Ever been or seen someone who seems to find favor in their endeavors? Ever been or seen someone whose steps seem to be lead in such a way that nothing could get in their way? Ever been or seen someone whose words have power and influence? Ever wondered why? As this morning’s reading speaks…
Because Ezra had the blessing of the Lord his God, the emperor gave him everything he asked for.
How would you use such blessings?
How would you use such favor?
How would you glorify God?
Let’s see what Ezra does…
Ezra Arrives in Jerusalem
1Many years later, when Artaxerxes was emperor of Persia, there was a man named Ezra. He traced his ancestors back to Aaron, the High Priest, as follows: Ezra was the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron. 6-7Ezra was a scholar with a thorough knowledge of the Law which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given to Moses. Because Ezra had the blessing of the Lord his God, the emperor gave him everything he asked for. In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, Ezra set out from Babylonia for Jerusalem with a group of Israelites which included priests, Levites, Temple musicians, Temple guards, and workers. 8-9They left Babylonia on the first day of the first month, and with God’s help they arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month. 10Ezra had devoted his life to studying the Law of the Lord, to practicing it, and to teaching all its laws and regulations to the people of Israel.
The Document Which Emperor Artaxerxes Gave to Ezra
11Emperor Artaxerxes gave the following document to Ezra, the priest and scholar, who had a thorough knowledge of the laws and commands which the Lord had given to Israel: 12“From Emperor Artaxerxes to the priest Ezra, scholar in the Law of the God of Heaven. 13“I command that throughout my empire all the Israelite people, priests, and Levites that so desire be permitted to go with you to Jerusalem. 14I, together with my seven counselors, send you to investigate the conditions in Jerusalem and Judah in order to see how well the Law of your God, which has been entrusted to you, is being obeyed. 15You are to take with you the gold and silver offerings which I and my counselors desire to give to the God of Israel, whose Temple is in Jerusalem. 16You are also to take all the silver and gold which you collect throughout the province of Babylon and the offerings which the Israelite people and their priests give for the Temple of their God in Jerusalem. 17“You are to spend this money carefully and buy bulls, rams, lambs, grain, and wine and offer them on the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem. 18You may use the silver and gold that is left over for whatever you and your people desire, in accordance with the will of your God. 19You are to present to God in Jerusalem all the utensils that have been given to you for use in the Temple services. 20And anything else which you need for the Temple, you may get from the royal treasury. 21“I command all the treasury officials in West-of-Euphrates Province to provide promptly for Ezra, the priest and scholar in the Law of the God of Heaven, everything he asks you for, 22up to a limit of 7,500 pounds of silver, 500 bushels of wheat, 550 gallons of wine, 550 gallons of olive oil, and as much salt as needed. 23You must be careful to provide everything which the God of Heaven requires for his Temple, and so make sure that he is never angry with me or with those who reign after me. 24You are forbidden to collect any taxes from the priests, Levites, musicians, guards, workers, or anyone else connected with this Temple. 25“You, Ezra, using the wisdom which your God has given you, are to appoint administrators and judges to govern all the people in West-of-Euphrates who live by the Law of your God. You must teach that Law to anyone who does not know it. 26If any disobey the laws of your God or the laws of the empire, they are to be punished promptly: by death or by exile or by confiscation of their property or by imprisonment.”
Ezra Praises God
27Ezra said, “Praise the Lord, the God of our ancestors! He has made the emperor willing to honor in this way the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. 28By God’s grace I have won the favor of the emperor, of his counselors, and of all his powerful officials; the Lord my God has given me courage, and I have been able to persuade many of the heads of the clans of Israel to return with me.”
–from Ezra 7
Ever been in that place where you need wisdom? Ever been in that place where to go beyond you need a little extra oomph? Ever been in that situation where it seems so much bigger than anything you could do on your own? Have you ever tried prayer and fasting during those times?
Ezra Leads the People in Fasting and Prayer
21There by the Ahava Canal I gave orders for us all to fast and humble ourselves before our God and to ask him to lead us on our journey and protect us and our children and all our possessions. 22I would have been ashamed to ask the emperor for a troop of cavalry to guard us from any enemies during our journey, because I had told him that our God blesses everyone who trusts him, but that he is displeased with and punishes anyone who turns away from him. 23So we fasted and prayed for God to protect us, and he answered our prayers.
