Praise God!

-Your Deepest, Darkest Secret!

Do you realize that you really can be honest with God about everything! Even the deepest, darkest secrets— that you’re reluctant to share with anyone— you can share with God! You can tell Him everything! He already knows how you feel; so, just be honest with Him! Be transparent with Him— “Lord, I know I shouldn’t feel like this; but, I do! Help me!” And, when He answers your prayer, offer Him praise! That’s the pattern we see in Scripture! For example, the writer of Psalm 30 says:  “LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me” (v.2).  King David wrote that Psalm. He cried to God for help & God answered!

-Don’t Put Limitations On God!

And, don’t limit your understanding of God’s healing to the physical. There is a spiritual & emotional part of you also! And, there are times when life is so painful that we need God’s healing in all three—physically, spiritually & emotionally! Perhaps David is alluding to some pain that was self-induced by his sin because he speaks of God’s anger a couple of verses later:  “Sing to Yahweh, you, His faithful ones, and praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning” (30:4).  And, he concludes this Psalm with this praise to God:  “You turned my lament into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness so that I can sing to You and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever” (30:11-12). 

-Don’t Depend On Improved Circumstances!

What began as a Psalm of lament, David says, God has turned into dancing! And, for that He praises God! We need God’s help to speak the gospel into every negative situation of our life! God will redeem it all! Just remember that our worst day in heaven, with Him, will still be better than our best day in this life! Keep things in perspective! Don’t depend on your circumstances to improve! They may! But, they may not! But, God is faithful even when the circumstances are not! Depend on Him regardless of your circumstances.

-Brokenness Into Dancing!

By Jesus’ work on the cross, God removes the great canyon between Himself & us— that our sin created— and, He turns our brokenness into dancing! Offer Him praise! So, be honest with him about your suffering! But, don’t stop there! Be honest with Him about your sin; because He forgives! And, then, praise Him for that! Praise Him for forgiveness! There is no bigger burden you can carry through life than your sin! Again, it’s David who writes the 32nd Psalm out of deep shame & guilt over his sin! But, he no longer lives under the weight of his sin!

-Experience Forgiveness!

He’s experienced forgiveness! Look at the start of his psalm:  “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How joyful is the man the Lord does not charge with sin and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). Do you lack joy in your life? Is it because you’re haunted by your past sins? They can be forgiven! God gladly forgives sin & covers it by the shed blood of His Son, Jesus, on the cross! But, forgiveness comes when we get honest with God! No more deceit, David says here! We have to own our sins! Own our misdeeds! Then, we have to humble ourselves before God & agree with Him that we’re guilty of sin. That’s what David says next:  “When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat” (v.3). Our unconfessed sin even harms our health! So, ask God to forgive! He will!

You Can Be Honest With God!

-Throwing Rocks!

In the movie, Forrest Gump, there is an especially agonizing scene where Forrest’s lifelong friend, Jenny, visits the old house she grew up in & it brings back a flood of bitter childhood memories of her abusive, neglectful father; and, Forrest watches as she throws rock after rock, in a fit of rage, at the house that held so many painful memories for her. When she finally quits & collapses into tears, Forrest tries to comfort her.  “Sometimes,” he says, “there just aren’t enough rocks.” But, the truth is that no amount of rock-throwing can ever repair the damage that’s been done!

-Why The Anger At God?

And, if we think that it’s God’s job to protect us and shield us from pain, we’ll ultimately lash out in anger at Him! But,  that’s just now how life works, is it? If your anger is directed at God, it’s misguided! Life, on planet Earth, was forever altered in the Garden of Eden by the sin all of us— in Adam— committed against God! So, it’s because of our transgressions and our depravity that the world is such a difficult place to live! But, God, in His love & benevolence toward us, extends grace & mercy to everyone who admits their sin & their brokenness and comes to Him for forgiveness!

-Pain With A Purpose!

