Separate and Set Apart

Growing with God: A daily devotional with Tonia Slimm.

Ezra 9:1-2 (NIV)
After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

Ezra 9:1-2 (MSG)
After all this was done, the leaders came to me and said, “The People of Israel, priests and Levites included, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring people around here with all their vulgar obscenities—Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, Amorites. They have given some of their daughters in marriage to them and have taken some of their daughters for marriage to their sons. The holy seed is now all mixed in with these other peoples. And our leaders have led the way in this betrayal.”
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“When these things were completed, the officials came to me and said, “The people of Israel and the priests and Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, but have committed the repulsive acts of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands. Indeed, the officials and chief men have been foremost in this unfaithful act and direct violation [of God’s will].” -AMPLIFIED

Ezra has set his mind to accomplish everything that the king, Artaxerxes, has entrusted him to do. He came to Jerusalem to carry out certain tasks for the king. The first was to lead the Jews back to their homeland. Another was to return to the Temple all the items that belonged there; things that had been left behind when the first group returned to Jerusalem. The next thing was for the people to make sacrifices to Jehovah, their God. This had also been accomplished. Lastly, Ezra was help the people reestablish their nation. As we look into today’s text we see that they were not off with a very good start.

We find a group of leaders approaching Ezra with a very disturbing problem that needed to be addressed and addressed quickly. If left unattended to it was very possible that this problem would completely destroy the remnant of Jews. The problem was this: many of the people, including the priests and Levites, were intermarrying with the neighboring peoples.

Why was this a problem? First, and most importantly, because God had forbidden it and they were walking precariously by doing so. God knew what would happen if they allowed themselves to intermarry with the locals, the people would start to worship the local gods and turn away from Him once again. Secondly, by intermarrying, the people were putting themselves into the situation where they could socially be assimilated and absorbed into the local culture. This would mean that God’s people would no longer be distinct and separate, they would be exactly like the people around them. This was not God’s plan for His people.

When Ezra heard this bit of news it devastated him and he was broken. He tells us that he ripped his own clothes, ripped his hair out from his head and chin and sat in stunned silence for quite a while. (Consider, everything that he had been working so hard to accomplish appeared to be for nothing and he knew if this problem was left unchecked his heard work was going to go down the proverbial drain.)

Ezra wisely turned his attention to God. He knew dwelling on the problem would not fix the problem, so he turned his attention to the most High and brought the problem to Him. He did this in humility; for he realized that the people had once again royally messed up.
“O my True God, witness my shame and embarrassment as I appeal to You. My True God, our sins are so great that they have flooded over us, and they have reached to the heavens. Our people are chronic sinners, our sin is greater than we could have imagined, and You have tried to correct our behavior by subjecting our kings and our priests to death, captivity, theft, and shame by foreign rulers. Those pagans continue to rule us today. Even though You, our Eternal God, have shown Your grace by preserving a remnant and by giving us a secure hold in Your holy place, may You, our God, brighten our eyes and grant us assurance even in our bondage to the Persian rulers. We are still their slaves. In this bondage, You, our True God, have not forgotten us; Your loyal love inspired the kings of Persia to allow us to rebuild Your house and the walls to provide protection in Judah and Jerusalem. But in spite of Your love, we have abandoned Your commands, and we have no excuse.” –Ezra 9:6-10 (VOICE)

We will continue looking into Ezra’s prayer of repentance tomorrow. What we need to grasp and understand today is the need for God’s people to remain separate. The Bible reminds us that God’s children are a holy people. We are to be separate, set apart. For the ways of the World are not the ways of God. Scripture teaches us:

* “Don’t become partners with those who reject God. How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong? That’s not partnership; that’s war. Is light best friends with dark? Does Christ go strolling with the Devil? Do trust and mistrust hold hands? Who would think of setting up pagan idols in God’s holy Temple? But that is exactly what we are, each of us a temple in whom God lives. God himself put it this way: “I’ll live in them, move into them; I’ll be their God and they’ll be my people. So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good,” says God. “Don’t link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself. I’ll be a Father to you; you’ll be sons and daughters to me.” The Word of the Master, God.” -2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (MSG)

* “But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” -1 Peter 2:9-10 (MSG)

* “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” -Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)

God has called us to be separate; set apart for Him. Too many Christians today of forgotten the need for separation, for living holy lives. We are to be in the World, but not of it. God says, “Be holy, because I am holy.”

