Grace For The Journey
Be honest! What do you do when you come up to a chapter in God’s Word like Ezra Chapter 2? You have committed to reading methodically and systematically through the Word of God in your quiet time and you come to Ezra Chapter 2, so what do you do? I do trust that you read and study the Word of God methodically and systematically. Sometimes, I hear of believers who go in for the “lucky dip,” method of reading the Scriptures. They just open the Bible anywhere and take that as their daily reading. If you do that, you might be like the man that I heard about who opened his Bible for his morning dip and was startled by these words, “And he …. went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5). He was not satisfied with that message for his morning devotions so he opened the Scriptures at random for the second time. This time the text was “Go and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:37). You can imagine that by time he was getting a little concerned. He was determined not to give up, so a third time he took a go at “the lucky dip,” method. This time he was even more startled, for his third reading was “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27). Be careful about how you read the Word of God. But, if you are committed to reading systematically through the Bible and you come to this chapter, what do you do? Do you skip over it and go on to (Chapter 3)? We would prefer John chapter 1 or chapter 14, or Romans chapter 8, or Psalms 23, but Ezra chapter 2? What significance could it have, it is only a list of names? Yet there are things here of vital importance for the Christian, otherwise the Holy Spirit would never have moved Ezra to write it. The Bible reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable ….” This list (and a similar one in Nehemiah 7:6-69) shows that the returning exiles were the legitimate descendants of the Jews who occupied Israel prior to their deportation to Babylon.
The history of the Bible is redemptive history and such lists are meant to show that God has preserved the chosen people and the promised line of Messiah from generation to generation. It is important to recall the context of this passage. The Babylonian captivity has come to an end, and God stirs the heart of a heathen king to accomplish His purposes. In 538 BC God works in the heart of Cyrus, the King of Persia who issues a decree giving the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. It is interesting that just as the deportation to Babylon had taken place in three stages, so the return of Jews to their homeland took place in three stages:
1. In 538 BC the first remnant returns under Zerubbabel:
2. In 458 BC the second remnant returns under Ezra:
3. In 445BC the third remnant returns under Nehemiah:
There were two Exodus’ in Israel’s history . . .
- The first Exodus was from Egyptian Captivity – Genesis 15:13.
- The second Exodus was from Babylonian Captivity – Jeremiah 25:11-12.
In Ezra we see them going home to broken walls, burnt gates, and a desolate temple to start all over again. The amazing thing was that even after seventy years they were still together. Here were a people who were . . .
1) PRESERVED BY GOD.
The gift of the land and the preservation of Israel as a distinct nation were tied in with God’s plan to send His Son, the Lord Jesus to be the Savior of the world. Israel is a remarkable nation. Israel is God’s covenant people. Throughout the history of this tiny nation, an invisible hand has been upon her and it is the hand of God. Israel is the nation that will not go away. She is an indestructible people (Jeremiah 31:35-37). Here Judah in the exile was preserved by God. How? How were they kept together? Notice the means that God used. There was . . .
(a) Faithful Preaching.
Ezekiel ministered during the exile. His name means “strengthened by God.” He had a prophetic ministry that God had called him to exercise (Ezekiel 3:8-9). Ezekiel and his wife (Ezekiel 24:15-27) were among 10,000 Jews taken captive to Babylon in the year 597 BC (2 Kings 24:11-18). For the first six years of his ministry, he preached to the exiles, while Jerusalem was still standing. Later he had the difficult task of keeping before the generation born in captivity the national sins that led to the exile. It is worth remembering that the children of Ezekiel’s day were, generally speaking, those in later years who returned to Jerusalem at the end of the seventy-year captivity, a restoration that Ezekiel speaks of in the latter part of his prophecy (Chapters 34-48). His ministry was very important –
The people of God.
