Today’s reading: Ezra 1-3.
Israel returned to the Promised Land after seventy years in a foreign land. Their release and return was a miracle of God’s grace, but the greater wonder is how they responded when they returned. They had no king, no temple, and little besides what they brought with them. They were descended from ancestors, kings and commoners alike, who had often abandoned the LORD and worshiped idols. Yet, when they returned to their former homeland they acted like the people of God.
- They assembled as one in Jerusalem to observe the feast of Tabernacles.
- They gave offerings to rebuild the temple.
- They rebuilt the altar and offered sacrifices even though they feared the reprisal of neighboring countries.
The greatest evidence of their changed hearts was visible when the foundation stones of the new temple were laid.
With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: “He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. Ezra 3:11-13.
The people wept and shouted for joy. Some wept because their hearts were broken over what had been lost. Others were joyful because of the new opportunity to worship God in Jerusalem. In both cases they responded out of devotion to the LORD. This was the same nation that had “mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:16). The difference? They had responsibly accepted the LORD’S discipline.
Five hundred years earlier Solomon had written, “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12). The Israelites had accepted the LORD’s reproof and were restored to their position as children of God. They weren’t perfect, but they had been redeemed from their captivity because they submitted to God’s correction.
The book of Hebrews outlines some of the steps in the process of discipline, beginning with the foundation of Solomon’s principle from Proverbs. Chapter 12 goes on to say:
- God disciplines those he loves; therefore we can accept his correction as intended for our good.
- Parents discipline their children, and God’s discipline should reassure us that we are still his own.
- We should submit to the authority of God’s correction as a child submits to his or her parent’s authority.
- God’s aim in disciplining us is to make us holy.
- What seems painful in correction now will bring peace and righteousness later.
Jesus amplified this idea when he said that we are like the grape-vine which God prunes so that it will bear more fruit. Is God pruning you today? Do you feel like you are experiencing the pain of correction? God wants you to accept his discipline. If you will, you will find it leads to freedom from captivity and a fruitful future.
Image by Stefano Lubiana on Flickr, CC by 2.0.