Reading #1 – Acts 1
Reading #2 – Psalms 114
Reading #3 – Proverbs 17
Reading #4 – Jeremiah 26
Reading #5 – Ezra 4
Ezra 4 – Adversaries Hinder the Work. The Samaritans, the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin, wanted to help build the Temple of the Lord. On the outside looking in, it may appear to be a sensible request and something Zerubbabel and the leadership should have accepted. The problem is, it would violate king Cyrus’ decree and the law of the Lord. Because a frontal attack did not work, the adversaries decided to cause problems for the workers by entering “doubt” into the minds of the naïve and this would continue until Darius the Mede became king. Because a direct frontal attack did not work, they wrote a nice letter to Artaxerxes addressing their concern that these Jews have a rebellious past and Babylon would lose taxes. The problem is that Artaxerxes was not around when Cyrus issued the decree to rebuild the temple and so he had no idea about the context of the letter, what was provided, and the limits of the community. The Samaritan’s letter although not technically a lie because it omitted information that they were not aware of. Now because we are in the service of the palace, and it is not proper for us to witness the king’s dishonor, for that reason we have sent word and informed the king, so that a search may be made in the record books of your fathers. And you will discover in the record books and learn that this is a rebellious city, damaging to kings and provinces and that in the past they have incited rebellion within it. That is why that city was laid waste (destroyed). We are informing the king that if that city is rebuilt and its walls finished, it will mean that you will have no possession in the province west of the [Euphrates] River (14-16).” All that the Samaritans said was true to the extent of time and place. Previously, Judah was an autonomous kingdom that made its rules, established its taxes, and had a political hierarchy as did the Edomites, the Egyptians, and the other kingdoms captured by Nebuchadnezzar. In retrospect, Zerubbabel should have also written a letter outlining the events that led up to the rebuilding of the temple and where the funds came from. Because he didn’t write a letter, king Artaxerxes had a one-sided view and it led to a one-sided response (17-24).
Psalms 114 – G_d’s Rescue of Israel from Egypt. In the 13th century BC, the nation Israel was released from bondage after plagues decimated Egypt. Moses and Aaron led the nation out of Egypt to an unknown future. The Lord G_d sent his commander of Heaven’s armed forces to direct Moses to the promised land. This was a one-time event and would never happen again in the history of mankind. So what ailed the sea that it shrunk back? The hand of the creator directed it. Why were the mountains not an issue for the nation? Because the creator G_d directed the movement. Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, At the presence of the God of Jacob (Israel), Who turned the rock into a pool of water, The flint into a fountain of water (7-8). It is always true that G_d can do or say anything He wants, free anybody He chooses to, and destroy at will; yet, I think one of the underlying questions of the writer is, “If you got them out of Egypt, why I am still in _____”? The answer boils down to “context and reasoning”. G_d will not spirit us out of the trouble we have caused ourselves (i.e. exile to Babylon) but He will help us to fix the mess we created like the case of Samson (Judges 16). This Psalm is a note of encouragement and calling the nation to return to its homeland.
Proverbs 17 – Contrast of the Upright and Wicked. One of the craziest things about the direction we take in life is, we fight over the consequences. The proud and arrogant “Mocker” is his name (Proverbs 21:24) boasts of great things and riles people up and then blames the other person for the consequences. At the beginning of wickedness, very few see the pitfalls to come. Israel and Judah had pushed G_d’s limit of patience beyond that which He was willing to put up with. Two times in the 1st Temple period, the nation had endured times of occupation by foreign powers thanks to kings like Ahaz. If the nation had read the works of Solomon with the intent to learn, they might have sidestepped Satan’s landmine. The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests hearts (3). The person that is driven by the Devil’s carrot can get misled into a landmine. The landmines can be as simple as working beyond what they should be doing or, getting ensnared with a bribe both ends cause troubles that are not easily overcome. The wise person who knows their limits and what pathways will bring trouble and avoid them keeps themselves and their family from harm. Helping people out is why we are here so if we turn a blind eye to the needs of others, chances are our needs will also be forgotten. e who covers and forgives an offense seeks love, But he who repeats or gossips about a matter separates intimate friends (9). When scriptures talk about Israel’s lovers who abandoned them in Israel’s need, it boils down to the pathway Israel and its leaders chose to go (Jeremiah 30:14). When we act on sin (become foolish) we give authority for the sin to control us and there is no such thing as “hiding sins”.
Jeremiah 26 – Cities of Judah Warned. The prophets warned the nation what would happen if they continued on their sinful trajectory but the nation did not listen. Jeremiah was sent with a message from the Lord G_d that rattled the cages of the princes, false prophets, and priests who upon hearing it, wanted to kill Jeremiah. This was the same situation that Jesus faced in the 1st century and why he said “you will be charged with all of the blood of the prophets your ancestors shed” (Luke 11:48-52). G_d would have turned the torent of trouble away from the nation and the exile would have been avoided but the people, priests, false prophets, and princes would not listen to the message. hen the princes (court officials) of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the LORD and sat in the entrance of the New Gate of the house of the LORD. Then the priests and the [false] prophets said to the princes and all the people, “This man is deserving of death, for he has prophesied against this city as you have heard with your ears (10-11).” Sin operates in such a fashion as to rile people up over a common thing “like the nation” or “the Temple”. Righteousness says, if you want G_d’s best for your life, turn from your wicked ways and you will be healed (2 Chronicles 7:14). Regretfully, the nation would lose its autonomy and the kingly line of David would not rule the nation thereby nullifying G_d’s promise to David (2 Samuel 7). When Jesus came, he did not rule from the earthly throne, he ruled from Heaven’s throne.
Acts 1 – Introduction. This book is, I feel, a bridge between the time of Jesus to the end of the 1st century. The apostles and disciples were commissioned to take the word into the world. Jesus was one man and even if he had lived to a ripe old age, eventually he would die and history would record that he existed and he died. Jesus was a servant so there would be no detail about his life except for the testimony of those who lived after him. Judas Iscariot died at his hands so a position needed to be filled so that the group could move on. The next 60 years, except for the first few years, would be the most difficult time in the lives of the apostles. Most of the numbers would be put to death by the wicked Emporer of Rome because of their testimony. This seed of faith in Jesus has never died in the years since Jesus walked the earth.