Many today think that preaching is a thing of the past or that we do not need a strong emphasis on preaching today. In these wild, weird, and wicked times the work of the preacher is being rethought, revamped, and re-examined. Preaching is being pushed from the platform in favor of celebrated experts and entertainers. In an effort to appeal to people’s interests, the church today emphasizes a great many, different programs, methods, and approaches.
- Small group activities.
- Worship services were music and drama get top bill.
- Musical evenings and Gospel concerts.
- Seminars on everything from how to have a good marriage on to how run your finances.
Not all of these things may be harmful, and in their proper place may even be helpful. But . . .
What has been sacrificed
In the flurry of activities
But the Bible still says, “… How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). What kind of preaching do we need? We need the same kind we always needed. We have a new kind of preacher in some quarters today who dilutes and waters down the Word. But the Bible says “It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
(b) Family ties.
These genealogies had been kept to provide proof that those returning were in fact the descendants of the original Jews who had gone into exile. This generation-to-generation linkage was important to identify the Jews as God’s covenant people, and especially important to the Messiahship of Christ, as the genealogies of Matthew and Luke make clear. Behind all of this was the strong emphasis on Jewish family life, which is as important today as it was then. Do you see what God is doing? He is using Jewish family life to hold the Jews together. God was using the warmth of family life to preserve His people.
Recall what God’s law said in Exodus 20:12, “Honor thy father and mother that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.” In Deuteronomy 6:6-9 God also instructed Moses to charge His people to bring the Word of God to their children, “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gate.”
What an awesome responsibility
Before God it is to be a parent.
Being a parent is not just a biological matter,
It is not enough to meet physical needs.
Being a parent is not just an emotional matter,
It is not sufficient to only meet their emotional needs.
Being a parent is a spiritual matter,
You have to meet spiritual needs.
The University of Chicago did a survey of its graduate students asking them where they received their clearest teachings or impressions on religion and morality. The majority of those students answered they picked up their concepts of religion and morality from the meal-time conversations of their families. Do you realize that your number one responsibility is to lead those children to know and accept the Savior?
The Bible says that Noah was, “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). He preached for 120 years, and the people ridiculed and mocked him.. Yet, one day when the rains of judgment began to fall, the Bible records that Noah, his wife, his sons, their wives all entered into the ark of safety.
No person is a failure who can lead his family into the ark of safety.
I pray that you are passing on the Word of God to your children. Is your faith being preserved by this means?
(c) Fearless Men.
Daniel and his three friends were teenagers in the year 605 BC when Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and began his conquest of Judah. What difficult days they were for these young men . . .
- There was a challenge to their walk as the king sought to conform them to the ways of Babylon.
- There was a challenge to their witness as the wise men of Babylon were unable to tell the king his dream and were delivered unto death.
- There was a challenge to their worship as Nebuchadnezzar demanded that all should bow in worship to his golden image and Darius liked the idea that no-one could pray to any God only to him.
In Chapter 3 we see Daniel’s three friends were
Standing when everyone else was kneeling.
In Chapter 6 Daniel was kneeling
When everyone else was standing.
What was the principle that governed their lives? It was the truth that they learned from the Word of God in 1 Samuel 2:30, “Therefore the LORD god of Israel says, ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the LORZD says, “Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me hall be lightly esteemed.’” These young people were encouraged by their parents, friends, neighbors, and nation to honor the Lord, obey the Lord, serve the Lord, live for the Lord, and glorify the Lord.
Daniel went down to Babylon as a teenager
And he lived to the age of 86,
And he ended his life,
The way he began,
Honoring the Lord.
Can you imagine
The tower of strength and
Star of hope he brought to
The captives during those
Difficult days of the exile.
They were faithful and fearless men, who had an impact on the rank and file of God’s people. We see, secondly . . .
2) PRECIOUS TO GOD.
I think Dr. Ironside put it best when he said, “Most of the names are for us only names, but God has not forgotten one of the persons once called by these names on earth.” Think of the pains the children of Israel took to keep a strict record of their families while in captivity, and here . . .
