From Cyrus king of Persia, a Proclamation: God, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has also assigned me to build him a Temple of worship in Jerusalem, Judah. Who among you belongs to his people? God be with you! Go to Jerusalem which is in Judah and build The Temple of God, the God of Israel, Jerusalem’s God. Those who stay behind, wherever they happen to live, will support them with silver, gold, tools, and pack animals, along with Freewill-Offerings for The Temple of God in Jerusalem. The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites—everyone, in fact, God prodded—set out to build The Temple of God in Jerusalem. Their neighbors rallied behind them enthusiastically with silver, gold, tools, pack animals, expensive gifts, and, over and above these, Freewill-Offerings. Ezra 1:2-6 (The Message)
I have never really studied the book of Ezra in great detail – or much at all honestly – until recently. It was the first chapter and second through sixth verse that caught my eye right away. A little history is needed to really get the levity of these passages. The Israelites had been captured and displaced to the “sin city” of Babylon for years until Cyrus came into power and issued a decree that allowed them to return to their homeland. Displacing these people from their sacred homeland would be like taking a monk out of a monastery and relocating him to Vegas. However, after all those years of being in captivity many had become successful and had grown accustomed to their new lifestyle. So much so, that when given the opportunity to return to Jerusalem “the number of the exiles that chose to remain was probably about six times the number of those who returned“ (Eastman’s Bible Dictionary).
BUT, when those who chose to stay in Babylon generously gave to those who were returning home to build the temple and when those who were thrilled the return home after all those years of captivity and wouldn’t have stayed in Babylon another moment each made a choice there was NO JUDGEMENT from either side. Read the verses again. Did you notice? There was no judgement from either side. Just generosity, grace and joy. Each group seemed thrilled for the other even though they had chosen different paths. Maybe Ezra just left out the back stabbing and judgement part of the story or maybe it really went down without any “drama”.
I haven’t been able to get these first few verses off my mind. Unfortunately, it seems more reasonable (when dealing with people) that Ezra just left out part of the story. There is no way it could have gone that smoothly, right?! But what if it did? What if the firm foundation in Christ they had for years before being taken captive never left and kept their hearts in check? Only God’s love, grace and kindness could penetrate a human heart enough to produce that kind of effect in people. Only God’s promises and peace can produce results that amazing in such an overwhelming situation.
I don’t know about you, but I pray that when I’m in situations that seem unfair or I’m quick to judge that God will bring these verses to mind. We aren’t capable of the patience, love and grace we need to bestow on those around us, but God is! Let Him handle it. We are all a part of the body of Christ and each part is called to something different than the other. God calls us to honor those differences.
If you have a story about a time God gave you the strength, grace and patience to deal with a difficult situation share it with us.