Theme: It’s a New Start
Lesson text: Ezra 7:6; 8:21-32; 10:1-6
Supplemental texts: Ezra 7:27-28; Nehemiah 1:3-6; Isaiah 58; Matthew 6:16-18
Aim: Experience the protective hand of God through humility, prayer, and fasting.
_ _ _
Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_January22_2023.
Send an email to [email protected] to receive PDFs of the lesson material each month.
_ _ _
By Mark Scott
New starts require sacrifice. This is true for diets, training for a marathon, or preparing for a concert. Anything of significance requires effort. Rebuilding walls requires brick and mortar. But rebuilding lives requires humility, commitment, and earnestness. Once work on the temple altar and temple itself were completed, it was time to get the exiles’ lives in order. Ezra the great Bible teacher led the way in this through prayer and fasting.
Divine anthropomorphism is attributing human qualities to God. Since God is Spirit (John 4:24) he would not technically have hands, feet, back, fingers, etc. But we can still speak of such things through the quality of anthropomorphism. In the printed lesson text, God’s hand is mentioned three times. His hand is one of provision (taking care of the exiles’ needs) and protection (ensuring that they arrive safely back in the land of Canaan).
Ezra 7:6; 8:21-23
We do not naturally drift toward humility in this age of “selfies.” Humility comes only through self-denial—and it must start at the top. After finally arriving in Jerusalem, Ezra led the way in humbling himself before God. Ezra led the second wave of people returning from Babylon. The text noted that Ezra was a teacher well versed (ready, prompt, skilled) in the Law of Moses. The prophet, in fact, “had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord” (Ezra 7:10). He no doubt worked at it because he realized the Law was given to the people by God. What a gift!
The king granted his favor to Ezra on this journey, but this was due to the providential hand of God being upon him more than just the king acting independently from God. In fact, the king gave Ezra everything the scribe requested.
To spiritually prepare the people for the journey, Ezra proclaimed a fast by the Ahava Canal. This canal was evidently a tributary to the Euphrates River. The purpose of the fast (i.e., abstaining from food for a spiritual purpose or discernment) was to request safe passage to Canaan. Fasting created the context for humility (to look down or browbeat). Ezra was so humble he did not want to ask the king for special provisions against potential enemy attacks. He wanted to depend totally on God and lean into his provisions. The Lord answered his prayer.
The phrase, “Put your money where your mouth is,” applies to this section of text. Ezra set apart (divided or separated) twelve of the leading priests (two are named, Sherebiah and Hashabiah) from each of the tribes of Israel to receive articles (vessels or equipment) of silver and gold from the king and his helpers to go with the exiles back home. They were not to squander or be careless with these articles. They made a commitment to deliver the goods. And these articles were not small—650 talents of silver, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold, and two articles of polished bronze. The exiles had to prove themselves worthy of transporting such things.
This may be why Ezra consecrated (to make holy) the articles as well as the people. The silver and gold came from their Jewish ancestors before Nebuchadnezzar stole them. The people were to guard them carefully until they arrived in Jerusalem and the items were laid out before the people and priests already there.
This commitment carried them from the Ahava Canal to Jerusalem. God’s hand protected them from enemies and bandits (those who would ambush) in their journey. Once they arrived in Jerusalem, they rested three days (one of many three-day references in the Bible).
Humility and commitment cannot be embraced with a cold heart; rather, they require earnestness. For Ezra, it was not a mere intellectual exercise. Ezra was all-in. The prayer in Ezra 9 proved that. Now, a chapter later, Ezra prayed, confessed, wept, and threw himself down before the temple in front of the Israelites. This was emotional and public. When the people saw Ezra’s contrition, they followed his example by weeping bitterly.
One of the leaders (Shekaniah) stepped forward and acknowledged that Israel had sinned by marrying foreign women. He believed God might forgive his people provided they put away these foreign women and their children. This certainly took some earnestness on his part. He requested a covenant be made. He promised his support to Ezra, so the Bible teacher secluded himself to fast (without even water) and pray about what to do. He would later perform a mass divorce. A good thing? At least he prayed and fasted about it.