171 - Ezra’s Model for Life and Ministry (Ezra 7–8)
The work of God is just that—His work. Like Ezra, we should be committed to knowing, obeying, and teaching God’s Word, but we also must remind ourselves and others that whatever the Lord accomplishes through us is because of His favor, or grace.
Between chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Ezra, fifty-eight years passed. During those fifty-eight years, the excitement surrounding the temple completion began to dwindle. The people were prospering, farming their land and enjoying their homes. But they had become satisfied with mediocrity in their relationship with God.
Zerubbabel had led in the rebuilding of the temple. Nehemiah will come along later and rebuild the city. But somebody needs to come along and rebuild the people. They need a spiritual revival.
Here in chapter 7 we are introduced to the man who will spark this revival, and he is none other than the author of this little book. His name is Ezra.
The opening verses of chapter 7 give us a little biographical information about Ezra. He is a priest, a direct descendant of Aaron, Israel’s first high priest. Verse 6 also describes him as “a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses.” This tells us that he is a Bible scholar and teacher.
We do not know what official position Ezra has in Persia, but at the moment he’s still back there, and he apparently has personal access to Artaxerxes, the Persian king. In fact, we are told here at the end of verse 6 that “the king granted him all that he asked.”
That sounds like a sweet arrangement if you ask me. But why was the king so favorable toward Ezra? Well, verse 6 tells us, “The hand of the Lord his God was on him.” By the way, that is a running theme in Ezra’s life. You will read something like that six times in chapters 7 and 8—the good hand of God is on the life and ministry of Ezra. And it’s by God’s hand that Ezra leads a number of exiles back to Jerusalem.
Now Ezra’s not running around like a rooster taking all the credit. In fact, here in verse 10, the Bible tells us that “Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”
I want to encourage you as we take this Wisdom Journey today to follow the model of Ezra in life and ministry. Ezra set his heart on learning, obeying, living, and communicating to others the truth of God’s Word.
The remainder of chapters 7 and 8 fill in some of the details of how Ezra’s return to Jerusalem came about and what it involved. A typical letter of reference from the king authorizing it all is cited here. Verse 13 records:
“I make a decree that anyone of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you.”
So clearly, this is what Ezra had requested from the king.
The king’s letter is rather amazing, and we do not want to miss what God is providentially doing here. In verse 14, King Artaxerxes authorizes Ezra to find out if the people of Judah are living according to the Law of God—that is, the first five books of the Bible.
Ezra also is allowed to take silver and gold with him and buy everything he needs for the work in the temple (verses 15-17). But the king basically tells Ezra that he doesn’t need to keep any receipts to justify what he purchases. He says:
“Whatever seems good to you and your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God.” (verse 18)
He completely trusts Ezra to do the right thing with this money.
But Artaxerxes doesn’t stop with that. He also gives Ezra a blank checkbook, so to speak, connected to the royal bank of Persia. Listen to what the king writes here in verse 21:
“And I, Artaxerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra . . . requires of you, let it be done with all diligence.”
This is amazing! And Ezra recognizes this as the hand of God. He writes:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king . . . I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.(verses 27-
Chapter 8 begins with a list of the people who prepare to return with Ezra to Jerusalem. It isn’t long, though, before Ezra discovers that there are no Levites among them. And Levites are a key to the renewal of the nation because they will help teach the people the Word of God. Once again, we are told here in verse 18, that God’s good hand upon them allows Ezra and other leading men to recruit a number of Levites to join them.
Now before they set out on their journey to Jerusalem, Ezra calls for a time of fasting and prayer. And specifically, they are going to pray for safety on the journey. Remember, they are carrying a train load of gold and silver to use at the temple.
Listen to Ezra here in verse 22:
I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.”
In other words, since Ezra has already proclaimed God’s power to protect them, he does not want to turn around and ask for soldiers to guard them on their way. He is concerned that this would call into question the power of the Lord. Ezra is more concerned with the Lord’s reputation than he is about his own life.
But don’t misunderstand, protection is needed on this journey—divine protection. They have a caravan of men, women, and children. And the gold and silver mentioned in verses 26 and 27 would be worth millions of dollars in today’s economy.
Ezra and the men accompanying him never took a class in sword fighting. They are not soldiers, and bandits would love to get their hands on their treasures!
Well, the journey finally begins, and the only comment on it is given in verse 31, where Ezra testifies, “The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way.” After four months of travel (see Ezra 7:9), they safely arrived in Jerusalem. They deliver the gold and silver and the temple vessels, and then they offer sacrifices of thanksgiving at the temple. Oh, I’m sure they were thankful indeed!
Ezra and these people clearly understand that apart from the hand of God upon them, they never would have made it. And all they want to do is give thanks to God.
Let’s follow the model we see here in the life and ministry of Ezra. All we are and all we do, and everything we hope to be, is the result of the good hand of God and His grace upon our lives. So, let’s get started, even today, giving thanks to God. (after question)
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