–from Ezra 8
The Return to Jerusalem
31It was on the twelfth day of the first month that we left the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. Our God was with us and protected us from enemy attacks and from ambush as we traveled. 32When we reached Jerusalem, we rested three days. 33Then on the fourth day we went to the Temple, weighed the silver, the gold, and the utensils, and turned them over to Meremoth the priest, son of Uriah. With him were Eleazar son of Phinehas and two Levites, Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui. 34Everything was counted and weighed, and a complete record was made at the same time. 35All those who had returned from exile then brought offerings to be burned as sacrifices to the God of Israel. They offered 12 bulls for all Israel, 96 rams, and 77 lambs; they also offered 12 goats to purify themselves from sin. All these animals were burned as sacrifices to the Lord. 36They also took the document the emperor had given them and gave it to the governors and officials of West-of-Euphrates Province, who then gave their support to the people and the Temple worship. –from Ezra 8
What if things looked so bad? What if everything that was part of how we got started was being or had been taken away or was being broken up? What if we discovered that we had walked away from the truth and had not walked in alignment with what God’s plans and purposes for our lives were? What if we found the nation was walking away from God instead of with or towards God and His plans and His purposes? What would you do? What could you do? Would you confess them? Would you turn back to God and give yourself to His will? Is history repeating itself again and again? Different times…different behaviors…similar issues and consequences.
Let’s see how Ezra handles it…
5When the time came for the evening sacrifice, I got up from where I had been grieving, and still wearing my torn clothes, I knelt in prayer and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God. 6I said, “O God, I am too ashamed to raise my head in your presence. Our sins pile up higher than our heads; they reach as high as the heavens. 7From the days of our ancestors until now, we, your people, have sinned greatly. Because of our sins we, our kings, and our priests have fallen into the hands of foreign kings, and we have been slaughtered, robbed, and carried away as prisoners. We have been totally disgraced, as we still are today. 8Now for a short time, O Lord our God, you have been gracious to us and have let some of us escape from slavery and live in safety in this holy place. You have let us escape from slavery and have given us new life. 9We were slaves, but you did not leave us in slavery. You made the emperors of Persia favor us and permit us to go on living and to rebuild your Temple, which was in ruins, and to find safety here in Judah and Jerusalem. 10“But now, O God, what can we say after all that has happened? We have again disobeyed the commands 11that you gave us through your servants, the prophets. They told us that the land we were going to occupy was an impure land because the people who lived in it filled it from one end to the other with disgusting, filthy actions. 12They told us that we were never to intermarry with those people and never to help them prosper or succeed if we wanted to enjoy the land and pass it on to our descendants forever. 13Even after everything that has happened to us in punishment for our sins and wrongs, we know that you, our God, have punished us less than we deserve and have allowed us to survive. 14Then how can we ignore your commandments again and intermarry with these wicked people? If we do, you will be so angry that you will destroy us completely and let no one survive. 15Lord God of Israel, you are just, but you have let us survive. We confess our guilt to you; we have no right to come into your presence.” –from Ezra 9
Would you go back to God in humility? Would you go back to God and ask for forgiveness? Would you come under the blood of Jesus and turn your life around? How far down? How far away? How far stretched would you have to get before you would stop, turn around, and come back home to God who desires a relationship with you? Are you with God or against God? Are you with God’s people or against God’s people? What do your words speak about your heart and your intentions? What do your words speak to your true thoughts and intentions? From the overflow of your heart, your mouth speaks! Compare it with the Word of God! Is it in alignment? Is it out of alignment? If it is out of alignment, then you may want to look at what you are filling up your heart with. What are you going to do? Will you turn from your wicked ways and turn back to God and follow Him with obedience? All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! Not one of us is perfect and as such we can’t think of ourselves ad better than others. Sin is sin, we’ve all missed the mark. It doesn’t matter if it is a big or little sin, it’s a sin and so we need to let it go, we need to give it up to God and be forgiven and then let it go, don’t keep a hold of it, don’t bring it back with us, leave it with God and stay under the cover of the blood of Jesus where we can be washed white as snow.
Take a look around…Is everything ok? What are you hearing from the reports? What are you hearing about the situation? What are you going to do about it? Will you fast and pray about it to get wisdom, to draw closer to God and to find favor? Will you stand in the gap? Will you step up to be counted? Will you be a leader?