And, that’s God’s purpose for all the pain & suffering that we endure in this life! He intends to show the unbelieving world His grace & His forgiveness despite the curse we all deserve! It’s NOT His purpose to protect us & shield us from all the unfortunate things that happen to us! But, if we can understand that this life is all about displaying grace, we can begin to grasp the importance of our being exposed to pain! It’s amid life’s hurts that we can join God in displaying His love & forgiveness when we get hurt!

-Why Lord?

The book of Psalms, in the Old Testament, were often put to music & sang in Israel’s worship. Music is emotional; and, the book of Psalms is no exception! The Psalms are just filled with the ups & downs of life. You’ll find great songs of praise that we often include as readings during our worship services! But, you’ll also find songs that are filled with anxiety & depression when the author asks God aloud what He’s up to! “Why LORD?” they ask! I’ve personally found the Psalms to be a salve; like a triple antibiotic, when I’ve been cut and wounded in life! We make a great mistake when we limit the Scriptures to the cognitive and see only something to be learned like doctrine & theology! God included a book, like the Psalms, to reach us at the emotional level.

-Skewed Emotions!

Does that surprise you that God would be concerned with your emotions? It shouldn’t! He is a God with emotions; and, He’s created us in His image! He is neither surprised nor put off by our emotions! But, like every other part of our life that’s been negatively affected by our sin, our emotions can be skewed as well! So, God will use the Psalms in our lives to reel us in! To center us back into His reality! God created us with emotions; and, He invites us to pour out our hearts to Him knowing He will respond! Find reassurance in that— God will never leave you nor forsake you! He provides grace to help us; whether, our pain has been caused by someone else or it’s self-inflicted. You really can be honest with God about everything! Even the deepest, darkest secrets that you’re reluctant to share with someone else you can share with God! He already knows how you feel; so, just be honest with Him! Be transparent with Him! He will hear you!

You Want To Be Happy?

-It Begins With Your Relationship With God!

So, we’ve spent the last few posts talking about being happy! And, about what that looks like through the grid of Scripture! According to Psalm 1, God’s word says that your level of happiness is directly related to the depth of relationship you have with Him! Let’s look a little deeper at that Psalm! The writer, inspired by God’s Spirit to write these exact words, says that your happiness also depends on what you meditate on! It says in v.2, “…his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” The happy person is happy, in part, because he meditates on God’s word at all times throughout his day!

-Meditating On God’s Word!

In the original language, that word we have translated “meditate” means to speak or to mutter! So, the writer says that meditating on God’s word means that you speak to yourself; or, you mutter the words of God to yourself all day! You wanna be happy? You find happiness when you chew on the word of God! When you speak & mutter the word of God to yourself day & night! There is no end to the applications we can make from God’s word! His word is eternal in its depth of wisdom! It’s impossible to plumb the depths of it in this lifetime. 

-The Fruit Of Your Life!

The writer of this Psalm also gives us one more significant point to mull! Your happiness, he says, depends on the fruit your life bears! He sums it all up here! The person who rejects the advice of the world; who delights in God’s Word; and, who meditates on it day and night, “…is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (v.3).  Every life bears fruit! In this Psalm, the writer points to 2 different kinds of people who have 2 different ways to live their lives; and, who bear 2 different types of fruit! So, choose wisely who you listen to!

-Two Different Kinds Of Fruit!

The Apostle Paul picks up on this theme in his church letter to the Galatian believers. He writes that one way produces the fruit of the flesh:  “… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these” (Galatians 5: 19-21).  While the other way produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit:  “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  The Psalmist concludes with the end; or, the resulting fruit from the 2 different ways to live your life:  “…the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:5,6).

-Judgment Day Is Coming!

