Monday, January 7, 2013

Ezra 6-7 Divine Favour through Persian Kings

Ezra 6:13-15 Then, because of the decree King Darius had sent, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates carried it out with diligence. So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. 

Ezra 7:6-10, 27-28 this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. Some of the Israelites, including priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel... Praise be to the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king's heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king's powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

While it's ironic that today's Persians (Iranians) are bent on Israel's destruction, their royal ancestors were actually kind to the Jews. The Persian kings Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes issued decrees that granted favour to the Jews to help them return to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its temple. And the construction of the temple was completed in the sixth year of Darius' reign. The temple is the symbol of worship and worship is a ministry to the Lord--that must take priority over everything else, including ministry to others. When we gather as God's people, our first priority is ministry to the Lord in our worship, which include singing and making music to the Lord.

Once we have established firmly the ministry of worship, the next in priority is the ministry of the Word--and that is where Ezra came in. Ezra was biblical scholar par excellence. In today's parlance, he would be a professor of biblical theology, for even King Artaxerxes paid tribute to Ezra's learning: "And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates — all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment" (Ezra 7:25-26). Ezra had favour with the king because he was known for his wisdom derived from his dedicated study, observance and teaching of the Word: "For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel" (Ezra 7:10).

If we want to have favour with our bosses, our superiors and civil authorities, be a man or woman who is devoted to three things about God's Word:

(1) "Study": Not just bible reading, but bible study. The Bible is the Word of God, but it comes to us not as a series of divine decrees but in stories, histories, poems, proverbs, allegories, letters, gospels, apocalyptic writings, etc. The Bible is not just to be read "as given" but we have to interpret it correctly and accurately by having a good understanding of its historical, political, cultural, linguistic and literary backgrounds. Someone has famously said, "A text taken out of its context is a pretext."

(2) "Observance": Studying without practising makes us academics, not disciples. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave us the Great Commission, which spells out the Church's responsibility for new converts: not only "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" but also "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Too much head knowledge without practice makes us puffed up and argumentative. Only obedience makes us humble people.

(3) "Teaching": Only those who have practised are qualified to teach. Teaching is not downloading of biblical knowledge from teacher's head to the students' heads. Rather, teaching is the impartation of life principles derived from years of experience in applying God's Word in our own lives. No teacher is worth listening to who only has the theories but not the experiences. So, Ezra was a man who study, obey and then teach. We need good teachers who are practitioners of God's Word. In theological parlance, we need more practical theologians, not academic ones who are locked in their ivory towers, out of touch with the realities of ministry and marketplace.

Father, teach us to study, obey and teach Your Word, so that Your Kingdom might come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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