I admit that I have passed by some opportunities in life. I’ve had chances to see two different U.S. presidents in person, but missed them both. I’ve had other people offer help, and not taken them up on it. I’ve had rebate, gift cards, or credits that expired. I’ve left loyalty points sitting for too long and didn’t get to redeem them.
Of course, God has certainly blessed me, and I don’t need famous people or more material goods to live in the joy that He gives, but there are times that I look back and wonder if I should have made use of certain “credits” that came my way.
In the Bible, the books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah recount a somewhat continuous stretch of history. In chapter 7 of the book of Ezra, we meet an Israelite priest named Ezra (hence the name of the book – more on him in the previous article). In that same chapter, a king – Artaxerxes of Persia – is mentioned.
Ezra 7:11-26 contains a letter that King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra, supporting a return of Ezra and other Israelites to their homeland and specifically to the city of Jerusalem. Considering the nature of the books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, it makes sense that the person (or people) compiling them would include the contents of key letters from that history. We find elsewhere in these books of the Bible that records were kept, so – like a good documentary – these letters could probably be located in the archives, and included as part of the history that they recount.
The particular letter includes several instructions:
- As with an earlier decree from King Cyrus (described earlier in the book of Ezra), Israelites (including priests and Levites) can go to Jerusalem.
- Ezra is going on behalf of the king to check on Judah and Jerusalem. Apparently [per Schoville, p.102], this is to check on their spiritual – rather than political – condition.
- The king (along with others making donations) is sending silver and gold for the offerings to God in the temple at Jerusalem. He is also sending along additional “articles” (or “utensils”, per NASB) for the temple.
- The letter authorizes Ezra to ask for additional support (related to worship and/or sacrifices to God) from the local treasurers. And, those serving at the temple get a tax break!
- Ezra is told to “appoint magistrates and judges” for the region, and to teach the people God’s laws. Enforcement of God’s law may include a variety of authorized penalties, per the king (see verse 26).
After this letter from the king, verses 27 and 28 appears to be a praise to God from Ezra himself.
Praise be to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the LORD my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.
Ezra 7:27-28 NIV
So, let’s ask ourselves a few questions: Do we pray for the same thing? Do we ask God that His hand would be with us, to the point that leaders and those in authority would support our work for God? And, when God gives us specific opportunities to further His kingdom, do we accept those blessings from Him? Or do we make excuses as to why we don’t want to step up and do something for God with the opportunities that He gives us?
- Maybe we don’t like the source of God’s provisions. Ezra took help from a foreign nation, though – one that ruled over Israelites at the time – because God had caused the king to act favorably towards them.
- Maybe we don’t want to do our part, since accepting God’s offers to do great things will often require something from us…even sacrifice. Ezra went on a major journey, and had to deal with some messy issues after he got to Jerusalem.
- Maybe we are too busy with our own things that we don’t notice God’s offer. I suppose that Ezra could have overlooked the opportunity to do great things for God. However, he came to the realization that this was God’s will, so he (Ezra) stepped up and did something when God provided a way.
Let us each pray for God’s hand to be with us, to the point that even secular leaders and others in authority (outside of the church) would support our work for God.
After doing this, though, let us not waste opportunities that God gives us. If He provides for you, or makes a promise to you, accept His gift, and use it!
If even His salvation is a limited-time offer, which we should claim while we are still alive and able, let’s not miss out on His other gifts until it’s too late.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 22, 2023
- The Lookout, January 22, 2023, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville. © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.