In this life, the way of the righteous & the way of the wicked may appear to run parallel! The way of the wicked often looks pleasant & fun! But, there is coming a judgment; a day of reckoning when those who took their advice & counsel from God’s word; and, delighted in it; and, meditated on it, will be gathered into a glorious congregation around the Throne of God! Forever they’ll enjoy eternal happiness! While, the wicked will face the Great Judge of all the earth; who will give them what they always wanted—an eternity without God! The Lord watches over you if the advice you follow & the things you take delight in & the content of your meditation bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit! If you don’t have this, you need help! Jesus said: “You will know the truth & the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). That delivers happiness!

Experiencing True Happiness!

-Everyone Wants To Be Happy!

I’ve spent the last couple of posts breaking down Psalm, chapter 1. And, we’re not finished! There’s so much to glean from this text of Scripture.  The writer tells us that the more consistent we are in adhering to his counsel, the happier our lives will be! And, since everyone wants to be happy, everyone should follow his advice. Beginning with the 1st verse, he says that your happiness depends on where you get your advice:  “How HAPPY is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers.”

-Who’s Your Source For Advice?

I think it’s significant that he doesn’t say,  “Don’t be wicked; or, don’t sin; or, don’t mock!” It seems that the contrast, he wants to draw on, is our receiving advice from one source vs. our advice from a competing source. We are shaped by the advice we receive! So, take great care, he says, that you’re not getting advice from sinners! That word that’s translated “advice”— or, some of your versions translate it “counsel”— is referring to persuasive words or ideas that someone shares intending to get you to go in a specific direction that they recommend! The “advice” is meant to change your thinking in such a way that your behavior is altered; and, the very course of your life is modified!

-Taking The Path Of Sinners!

When you listen to the advice of wicked people, the Psalmist says, you take the path that sinners take & you become a mocker! There’s a progression here. Based on the advice you receive, your thinking affects your actions affects your character! So, turn your ears away from the advice of the wicked— whether that’s friends, people, books, music, TV, video games, websites, or social media platforms! Choose wisely who you listen to because your happiness depends on it! The writer is saying that your life will only be happy or blessed or fulfilled when you turn a deaf ear to the advice of the wicked!

-Who Are The Wicked?

And, who are the wicked? They are everyone on the path of sin, he says! Everyone who is disobedient to God’s Word & mock anyone desiring to obey God’s Word! Don’t be fooled by their deceitful, enticing words! Notice, in v.2, that the Psalmist says your happiness also depends on what you delight in:  “Instead, (or, in contrast to accepting bad advice from the wicked) his delight is in the Lord’s instruction.” Don’t let the wicked; or, the scoffer influence the way that you think; or, you’ll begin to “delight” in their ways! It starts by looking at & listening to all the stuff the world produces; until you think about it so much you begin delighting in it!

-Delight In God’s Instruction!

Beware, the text says; because you’ll find no happiness there! The genuinely happy person does NOT do something; DOES do something— the happy person does NOT take advice from the wicked; and, DOES delight, instead, in God’s instruction; or, the “Law of the Lord.” The Apostle Paul warned the Church of Rome:  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” Rom. 12:2.  That word “conformed” carries the idea of being pressed into a mold— ”Don’t let the world press you into its MOLD with all of its wicked advice & counsel.”  Instead, delight, Paul says, in God’s instruction so that your thinking is transformed! Test the advice you receive by comparing it against the grid of God’s Word!

Your Greatest Happiness!

-Right Relationship With God!

Your greatest happiness will come only when you are in the right relationship with God, your Creator! You were created for Him! And, only in Him will you find your ultimate fulfillment! If you’ve cracked the Bible, you may have noticed that the book of the Psalms takes up quite a chunk of space in the Bible. The word for “Psalms” in the original Hebrew language means “praise”; and, most of the Psalms were poetic “Songs Of Praise” to Yahweh; although, one-third of the Psalms are prayers! So, it contains both songs & prayers that Israel used in their worship! Also, most students of Scripture believe there’s significance to the order in which they were placed.

-Psalm 1: The Stage Setter!