God uses his servant Ezra
Under the inspiration of
The Spirit of God
To pen their names.
Is that not an indication
That our God is concerned
With us as individuals?
In this we see . . .
(a) Their Identity Made Them Precious To God.
They belonged to Him. The Israelites were a covenant people with an important God-given task to fulfill on earth and they could not allow themselves to be corrupted. Indeed, we read of some in Ezra who were unsure of their family roots (2:59-63) and thus they were barred from partaking. As a result, these same people down in Babylon felt that the Lord had forgotten them. Isaiah had prophesied about this in 49:14, “But Zion said, ‘The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” Do you feel that way this morning? Do you feel that because that trial has crossed your pathway that God does not care? Do you believe that because your prayers are not answered that the Lord is uninterested? Do you suppose that because you have been by passed for some promotion that God has forgotten you? Do you not realize that you are making the same mistake that the children of Israel did? At the very time you are saying “My Lord has forgotten me,” at that moment God is saying, “Behold I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).
My name from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase
Impressed on His heart it remains
In marks of indelible grace
Yes I to the end shall endure
As sure as the earnest is given
More happy but not more secure
The glorified saints in heaven
Recall what the Lord Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them shall not fall to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.” You might not be important in the eyes of the world, but you’re precious in the eyes of God. God regards you as one of His jewels. The Bible says in Malachi 3:17, “’They shall be Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts. On the day that I make them My jewels …” God is saying that each of us are very precious to Him and deeply loved by Him. Do you realize that’s how God looks on you? You are very precious and deeply loved!
(b) Their Fidelity Made Them Precious To God.
The total numbered who returned to Jerusalem seemed very small yet they constitute the “ remnant,” who in every age are faithful to God. Ezra himself, in chapter 9 verse 8, in his most moving prayer speaks of the graciousness of God in permitting a remnant to return to their homeland, “And now for a little while grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place …..” This doctrine of the remnant runs through all of the Scriptures. It would be a good study for you to search the Scriptures on this subject. Ezra lists them for us . . .
- The leaders – (2:2; Nehemiah 7;7)
- The priests (2:36)
- The Levites (2:40)
- The singers (2:41)
- The children of the porters (2:42)
- The Nethinims – hewers of wood and drawers of water. (Joshua 9:27)
- The children of Solomon’ servants. ( 2:55 )
All with a contribution to make. As Harry Ironside says, “How highly God values all that is done from devotion of heart to Himself and for the glory of His name.” Could it be that you are experiencing loneliness in being one of God’s remnant? Maybe in the place you work, in your home, in your school, or in your neighborhood. Does your stand for truth make you feel isolated? Can I remind you, that the Lord has others who are faithful to Him, and they are found in shops, business, colleges, and even in government places. They are the modern equivalent of 7,000 who did not bow the knee to the Baals, the false gods, and wicked rulers of Elijah’s day. These are the remnant who one day will receive the crown of life for their faithfulness.
They are faithful and fearless men and women who have an impact on the rank and file of their world. We see, thirdly . . .
(3) PARTICIPATING WITH GOD.
It is a privilege and honor to be co-workers with the Lord. Paul speaks about this in 2 Corinthians 6:1, “Being workers together with Him.” I want to suggest to you that these Jews participated with the Lord . . .
(a) In Their Going.