“He that chooses God, devotes himself to God as the vessels of the sanctuary were consecrated and set apart from common to holy uses, so he that has chosen God to be his God, has dedicated himself to God, and will no more be devoted to profane uses.” ~Thomas Watson

My Prayer:
Lord, help me to remember the need to be set apart and holy. I am yours, and I understand the need to remain separate for your purposes. Lord, be number one in my life. Lord, I am yours. Help me to keep my eyes firmly focused on you and the goal that lies before me. I want to be found faithful and true to you.

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Responsibility and Accountability

Growing with God: A daily devotional with Tonia Slimm.

Ezra 8:24-25 (NIV)
Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, namely, Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their brothers, and I weighed out to them the offering of silver and gold and the articles that the king, his advisers, his officials and all Israel present there had donated for the house of our God.

Ezra 8:24-25(MSG)
Then I picked twelve of the leading priests—Sherebiah and Hashabiah with ten of their brothers. I weighed out for them the silver, the gold, the vessels, and the offerings for The Temple of our God that the king, his advisors, and all the Israelites had given…
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“Then I set apart twelve leading priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brothers (relatives), and I weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the utensils, the offering for the house of our God which the king, his advisers, his officials, and all Israel who were present there had offered.” -AMPLIFIED

The key words in our text today are that Ezra, “set apart” twelve men for a particular task. These men, priests and Levites, were entrusted with a specific task or responsibility. It was to be their job to carry all of:
“…the gold and counted the vessels, which King Artaxerxes, his cabinet, his princes, and the Jews in Babylon had sent to offer at our True God’s house, so no one could be accused of stealing the riches. We carried a tremendous offering back to Jerusalem: 25 tons of silver coins; 7,500 pounds of silver vessels; 7,500 pounds of gold coins; 20 gold bowls weighing 19 pounds; and 2 shiny copper vessels (as valuable as gold).” -(VOICE)

These men were commissioned to carry and be responsible for a treasure that would be the equivalent to well over a hundred million dollars of today’s money. They were entrusted with a great responsibility and we will see that upon their arrival in Jerusalem that they would have to give an accounting for each and every piece.

As these men prepared to take on this challenge, we find Ezra commissioning them and reminding them that they must be sure that each and every piece arrives at its intended destination and is accounted for. Ezra says:
“Everything dedicated to Him is holy to the Eternal: you, the vessels for the temple, and the silver and gold for the freewill offering to the Eternal God of our ancestors. Guard these things until you reach the rooms of the Eternal’s temple. There, the head priests, the Levites, and the tribal leaders already living in Jerusalem will weigh them and make sure the same amount reached the temple as left Babylon.” -Ezra 8:28-29 (VOICE)

Ezra conveyed to these men that not only were this treasure holy unto the Lord, but they themselves were as well. The Amplified conveys it in this way:
“You are holy to the Lord, the utensils are holy, and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the Lord God of your fathers.”

These men had quite the duty to accomplish. They were responsible for transporting millions of dollars’ worth of treasure through enemy territory that was overrun by thieves, and desperate people, traveling over seven hundred miles. (That, my friend, is a heavy burden to bear.) Yet, we find these men stepping up and accepting this challenge and responsibility.

It is understood that because God’s hand of protection was upon them in a Mighty way this group of pilgrims were able to accomplish this trip in four months. (This was unusual.)
“We left the banks of the Ahava River on the 12th day of the 1st month. On our 4-month journey to Jerusalem, the True God did indeed protect us—He saved us from any enemies or skirmishes along our journey.” -Ezra 8:31 (VOICE)

We find, upon arrival, that the whole company took time to rest for three days. Then it was time for giving an accounting for each and every item that those twelve men had been given responsibility of.
“On the 4th day, we took the measured silver, gold, and vessels to our True God’s house. There, Meremoth (son of Uriah the priest), Eleazer (son of Phineas the priest), and the Levites Jozabad (son of Jeshua) and Noadiah (son of Binnui) counted, weighed, and inventoried everything. Then the exiles who had joined our caravan and left their captivity gave these burnt offerings to the Eternal God of Israel: 12 bulls (1 for each tribe of Israel), 96 rams, 77 lambs, and 12 male goats (as a sin offering for each tribe of Israel).” -Ezra 8:33-35 (VOICE)

In the end, these men had completed a job well done. They had met the challenge and concluded it well. These guys had a high calling placed upon them, but they did not try to dodge or shirk their responsibility. They stepped up and met the challenge, took it on fully and completed it. They were victorious in the end.

“Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could live comfortable, well adjusted lives. His purpose is far deeper: He wants to make us like himself before he takes us to heaven. This is our greatest privilege, our immediate responsibility, and our ultimate destiny.” ~ Rick Warren

We too have been given responsibilities and one day we will also need to give an accounting. We have been commissioned to, “Go and preach the Gospel.” We have been commanded to, “Love one another; just as I have loved you.” We have been directed to, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The question that we must ask ourselves is, “Have I been responsible for the things that Christ has entrusted to me personally?” One day we will all need to give an accounting. The Bible tells us:

* “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [always doing your best and doing more than is needed], being continually aware that your labor [even to the point of exhaustion] in the Lord is not futile nor wasted [it is never without purpose].” -1 Corinthians 15:58 (AMP)

* “So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.” -Galatians 6:9-10 (MSG)

* “For we [believers will be called to account and] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be repaid for what has been done in the body, whether good or bad [that is, each will be held responsible for his actions, purposes, goals, motives—the use or misuse of his time, opportunities and abilities].” -2 Corinthians 5:10 (AMP)

* “For we have become partners with the Anointed One—if we can just hold on to our confidence until the end.” -Hebrews 3:14 (VOICE)

* “I press on toward the goal to win the [heavenly] prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:14 (AMP)

“Love always involves responsibility, and love always involves sacrifice. And we do not really love Christ unless we are prepared to face His task and to take up His Cross.” ~ William Barclay

My friends, we must not just take the challenge, but we must complete the challenge. Do not give up and quit in the face of adversity; press on! We each have a responsibility to complete the good works which God has created us to do for Him.

My Prayer:
Lord, help me to step out in trust and faith to accept the challenges that you have prepared for me. Do not let me succumb to fear. Instead fill me with strength and boldness; just as you did for Joshua, Ezra, David and so many others. Lord, you are always faithful. Help me to be faithful and true to you, as well.

Looking to God and not to Man

Growing with God: A daily devotional with Tonia Slimm.

Ezra 8:21-22 (NIV)
There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”

Ezra 8:21-22 (MSG)
I proclaimed a fast there beside the Ahava Canal, a fast to humble ourselves before our God and pray for wise guidance for our journey—all our people and possessions. I was embarrassed to ask the king for a cavalry bodyguard to protect us from bandits on the road. We had just told the king, “Our God lovingly looks after all those who seek him, but turns away in disgust from those who leave him.”
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“Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river Ahava, so that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our [children, and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request troops and horsemen from the king to protect us from the enemy along the way, because we had told the king, “The hand of our God is favorable toward all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who abandon (turn away from) Him.” -AMPLIFIED

In Ezra 8, at the beginning of the chapter, we find the writer giving us a list or record of who traveled with him to Jerusalem. From Ezra’s account we learn that approximately 1,500 people were his traveling companions. (Not as large as the first group returning to Jerusalem, but still a daunting task.)

Before they were to leave, we find Ezra calling all who were to travel with him together beside the Ahava Canal in order to do something curious before setting out on a long trip. He declared a three day fast. Now, mind you, these folks would be walking back to Jerusalem. There were no vehicles to drive or ride in. If they were lucky they may have a cart, pulled by a horse. Or they might own a camel. The point though is that this was a long strenuous journey; fasting before leaving would not be what most of us would have chosen to do.

Ezra had good reasons to call for this fast though.
1.) Ezra saw the need to humble ourselves before God.
2.) He also saw the need to seek guidance for a safe journey.
In fact, Ezra felt like he was in an awkward position, he was headed back to Jerusalem, by the King’s leave, but to ask for an armed escort through the dangerous lands, felt like he was not trusting in the God who he had advocated for so many years before the King. Ezra realized that he needed to prove his God before the King.
“We needed His (God’s) protection more than ever since I had been ashamed to ask the king for a military escort of soldiers and horses on our journey after telling him, “Our True God takes care of anyone who follows Him, but He uses His power and anger against anyone who abandons Him.” We knew fasting and following our True God would ensure that He helped us travel safely to Jerusalem—and He did.” -(VOICE)

Ezra was looking to God and not to man to be his Source. In faith he was stepping out on what he knew to be a dangerous journey, but he was trusting that God would not only go before them, but be with them every step of the way; hence, why he called for the fast among the travelers. He wanted to ensure that each and every one of them were ready for this journey. They each needed to be in a state of humility before the Lord God, trusting that He would lead them through. They needed to be committed to the cause and understand that they had to remain faithful throughout, no matter what situation presented itself.