So, Psalm 1 is meant to be understood as an introduction to the rest of the Psalms. It’s like the “stage setter” because it vividly points out the radical difference between the “believer” and the “unbeliever.” According to the writer of the Psalm, your life will be blessed or happy if you live it sincerely for God; and, it will prove to be miserable & unhappy if you rebel against God! Those are your only 2 options! It’s funny how the world sees the life, that follows Jesus, as boring & blasé! I think even many believers suffer from some big-time misconceptions about the Christian life.

-Earthly Hedonists!

It’s been my observation that many believers just endure the Christian life! Secretly, they still pine for the pleasures & fleeting happiness that they think the world enjoys. In their heart, they’re earthly hedonists! They’re like the children of Israel, during the Exodus, still looking back with longing for the old life they left behind in Egypt. Somehow, we’ve come to the erroneous conclusion that life’s just not going to be fun or happy as a Christian; but, we put up with it because, well, we get heaven in the end! But, the 1st Psalm debunks the notion that the life that follows Christ & adheres to the Scriptures is boring! What this Psalm says is quite the opposite.

-Setting The Record Straight!

The writer sets the record straight— we don’t just endure the Christian life, putting in our time here until we get to heaven & hang out with Jesus forever & ever! No! This Psalm tells us that it’s the life that submits to God & His word that provides us with the greatest fulfillment & the most happiness possible in this life! Happiness & prosperity in this life & eternity follows only the God-centered life; not, the life that is centered & focused on the stuff of this world! Does it surprise you that God is concerned with your happiness? Some believers even debate between “joy” & “happiness.” Joy is the fruit of the Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with!

-Is Happiness Fleeting?

Joy sounds more spiritual than happiness, doesn’t it? Happiness seems like it’s dependent on circumstances! It comes & goes! Joy is based on the eternal, the argument goes! But, this 1st Psalm seems to play the contrarian:  “How HAPPY is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction…” (vs. 1-2). It seems like we don’t have to choose between joy & happiness! Instead, life in Christ offers us both— JOY & HAPPINESS! But, there is a caveat. Genuine happiness, in life, is contingent on some things! That’s where we get the idea that happiness is dependent on circumstances. But it’s not so much that happiness comes & goes as much as it is that our walk with God is inconsistent! That’s what we’ll talk about next week!

Live Happily Ever After!

-Do You Want A Happy Life?

Who wants to live a happy life, raise your hand? That’s something everyone wants, isn’t it? We may pursue different things in our attempt to find happiness; but, everyone wants a happy, blessed & fulfilling life! No one sets out to live an unhappy, unfulfilling life! And, yet, it happens, doesn’t it? People, who never planned to live an unhappy life end up living one; and, most of them thought, at the time, that they were making choices that would make them happy! But, in fact, it was those very choices that brought them unhappiness instead of happiness!

-A Guaranteed Happy Life!

So, what if I could guarantee you a happy life? Do you think that if I wrote down the formula, to a happy life, in a book & guaranteed it— or, your money back— that it would sell? You’d think that maybe 7 billion people, on this planet, might buy it, right? Surprisingly, that’s NOT the case! The truth is, THAT book has already been written! An author has already been inspired to write down the formula to a happy and fulfilling life; but, it’s been ignored by the majority of people in the world!

-What Happy Looks Like!

Here’s what that author wrote:  “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Many of you recognize those words, don’t you? Where are they found? They’re found in the Bible, right? Specifically, in the book of Psalms—the 1st Psalm! You wanna live happily ever after? Here it is! Here’s the key! Here’s the formula for happiness in this life!

-What The Unhappy Life Looks Like!

In fact, the writer also goes on to describe what the unhappy life looks like:  “The wicked are not like this; (i.e the WICKED are NOT HAPPY!) instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment, and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” The writer, of this Psalm, divides the world into 2 categories! Only 2— those who are happy & those who are not happy! You can divide everyone, in the world, up into 2 columns! The happy & the unhappy! The righteous & the wicked! The believer & the unbeliever! The spiritual & the worldly! The follower of Jesus & those who don’t follow Him! That’s eventually what it all comes down to!

