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“Fasting and Praying”
Ezra 8:21-23, 31-32 July 21, 2013
(Click here for Word document: Fasting and Praying Sunday School Lesson or simply click the print button below. After the lesson, follow below to play and create with ideas for reinforcement of today’s lesson. Enjoy!)
Before their captivity, humility was not a trait the returning exiles were known for. So much so, God specifically dealt with it one on one (between them and Him). “After this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem,” (Jer. 13:19).
Isaiah also warned that their wickedness and rebellion were marking them as a people who forsake their God:
“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: ‘I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider.’ Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward,” (Isaiah 1:2-4, NKJV).
Lo and behold, it still took 70 years in captivity for the lesson to be learned. And, learned it was.
Last week’s lesson left off with the rebuilding and the completion of the second temple in Jerusalem. After which was the dedication, followed by the celebrating of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Those in attendance and participating in those events were those who arrived from captivity under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Years later, there would be two more waves of returnees that would arrive back in Jerusalem under the separate leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Ezra begins to take the lead in chapter 7 where it opens with a genealogy that links him with “Aaron the chief priest,” (Ezra 7:5). There he is described as “a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses,” (Ezra 7:6). Sometime between chapter 6 and 7 (about 60 years, also when Queen Esther’s story played out), Ezra requested of King Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem. Ezra 7:6 tells us, “The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.”
After gaining permission from the king, he gathered “some of the children of Israel, the priests, the Levites, the singers, the porters, and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king,” (Ezra 7:7). Thus, the four month long journey began (Ezra 7:9), traveling almost 900 miles. Whew!
Shortly after the journey began, Ezra stopped and camped with the people at “the river that runneth to Ahava,” (Ezra 8:15a). While there, he took stock of all in the company and “found there none of the sons of Levi,” (Ezra 8:15b). Before continuing the journey, he sent back for “men of understanding,” (Ezra 8:16, 18), “ministers for the house of our God,” (Ezra 8:17). When these men and the 220 Nethinims arrived at the camp (Ezra 8:20), then Ezra proclaims the fast that starts this week’s lesson.
Ezra 8:21 “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”
“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava.” Many biblical characters are noted to have fasted (Moses, Ezra, Esther, Daniel and Jesus, just to name a few). Fasts varied and lasted from 1 day to 3 days to 21 days to 40 days. Every year on the Day of Atonement, the people would afflict their souls, (Lev. 16:30-31).
Here, in the lesson text, Ezra follows the same course to “afflict ourselves before our God.” When the body is “afflicted” in this manner it’s not giving into its cravings and desires; it’s not given into its natural passions and hunger. I often hear people jokingly say that it was that which went into the mouth (eating) that started the whole sin process in the first place (an act of disobedience). When one participates in a fast it puts God as number one priority over what the body naturally wants, therefore causing affliction. In essence, through their personal denial of selfish wants they are worshipping God by putting Him first.
Ezra’s purpose for the fast he proclaimed was “to seek of him a right way” for everything. At this point in time, all the pride that drove the people of Israel to their sins (see introduction) was gone. The counsel, protection and the “right way” of God was what mattered now. The word “right” can also mean straight. A pathway not marred with the crookedness of this world, rather one that leads to the will of God (see Mt. 7:13-14).
For Ezra and the returnees, it was imperative to “seek of him.” One’s reliance on their own intellect and skill often leads to the wider path marked with sin and rebellion (see again, Mt. 7:13-14). For Ezra and the people, they can honestly say, “Been there, done that, don’t want to go back!” “Seek the LORD while He May be found; Call upon Him while He is near,” was the advice Isaiah gave before the captivity (Is. 55:6), now the returnees have no problem looking to God for counsel and help.
Ezra 8:22 “For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.”
Ezra, sometime during the request to return, expressed to the king “The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.” In that statement, there is shown great reliance on God to bring the people through. At the same time, there is a dire warning for those who opposed His will and His way. After making such a declaration, Ezra said, “I was ashamed to require of the king a back of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way.”
Every time we read in Scripture about the children of Israel they are comparatively in large numbers as opposed to the remnant that was returning with Ezra. Therefore, the help of armed guards or soldiers would have been useful to help them reach their destination without fear of “the enemy.” But, after stating “The hand of our God is upon all them for good,” Ezra didn’t want there to be any doubting of their reliance or ability of God to follow through with what they already stated.
“The hand of our God” is a place of safety. Isaiah said, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness,” (Is. 41:10). In keeping with the theme of being safe in His hands, Jesus said, “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand,” (John 10:28). This all goes back to humbly relying on Him!
Ezra 8:23 “So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was entreated of us.”
“And he was entreated of us.” Their humility before God; their prayer and fasting showered God’s favor over all they prayed for. “He was entreated of us” shows God’s love toward those who humble themselves before Him in sincerity of heart, seeking His way. This is fulfilling a promise He made to His people, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land,” (2 Chron. 7:14), or in this case, see them safely back to their land.
