Singing in the ruins
Ezra 2: God is good…he’ll never quit loving Israel!
Tens of thousands of people take Cyrus up on his offer for exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. I imagine they’re quite disappointed when they arrive there. The city is no city at all, just a pile of ruins. The Temple they’ve come to rebuild simply exists no more. This is no “fix up” project. Instead, it’s to be the construction of an entirely new building on the site of the old one. None of these returning exiles realize what a difficult and decades-long project it will be. Still, they get started and soon lay the foundation for the new Temple. That, in their eyes is reason for celebration. The religious leaders, who are already ministering in a temporary arraignment, plan the service and everyone attends. The special song is, “God is good…he’ll never quit loving Israel!” There’s more to this song than we might think. Around 60 years earlier their parents and grandparents had been taken from this land when God had had enough of their sinful rebellion. Even as they sing this song they stand in the ruins of their holy city, destroyed because of the decree of God. Now, as they gather to worship they sing of God’s goodness and of his unfailing love to them. Again, this is more than a random special song. This is a declaration of faith. They proclaim that God is, indeed, a good God who loves them and still wants to be in fellowship with them. Such a declaration of faith in God’s goodness is a powerful thing. I wonder if my own faith is of the same quality as theirs. Can I stand in the ruins of my dreams and sing of the goodness and love of God?
Take Away: The Lord is good and kind and loving, full of mercy and grace. That’s true when the sun is shining in my life. It’s also true when things aren’t going as I want them to.
From generation to generation
Ezra 1: Who among you belongs to his people?
Nebuchadnezzar, it turns out, is the last strong king of Babylon and his destruction of Jerusalem comes near the end of his reign. Before long a new world power rises to swallow Babylon. Cyrus has united the Medes and the Persians, creating a powerful and ambitious kingdom. While it’s probably true that Babylon would have fallen under its own weight anyway, the Persians speed things up to dominate the entire region. For the scattered people of Israel, it appears to simply be a change from one conqueror to another. However, this point of view fails to take the hand of the Almighty into account. This new ruler doesn’t have the negative emotional baggage toward these people that Nebuchadnezzar had. He saw them as a stubborn and rebellious people. Cyrus, on the other hand, wants their God to look on him favorably. A series of events causes him to authorize the rebuilding of the Temple that was destroyed before he was ever born. Because of that he offers these second and third generation exiles permission to return to Jerusalem for that purpose. Many of the Hebrews are satisfied to stay where they were, after all this is the land of their birth. However, some, possibly influenced by the writings in the Chronicles are willing to embark on this challenging adventure. As I work through this material I’m reminded that God is the God of History. From generation to generation he continues to work. People are born, live, and then die, passing from the pages of history. However, God always “is.” There are countless individual stories to be told but through it all, there is just One God.
Take Away: There are many stories to be told, but only one God lives and reigns through them all.
Go ahead…wait! Stop!
1 Chronicles 17: Nathan told David, “Whatever is on your heart, go and do it; God is with you.”
It sounds so right. David’s throne is established and now the Ark resides in Jerusalem. When David tells the man of God that he wants to build a Temple of worship Nathan never hesitates to place his stamp of approval on the project. After all, David is God’s man and who could ever deny God’s man the privilege of building a great house of worship. That night though, God speaks to Nathan. The message is quite a positive one for David. The Lord’s pleased with David and the greatest leader in the history of the world will be one of his descendants. But David isn’t to build a Temple. The prophet is a good man who returns to David the next day to relay this message from God. The “no Temple” thing is brushed aside as David focuses in thanksgiving on the promises he’s just received. Still, I can’t help but think about Nathan at this point. When he tells David to go for it I think his heart’s in the right place. To him, this is a slam dunk that doesn’t even require prayer. He’s probably the most surprised person in the world when he hears this word from the Lord. Really, I don’t think Nathan does anything wrong in this story. His reaction to David’s suggestion has the earmarks of a good man who delights in God being honored and served. Still, his reaction to the message of the Lord is even better. Think of it: he’s already set sail on this Temple project. In fact, he’s granted permission in the Name of the Lord for it to proceed. Then, with just one word from the Lord he pivots one hundred eighty degrees and goes straight to David with the correction. This incident doesn’t cause me to fear having opinions and reaching conclusions based on the facts as I know them. It does, though, teach me not to hold too tightly to those conclusions. Even as a dedicated Christian, I often reach the wrong conclusions. Nathan’s story is a good lesson in how I’m to respond when I realize that has, once again, happened.
Take Away: For godly people to have godly opinions is a good thing, but even such people and such opinions are subject to God, himself.
Thank God for plumbers and roofers and carpenters
1Kings 7: Hiram was a real artist — he could do anything with bronze.
Solomon presides over some of the most impressive building projects imaginable including the construction of beautiful palaces and the impressive gold-inlaid Temple. He’s the architect, the mastermind, of these great projects. But he isn’t the workman. He recruits a man named Hiram from Tyre to do the bronze work. This guy and some other key people are craftsmen with extraordinary abilities. Under Hiram’s expert guidance durable, functional, and beautiful artifacts are created. I thank God for people like Hiram: people with practical knowledge and skill, people who have God-given gifts willingly given to the work of the Lord. As a person who just barely knows which end of the hammer to use, I’ve come to appreciate those who bring their practical abilities as an offering of love to God and his Church.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for dedicated people who willingly give their skills to the work of God’s Kingdom.
Keeping first things first
1Kings 5: What’s important is that you live the way I’ve set out for you and do what I tell you.
Solomon has an aggressive agenda. He’s already built palaces, cataloged information about plants and animals, and amassed an impressive and well-equipped army. His reputation has spread across the face of the earth and he’s forged alliances with other nations. Now, he turns his attention to the building of the Temple. You might say that everything else he’s done has been practice for this, his most memorable accomplishment. As construction gets underway Solomon hears a word from the Lord. He’s reminded that living in daily obedience to God is even more important than constructing buildings to the glory of God. For Solomon, and for all those who call on the Name of the Lord, this is a vital concept. It’s so easy to confuse the things we do for the Lord with being in a right relationship with the Lord. More than sacrifices, more than building projects, more than well-organized church programs God desires that I concentrate on having a genuine connection to himself. All the rest is to flow out of that relationship. It’s a vital matter of priorities and, as it’s important in this passage for Solomon it’s important for me.
Take Away: We must be careful we don’t confuse the things we do in the Name of the Lord with our living in a genuine relationship with the Lord.