EZRA’S FAITH AND MISSION
Key Verse 7:10
“For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”
The early settlers had just rebuilt the temple. Just as it was to be finished, there was some opposition to its existence, very similar to that of Nehemiah’s time, as they were about to finish the wall around the city. But when the enemies of God and of the Jews sent a letter to king Darius in an effort to stop the work, the king’s response was not as they had expected. He decreed that the work continue without hindrance. By the hand of God, the work of God continued on the temple until it was completed. Upon the completion and dedication of the temple marked the end of the first part of the book of Ezra chapters 1-6.
The first half of the book of Ezra is the building of the temple and goes on to the second part. In part one, about 50,000 exiles returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel. In chapters 7-10 is mostly about the resettling of the second group of returned exile, under the leadership of Ezra. This group numbered about 5000 people. Chapter 7 tells a lot about Ezra, the man of God. We see his lineage, his faith, his mission and that which motivated him in his life. Ezra was a priest living among the exiles of Babylon. He was much like everyone else who was living powerless and mundane lives as slaves in a foreign country. But he did not cave in to the oppressive situation his people were in and he did not live as an ordinary mundane man without any vision for his life. In fact, he rose above his situation and became a high official, serving the king. He was a leader for the exiles and gained the kings favor to let another group of exiles return to Jerusalem to take part in the growing work of God. But Ezra did not become this extraordinary man by his own human ability or strength or with human wisdom. He became the great man he was by means of the Living and Active word of God. He was a priest, a direct descendant of Aaron the Chief Priest and brother of Moses. He went beyond his regular duties. He gave himself over to the word of God. He embraced the word of God and lived by the word of God, until his life was consumed by the word of God. His Key Verse reveals how his resolve to live in holiness changed his life. Ezra 7:10 says, “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”
The story in chapter 7 is the trust Ezra had gained of king Artaxerxes, such that the king made every possible provision to ensure the return of Ezra and the other Exiles to Jerusalem who came to settle nearly 50 to pluss years later after the first group led by Zerrubabbel during the kingship of king Cyrus. Now, Ezra and his followers made the journey successfully back to Jerusalem five months later. This is the point of the story. But in this lesson we want to see beyond the outward facts of the basic story. We will observe Ezra’s life of faith and mission and his leadership as influenced by the word of God. We want to see Ezra, the king, and we want to see God as well in a sequence of events influencing and relating to each other. Look at verses 1 through 10. Ezra journeyed from Babylon, with many prominent Jews, and entered Jerusalem where he devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law. His life as a man of God is described very well. Verses 1 through 5 gives us the genealogy of Ezra which traces all the way back to Aaron, the Chief Priest and brother of Moses. We can see that Ezra came from a long lineage of priests.
Priesthood in the Bible is one of several very important spiritual positions. God himself instated the priesthood through the descendants of Levi, the son of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. When Moses led the people out of Egypt, God ordained Aaron to be High Priest and descendants of the Levites, as the ministering priests in the presence of God. They had a unique function to meditate in prayer for Gods people before the presence of God. Their life centered around the temple where they were to sacrifice burnt offerings for the sake of the people so as to present their pleas for forgiveness of sin before God, seeking his favor. These prayers and petitions were offered to a Holy God who in turn forgave the people and set them apart with renewed hearts before God. The office of priest was indeed a holy office and a tremendous responsibility for those born priest’s. The priestly lineage was not an option. It was there inheritance, a birthright and mandatory. Their priesthood was chosen for them by God who created them to be born in the line of Levi. Gods’ authority was that which established the Levites from the beginning. Now lets look at Ezra.
FIRST, Ezra Prayed. Ezra was chosen as a Priest in the lineage of Aaron, the chief priest, indeed highly honored among Gods’ people. He could have remained an ordinary priest but he used his office as priest to the fullest extent. He shepherded his people under his care as a responsible priest before God. He listened to their concerns and pleaded their prayer topics, praying as if their sin problem were his so as to identify with his people. He offered sacrifices on their behalf, pleading for their forgiveness, pleading for their healing. Furthermore, as priest, he also concerned himself with the nation of exiled Jews. When he searched the scriptures he found in them God’s will to restore, to set free, to heal and to bless the people. He never grew tired of coming before the Lord to plead the case of his people. As Moses and Aaron, he took their guilt upon himself in prayer, asking God to free them both from physical and spiritual bondage. God heard Ezra’s prayers. The people were released; his high priestly prayers were answered and a great work of revival began in the hearts of the people. The result of several decades of prayer was the new desire to go to Jerusalem. God began to move the hearts of the people to long for spiritual life and ache for renewal of heart and return to God and to the land of Israel. One man, one devoted priest and prayer servant is the beginning of true leadership, for true leadership begins with a prayer servant. One devoted man of faith and prayer served as the spark, which moved the heart of God to move the mountain of peoples hearts, pouring out his blessings.
