June 19: The Story behind the Story
Ezra 7:1–8:36; 1 John 4:1–6; Psalm 107:1–22
The Bible is full of unexpected moments. Some events seem almost coincidental, where people are in the right place at the right time. This is exactly the case with Ezra.
In ancient times, it was unusual for a king to honor a foreigner with a decree. It was even stranger for a king to offer his own wealth to help such a foreigner. Yet that’s what happened to Ezra: King Artaxerxes of Persia sent Ezra, and any Israelite willing to go with him, to his own land (and the people living there) with the blessing of silver and gold (Ezra 7:11–28).
The Bible doesn’t give the reason for Artaxerxes’ spontaneous generosity. He may have been motivated by politics, trying to gain the allegiance of the Israelites, govern the population in Babylonia, or inhabit a new land to control the native people there. Yet the most convincing reason for his actions seems to be that his heart was moved.
While the text doesn’t explicitly say, it appears that Yahweh motivated Artaxerxes to do not only the right thing, but the selfless thing. For at least this brief moment, Artaxerxes was compassionate and empathetic. He understood that God’s people needed to practice their religion freely and worship Him in their own land.
Ezra’s involvement in these events wasn’t a matter of chance. God intended for him to be there, in that moment, to do that work. His providential work was part of every step.
How have you been intentionally placed to do God’s work? What influence can you use for His kingdom?
JOHN D. BARRY
- Now after these things, in the reign of Artxerxes king of Persia, was Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, The son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, The son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, The son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, The son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the chief Priest. This Ezra came up from Babel, and was a Scribe, prompt in the Law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given, and the king gave him all his request according to the hand of the Lord his God, which was upon him. And there went up certain of the children of Israel, and of the Priests, and the Levites, and the sigers, and the porters, and theNethinim unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of king Artaxerxes. And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babel, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem according to the good hand of his God that was upon him. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach the precepts and judgments in Israel. And this is the copy of the letter that king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the Priest and Scribe, even a writer of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statues over Israel. ARTAXERXES king of kings, to Ezra the Priest and perfect Scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, and to Cheeneth. I have given commandment, that everyone that is willing in my kingdom of the people of Israel, and of the Priests, and Levites, to go to Jerusalem with thee, shall go. Therefore art thou sent of the king and his seven counselors, to enquire in Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God, which is in thine hand, And to carry the silver and the gold, which the king and his counselors willingly offer unto the God of Israel (whose habitation is in Jerusalem) And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babel, when the free offering of the people, and that which the Priests offer willingly to the house of their God which is in Jerusalem, That thou mayest buy speedily with this silver, bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings, and their drink offerings: and thou shalt offer them upon the Altar of the house of your God, which is in Jerusalem. And whatsoever it pleaseth thee and thy brethren to do with the rest of the silver and gold, do ye it according to the will of your God. And the vessels that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before God in Jerusalem. And the residue that shall be needful for the house of thy God, which shall be meet for thee to bestow, thou shlat bestow it out of the King’s treasure house, And I king Artaxerxes have given commandment to all the treasures which are beyond the River, that whatsoever Ezra the Priest and Scribe of the Law of the God of heaven shall require of you, that it be done incontinently, Unto an hundred talents of silver, unto an hundred measures of wheat, and unto an hundred baths of wine, and unto an hundred baths of oil, and salt without writing. Whatsoever is vy the commandment of the God of heaven, let it be done speedily for the house of the God of heaven: for why should he be wroth against the realm of the King and his children? And we certify you, that upon any of the Priests, levites, singers, porters, Nethinim, or Ministers in this house of God, there shall no governor lay upon them toll, tribute nor custom. And thou Ezra (after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand) set judges and arbiters, which may judge all the people that is beyond the River, even all that know the law of thy God, and teach ye them that know it not. And whosoever will not do the Law of thy God, and the king’s law, let him have judgment without delay, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to immprisonment. Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which so hath put in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, And hath inclined mercy toward me, before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty Princes: and I was comforted by the hand of the Lord my God which was upon me, and I gathered the chief of Israel to go up with me. These are now the chief fathers of them, and the geneaology of them that came up with me from Babel, in the reign of king Artaxerxes. Of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom: of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel: of the sons of David, Hattush: Of the sons of Shechaniah, of the sons of Pharosh, Zechariah, and with him the count of the males, an hundred and fifty. Of the sons of Pahath-Moab, Elihoenai, the son of Zechariah, and with him two hundred males. Of the sons of Shechaniah, the sons of Jahaziel, and with him three hundred males. Of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him fifty males. Of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him seventy males. Of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him fourscore males. Of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him two hundred and eighteen males, Of the sons of Shelomith the son of Josiphiah, and