“God Keeps His Promises”
Ezra 2

I don’t know about you, but this week I have found myself wondering if there isn’t some sort of cosmic drama happening, and I am an audience member, watching activities occur that I could never have imagined. Any security I may have thought existed in the government of the United States of America has been seriously shaken after the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday afternoon. 

The motif of humans being on stage, isn’t a new one. God built this theater, in Genesis, back at the beginning of the Old Testament. The first scene was in a garden, where God put real-life characters on stage and began the first original “reality show.” God had a plan for these characters to fill the stage with His glory. But instead, they chose to exercise their free-will and rebelled against God, which brought about negative consequences. Yet, in spite of our free will, from the beginning, God demonstrated that He truly is the definition of “Love,” and He keeps His promises. 

“Show the Way”
I am continuing with the cosmic stage motif as we read on in chapter 2 of Ezra-Nehemiah. Last week in chapter one we read how Cyrus the King of Persia fulfilled prophecies for God’s chosen people, the Israelites. In order to really understand what was going on with the Israelites in Babylon we need to look back in their history. This wasn’t their first time in captivity. Many scenes ago, their ancestors had been brought out of Egypt into a land they God had promised to them. Again, God’s plan was for this nation to fill the stage with His glory. But, you know the story, we read about it in Isaiah, they messed up, and as we read last week, had been in captivity, in Babylon for 70 years. Now they have been given the encouragement from Cyrus, the king of Persia, to return to the Promised Land. Not only that, Cyrus was going to help them rebuild the temple. Definitely a “God Thing!” 

The second chapter of Ezra tells us who decided to take the trip. Verse 1, 

Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to their own town, 

In verse two we read the names of the eleven leaders that went with them. I am going to spare you, my reading their names, as I am sure I would not do so accurately. However, I do want to bring up a controversy that exists. When we get to Nehemiah 7:7, we will read the same list, however, in that list there are 12 leaders named. Oh dear, which list is correct? Could there be an error in the Bible? I thought the Bible was inerrant. Christians believe the Bible, as it was first written, the autographs, were inerrant. 
Unfortunately we do not have the originals of each book written. What we have is the copy of copies, over centuries, which may be the cause of the dropping of one of the names in this list. Many theologians go with the list in Nehemiah 7 as the original, as it matches the number 12, as in the twelve tribes of Israel. Whether the name is there or not, it doesn’t change the understanding of what was written. The book of Ezra has some other “scriptos.” Given the number of lists of items and the possibility of not copying those numbers correctly, it goes to say that there have been discrepancies noted between texts. Again, the copying of lists and numbers over and over, leads to difficulties. However, these difficulties  do not change the message of the text. Regardless of the number of vessels, God’s promise was fulfilled, the temple vessels were returned. We also read that despite the names and numbers of returnees, God’s chosen people, the Israelites were restored to the Promised Land. 
We also read that God’s people returned to Jerusalem intent on rebuilding the temple. God stirred the hearts of those involved, from Cyrus the King of Persia, to leaders in verse 2, ordinary Israelites in verses 3-35, those of priests in verses 36-39, the Levites in verses 40-42, the temple servants in verses 43-53, and the sons of Solomon’s servants in verses 55-58. God spoke to all of those who were needed to get the job done.  

Which brings us to verse 59, where we read there were some, including priests, who came but were unable to show that their families were descended from Israel. The governor ordered them not to eat any of the sacred food. This may seem like an intense concern for holiness, however, should the priests not be who they say they were and they eat the sacred food, they would be struck dead. In essence, the governor was protecting them for their own good. 
Then we read 

there was a priest ministering with the Urim and Thummim.

Upon reading in commentaries I discovered an interesting explanation of this. It turns out the Urim and Thummim were actually two small stones kept in the high priest’s breastpiece. They were used to determine the will of God. Just as one would “draw lots” to see what to do, the priest would draw out a stone to determine the answer to a question. When we read further in Ezra and Nehemiah we will discover that a descendant of Hakkoz named Meremoth, served as a priest. Suffice it to say, the Urim and Thummim must have confirmed their priestly heritage.  Eenie, meenie, minie, mo? Something to discuss over coffee when our pandemic is over. 

I am sticking with my cosmic theater theme, and reviewing the Exodus scenes depicted. While in Egypt, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, however He stirred the spirit of Cyrus. When the Israelites left Egypt they plundered their neighbors to obtain what was needed to build the tabernacle. During the second exodus, the Babylonians funded the rebuilding of the temple. There was also an exodus in the New Testament. Jesus spent time transfigured, talking about it with Moses and Elijah, Luke 9:31

They spoke about his departure, (exodus) which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.

Jesus has two exoduses as well. He redeemed us on the cross and returned to be with the Father. He promised to return and take us with Him for the second exodus. 
In the meantime, for those who trust in Jesus, even now, today, there is an exodus from our bondage in sin to being forgiven. 

God’s chosen people were in Egypt for 215 years prior to their exodus. They spent 70 years in Babylon. God kept His promises then and He will keep His promises now. Regardless if there is a Pharaoh or a Cyrus in power, God is faithful. He can be trusted to keep His promises. God makes lists, we read one today, and He has a list of those who will be living with Him for eternity. 

The exodus from Babylon occurs in two installments. Today’s reading of the return of God’s people to Jerusalem is the first installment. We will read about another installment in Ezra 7-8.

This may have set a precedent for the New Testament story that has the first coming of Jesus as the first installment and then the second coming of Jesus as the climatic fulfillment. 

And how are we to respond to this? Look at verses 68 & 69 of Ezra 2,  

When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site. According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 

They didn’t have to give. Cyrus had already provided all that they needed. This is the definition of a “freewill offering.” 
When one feels liberated and free from bondage, the natural response is to give, to sacrifice, because you are free, you are also free to give. 

Chapter 2 of Ezra demonstrates that God keeps His promises. However, as we continue to read the story, just because God kept His promise, it didn’t mean life was easy and hunkydory for His people. 

How confident are you that God continues to keep His promises? 

Are there some things that God has promised to do that you don’t think He will fulfill? 

After this week, we may wonder what God is up to. 

However, I wonder if our frustration with God comes from His failure to keep His promises or from our expectation that He should do something He has not promised to do?

If you are listening to me today, you are still a member of the cast on the stage God has built. God still wants it filled with His glory. We can glorify God either one way or another. Either we will rebel and give God the occasion to display His glory through justice, or we will trust Jesus and experience the glory of His mercy. 

God is greater than he that is in the world, let’s give Him praise and trust in His faithfulness, regardless of the circumstances around us. We have been redeemed. May God give us the strength and courage to show it. 

Let’s pray.