“The problem is that if we trust in man we are always let down. No, we shouldn’t trust in man– not ultimately. If we don’t trust in man or God, we are in an awful lonely mess, too. You see, if we don’t trust anyone, we live in fear, but if we trust in God, then we don’t have to fear man anymore.” ~ Stefani Carmichael, Wildflower Ranch

Ezra understood the weight or significance of this situation. They either trusted in God to help them through, or they did not. He chose to trust God, not man to bring them through. Throughout Scripture we are reminded to put or faith in God, not man. The Bible says:

* “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember and trust in the name of the Lord our God.” -Psalm 20:7 (AMP)

* “God is our shelter and our strength. When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help. So why run and hide?” -Psalm 46:1 (VOICE)

* “It is better to put your faith in the Eternal for your security than to trust in people.” -Psalm 118:8 (VOICE)

* “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” -Psalm 146:3 (NIV)

* “God’s Message: “Cursed is the strong one who depends on mere humans, who thinks he can make it on muscle alone and sets God aside as dead weight.” -Jeremiah 17:5 (MSG)

* “I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.]” -Philippians 4:13 (AMP)

“In any difficult situation, ask God with all your heart to let you experience Him and He will. You will experience Him not because He is letting you do so, but because you are allowing yourself to experience Him. You do not need His permission to experience Him. You will experience God, because when you so desire, you are shifting your focus from an illusionary state (a difficult situation) to the truth (God). Allowing yourself to experience this in one difficult situation will open your mind to the possibility that you can experience God in all difficult situations. Experiencing God in a difficult situation will turn the challenging situation into an awakening opportunity and gift. During the difficult situation, try to focus on God and His absolute love for you. Allow yourself to feel this absolute love. Let it flow through your body. Let it touch your heart. Realize that God is not there because it is a difficult situation, but because He has always been there. You see it as a difficult situation, but God sees only your growth. In the moment, focus on fear, or focus on God’s love for you. You have free will and it is your choice to make. In the moment, you can focus on one or the other but not both. The choice is yours. Choosing fear will offer you anxiety, stress, confusion, pain and regret. Choosing love will offer you peace of mind and joy. Choose as you will. ” ~James Blanchard Cisneros,  You Have Chosen to Remember: A Journey from Perception to Knowledge, Peace of Mind and Joy

So, my friend, who are you trusting in to get you through the situations and challenges in your life? I hope you are trusting in God!

My Prayer:
Lord, I choose to trust in you. In faith I am stepping out, trusting that you will lead and guide me each step of the way. I choose not to focus on the situations of the moment, but instead I will focus on you. I understand that fear, worry and anxiety are tools used by the Enemy. When I get caught up in the moment, Lord, allow your Holy Spirit to bring my attention back in focus on you.

 

 

Blessed to be a Blessing

Growing with God: A daily devotional with Tonia Slimm.

Ezra 7:27-28 (NIV)
Praise be to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, 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 leaders from Israel to go up with me.

Ezra 7:27-28 (MSG)
Blessed be God, the God-of-Our-Fathers, who put it in the mind of the king to beautify The Temple of God in Jerusalem! Not only that, he caused the king and all his advisors and influential officials actually to like me and back me. My God was on my side and I was ready to go. And I organized all the leaders of Israel to go with me.
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“Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers [said Ezra], who put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to adorn and glorify the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, and has extended His mercy and lovingkindness to me before the king, his advisers, and all the king’s mighty officials. I was strengthened and encouraged, for the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered together outstanding men of Israel to go up with me [to Jerusalem].” -AMPLIFIED

Proceeding our text in Scripture, there is a long letter addressed from King Artaxerxes directed toward Ezra in particular. This letter gave permission for Ezra, and all those who chose to follow him, to return to Jerusalem. It also alerted Ezra that the king himself would be providing all the finances needed for those who chose to go, to make sacrifices to Jehovah. The King also informed them that he was sending all of the remaining articles that belonged in the Temple of the Lord. (The letter contains much more; this is just a summary.)

