Friday, July 5, 2013

Finding Joy in Restoration

Scriptural Reading: Ezra 3:8-13
Devotional Reading: Psalm 66:1-12

I was brought up in the ways of the Lord. Church was fun. My whole family was in the church. And yet as I grew older it seemed that I was at church every time the church doors opened. I started to wonder whether it was possible for me to go out like my peers. That began my years of rebellion. But I am so glad to be able to say I was kept through those years because “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Ps 23:1 NKJV) I was as a wayward sheep, but He led me “beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” Ps 23:2b-3 (NKJV) I am now restored to more than the church. I have restoration unto Him. Halleluiah! There is joy in restoration.

NBC network announced on July 1, 2013 that it had bought the sequel to the History cable network’s hit miniseries entitled “The Bible” from Mark Burnett. The 10-part miniseries ranked as the top cable entertainment telecast of the year to date and helped make History the No. 1-ranked cable network for the month of March. NBC Entertainment chairman stated he knew the story was far from over after Christ’s Crucifixion as it was the beginning of Christianity. They had no hesitation, when reviewing the opening number of people watching the miniseries, in their decision to purchase the follow-up miniseries. Some might state it is completely commercialism and not a spiritual calling. Burnett had to gain press attention initially through the large churches because TV critics gave him the cold shoulder. What the critics did not know was how many people would tune in. There is a basic desire to be restored today. Paul knew of this desire when preachers began to boldly preach Christ while he was imprisoned. The apostle declared at Philip 1:15-18, "Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.” (NKJV) Bottom line is that we shall rejoice that the message of Christ is preached. We shall pray that a lost soul shall be found and restored to the kingdom.

As we continue this quarter of study entitled “God’s People Worship” we are mindful of: (1) how Christian worship compares today both in its devoted and revered practices and its disrespectful practices and (2) what we can learn from God’s relationship with the worshipping ancient Israelites that will help us honor and worship Him today. We are in Unit II – “Worshipping in Jerusalem Again (Ezra)” of the three units of the quarter. This is the second lesson of a five-lesson study of worship in Jerusalem after a remnant of Israel returned home from exile in Babylon during the time of Ezra, the priest.

God used King Cyrus of Persia to permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem after seventy years of Babylonian captivity and rebuild the walls and the Temple. He returned the gold and silver that King Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple. Cyrus also commanded their neighbors to contribute. Approximately 50,000 Jews, a remnant, returned to Jerusalem. They were so happy for the blessing some of the heads of the fathers’ houses contributed gold and silver for the house of God and garments for the priests. The people then went to their various cities to settle until the seventh month of the first year. When the seventh month arrived the returning remnant gathered to build an altar for burnt sacrifices unto God. They proceeded to keep all of the feasts and give the required and freewill offerings to the Lord. With the monies they collected during the freewill offerings, the gold and silver returned by King Cyrus, and monies received by King Cyrus, they were able to contract with the masons and carpenters. They also gave food, drink, and olive oil to the experienced seafarers who would bring the cedar logs from Lebanon. (See Ezra 3:1-7)

The remnant gathered in the second month of the second year to rebuild the Temple of God as declared in Ezra 3:8-9, “In the second year after their arrival at the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their people, the priests and the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work on the house of the Lord. And Jeshua with his sons and his kin, and Kadmiel and his sons, Binnui and Hodaviah along with the sons of Henadad, the Levites, theirs sons and kin, together took charge of the workers in the house of God.” (NKJV) Ever since their return from captivity the Israelites worshipped in the place where God had been and where they believed He still had His special dwelling. Although they were making preparations to build the Temple, it was not until the second month of the second year that their commencement realizations were to become true. Once again we see Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah and representative of the magistrate, working with Jeshua, the Aaronic high priest, and all the people as one. They appointed the Levites from age twenty years of age upwards to supervise the workers, although a small number of Levites had returned from Babylon.

After the foundation was laid, the work ceased, and the Israelites made time to celebrate as stated in Ezra 3:10-11, "When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” (NKJV) The Temple was not completely rebuilt. Only its foundation had been laid when the Israelites were overcome by emotion. The priests stood in their garments and were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, such as when they blew trumpets in the Battle of Jericho. (Joshua 6) Priests are God’s ministers. By sounding the Jubilee trumpet of the everlasting gospel which proclaims liberty and victory, they encourage the good soldiers of Jesus Christ in their spiritual warfare. The Levitical musical choir, descendants of Asaph, sang responsively with the cymbals, praising and giving thanks to the Lord. King David had originally appointed three directors of the Levite musical ensembles. They were Heman (lead singer), Asaph (choir director), and Jeduthun aka Ethan (musical director). See 1 Chron 25 However, it seems as if no descendants of Heman or Jeduthun were among the exiles who returned. The returning exile list indicates a small singing remnant at Ezra 2:41 “The singers: the descendants of Asaph, one hundred twenty-eight.” NKJV The entire congregation joined the singers as one while praising and giving thanks to God who had always been faithful to Israel. They wanted to shout it to the world. The Israelites shouted with joy as they felt they were on the road to restoration. The foundation was complete and their goal of worshipping in the Temple again was in sight.

Although everyone was in one accord in their gratefulness unto God, there were also mixed emotions among the people as declared at Ezra 3:12-13, “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.” (NKJV) The older people knew of the splendor of Solomon’s Temple. They had witnessed the enormous amount of gold King Solomon collected from traders and invested in the Temple and the city. The elderly persons knew that silver and cedars were common commodities in Jerusalem. (1 Kgs 10) Those were the “good old days”. They had been taken into Babylonian captivity with all the Israelites due to disobedience against the Lord. The older people had seen the glory of God depart. So were their “good old days” actually good? This remnant had survived, when many had not. Is there any wonder that some may have wept loudly despite their praise unto God? Many who returned from exile were born during the captivity. Now they were restored to the land of their fathers and to the worship of their God. Their first observance of the Temple was in a state of destruction. They were rebuilding a Temple they had never seen in order to rebuild lives with God. Theirs were joyful shouts for restoration of His people. Though many people shouted for joy, it seems a great number were weeping loudly, and the sound of the two loud noises could not be distinguished. It sounded as a community rejoicing with shouts heard far away. Yet the sight of the community may have been alarming with one part weeping in sadness and another part shouting for joy. God sent His prophet Haggai (Hag 2:1-9) to comfort them as to the future glory of the temple they were building who stated at Hag 2:8-9, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.” (NKJV) The Lord Jesus would come to this temple and fill it with His glory.

Praise God to the utmost for His many glorious deeds. He has kept us among the living and not allowed our feet to slip. By afflictions we are proved as silver through the fire and the water. He allows us to be in trouble so the comfort and rest in Him will be a wealthy place. See Ps 66:1-12 Give thanks to the Lord for the joy in restoration.

Written by Deborah C Davis

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