by Hal Turner
March 18, 2014
Readings: Ezra 7:7-10, Ezra 10:10-12
The Babylonian exile from the destruction of the temple to the beginning of rebuilding was sixty years. From the beginning of reconstruction it would take sixty more years to fully rebuild the temple. How had the people changed through those generations? Everyone had tried to be faithful in their own way. The remnant left behind in Israel had continued worshiping, albeit on a different mountain. They had done as Jerimiah said and planted vineyards and taken wives.
Those exiled in Babylon had kept faith despite their grief. As they returned, the exiles gave freely of their silver and gold to restore the temple. They also had lots of sweat equity in the project. Upon completion of the temple in 458BC Ezra, a high priest living in Babylon was selected by the Persian king Darius to return to Jerusalem to declare the law and resume Levitical continuity. He brought with him a new copy of the law – most likely what we today call the book of Deuteronomy. Ezra would establish protection for the orphans, widows and resident aliens. He even identifies a path to citizenship for some aliens if they lived in the land for three generations. But Ezra demanded holy purity, there were some backgrounds that disqualified you from being part of the assembly. Ezra was extremely particular about defining who was in the assembly and who was out. He forced anyone who had married a foreigner to abandon his wife and children.
Perhaps Ezra was motivated by creating distinctiveness. Perhaps he wanted to eliminate traditions and practices of the neighbors who just didn’t belong. But it is also clear that Ezra wanted to maintain ecclesiastical power and control. This is the same mindset of the priests who mistrusted Jesus. The temple elite was not comfortable opening God’s house to people with questionable backgrounds. In the foundational stories God’s covenant was with all of creation, but as time progressed that covenant grew narrow. Was that God’s doing, or our doing? Institutions like nations are started for noble purposes, but the longer they exist they lose their founding principle and become more concerned about maintaining power for the elite.
Prayer: Creator, help me in my struggle to understand the rich history of your people and your creation. I read about the law and purity, but I find myself an outsider. Through your son, help me be to be a part of your covenant.