Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sunday School Lesson for July 21st Fasting and Praying Ezra 7 - 8:23

Fasting and Praying
Ezra 7:6-10
New International Version (NIV)
6 this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. 7 Some of the Israelites, including priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.

8 Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. 9 He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Plans for the Trip

Ezra 7:6-10The second section of the book begins with a listing of Ezra’s credentials. Ruben Ratzlaff notes, “Like many of the genealogies of the Old Testament, it includes only the more significant names. There are frequent omissions.” Ezra was a priest (vv. 7, 11; 10:10), and v. 6 reports that he was also a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses. Some suggest this is the first mention of a scribe in the Bible, a group Ezra may have helped create. He not onlycopied the Law, but also taught it to others.
Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, approved Ezra’s leading the Jews in their return from Babylon to Palestine. Scripture makes clear exactly how it happened that the king had granted him everything he asked.  Put simply, “The hand of the Lord his God was on him”(v. 6). James Smith explains, “Ezra was able in some unexplained way to secure an appointment from the king to return to Jerusalem as a religious reformer.” This blessing came from God. Many years later James observed, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). No doubt prayer undergirded all of Ezra’s efforts.
Returning with him was a broad mix of Israelites—priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers and temple servants. Especially mentioned are those who would be serving God in the new temple there. The dating of this trip is clearly indicated. In 458 BC Ezra and his entourage arrived back in Jerusalem. It had been almost 80 years since the first return, and 147 years since Daniel and his friends were taken to Babylon. Their travel time to get back home was four months.

Ezra 6:10 is a popular verse with preachers. It suggests a worthy goal for all God’s children, under three headings. Ezra was determined to do three things—study the Law of God, practice the Law, and teach the Law to others.
Ezra 8:21-23
New International Version (NIV)

21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Preparation for the Trip

Ezra 8:21-23Before leaving with his fellow travelers, Ezra called them together for a special time of prayer and fasting. The Day of Atonement was the one fast required of the people each year (see Leviticus 23:32). The people could add other voluntary fasts, however. C. F. Keil explains, “Fasting, as a means of humbling themselves before God, for the purpose of obtaining an answer to their petitions, was an ancient custom of the Israelites (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; Joel 1:14; 2 Chronicles 20:3).”
Years later when Jesus was on earth, fasting was widely practiced. John the Baptist’s followers regularly participated in fasting (Luke 5:33-35). Jesus himself fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness before beginning his earthly ministry (Matthew 4:2). Not all those who fasted did so for the right reasons, however. Our Lord condemned the Pharisees who bragged about fasting twice a week, but whose hearts were far from what God wanted them to be (Luke 18:12). They tried to impress people with their spirituality, but they failed to impress God!
Leslie G. Thomas points out, “Jesus warns that one may soil this fine act of physical restraint by using it for the purpose of spiritual show.” Proper fasting is not done to show off for others, but is essentially between a believer and God (see Matthew 6:16-18). We are not to call attention to ourselves when we fast. One writer observed, “A lowly spirit doesn’t necessarily mean a long face!” In the first-century church, people fasted when elders were appointed (Acts 14:23) and before sending out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3).
Ezra opens his heart when he admits that he didn’t want to ask the king for military protection for them on the trip, since Ezra had assured the king that God was with them! This section closes with this powerful summation: “So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.” When we fast and pray, God will still do so today!
*Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2009, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
July 15: 2 Chronicles 7:12-18
July 16: Psalm 69:9-18
July 17: Isaiah 66:1-4
July 18: Matthew 6:16-18
July 19: Ezra 7:1-10
July 20: Ezra 8:15-20
July 21: Ezra 8:21-23

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