EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 3

Ezra: The Man

Between chapters 6 and 7, there is a period of some 60 years during which we have no record of any event that may have happened in Palestine. Historians think that Zephaniah 1:9—14 and the prophecy of Malachi belong to this period. The events in the book of Esther belong to this silent period, as well.

The first six chapters of the book of Ezra tell of the first 50,000 Jews who left Babylon to return home, led by Ezra. The Jews had gone into captivity 70 years earlier because they continually rebelled against God and fell into idolatry. The cure for their idolatry was a forced vacation in Babylon. God truly gave them the “desire of their hearts.” These Jews wanted to worship false gods, so Yahweh gave them what wanted so much: to live among heathens and pagans.

There was a second wave of Jews that returned home, also under Ezra’s leadership. In the last four chapters, we meet the man Ezra. He wrote the whole book, but the first seven chapters are all about the remnant’s return home, the revivals, the reconstruction and so on. Chapters 7—10 tell the story of the second return under Ezra and the reformation led by Ezra. They tell the personal story of this man Ezra.

We may learn a lot about the kind of people God uses to do His work. When it comes to the character and life of this man Ezra, let’s consider the following points:

1. His preparation, 7:10

Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:10)

God may call a person to His service, but how that person gets ready to work for God is entirely up to him.

To human beings belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue. (Proverbs 16:1)

Ezra had prepared his heart for the day he would and his people would return to Jerusalem. Ezra had faith; he knew that day was coming because He had faith in God and His Word.

We hear a lot about “revivals” these days. The fact is, when one person determines in his heart to seek God, to study the Word, to obey it and teach it, then a revival has already begun! A person’s heart must first be right with God before his life can be of any use to God. What did Ezra study? All he had were the books of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament) and Joshua. No wonder Ezra was the man God chose to lead his people home! Look at what he was reading; look at the examples he had to follow. Ezra not only studied the Word of God, but he did what it said. Anybody can study the Bible, but it takes a committed, determined believer with the right heart to obey it.

The beautiful thing about the Bible is that when a person studies it, they can’t keep it to themselves. Ezra couldn’t; he taught what he had learned. This is what the Word of God does to a believer; it makes him want to share it with others. Preparations for service belong to man—he has to put forth the effort to study the Bible, to prepare both his heart and his mind to do the work of God—but the revelation of God’s Word comes from God Himself.

Ezra couldn’t have done what he did without the hours of preparation he spent. Modern Christians wonder why they live such impotent lives. They wonder why the Lord never seems to choose them for some great work. Maybe it’s because they aren’t ready for God to use them because they are ill-prepared because they have never seriously studied the Word of God.

2. His qualifications, 7:6

Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.

Because Ezra was faithful in his preparations while living in Babylon, an invisible and powerful force was behind him. Remember, Ezra spent years in preparation for something he had no proof was going to happen. He simply believed God was going to allow His people to go home and he wanted to be the one leading the way. Ezra was so devoted to his God that his king was completely taken with him! Imagine the irony: a godless king so impressed with a godly man that he gave that godly man whatever he wanted!

There are some Christians who think God will simply use any believer; that because God is “no respecter of persons” that means in God’s eyes all Christians are the same. Not so! God has always been jealous of the character and qualifications of those who serve Him in positions of leadership. Consider Moses; he was no schlump. He was highly educated and perfectly suited to deliver his people notwithstanding what he thought of himself. Consider Paul; he was no theological lightweight. God needed a man who could put into words the doctrines and theology of the Christian faith; Paul was perfectly suited to do just that.

Are you ready to work for the Lord? Do you know what your particular gift or talent is? Are you honing your ability to share the Word with the lost? You say, “Ezra was a special case.” Ezra was not a special case! He was just a man, a priest without place to practice his profession, who wanted to do the best job he could for his God. He had no guarantee that he would even live long enough to lead his people back home. Ezra wanted to be ready with his call came.

All believers who, like Ezra, take their faith seriously, study the Word, practice the Word, and live in readiness to serve Him, have the unseen Hand of God with them. You will live a life of excellence, as Ezra did, when you finally decide to put God first. If you dither and play games with God and do your own thing, you will never experience the fullness of God’s power, anointing, or blessing.

3. His Provisions, 7:21, 22

Now I, King Artaxerxes, decree that all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates are to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you— up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit.

What a remarkable couple of verses! Artaxerxes, who had his own religion and his own god, was so impressed with Ezra that he made sure Ezra had everything he needed to get his people home in style. Ezra had prepared his heart, and God supplied his needs through the unlikeliest of sources. In other words, for the modern believer, if you do your part, God will do His part. God never sends His workers out ill-prepared. When you’ve done all you can do to prepare your heart for service, God comes through for you in ways unimagined.