3They told me that those who had survived and were back in the homeland were in great difficulty and that the foreigners who lived nearby looked down on them. They also told me that the walls of Jerusalem were still broken down and that the gates had not been restored since the time they were burned. 4When I heard all this, I sat down and wept. For several days I mourned and did not eat. I prayed to God, 5“Lord God of Heaven! You are great, and we stand in fear of you. You faithfully keep your covenant with those who love you and do what you command. 6Look at me, Lord, and hear my prayer, as I pray day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess that we, the people of Israel, have sinned. My ancestors and I have sinned. 7We have acted wickedly against you and have not done what you commanded. We have not kept the laws which you gave us through Moses, your servant. 8Remember now what you told Moses: ‘If you people of Israel are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the other nations. 9But then if you turn back to me and do what I have commanded you, I will bring you back to the place where I have chosen to be worshiped, even though you are scattered to the ends of the earth.’ 10“Lord, these are your servants, your own people. You rescued them by your great power and strength. 11Listen now to my prayer and to the prayers of all your other servants who want to honor you. Give me success today and make the emperor merciful to me.” In those days I was the emperor’s wine steward. –from Nehemiah 1
Turn to God for the heart of King belongs to God! It’s In the palm of His hand!
No matter what part of the process you are at, getting back into alignment with God is the key! Get back in the tent with God! Get back under the blood of Jesus! And then God can start to work in and through you!
Let’s see what Nehemiah does…
Nehemiah Goes to Jerusalem
1One day four months later, when Emperor Artaxerxes was dining, I took the wine to him. He had never seen me look sad before, 2so he asked, “Why are you looking so sad? You aren’t sick, so it must be that you’re unhappy.”I was startled 3and answered, “May Your Majesty live forever! How can I keep from looking sad when the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4The emperor asked, “What is it that you want?”I prayed to the God of Heaven, 5and then I said to the emperor, “If Your Majesty is pleased with me and is willing to grant my request, let me go to the land of Judah, to the city where my ancestors are buried, so that I can rebuild the city.” 6The emperor, with the empress sitting at his side, approved my request. He asked me how long I would be gone and when I would return, and I told him. 7Then I asked him to grant me the favor of giving me letters to the governors of West-of-Euphrates Province, instructing them to let me travel to Judah. 8I asked also for a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal forests, instructing him to supply me with timber for the gates of the fort that guards the Temple, for the city walls, and for the house I was to live in. The emperor gave me all I asked for, because God was with me. 9The emperor sent some army officers and a troop of cavalry with me, and I made the journey to West-of-Euphrates. There I gave the emperor’s letters to the governors. 10But Sanballat, from the town of Beth Horon, and Tobiah, an official in the province of Ammon, heard that someone had come to work for the good of the people of Israel, and they were highly indignant. 11I went on to Jerusalem, and for three days 12I did not tell anyone what God had inspired me to do for Jerusalem. Then in the middle of the night I got up and went out, taking a few of my companions with me. The only animal we took was the donkey that I rode on. 13It was still night as I left the city through the Valley Gate on the west and went south past Dragon’s Fountain to the Rubbish Gate. As I went, I inspected the broken walls of the city and the gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14Then on the east side of the city I went north to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool. The donkey I was riding could not find any path through the rubble, 15so I went down into Kidron Valley and rode along, looking at the wall. Then I returned the way I had come and went back into the city through the Valley Gate. 16None of the local officials knew where I had gone or what I had been doing. So far I had not said anything to any of the other Jews—the priests, the leaders, the officials, or anyone else who would be taking part in the work. 17But now I said to them, “See what trouble we are in because Jerusalem is in ruins and its gates are destroyed! Let’s rebuild the city walls and put an end to our disgrace.” 18And I told them how God had been with me and helped me, and what the emperor had said to me.They responded, “Let’s start rebuilding!” And they got ready to start the work. 19When Sanballat, Tobiah, and an Arab named Geshem heard what we were planning to do, they laughed at us and said, “What do you think you’re doing? Are you going to rebel against the emperor?” 20I answered, “The God of Heaven will give us success. We are his servants, and we are going to start building. But you have no right to any property in Jerusalem, and you have no share in its traditions.” –from Nehemiah 2
Will you stand in the gap? Will you stand prepared? Will you put your hand to work for the glory of God? Is there anything that will hold you back? Give it up to God! Put it all in His hands so that there will be no footholds or issues that will hold you back from completing the work has prepare in advanced for you to accomplish!
