DRIVING AND SOMNAMBULIZING
A Guide to the Book of Ezra
Driving and Somnambulizing
Watertown, NY 13601
[+ Chapter 1- Cleaning House +]
[+ Chapter 2- Get Ready for the Chums +]
[+ Chapter 3- Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard +]
[+ Chapter 4- Send ‘em Away +]
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble…”
- Ecc 4:9-12
The Free Bible eBook Series is a simple and definitely fallible (and possibly wrong at times) interpretation of the different books of the Bible. When deciding to share this series it was because of one vision and idea, that average Christians (denomination irrelevant) can share their thoughts about the Bible and like Ecclesiastes states, “they can help each other succeed.” The content of these eBooks should not be taken at face value but compared with your own understanding of the scriptures discussed.
One of the great common day ironies of Christianity is that although our faith may be the most important thing of our lives, it is also the thing we are most hesitant to share. It makes me sad when my few Christian friends and I spend time together with no mention of Christ. It makes me cringe to think that strangers who are Christians will talk about everything under the sun but will hesitate to share the joys of their faith.
This series is crafted with untrained hands but with a hearth full of Christ’s love. It may be informative, it may be revealing, and with God’s Grace, it may be enlightening. The goal though is for it to be a conversation piece, a common ground Christians can relate to and share, and a way to ensure no one falls alone.
One thing you must keep in mind while reading Ezra is that the Hebrews just came out of a fifty year exile from their homeland by God and enslaved under Nebuchadnezzar. Because of their sins, everything they built leading up to that point is simply destroyed and forgotten. Try and imagine the trauma of such an event. An entire people captive, ripped from the homeland. You must understand this to better understand the context within which Ezra is written. After fifty years, God’s people can finally return to their promised land. Ezra is a book of hope, redemption, and warning. It tells us that God will always be faithful, even after he puts us through tough times, and that if we keep our eyes on him, our lives will be blessed.
In Ezra, you will learn a powerful lesson about self-discipline, about ruthlessly cutting sin out of your life, and about the inevitable attack by the enemy when you are drawing closer to God.
“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.” – Cyrus, King of Persia
T hough the first two chapters of Ezra are rather short and small, the implication I derived from them are magnificent. There are two specific things I will discuss, although I feel there is much more to be taken from these two chapters. The first is how God has designed and planned every significant event in the world to affect his people in some way. In Ezra we see that Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus, great conquerors of their times, were given their power for reasons explicitly geared towards bringing to life God’s grand design. The second is the lesson that sometimes for life to be restored, the old must die for the new. Let’s take a closer look.
Though they probably never did and never will know it, Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus were connected in a very important and historically defining way. In a way they were like the gears in a motor, intricately connected to propel the plans of God for his people forward. As Israel spiraled into Sin and fell from God, God decided something needed to be done. Israel needed to be disbanded, brought to death so that new life could come. So what did he do? He found himself a leader, a conqueror, and gave him power to reign over most of the known world. Though Nebuchadnezzar may have thought he was a powerful and divine man arisen from his own prowess, he was simply a tool to bring about Israel’s punishment that God deemed necessary. God created one of the greatest conquerors of history for the simple reason of punishing his children. Amazing. The same holds true for Cyrus, except he fit into God’s plan for a slightly more positive effect. God brought up this king for one purpose; to set his children free again. Another conqueror of the world who is a man granted divine power simply for God’s plan for his children. How amazing the way God works the world for his children! Without these two men’s powers, Israel would have continued to spiral into Sin. Remember if you ever find yourself in a position of extreme power, God probably put you there specifically to affect his children in some way. Don’t let Him down.
Israel’s return from exile is a lesson that sometimes the old must be purged for new and good life to reappear. It’s like a festering pool of disease. Though new life does consistently enter this world, when it’s born into an infected world, the life becomes infected. Israel was a cess pool of infection that made it impossible for new life to start off right with God. That’s why God had to get rid of it. This may be a bit corny, but Mufasa may have had it right, when he talks to Simba about how eventually, the sun has to set on one ruler, one nation, to prepare for the sun to rise on another. The body fades and dies, but nourishes the next growth in its death. Like Mufasa said, our bodies die and become the grass. When Israel died, it allowed for the land to settle and purge itself from ungodliness and nourished the next generation of followers of God. When Cyrus allowed the Israelites to return, it was like a phoenix arising from its ashes. All the pain and burden from its former life shed. Similarly, in our lives, sometimes we have to die to ourselves and the world for our lives to return. If it’s a group of people, a workplace, whatever, die to it. Arise from your ashes.
“May God, who has caused his Name to dwell there, overthrow any king or people who lifts a hand to change this decree or to destroy this temple in Jerusalem.”
It’s a common concept that comes up when people talk about troubles in their walk with God. When you actually start making improvements for God, the opposition comes. If you aren’t under attack, then you probably aren’t doing anything for God.
It may not be quite as absolute as that, but Ezra 3-4 gives us a great look at this spiritual fact. All of Israel is on fire and bursting at the seams with happiness. They have finally returned to their homeland, one that God painfully tore from them when they utterly failed Him. They have completed the altar and now have a worthy place to make sacrifices once again to the Heavenly Father; all the preparations for the Temple are well under way. On top of all of these great things, Israel also now falls under the protection of the Kings of Persia. Nothing could be better! That’s why as they praised God singing “He is good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever!” (4:11) their “joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance” (4:13).
