Scripture Read: Ezra 7 - 8
Title: Ezra and Exiles Return
(H) Highlight verse: "For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and his statutes for Israel" Ezra 7:10
(E) Explain: In todays passage there are a lot of names mentioned, but the two that we need to remember are Ezra and Artaxerxes. Ezra was a Jewish exile who was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses. Artaxerxes was the king of Persia. It was during Artaxerxes reign that he commissioned Ezra to assemble people and return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. Not only was he sending Ezra and the Jewish people back, but he was giving them money, resources, and supplies for the building and worship to resume once again. Artaxerxes wrote a decree telling all that Ezra was to be allowed to essentially do what he wants in regards to rebuilding the temple.
On their journey Ezra proclaimed a fast at the river Ahava. It was here that the men fasted and petitioned God for protection. God heard their petition and protected them.
(A) Application: I have said this time and again, when God wants to accomplish his will, He will do whatever it takes to get the job done. In todays account we see this is true. God was calling his people back to their land to rebuild the temple and establish temple worship once again. By all accounts this seemed like an impossibility... The Jews were in exile and the temple was in ruins, how would they ever accomplish such an impossible task? God, in his sovereignty, puts it on the heart of the king of their captor to allow them to go back and beuild the temple and the king foots the bill. That is truly amazing! During the time God directs them and protects them as they go about fulfilling his call to return home once again.
This should be encouraging to all of us as we read the text. In this account we see that God always fulfills his promise. I sometimes feel like a broken record because I say that so often, but the truth is shown time after time that God will finish what he starts. God has begun a good work in His people and He will faitfully complete it. Rejoice in this truth. Whatever God has started in your life, family, work, church etc. He will bring it to completion.
(R) Respond: Lord in my anxiety and worry I will take comfort in knowing that you will accomplish what you have started in my life. May I rest in this truth today.
Scripture Read: Zechariah 1 - 7; 12
Title: A Message of Encouragement to the Returning Exiles
(H) Highlight verse: "Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts" Zechariah 1:3
(E) Explain: The book of Zechariah is a series of encouraging messages and prophecies concerning the return of the exiles to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. These messages are one of hope, deliverance and restoration. The messages were given as a series of visions and after receiving the vision Zechariah would ask the angel for the meaning. The angel would always explain the vision and each vision was intended to show God's judgment of the wicked nations and the restoration of Jerusalem.
In Chapter 12 there is a prophecy concerning the coming Messiah that details the cruficifixion of Jesus: "When they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, the shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one who weeps over a firstborn."
(A) Application: God's plan for restoration and redemption was put in place from the beginning of time. Although humanity (through Adam) inherently is sinful, creation is cursed, and all are separated from God, He has purposed to redeem and restore through Jesus Christ. As Zechariah 12:10 tells us that Jesus Christ was pierced on a cross for our sins, and people would mourn the death of the Messiah, but our hope is in Him as He willingly went to the cross for our salvation and the redemption of humanity to all who believe.
We read throughout scripture prophecies concerning judment, future redemption, the first and second coming of Christ, etc. and often these prophecies (or some scripture in general) are confusing and hard to understand. There are times when I read a passage and I have no idea what it speaks about and my first inclination is to go to the commentaries to see what the scholars have to say. However, I have found that when I go directly to the source, God/Jesus, and ask for clarification I am given what I ask for. What I am saying in all of this is that we can learn from Zechariah that when we need insight, clarity and understanding to scripture we should just ask the Lord what it means. We are told throughout scripture that the Holy Spirit is our counselor and our teacher, so He is more than capable of speaking the truth to us and giving us understainding when we need it. We just need to ask.
(R) Respond: Lord, as much as I respect and trust the thousands of biblical scholars who have spent a lifetime learning and interpreting the scriptures , I desire to look to you first when I need clarification and understanding of your Word. May I turn to the great teacher, the Holy Spirit, to speak to me before I turn to others who may know way more than I do.
