June 19, 2011

Monday after Trinity Sunday

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 2, 3, Num. 16:1-14, Luke 1:1-25
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Ezra 1:1-8, Acts 7:1-16

Commentary

The book of Ezra is part of a section of the Old Testament that tells the
history of Israel from creation to the return to Jerusalem and rededication to
the covenant of God after the Babylonian Captivity. Genesis through Esther
comprise this history, being followed in the Bible by the books, often called,
Wisdom Literature, consisting of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song
of Solomon. The Wisdom Literature is followed by the Prophets, beginning with Isaiah and ending with Malachi

Like all Scripture, Ezra is organised around the ideas it intends to teach, and
the first part, consisting of chapters 1-7 gives a short history of the Jews
since the day Cyrus of Persia issued a decree allowing the Jews to return home
and rebuild the Temple. You will remember that Israel divided into two nations
after the death of Solomon. One nation, made up of the ten northern tribes,
retained the name Israel. The second nation consisted of the tribes of Benjamin
and Judah, and was known as Judah. Israel suffered social and religious
decline, and, in 605 B.C., was defeated in the devastating battle of Carchemish.
The Israelites then largely adopted the ways and religions of their Gentile
conquerors, and virtually lost their identity as the people of God. In the New
Testament they are known as Samaritans. The Judeans, later known as "Jews," also
experienced decline, and were conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. They
were forced to leave their homes and live in Babylon, thus, this era is known as
the Babylonian Captivity. In 538, Cyrus of Persia, having conquered the
declining Babylonian Empire, began a goodwill campaign with those nations the
Babylonians had relocated to Babylon. He allowed them to return to their
homelands, even giving them financial and military aid. This had the desired
effect of promoting loyalty toward him, for the newly freed peoples considered
Persia their liberator rather than their conqueror. Ezra 1:1-4 records Cyrus'
degree to the Jews, and verses 5-11 records the Jews' return to Jerusalem, which
occurred in 536. Thus we see the hand of Providence guiding history and
accomplishing the purpose of God. The point of this passage is not that Cyrus
was a good ruler. It is not an object lesson in the principles of good
leadership. It is that God is still working with His people to accomplish His
purpose of Redemption. He created this world for the purpose of bringing all
things together in Christ. He is building His Kingdom, the Bride of Christ, and
nothing can stop His progress. Yes, there are other messages here. The
enduring mercy of God, His unstoppable power to save, conversion, repentance,
and faith, and leaders can certainly profit from the example of Cyrus. But the
pervading message here is the unstoppable progress of the purpose of God. He
will accomplish the purpose for which He created this world and called the Jews.
He will not fail.

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