Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives. The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version. At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture. To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.
Questions & Observations
Q. (Ezra 4:7): Xerxes and Artaxerxes are two different kings, right? But, they both ruled over Persia. Was there anyone ruling over Jerusalem, like in Jerusalem, not from someone having power over them from afar?
A. They are different kings: Artaxerxes is the son of Xerxes (Artaxerxes’ name means “rule from Xerxes”). There would have been a ruler (what we might call a governor) of the region of Samaria, who controlled the entire region on behalf of the king. He will come into play in a larger role when we move to Nehemiah.
Q. (7:6): Who is the king that gave Ezra everything he asked for. Artaxerxes, right?
A. Yes. Xerxes is dead at this point.
Q. (7:11-26): I’m trying to figure out what is going on here. Is Artaxerxes is two-faced? In Ezra 4:18-22, Artaxerxes orders Jerusalem to stop the building of their wall. But, in 7:11-26, he is telling Ezra to take anything he needs for the temple and worshipping God. Another point I would like to talk about is that Artaxerxes respects God’s authority, yet he does not choose to worship God. Why don’t these other nations who recognize God’s power choose Him as their god?
A. The real threat here, as best I understand the story, is the walls. That appears to be the focus of the king and Israel’s enemies: if Jerusalem has a rebuilt wall, it will become powerful again, which could be dangerous. So when Ezra is given his marching orders to bring people back, note that no provision is made for rebuilding the walls, but instead to make worship at the temple. It will not be until Nehemiah joins the party that we see the king truly change his mind and order it to be rebuilt. It appears Artaxerxes’ real concern is offending the Jews’ God. As to why he (and other foreign kings) do not worship God while showing Him respect (of sorts), it most likely has to do with their understanding of gods controlling particular cities or regions. The idea of one God ruling everything does not appear to be on their radar. So while they pay lip service to God’s power, they still don’t really think of Him as THEIR God.
Q. (8:15): Any idea why there weren’t any Levites?
A. No idea I’m afraid.
Q. (8:18-19): Why was it so important to keep Temple tasks in line with family origins? For example, why couldn’t a non-Levite become a priest? There are other examples, like the tribe that protected the Temple at the gates. And, why is it important to say someone’s name with who their descendant was? Was it a reference of character, just to note “for the record,” or what?
A. Since God was the one who ordained that only Levites could serve in the temple (and only a subset of them could be priests), He’s the one you can “blame” for the lack of non-Levite priests. Don’t forget, that’s what got the people of the Northern Kingdom in a lot of trouble: they were using unauthorized priests because the true Levites wouldn’t participate and went to Judah. As to the family lines: heritage was EVERYTHING to these people: your only value in such a society at this time was because of who your family was, whether good or bad. A family name was paramount, as it still is in places in the world today.
Q. (8:21-23): This scripture is great for me. I was just pondering and doubting my resolve with this very issue. Here, Ezra and crew were worried about traveling a long way without soldiers and horses for fear of being attacked. It’s great to see how “human” this scripture is. I think of so many Bible heroes, Ezra appears that he is one this far, and how humble they are before the Lord. They have fears and doubts like we do today, but they have courage and stick to God. At BCL — a weekly live performance at our church (where kids and parents learn about God together) — they were talking about courage. Courage to let God take over the life that I have known for 40-plus years and letting go of it is hard. Our interests, traits, the way we do things, etc. are learned or develop over time out of habit. And mine were not all born from God. I, and my “family” (meaning family, friends, co-workers, really my whole world down to the teachers I had and the tv shows I watch) created my life. Luckily, God was in it too. But, my point is, I created who I am, without referring to God’s word or asking Him. So, I need to repent myself and erase those things from my blackboard that are not Godly. I’m going to bring in some shame here. I snack while I’m doing these blogs many times as a nervous habit, to stay awake, just something to do. In the last 3 years I have gained 10 pounds which really bugs me. But, munching while blogging hardly seems a sin, but it is. I need to ask God for help with that. I also have a problem with thinking people are against me, unfriendly or spiteful without giving them a chance. That is at my core for some reason. Must come from my childhood. But, I am combatting that bad personality trait fairly fast. Rather, God is helping me combat that. I also have doubts, like Ezra, that God will take care of me. Yesterday, we had a full day at a theme park. So, I thought we should go to the later church service today to let my daughter get enough rest. But, she is shy and her friends are at the first service. I just blurted out in my head, “I’m not going to worry about it, God’s got it.” To my surprise, another one of her friends showed up with her twin little sisters so both my girls had friends they knew in church today. What a surprise. And then, there was a bonus. We talked to them later and figured out some other families we can invite into our small group. My point is, there is darkness and doubt in our everyday lives — be that it may seem small — that can overtake our day. If we just let God handle it, it really feels like a big weight off of your shoulders and you get lifted up! So these ill feelings that these bad habits cause is a huge hint that they are not godly. And, I should repent and turn them over to God. They seem so innocent that it shouldn’t matter, but they really do interfere with my happiness.
A. The Bible is quite frank about the shortcomings of many of its characters, and I think that provides a good model for us. When we see how human many of these people really are (they act in cowardly manners, they fail repeatedly, etc.), we can see the ways that God works with them and through them — sometimes using their very faults in the process — to redeem their lives and the lives of others. The Bible is quite clear on who is ultimately good, and it is not us. We will see lots of examples of this in the NT.
Q. (8:33): I don’t ever remember the weight of the offerings as being important.
A. They were making sure that nothing was stolen on the long journey to the Holy Land.
O. (8:35): How wonderful it must have been for the Israelites to be together again and starting anew by worshipping God.