Tag Archives: Ezra 1

At Some Point, One Must Return Home

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.
Ezra 1:5 (NIV)

When I was a young man I spent five years in pastoral ministry. Three of those years were spent in a very small town here in Iowa. During those years I officiated a lot of funerals. Not only were these funerals for members of my congregation, but the local Funeral Home Director also called me when there was a family who had no particular faith tradition or church home. As a result, I spent a generous amount of time with grieving families.

During these funerals, I began to observe families in all of their glorious dysfunctions. I noticed, in particular, that these sad occasions brought prodigal children home, and that in many cases the children had not been home for many years. This taught me a life lesson: “At some point, one has to return home.” (By the way, this became the inspiration for my play, Ham Buns and Potato Salad.)

For the past few months on this chapter-a-day journey, I’ve been going through books related to what’s known as the “exilic” period when the Hebrews were taken captive and lived in exile under the ancient Assyrian, Babylonian, Mede, and Persian empires. Today I begin walking through the two books (Ezra and Nehemiah) that tell the story of the exiles return to Jerusalem and their work to reconstruct Solomon’s Temple and the protective walls of the city.

For the exiled Hebrews, their return had been something they’d longed for. Right at the beginning of today’s chapter, it’s mentioned that they’d been clinging to the prophecy of Jeremiah that the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years (Jer 25:11-12). The time for return finally arrives. At some point, one has to return home.

Reading today’s chapter, it’s easy to assume that Cyrus felt some special affection toward the exiled Hebrews and their religion. However, the decree and subsequent provision of temple articles stolen by Nebuchadnezzar represented a shift in Empirical policy. Earlier empires had ruled with an iron hand, destroying native temples and demanding that captured peoples adopt the culture of the conquerors. Cyrus, however, realized that allowing captured peoples to return to their homes and rebuild their native temples and shrines was good policy. He did the same for other peoples, as well. The move created goodwill with the people of his empire. In the case of Judah, the move also provided him with allies and a friendly outpost between himself and the yet unconquered kingdom of Egypt.

This morning I find myself thinking about returning home. It can look so different for different individuals. It might be a joyous reunion for some. For others, it’s a necessary immersion back into messy family dysfunction. There are those for whom the return home is a long-awaited return from exile. In many cases, it’s an important and necessary step in addressing past wrongs, emotional injuries, and spiritual blocks so that one can progress in his or her life journey. In many cases, I’ve observed that one can’t move forward until he or she makes the trek and faces the past. I, myself, discovered it a necessary stretch of my own journey.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself whispering a quiet prayer for those who have yet to return, those who have returned, and those who find themselves amidst the struggle of returning home.

Rebuilding

Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.
Ezra 1:3 (NIV)

The temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins. It had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army just as had been prophesied by Jeremiah and others. Now, time has passed and the wind has changed. God’s people living in exile in Persia have been granted permission by Cyrus to return home and rebuild.

This morning, I’m thinking about the seasons of life. All of us will face times of rebuilding that may or may not be physical. Some suffer the loss of some natural tragedy, but more often than not our rebuilding is  the rebuilding of our lives after the loss of a loved one, rebuilding after a divorce, rebuilding after a significant move, a job change, or the rebuilding of life after our hopes and dreams shatter.

Whenever my life journey has brought me to a season of rebuilding, I have always, always felt overwhelmed by the task. It is the nature of the process. It stretches us, tests us, and generally requires an increased measure of faith. How apt that Cyrus’ decree to the Hebrew exiles included “May their God be with them.”

Facing a time of rebuilding life? May God be with you.

 

photo: FEMA

Chapter-a-Day Ezra 1

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—this fulfilled the Message of God preached by Jeremiah—God prodded Cyrus king of Persia to make an official announcement throughout his kingdomEzra 1:1-3 (MSG)

As I write this post, the newspaper headlines and 30 second sound-bytes are all depressing. The economy refuses to recover. The government can’t get anything done. Europe is sinking under the weight of debt. The U.S. is not far behind. Young people can’t find jobs even as companies report a shortage of qualified, experienced workers. I just heard about another round of lay-offs locally. It is said that the standard of living of the average American has now fallen to what it was in the 1970s.

I grew up in the 70s. Watergate, Vietnam, Carter, oil embargo, 55 mph national speed limit, hostages, disco and leisure suits.

[sigh]

Amidst all of this depressing news, One is apt to wonder where God is in all of this. I imagine those in exile in Babylon felt much the same way. Torn from their homes, enslaved, and hauled off to live in a foreign land to work for a foreign tyrant. “God, where are you? What are you doing?”

Then I read that God, as prophesied by Jeremiah, moved Cyrus the King of Persia to rebuild God’s temple in Jerusalem and send people and materials for the task. A small gesture, maybe, but one that gave life and hope to a depressed and hopeless people.

Today, my heart is lightened by the reminder that God is not idle. Times and events, kings and kingdoms, leaders and movements, are still in His hand. This journey is continuing toward a destination of His grand design. He bids me not to be anxious about tomorrow, but to be content and faithful in this one day that I’m given.

He’ll take care of the rest.