Ezra’s response is one of praise. He rejoiced, for he remembered who it was who could change the hearts of kings and of men, only God Almighty. Ezra understood that it was God who moved and motivated the heart of Artaxerxes. And he looked upon this situation as a blessing.
“You have blessed me with Your loyal love and strengthened me with Your motivation as I stood before the king and his cabinet and his princes. Because of You I was able to convince the elders of Israel to accompany me back to Jerusalem.” -(VOICE)

God’s hand was on Ezra. Ezra realized this and gave God praise for the opportunity to serve Him. “Blessed be God, the God-of-Our-Fathers!”

“Ezra cannot proceed in his story without inserting this thankful acknowledgment to God’s goodness to him and the people. Which hath put such a thing as this into the king’s heart — God can and frequently does put things into men’s hearts which would not rise there of themselves, and that both by his providence and by his grace. If any good appear to be in our own hearts, or in the hearts of others, we must acknowledge it was God that put it there, and must bless him for it, for it is he that worketh, in us both, to will and to do that which is good.” ~Joseph Benson’s Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Ezra realized that he had been personally blessed by God in order that he could be a blessing to others. To be blessed in order to be a blessing to others is certainly Biblical. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
“God is ready to overwhelm you with more blessings than you could ever imagine so that you’ll always be taken care of in every way and you’ll have more than enough to share. Remember what is written about the One who trusts in the Lord:
“He scattered abroad; He gave freely to the poor; His righteousness endures throughout the ages.” The same One who has put seed into the hands of the sower and brought bread to fill our stomachs will provide and multiply the resources you invest and produce an abundant harvest from your righteous actions. You will be made rich in everything so that your generosity will spill over in every direction. Through us your generosity is at work inspiring praise and thanksgiving to God. For this mission will do more than bring food and water to fellow believers in need—it will overflow in a cascade of praises and thanksgivings for our God.” -2 Corinthians 9:8-12 (VOICE)

“God has blessed you. Count your blessings. But don’t stop there. You are blessed to be a blessing. God’s intention is that all the nations of the earth should be blessed by the actions of God’s people. God is working the salvation of the world through us. It’s our job. The Jews were not chosen by God for special privilege, but for special service. It is the same for Christians and for anybody else who receives God’s blessing. Don’t hoard it…spread it. Don’t pay it back, pay it forward. For every material blessing you have received, for the gift of talent or health or land or a kind and loving spirit…whatever it is, you were given that blessing in order that you might use it to bless others.” -Anne Robertson

This lesson of being blessed in order to be a blessing is woven throughout Scripture. This is God’s way of doing things, not the World’s. Scripture tells us:

*“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” -Luke 6:38 (NIV)

* “He who is gracious and lends a hand to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay him for his good deed.” -Proverbs 19:17 (AMP)

* “Listen carefully to what I am saying—and be wary of the shrewd advice that tells you how to get ahead in the world on your own. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes.” -Mark 4:24-25 (MSG)

“Freely you have received; freely give.” ~Jesus

My friends, are you fulfilling your job of being a blessing to others? God has blessed you in order that you too may be a blessing to others. This is how we live our His love and let His Light shine through us. Find someone whom you can be a blessing to today.

“God didn’t add another day to your life because you needed it. He did it because someone out there needs you!” ~UNKNOWN

My Prayer:
Lord, you have blessed me over and beyond my wildest dreams and you have done this in order that I may share those blessings with others. I was never meant to hold tightly to them and keep them for myself. Those blessings were meant for sharing. Let my heart be generous in giving, Lord. Give me a heart like yours. I do not want to be tightfisted, but extravagant and generous is my sharing what you have blessed me with. Everything that I have you have given me. Let me use it for your glory and honor, Lord.

 

Favored

Growing with God: A daily devotional with Tonia Slimm.

Ezra 7:6-7 (NIV)
…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, musicians, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.

