1 – Ezra 3:6 (ESV) 6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.
RAF: In days of restoration, as these were for the exiles, priorities are sometimes more clearly defined. While there had been no work on restoring the Temple proper yet, the altar was restored first and rightly so. When we have gone through seasons of estrangment from God, perhaps the distance that has followed a fall into sin, we know where to go first – to the cross. We go to God’s altar. Where the one true Lamb that was offered for sin was slain. We go back there and renew ourselves in the knowledge of what our sin deserved, how the Father sent His Son to take our punishment in our place, and how He is the only sin offering we can bring. And isn’t He our fellowship offering too? And our thank offering? Everything is restored to focus on this one place – Christ Jesus, and His death for us.
2 – Ezra 3:11-13 (ESV) 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.
RAF: See how such times of restoration are mixed. There is both the joy of renewing our right relationship with the Father, and still there remains a sense of how far we have fallen, how much we have lost due to our sin and rebellion. Let no one fool you into thinking Christians sin with utter impunity, it is not so. Yes, there is full and free forgiveness, but time lost, can never be recovered. Those 70 years that the Jews could have been living in Jerusalem, the city where God had chosen to place His name; the magnificent Temple of Solomon; unbroken fellowship with God; these were forever gone. Yes, God was still their God. Mercy and grace were flowing in abundance. But those years in captivity – would remain etched in their collective memory. How they had walked away from the goodness of God to pursue false gods and the filth that came with them. How they relinquished the privilege of God’s presence among them, only to be cast out of it as surely as Adam and Eve had been cast from the Garden. To live in bondage when they were meant to be free in God. To see the Temple, the representation of the totality of God’s promises fulfilled, and the token of the promises of the New Covenant yet to come – utterly and completely gone. And now, the joy of its being rebuilt, but only as a shadow of its former magnificence. Christian, God is good and His mercy is everlasting – but do not imagine sin does not bring real loss even after salvation. See: 1 Cortinthians 3:15 and surrounding.
3 – Ezra 5:1 (ESV) Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them.
RAF: The books of Haggai and Zechariah are specifically related to this time in Judah’s history. Haggai writes and prophesies to help the people keep the right priorities in all of this, and Zechariah is a great encourager. The book that bears His name reminds them it is worth it all.
4 – Ezra 6:14-15 (ESV) 14 And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia; 15 and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
RAF: As the Temple was rebuilt though in Babylon there had been several complete transitions in power – the nation suffering two invasions and occupations by foreign powers – God’s work has its own agenda. Christ told us He would build His church, and irrespective of changes in human governments, even to the point of complete overthrows and revolutions – He WILL see it built. His agenda will not be thwarted even by complete and global geo-political upheaval. Fear not!
5 – Ezra 9:12 (ESV) 12 Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’
RAF: Of all the things which weaken and stumble the Church in every generation, it is when we are not careful to be sure genuine Christians marry genuine Christians. If both parties are not together in seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, there can be little left to happen but for the genuine to be diluted in their spiritual fervor, and the children to be in an ill-defined environment. If you are contemplating a relationship with someone you are hoping somewhere down the line will take up true spiritual life in Christ – flee! This is a great tactic of the enemy, for “sons of God” to see “the daughters of men”, and freely marry “any of them they” choose. Genesis 6:2.
6 – Nehemiah 1:1 (ESV) The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital,
RAF: The one-word theme of Nehemiah is REBUILDING: Under Nehemiah’s leadership, the City of Jerusalem begins its climb toward true restoration. It is often taught as a metaphor for the labor of rebuilding a life destroyed by sin. While we dare not remove its historical reality and significance, such a parallel is worthy of our consideration. The events recorded here are some 12 or 13 years after those in Ezra.
7 – Nehemiah 2:1-2 (ESV) In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid.
RAF: What a striking reference this almost off-handed comment is. Though Nehemiah was in captivity due to the sins of his people; though he was conscripted into the service of a pagan king; though he was but a slave in a foreign land – his usual countenance was one of such joy and contentment, that to be noticed as sad was notable indeed. How are we in our circumstances? Would others find it odd that we are sad? Or do we walk about as though our God has abandoned us and foresaken our needs? Nehemiah is such a wonderful exemplar in this regard. Father, forgive me for how easily and quickly my joy can be taken away, and my countenance prove to be an indictment of your goodness toward me. May the rulers of this age find it odd to observe a Christian with sadness, when we have been promised the fullness of life on Christ both now and forever more.
8 – Nehemiah 2:12 (ESV) 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode.
RAF: He did not articulate the grand scheme to any, until he had gathered enough information to begin to formulate an approach to it as well. Leadership can often jump the gun in this regard.
9 – Nehemiah 3:31 (ESV) 31 After him Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired as far as the house of the temple servants and of the merchants, opposite the Muster Gate, and to the upper chamber of the corner.
RAF: This chapter is a marvel. Who all were invovled in restoring and rebuilding the city? Everyone. There were governors, and commoners; Levites and Priests, laboring beside perfumers, goldsmiths and men whose leadership declined to join in. Women were engaged in it, along with soliders and servants. No one too high or too low – but each put their labor into seeing the City of God restored. Their qualifications were willingness – not specified skills. How about you?