And then it came. The opposition from the enemies of Israel and God. Subtly at first. It may have just been trite offenses, verbal accusations, jealousy, which then slowly progressed into physical acts, but as Israel continued to be joyful and successful in God, the opposition too grew greater. What started off as slander and bribes to slow down progress on the temple turned into coercion under Kings Xerxes and Artaxerxes. The lessons learned? Be ready for it. Anytime you have gains in God, Satan will try to force losses. You will face opposition, whether spiritual or physical opposition. If you are really building His Kingdom, you may even be physically stopped from doing what you were doing. Ezra offers us a counter lesson though. If you trust God through any opposition, He will take care of you. Israel continued to believe in God’s promises, even when they were forced to stop by Artaxerxes. Next thing you know, Darius is not only authorizing Israel to resume its building, he is contributing anything they need for the temple!
You see, the Bible is fortunately overflowing with promises from God regarding opposition that you will likely face. “I set the Lord continually before me, for he is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken” (Psalms 6:18) and “Submit yourself therefore unto God. Resist Satan and he will flee” (James 4:7) are just two simple examples. Whenever the world is against us, God has vowed to have our backs. We can remind ourselves of His promises by memorizing scriptures like the two examples and reminding ourselves of triumphs such as Israel’s. This is how you make God’s word actionable, not just something you read. As you begin to grow in God, know you’re going to start fighting an uphill battle and make sure you prepare yourself with scripture. When you doubt, recite it to yourself. It will be like scaling a mountain while riding a ski lift
“Fast and humble ourselves before God.”
Ezra comes on these scene at this point, just as everything is going well for Israel. These chapters actually take us back in time a bit from the previous chapters, as it describes Ezra’s actions during King Artaxerxes reign. Seven years into Artaxerxes reign, Ezra decides he will leave Babylon and go to Jerusalem. He prepares for his trip to Jerusalem and calls for many other exiles to join him and return to their home with God. As described in previous chapters, things are going well for Israel. People are returning, Artaxerxes is giving Israel back all their gold and temple items (even though he turns on them later), and everyone is busy progressing and making their little world better. Nothing like hard work to turn things around. In these chapters though, Ezra teaches us an important lesson. Though things may be going well for us and we are working very hard to make our dreams reality, everything still depends on God. Sometimes we try to rely on our own ambitions and abilities in pursuit of our goals, and though Ezra and the Israelites were quite able, they put all of their dependence and trust in God.
The Israelites that join Ezra have a long journey ahead of them, almost 900 miles on foot! Of course there would be dangers along the way, but instead of depending on themselves and protection from the King (protection which was offered to them), the Israelites decided to depend on a more reliable source of protection, God. As they prepared to leave, Ezra called for all the exiles traveling with him to “fast and humble ourselves before our God” (8:21). They knew God would take care of them, for “God’s hand of protection is on all who worship him, but his fierce anger rages against those who abandon him. So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer” (8:22-23).
Whenever a challenge or event, no matter how great or small, lies before you, bring it to God. Though your abilities may be great, “fast and humble” yourself before God like the Israelites. From such self-discipline and humility spring many of the other character attributes that God wants us to embody, and to really love the lost like God wants us, we must be truly humble.
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.”
-1 Timothy 4:1
And after all this time, it comes full circle. Israel just can’t seem to stay out of Sin. It’s not even tricky sin or anything either. It’s not like they’re being confronted with new pleasures and sins that they wouldn’t know better than to indulge in. These are the same sins they commit over and over and over again. Turning away from God and turning towards the Gods of other people. How pathetic! After all God has done for them, after all the mercy he shows them, they just can’t help but try to please the people around them instead of God.
Fortunately, Israel has always been pretty consistent with something else too. Drastically turning away from their sins when they have a leader showing them how wrong they are. When the Jewish leaders brought it to Ezra’s attention that the people of Israel, both powerful and normal, were intermarrying with the wrong people and beginning to accept their ways and turning from Gods. Ezra was utterly shocked.
As Ezra mourned, the people of Israel noticed, and they all soon realized their sin. Not only did they mourn, they became determined to mend their ways. And in a true repenter’s fashion, they completely separated themselves from their sin by divorcing their wives and sending them away with their children. It may sound harsh, but when something comes between you and God, there’s no better way to repent than to completely take that sinful thing out of your life. Like the new testament says, if your eyes cause you to sin, you would be better off to gouge out your eye. If your hand is causing you to sin, it would be better to cut off that hand.
Thank you for reading The Free Bible eBook Series. If you enjoyed this guide, check out the rest of them at www.freebibleebooks.com, share them with a friend, discuss them, and bring life back to Christian conversation. If you disagree with parts of this guide or have questions, let me know! You can contact me at [email protected], I would love to hear from you. In the end, remember one thing: God loves us unconditionally, pay it forward!
As a disclaimer, please remember I am not a professional or credentialed spiritually in anyway. The Free Bible eBook Series is simply my interpretation of what I believe God has taught me through His precious Word. I am a firm believer that God teaches us and reveals to us differently and tailors to us personally. What I understand and believe may not align perfectly with you, which is ok. If any content in this series is seriously concerning, please let me know. I heed Paul’s warnings and don’t want to slip into blasphemy.
Ezra is a book of hope, redemption, and warning. It tells us that God will always be faithful, even after he puts us through tough times, and that if we keep our eyes on him, our lives will be blessed. One thing you must keep in mind while reading Ezra is that the Hebrews just came out of a fifty year exile from their homeland by God and enslaved under Nebuchadnezzar. Because of their sins, everything they built leading up to that point is simply destroyed and forgotten. Try and imagine the trauma of such an event. An entire people captive, ripped from the homeland. You must understand this to better understand the context within which Ezra is written. After fifty years, Godâ€™s people can finally return to their promised land. In Ezra, you will learn a powerful lesson about self-discipline, about ruthlessly cutting sin out of your life, and about the inevitable attack by the enemy when you are drawing closer to God.