NOW that if we give God that fast, it is GOOD (Living with you WHOA OH!!! 🤪🎸)
If we give God that FAST but then keep the rest of our lives as OURS, THEN WE ARE MISSING SOMETHING
GOD DOES NOT WANT US TO MISS THAT SOMETHING!!
GOD WANTS US TO BECOME TOTALLY HIS!!
Zechariah Ch 8 has this BEAUTIFUL PROPHECY
Zechariah 8:23, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”
THAT IS US!!
WHO ARE NOT BORN JEWISH
WHO ARE BORN GENTILES
WHO ARE BROUGHT INTO THE COVENANT THROUGH THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST!!
That is us saying, “Let us go with you to the House of the Lord.”
Like St. Paul said, “We have been grafted onto the tree.”
We are so grateful that God allows someone like us, who are not the Jewish people, not the People of God, TO BECOME HIS PEOPLE THROUGH ADOPTION BY BAPTISM!!
WHAT A GIFT!!
FR. MIKE IS PRAYING FOR YOU!!
PRAY FOR FR. MIKE
WHAT A DAY!!
PRAY FOR EACH OTHER
Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we give you praise. Thank you so much, God. You are good and you love us and, gosh, how easy is it for us, God, to be numb to your love? You love us so well, you love us so consistently, you love us faithfully. And how easy is it for us to be indifferent to your love? Lord, help us to seek your love, to be aware of it, to be conscious of it, to notice it, to receive it, this day and every day. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”