Ezra lived in the land presently known as Iraq among Jews who had been there more than a century earlier. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were used by God to help Ezra (Ezra 5:1) who was an impressive priest and scholar at that time. Ezra was quite knowledgeable in the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:6) and he was also a descendant of Aaron. How can we access his intolerance of Israeli behavior patterns? His attack on family life included ordering Jewish men to get rid of their non-Jewish wives and children. In our time, would he have been considered prejudiced or a racist? As an Israelite scribe and teacher of the law, he wanted to create a stronger nation by requiring obedience to God. After returning from the Babylonian Exile, Ezra wanted a spiritual renewal of God’s people. This story can be compared to present day groups of believers as we consider the work that must be completed by faith. The temple needed rebuilding as outlined in Ezra 3. People had strayed from God’s law by intermarrying with nearby pagan nations which was strictly forbidden by God (Deuteronomy 7: 1-3). Let us read Scriptures to learn how their spiritual renewal began after the Jews returned from being exiled seventy years (Ezra 8-10).
Ezra had returned with priests, Levites and temple servants including other ordinary people. How did they prepare to reorganize a new life? Most importantly they had money, gold and silver, temple vessels, made official appointments and fervent prayers availed. When they reached Jerusalem, intermarriage faced them with people who followed the foreign mores and folkways! Later the Israelites became truly penitent with a public proclamation to obey God. How did Ezra conquer these problems? He prayed for the people, read them the law and called them to confess their sin. Though God had spoken against divorce (Malachi 2: 14-16), Ezra urged Jewish men to separate from their foreign wives. Being human, just as we are, some laws may have been broken to fulfill the true meaning of God inspired life on Earth.
Oddly enough, worry surfaced as pagan religions had crept into Israel with idol gods. Originally Ezra and Nehemiah were written as one book and as a continuous history. While reading Ezra’s story, let us examine our goals to keep faith alive as we seek God’s strength and guidance with meaningful strategies. Can we identify with people who have been significant mentors in our faith journeys? How do the challenges in Ezra’s life compare to our varied experiences? With praise and thanksgiving the Israelites sang to the Lord (Ezra 3:11) as they saw the beginning of the restoration of the temple! We can only imagine their shouts and tears as they saw the foundation laid! Probing deeper in the book of Ezra may help us to worship the Lord sincerely and faithfully. Let us be ever mindful of His mercy and love. In Ezra, God shows His willingness to offer another chance to a disobedient nation and He will do the same for us today. Is it beneficial to all of us to receive a fresh start in life? Without a guess, we know He is still in the second-chance business.
Mrs. Gladys R. McElmore, a resident of Norfolk’s Middle Town Arch Community, is a New Journal and Guide Freelance Contributor on religion. She is a native of Essex County, Va.