Monday, September 23, 2019

Ezra Bible Study - Celebrate: It's About HIM

Joy leaps out from the last five verses of Ezra 6. "And the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy (Ezra 6:16)." Joy is appropriate at this time as they remembered how God worked in and through them.

With God's help, the people of Israel had rebuilt the second temple. They started off enslaved, were freed by a new leader - King Cyrus, and journeyed to Jerusalem with directions to rebuild the temple. They mourned their losses while weeping for the promise of new things. Their leaders unified them, ensuring clearness of purpose. As they plodded along with the
rebuilding, they were at times discouraged, especially when it seemed that there was minimal progress. There were young and old in the mix, including two prophets who encouraged the Israelites to keep going, but to also examine themselves and change their ways and attitudes. Many had given up on rebuilding, focusing on their needs instead of what God proclaimed. As they gained momentum, they were tested the most, but they kept building, not knowing if they would be able to continue. Once more, because God ordained this project, He kept His promises. This project was not in man's hands, but God's. The Israelites were simply the vessel to accomplish the work. King Darius, verified the authenticity of God's proclamation, and with that, the Israelites were able to complete the temple. Once they were back on track, the temple was soon completed. Overall, it took twenty years to complete the temple, and in this time, the Israelites survived some of the inevitable circumstances of life: birth and death, disappointment, doubts, and victories.

With all of this behind them and the temple before them, the Israelites had an apparent reason to celebrate God with joy. Joy - this stops me in my tracks for the expression of genuine joy often eludes me. Like that Sunday School song, I do have the joy, joy, joy down in my heart, and sometimes that's exactly where it stays. This expressive uncontained abandoned joy does not overtake me often. But when I look back and see disappointments, doubts and especially victories, a smile spreads on my face, which for me is the start of joy. I see God's good hand in my life, and it brings great pleasure and happiness.
We sometimes limit our worship to only to joyful expression, but when we look at the exiles' journey, we see that they experienced a spectrum of emotions before they got to joy. And when they got there, they had evidence around them, behind and in front of them, which produced more joy! Though the Israelites were joyful, I sense awe and reverence of God. It was a time of celebration, with the focus on the Lord.

At this joyous celebration, the Passover was celebrated. I'm not Jewish, so a Passover celebration is somewhat abstract for me. But for the Jewish exiles, it had significance for it is a ritual of remembrance which celebrates the Jewish exodus - a celebration of release from bondage. Passover represents freedom with joy being an underlying theme. This generation was no longer enslaved; they had completed a God-inspired task.

Reflections: God is the infinite source of all joy, and we should pursue Him with all our hearts. The exiles rebuilt the temple over twenty years, yet their celebration was punctuated with joy. We don't know God's timing, but his promises provide an opportunity for us to exercise our faith. So no matter how long it takes, we too can, count it all joy... (James 1:2-4). For we understand that worship isn't only about what we can get - a good feeling a clear mind, but what we can give - our all. Because of Him, we are.

We see that our heart matters. Central in their encouragement from Haggai and Zechariah was the constant theme of examining themselves and changing their ways. Self-examination often leads to repentance which provides renewed faith to keep going.

Consequently, the exiles put in the work - in spite of roadblocks, opposition, and the inevitabilities of life they built the temple. No passive Christianity here! God worked through them as they submitted to His plan. The rebuilding took significant time, but He never abandoned them. God is joy and in Him is fullness of joy. The Israelites could testify of God's goodness (Psalm 16:11). We see from the Israelites example that we can praise him anyhow, and when He keeps his word, our praise increases.

It's fitting that the culmination of the rebuilt temple was the Passover. This was another generation, where God provided freedom. Freedom in Christ is worth celebrating.

And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel (Ezra 6:16 ESV).

Prayer - Dear Lord, I thank you that joy is found in you. In spite of the inevitable circumstances, keep our hearts attuned to you. May we be joyful as we are obedient to you. May serving you not be burdensome but liberating. Renew our faith and restore our joy. Restore unto me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit within me. Then like the Israelites may we celebrate you. Amen.

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  1. That baby is so beautiful!!! Great post, In Him we find joy and in His joy we find the strength that we need to continue our race in this world.

  2. Wow, joy certainly requires a long view, and this post reminds me of a quote I bumped into last night in reading a study on Philippians: "Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship; it is a consequence.
    It is not what we have to acquire to experience life in Christ;
    it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience." ~Eugene Peterson
    Isn't that great?

  3. So thankful that God is the source of real joy. I like how you said the exiles "celebration was punctuated with joy." And that they weren't passive about their Christianity! Amen!

  4. The joy of the Lord is joy IN the Lord, not our circumstances. We don't get to a place of delighting in who He is until we've been in situations where we recognize our need of Him - suffering and trials. As we learn His character through the tough stuff, we also learn to enjoy Him in both the good and the bad. Great reflections here, Nylse.

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