EZRA 9:1 – 10:44 and ACTS 20:1–38
We have the completion of the first group of people returning to Jerusalem. They had brought the gold, silver and other dedicated items for the house of the Lord. They were given instruction regarding the offerings that were to be given. Ezra came to know that many of the people quickly began to revert to their older ways; the very manner of life that brought upon them the Babylonian captivity. How is it possible for such a thing to quickly take place once again? It was not just the people but it was the priests and Levites who had not properly separated themselves from the heathen nations. They took daughters from other nations and mingled the holy seed in abhorrent mixture. This is the sin of Balaam all over again. Did the captivity in Babylon teach them anything?
This news devastated Ezra and shook him to the core. There were others with him who were similarly astonished at all that had taken place (vs 4). How did Ezra respond, what did he do that distinguished him from others? After recovering from the soberness of the news which left him in a state of shock he fell upon his knees and spread his hands out to God. Here we see Ezra now beginning to function as a priest on behalf of the people before a holy God. He begins to make confession before God and he includes himself in their transgressions (vs 6).
Here is a true priest; one who accepts the responsibility of a sinful people before a holy God. This in fact is what the Lord Jesus Christ did for us when He took our sins upon the Cross. He does not point the finger of blame upon others but rather allows himself to be included in his intercession before God. Only a person who is very much acquainted with the heart of God could make such a prayer before God and be heard while doing so. Remember, he came out of Babylon being fully exercised in heart. He sought the Law, taught the Law and lived by the Law. He understood its clear significance. He also understood what the consequences would be for the violation of the law; not just for himself but also for the nation. This is why he immediately took himself to prayer and intercession after recovering from the initial impact of the news of their transgressions.
Ezra, in his intercessory prayer calls to mind a bit of their history making clear his understanding of God’s dealings in times past. He also knows that there has been provided a window of opportunity for a season of reviving and that they are now already abusing it. He pleads with God to not allow these transgressions to take hold; he seeks to have these alliances broken and to allow for the work of Restoration to continue. It is for the purpose of bringing glory to the Lord. He also makes clear that it has been God’s mercies that have always governed Israel, even in the midst of judgement seeing that it is less than what they truly deserved (vs 13). His righteous prayer continues in stating the consequences of again breaking His commandments by making affinity with the heathen. If this were to continue there would be no possible means of remedy. Here is a true priest. His concern is for his people, his nation and the honor of God. He is standing as a bridge between God and man by confessing the sins of the people. It is a beautiful portrayal of Christ as our bridge between God and man. The difference however is Christ had to become sin to properly bridge that divide. Ezra is confessing and making very real the consequence of sin but he cannot assume the nature of the sinless Lamb of God. Still, he provides for us an excellent picture of what Christ will do. He also provides a clear cut example of the manner of priest to emerge in these last days.
What was the fruit of the intercessory prayer of Ezra? Was God touched and moved in Ezra’s petition made to Him? How did the people respond? In verse 1 the people wept very sore when seeing they observed Ezra’s prayer of contrition. In addition one of the representatives of the people came before Ezra and confessed their wrongdoing. To take it one step further they took initiative in seeking to make these matters right. In this case it was to permanently separate from the foreign wives they had taken. Ezra may not have been teaching them in a school type setting but he surely taught by example as the people responded to his actions in prayer. They understood the consequences of their actions by observing Ezra’s prayer of contrition. Ezra responded by making them swear in following through on what needed to be done. Ezra then retreated into the chamber of Jehonanan, the son of Eliashib to further pray through for their transgression.
It is interesting to note that Ezra did not cease praying over this matter simply because they said they would put away their foreign wives. He knew better and therefore continued to pray that all would be fulfilled. This matter had to be remedied at the national level. A call went out to all the children of the captivity to return to Jerusalem within three days of the decree given otherwise all their substance would be forfeited (vs 8). Ezra declared before the people that they had transgressed by way of taking strange wives. This sin was most serious seeing that many of the priests were part of the transgression. There was strong conviction amongst these key men and they followed through in putting away their sins. In verses 18-44 there is a record of the chief men and priests who had transgressed against the Lord. Ezra, the priest stands out far above the others and had the ability to help put things right amongst the people. He is not only a model priest but he clearly portrays the role of a restorer. His ministry will carry on and be brought into more clarity later in the Book of Nehemiah.