-It’s Not About Stuff!

Ultimately, your happiness is not determined by the stuff you’ve acquired or the places you’ve gone or the activities you’ve enjoyed! Your happiness is dependent on the relationship you have— or, don’t have— with your Creator! Your level of happiness is directly related to the depth of relationship you have with God, your Creator! I’ve been involved in church ministry for more than 40 years! I’ve worked specifically with the junior & senior high & young adult ages! I’ve watched them try to find happiness in popularity & boyfriends or girlfriends! I’ve seen them use alcohol & drugs & sex; and, while some of it brought them temporary pleasure, it mostly left them unfulfilled and ridden with guilt & shame! Your greatest happiness will only come through a right relationship with your Creator! Only in Him will you find fulfillment!

No More Excuses!

-Lacking Spiritual Boundaries!

14 years after Ezra led the Jewish exiles to rebuild the Temple, in Jerusalem, Nehemiah shows up to lead in the rebuilding of the walls. Children had been born during this time. In fact the oldest would be approaching their teen years! And, because the walls & many of the houses had been leveled by Babylon, during the siege, these kids had been raised among the ruins of Jerusalem. There were no boundaries between Israel— the people of God— and, the people of other false gods that surrounded them. So, God sent Nehemiah to help!

-Nehemiah’s Inspection!

After inspecting the city, he met with the priests, nobles & other officials; and, said to them:  “…You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down. Come, let’s rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace” Nehemiah 2:17.  He was concerned over what the broken wall represented— that God’s people were blending in with the local population & they were losing their distinctness as God’s people! God couldn’t glorify Himself through a people that were no longer holy! A people who were not set apart to Him!

-God’s Word Exposes Sin!

In Nehemiah, chapter 8, the Word of God is read aloud to the people; and, as He always does, the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to point out their sin & to bring them deep conviction over it. So, in chapter 9, they’re found weeping and confessing their sin to God.  Remember, that, to “confess” our sin means that we agree with God about it! So, they’re making no more excuses! They confess! They agree with God that what they’ve done is sin against Him! And in chapter 10, Nehemiah leads these Jewish exiles to make 3 promises!

-Three Promises!

These are “back to the book” kind of promises! Promises to obey 3 commands that God had given Israel way back under Moses. First, they promised to no longer intermarry:  “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons” (v.30).  Second, they promised to keep the Sabbath:  “We will not buy from the neighboring peoples on the Sabbath or on any holy day” (v.31).  And, third, they promised to maintain the temple:  “…we will not neglect caring for the house of our God…” (vs. 32-39). Great promises, right? They have great intent, don’t they? But, they illustrate how fragile our decisions, for God, typically are; because, chapter 13 reveals their failure to keep those promises!

-Broken Promises!

They were intermarrying with the unbelievers around them:  “...In those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab…” (vs.23-28). They were breaking the Sabbath:  “…men from Tyre were…selling…in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah…” (vs. 15-22). And, they were neglecting the Temple (vs. 6-13). So, Nehemiah said:  “…I rebuked the officials; and, asked them: ‘Why is the house of God neglected?””  (v.11).  All of which leads me to ask, “How does that happen? How can they renege on their promises to God so quickly; even, with the best of Godly leaders to follow?” The answer? Even the best of men cannot liberate people from the cause of their bondage! Only God can do that! The cause of their bondage was sin! A brokenness they share with us! We are totally depraved! We cannot depend on a pastor; or, church programs to deliver us! Only God can liberate us from our bondage to sin!

The Fallacy Of Human Logic!

-God’s Priority!

In my last post I mentioned how both Ezra and Nehemiah came out of Israel’s 70-year exile with a different purpose! Ezra came first; and, he purposed to rebuild the Temple according to God’s leading! Nehemiah followed him about 13 years later & God commissioned him to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem! Now, at first glance that seems backwards & counter intuitive, doesn’t it? Human logic would tell us to rebuild the walls 1st for their own protection, right? But, God led the exiles to rebuild the Temple first. Clearly, God prioritized the rebuilding of Israel spiritually!

