Lesson for the week of July 14, 2013
Scripture: Ezra 6:13-22
By Kim Reindl
Opening questions: Have you ever participated in a dedication service of a building or a church? For what purposes was the structure dedicated?
The meaning of the word dedicate is to consecrate or set apart for a specific use or function. Dedications are often held to consecrate official buildings, such as government buildings, that will be used in service of the greater, common good. In the church we dedicate church buildings and liturgical objects, recognizing that such are set apart to be used for the glory of God. In some Christian traditions, particularly in Baptist churches where infant baptism is not a part of the tradition, babies will be dedicated in a service of worship offering thanks to God for the child’s birth and prayers for the child’s future.
Today’s scripture passage tells of the dedication of the second Jerusalem temple. Decades after the first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE the second temple was finally completed in “the sixth year of the reign of King Darius,” in 515 BCE. The scripture tells us that “the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy” (Ezra 6:16). This was a time of great celebration modeled after the ceremonial dedication of Solomon’s temple. Like the dedication of the first temple, animals, although far fewer in number than in the time of Solomon (1 Kings 8:63), were offered as “pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven” (Ezra 6:10, 17). The religious leadership of the priests and the Levites were set “for the service of God at Jerusalem” (Ezra 6:18). Also, the temple was reestablished as the center for the celebration of festivals, the first of which was the celebration of Passover and the festival of unleavened bread (Ezra 6:19-22).
It can be argued that the dedication of the second temple was seen by those who had returned from exile as evidence of God’s “steadfast love.” King Solomon had acknowledged such love when he offered his prayer at the dedication of the first temple. He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart” (1 Kings 8:23). The returnees had remembered such love when the foundation of the second temple was laid. They sang to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel” (Ezra 3:11). The people now realized such love when the temple was rebuilt. With the dedication of the second temple, the people understood the meaning of God’s steadfast love in a profound way.
As the people of God stood before the reconstructed temple, they understood God’s steadfast love as it had unfolded within the course of human history. They understood King Cyrus to be God’s “anointed” when he issued an edict that allowed for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, even though he was the king of a foreign land (Isaiah 45:1; Ezra 1:1-4). They understood King Darius to be an instrument of God’s faithfulness when he issued a decree giving full support to the rebuilding project to the extent of offering funds from the royal treasury, even after orders had been given to cease “rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city” (Ezra 4:12, 21, 24; Ezra 4:1-6:12). They understood themselves to be the holy remnant of Israel when they presented a sin offering to God for all twelve tribes of Israel, although only members of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi were present within their post-exilic community (Ezra 6:17). Furthermore, they understood that punishment against Israel had been reversed when they declared that God had “turned the heart of the king of Assyria [not Persia] to them,” recognizing that the calamity that had begun toward the whole of Israel centuries ago under Assyria had finally been redeemed with the return of the people to the land and the completion of the temple.
The returnees to the land knew both the pain and the wisdom of exile. They knew what it was like to experience loss of home, loss of identity, and loss of freedom. They had learned from the mistakes of their ancestors and now longed to serve God in the fullness of their tradition, a tradition that included temple worship. The book of Ezra offers a glimpse at how the post-exilic community saw God as working through human history to redeem God’s people. The dedication of the temple was for them a culmination of God’s forgiveness and an example of God’s steadfast love.
Questions for further reflection:
• What other stories of scripture bear witness to God’s steadfast love as it unfolds within the course of human history?
• Have you experienced God’s steadfast love within your own life or seen it within the life of someone that you know? Do you have stories of dark times that were later transformed into new beginnings? Share your stories if you are willing.
Kim Reindl chairs the Discipleship Ministry Team for the North Georgia Conference and is available to lead retreats, workshops, and seminars through Pomegranate Christian Education & Formation, www.pomegranatece.com. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.