As we begin Ezra, let’s remember the ending of 2 Chronicles. In the last book, the Israelites had been banished from Judah. The Temple had been cleaned out and burned, and the city of Jerusalem was emptied of every last remnant of God’s people. And why? Because after a series of horrible leaders and years and years and years of neglecting tradition and relationship, God saw no reason to stick together anymore. He wasn’t getting anything out of it, and the Israelites didn’t care, so He drew some hard boundaries. He said, “Get out of my circle, and don’t come back until you’re ready to respect the rules of my circle.” And since they weren’t going to leave on their own, God had them removed, the hard way. This is the hard way, guys!
Now, the opening of Ezra begins 70 years later, after many of the Israelites who were banished were gone and a new generation had grown up in their footsteps. Now, if you were one of the originals who were banished from Jerusalem/Judah, how would you go about raising up the next generation? Here’s where we are in Ezra … getting to see how the Israelites responded to their capture, exile and reestablishment in an entirely different society.
Well, we can’t say for a fact, but we can deduce from the text that at least a few people who were banished from Judah learned some mighty lessons. We know this because when God softens the heart of King Cyrus, who announces that he is sending the exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, there were actually people to hear and follow this announcement. And they weren’t just any ol’ people: they were people who sort of had a clue about how to go about things. And the only way they could have known these things is if someone taught them. So, someone – many people, actually – helped keep the spark of hope alive that traveled with them on the day they were banished 70 years prior. And I believe God knew that and saw that, and that is the reason He allowed the events in this chapter to take place.
And God knew the timing, didn’t He? I believe wholeheartedly that God knew what actions He would need to take in the 70 years He inspired Jeremiah to prophecy. And I believe the moment that Temple was burning and His people were marching in chains and terror out of their homeland, that God was weeping in terrible sorrow, not because of all the destruction (well, yes, that, too) but because of His heartbreak of not being able to make his loved ones see how much He cared about them, and more importantly, to respond. That’s the thing about love, isn’t it? We can think in our hearts all day long, “Oh, yeah, I love [insert any name, especially God and Jesus].” But if we never SHOW that love, the person we love doesn’t ever feel it or know it. And showing love can mean a million things. We all know that. And God understands that more than anyone. Look at His evolution of how he has been willing to accept our “shows” of love for Him: at first, He wanted sacrifices and daily offerings and monthly offerings and weeks-long festivals and all-day, every-day celebrations dedicated to Him. Then, as the years rolled on and people just couldn’t keep up with what they probably considered impossible demands, God loosened up. He said, ok, just celebrate once in a while and bring your offerings, and take good care of the priests and the Temple, please. And the people did that for a while, but then Judah went through a series of roller coaster rides with kings and even a “queen” and some really horrible rulers, and traditions were lost and let go and forgotten by most people. So, God said, alrighty then, I’m getting a little tired of this, and honestly, I’m about done with these people. They’re not even fun to hang out with anymore. And He tried a few wars and plagues and prophetic acts to get (and keep!) the people’s attention, but nothing seemed to stick. The cycle just never could be broken. So, out of heartbreak and disappointment, God got super, super, super angry. Like, that kind of angry I got a while back when I yelled a bunch of stuff I really didn’t mean, and my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. Yeah, God got like that angry times 10, and He drew a boundary, and He enjoyed a breather, and He got some time to think, and He got some time to forgive, and He got some time to observe the remnants of the people He loved so dearly, and eventually, 70 years later, God was able to forgive and show mercy. But He didn’t do this on His own. He didn’t do this solo, I mean. That sounds weird. Of course, He did it on his own! But hear me out: He saw hope in a few. Because I truly believe that if every Israelite who was banished from Judah just left and gave up and forgot everything they’d been taught and truly didn’t care or believe in God anymore, then God would have seen that. But He didn’t. He saw hope in a few, and He acted on it. And that’s where Ezra kicks off, with a beautiful reunion, wrapped in hurt and anger and humility and forgiveness and mercy and all the feelz. Get your hankies out, guys. This is going to be a laughter-through-tears kinda chapter.
Writing prompt: perspectify
Do you like my new word, perspectify? Write your perspective about how God and the remnants of Israel might be feeling at the beginning of Ezra.