Paul did not leave Ephesus until things settled down. He certainly was not a coward because he could have left earlier but he also wanted to make sure that the people were established and on good footing before moving on towards Macedonia. He wanted to visit Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea; places he visited on his 2nd Missionary journey. He ministered in these areas for a period of about 3 months before looking to leave for Syria. There were Jews who were looking to lay hold of him at a pre-determined place to either harm him or strip him of goods. He became alerted to this plot and was able to make his return via a different route. God intervened by alerting Paul ahead of time. Once again when a person or group is in the will of God He has ways of preserving them. Several years ago while we were serving in India we were alerted of a pending visit from government officials’ days before they arrived. This visit could have well resulted in our arrest and or deportation from the country. Our team of 7 foreigners had to vacate the area on very short notice a few days before these officials arrived. In this instance the Word of the Lord was clear for us to move out quickly. We were able to do so while making sure the work and mission could continue going forward. God is faithful in leading and warning when walking in alignment with Him.
Paul and his team were assembled in Troas for a number of days. On one of those days he taught long into the evening. Among the group that was a gathered was a young man by the name of Eutychus who had fallen into a deep sleep; he fell down from the third loft and was taken for dead (vs 9). Paul was moved by this incident and came to this young man, embraced him declaring to all that his life was yet in him. It was a case very similar to that of Elijah and Elisha when they were used to raise people from the dead (1 Kings 17:21). He came to, broke bread and conversed with many until morning. One could easily understand the great rejoicing and comfort that this would bring to the people. I feel that the miracle of raising people from the dead will be a commonality in the days to come. I feel that God, through His Spirit will quicken and alert concerning those whom would be raised. It is a sovereign act of God meant for His glory as well as being for an encouragement to those who would be benefitted.
Paul continued his travels and was now again heading back towards Jerusalem. His trip would take him by Ephesus but he decided not to stay there fearing that he may be detained. He wanted to be back at Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost where he knew he would have a bigger audience which would provide him the opportunity to share on the fruits from his journeys. He did call upon the elders of the church while he was at Miletus to keep abreast as to how they were doing and to give them a summary of his ministry towards them and what may happen to him while at Jerusalem. This portion is covered in verse 18-38. One can easily imagine the emotion of such an encounter. Paul highlighted the heart and love that he had for the brethren in that area. He held nothing back from them even during the strong opposition of the Jewish brethren. His ministry was to both Greek and Jews in the area of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (vs 21). He made clear that he was unsure what awaited Him in Jerusalem due the opposition to him and the message he bore. He saw himself as being bound in the Spirit and that through the Spirit having been fruitful in all manner of works. He made clear that he did not fear what may happen but was aware that it would more than likely prohibit him from being able to see them again. He knew his ministry was about to take a whole different path. Paul reiterated his love and devotion towards them and that his approach at all times was of pure motives. He also stated that he was faithful in being able to declare the whole gospel (vs 27).
Paul now gives warning to the church, through the gathered elders of what to look out for. There would be enemies who would creep in and seek to undermine and destroy that which God had planted and established through Paul’s ministry. He exhorts them to be watchful. Paul understood the tactics of the enemy as a result of his own experiences and by his observations as a student of Israel’s history. Paul warns them of not being covetous towards silver or gold as many did then and as many still do today. He reminds them of the words of the Lord where He remarked that is more blessed to give than to receive (vs 35). This brief time with the elder brethren from Ephesus ended with prayer. It was an emotional moment with a people he came to dearly love. The feeling was certainly mutual. By all accounts they would not see each other again until they were in eternity together with the Lord. Though the emotions would run high at such a time it is no small consolation in knowing that they will again see each other. This is one of the blessings of being part of the body of Christ. This knowledge and assurance helps a people to endure hardships; knowing that whatever suffering or loss that may be felt is but temporal. Paul’s imprint upon the church of Ephesus is an eternal one. He helped established the template for today’s version of an effective Bible School as seen from Acts 19. Paul not only blessed the saints and the church at Ephesus but he also blessed the entire church world in allowing us to be beneficiaries of all his labours in that fruitful field.