As I was reading through Ezra a few days ago the Lord was pleased to show me a beautiful parallel to what Paul is saying in Ephesians chapter two. I will list the two passages below and color code the specific parallels, then I will walk through them phrase by phrase. This is so beautiful!
For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem. (Ezra 9:9)
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.... So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:1–6; 19-20)
Slaves to Sin
Ezra 9:9 begins with "For we are slaves.." For quick context, Judah had been taken into exile by the Babylonians approximately 75 years before this as judgement for their rebellion against God. The Persians eventually came to rule that region after Medo-Persia wiped out the mighty Babylon. Now Cyrus the Great is king of Persia and God places it within him that he would grant the exiled Israelites to return to Jerusalem in order to build the second temple that they may offer sacrifices to God. So here, Ezra is stating that they are physically slaves under the Persian empire.
Ephesians 2:1 begins, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world," and continues, "..among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." In the Old Testament, spiritual warfare was emphasized in a different way. We read a lot about angels of God doing certain acts. Off-hand I only know of two or three instances in which the evil side of spiritual warfare is blatantly talked about. In the New Testament there is a strong emphasis on the spiritual warfare going on with our spirit. Paul mentions thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities, all of which are traditionally thought to be different ranks of angels. Christ casts out demons into pigs. Exorcisms seem common practice to Jesus and His apostles and Paul has a whole section on putting on the spiritual armor of God later on in Ephesians. Now, hand in hand with that we know that those who are outside of Christ, who have yet to see His glory, are spiritual slaves to sin & children of their father the devil (John 8, Romans 6&7).
As we can see here and will continue to see, it's hard to think that Paul didn't have this specific passage cross his mind at least briefly when writing Ephesians. There's a clear link here to the actual physical bondage of Israel to the Persian empire and our spiritual slavery before the light of Christ shines on our hearts.
"Yet our God" and "But God" are major mic drop statements in their respective passages. Think of the horrors that the Israelites had been through in their exile and consequent slavery. For Ezra to pray in this manner shows his faith towards God and the love of God to draw us near to him. We read in the chapters leading up to this plea that it is God who is working in the hearts of the various king's decrees that have brought Israel back to their land and reestablished the temple and wall. This is mercy from God. He has disciplined His child for rebellion through idolatry and is now reconciling their relationship in bringing Israel into His arms.
In Ephesians, Paul has just spent three verses making you feel as tall as a grasshopper before he drops the booming, "BUT GOD." This transitional boom separates our fallen sinfulness from God's unending mercy. The chasm was vast and could not be crossed but God reached across and plucked us out of our sinful state to bring us into a relationship with Him.
In Ezra we see that God did not forsake His people in their slavery but extended His steadfast love to Israel in maneuvering the king's hearts like that of a stream to bring them back to the land that he had once given them as their inheritance. In Ephesians, we read the beautiful phrase, "being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us." Why did God open our eyes to see His glory and have a saving relationship with His son, Jesus Christ? Because of how awesome we are of course. And, all mankind is generally good so really he would be a jerk to not save us. Nope! It says he did he because he loved us; that's it. Don't try to add anything to it. Sola Gratia.
The Grip of Satan
The kings of Persia are compared to the prince of the power of the air. Just as the kings of Persia were the ones physically holding the Israelites in bondage, it is the grips of sin and satan that hold us captive in spiritual slavery before Christ draws us to himself.
God grants the Israelites "some reviving". The Hebrew word for reviving here is literally the preservation of life or the formation of new flesh. God was preserving what was left of Israel in bringing them back, but he was also "giving them new flesh" in that he was rebuilding the temple and seeking obedience from those who once walked in obedience. Just as God gave the Israelites new life, he also bestows that rich mercy on us through Christ Jesus our Lord. Literally, "raised us up with him" and seated us in the heavenly places. God gives you this life. He grants the reviving. A dead body cannot swim up from the floor of the ocean of its sin. Someone must bring them to the surface for new life. That someone is God.
The New Temple
The whole purpose of their return to Jerusalem in Ezra was to rebuild the temple that had been destroyed. This would be the second temple constructed in Jerusalem. They were setting up the house of God and repairing its ruins. In Ephesians we see that God is making us new and repairing our ruins. Just as the original temple built by Solomon was destroyed because of the sin of Israel, so too was the original temple of the body destroyed by the sin of Adam. Mankind was created perfect, yet corrupted by sin. Now, we are being sanctified daily and built up together with one another into an immovable structure with Christ as its cornerstone. If you are in Christ, your body is a temple unto the Lord in which He dwells by His Spirit.
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, (1 Corinthians 6:19)
Wrapping It Up
Each of these headers could be expounded upon significantly. These two verses present the gospel. One a shadow of the things to come, the other an actual image. I love coming across these nuggets in the Old Testament. It is assurance for me that the Spirit is indwelling and working. For I alone in my sin would not make these connections, but the Spirit is pleased by the will of God to show these things to us if we would just ask. Seek God today to see what he may be pleased to show you. These diamonds are everywhere!
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:7-8)