June 9, 2013
Monday after the Second Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps.48, Joshua 1, Lk. 4:42-5:11
Evening - Ps. 42, 43, Ezra 7:1-28, Acts 11:18
Commentary, Ezra 7:1-28
The previous chapters of the book of Ezra have given a short history of those Jews who returned to
from Babylon. Its primary purpose is to recount the events
and circumstances leading to the completion of the new Temple.
Chapter seven begins the history of the ministry of Ezra in the seventh
year of the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, or, 458 B.C. He is shown to be a priest whose ancestry can
be traced to Aaron, brother of Moses (1-5).
He is also a ready scribe (7:6) who was educated in the law of God (theology),
earnest of heart to keep the law as a Covenant child of God, and skilled in
teaching the Scriptures to the people (7:7-10).
Ezra probably had not even been born when the first band of captives left
Babylon for Jerusalem 78 years earlier
in 536 B.C. His parents had remained in Babylon, where he had
learned the Scriptures and the work of the priest. But his heart yearned to see the Jews
dedicate themselves to keeping the Covenant of God, and, for this purpose, he
was willing to sacrifice a promising career in a place of wealth, for the dangers
and uncertainty of an impoverished and backsliding Jerusalem.
was backsliding. It had been 57 years
since the Temple
was completed, and most of the generation which had worked on it had passed
away. Their children and grandchildren
were sinking back into the paganism that had plagued the Jews for so long and
tried the patience of God to the point of allowing the Babylonian Captivity.
Ezra is being sent by God to call the people back to God once again.
Verses 11-26 contain a copy of a letter sent to Ezra from the king of
Persia. Verses 27-28 show the priest's joy that God
has moved the king's heart to such kindness toward the Jews. In verse 28, Ezra gathers influential Jews
together who will support and go with him on his mission to that city which
should have been missionaries from it into the world.
Tuesday after the Second Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps. 49, Joshua 3:1-7, Lk. 5:12-26
Evening - Ps. 50, Ezra 8:15-36, Acts 11:19
Commentary, Ezra 8:15-36
Life has become good for the Jews in
Babylon. Freed from their oppression, they have become
productive citizens of the city, often rising to great heights in social and
financial status. Living in the capitol city offered many advantages. It was heavily defended, so the probability
of conquest was remote. It was wealthy
and offered many ways to make a very comfortable living, and it tolerated a
relaxed approach to faith that appealed to many Jews. It was far removed from the demands and
dangers of the frontier type of existence of those in Jerusalem. Yet, Ezra longed to leave it for the . He longed to call the people back to God, and
help them re-establish themselves as the Covenant people of God. Having the letter from Artaxerxes, Ezra has
gathered influential people who are prepared to go with him. On the shores of the River Ahava, as the
pilgrims stop to take stock of their people and resources, a shocking discovery
is made; no priests have come. No
priests were willing to face the hardship and danger. No priests were willing to leave the comfort
of well-paying synagogues in Holy City Babylon. No priests were willing to do that which they
were called to do, serve in the Temple in Jerusalem (8:15). By the grace of God this problem was solved,
and 258 priests joined the caravan for Jerusalem
(8:18-20). The articles and money for
the Temple was put into their care, and the
caravan traveled without military escort to Jerusalem (8:22).
Their entrance into
Jerusalem was received with great joy. They and the people recorded the money and
articles brought for the Temple
(8:33) and a great day of worship was observed.
It is noteworthy that the sacrifices were all given as burnt offerings
and sin offerings. They were not eaten
by the people, but devoured by the fire of the altar as acts of faith, confession,
and dedication to God.
Wednesday after the Second Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps. 57, Joshua 4:1-8, Lk, 5:27
Evening - Ps. 61, 62, Nehemiah. 1, Acts 12:1-24
Commentary, Nehemiah 1
The book of Nehemiah is often misunderstood; therefore, it is usually ignored by Christians and clergy. When it is studied it usually becomes the foundation for lessons and sermons about proper planning, wise use of resources, and effective leadership. But Nehemiah is about much more than building projects or good management. Nehemiah is about being the people of God. In Nehemiah we finally see the Jews return to
determined to be the people of God.
Like Ezra, Nehemiah was not among those who returned to
after the Jews were released from Captivity.
Born outside of Judea, he lived in the capitol of the Persian
Empire, Shushan, where he was the king's cup bearer. His job was to ensure that the king's wine
was not poisoned, meaning he had take a large drink of it before handing it to
the king. If he lived, the king would
drink the wine. If he died, the king
hired another taster.
It in was the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, or about 445 B.C., that Nehemiah heard from recent visitors to Jerusalem that the city was still in moral, spiritual, and economic decay (1:3). More than 90 years after Cyrus released the Jews, freed them to return to
and even gave them money and protection to rebuild their city and Temple, the city was still
in shambles and apostasy. The brief
revival that occurred when Haggai and Zechariah encouraged them to rebuild the Temple and return to the
Covenant of God had burned out, and the people had returned to ungodliness and
unbelief. Ezra moved to Jerusalem in 458 B.C., and
a brief revival of the old faith ensued.