-God Offered Greater Protection!

He had always told Israel that if they were faithful to Him that He would go before them & fight their battles for them! And, He wanted Israel to have faith that God Himself offered greater protection, for them, than any wall or military ever could!  But, that took faith; and, Ezra was the one to bring Israel back to the centrality of God & His Word & the law! In fact, according to Ezra’s account, he actually leads the people to build an altar so they could sacrifice to God BEFORE they had even built the Temple! And, only then, after the place of worship was finished, does God work in Nehemiah’s heart & lead him to leave the Persian fortress city of Susa; and, return to Jerusalem to organize the rebuilding of the wall!

-Right Relationship With God!

Now, there’s a spiritual parallel here for us, isn’t there? Do you see it? They had the projects in the right order because worship & a right relationship with God is of greater importance than anything else we could accomplish in life! But, we tend to get these turned around in our lives don’t we! Leaning on our human logic, we often prioritize the building of our “walls” first. We take care of all the outside stuff first— our work & our play & our entertainment & our sleep! And, then, if we have time we’ll do the “spiritual” stuff— reading our Bibles, prayer, ministry!

-We All Have Time!

By the way, we all have the time! We all have 24 hours in a day! And, we determine what we get done based on what we give priority to! The parallels and the application are painfully obvious, aren’t they? We focus on the “walls” & only rebuild our “temple” if we have time, don’t we? That’s how our human logic works! Listen, God has created the same amount of time in all of our lives to rebuild our “temples.” To take proper care of our spiritual lives! Our problem isn’t about the time! We’ve set up the wrong priorities in our lives! We haven’t given God first place! That’s why God leads Ezra to set the spiritual tone first!

-Better Than Human Logic!

God’s ways are always superior to our human logic!  It’s been 70 years since Babylon took Israel into captivity! That’s like 2 or 3 generations later! There were a few old timers returning home; but, the vast majority of these Israelite refugees were born in a province of Babylon. So, they had never see the original Temple. They had never set foot in Jerusalem. They weren’t part of Israel’s disobedience & idol worship that led to God’s judgment & exile! So, even as God judged Israel’s unbelief, when they came out of Egypt at the Exodus; and, He would not permit them to enter the promised land until that generation had died off; God also waited until most of the exiled generation had died off in Babylon before He arranged for a new generation to return! And, like Moses previously, God raised up Ezra to lead them spiritually!

Only God Can Do That!

-The Lord Put It In His Mind!

The Old Testament book of Ezra opens with these words:  “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing.” Ezra, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, shares 2 significant details— First, that Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy, of the length of Israel’s exile, was now completed in Cyrus’ first year of reign in Persia; and, second, that it was God who “…put it into the mind…” of Cyrus to issue a proclamation!

-God Is Sovereign!

This points, clearly, to God’s ultimate Sovereignty over all human affairs! Cyrus wasn’t in control! Nor was Persia in control! God put it in Cyrus’ mind:  “This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build Him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever is among His people, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem’”  Ezra 1:2-4. That’s what God put in Cyrus’ mind! The book of Proverbs says:  “A king’s heart is like streams of water in the LORD’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses” (21:1).  And, it’s not just kings that God leads!

-Everyone God Motivated!

Ezra continues, “So the family leaders of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites—everyone God had motivated—prepared to go up and rebuild the Lord’s house in Jerusalem” (1:5).  Look closely at that! Who was preparing to leave for Jerusalem to rebuild the temple? What does it say? “…EVERYONE that God had motivated…” So, GOD was in King Cyrus’ proclamation & GOD motivated those He wanted to go! There’s an important principle here; and, that is that humanity simply cannot fulfill God’s agenda! We’re broken! We’re depraved & incapacitated by our sin to accomplish God’s will without God’s help!

-Only God Can Do That!

