We're so glad that you've joined us today!
When we meet in person, we usually share our joys and concerns together. Think over the past week, and what has brought you joy, or made you worry. If you have anything to share, you can add it as a comment to today's lesson. When you are ready, you can use the prayer below (from the Presbyterian Mission Agency).
God of grace and peace,
in Jesus Christ you stand among us
as a sign of healing, hope, and joy
in our fearful, wounded world.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit
so that we may have faith and life
through Christ, our risen Savior.
This week's lesson is on Ezra 10:1-12.
Ezra is perhaps not a familiar book for us. We've done several units on prophets in the last year, and Ezra has not been among them.
In 586 BC, Jerusalem was conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. People in Jerusalem were exiled to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:5-20; 2 Kings 25:1-21). [Note that this exile only effected two of the tribes of Israel. The other ten had been exiled by the Assyrians previously.]
Then, the Persians, led by King Cyrus, defeated the Babylonians. Cyrus allowed the Jewish people to return home in 538 BC in order to rebuild the temple (Ezra 10:1). Later, in 458 BC, Ezra led a second group of exiles back to Jerusalem. He wanted to restore the people to a state of faithful adherence to God's law (Ezra 7:7, 13, 25-27). A final group of exiles returned to Jerusalem in 444 BC. This group was led by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:1-9; we'll learn more next week).
Ezra was a teacher of the Law of Moses. He was made aware that the people of Israel were already sinning against God, even though they were just returning from exile. The most glaring example, and the one this lesson focuses on, is that they were intermarrying with people outside of Israel. This was forbidden (Deuteronomy 7:3). Our book notes that this was forbidden because foreign faiths, "will turn your children away from following [God]." Further, if men were divorcing Jewish wives to marry pagan women, the former wives would be suffering hardship (see also Malachi 2:13-16; Matthew 19:1-9).
Our lesson opens after Ezra is made aware of the sins of the people of Israel. Ezra is mourning over the sins of the people of Israel. A large crowd gathers around. They follow Ezra's behavior as an example of what they should do.
Then, they must determine what to do about it. It is recognized that the sinfulness of the people caused the multiple exiles to happen. They hope that by repenting of their sins, and fixing their behavior, that they can obtain forgiveness.
The solution is to, "send away all these women and their children." All of the people are called to Jerusalem, and agree that this is the answer. Our book notes that we think of this as a very harsh thing to do. The rational for the decision is that the pagan wives could still exert some influence on their Jewish husbands, and thus lead them back into sin. Only by severing their influence could the men of Israel be certain that the wives wouldn't tempt them to idolatry.
Today's lesson was one of many instances in the Old Testament in which the people of Israel rebel against God's commandments. Then, God restores the covenant people.
There are two parts to this that we can look at for ourselves. First, we need to maintain our obedience to God. His laws are for our good and His glory. Second, we have something that the Israelites did not have: the forgiveness and grace we receive when we believe in Christ Jesus.
Dear Father, guard our hearts against rationalizing our sins! Convict us so that repentant action may follow. May your word ever guide us to be faithful. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Our benediction this week is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson will be on Nehemiah 2:11-20.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.