Scripture Read: Ezra 5 - 6
Title: The Temple is Rebuilt
(H) Highlight verse: "And the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy." Ezra 6:16
(E) Explain: The rebuilding of the temple resumed when the prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to the people in Judah and Jerusalem. Once again opposition arose as the Tattenai and Shetharbozenai wrote to King Darius about what was happening. This time we read, "But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it." This time the Jews were not intimidated by the opposition and did not cease. They would wait until the heard back from Darius.
The opposing men wrote a letter to King Darius informing him of what was going on, but his response was not what they were hoping for. The King was in favor of the temple construction and approved the work. He instrcts the opposing men to leave the Israelites alone and let them complete the construction. About four years later the temple was complete and the Israelites dedicated the temple and observed the Passover. They celebrated because God had changed the heart of the King so the temple could be completed.
(A) Application: God had promised long ago that the exiles would return to Jerusalem and the temple would be rebuilt. God always keeps his promises. In these passages we see the faithfulness of God in action. I am sure the people the in Jerusalem were frustrated as they returned to their city and began working on the Temple just to have it shut down initially because of opposition twice. But God had a plan. He had declared that the Temple would be completed and worship in the Temple would resume. I am sure the people were excited, then frustrated, then worried and then encouraged all during this time. I am sure there were days when they believed the Temple would never be finished. There were days that they were overzealous to get the work started and completed. There were days that they were frustrated because they knew God had given them the "go ahead" to build jut to be shut down. I can imagine the people experienced the whole gamut of emotions. But God remained faithful and in due time His promises came to pass.
The truth of God's faithfulness rings true in our lives today. God has promised redemption. He has promised to set the world right one day. He has promised eternal life to those who believe in Jesus. He has promised to be with us, no matter the circumstances in life. God is faithful to keep his promises and we should take comfort in this. No matter where you are today in your walk with God, hold on to His promises because He is faithful to keep them.
(R) Respond: God, I hold on to your promises and I believe you are faithful to keep your promises.
Scripture Read: Ezra 3 - 4
Title: Opposition to Rebuilding the Temple
(H) Highlight verse: "When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. " Ezra 3:1
(E) Explain: The Israelites returned to Jerusalem and the people were unified in their goal of rebuilding the temple. Leaders, foremen and builders all appointed so that the building could resume. The altar was the first to be be built and then the foundation for the temple was laid. The people rejoiced and celebrated because the temple construction had begun again. However, not everyone was happy about this building project. People from nearby cities opposed the building and they sabbotaged their efforts by bringing accusations against them to King Artexerxes, the King of Persia. Ultimately, a decree was made and construction ceased for over a decade.
(A) Application: When God is at work, opposition is usually not too far behind. We see this truth throughout the Bible and we see this in our lives today. There is nothing more joyous than seeing God's hand at work among His people and in His kingdom because when God is at work there is cause for celebration and worship. However, opposition usually arises not too long thereafter. This is frustrating as believers because sometimes the opposition comes from within the body of Christ. I am sure there are many reasons as to why resistance happens but I am quite certain that opposition from other believers usually happens because they are not in sync with what God is doing. They may be jealous, bitter, or have ulterior motives. For whatever reason they do not want to see God's work succeed and this is sad.
I have seen this happen throughout my life personally, professionally and observing from a distance and there is nothing more frustrating than seeing people trying to stop what God is doing. Not only is it frustrating but it is also rather pointless. Sure, the work may cease for a moment, but God's work cannot be hindered, thwarted or stopped. Maybe you are experiencing opposition to God's work in your life today, but know this... what God starts, God finishes and nothing and nobody can stop Him from bringing it to completion.
(R) Respond: I am reminded of the words of Philippians 1:6, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of the Jesus Christ." Thank you Jesus.