Ezra 7:6-7 (MSG)
That’s Ezra. He arrived from Babylon, a scholar well-practiced in the Revelation of Moses that the God of Israel had given. Because God’s hand was on Ezra, the king gave him everything he asked for. Some of the Israelites—priests, Levites, singers, temple security guards, and temple slaves—went with him to Jerusalem. It was in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king.
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“…this Ezra went up from Babylon. He was a scribe skilled in the Law (the five books) of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given; and the king granted him everything that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. Some of the sons of Israel, with some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants also went up [from Babylon] to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.” -AMPLIFIED

Ezra, the writer of the book, is finally introduced into His-story, God’s story.
It is quite interesting that Ezra does not arrive on the scene until the rebuilding of the Temple has completed. He was in fact, the leader of the second group of exiles returning from Babylon to Jerusalem.

Approximately fifty years had passed since the Temple had been completed. We find that Ezra had been an important scribe/secretary to the Persian King, Artaxerxes I, who was ruler at this point in time. (Let it be noted the following kings reigned during the events that took place in Ezra:Cyrus (560-530 B.C.), Cambyses (530-522), Smerdis (522), Darius I (522-486), Ahasuerus (486-465), Artaxerxes I (465-424), Darius II (423-405), and Artaxerxes II (405-358).)

Ezra notes in his text that he was favored or honored by the king. This honor was given because the king realized that God’s hand was upon Ezra. God had indeed blessed Ezra and his work. He was a trusted servant of the King and he was also a trusted leader among his own people.

“From the beginning, Ezra has influence. As a descendant of Aaron, he is of the highest and most respected priestly class in the Jewish community, so his own people will follow him. Even in the Persian Empire, his status as a priest makes him a valued political figure. These qualifications make him the perfect person to revitalize the waning religious reforms started by the first Jewish exiles who have returned to Jerusalem.” -VOICE footnote

We find Ezra requesting of the King the opportunity of leading a group of exiles back to their homeland. This particular group of people would be beneficial to the functioning of the Temple. They were mostly: laypeople, priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants. We are told that in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, he allowed them to return to Jerusalem.

It is important to understand that Ezra had favor with both God and man. He had their their support, respect and backing. In fact, they had a very high opinion of him, even those who were not followers of the One, True God. This is a blessing from the Lord. It comes from living a life that is holy, honorable, righteous and true before both God and man. Scripture tells us:

* “Stay focused; do not lose sight of mercy and truth; engrave them on a pendant, and hang it around your neck; meditate on them so they are written upon your heart. In this way, you will win the favor of God and others, and they will think well of you. Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions. Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.” -Proverbs 3:3-6 (VOICE)

* “For we have regard for what is honorable [and above suspicion], not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” -2 Corinthians 8:21 (AMP)

* “Good judgment wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful leads to their destruction.” -Proverbs 13:15 (NIV)

* “For the Eternal God is a sun and a shield. The Eternal grants favor and glory; He doesn’t deny any good thing to those who live with integrity.” -Psalm 84:11 (VOICE)

* “And let the [gracious] favor of the Lord our God be on us; confirm for us the work of our hands—Yes, confirm the work of our hands.” -Psalm 90:17 (AMP)

Are you living your life in such a way that you are finding favor from both God and man? Having a good reputation is how we can impact this world for Jesus. The favor of God will certainly change your life!

My Prayer:
Lord, let me be a blazing light for you in this dark world. I want to find favor with those around me, not for favor’s sake, but so that I may know that I am making an impact for you. Have your way in my life, Lord. Help me stay focused on the truly important things.  Please, keep your hand upon me, Lord.

 

God Can Change the Situation

Growing with God: A daily devotional with Tonia Slimm.

Ezra 6:21-22 (NIV)
So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the Lord, the God of Israel. For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

Ezra 6:21-22 (MSG)
Then the Israelites who had returned from exile, along with everyone who had removed themselves from the defilements of the nations to join them and seek God, the God of Israel, ate the Passover. With great joy they celebrated the Feast of Unraised Bread for seven days. God had plunged them into a sea of joy; he had changed the mind of the king of Assyria to back them in rebuilding The Temple of God, the God of Israel.
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“The Passover was eaten by the sons (descendants) of Israel (Jacob) who returned from exile and by all those who had separated themselves from the [ceremonial] uncleanness of the nations of the land to join them, in order to seek the Lord God of Israel. They observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with joy, for the Lord had caused them to rejoice and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, so that he encouraged them and strengthened their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” -AMPLIFIED

The rebuilding of the Temple has been completed and there was much joy in this fact. When the time for Passover came shortly thereafter, the people were once again filled with joy. (I am sure that first year was filled with highlights that filled them with joy, for they were not only home, but they had completed the project that had brought them home.)