with him an hundred and threescroe males. And of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai, and with him eight and twenty males. Of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him an hundred and ten males. Of the sons of Adonikam, that werethe last, whose names are these: Eliphelet, Jehiel and Shemaiah, and with them threescore males. Of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai, and Zabbud, and with them seventy males. And I gatherd them to the river that goeth toward Ahava, and there abode we three days: then I viewed the people, and the Priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi. Therefore sent I to Eliezer, to Ariel, to Shemeiah, and to Elanathan, and to Jarib, and to Elanathan, and to Nathan, and to Zechariah, and to Meshullam the chief, and to Joiarib, and to Elnathan men of understanding. And I gave them commandment, to Iddo the chiefest at the place of Casiphia, and I told them the words that they should speak to Iddo, and to his brethren the Nethinim at the place of Casiphia, that they should cause the ministers of the house of our God to come unto us. So by the good hand of our God, which was upon us, they brought us a man of understanding of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi the son of Israel, and Sherebiah with his sons and his brethren, even eighteen. Also Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, with his brethren, and their sons twenty. And of the Nethinim, whom David had set, and the Princes for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty of the Nethinim, which all were named by name. And there at the river, Ahava, I proclaimed a fast, that we might humble ourselves before our God, and seek of him a right way for us, and for our children, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to require of the king an army and horsemen, to help us against the enemy in the way, because we had spoken to the king, saying, The hand of God is upon all them that seek him in goodness, but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. So we fasted, and besought our God for this: and he was entreated of us. Then I separated twelve of the chief of the Priests, Sherebiah, and Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them, And weighed them the silver and the gold and the vessels, even the offering of the house of our God, which the king and his counselors and his Princes, and all Israel that were present had offered. And I weighed unto their hands six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and in silver vessel an hundred talents, and in gold, an hundred talents, And twenty basins of gold, of a thousand drams, and two vessels of shining brass very good, and precious as gold. And I said unto them, Ye are consecrated unto the Lord, and the vessels are consecrated, and the gold and the silver are freely offered unto the Lord God of your fathers. Watch ye, and keep them until ye weigh them before the chief Priests and the Levites, and the chief fathers of Israel in Jerusalem in the chambers of the house of the Lord. So the Priests and the Levites received the weight of the silver, and of the gold, and of the vessels to bring them to Jerusalem, unto the house of our God. Then we departed from the river of Ahavah on the twelf day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem, and the hand of our God was upon us, and delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as laid wait by the way. And we came to Jerusalem, and abode there three days. And on the fourth day was the silver weighed and the gold, and the vessel, in the house of our God, by the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the Priest, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas, and with them was Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah the son of Binnui the Levites, By number and by weight of every one, and all the weight was written at the same time. Also the children of the captivity, which were come out of capativity, offered burnt offerings unto the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety and six rams, seventy and seven lambs, and tweleve he goats for sin: all was a burnt offering of the Lord. And they delivered the King’s commission unto the King’s officer, and to the captains beyond the river: and they promoted the people, and the house of God. Ezra 7:1–8:36
- Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: for many false Prophets are gone out into the world. hereby shall ye know the Spirit of God: but this is the spirit of Antichrist, of whom ye have heard, how that he should come, and now already he is in this world. Little children, ye are of God, and have overcome them: for greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of this world, therefore spake they of this world, and this world heareth them. We are of God, he that knoweth God, heareth us: he tha tis not of God heareth us not. Hereby know we the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. 1 John 4:1–6
- Praise the Lord, because he is good: for his mercy endureth forever. Let them, which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor, And gathered them out of the lands, from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South. When they wandered in the desert and wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, Both hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress, And led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Let them therefore confess before the Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men. For he satisifed the thirsty soul, and filled the hungry soul with goodness. They that dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in misery and iron, Because they rebelled against the words of the Lord, and despised the counsel of the most High, When he humbled their heart with heaviness, then they fell down, and there was no helper. then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, and out of the shadow of death, and brake their bands asunder. Let them therefore confess before the Lord his loving-kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men. For he hath broken the gates of brass, and burst the bars of iron asunder. Fools by reason of their transgression, and because of their iniquities are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all meat, and they are brought to death’s door. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivereth them from their distress. He sendeth his word and healeth them, and delivereth them from their graves. Let them therefore confess before the Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men, And let them offer sacrifices of praise, and declare his works with rejoicing. Psalm 107:1–22