This is the start of a new series focusing on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Chronologically they are at the very end of the old testament (the only writing after was the book of Malachi.) Originally written as one whole text, they can be read in a disappointing light. One of the main challenges of this series is remembering and being reminded of how we grow more in challenge and failure than in success and ease.
A lot of story happens between Genesis and Ezra.
God’s covenant with Abraham.
Joseph’s slavery and rise to power in Egypt.
Joseph’s descendants becoming enslaved to the Egyptians who killed many of them.
Moses encountering God and being sent to set the Israelites free.
Plagues. Passover. Escape.
Wilderness. 40 years of wilderness.
Finally making it to the promised land. Then encountering failure after failure.
The people demanding that a king lead them instead of God.
King after king leading...and failing.
Generation after generation oscillating in their following or not following God.
Civil wars. Unrest. Division. Wandering.
God speaking through the prophets.
The people then killing the prophets.
God’s warning over and over to listen as to not be taken into captivity.
Babylon takes Israel into captivity.
70 years later, after finally gaining freedom from captivity and being brought back from exile, Ezra begins.
Things didn't work out well for Israel at many points.
What happens inside and outside of you when things do not work out well?
Why do people tend to grow more in adversity as opposed to times when life is easy?
Ezra and Nehemiah are built on a premise that is hard to want to learn sometimes - being willing to learn from the mistakes of others.
The bible is full of imperfect, mistaken people. Take your pick. All of them failed except Jesus.
We have to see that if God chooses to partner with people in scripture who failed, He’s willing (and excited) to partner with us as well.
What stands in opposition and/or is an obstacle of you learning from others mistakes?
The foundation for Ezra and Nehemiah is the fulfilling of prophecies given by Jeremiah. This is mind bending.
We can be part of God’s plan of restoration, empowered by Him. And we can mess it up. Hamper it. Slow down restoration. Partnering with God, we still make mistakes and encounter issues. This is on display in these writings.
As you read through the first three chapters of Ezra, you can see the beginning of the restoration of the temple. It’s a beautiful moment, but full of fear and high emotions.
With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. - Ezra 3:11-13
Feel the emotions.
We are back.
We are doing it.
It is going to be amazing.
God is at work.
And feel the emotions.
This reminds us of our past failings.
This will not measure up to what was.
Is God even here or is it just a foundation?
If we had only listened the first time.
Ezra 4 introduces this moment of a blended group of people coming to those building the temple, asking if they can join in and help.
These people were Samaritans. Different. Enemies, even. Read 2 Kings 17 to see the deep division and complication of Israel and their relationships with people groups.
But this could have been a moment of reconciliation.
Instead it was a moment of doubling down on division.
Prejudice rising to the surface. Think about the implications for us today in July 2020.
But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.” Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.
- Ezra 4:3-4
Here’s what Zechariah says could have happened after the return from exile:
“Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
- Zechariah 2:10-13
We know that in Joshua God told Israel not to associate with other nations (including Samaria.) And this could be seen as a moment that they finally followed through.
But these Samaritans came exclaiming that they served the God of Israel. “Can we help?”
How can/have the best intentions to be Godly and righteous morph and shift into prejudice?
The building of the temple was delayed from this moment. Not just a little bit. 15 years.
Not only that. After rebuilding and resettling, the people probably expected everything was set. Then Malachi prophecies and talks about how Israel has missed it, and how there will only be a remnant who remain.
Read Malachi 4. That’s the last chapter of the old testament. And then...400 years of silence from God
Not really a happy ending. But this wasn’t the ending. After everything we see happen in the old testament, it seems that the relationship between Jews and Samaritans would always be tense.
Jesus arrives on the scene and completely flips these interactions on their heads.
Jesus interacts with a Samaritan woman at a well in John 4, this woman who had been married many times but was at that point living unmarried with a partner. Jesus saw value in the Samaritan woman, knew her issues and faults, and saw her potential connection with God. He doesn’t send her away as a cast out Samaritan but reinforces the idea that even the most outside people, the enemies, have a place at the table with God.
Jesus then uses a parable with an expert in the law. Someone who would have known the broken relationship between the Isrealites and the Samaritans. Someone who would have known Ezra and Nehemiah backwards and forwards. Someone who would have known the prophetic promises. And he elevates the Samaritan, the enemy, as the hero of the story.
What do you think Jesus saw in the Samariants that the people in Ezra didn’t?
Think about someone you might have broken relationship with. Not in the context of someone who has hurt you, but someone you might just see as less than you.
In this case, Jesus would literally say that the one you hate is actually worth just as much as you. They are the heroes. This gets at the root of something we’ve talked about many times, our tendency to see others either as better than or worse than us.
The Israelites 400 years before Jesus saw the Samaritans in a specific way. Jesus came along and saw something they seemed to be missing.
What have you missed in the people you’ve interacted with?
It can be tempting to think that we haven’t really missed anything. I can tell you for certain that I’ve missed things. I can say for certain that I’ve treated people in certain ways that Jesus would not approve of, and that he would have treated them differently than me.
One thing to be aware of is that culturally this was a communal thing. Jesus wasn’t afraid to treat the pharisees with some harshness. He wasn’t afraid to call out things he saw that were wrong. He wasn’t afraid to call certain people to standards they weren’t living to.
But when he saw people, and people groups, being treated unjustly, he saw them for who they were and saw what others were missing. He treated them with the dignity God gave them.
Call out things that you see that are wrong. It’s okay (and actually God calls us) to live with a standard and to speak up when you see injustice.
We can never use our voice and authority to brush over or mistreat those who are at disadvantage or are being treated unjustly.
We can never use our voice and authority to just be willfully ignorant to the plight of others, and to just “miss” things that God clearly sees.
We can’t afford to look at people or groups of people around us and to not see them as Jesus sees them.
What does Jesus see in the people in your world that you are missing?
Take It Deeper Questions
Read Luke 10:25-37
In your mind, what sets someone apart as being extraordinary?
What sets someone apart as being extraordinary to God?
How does this parable address prejudices?
Who has been a Good Samaritan in your life?
Do you have any common obstacles to being a Good Samaritan?
How are you encouraged and challenged by this parable today?
Bible Reading Plan
1 Corinthians 1
1 Corinthians 2
1 Corinthians 3
1 Corinthians 4
1 Corinthians 5