The office of priest and prayer servant is no longer only limited to the Tribe of Levi. God has called Christians to be the priests of God who pray for the souls of men, who meditate on their behalf to receive blessing, conviction of heart, to turn to God and have salvation. The Apostle Peter challenged the impoverished early Christians who were in dire human circumstances saying to them: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who brought you out of darkness, into his wonderful light.” (1Pete. 2:9) This charge is for all who accept the Lord Jesus. When we receive Jesus into our hearts as Lord and Savior, immediately we become sons and daughters of the Living God and brothers of our King Jesus. We now inherit the glorious position as prayer servants and are charged with the priestly responsibility to be prayer servants for the world. In the sight of God, there is no service or position greater than that of “priest”. What can be greater than offering prayers on behalf of others. Jesus stated in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose and appointed you to go and bear fruit –fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” And God will answer according to his glory. We are chosen by God to pray. Prayer is the way to bear the good fruit we are chosen for to produce. Surely we must patiently pray, expecting God to answer every prayer. We must pray for revival in our minds, in our hearts, in the hearts of others, in our ministry and in our nation.
Ezra was a priest, but not only did he devote himself to the office of prayer but also, he meditated on the word of God. Read verse 10. “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” We can see that in Ezra’s every day events, he devoted himself to study and observe the law of the Lord, as well as teaching its laws and decrees in Israel.
SECOND, Ezra Studied The Word Of God. V10 reads, “Ezra devoted himself…” In the King James Bible, the word “devoted” is written,” prepared his heart to seek.” The word devotion in the dictionary is defined as ardent selfless affection and dedication to someone or something. It was a genuine love. In this case, for Ezra, it was a selfless love for God and his word. He studied the Bible with all of his heart. We all have only one heart and with it we prepare ourselves as to how we will live our lives.
Ezra prepared his heart to seek the word of God. In a highly sophisticated and advanced culture, as that of Babylon, it seemed almost foolish to devote ones self to Bible Study instead of the worldly pursuits of a high position or monetary gain or fame. But Ezra prepared his heart through Bible Study. He considered the word of God, the word of life. He cherished the word of God as a treasure unlike anything in the world. In the word of God he found life and meaning, purpose and truth. He found the answer to all of life’s questions. The word of God spoke to him and to the people above the voices of anxiety, fear and hopelessness. He found God and the will of God. He had found comfort, strength, forgiveness and hope. Now he could fill his heart with good things of nobility, virtue, grace and truth all in the word of God, molding his thoughts and feelings and creating him to be a man after Gods’ own heart. Like most men, he was ordinary and had to suffer from the oppressive day-to-day forces all around him. But when he prepared his heart to seek the word of God; he no longer was ordinary and captive to earthly thing. This is how he became an extraordinary man, free from the world and all of its hindrances, now subject to the outpouring of all the blessings in the word of God. The word of God recreated him until he became a leader and a blessing among men. Revival began in his heart and spread to all those around him. He influenced others until men began to believe and embrace the truth of the word of God over the falseness and lies of this world.
Indeed, we are challenged to believe the word of God and take the word of God to heart as Ezra did. The word of God in Psalm 19:7-11 talks about the power of the word of God. David says, “The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Accepting the word of God by “faith” revives the soul of even the simplest of men. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper then any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)
No matter what generation, including ours, man is still a sinner whose heart is set on darkness. Nothing can change a man. He cannot be educated out of darkness. He cannot be scientifically improved. Money cannot buy him a better spiritual condition. The atmosphere of humanity seems to be bent on violence, obscenity and wickedness. We need the word of God to re-create our hearts back into the image of God.
We must believe the need to and set our hearts to study the word of God with self-devotion. And that word of God will outshine all of the godless and untrue things we have been hiding in our hearts since youth. The word of God will help us to see the world and everything in it through God’s eyes, exchange the lies for truth, the despair into hope, the weakness into strength.
