Friday, July 19, 2013

WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
An international Sunday school lesson commentary

For Sunday July 21, 2013
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FASTING AND PRAYING
(Preparing for GOD’s Service with fasting and prayer)
(Ezra 7:25-28 & 8:21-23)

Chapters 7-10, of the Book of Ezra, deals with events that took place in Jerusalem, after Ezra returned from Babylon in 458 B.C. Fifty-eight years have passed since the “Passover Celebration” that is chronicled at the end of chapter 6, and the Persian Empire is now being headed by King Artaxerxes, the grandson of Darius.
Ezra was a direct descendant of Aaron the Priest, the brother of Moses, the man of GOD. He was a “Scribe” who was well-versed in the “Law of GOD” that was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. When he came up to Jerusalem (Chapter 7), Artaxerxes gave him everything that he “asked for”, because the hand of the LORD was upon him, just as HIS hand was upon his predecessors, Darius and Cyrus.
Some of the people of Israel, as well as some of the priests, Levites, and other temple officials, and servants came up with Ezra during the seventh year of Artaxerxes reign, into Palestine. During this time, the teachings of GOD’s Law, was being increasingly ignored, and temple worship was becoming more and more routine, with each passing day.
When Ezra arrived, he brought with him, large donations for the temple, and a royal commission to appoint judges, and to enforce, both, Old Testament Law, and, Persian Law, in Judah. He had been instructed by King Artaxerxes to “use the wisdom of GOD” to appoint magistrates and judges, who were familiar with the Laws of GOD, to govern over the people of Judah. And if the people weren’t familiar with those laws, Ezra himself, was charged to teach them. Anyone who refused to comply with GOD’s Laws, and the laws of the Persian Empire, would be immediately punished with death (Vs. 25-26)   
Because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of GOD, and to teach the Word to the people, while preparing them with “prayer and fasting”, GOD graciously blessed him and his company as they had traveled for several months through dangerous territories with a large amount of treasure and no human security (Vs.8-10).
In verses 27-28 we see Ezra beginning to refer to himself in the “first person” for the first time in his writings. Here he praises the LORD for touching the heart of Artaxerxes and giving him the desire to want to “beautify the temple of the LORD” in Jerusalem with his own finances (v.27). He also thanked GOD for honoring him before the king, and before all of his royal court in Persia (v.28).
In Ezra 8:15-20 Ezra tells us that they assembled by the Ahava Canal (9 miles north of Babylon), which was used as “a staging area” for the Jews who were preparing to return to Palestine from Babylon. There they camped for three days while he went over the list of the names of those who were present, and among them, was not one volunteer Levite priest to be found.
And so Ezra sent for a group of “Israelite leaders” and “wise men”, and then, he sent them all to a Levite named Iddo, who was the leader of the Levite priests at Casiphia in Babylon. Their charge was to request that he send some Levites to minister in the temple at Jerusalem. Iddo sent Sherebiah, who was a very astute man, along with 18 of his sons and brothers. He also sent Hashabiah, Jeshaiah and 20 of his sons and brothers, along with 220 other temple workers.
When they reached the staging area, Ezra ordered everyone that was traveling to Jerusalem with him to “fast” and “pray”, and “humble themselves” before the LORD. They prayed that GOD would give them “traveling grace”, and protect them, their children, and their cargo from harm.
The king had already been so generous to them that Ezra was ashamed to request that, in addition, he supply them with horses and soldiers for protection. And besides, he wanted to show everyone that they could “depend on the protection of GOD” during their journey. And so GOD heard and answered their “earnest prayers” and HE granted them safe passage back to Jerusalem.
Prayer should never be an attempt to bend the will of GOD, but rather, should always be aimed towards submitting our wills “TO” the will of GOD. Ezra and the Israelites conformed their wills to the will of GOD, through earnest prayer, and then they “fasted” to “take their focus off the flesh” (off themselves), and place it firmly on GOD, so that they might “successfully carry out GOD’s will” to the letter, during their assignment in Jerusalem.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander





                                 
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