Do you remember the challenge of Cyrus? In Ezra 1:3 he said, “Who is there among you of all his people? Let him go up to Jerusalem.” Here were a people who had turned their backs on Babylon and set their faces toward Jerusalem. But why so few? 50,000 was a tiny number to go up to Jerusalem, in comparison with those who had gone down to Babylon. Why so few? It might help us to thing of the situation in Israel today. In 1948, the modern state of Israel was established and immediately Jews began to return from all parts of the world where they had been scattered for nearly two thousand years. But even so, the population of modern Israel is about 6.2 million, whereas the number of Jews living in other countries is about 9.8 million. Some are returning but many living in the U.S.A. and the U. K. have become comfortable and they have no wish to exchange that for the hardships and dangers of war-torn Israel. I am sure it was the same in Ezra’s day. The people had settled down in Babylon: they had created a new lifestyle for themselves, they had become prosperous over the years (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Who would want to take a dangerous journey to a city in ruins, and a temple that no longer existed. The cost was too great, in modern language, they did not want to get kicked out of their comfort zone. Sadly, many believers today are not so much at ease in Zion, as they are content in Zion. We are like the people that Amos confronted in Amos 6:1, “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, and trust in Mount Samaria, notable persons in the chief nation, to whom the house of Israel comes!” Are we too comfortable in our faith, enjoying a laid-back kind of Christianity? Does our commitment to Jesus Christ make any real demands upon us involving personal cost and sacrifice? Does it even make demands when it comes to giving of our time, our energy, our money in the Lord’s work? What about that other kind of cost in things like prayer for the ministry of the Word, and for the souls of those who are lost?
A missionary who was watching the construction of a beautiful temple asked an Indian lady, “How much will it cost?” “It is for the gods,” she answered, “We do not ask what it will cost.” Are you holding back your life because you are afraid of what it might cost?
These Jews participated with the Lord . . .
(b) In Their Giving.
Do you see what they did when they assembled on the site of the ruined temple? We read about it in chapter 2 verse 68, “Some of the heads of the fathers’ houses, when they came to the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God, to erect it in its place.” Although the temple was in ruins, that house still existed in the mind of God and in the hearts of His people. They loved that spot, and it was there they gave to the work of the Lord. In Nehemiah 7:70-72 the Bible tells us the tribal leaders and Zerubbabel the governor gave generously, and the common people followed their good example. This reinforces the thought – Everything in God’s work rises and falls with leadership. That is why God demands dedicated men to challenge His people and lead the way. Now did you notice how they gave to the work of the Lord? They gave . . .
The Bible says in verse 68, they, “offered freely.” They did not require a sermon on stewardship to cajole them into parting with their money. Our love for Christ can be measured by how much time and money we gave to Him.
The Bible says in verse 69, “after their ability.” The rich according to his riches and the poor according to his poverty. Paul puts it this way, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (1 Corinthians 16:1). Are you giving, or do you plan your giving in a systematic, thoughtful way in relation to the wages you earn?
The Lord was their vision and in the light of that vision everything else paled into insignificance. The Bible says, “For God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Do these Old Testament saints put us to shame in relation to our giving? Do you realize that giving to the Lord’s work is not a fringe activity but a spiritual obligation and opportunity? Surely if we acknowledge Christ as Savior and Lord, then His Lordship extends to every part of our lives, including our giving. Yet, as someone has said, “many a Christian’s wallet or purse is unconverted.” Is this you? Sure, you are saved, but are your pockets are sown up?
4) In Their Goals.
In the closing verse of chapter 2 we see that the people are dispersed to their own towns and villages and started rebuilding their homes and their lives. But that was only after they had made provision for the temple.
Their goal was this . . .
God first, and only then did
They give attention to
Their own personal concerns.
For so many, including Christians, other things are put first – Fashion, food, finance, fitness, the family, and the future. It is nice to have all these things but everything must be in its proper order, for our God is “a jealous God,” (Exodus 20:5) and will not come second to any one or any thing. As long as we downgrade Him in our hearts, we shall never fulfill our true potential as His children.
Only a List of Names? Yes, but this faithful remnant speaks to us today and tells us that we are . . .
Preserved by God,
Precious to God,
Participating with God.
This is the Lord’s list for Israel, but did you know the Bible has another list. We are told about that list in Revelation 21:27, “But there shall by no means enter into it (heaven) anything that defiles, or causes an abomination, or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Our name is not written in Ezra chapter 2, but is our name in the Lamb’s book of life? Have you repented of your sins? Have you turned to Christ and received Him as your personal Savior?
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”