June 27, 2011

Tuesday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 32, Num. 22:15-21, 36-40, Lk. 2:41
Evening - Ps. 33, Ezra 6:1-12, Acts 9:20-31

Commentary

Ezra is a book of history. Therefore, a look at what has transpired prior to today's reading in chapter 6, will greatly help us understand its message. Chapter 1 records the decree of Cyrus releasing the Jews from captivity in Babylon. In 536 B.C. the first of several groups of Jews left Babylon and arrived in Jerusalem. Almost immediately they attempted to rebuild the Temple, which had been plundered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586. In chapter 4, adversaries of Judah ask to be allowed to help with the Temple, but are refused. The adversaries were descendants of Israelites who had intermarried with Gentiles. They had also diluted their faith with pagan ideas and worship. On the surface their appeal to help rebuild the Temple appears good, and the rejection of their offer by the Jews (Ez. 4:2) seems cruel and arrogant. But perhaps the Jews understood that watered down, adulterated religion had to be rejected, and to allow its practitioners to help rebuild the Temple would be to invite their erroneous faith into it when completed. It was just that kind of religious compromise that brought the judgment of God upon the Jews in the first place, and they had no intention of returning to it at that time.

Rather than repenting of their sin and purging themselves of false religion, the adversaries began to make trouble for the Jews (4:4-6), even making false accusations to the king that the Jews were preparing to mount a military attack on Persia (4:8-16). Believing the accusation to be true, the Persians sent an army to Jerusalem to stop the rebuilding of the Temple by force of arms (4:23-24).

The Jews responded with an appeal to the king. By this time, Cyrus was dead and Darius the Mede ruled the empire (5:5-17). Darius searched his records and found the decree of Cyrus, which is restated in our reading for today, Ezra 6:1-12.

A major point of this passage is the need for truth in religion. The Jews could have welcomed the compromised faith into their midst. Their presence would have made the work easier, the city wealthier, and the congregation larger. Instead, the Jews refused to compromise. Why? The message of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel told them the Babylonian Captivity was the judgment of God for compromising the faith. They did not want to endure such suffering again, so, for a while, they maintained the pure faith. The primary point of this passage is the great, irresistible power of God. God brings His work to completion in His own way and time. He does not need the wealth of people, or great numbers of them to accomplish His will. A small band of faithful believers is much more valuable to Him than great crowds who have compromised the truth. He raises up empires at His pleasure, and casts them down when He wills. Empires are no more of a hindrance to Him than Judas was to our Saviour.