But 13 years later (445 B.C.), when Nehemiah inquired about conditions
in Jerusalem he
received only bad news.
How could Nehemiah expect otherwise? The poverty stricken Jews in
Jerusalem were surrounded
by enemies, and had given up attempting to follow God. But what about the Jews who remained in Babylon and Persia? Had they not abandoned the call and Covenant
of God? Had they not traded God for the
"good life" in lands of ease and plenty? Had God called them to dwell in Shushan and Babylon and Egypt? Was their dwelling place optional? Or had God called them to dwell in the land
He gave them, and be His people there (1:9)?
It seems the people who had not returned to Jerusalem
were equally as guilty of breaking the Covenant as the people in Judea. They were
shirking their calling. They were
concerned with their personal comforts rather than the will of God. Nehemiah
finally realised this in verses 4-11. He
had been concerned about Jerusalem,
from the safety of Shushan. But he
suddenly realised his concern was phony, a pious cover-up to ease his
conscience for forsaking his calling and duty to God. His prayer was a prayer of confession and
repentance as he accepted his guilt, and determined to go to Jerusalem.
It is not difficult to find applications for this passage to the Church and Christians of today. Many in the Church are simply names on the roll, not serious about being the Church of Jesus Christ. Others sit in comfortable pews of churches, where the demands of the Bible are ignored, and just enough of the Bible is kept to give the appearance of Christianity. To leave their comfortable pews and face the sacrifices and challenges of a real Church is unthinkable to them. Still others forsake the Church entirely. They call themselves Christians, and may be on a church roll, but their affection for God and His people is done from a safe distance. They have no intention of actually exchanging their phony, cover-up faith for the real thing. The only cure for such behaviour is repentance. Like Nehemiah, we all need to remember what God has commanded us to do and be, and where He has chosen to set His name (1:6-10).
Thursday after the Second Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps.63, Joshua 6:1-20, Luke 6:1-11
Evening - Ps. 65, Neh. 2:1-8, Acts 12:25-13:12
Commentary, Nehemiah 2:1-8
In chapter 1, Nehemiah repented of his sin. He was called to be a Jew, not a Persian. He was called to be a member of the Covenant People of God, and to dwell with the people of the Covenant in the land God promised to them, and gave to them, where they were to love and serve Him as one people. But Nehemiah has been living as a Gentile all of his life. Yes, he had a Jewish education. Yes, he went to synagogue, and studied the Scriptures, and probably kept much of the ceremonial law, but he did it from the safety of Shushan. He was happily disconnected from the demands of
and happily not fulfilling his calling as a member of the Covenant people. How
often we run happily along in our own little world, tragically unaware that
even our religion is sinful in God's eyes. Nehemiah repented of his sin, and in
chapter two he prepared to go to Jerusalem.
But Nehemiah was an important servant in the king's household. He did not simply taste the wine for the king; he ran the wine cellar and possibly much of the vineyard. It was his job to ensure the quality and safety of the king's wine. Yet he was still a servant, and he became afraid when the king noticed his sadness (2:2). Kings usually want cheer and frivolity at meals, not sadness, which can spoil the mood. Emboldened by the king's apparent sympathy, Nehemiah requests to be sent to
Jerusalem with permission
and aid to rebuild the walls of the city.
Any smart king would have gladly granted Nehemiah's request. Sending him to
Jerusalem, with a small company of Persian soldiers, and
rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem under the hand
of a proven loyal servant would give Persia
a military stronghold on the frontier between Persia
and the other area superpower, Egypt. Artaxerxes wisely agreed to Nehemiah's
But this is more than just a smart move by a king. This is the providence of God at work in the life of His people. He is bringing them back to their purpose and calling by His own power. He raised up
Babylon to punish the Jews. He has raised up Persia to restore them. He works all things according to the counsel
of His own will.
Friday after the Second Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps. 71, Josh. 14:6, Lk. 5:12-26
Evening - Ps. 77, Neh. 2:9, Acts 13:13-25
Commentary, Nehemiah 2:9
Three words continually occur to me as I read the book of Nehemiah; Grace,
Covenant. To understand how these words
fit into the narrative we must return to the early stages of God's call to
Abraham. In Genesis 12:1 we read
"Get thee out of thy country... unto a land that I will shew
thee." And in Genesis 1:7,
"Unto thy seed will I give this land." In Exodus the same promise is reiterated,
"I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God... And I
will bring you unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to
Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage"
(Ex. 6:7-8). In Nehemiah, God is
continuing His work with the descendants of Abraham. God is keeping His Covenant. It was by grace that He called Abraham and
His descendants to be His people. They
were no better than any other people.