I see that as the backdrop to the Bible stories of Ezra & Nehemiah. Here are 2 great, godly men; who, like Moses, just cannot deliver God’s people without God’s help! Even the best of men cannot liberate people from the cause of their bondage! Only God can do that! And, that is so counter-intuitive to our human psyche! And, it’s a real stumbling block for many! The natural man wants to feel important; like, he has something to contribute! But, God’s word even asks the question, “WHAT do you have that you’ve not received?” 1 Cor. 4:7.  Whatever we may have to give has actually been given to us by God!

-Men & Women Of Greatness!

So, even men & women of greatness— as WE count greatness— like Ezra & Nehemiah were not capable of delivering the Jewish people from their exile! God had to step in! And, He gave these 2 men, each, a different purpose as they came out of the exile! Ezra was 1st; and, he purposed to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem! Nehemiah followed him about 13 years later; and, he was commissioned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem! Now, humanly speaking, that seems backwards at first glance! Human logic would tell us to rebuild the walls 1st for our own protection, right? But, God led the exiles to rebuild the temple first! Clearly, God intended to “rebuild” Israel spiritually, first! That was the priority because God had always told Israel that if they were faithful to Him that He would fight their battles for them; and, God, Himself, offered them greater protection than any wall or military ever could! Israel would come back to the centrality of God and His word!

The Return Of The Exiles

-The Life Of A Refugee!

We see the pictures on the nightly news or our online news sources; and, though pictures may be worth a thousand words, they can never adequately portray what it’s like to be exiled from your native land & to flee as a refugee to a foreign nation! The stories are horrific! The greatest fear, as a parent, is to be separated from your children in such a setting; although, in some cases, where the conditions are brutal enough, parents willingly hand off their children to someone else with the hope that they might survive & have a better life! Most of us, living in this country, simply have no point of reference or experience to draw on when it comes to living like an exile or a refugee!

-Israel’s Refugees From Babylon!

And, while some of the world’s current refugee crisis has similarities to the time of Israel’s exile— as recorded at the end of 2 Chronicles— there are many differences! The majority of exiles today are leaving war-torn nations by their own will, seeking refuge in a safe, neighboring country. Israel’s exile occurred against their own will when, the foreign nations of Assyria; and, then Babylon, swept in like a flood & plundered their homeland; and, then exiled them off to serve as slaves! For Israel, their exile was the more bitter because they had no one to blame but themselves.

-Israel Broke Covenant!

God had covenanted with them to bless them in the land—that He gave them—if they would obey Him & keep His commandments! But, He had also promised a curse if they broke covenant with Him; and, that’s exactly what they did! They abandoned Yahweh & chased after other gods; until, finally, Yahweh abandoned them! The 137th Psalm was written as a lament by those who endured the exile, the slavery & the human trafficking in that day:  “By the rivers of Babylon,” they cried, “there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees, for our captors there asked us for songs, and our tormentors, for rejoicing:  ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ they mocked.  “How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?” That’s how the book of 2 Chronicles ends!

-Exiled To Babylon!

It reads that King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon, “…deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until 70 years were fulfilled” 2 Chronicles 36:20-21.  So, Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years; and, God’s prophecy, through Jeremiah, was fulfilled. It was during those 70 years that the Medo-Persian empire overpowered Babylon!

-The Lord Put It In His Mind!

From there, the book of Ezra picks up the story of the exiles:  “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing” Ezra 1:1. That verse includes 2 significant details! First, that Jeremiah’s prophecy, of a 70-year exile, was completed in the first year of King Cyrus’ reign in Persia! And, second, that it was God who “…put it into the mind…” of Cyrus to issue a proclamation! I would encourage you to make a note in your Bible, right there, that says, “Here is an example of God’s Sovereignty over the world.”  Cyrus wasn’t in control! Persia wasn’t in control either! God was directing traffic here! He put it in Cyrus’ mind to issue the proclamation we’ll look at next week!