Scripture Read: Ezra 1 - 2
Title: The Exiles Return to Jerusalem
(H) Highlight verse: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel - he is the God who is in Jerusalem.' " Ezra 1:2 - 3
(E) Explain: The Israelites had been in captivity for a long time, about 60 years (this time frame is correct if we consider the the beginning when Judah was taken into captivity around 598 B.C.). They were under the rule of King Cyrus. In his first year as ruler the LORD stirred his spirit to allow the Israelites to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple that was destoryed by King Nebuchadnezzar. God allowed the exile to happen originally as judgment against Israel and Judah for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. Many prophets arose during this time, so proclaimed judgment while others spoke of the day when Israel would go back to their land. The number of people returning would be close to 50,000 individuals and their livestock.
(A) Application: The Bible continually proves the faithfulness of God. While it is true that God allowed the exile of His people as a way of punishing and judging them for their disobedience, and He allowed it because of His great love for His people. We so often look at hardships, struggles and difficulties in our lives as ways that God is punishing or abandoning us. But often God allows us to go through trials and tribulations because of His great love for us. As we have seen throughout the Bible that when we get off track, God will go to whatever lengths necessary to get us back on track with Him. He has promised through Jesus Christ to give life and give it abundantly. He has promised forgiveness, redemption, restoration and transformation in the lives of those who believe. These are promises that He will and has kept.
(R) Respond: Today, you may feel like a captive trapped in exile in a foreign land, but be encouraged because God is with you, as He was with His people in captivity in Babylon.
Scripture Read: Daniel 9 - 10; 12
Title: Daniel the Man of Prayer
(H) Highlight verse: "Then I turned my face to the LORD God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for many with fasting and sackclothe and ashes." Daniel 9:3
(E) Explain: A Trait of Daniel that is glaringly obvious is that he was a man who communicated with God and God communicated with him.
(A) Application: Daniel shows us that prayer is necessary in our lives and shows that it is an avenue for us to communicate with God and He with us.
So here are the Four “P’s” of Prayer
Scripture Read: Daniel 5 - 6
Title: The Influence of Daniel (pt. 3)
(H) Highlight verse: "Then this Daniel became distinguished above all other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the preseidents and the satraps sought find ground for complaint against David with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault , because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him." Daniel 6:3 - 4
(E) Explain: Daniel continues to increase in his influence while in captivity. Nebuchadnezzar has since passed away and not his son Belshazzar was in power. We don't know much about him from the Bible except that he desecrated the vessels of gold and silver that his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem. As he, his wives, concubines and his lords were drinking wine from the cups and praising the gods of gold and silver a message mysteriously appears on the wall. The astrologers, magicians and enchanters could not interpret the writing, so Daniel was called upon. His influence with Nebuchadnezzar and gift of interpretation was known by the queen and he was called upon to interpret. Belshazzar told Daniel if he interpreted the message he would be robed in purple, given a chain of gold and be the third ruler in the kingdom. Daniel, in his humiluty rejected the gifts but interpreted the message anyway. The message interpretation spoke of the death of Belshazzar and the fall of his kingdom to the Medes and Persians. That evening King Bleshazzar died and Darius the Mede became the new king.
Chapter 6 is the famous story of Daniel and the lions den. I am sure we are all familiar with the story as we have been hearing this story since childhood. However, I notice in the account of Daniel how God continues use Daniel as an influencer while in captivity. His life reflected a character of obedience, trustworthiness, faithfulness in prayer. Prayer was his daily routine. He was disciplined in prayer and valued the importance of it. He was so faithful in prayer that it ultimately gets him thrown into the lions’ den. The presidents and satraps became jealous of Daniel and they wanted to get rid of him, so they devised a plan to eliminate him. They knew Daniel was a man of prayer and he had the conviction to pray three times a day. They came up with a written decree and had the king sign it that prohibited anyone to pray to any gods except for the king. Daniel would not pray to the King nor would he give up his time with God and this is what got him a date with the lions for an evening. Of course we know the rest of the story as Daniel was protected while in the lions den.
