Ezra is such a positive book, its interesting to notice the negatives.
Its also one of the few times we get to see the law as handed down to Moses operating close to how its supposed to in the promised land.
The thrust of the story is the rebuilding of the temple after Jerusalem is resettled. The fact that the Babylonian Kings, first Cyrus then Darius (after a wobble), supported this is the central miracle of the book, but not really elaborated upon. Ezra, the scholar of the law who became a confidant of Kings seems to be the human agent of this miracle of grace and holy promises kept.
Its a history book in tone, not very introspective.
The first moment of sadness is the weeping of old timers who remembered how much grander the old temple was when Israel was a proper nation. This is a shadow of the old one. There is almost nothings Messianic in Ezra, hinting at another phase to God’s redemptive plan, except this.
Then there is the sadness of the law’s demands, which pulls apart families of intermarriage with non-Jews. The people have learned their lesson, this is what destroyed the previous regime. Even Jesus said he came to break up families.
They totally understand the exile as judgement. In fact, they are self selected as the most switched on Jews, because they left sometimes quite successful lives in other countries to fulfil the holy mission of resettling Jerusalem. Its been a very long time since the general people are this keen on the law.
The law is sweet, it is about fairness and equality. It is wrapped in grace, the gracious gift of exile ending and plunder returned from the Babylonian empire, and the grace required to interpret the law to adjust as mercifully and compassionately as possible for situations that accidentally defy it.
The intermarriage issue means that one of the most positive books of the bible ends on a bitter-sweet note of sadness because of the tension between the law and grace. A second hint perhaps, of more to come when grace will be poured out on all nations, a new wine that the old wine skins of the law cannot contain.
I took away from it a great sense of obedience, a “fake it til you make it” approach to faith. I loved the story about Ezra boasting that the journey bringing the holy gold items back to Jerusalem would need no protection because God would protect them, and then worrying during the journey that he had gone too far. But God came through.
1 The story of the rebuilding of the temple. I contemplate the character of Cyrus, the King who returned homelands and plunder to conquered people. What a heart!
2 The count of 42000 refugees who return. Many are middle class, successful in their adopted home, but for them there is no question about a chance tow move to Jerusalem
3 Joy and weeping as they restart the sacrificial system – following God will bring both
4 Locals start to agitate against a revitalised Israel, and have the work stopped. I argue this is rational behaviour, and believers need to put opposition in context.
5 Honesty in mission, yeah! To justify the work proceeding, the people write to the King in honest terms about their exile being judgement and the rebuilding being God’s work.
Finishing the Temple, joy complete
6 Darius the King after Cyrus supports the completion of the temple. The returned faithful are joined by seekers who’ve lived locally but never known their own religion. Much joy and celebration.
7 The arrival of Ezra with a supportive letter from the King. He brings musicians. One senses his influence has been behind the whole thing, building on the king’s belief
8 Ezra collects priests and temple attendants from the empire. He boldly promises they won’t need guards bringing treasure back, and doubts his own faith, but God rewards
The hard demands of the law
9 As a scholar of the law Ezra knows intermarriage is wrong, as a leader he knows its happened and he needs grace. A great prayer of unworthiness and the need for mercy
10 They resolve the intermarriage issue with a sad choice, either stay with your family or your people. The people really own this attempt to do Israel right.