Not long ago I did a study of the Old Testament book Ezra. Recently I’ve been going through it again and discovered how something that impressed me before took on new meaning this week. It was very timely.
In Ezra 6:21-22, the returned exiles (the “main character” of the story so far) celebrate Passover: “So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the Lord, the God of Israel.” – Ezra 6:21 (NIV). But this is a special Passover because they’ve just finished rebuilding and dedicating the temple in Jerusalem. The next verse describes how joyful they were in celebrating and how glad they were to worship the Lord on this Passover: “For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy…” -Ezra 6:22 (NIV)
When I first read this small section, I loved it! Stories in the Old Testament can be thrilling but often dark, so occasional slivers of joy like this seem especially meaningful and beautiful. I loved it so much because—though far from an Old Testament scholar—I am familiar with how much the Israelites endure through the history it details, so reading about how the exiled Israelites finally return to rebuild the house of the Lord was like sharing in a huge victory with them.
Over time as I’ve learned about the Israelites and their pain and struggle, I’ve become deeply invested in their story. I’ve rooted for them just like rooting for the main character of a favorite book, getting excited when something goes right for the Israelites just as when something goes right for my favorite character. The scripture passages describe how much opposition they faced when returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, but also how God’s hand was over them the whole time. When I read that they finished the work and celebrated Passover with worship and joy, I rejoiced along with them.
Something I noticed but didn’t expect in verse 6:21 is where it says, [the Passover lamb] was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also everyone who had joined them and separated themselves from the uncleanliness of the peoples of the land to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. The Passover, normally only for Israelites, was opened to, and shared completely with, anyone who wanted to be washed clean of sin and worship the Lord.
The joy of the Lord was not only for the Israelites! No part of the Passover was kept from anyone who was not an Israelite. They welcomed and celebrated with anyone who wanted to join them in worshiping the Lord. God does not want any of his children to miss out on the joy he has for them. And so, we must follow the Israelites’ lead in Ezra 6:21 by welcoming all God’s people into worship, joy, and LIFE, as He wants us all to share in his goodness equally in the same way.
Thinking about this passage again this week made me see it in a different light. What if we all became as invested in the histories, pain, struggles and long journeys of people of other backgrounds, as I did with the Israelites? So we can root for and help them reach their victories? So that we can be overjoyed and celebrate with them? And what if we opened up to share fully the ways that God has blessed us with those who are different from us, in the same way that the Israelites did with those who were not of their own people? We’d all be a lot more loving and loved, and God would be better known.
Isabella is a recent college graduate in the field of music education with a passion for helping kids find their creativity and identity through music. You can listen to any of our Bible studies by tuning in to your favorite radio station, listening to our podcasts on our website or iTunes, or listening through TuneIn, Stitcher or Spotify online radio.
This was a thoughtful read, thank you, Isabella!
Holly Lazzaro says
Isabella thank you so much for this word of encouragement!!! You’re so right that we should welcome all to God’s table and a big WOW for the way that you saw the Ezra parallel to our culture today. You’re a blessing!
Richard M. Evans says
Very good and interesting article. Thank you God for the joy you give us! Thank you that you love all those other people who join the Israelites (Gentiles) who worship you, like me! Thank you Isabella for this very good article.
Richard M Evans, Director – Southwest Dallas Reasonable Faith, and Author.