Ezra Part One Deep Dive
LIVING OUT YOUR GOD-PURPOSE | GARTH BALL
The Book of Ezra, believed to be written by Ezra between 450-430 B.C., is a historical narrative, recording the post-exilic events of the Jewish people returning from captivity in Babylon. It is a fascinating story that beautifully displays God’s sovereignty as His purposes unfold for His chosen people. We see ungodly leaders, such as Cyrus of Persia, being used by God as His vessels for bringing about these purposes. Further, we see the fulfillment of a number of prophecies, such as that in Jeremiah 29:10, which rightly predicted the length of exile in Babylon.
Jer. 29:10-11 ‘This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again”’.
As Persia replaced Babylon as the dominant power in that region, the Jewish people found favour, were granted release and given the opportunity to return to their homeland. This return from exile took place in three different stages:
The first return took place under the leadership of Zerubabbel, and is recorded in Ezra Chapters 1-6. Those in this group undertook the task of rebuilding the temple, which progressed over a period of 23 years (538-515 B.C.).
The second return occurred under the leadership of Ezra, recorded in Ezra Chapters 7-10. The date of this return was 458 B.C., some 60 years after the first return. The influence of Ezra’s teaching saw spiritual reformation come to the Jewish people.
The third group to return did so under the leadership of Nehemiah. This is recorded in the Book the Nehemiah – a topic for another week.
In this deep dive, we want to dig into the first return of those with Zerubabbel (Ezra 1-6). It is a powerful story of embarking on a God-purpose in response to the call of God. It’s a story of stepping out in faith, and watching God win victories and accomplish great feats through His people. I believe the same call is extended to God’s people today – a call to live life for the purpose of heaven, not just worldly pursuits. To do so, we need a few key traits built on the inside of us. There is no time to talk about all of these that we see in the story of Ezra 1-6, but let’s examine two of the most important ones, and you can go and search for others.
As we go through, it is particularly interesting to join the dots between the prophets that God sent to encourage the people with the different stages of their journey. For example, it was into the context of opposition to the work of rebuilding the temple that Haggai and Zechariah were sent to prophesy.
As mentioned previously, the purpose of this first return under Zerubbabel was to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem – a central part of Jewish life and religion. The call was put out by God, through King Cyrus of Persia, that:
Ez. 1:3 ‘Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem’.
Surely, everyone would want to be a part of this and the people flocked towards the vision, right? Unfortunately not. Life was comfortable in Babylon. Contrary to our assumptions that life was torturous for them, there was actually great opportunity to build a successful life. On top of this, the road back home was dangerous. Given those factors, the majority of people stayed in the security of life in Babylon.
This describes the average Christian life in the current day all too accurately. Most people are living the comfortable life, attending church and not much more. They are building families and careers, and are more concerned about the advancement of their own kingdoms than God’s. These things are not wrong in and of themselves, in fact quite the opposite. But when they cause us to live a life that is less than what God has in store, we are missing the point.
Even the Jews that left Babylon fell into this temptation when they reached some opposition to the work God had given them (Ezra 4). It is to these discouraged Jews who had gone back to focusing on their own lives that Haggai brought the Word of God:
Hag. 1:2-3 ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The people are saying, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the Lord sent this message through the prophet Haggai: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins?”’
Clearly, we need a willingness to seek first the kingdom of God, without idolizing our own existence, if we are to help move forward the purposes of God on the Earth.
Ez. 4:4 ‘Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people…’
One of the greatest opponents to walking in the call of God is discouragement. We see that in the story in Ezra 4, which tells of the opposition to the work on the temple. To be sure, living for God’s purposes in your life is far from comfortable. But God has given us everything we need to find courage in times of discouragement.
Firstly, God promises to never leave us, and to always be with us. The testimony of God’s people on the other side of the opposition was that ‘…their God was watching over them…’ (Ezra 5:5). Not only that, but as we tend to forget this truth, God is quick to remind us. Again, for the Jews under Zerubabbel, we see a prophetic word sent from God to bring courage to them. Regarding the opposition to Zerubabbel’s work, Zechariah declares:
Zech. 4:6-7 ‘Then he said to me, “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him! And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone of the Temple in place, the people will shout: ‘May God bless it! May God bless it!’”’
Living a God-purpose will not be comfortable, but if we will step out in willingness and courage, God will do what He has promised and we will live the most extraordinary God adventure during our time on Earth!