Something very telling comes in the very last verse of this chapter. There it tells us, “He (The Eternal) influenced the King of Assyria to encourage the Jews’ rebuilding of the True God of Israel’s temple.” -(VOICE)

The fact, that God influenced and changed the mind of Darius filled them with joy. God, had in fact, turned the heart of the King. Darius was forging ahead in one direction and God turned him around. Scripture reminds us that this is true. It says:
“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it whichever way He wishes.” -Proverbs 21:1 (AMP)

Why is this bit of knowledge important for us? Because we often fall into the same scenario, where we are dealing with people and situations that do not follow God’s mandates and guidance. Instead of fussing, fuming or confronting, it would be better that we pray for those people, those situations and allow God to change the attitude and minds of those involved. If He can change the attitude and heart of the king of Assyria, He can certainly work in our situations.

Once God had turned the heart of Darius we see that Darius went from obstructing the work of God to encouraging the people of God. This was an illustration of God’s intervention, provision and grace for His people and in a very difficult situation.

King David understood God’s grace and ability to intervene in impossible situations. David wrote these words:
“Who will back me up when evildoers come against me?
Who is willing to take my side against the wicked?
If the Eternal had not come to my rescue,
my soul would have descended to the land where death silences every voice.
When I said, “My foot is slipping!”
Your unfailing love, O Eternal One, held me up.
When anxiety overtakes me and worries are many,
Your comfort lightens my soul.
Can wicked tyrants be Your allies?
Will You align with rulers who create havoc with unjust decrees?
They have joined forces against the life of the just-living, the right-seeking,
and have sentenced the innocent to death.
But the Eternal has been my citadel;
my God, a sure safe haven.” -Psalm 94:16-22 (VOICE)

Will God not do for us what He did for His children during the time of Darius? Of course He can and He will. He gives us promise after promise in His Word about how to handle those difficult situations:

* “God is our refuge and strength [mighty and impenetrable], a very present and well-proved help in trouble.” -Psalm 46:1 (AMP)

* “So don’t be afraid. I am here, with you; don’t be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, help you. I am here with My right hand to make right and to hold you up.” -Isaiah 41:10 (VOICE)

* “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” -Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)

* “There was a time when you outsiders were disobedient to God and at odds with His purpose, but now you have experienced mercy as a result of their disobedience. In the same way, their disobedience now will make a way for them to receive mercy as a result of the mercy shown to you. For God has assigned all of us together—Jews and non-Jews, insiders and outsiders—to disobedience so He can show His mercy to all.” -Romans 11:30-32 (VOICE)

Jesus reminded His followers to do something out of the ordinary for those who mistreated them. He said:
“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.” -Luke 6:27-30 (MSG)

God can change the hearts, minds and wills of others. Our job is to pray and allow Him to do His perfect will in every situation. Who knows, maybe the heart that needs to be changed could even be our own.

Are there situations in your life that seem to be impossible and hopeless? Pray! Give God complete control over every part of the situation; God can change the hearts and minds of each and every person involved. Trust Him!

Only God can change a heart!

My Prayer:
Lord, remind me that I am never alone. In every situation, you Lord, are with me. You have my best interest at heart. In fact, you can change the hearts and minds of kings and rulers. Help me never forget that the best tool I have available is prayer; let me use it often and wisely. Lord, help me to trust you in every situation. Give me your guidance, protection and encouragement in every situation.

Keep on Pressing on

Growing with God: A daily devotional with Tonia Slimm.

Ezra 6:14-16 (NIV)
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. Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy.

Ezra 6:14-18 (MSG)
So the leaders of the Jews continued to build; the work went well under the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They completed the rebuilding under orders of the God of Israel and authorization by 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. And then the Israelites celebrated—priests, Levites, every last exile, exuberantly celebrated the dedication of The Temple of God.
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“And the Jewish elders built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building as commanded by the God of Israel and in accordance with the decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia. This temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. And all Israel—the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the [former] exiles—celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.