They were sinners and idolaters, just like all the rest of the people in
Ur at that
time. But in grace He called them,
forgave their sin, and blessed them with the privilege of being His
people. He watched and guided them by
His providence. When they erred from His
ways, He providentially raised up a nation to punish them. When it suited His purpose, He raised up
another nation to deliver them. He
providentially guided them back to Jerusalem. He providentially called Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the
walls of the city. He providentially put
it into the king's heart to let Nehemiah go, and even to help him achieve his
goal. God is working in the life of His
people. We must always see this when we
read Nehemiah. Covenant is the call of God to come to Him and be His
people. This is the call to love Him above
all things. This is the call to separate
from the rest of the world and to be unique among all people. This is the call to worship and serve Him. It is the call to make the God their God.
According to the Covenant, God would redeem them from their sins, and bless
them, and love them. He would give to
them a home where they could exist as a nation to love and enjoy Him. All through the book of Nehemiah, we see God
faithfully keeping His Covenant obligations.
And all through the book of Nehemiah we see God calling the Jews back to
their Covenant obligations.
The Jews simply are not keeping their end of the bargain. Many have not even returned to
Jerusalem from Shushan and Babylon. This is as much as sin as it was for the
Exodus generation to refuse to enter the land.
It is not just a refusal of God's gift; it is a refusal to keep the
Covenant. Those in Jerusalem were no better. They have not really established themselves
in the land. They do not possess the
land; they simply exist in it. The city
is in ruins. Their faith is weak,
compromised, or non-existent. They are
making no real attempt to be the Covenant people because they have no real
faith that God is going to enable them to possess the land and serve Him in
it. They suffer from the same lack of
faith as the Exodus generation, which did not believe God would give them the
land because of the "giants" that were in it.
But God does not forget them. He sends Nehemiah to them. Nehemiah is just as guilty of forsaking the Covenant as any other Jew of the time. He lives in comfort in Shushan rather than in the land God has given to the Jews for their inheritance. He is not worshiping in the
Temple, keeping the law of
God, or dwelling in Judea as a member of the
unique nation of God. But he repents of
that, and comes to Jerusalem
to join his people and to serve God.
One of the things the Jews must do, in obedience to God, is to really take possession of the land. This is an obligation and a sacred duty. Securing the city by rebuilding its walls is not just about safety, it's about faith, about obedience, about Covenant. The call to rebuild is a call to repent and return to the Covenant. It is a call to become Covenant keepers.
When they begin to rebuild, others oppose them. These people seem to be descendants of the Northern tribes of
Israel, who, conquered by the
Assyrian Empire generations ago, intermarried with their conquerors and mixed
pagan religions with the Old Testament faith.
So, while they still worshiped God, they also worshiped other gods, thus
holding to an apostate faith. Called "Samaritans" by the Jews, they
realise that rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem
is a religious action, an act of faith that will re-establish the Covenant, the
Temple, and Jerusalem as the center of worship and
orthodoxy. This will expose the
Samaritan faith to be a comprised faith and a false religion; they cannot
tolerate that. They may also fear that a well fortified Jerusalem will become the military and
commercial center of the area, thus decreasing their own wealth and power. But it is clear in the book of Nehemiah that
the primary ground of their opposition is religious. Thus they spread lies about the Jews to the
king, and threaten military action against them if they do not stop their work.
Parallels to these events are so prevalent and obvious to all, comments on them are superfluous. The opposition of false believers who would rather hinder the progress of the Gospel than repent of their compromised faith; the relaxed unbelief of many "Christians" who refuse to dwell in "Jerusalem;" the constant love and guiding providence of God in His true Church; and God's constant call to repent and return to the Covenant, are but a few of the similarities and applications of this passage to our present day.
Saturday after the Second Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps. 73, Josh. 23:1-16, Lk. 6:27-38
Evening - Ps 66, Neh. 4:6, Acts 13:26-43
Commentary, Nehemiah 4:6
The Lectionary passes from the second to the fourth chapter of Nehemiah. Chapter 3 recounts the beginning of the work on the wall of
The first 5 verse of chapter 4 tell of more mocking and opposition from
Sanballat and others. Tonight's reading
starts in 4:6, an able summary of these events; "So we built the wall: and
all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof; for the people had a
mind to work." This means the wall
was half finished at this point in the book.
The enemies here have moved from ridiculing the work to planning actual
violence against the Jews (4:8). The
apparent vulnerability of the Jews is shown in verses 10-12. They were tired. They were so spread out along the wall that
an attacking force could breach their line before the soldiers were able to
move in to defend it. Due to the rubble
and other conditions, invaders could sneak in close to the wall and launch a
surprise attack on the already vulnerable Jews.
The solution; everyone builds, and everyone soldiers. They worked in shifts, spending part of the
time building and part of the time at ready arms (4:21). Those building kept their weapons at the
ready. They were so prepared that those
working as builders worked with one hand and carried their weapon with the
other (4:16-18). A signal was decided
upon. If an attack came at one point,
the sentries would sound a trumpet, and all would take their weapons to meet
the enemy at the point of attack. They
did not retire to their homes at night.
They slept at their places on the wall. They did not stop this routine
until the wall was completed.
These people have returned to the Covenant. They are possessing the land, and they are doing the work necessary to dwell in the land God had given them.