Rebuilding the Wall of Jerusalem
1This is how the city wall was rebuilt.The High Priest Eliashib and his fellow priests rebuilt the Sheep Gate, dedicated it, and put the gates in place. They dedicated the wall as far as the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel. 2The men of Jericho built the next section. Zaccur son of Imri built the next section. 3The clan of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They put the beams and the gates in place, and put in the bolts and bars for locking the gate. 4Meremoth, the son of Uriah and grandson of Hakkoz, built the next section. Meshullam, the son of Berechiah and grandson of Meshezabel, built the next section. Zadok son of Baana built the next section. 5The men of Tekoa built the next section, but the leading men of the town refused to do the manual labor assigned them by the supervisors. 6Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah rebuilt Jeshanah Gate. They put the beams and the gates in place, and put in the bolts and bars for locking the gate. 7Melatiah from Gibeon, Jadon from Meronoth, and the men of Gibeon and Mizpah built the next section, as far as the residence of the governor of West-of-Euphrates. 8Uzziel son of Harhaiah, a goldsmith, built the next section. Hananiah, a maker of perfumes, built the next section, as far as Broad Wall. 9Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of half of the Jerusalem District, built the next section. 10Jedaiah son of Harumaph built the next section, which was near his own house.Hattush son of Hashabneiah built the next section. 11Malchijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath Moab built both the next section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of the other half of the Jerusalem District, built the next section. (His daughters helped with the work.) 13Hanun and the inhabitants of the city of Zanoah rebuilt the Valley Gate. They put the gates in place, put in the bolts and the bars for locking the gate, and repaired the wall for fifteen hundred feet, as far as the Rubbish Gate. 14Malchijah son of Rechab, ruler of the Beth Haccherem District, rebuilt the Rubbish Gate. He put the gates in place, and put in the bolts and the bars for locking the gate. 15Shallum son of Colhozeh, ruler of the Mizpah District, rebuilt the Fountain Gate. He covered the gateway, put the gates in place, and put in the bolts and the bars. At the Pool of Shelah he built the wall next to the royal garden, as far as the stairs leading down from David’s City. 16Nehemiah son of Azbuk, ruler of half of the Bethzur District, built the next section, as far as David’s tomb, the pool, and the barracks.
Levites Who Worked on the Wall
17The following Levites rebuilt the next several sections of the wall: Rehum son of Bani built the next section; Hashabiah, ruler of half of the Keilah District, built the next section on behalf of his district; 18Bavvai son of Henadad, ruler of the other half of the Keilah District, built the next section; 19Ezer son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, built the next section in front of the armory, as far as the place where the wall turns; 20Baruch son of Zabbai built the next section, as far as the entrance to the house of the High Priest Eliashib; 21Meremoth, the son of Uriah and grandson of Hakkoz, built the next section, up to the far end of Eliashib’s house.
Priests Who Worked on the Wall
22The following priests rebuilt the next several sections of the wall: Priests from the area around Jerusalem built the next section; 23Benjamin and Hasshub built the next section, which was in front of their houses; Azariah, the son of Maaseiah and grandson of Ananiah, built the next section, which was in front of his house; 24Binnui son of Henadad built the next section, from Azariah’s house to the corner of the wall; 25-26Palal son of Uzai built the next section, beginning at the corner of the wall and the tower of the upper palace near the court of the guard; Pedaiah son of Parosh built the next section, to a point on the east near the Water Gate and the tower guarding the Temple. (This was near that part of the city called Ophel, where the Temple workers lived.)
27The men of Tekoa built the next section, their second one, from a point opposite the large tower guarding the Temple as far as the wall near Ophel. 28A group of priests built the next section, going north from the Horse Gate, each one building in front of his own house. 29Zadok son of Immer built the next section, which was in front of his house. Shemaiah son of Shecaniah, keeper of the East Gate, built the next section. 30Hananiah son of Shelemiah and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, built the next section, their second one. Meshullam son of Berechiah built the next section, which was in front of his house. 31Malchijah, a goldsmith, built the next section, as far as the building used by the Temple workers and the merchants, which was by the Miphkad Gate to the Temple, near the room on top of the northeast corner of the wall. 32The goldsmiths and the merchants built the last section, from the room at the corner as far as the Sheep Gate.