Day 260 (Sept. 17): Ezra learns of intermarriage and falls in shame before God, Ezra sets to purify Israel of sin of breaking Law of Moses, people confess sin of intermarriage, list of those intermarriage offenders, Nehemiah’s alarmed over Jerusalem’s state, King grants Nehemiah’s wish to secure Jerusalem by rebuilding it’s wall, Nehemiah sneaks out to inspect the wall

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.

Ezra 9-10

Questions & Observations

Q. Ezra feels such remorse here.  Can we apply this to today?  Is it wrong by God to marry someone who is not a Christian?  I know several who have married non-believers and they really struggle with the fact that they won’t go to church with them.  I think that we will learn in the NT that they will be saved by their spouse’s faith?  Then, (this is not quite the subject matter, but let’s talk about it anyway) there are others who believe, but have no interest in going to church for whatever reason.  These are some of them: I was in church and it was nothing but power struggles; Sundays are our only day when we don’t have anything to do; I don’t know anyone who goes to church, among others.  But, they believe in God.  So, I think we will learn in the NT that they will be saved, but God also notes that deeds and faith will earn rewards in heaven.  Is that accurate?

A. The NT (Paul’s writings in particular) describe the dangers of being what he calls “yoked” with a non-believer: it puts a serious strain on your own walk with God, as you note.  Too often, you are forced to make decisions that either harm your relationship with your spouse, or your personal walk with God.  Frankly, neither of these decisions honors God (who greatly desires us to honor our marriage, just not at the expense of our relationship with Him).  Thus, it is not hard to see why Paul advises against marrying a non-Christian.  There are certainly issues with children to consider.  As to being in a married relationship with someone of another faith, I can’t see how that would work without major compromises to either their religious faith or yours, and I don’t see the value in such half-hearted religion.

As to whether we are “saved” by our spouses as you suggest, I’m not familiar with the passages in question.  As far as I know, the only instance of Paul describing someone’s faith saving someone else is as it relates to children, not another adult.  We must all make our decisions about what god we will serve, and no one but ourselves will answer to God for it.

Q. (Ezra 10:18-44): I guess by naming each of them, they are held accountable?  And, what about the children?  They are also considered to defile Israel?

A. Yes and yes.  The children are the “fruit” of this series of compromises that clearly did not honor God.

Q. (Nehemiah 1:1): Had Nehemiah lived in Jerusalem?

A. I doubt it.  It was such a long way — a journey of several months — that very few people would make the trip (a very dangerous path, as we read in Ezra) unless it was absolutely necessary.  It is most likely that Nehemiah grew up in the court of Xerxes (Artaxerxes’ father) and was groomed for a position in Artaxerxes’ court.

Q. (2:1-2): We have seen the “cup-bearer” position many times, but I never asked what are the duties of the cup-bearer?  Now that I see Nehemiah doing it, I think of it as a bartender.  Someone who provides the king his drink, someone he could trust and confide in.  Good analogy? (lol)

A. Since one of the easiest and secretive ways of killing a king would be to poison him, the cupbearer would have been a closely trusted ally of the king, who would personally look after all the king would consume on a daily basis.  He was something of a personal aide as well.  It is also very likely, as you infer, that he would have been a confidante of the royal family, and would have had a position of great influence.

Q. (2:10): What would an Ammonite and a Horonite be doing in Jerusalem?  They are not a part of Israel are they?

A. Remember that there is no king of Israel at this point: Jerusalem is being ruled from Samaria, and that is the region of these other tribes.  That is mostly likely why they are there.  It is very likely that the men mentioned had a great financial interest in keeping Jerusalem “down.”

Q. (2:11-20): Nehemiah is so secretive because he was afraid he would counter some objection to rebuilding the wall.  That doesn’t seem right.  Why would anyone object?  And, in v. 2:19, what king is being referred to that Nehemiah would be rebelling against.  I’m confused if there is a king of Judah, Jerusalem or Israel right now.  Wasn’t Ezra given those duties?

A. They are accusing Nehemiah of revolting against Artaxerxes, the only king that mattered in this region.  They are basically accusing him — and will continue to do so — of taking the money provided by the king and using it to lead an insurrection against him.  Nehemiah is doing nothing of the sort, but as I said in my last question, it is very likely that Jerusalem becoming important again was going to hurt these men’s sphere of influence and their pocketbook.  They will prove powerful enemies for our story.

O. (2:18): I can imagine the shame and depression that would go along with having a city in ruins with burnt gates and a trampled wall.  Go into a neighborhood with graffiti and there is no pride felt there.  Or even your nice home.  Whenever it’s messy or the yard is unkempt, it feels shameful.  But here, they get hope that their shame will be lifted.

Day 259 (Sept. 16): Enemies of Judah notify King Artaxerxes of Jerusalem’s wall being rebuilt, Artaxerxes orders the building to stop, Ezra arrives in Jerusalem, Artaxerxes supports Ezra, Ezra praises God, list of exiles who go to Jerusalem with Ezra, Ezra inventories Israelites and requests Levites, Israelites fast for God’s favor for protection in their journeys, Israelites arrive and sacrifice burnt offerings

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.

Ezra 4:7-23

Ezra 7-8:36

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.