OT: Ezra 7:1-8:20
I was a little confused by Ezra coming on to the scene. Apparently, he is sent by Artaxerxes to rebuild the temple, but wasn't Artaxerxes the guy who stopped the Jews? Plus, I'm getting a little lost on the timeline here. Here is the basic order I have:
--Cyrus sends the exiles back with instructions to rebuild the temple.
--Artaxerxes tells them to stop.
--They start rebuilding, and Darius confirms that they are allowed to.
--Maybe there is another Artaxerxes, who then sends Ezra?
Honestly, if there are two Artaxerxes, this all makes a lot more sense. Except that...why didn't Ezra leave back in the day of Cyrus?
And, whoa! All of a sudden we get first person narration! Other than the psalms, that is a first for the OT. I was totally shocked when I read the "me" in verse 28. I was like, "Who is talking?! What is going on here?" It took me few minutes to adjust to the new style and to realize that the "me" was apparently Ezra. Hence the name of the book, I guess.
The first person narration was by far the most interesting part of today's reading. I don't know why, but my mind is still a little blown by it.
NT: 1 Corinthians 4:1-21
When you grow up reading the Bible, it becomes kind of like a scrapbook of memories. Different verses remind you of different scenes of your life, and of where you were and what you were doing when those verses first "spoke" to you.
For example, I can never read verses 3-4 of this chapter without remembering the frustration I felt as a teenager when my church really tried to tackle the issue of modesty. Looking back, I don't remember much of what they did besides a few talks from the elders and from the volunteers in charge of the youth group at the time. However, whatever they said must have royally teed me off, b/c I definitely remember raging against them and against the whole concept of "forced" modesty to my mom. So much of my frustration came from my insecurity and pride, but another part came, ironically, from my love of rules. Because of my desire to follow the rules, I very much resented being told that I was somehow breaking a rule that I didn't know existed. Whether this was true or not, I felt that specific rules were being thrust upon me that I did not find in Scripture. Thus, I found profound satisfaction when I stumbled upon these verses as I was reading through Paul's letters:
"I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court. Indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me" (3-4). I still have those verses memorized. And even though I might have loved them so much at the time b/c of my own immaturity and pride, they did help guide me through that debacle. They helped me realize that, while I should not necessarily care about the judgment of other people, I should recognize that just b/c my conscience was clear, that did not mean I was innocent. I realized that I needed to be cognizant of the fact that I would be judged by God for my actions. And when I was able to decide that on my own, and to make my actions for God, and not for men, I found it easier to respect what was apparently my church's definition of modesty.
Another scrapbook moment is found in verse 10. In college, I volunteered briefly at a feed the homeless ministry. The volunteers called themselves "Fools for Christ," based on this verse. I am still not 100% sure of what the reference meant, but reading it always reminds me of that time.
And lastly, 1 Cor. 4:20 has been my pet verse for awhile. Though the context of the verse is rather specific, I definitely see the verse as containing a very general truth: the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power. I can't actually remember when this verse first slapped me upside the head, but it has encouraged and empowered me for years now. I get so discouraged by "talk," without accompanying actions. This verse helps to empower me to live as a citizen in God's kingdom by following through on my various resolves to glorify Him.
David thanks God for His many dramatic rescues.
Verse 28 provides a biblical counterpoint to Machiavellian theory.
Verse 29 finds the positive sides of both youth and age.
And verse 30? Well, verse 30 is just kind of frightening:
"Blows and wounds cleanse away evil,
and beatings purge the inmost being."
Wow. I definitely see the potential for misapplication there. In fact, I can't actually see a proper way to apply that verse at all....
I guess it is just a more dramatic rendition of the idea that discipline and punishment are often necessary to correct immoral actions. But man, it sure sounds violent!