(A) Application: Daniels strongest qualities his influence with people of great influence. He not only caught the attention Nebuchadnezzar but also the attention of his son Belshazzar, Darius the King of Medes and as we will see in Cyrus the King of the Medes. As we have read Daniel up to this point we have seen that he may have single handedly influenced Nebuchadnezzar to become a follower or worshiper of the God of Israel and he influenced the king of the Medes to declare Daniel's God as a God who is to be feared and obeyed. He truly was a man of influence.
(R) Respond: May we be challenged today to purpose in our hearts to be like Daniel. Let us look to him as an example of how we conduct our daily lives and in doing so we ultimately bring the praise, honor and glory to God. Let us do so prayerfully, with conviction and in humility.
Scripture Read: Daniel 3 - 4
Title: The Influence of Daniel (Cont'd)
(H) Highlight verse: "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to hmble." Daniel 4:37
(E) Explain: In today's passages we read two stories, one that is probably very familiar and one that isn't. Most have heard or read the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego many times. It is the account of three men who would not bow to the golden image that they were commanded to bow before. The result was the youths were thrown into a hot fiery furnace and protected by an angel of God. Many have come to believe that this was a pre-incarnate Christophany, or an appearnce of Jesus in the Old Testament. King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed that the young men had been protected and his response was in praise of the true God of Israel.
The second and lesser know account is when Nebuchadnezzar had another dream and he calls upon Daniel to interpret the dream. As hard as it was to speak the truth Daniel interpretted the dream, which ultimately spoke of the King falling from grace, losing his mind and being humbled. One of the most amazing testimonies of Daniel's influence was the influence he had on the kings that were over him. He always proclaimed the truth to the kings no matter how difficult it was and he boldly proclaimed the truth. Ultimately we see King Nebuchadnezzar come to faith. He had a lot of clout with the powerful ruler and God used Daniel's influence in a marvelous way.
(A) Application: Honesty, integrity, and humility seems to have lost their importance in society today. How often do we justify bad character as human flaws and that there is nothing anyone can do to change? How often do we allow pride to puff us up? How often have we not followed our conviction because it woudl be too controversial and go against the masses? Sadly, too often. Daniel was a man of influence because he didn't compromise his convictions, remained humble and did not justify bad behavior. As Christians it is important for us to hold fast to our God given convictions, remain humble servants of the Most High God and call bad character what it is... sin. We must remain men and women of conviction and influence if we want to win others to Jesus Christ.
(R) Respond: May I be a man of humility, conviction and truth. Lord, may I be a man of influence to others around me so that others can see Christ in me and come to know Him as Lord and Savior.
Scripture Read: Daniel 1 - 2
Title: The Influence of Daniel
(H) Highlight verse: "Daniel answered the king and said, 'No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these: To you O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be.'" Daniel 2:27 - 29
(E) Explain: Daniel was a young Israelite who was taken into captivity during the reign of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar had taken over Jerusalem and Judah. He then commanded his Eunuch’s to bring him some young people from Israel who were of royalty and nobility. These youths were to be without blemish, good looking, skilled, teachable, competent, smart and well educated. Daniel was among these young people. When Nebuchadnezzar came to Babylon Daniel quickly became known to him because of his wisdom and his gift for interpreting dreams (note there are some similarities to Joseph’s story as well). He had a couple of good friends named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who Daniel helped become rise in the ranks of the King’s court.
(A) Application: Here are a few observations about Daniel from todays passage that we can use and apply in our lives today.
Scripture Read: Ezekiel 1:1 - 3; 36:16- 38; 37
Title: The Promise of New Life and Restoration
(H) Highlight verse: "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." Ezekiel 36:26 - 27
(E) Explain: Ezekiel was commissioned to be a prophet to the exiles. In todays passages there are four highlights to this passage. They are promises, prophecies and visions God gives to Ezekiel to give to the people of Israel who are in exile.
(A) Application: These four highlights can be applied to us today.
(R) Respond: Lord, thank you that I have a heart of flesh that gives me life in Jesus Christ. Thank you that I have the Spirit in me so I can live in obedience to God and that I can live in unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
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