We are a few weeks in to a set of lessons that all have something to do with freedom, and with the character of God as liberator. With that in mind, we could ask ourselves where we see references to freedom in Ezra 6:13-22, the text we are studying for Sunday, March 20. But there are also a number of references to joy in this text, and in v22 we read “for the HOLY ONE had made them joyful” – which prompts the question, what is the relationship of joy to freedom? Is it consequence? Or cause? Or is joy actually a form of freedom? Or … ? What difference do our answers here seem to make? Especially for how we see this text speaking to our own lives?
That seems to me like one potentially fruitful line of thinking about this text. [Some notes on the text are here.] But here are a couple more questions we might want to consider, or to discuss in class:
In v14, “the command of God” is named as one of the contributing influences that brings about the rebuilding of the temple. In v22, God “made them joyful” and “turned the heart of the king” – both statements of God’s direct agency in this whole episode. We might be able to see other ways God is active in the events described in this text. What does all this tell us about God? How does this picture of God, or of the way God works, fit with or modify the way we already think about God? How do we feel about that? Why?
[More personal] What difference does it make for us, in our own lives, if we think of God as an active participant in whatever is going on? What is positive about that? What, if anything, troubles us about it? Why?
There is some emphasis on purity in this text. The priests and Levites have purified themselves (v20), which is important for their celebration of the Passover. The people who celebrate the Passover are also described in terms of their purity (v21). Why do we think the author included these references? What do we think the author wants us to know, or to understand, from reading this?
[More speculative, but also practical] If we could have a conversation with the author, or with a few of these returned exiles, what would we want to ask them about this? What do we think they would tell us? What might surprise us? What would we want to tell them, do we think? Why? What does that exercise tell us about what we think matters for worshiping God, who may worship God, what it means to worship God properly, etc.? What do we learn from all that?
[A lot more speculative, but I suspect more important than it seems on the surface] What do we think is going on in this text with these references to Assyria?? The inclusion of all 12 tribes in the sin offerings, and the claim that God has turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward the people, to aid them? What can this possibly be suggesting to us?
[For instance – that the formal titles of empires are not the most important thing about them? That in some sense there is just one empire, the same one all along? Or … that whether we see them or not, we are still connected with our kin? Still, even, responsible for them? Or … what?]
Image: “The Conversation,” Arnold Lakhovsky, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.