Devotional Reading: Mark 12:38-44
Lesson Scripture: Ezra 8:24-35
Lesson Aims: To understand and appreciate the care given for the Temple gifts; meditate on the importance of our gifts (time, talents and tithes) to God; and always give Him the very best that we have.
Background: King Artaxerxus II commissioned Ezra to return to Jerusalem to appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice for all people living in the Trans-Euphrates region (7:25a). Any captives who wanted to return with him were free to go. The priest was also given many gifts (see 7:13-20) for the Temple. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary estimated their value around $10 million.
The Echoes Adult Teacher Commentary valued the gifts in today’s economy at $236 million. He paused at Ahava to recruit Levites and Temple servants. All told, 40 Levites and 220 Temple servants agreed to go with him to Jerusalem. After fasting and praying for wisdom and protection, the priest was ready to make the 880 mile journey.
Lesson: Ezra recognizes that the caravan itself, along with the gifts, were prime targets for bandits, so he develops a plan. Twelve priests and twelve Levites (8: 24, 30) are selected to transport the gifts. The sacred objects will be carried by the priests while the Levites take care of the rest. Everything is weighed, divided, and consecrated, including the 24 men. Months later, the caravan arrives in Jerusalem safely.
After resting three days, the gifts are taken to the priests in the Temple where they are weighed and accounted for. The next step is worship with a bountiful (vs. 35) sacrifice. The burnt offering symbolizes their commitment to God who is their Creator, Deliverer, Protector and Sustainer!
Application: Whatever the value of the gifts was, Artaxerxus II gave the best. Remember now he was a non-believer. What does that say to all of those who believe? Our gifts (time, talents and tithes) to God are more precious than gold or silver. Do we act like it? Is fasting and praying for wisdom and protection even thought about when we give ourselves to His church? The gifts that we bring come from God and we can’t give a portion back? All that we have is His in the first place! Don’t be fooled, you did nothing by yourself!
When we worship, it should not be mere ritual or a way to strengthen our network with the “politically correct folk.” Careful examination reveals that worship IS NOT a day of the week but a lifestyle! As believers, do we give our best or just a little dab? God, who is love, gave His best for us. If we are His children, we have to follow His lead by giving our best daily.