Today’s Bible Reading: Ezra 1-2:70; 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5; Psalm 27:7-14; Proverbs 20:22-23
We begin the book of Ezra today. This book documents the return of the Jews from captivity. Seventy years before the events in this book Babylon conquered Judah and took the people captive to what is now modern-day Iraq.
Cyrus issues a decree to allow the Jews to return. This had been foretold by the prophet Jeremiah over 150 years before (Ezra 1:1). Cyrus was known for allowing captive people to return to their homeland as evidenced by the Cyrus Cylinder, which is on display at the British Museum.
Not only does Cyrus’ decree allow the Jews to return home but he also recognizes that there is a single God (Ezra 1:2). He also states that God wants him to build Him a temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2). Perhaps Cyrus was shown the writings of Jeremiah which foretold the destruction of Babylon by Persia, even mentioning Cyrus by name 150 years before Cyrus was born (one of the most amazing prophecies in the BIble) and this is what caused him to recognize God. The specific prophecies in the Bible made it clear to Cyrus that there is an all-knowing God. They should make it clear to us too.
Its always easiest to do nothing – to remain where we are in the comfort of the known – rather than take a chance and venture into the unknown. That is why only a small fragment of Jews actually return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5). After 70 years there were few alive who had actually lived in Judah; most of the Jews living in Babylon were born there and were comfortable there. But God never wants us to be comfortable with less than what He has to offer. His plans for us are greater than our current circumstances. If you think about it, following God is not taking a chance at all because God promises that He will use everything that happens to us for good (Romans 8:28).
Not only had God kept His people for these 70 years, but He kept the articles stolen by Nebuchadnezzar from the Jewish Temple when Jerusalem was conquered (Ezra 1:7-9). Not one detail escapes God. He has everything under control.
The Bible contains many lists of people and Ezra 2 is one of those places. The Jews kept meticulous records throughout their history including while they were in exile (Ezra 2:62). This helped them identify who was eligible to be priests when they returned to Jerusalem.
Back when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians a cross was an instrument of humiliation, torture and death. Many failed to see how anything good could come from a person being crucified. These people thought the idea of God using a cross to save the world was foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18).
But God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). Our wisdom is not on par with God’s and just because something doesn’t make sense to us does not make it any less of a fact. Through the cross, God made the so-called wise of this world look foolish in their rejection of the salvation He offered (1 Corinthians 1:20). Human wisdom cannot fathom what God is doing.
In fact, some of the most intelligent minds on the planet reject God. A few years ago I took some classes at a local college. One day while walking through the hall to meet with a professor I passed by a dozen or so teacher’s offices on the way to his. More than a few of these offices had their doors “decorated” with colorful slogans promoting atheism and ridiculing Christianity (but not other faiths, like Islam). Those who think they are wise will find out that they were not. But by then it will be too late.
God works in ways that surprise us. One would think that God would use the powerful and wise people to spread His message. But if He did that then these people would get the credit because they were already respected by society. Rather God uses weak and foolish people (1 Corinthians 1:27). This brings glory to Him because these people are in no way respected nor do they have the resources to accomplish what God allows them to accomplish. The perfect example are Jesus’ 12 apostles. This group consisted of fisherman and tax collectors – not exactly the most respected or educated members of Jewish society. Yet through them God changed the world.
David concludes Psalm 27 today. Despite his troubles he is confident that the Lord will deliver him (Psalm 27:13). But this requires waiting on God’s timing, which requires courage (Psalm 27:14).
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