The rebuilding of the Temple did not go as quickly as some had hoped it would. It took two years to rebuild just the foundation of the temple. Construction was then delayed because of hostility from the Samaritans. In fact, construction was delayed for seventeen years, because at one point the Persian empire withdrew their support from the project.

A renewed effort to work on the Temple began when God sent Haggai and Zechariah, His spokesmen, to encourage the people to resume and complete the work that He had set for them to do. We find at this point the people once again had the full support of the King and they quickly completed the Temple in four years. At the completion of the job we find the people full of joy and celebrating a job well done. Mostly, the people were happy that they once again had a place where they could go to worship the Lord their God.

It must be pointed out though that if they had diligently been working on this project; the job could have been completed much sooner. The fact that they allowed other things to sway their focus and allegiance slowed them down and almost stopped the work completely.

““Don’t focus on your adversaries. Focus on God’s possibilities.” ~UNKNOWN

Ezra does not tell us a whole lot about what was going on in the people’s lives, but we can glean that information in other places in Scripture. In Haggai 1 we learn that part of the problem was that the people were too caught up in rebuilding their own personal homes; so much so that they neglected the rebuilding of God’s home.

Take a look at what God said to the Israelites about this matter:
“Do you think the time is right for you to live in secure and lavishly covered homes when My house still lies in a heap of rubble? Think very carefully about your choices. You have planted a large crop, but your harvest is small. You have food to eat, but it is never enough to satisfy. You have something to drink, but you are never filled. You have clothes to wear, but they are not enough to keep you warm. You earn a salary, but the money runs out quickly, as if there are holes in your pocket. Think very carefully about your choices. Go up to the mountains, and bring down trees to make lumber and build My house. Do this so I may take pleasure in it and be honored by it. You expected to be well rewarded for all your hard work. But as you see, you are getting back almost nothing. As you have brought in profits, I’ve blown them away. Why? I, the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, will tell you why: My house has remained in ruins while each of you has been chasing after your own concerns. This is why heaven above you has held back the dew and the earth has refused to produce crops. 11 I caused a drought in both the fields and the hills. All the crops you tried to produce have been affected, including your grain, your new wine, and your oil. All have been damaged: humanity, cattle, and everything you tried to produce yourself.” -Haggai 1:4-11 (VOICE)

“Haggai says the fields are not producing food because the temple has not been rebuilt. This understanding correlates God’s divine presence with the fertility of the land. The notion of divine control of natural events is common to the ancient world, but Haggai understands that acts of sacrifice or external displays of intrinsic beliefs cannot renew the land; transformative change brought on by the Lord’s presence can. God wants His people to experience real spiritual changes that are reflected in the ways they interact with each other and the rest of the world.” -VOICE footnote

It is important that we keep our focus on God and the things of God. It is so easy to become distracted in this World and neglect, even forget what is most important, the things of God. Scripture reminds us:

* “Because he has focused his love on me, I will deliver him. I will protect him
because he knows my name. When he calls out to me, I will answer him. I will be with him in his distress. I will deliver him, and I will honor him.” -Psalm 91:14-15 (ISV)

* “I am sprinting toward the only goal that counts: to cross the line, to win the prize, and to hear God’s call to resurrection life found exclusively in Jesus the Anointed.” -Philippians 3:14 (VOICE)

* “So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.” -Galatians 6:9-10 (MSG)

Folks, we need to keep pressing in, despite what we are seeing and hearing around us. Our focus must be on the Lord and what He desires for us to do for Him. Do not become discouraged, intimidated or distracted. Press on to the high calling; for there will be a reward waiting for you on the other side. More importantly, I am sure we all want to hear those words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Press on!

“The more you focus on yourself, the more distracted you will be from the proper path. The more you know Him and commune with Him, the more the Spirit will make you like Him. The more you are like Him, the better you will understand His utter sufficiency for all of life’s difficulties. And that is the only way to know real satisfaction.” ~John MacArthur

My Prayer:
Lord, help me to continuously press on, even when the way ahead is difficult or discouraging. Lord, I am trusting in you. Remind me that I am never alone in this journey; you go before me and are making the pathway straight. Keep me focused on you, and not on the distractions of this World. Take any fear that tries to take root in my life and replace it with your peace that passes understanding. Lord, I am yours and I am holding on to the hope of glory that you have given me. I am pressing on.