THIRD, Ezra Devoted Himself To Teaching The Word Of God. Read verse 10 again, “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, the priest, devoted himself to studying the Bible with all his heart. He found deep meaning in the word of God for his life as a priest. He found a reason to pray faithfully and the will of God upon to which he could build his life of prayer. But he also found that the indisputable truth he found in the Bible was not only a personal matter to be kept to ones self. Rather he discovered the solid truth that the word of God must be shared with people no matter who they may be. Ezra found his mission to make the law of God and the name of God available to everyone. Therefore in obedience to the word of God, Ezra devoted himself to teaching the word of God to all, especially the people of God. In short, he became a Bible teacher.
The truth Ezra found in the Bible to teach the Bible was not limited only to Ezra. In the Old Testament God had prepared his people to ultimately be a “light to the Gentiles.” (Isa.42: 6) so that the knowledge of God and the way of salvation may be known to all hearts who believe in his truth. It was the will of God for the people of God to deliver the word of God to all people as their mission. Why is this so? Because the word of God carries within it the message of salvation, the way of salvation, which is the most precious and life-saving message a sinner can hear. And the message cannot be delivered unless it is taught. The Apostle Paul reasons with us according to this position saying, “…For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved! How then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news?’”(Ro. 10:13-15) According to Gods’ word, we can be sure that we are called by God to devote ourselves to studying the Bible and teaching the Bible throughout our lives. It is the noble mission for which we were given.
When Ezra devoted himself to prayer and to the word of God, several things happened.
FIRST, The Hearts Of The People Were Revived. When Ezra taught the people the word of God and prayed for the word of God to come into their hearts, they were stirred and revival occurred among the people. Several decades had elapsed since the first groups of settlers had established their homes and rebuilt the temple. During this time those in Babylon had heard of all the uncertainty, distress and hardships facing the first group of settlers, thus creating fear within their hearts and diminishing their faith to return. But Ezra faithfully and patiently taught them the word of God. In time, the word of God created faith in their hearts and destroyed their fears. In time, their hearts began to turn to God in repentance as well as a sincere longing to do what pleases God, submissive to his will.
SECOND, The Heart Of The King Was Revived. Look at verses 6,11-26. These verses make known the heart of king Artaxerxes. Even if the people had a heart of revival, their efforts would be snuffed out by external circumstances. Perhaps even the king. But Ezra’s influence as a prayer servant, Bible teacher and Bible Student was not only to the people of God. Also, it certainly did not go unnoticed by the king and his officials. Ezra was not only a priest and Bible teacher but perhaps even a high official in the kings court, considering all of his privileges. But his spiritual life was so pure that it did not escape the kings’ attention. Ezra lived by faith and expressed his faith in God in everything he did. His good spiritual influence extended to the king, even creating in him a healthy fear of God. He spoke to the king of the Creator God through his time spent with Ezra, even personally discussing the word of God. Finally the king was moved by the word of God and compelled by the grace of God to write an official letter to liberate the exiles, setting them free with a charge to return to Jerusalem and join the rebuilding process with Ezra. Indeed, when Ezra chose not to conceal his faith and to speak the word of God, the king’s heart experienced revival.
Look at verses 25 and 26. It is hard to believe that the king would issue a decree that all of the people of Trans-Euphrates must study the Bible under Ezra their Bible teacher. The king must have deeply understood the will of God that all people turn their hearts and to the obedience that comes from faith. Surely it was God’s appropriate timing to allow a king such as this to be on the throne. He stood as a shepherd, guiding his people to know the truth. It was not with human wisdom he offered to them his great concern but he wanted to do so through the Living word of God. His actions show his belief that a shepherd’s greatest duty is to bring the light of God to his people. He believed the word of God is the best guide for life, “a lamp to their feet and a light for their path. (Ps. 119:105)
THIRD, God’s Favor Was On Everything Ezra Did. Look at verse (6,9 &28). The hand of the Lord was with everything Ezra did. It showed God’s grace to the returning exiles. When Ezra devoted himself to the word of God, then he could not live only to survive and to his own personal preservation. He had given his life over to fully serving the Lord’s purpose with his life. He did not need to be concerned with himself because God was with him. He praises God for all of the good things he has done in verses 27 &28 with a sincere and thankful heart. Similarly, when we too devote ourselves to the study of the word of God and observing its laws and teachings, we also experience the blessings of God who surely watches over us as our Good Shepherd. It is clearly the way to grow spiritually and to be lavished with all of God’s good graces. We need not be overwhelmed by the world and all of its worries but rather experience the grace of God when we, like Ezra devote ourselves to the word of God. Until we are molded into shepherds and Bible teachers who can love and serve the flock of God with the life-changing word of God. May God Bless us to be committed to him and to his mission as Bible teachers and prayer servants for the world.