Week 39 Devotion
This is a big week for us because by the end of the week we will have completed the Old Testament and next week we will move on and begin to read the New Testament. Congratulations for making it this far and keep going because the climax of this whole Biblical story is right around the corner. Everything that we have been reading for the past 39 weeks has led us to this point and we are wondering what is going to happen to the Israelites.
What is God going to do to with this nation? How is God going to fulfill the promises that He made to them about a giving them a new king who will rule forever? How is God going to fulfill His promise to give them a new heart and to put His Spirit within them? How is God going to bring Israel back from the four corners of the earth so that they can worship Him again in the temple?
All of these questions and more will be answered as we come to the New Testament and especially the Gospels of Jesus. But before we get to the New we have to wrap up the Old and this week we are going to do just that.
Something to meditate on from the books of Ezra-Nehemiah…
Last week we saw that the opening lines of Ezra were simply a repeat of the end of 2 Chronicles and this shows us that the Bible is meant to be read as a connected story, a flowing work of history. These aren’t disconnected stories aimed at teaching us different moral lessons, no this is the true story of God and His people.
Now there is something interesting about the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. It’s plain to see as you read that they are writing at the same time, to the same people about the same things; but what we don’t see in most of our modern Bibles is that these two books were originally one unified work telling of the return of a group of Israelites to Jerusalem. These books are also designed in such a way that they parallel one another.
Each book opens with the decree of a Persian king that has been moved by God to call the Israelites back to Jerusalem. The Israelites leaders who go back and begin to rebuild the temple face opposition from the surrounding nations. Then the books end with a strange anti-climax. Everything was going well and the people were filled with hope and then out of nowhere something happens to show that sin is still a big problem.
At the end of the book of Ezra we read that the men of Israel had married foreign wives and since Ezra had been working hard to prepare for his upcoming work as a priest, he has been reading the Torah. In his reading he found where God commanded Israel to be separate from the other nations and that included not marrying women who worshipped foreign gods. Knowing Israel’s history, especially that of king Solomon, we can understand how this might be a problem, but the next step that Ezra takes is a radical one.
He rebukes the men for breaking faith with the Torah, he offers a prayer to God on behalf of the people, then he rallies all the leaders together and proposes a divorce decree that will annul all of these marriages. This decree is going to result in these women and the children born from these marriages away. Now why did Ezra do this?
Nowhere in the book does God command Ezra to do this. But the prophet is so fearful of the past repeating itself and so desirous of the people being faithful to the Torah that he carries out this decree. This is a hard text and one that shows us that the problems within Israel will not go away simply because they have a new temple. The real solution to the people’s problems is that they need that New Covenant that Jeremiah and Ezekiel promised.
The book of Nehemiah parallels Ezra in almost every way. The king of Persia sends Jewish leaders back to rebuild, those leaders face opposition and ridicule, it appears that genuine spiritual renewal has taken place but then the book ends with a whole host of problems rising up.
The whole of chapter 13 shows the prophet addressing the ongoing sins of the people. The people weren’t’ following the hospitality laws, one man is living in the temple court, the Levites weren’t receiving their portion, people were working on the Sabbath; and the list just keeps going. The point is that sin remains and you might be able to rebuild a temple and clean out the city; but you can’t build faith and clean out man’s heart. Heart work is God’s work and so the books end with us hoping that God will come and bring true spiritual renewal to His people.
Something to discuss from the book of Malachi…
The prophet Malachi lived in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem about 100 years after the people had returned from Babylon. By that time, the city and the temple had been rebuilt and the people were living there once again but things were far from perfect. We saw at the end of Ezra and Nehemiah that sin, corruption and injustice were still a problem. So what began as a hopeful work of restoration and spiritual renewal has revealed the same old problem of sin in the camp. This generation of Israelites is just as wicked as the ones before it.
But this book is structured in a very interesting way, it is structured as a series of arguments between the people and God. God makes a claim of their injustice and the people respond in disagreement and then God explains how they are wrong. In chapter 1 God states His love for the people and they say, “How have you loved us?” God answers by going back to the story of Jacob and Esau.
Next, there is a disagreement about how the people have defiled the temple by offering lame sacrifices and polluted offerings, but the people respond with, “How have we polluted you?” In a sense they are denying God’s accusations but once again God points out what they have done. This happens over and over. There is a dispute about marriage to foreign wives and divorce which God hates, there is a dispute about justice, tithing, and serving God.
In the end, the people prove to be arrogant in their sin and just as corrupt as they have always been. But now they are accusing God of being in the wrong. They accuse God of not loving them, not accepting their sacrifices, not approving of their unlawful marriages, not being a just God, blessing the wicked but not blessing them. The tide has turned in a way and it is quite shocking to read.
But tucked away in chapter 3 is a promise. God is going to send a messenger who will,
“Prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming says the Lord (Mal 3:1).”
A new messenger is going to come and the Lord Himself will come. When they come they will refine and purify the people like never before. They will usher in judgment like never before. And the question on our minds is how will this messenger make any difference in the hearts of the people. Surely he will fail just like all the rest.
The problem is not with the messengers of God but with the people of God. If this new batch of prophets are going to make any difference at all then God is going to have to do something drastic.
The book ends with this reminder and promise,
Mal 4:4“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
This marks the end of the book of Malachi but also the end of the Old Testament. As you think over all that we have read, what would you say is the consistent problem with God’s people? What must happen in the world and in the hearts of men for things to truly change? What promises are we looking to see fulfilled as we begin to read in the New Testament? When will God’s Messiah come?
Something to pray about from Psalm 126…
Psalm 126 is about God restoring Zion, which refers to the city of Jerusalem, the temple of God and the people of God. This psalm is about the joy that filled the hearts of the people when God raised them up and how the nations will recognize and give God praise for the great things He has done for His people.
It is a Psalm of hope that even in times of hard labor (sowing in tears) God will bring about a harvest of joy. Ultimately, the hope of this psalmist is in the covenant keeping faithfulness of God. He alone is our hope. He alone can restore our fortunes and our joy. He alone can turn our sorrow into gladness and fill our mouth with laughter and joy.
So let us follow the psalmists lead and praise God for the joy that we have in Christ. Let’s pray for God to renew our hope in the Lord and to bring happiness to His people. Let us ask the Lord to turn our sorrows into joy and our tears into happiness. Let us pray that God would do great things for us and in us.