I’ve been doing some thinking on Ezra and the post-exilic time period in Israel’s history lately. And no, it’s not because I’m super spiritual or my thoughts just naturally turn to the Jews’ return to Israel after living for 70 years in Babylonian captivity. It’s because I’m teaching on the book of Ezra this weekend. (Don’t worry – for those who read my surgery blog last week, I will be teaching sitting down, and I am officially off of valium. Otherwise, this weekend’s lesson would have the potential to be very scary. Just ask my girls who’ve been homeschooled for the past two weeks by a mom who’s been on both codeine and valium. Yikes.) And because I am teaching on Ezra means I needed a crash course on what the post-exilic time period in Israel’s history even is, the importance of it, and how it provides encouragement and strength for the people of God today.
I have surrounded myself with commentaries, charts, study notes, and time lines, trying to figure out exactly who was reigning when, what king issued what edict in what language, where each king was ruling and reigning in relation to Israel, and blah, blah, blah. The fact that I’ve been on valium hasn’t helped. I keep having to read the same things over and over because my brain is processing things at the speed of a slug trekking across a field of jello.
Finally, yesterday, as I was trying to piece together and think through all of the facts once again, the Lord spoke clearly and directly to my heart: “Stop trying to figure out all these facts. Do you really want to know who was ruling and reigning? Me. Do you really want to know who had absolute authority? Me. I’ve never been dethroned or defeated. I’ve never had to hand my rule or my kingdom over to another. I have always been on my throne, and that’s all that really counts. Now let’s get down to the lesson.”
I am not de-bunking historical fact or the importance of verifying its details; nor am I trying to minimalize any aspect of Scripture or to make it sound dry or boring. Every portion of Scripture is active, alive, and God-breathed and has more life and excitement in it than the wildest of rides. It’s just that we can get so caught up down here from our horizontal, earthly position on earthly rule and reign. Who reigns. How long they’ve reigned. And who came after them. And we can get so tangled up in the details of earthly kingdoms. Who had what kind of power. And how they used it. Or didn’t use it.
I know I can, at least. This week, I spent hours, I mean hours, filling out visa forms for our family to go to China and renewal forms for our daughter’s 1800A forms for her immigration approval and status. (Don’t even ask me what that means. I really don’t even understand it all myself.) For a four page visa, I printed off ten pages of instructions, and had to comb through them all multiple times to fill out five different visa applications. I was concerned I was going to leave something off, mark something the wrong way, or forget to fill in a blank entirely. And at this point in our adoption process, there is NO ROOM FOR ERROR. I mean no room. We are down to the wire on expiration dates, extension dates, and travel dates. When I sat down to actually print off of completed visa forms, my printer jammed on the first page, my internet connection went out, and my printer ran out of ink. At one point I just threw up my hands – literally.
It was so easy to look down. It was so easy to become bogged down by all the earthly rules, reigns, and red tape of communist and capitalistic governments alike. At every major juncture of this adoption process – crossing a major paper work deadline or home study finish line – we have met resistance. Forms have been sent back, papers have been forgotten on an official’s desks for weeks at a time and printers have jammed. Many times over the past two years, making progress in our adoption has felt like a slug fighting through jello.
That’s why the post-exilic time period in Israel’s history was so vital for me to read about this week and remember. Talk about red tape. There was absolutely no earthly reason why the Jews should have been given permission to go back home and rebuild their temple or their walls. It’s a historic abnormality. But that’s because high and above all earthly rule and reign was a God who loves His people, has never stepped down off of His throne, and was directing the hearts of kings – multiple kings, over multiple rules and reigns. And the challenge for the Jews, just like the challenge for us today, and for me with all of our adoption paperwork, is to look vertically instead of horizontally. To look up instead of down. To look over and above instead of across. Because across is messy and depressing and full of fears about the what-ifs and what-nots and who-rules-and-who-reigns. But up is unchanging and enabling and full of peace, grace, mercy and an everlasting covenantal love. And that is where our gaze continually has to be.
Are you worried about lots of details this week? Are you concerned about someone’s specific rule and reign? Are you bogged down in trying to concern yourself in details that (listen to me here) do not matter? Hear me loud and clear: this is what matters: our God is on His throne. He has not stepped down or been pushed aside or excused Himself or forgotten where we are in the story.
He knows your story. He sees your details. And He is moving things along at His pace, according to His will, even if the pace feels like that of a slug in jello. The call He issues to us today, just as He did thousands of years ago to the Jews of Ezra’s day, is, “Stop looking across at earthly kings and look up to Me, Your Heavenly King. I have your details covered.”
Can you look up and out today with me? Can you stop worrying and start trusting? Surrender the details to Him in deep, abiding, trusting prayer, and then leave them there at the foot of the cross and at the foot of the only throne in history that has never changed rulers or reigning king.
This week, if you could pray specifically for us about the details for Mia Grace:
• That our Immigration Approval for Mia Grace would be speedily approved (specifically before May 18th). Parts of our home study expire on May 18th and we had to renew our Home Study and Immigration Approval to get her legally from China to the USA.
• That all five of our visas to get us into China would be processed quickly and accurately, and our passports and visas would be returned to us in a secure and timely manner.
• That travel details for our trip to China would fall into place. That we would know exactly when we are to go and where we are to go, and our travel itinerary would be planned by the Lord, not us, nor our agency, nor the Chinese government, and that our family would be right where we are supposed to be, right when we are supposed to be there.
Please let us know how we can be praying for you. It is our joy and delight to see the Kingdom of God, His rule and His reign, spread all over the earth through His people, in Ezra’s day and in our day as well, through dear friends and family like you. Thank you for helping to keep our faces and hearts in the vertical position; I am praying yours stays in the vertical position too.