September 18 — Ezra 1-3 — Creating a Stir (about 537 – 535 BC). Until the time of the Reformation, the Hebrew Bible combined the overlapping books of Ezra and Nehemiah that summarize the return of the Jews from their Babylonian exile. Ezra returned first with the aim of establishing worship in the newly-built temple and Nehemiah followed with the focus of rebuilding the city wall. Twice in these first three chapters of Ezra, it mentions God’s action of stirring the hearts of people to accomplish His will. First, “the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus’ (1:1). This Persian king was the ruler of the largest empire yet, covering the whole Near East from India to Greece and reaching south to Egypt, yet God directed him by creating a stir in his heart toward His people. In the second place, “everyone whose spirit God had stirred” (v. 5) among the Jewish leaders were moved to return to Judah. They had been in Babylon for close to 70 years and most of them had never seen Jerusalem. God had to create a desire in their hearts to go. God also has a way of placing in our hearts today a desire to do the things He wants to have accomplished. Will you be sensitive to His moving in you today to do something unusual, something uncomfortable, or even something daring?
September 19 — Ezra 4-6, Psalm 137 — Overcoming Obstacles (about 536 – 515 BC). “Free at last!” was the likely cry of the first Jews returning to the Promised Land but in a way, it was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. They had not actually been slaves in Babylon but only exiles. Now, back in Jerusalem, they faced concentrated and persistent opposition from people who had moved into that land following Judah’s deportation. That local government became their adversary (4:1) and first tried a soft, but deceptive, approach: “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do” (v. 2). Then, they tried other means to intimidate them, “to frustrate their purpose” (v. 5). Letters written to the Persian king succeeded in stopping construction of the temple in Jerusalem for about 10 years. Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged them with messages from the Lord (5:1) and the work began again. The new King Darius gave them the go-ahead (6:1-4) and the temple was completed with celebration (v. 16) and the keeping of Passover (v. 19). When we sometimes feel like we have jumped into the fire, we need to remember that God is for us and with us. Look to Him for comfort, encouragement, and motivation until your obstacles are overcome.
September 20 — Haggai 1-2 — A Bag with Holes (about 520 BC). I love this description of the futility of placing a higher priority on one’s own material interests than on what pleases God: “And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes” (1:6). God has a way of poking holes in our bags of greed. The returning exiles were putting almost all of their energies into building their own houses in Jerusalem while neglecting building the temple. Haggai’s message was one of priorities: Put God first! I read recently the significant statement from Max Lucado that “what we already have is far greater than anything we might want.” What do we already have? “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness …” (2 Pet. 1:3). That which has the highest value should have our highest priority. Haggai’s message got through to the leaders and the remnant who had returned from Babylon. They “obeyed … and feared the LORD” (1:12), “the LORD stirred up the spirit” of the people (v. 14), and they got to work on what was more important.
September 21 — Zechariah 1-7 — Again Choose (about 520 BC). God reviewed part of the sinful history of Judah, having been “very angry with [their] fathers” (1:2). But after 70 years of punishing exile in Babylon, He would “again choose Jerusalem” (1:17, 2:12). That is forgiveness. The high priest Joshua, who represented the people of God, was accused by Satan before Yahweh but the devil was rebuked and Joshua was told, “I have taken your iniquity away” (3:4). That is forgiveness. There was a cycle: sin—punishment—forgiveness. That cycle was modified by the cross. God saw our sin, provided Jesus to take our punishment, and offered forgiveness for our sins. Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice, for the believer, the cycle is now, sin—confession—forgiveness. Because He was willing to “again choose,” there is no longer condemnation for the believer.
September 22 — Zechariah 8-14 — The Coming Messiah (about 520 BC). The final chapters of Zechariah have four significant references to the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. The arriving king “humble and mounted on a donkey” (9:9) was fulfilled at the Triumphal Entry of Jesus at the beginning of His Passion Week (Matt. 21:5; John 12:15). The thirty pieces of silver thrown “into the house of the LORD” (Zech. 11:13) predicted the betraying act of Judas (Matt. 27:9). The one being pierced and mourned (Zech. 12:10) pointed toward Jesus’ crucifixion (John 19:37). The sheep being scattered after the shepherd was struck (Zech. 13:7) was fulfilled at Jesus’ arrest and after He died (Matt. 26:31; Mark 14:27). I wonder if these were some of the verses Jesus quoted to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection? “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). There is one more coming of the Messiah referred to by Zechariah, the Second Coming, when “his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zech. 14:4). The King is coming—again!
September 23 — Esther 1-5 — Shifting Queens (about 520 BC). The book of Esther is a classic story involving heroes and a villain but it is also a unique Bible story in that it never mentions God, although His presence and involvement are clearly implied. Queen Vashti’s defiance of her husband, the king, cost her the position of queen. Queen Esther was apparently equally beautiful and modest but she was submissive to her husband, to her older cousin, and to God. When challenged with a unique opportunity to save her people, she called for a three-day fast for support, direction, and success. Mordecai’s challenge is memorable: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14). That is a good question for us as well. Why are we where we are at this particular time? Our school, work, family, neighborhood, church, club, etc. God chooses to put us as His representatives and to participate in accomplishing His purposes in others’ lives, whether individually or in groups. Grow where you are planted! Impact your surroundings for Christ!
September 24 — Esther 6-10 — Self-Seeking Sinkholes (about 520 BC). There were several people in this story who were seeking things. Haman was seeking for honor: “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” (6:6). That self-seeking resulted in disaster. After he was exposed by Esther, he sought for his life: “Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther” (7:7). Esther also sought for life, but it was unselfish, requesting from the king, “let my life be granted me … and my people” (7:3). Mordecai’s seeking was even less selfish, “for he sought for the welfare of his people” (10:3). His unselfish seeking for his people resulted in unasked-for honor: “he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers” (10:3). He was also honored by the king who gave him his signet ring (8:2) and allowed him to create an edict and send it to the empire’s 127 provinces (v. 9). The default of our sinful nature is to seek for ourselves, but God’s desire is for us to seek good for others. Striving to be first may result in unexpected disasters but concentrating on being second is likely to result in unexpected honor.