Prayer Journal: Out loud, pray for God to speak to you through your reading. Praise God for giving us His word. Ask the Spirit to help you read with faith, and to live out what you hear from God through the passage.
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Protection Within and Without
by Pr. Dave Mann
When studying the Bible, sometimes we come upon difficult passages. Some people have the advantage of being able to read the Scriptures in the original languages. But the vast majority of us are not so gifted. The next best thing is to compare various versions. This will give us different perspectives of the challenging words. This is especially true when a study Bible gives some alternative translations for a word or phrase. Personally, I like to compare the ESV, the NASB, the NIV, and the NLT. There are two keywords in today’s short passage that are worthy of a deeper dive by comparing different versions.
Ezra is praying for protection from the Lord for the people of God who have recently returned to Jerusalem from the land of Persia where they had been in exile. Rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the region of Judea was quite difficult and dangerous. Ezra’s prayer reveals his repentant heart, admitting that the people do not deserve the Lord’s grace and favor. Nevertheless, he leans into God’s mercy, pleading for protection. But what kind of protection?
If you consult several versions, you see that Ezra asks the Lord to give them “a secure hold,” “a peg,” “a firm place,” “security.” One study Bible states that the word in Hebrew is actually “nail.” All of these possible translations get at something that holds things together – in the interior. It is as though Ezra is praying, “Nail us together, Lord! We need your super-duper divine glue!” The people of God had been in exile, under the authority and oppression of a foreign government. Now, they are back in their original country, more or less on their own, and the internal cohesion of the unity of the people was at risk. Ezra prays, “Hold us firmly together, O Lord!”
But that is not all Ezra prays for. Toward the end of verse 9, Ezra prays that God would give them “protection,” “a wall,” “a wall of protection,” “a protective wall.” Whether Ezra was praying for a physical wall (to be provided in the next book of Nehemiah) or for a spiritual wall, that is not crystal clear. But what is clear is that there were threats from the outside. Other ideas and spiritual challenges wanted to penetrate into the hearts of God’s people and draw them away from following the Lord. Ezra prayed for protection from menacing threats from the outside.
Lord God, the need for protection has not disappeared over the years. We still need Ezra’s prayer for today. Protect us from threats from within and threats from without. We do not deserve it, but we trust in your mercy. In Jesus’ name. Amen