By Benjamin H. Liles
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. ~ Nehemiah 8:5-6, New King James
Why would anyone open a book? I would think a good reason to open a book and to read the contents within would be for entertainment, that's a fairly decent answer. Maybe you open up a book to read it because somehow it's interested you. The contents of the pages you have read before seem to say more to you now than they once did. Sometimes you read a book to learn something new. Lately, I have been doing some reading and applying what I learn.
What is it am I learning? I have to admit my dislike for my website, for how it looks, and how everyone interacts with it. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that there are those of you who read what I write. God has put it on our hearts to seek and to know Him. That's a great thing. And that's where I was going with what I was saying.
Daniel, a man of God who was in exile in Babylon, says, "In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans—in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the Lord through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem" (Daniel 9:1-2, New King James). Daniel was wanting to know when the seventy years of desolation would end. I imagine he did so as his time in Babylon was coming to a close. His desire was to see (not in the literal sense) God's temple rebuilt.
Immediately, after Gabriel explains the seventy years of desolation prophecy to Daniel, which tells of our Messiah Jesus coming, that He would seal up God's scriptures, that He would be anointed. Now, here comes the interesting part of the prophecy: Gabriel tells Daniel, "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street [the square] shall be built again, and the wall [the moat], even in troublesome times" (Daniel 9:25).
What's the point of this line of thought? When Jesus was crucified, the temple, its walls, and streets in Jerusalem had been finished for some time. In fact, the temple was finished before Jesus was born. So, who had the temple rebuilt? We find the answer, somewhat within the book of Daniel: "So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian. In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a message was revealed to Daniel, whose name was called Belteshazzar. The message was true, but the appointed time was long [overdue]; and he understood the message and had understanding of the vision" (Daniel 6:28; 10:1).
I know we never see an issue or decree coming from Cyrus in the pages of Daniel, but he does issue one, in the book of Ezra: "Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:1-4, New King James).
If we look briefly at two things, we'll see Daniel and Ezra were slight contemporaries. Daniel was coming to the close of his life in Babylon, and Ezra was starting his life in returning to Jerusalem from Babylon. Cyrus issues the decree in his first year, where the event is recorded in Ezra's account. Toward Daniel's end, he said, "In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia..." It's pretty cool to read and see things that can possibly be missed. Let's skip ahead so we can get to where I really want to be.
So, I did some quick reading here. If you go back to Nehemiah 7, there is an order given to keep the gates shut until the sun is hot: "And I said to them, “Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot; and while they stand guard, let them shut and bar the doors; and appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, one at his watch station and another in front of his own house" (Nehemiah 7:3).
We read also in Nehemiah 7 there is a census, to a degree, letting us know who all was there, from which tribe, who descends from whom. Then we come to chapter 8. We see this pretty neat scene where everyone is gathered at the Watergate in Jerusalem. Ezra is both a priest and a teacher. He has just found the book of the law of Moses and he is ready to open and read what it says. As soon as he does, everyone bows their heads, and they worship the Lord. These people of Israel realize, upon returning, having fixed up the walls, and repaired the streets, they come out of the city, close the gates and have a worship service.
"So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”
"And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly because they understood the words that were declared to them" (Nehemiah 8:9-12, New King James).
In all the times we read scripture, do we ever truly magnify God, His works, allowing Him the right to make His presence known to us, to help make our joy complete? I don't believe we do. There are some in our Christian world who revere and hold fast to Him. They open His word up, seeing how much they sinned, but then quickly rejoice, thus allowing God to make their joy complete. These citizens of the Kingdom of Judah were allowed to return and rebuild God's temple worshiped Him. They heard the words Ezra spoke from the law. They grieved in genuine, heartfelt repentance as they realize how much they sinned. And on top of that, they are told to stop weeping and to be filled with joy!
This is how we know we're doing right. We allow God to take the time, not just to open our hearts and minds to Him, but by allowing ourselves to truly read His word. I know I don't give practical advice on how to live out the Christian faith. I feel it is more my place to show how Jesus fulfills scripture. I want to always keep Him high and lifted up. To explain that by allowing the time and a little effort in receiving Him on the throne of our hearts, He will make our joy complete. We don't have to mourn when we read. Is it a bad thing to cry and to be sad? No. But to remain in that state leads to depression and other serious effects that make our health decline.
The whole point of Ezra reading the law, helping the people see their need, outside the gates of Jerusalem, getting them to see that God makes our joy complete can be likened to allowing ourselves seeing Jesus in the right time frame. Not only did Jesus come at the close of the Old Testament, which Nehemiah and Ezra also lived in, but we see that even though another four hundred and eighty years would pass (more or less) until Jesus would walk the streets of Jerusalem Himself.
By allowing ourselves the right to read God's word, having it explained in such a way we rend our hearts before God (see Joel 2:13), asking Him to spare us from His justice, reminding Him of His everlasting patience, grace, and mercy are we able to see what it is He wants to give us: Jesus. He fulfills scripture in so many ways. We may not see Heaven anytime soon where God will wipe the tears away from our eyes (see Revelation 21:4), yet we can have the same hope and joy the people of Judah did before they entered Jerusalem, where their God would be with them.
We have Jesus. When we do the things the returning Jews did: consecrate ourselves, allow His word to be opened to us, transform us from sad to joyful people, we show Him as well as others He has already wiped the tears from our eyes. He is our joy made complete! He is our faith! He is alive! And He will return! What better reason to make our hearts ready to receive Him? Allow the word you receive put a smile on your face. Let your joy be full and complete, knowing Jesus will return when the time is ready.
Father, You know events and times far better than I ever will. I may see certain things and believe the rumors You won't return. My faith tells me You will. I may hear rumors, but I recall how much You delight in those who fully trust You and in Your word. You allowed an old and blind man to see the birth of Your servant and Son, Jesus. You allowed a woman who before she passed into Your gates to behold the Son of the King. You give so much. Yet, all I can give is myself, my heart, my mind to You. I can give You also the things I think are mine. This keyboard I type on, it belongs to You. This computer I sit at, it's Yours to do Your will with. All things are Yours and to You, they will return. I also want to return to You. I want to be able to hear You say those sweet words to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (see Matthew 25:21, 23). I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.