It would be a journey of four months from the river Ahava to Jerusalem. Before they began, Ezra called the people to fast, in order to humble themselves, and seek the LORD. They had precious cargo, not just the silver and gold, but the little ones, the children “were on board.” This would be a dangerous journey due to potential thieves and ambush along the way. Ezra had communicated to the king that the hand of the LORD was upon them (we read the repeatedly), so he was ashamed to ask him for an escort of soldiers; they trusted God to be the one to protect them.
Ezra 8:23 (NKJV) “So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.”
Ezra was wise in distributing the gold, silver, and donated articles to the different leaders to transport, he weighed it all and tracked everything so that when they arrived in Jerusalem, they would weight it again for accountability.
Ezra 8:31 (NKJV) “Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road.”
As Christians we like to pray for “traveling mercies,” that God would watch over us, always, but especially on long trips. When we travel as groups on various mission’s trips the passage I turn to, is a passage I have posted in my home:
Psalm 121:7–8 (NKJV) “The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. 8 The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.”
When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem they weighed-in the treasures, offered sin and burnt offerings (symbolizing complete consecration to God), and they delivered the king’s orders to the king’s satraps and governors in the region.
It didn’t take long for Ezra to see that the people of the land were not consecrated to God. He was informed that the Jews had mingled with non-believers and married pagans. The leaders had led the way in this serious sin.
Ezra 9:2 (NKJV) “For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass.”
Ezra loved the LORD deeply, so when he heard about the way the people were unequally yoked, he was devastated. Can you picture him tearing his robe, and then pulling out the hair on his head and beard? He was astonished, these were signs of mourning, grief, and anger. He sat silent before the LORD until the evening sacrifice (this took place at 3PM). As the people who feared God and trembled at His Word began to gather before him, Ezra began to pray.
Bible Knowledge Commentary, “Ezra knew that the nation was guilty (Ezra 9:6–7; 13, 15) so he assumed a position of begging before the Lord. There was no excuse for the people’s actions. Ezra’s prayer was made at the temple with weeping (Ezra 10:1).”
Ezra was broken hearted. He knew that it was sins like that had sent the people into captivity in the first place. Bondage in Babylon was intended to purge the Jews from such things, to bring them back to the heart of God. Ezra knew that God had granted them grace and a “measure of revival” (Ezra 9:8) and yet this was how they were showing their gratitude? They were clearly violating God’s commandment as written by Moses:
Deuteronomy 7:3–4 (NKJV) “Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. 4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the LORD will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.”
Ezra loved the LORD, he loved the people and even identified with them, by using the words “we,” and “our”:
Ezra 9:15 (NKJV) “O LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day. Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!”
Bible Knowledge Commentary, “Ezra’s prayer included no specific request; he simply threw himself on God’s mercy. By this he concluded his prayer in the same way he began.”
This was and is a heavy issue – when Christians marry non-believers. Paul the Apostle wrote about this in 2 Corinthians 6:14, how God prohibits it. It’s not that God doesn’t love the non-believer, it’s just that the non-believer has the potential to turn the believer’s heart away from the LORD. And then there’s the issue of the children, who will they serve if one parent isn’t saved? Paul brings even more into the picture by sharing that the most important part of the believer’s life – God – won’t be able to be shared between this kind of couple, there will be no fellowship.
Ezra cast himself and his country upon God’s mercy…and so should we.
Warren Wiersbe, “God had revealed His Word, and they did not obey it. God had shown them grace (Ezra 9:8), and they did not appreciate it. God had held back punishment (Ezra 9:13; Psalm 103:10), and they took advantage of it. All God could do now was punish them even more. As he prayed, Ezra trembled (Ezra 9:4), knelt (Ezra 9:5), and bowed down (Ezra 9:6) because nobody could stand before God (Ezra 9:15; Psalm 130:3).”