This is a far cry from their position before God before their captivity (see introduction). Now, in their humble and dependent state, they looked to God and God heard and “was entreated of us.” God answered their prayer. When He comes on the scene, Jesus told His disciples, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” (Luke 11:9). They set out to “seek of him a right way” and they received their answer to that prayer and fasting.
Ezra 8:31-32 “Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way. And we came to Jersualem, and abode there three days.”
Our lesson text goes from verse 23 to verse 31. During that time, Ezra distributed the money (silver, gold) and vessels of silver and gold to the chief of the priests and ten of their brethren with them (Ezra 8:24-25). These were to serve as an “offering of the house of our God, which the king, and his counselors, and his lords, and all Israel there present, has offered,” (Ezra 8:25). After giving them the charge over it to “watch and keep until ye weigh them . . . in the chambers of the house of the LORD,” (Ezra 8:29).
With that they traveled on and reached their destination safely. They prayed and fasted before God and God entreated of them. No one the exact details of the four month long journey, but one thing that is know is their prayer and fasting worked. God “delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and such as lay in wait by the way.” Traveling on the road, especially carrying the treasures they had that was weighed out in the in-between verses could have proved dire for the people. But, in their worship and humbleness toward God, they started their journey through prayer and fasting “to seek of him a right way.” That in turn led to their journey being complete and successful. Any supposed attacks from any “enemy” did not prosper or come to pass. Now, that’s a far cry from where they started from.
This lesson should resonate in the heart and mind of every Christian. Our worship before God demands that we seek His will and His way first. When we put Him at the head of our journey our travels in life would be so much easier. Prayer and fasting is one of the ways that our lesson shows that we can seek God and show Him the priority that He deserves in our lives. Self-reliance will eventually fail, no matter how good it seems at the start. But, one’s dependence on God will never fail because God cannot fail.
Below are activities to help with the reinforcement of this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
Draw the Scene: Fasting and Praying Draw the Scene
Memory Verse: PDF: Praying Memory Verse In the middle of the page, students can trace and color their hand in a praying position. Or, you can also use black or colored construction paper to trace, cut out and glue to the middle of the page to reinforce the lesson. Another idea would be to trace the hand and use the salt technique found here, or colored sand, or glitter to fill it in. The options are endless! Enjoy!
“Ezra by the River Ahava Craft: Using very simple items, I made Ezra by the river Ahava (at least my version 🙂 ). All of this can be drawn on paper or cut out with construction paper as you see here. My Ezra is a craft stick/popsicle stick I had laying around. No google eyes, no problem. Color them in with markets. Same with goldfish, I just happen to have these things available. This craft will help the students to remember their fasting and praying by the river Ahava. If you don’t have felt for Ezra, simply marker his clothes in or use construction paper – NO PROBLEM. Attach our memory verse Ezra 8 23 Verse Cut Out and there you have it. Your own Ezra by the river. Enjoy!
“Lace It Up Prayer Handprint”: Use this PDF: PDF OF LACE IT UP HANDPRINT and our verse cut out: Ezra 8 23 Verse Cut Out make a lace it up handprint. Simply print out on cardstock and decorate. Punch appropriate holes and let students lace it up with yard or string. Don’t forget to add the verse cut out in the room.
“Ezra Coloring Page” from Bible Class
Prayer Activities for Kids:
“Prayer Pocket” from Ehow.com
“Prayer” from Msss (several options to choose from)
“Prayer” from Kids Sunday School (several options to choose from)
“My Prayer Book” from Toddleractivitiesathome.com (This cute prayer book is made in the shape of praying hands – wonderful idea!)
“Prayer Garden” from Two Shades of Pink (Very creative use of paper and popsicle sticks to make a prayer garden!) Mssscrafts also has a printable Flower and Vase that you can use for the same concept. Enjoy!
“The Jelly Bean Prayer” from Church House Collection (Very easy coloring page that also teaches colors. Extra bonus of a treat if you can find real jelly beans this time of year to go with it. Enjoy!)
“How 2 Pray” Coloring Page from Ministry to Children
“Connect the Dots Praying Hands” from Kids Sunday School
“The 5 Ws of Prayer” from Sermons4kids
“God’s Cell Phone” from Sermons4kids
“Prayer Pail” from Lubirdbaby.com (This is a wonderful and easy way to help kids to remember to pray for different family members and situations. Very creative!)
- “The Temple Restored/Restoring The Temple” Ezra 3:8-13 July 7, 2013 (wordforlifesays.com)
- Sunday School Lesson “Celebrating With Joy / Dedicating the Temple” Ezra 6:13-22 July 14, 2013 (wordforlifesays.com)
- “Joyful Worship Restored / Restoring Joyful Worship” Ezra 3:1-7 June 30, 2013 (wordforlifesays.com)