Reflecting on Ezra 6 1-12

How would we describe what is “going on” in Ezra 6:1-12, the text we are studying for Sunday, March 13? That is, do we describe this as the action being taken by an emperor? And if so, can we tell what moves this emperor to act this way, or do we have some idea about that from some other source? Where does our idea come from? Or, do we describe this event as the hand of God in operation? And if so, where do we see that hand of God, or get the idea about it? In other words: what are we seeing go on in this text, and can we see how are we managing to see that?

This line of questioning seems important to me in looking at this part of the story of Ezra. Important, in part, because we ourselves encounter similar kinds of moments. We ourselves experience the “issuing of decrees” or the promulgation of policies all the time in our own daily lives. In this way, at least, we and the Judahites have something in common. What should we make of that particular similarity, do we think?

Some notes on Ezra 6:1-12 are here, and here are a couple more questions we might want to think about or possibly discuss in class:

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What do we think is the relationship of the kings, like Cyrus and Darius, to God, that is, the God of Israel, or as we may think of God, the one true God? Do we see that relationship spelled out, or implied in the text, or from the larger context of this part of the story? Or do we seem to bring it to the text from our own theology? Or, what?

[A little more hermeneutical, but also practical] What does this show us about the way we ourselves read the Bible?

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What kind of writing would we say this is? Why do we think this kind of writing is in the Bible? Does it mean anything that this kind of writing is in the Bible, do we think – that is, are we supposed to get any ideas from that? What ideas? Why?

One thing we might notice about the writing is that it’s historical writing; it brings to the past and its telling the story of the past what it knows about the present. That is, it tells the story of the past in light of what the narrator knows about the present. How do we think this affects the writing? And how does it affect the reading – any reading, our own reading – of the book of Ezra, of this passage in Ezra?

What does the narrator know about the present that the actors themselves may not know?

What does the narrator know about the situation that the actors themselves may not know?

A famous phrase of Kierkegaard’s is that “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” How does this inisight apply to this story in the book of Ezra, do we think? How does it apply to us? For instance, does this story give us any guidance in seeing the hand of God in present circumstances, do we think? What guidance is that?

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How do we think of the Judahites as similar to us? In what ways different? What do we see as the significance of those similarities and differences? Why is that?

How does thinking about the Judahites’ experience affect the way we understand our own moment in time? What thoughts, feelings, questions, resolves does it raise for us?

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Overall, one of the things I am noticing especially this week, and especially in reading this part of the book of Ezra, is how limited our own perspective on the actual events of our own lives is constrained to be. Even when we have access to a lot of historical knowledge – even when we know a lot about how things have gone down in the past – we are still not in a position to say much about the larger significance of the events we ourselves are experiencing. This must also have been true for the Judahites whose own real lives were the subject matter of the book of Ezra. Or rather, were mostly not the subject matter of the book of Ezra, which is mainly interested in the bit of their real lives that had to do with the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Which would have been just one part of those real lives, in real life. How important it is to notice that is hard for me to say.

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three young girls sitting in a room reading a large book

Image: “Spannende Lektüre,” Walther Firle, 1929, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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