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
Paul now deals with a heavy issue that was taking place in the Corinthian church. It was reported to him that one of the men in the congregation was sexually involved with his stepmother. Rather than excommunicating the unrepentant man, the Corinthian church was proud about it; perhaps they thought they were doing a good thing by showing grace to the guy.
Paul reminds them of the fact that all it takes is a little leaven to leaven the whole lump. We need to know that sin spreads within the congregation, rapidly.
Paul then exercises his Apostolic authority and fatherly love in commanding the church to:
1 Corinthians 5:5 (NKJV) “…deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
By excommunicating him, the man would experience life apart from the covering of the church, he’d be open game to Satan. Paul’s ultimate goal is the salvation of his soul, even if it meant the man’s temporal devastation.
Warren Wiersbe said this, “The phrase ‘deliver such a one to Satan’ (1 Corinthians 5:5) suggests that there is spiritual safety within the fellowship of the local church. To be disciplined and dismissed from fellowship makes us vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.”
Paul challenges the church to live out the Old Testament feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread. Jesus was sacrificed as our Passover Lamb delivering us from the angel of death…but Passover also meant no leaven allowed. The Jews would literally search their houses – every room, nook, and cranny to make sure there was no leaven anywhere, and we’re to do the same.
Paul had written the church commanding them not to keep company with sexually immoral people, but he wasn’t referring to non-believers. We don’t judge those who don’t profess Christ, God will judge them. Paul was referring to those who claim to be believers. We are to practice Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:5 to anyone who is a professing believer and yet living in sin. Paul’s words are holy, sobering, and rather straightforward:
1 Corinthians 5:11 (NKJV) “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner–not even to eat with such a person.”
Another Psalm of David who found himself in frequent need of God’s deliverance. As we read through the Psalms and discover David’s many prayers due to frequent difficulties, it reminds me of:
Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV) “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Don’t you also find yourself in times of constant need? I know I do. Let’s pray like David did, even sing for “salvation.”
Psalm 31:2 (NKJV) “Bow down Your ear to me, deliver me speedily; be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defense to save me.”
He really is our rock and fortress, who leads us, guides us, and pulls us out of the nets (traps) of the enemy.
Psalm 31:5a were the words of Jesus when He died for our sins on the cross of Calvary (Luke 23:46)
As Christians we don’t hate the sinner, but we do hate the sin (Psalm 31:6).
We should also rejoice confidently, as David did, knowing in advance, that God will protect us and set us in a safe, broad place (Psalm 31:8).
Proverbs 21:1 (NKJV) “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
No matter who the president is, God is always in power. No matter what that human authority decides now, it’s good to know that God gets the final decision, He’s on the throne…this is the sovereignty of God.
Man may rule, but God overrules.
Just as the farmer channels the water to irrigate his crops, so the Lord God turns the king’s heart to accomplish His purposes.
Ezra 6:22 (NKJV) “And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the LORD made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.”
Another example is in Luke 2:1. There we see Caesar Augustus declaring his decree, and simultaneously the Sovereign Lord is having His way – Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
We have many other examples in the Bible (Tiglath-Pilesar in Isaiah 10:5-7; Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1-4; Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:34; 5:23-25)
(Very relevant for today – Romans 8:28)
Proverbs 21:2 (NKJV) “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.”
The KJV translates the word “weighs” as “pondereth.” The Lord ponders, not the surface or skin, but the heart within.
We should do the same because we tend to be blind and bias, thinking we have no bad.
Jesus’ words to the religious leaders of His day show something similar.
Luke 16:15 (NKJV) “And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
William MacDonald, “A man is not a valid judge of his own life or service; he judges by outward appearance. The Lord weighs the thoughts and motives of people.”
1 Corinthians 4:4 (NKJV) “For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.”
Psalms 139:23-24 (NKJV) “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Proofreading we need many eyes)
1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV) “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’”
If you have any questions or comments on today’s reading, or you’d like to share something the Lord showed you, feel free to leave a reply below. I’d love to hear from you as we grow forward in 2021.