The book of Ezra closes with a plan of cleansing agreed to by the people. Our last reading identified the problem, and we saw Ezra’s response was to earnestly pray. Today’s reading picks up right there with many other people joining Ezra in his lament.
Were you surprised at how easily the people agreed with Ezra? The plan was put in place to remove the pagan spouses from the land to cleanse the land of foreigners who would not share in the devotion to the LORD, respecting his laws and decrees. The purpose of this cleansing was to remove the “poison” of unbelief from spreading.
Ezra headed up the second wave of returnees to Jerusalem. In today’s reading, we get an accounting of who came with him. Interesting that he had to recruit some Levites and temple workers to join the traveling group. You’ll recall a good number of Levites were included in the first wave.
Ezra is again setting a good example for us when he fasts and humbles himself before the journey. I can remember many family car trips beginning with a word of prayer asking for God’s protection over our journey. Those five-hour car rides are nothing in comparison with the several month trek on foot through the wilderness to Jerusalem. No matter the distance, God travels with those who ask!
The book of Zechariah is often viewed in three sections because of stylistic differences. The first includes Chapters 1-8, the second Chapters 9-11, and the third, Chapters 12-14. The latter sections are thought to have been added to this book but not necessarily written by Zechariah. Don’t be surprised when we get to those later chapters and the style and focus changes a bit.
Like Haggai, Zechariah first speaks to the Israelites returning to Jerusalem from their exilic captivity. This was a chance for a new life, and God wanted to make sure they were secure in the hope that only he provides. Have you ever moved to a new city? You know the adjustment period can be challenging.
God’s explanation of “why” the Babylonian empire must fall was simple. “Just as Babylon killed the people of Israel and others throughout the world, so must her people be killed.” This is one common picture of justice, known as retributive justice. “For the Lord is a God who gives just punishment; he always repays in full.”
What surprised me was that long before Babylon’s destruction, roughly seventy-seven years, Jeremiah sent messages to Babylon about its own demise at the hands of God. What a bold move! Notice Jeremiah used someone else to deliver this message from God to Babylon. Imagine what those hearing God’s message must have thought. It would be their descendants who would witness God’s fulfillment of these words.
I love how Bernhard Anderson’s commentary on Amos states, “Christians should need no special urging to turn to the prophets of ancient Israel.” Don’t we see how Jesus’ own back story is being written in what is happening now to his ancestors. The traditions of Jesus’ day were strongly influenced by what we see happening to Amos and the people surrounding him. Yet, the wisdom being given to Amos from God could just as well be speaking to us. Do you see it, too?
As if they were already dead, in this reading Amos is singing a funeral song to the Israelites who were listening. Can you imagine the lament and feeling of despair the messenger, Amos, was feeling at having to deliver such a message to his people? But he was giving them a way out, a gift that will be left unaccepted.