Why do we fear stepping out in faith and working for the Lord so much? Do we think we are not good enough? Not smart enough? When you prepare you heart to work for God, you are automatically qualified to work for Him! And God doesn’t send you out like an orphan to engage in the greatest work of all. There is no greater work a Christian can be engaged in than that of sharing the Gospel and the love of Jesus with the lost. You bet God will make sure you have the “supplies” you need to get the job done.

4. His commission, 7:25

And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them.

If you have the Word in you, you will become God’s messenger.

For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. (Malachi 2:7)

Ezra’s commission came from God, but Artaxerxes articulated it to him. Sometimes that happens; God is sovereign and will use a variety of ways to call a believer into service for Him. But any believer who has God’s wisdom in his heart will, necessarily, will recognize that call when it comes and will become a messenger of the Lord.

This heathen king gave Ezra quite a task to perform! Were you in Ezra’s shoes, how would you feel? Would you be quaking in those shoes? Or would you be ready, willing, and able to perform that task? The fact is, if the Church of Jesus Christ is to gain any ground in winning those who don’t know Him, His Word must be clearly taught by those who know it and have experienced His presence and power in their own lives.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

The thing that stirs up a sinners heart are not the thoughts and opinions of a mere man, but the Word of God; how will they hear the Word of God unless those who possess it give it to them?

And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15)

You, who know the Word have a responsibility to share it.

5. His Single-Mindedness, 8:21, 22

There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”

The normal thing for a person to do is to ask for help when they need it. Ezra, as he was about lead his people across the dangerous Palestinian wasteland, looked at the throngs of men, women, and children, and realized he needed help! But what did he do? Did he ask the king? No, he did not, because had he asked for help, he would shown the king that he really didn’t trust God after all. Ezra had to practice what he preached.

A great many Christians today say all the right things. They can quote all the good Bible verses, they know the proper cliched sayings, but when the rubber hits the road, they don’t really trust Him; they turn to the world for advice, counsel, and help. Ezra, though, was not like that. Now, Ezra was human, though, and we get the impression that the thought did cross his mind, but he dismissed it because to ask for help after proclaiming his faith would have embarrassed him. What did Ezra do instead? He called for a fast. Instead of tucking-tail and crawling back to the king, he knew to Whom he had to turn.

Do you? What is the first thing YOU do when you are faced with a challenge? Do you “call for a fast?” Do you shut the door, get on your knees, and get ready to have a serious conversation with God? Or do you betray your faith and your God by begging the world for help? These are serious questions for people who claim to be serous about their faith. God wants people who are serious; He wants single-minded servants who will trust in Him.

6. His Offense, 9:2—3

They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled.

Ezra was hurt and offended because his people had, once again, disobeyed the Lord. What kind of people could be exiled for 70 years and still not get it? This intermarrying was a clear violation of God’s Law:

Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons… (Deuteronomy 7:3)

The offense was against God, but their contempt for God’s Word offended him. When a believer is full of that Word; when a believer is in love with God and completely devoted to God’s Word, whenever anybody goes against that Word, it offends them. True believers are hurt and offended for God when they are around those who live rebelliously and recklessly.

The depth of our sorrow over the sins of others will be according to the depth and reality of our devotion to the cause of God. The Church needs more people like Ezra, who are righteously angered by sin. We need more people like Jeremiah:

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. (Jeremiah 8:21)

Jesus Christ was like that. The sin around Him caused Him to weep. Does it cause you to weep?

7. His Success, 10:12; 19

The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: “You are right! We must do as you say.”

They all gave their hands in pledge to put away their wives, and for their guilt they each presented a ram from the flock as a guilt offering.

Wow! Pleasing God became more important to Ezra’s people than pleasing themselves. Their relationship with God became more important than their relationship with their wives. Their salvation was more important than their marriages. What is important to you? Is pleasing your family, or other people, more important to you than pleasing God?

This incident tells us how prayer changes things. Thanks to the earnest prayer of Ezra, God’s will prevailed and that resulted in the spiritual uplifiting of all the people. It may well be that some of those “foreign” wives were very dear to those men. But sin is sin and wrong is wrong. And the only way to change people’s sinful and wrong behavior is through the power of prayer. Ezra didn’t send these people to lawyers or counselors. His people came to the correct conclusion on their own through Ezra’s example and prayer.

The secret of Ezra’s success is really no secret at all. It is within the grasp of every Christian if he would but reach out and lay hold of it. Success in serving the Lord is simply a whole-hearted loyalty to God’s Word and work. So many of us are frustrated in walk with Christ because we’re not really all that devoted to Him. May our faith never be a convenience. May our faith be as necessary to us as the air we breathe.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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