Summary of Ezra thus far:
1—The Lord moving in the heart of the king. He also stirred the hearts of many people.
2—The list of those returning. Certain men disqualified from the priesthood. A description of the offerings for the building of the temple.
3—There was unity of purpose, they gathered as one man.
4—Opposition from adversaries. The work of building is stopped.
5—The prophecy or ministry of Haggai and Zechariah inspired the people to recommence building.
6—The work goes on and the temple is completed. Notice the spiritual condition of the nation: pure, separated, obedient, joyful, strong.
Chapter 7 describes the beginning of a second awakening. Ezra leads the returning exiles, and through his ministry restores and revives the backsliders and discouraged at Jerusalem.
Between chapters 6 and 7 there is a gap of some 57 years. In this period the events recorded in Esther transpired.
At this time no reference is made to Zerubbabel or Joshua. These leaders no doubt had died. This contributed to and accentuated the backsliding and despondency of those in Judea. At this crisis God raised up Ezra.
There were many who were rejected from the priesthood because they could not prove their genealogy. Not so Ezra. His is affirmed in verses 1-5.
It is interesting to note the phrase, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest.” V. 5. Phinehas is an interesting character. See Numbers 25. Israel (the men) in their lust and passion began marrying the women of Moab. God was angry and demanded their death. While the people were mourning and weeping a young Israelite brought one of these women to camp and brazenly showed her off before Moses and the weeping congregation. When Phinehas, one of the priests, saw this he took his javelin and followed the pair to their tent, where he killed them. By this time 24,000 people had died in the plague. God told Moses that the action of Phinehas had turned His wrath away. His zealousness for national purity and his obedience to God’s law had been rewarded. But note the promise, “God would grant him and his seed an everlasting priesthood.”
Centuries later, here is Ezra, the seed of Phinehas, rising up under God to lead another remnant back to the place of the Name.
Note Ezra’s character:
1. He was a skilled scribe—v. 6.
2. The hand of the Lord was upon him—v. 6 and 9.
All studies may more or less prosper independently of the state of the student’s heart. Language, law, medicine, science, philosophy, etc. But to find God’s will and to fine the secrets of God’s heart we must have a devout, humble, penitent, clean heart. It is a clean heart rather than a clear head that makes a man an expositor of the Word. “Son give me thy heart.”
3. He prepared his heart to seek God’s will—v. 10.
4. He was determined to carry out God’s will—v. 10.
5. He would teach Israel God’s will—v. 10. The good hand of the Lord was upon him. In other words, he got his ministry from God.
6. He was a mighty man in the Scriptures. He was a gifted and able instructor of his brethren.
Note the qualifications of the men whom God used: Bezaleel, the deacons of Acts 5, Gideon, Paul, Peter, etc.
Neither did he teach what had not touched his own heart and controlled his life. His ministry was the result of his heart preparation. He prepared his heart, not his head.
Ezra, having learned the mind and will of God in the secret place, practiced it in his daily life. He undertook to do it.
The result of all this was glory to God and blessing to God’s people.
Describe Ezra as a pastor/teacher. Note the NT pastor/teacher.
One reason that there is so little power with much of the preaching today is that those who preach do not live the message they preach. Example: The Lord’s coming is preached, but it makes little difference to the life of many preachers. The pathway to real blessing is first “doing” then “teaching”.
It was this way with Jesus. Luke says of Him in Acts 1:1, “Of all that Jesus began to do and to teach.”
There were three things which were objectives in Ezra’s life:
1. The first was to seek the law of the Lord. In other words, to study and to learn God’s law.
2. His second goal was to put it into practice.
3. His third objective was to teach it.
Look back now at verse 7—“And there went up some of the children of Israel,” etc. God appears to be at work again. He begins to revive the spirits of many. He fills their heart with the desire to go up to Jerusalem.
The Letter of Artaxerxes, v. 12-26
Notice how Artaxerxes describes himself as “king of kings.” Notice also how he describes Ezra, “the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven.”
What a contrast between the two humanly speaking. Contrary to human assessment, in God’s sight, Ezra was much higher in rank than the self-styled “king of kings.”
While it may be true that this ruler had other kings under him, this designated title is reserved for the Lord Jesus. “Who is that blessed and only Potentate, king of kings and Lord of lords.”
Christ will rule the world. This title and place is reserved for Christ alone. Not many today have even heard of Artaxerxes! See how many know of Ezra the scribe. Not many have heard of King Ahasuerus, but Mordecai is known wherever the Word of God is taught. The Pharaoh of Exodus has been taken to be one of half a dozen monarchs, but no one makes a mistake as to Moses. Gamaliel is only remembered as the teacher of the great apostle Paul. Hudson Taylor’s brother was known as such, although a fine lawyer. It is much better to be a humble child of God and to walk with Him, than to wear earth’s proudest diadem and not know Him.
Look now at verse 24. The priests and anyone employed in any way with the temple were to be exempt from taxation. In many countries today religious work and buildings are exempt from taxation.
Note Ezra’s thanksgiving in verses 27-28. Ezra praised God because he realized that He had moved the heart of the king. Then he speaks again of “the hand of the Lord.” Behind human instrumentality, he saw the guiding and controlling hand of the Lord.
v. 28—“I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.”
Of the going up to Jerusalem we have a brief description in verses 6-9.
In the next chapter we have a fuller account of the difficulties, the perils, the testings of faith and praise for God, the glorious triumph.
Every work of God will be tried. Every servant of God will be tried. Paul, centuries later, said, “None of these things move me.” Of such a spirit was Ezra. Every true, faithful servant who counts for God is possessed by the same spirit as these godly men of old.
The chapter opens with a list of all those who accompanied Ezra in this migration in verses 1-14.
The total number involved was 1496 people plus 18 heads of families. However it is stated that this number included only adult males, so with women and children added the grand total would be 6 or 7 thousand.
This company was much smaller than the one described in chapter 2, led by Zerubbabel and Joshua.
The reason for this could be that the first migration offered a release from captivity and a journey to the motherland.
This was no longer a novel project, for many years the Jews had been in Palestine, and although the Temple had been built, the work there was in a depressed and discouraging condition.
Despite these discouraging conditions, these faithful ones returned to the place where God had promised to dwell, where God had promised to put His name.
Surely we are gathered unto the Name. Matthew 18.
v. 15-20—Ezra gathered the whole company. He was shocked to find there were no Levites in the company.
v. 16—Notice the commendation of the men mentioned—“men of understanding.” NT qualification.
These were sent to find some Levites to accompany them. The Levites were servants of the house of God. It is sad that none had volunteered for service. The Levites were probably comfortably settled in Babylon. Although the need in Jerusalem was great, these men did not respond.
This reminds us of the words of the Lord.
John 4:35—“Lift up your eyes and look on the fields; for they are white already unto harvest.”
Matthew 9:36-37—“The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray you, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.”
He may deplore the lack of response by the Levites, but are we any better? Women, not men, are going.
v. 21—Before the journey commenced, Ezra called the people to fasting and prayer. Isaiah 40:29-31; Ephesians 3:20.
They afflicted themselves, they sought a right way.
Let us review the situation: The way was long and lonely. There were perils of robbers and wild beasts. Then add to these the fact that they were carrying a tremendous amount of treasure for God’s house.
Thousands of dollars in silver and in gold. This treasure was committed to holy men. 2 Peter 1:21.
This should help us to understand Ezra’s concern.
Moses and the Israelites had the pillar of fire and cloud. Ezra had no visible signs from God. The priests bearing the ark of the covenant.
To compound the situation, despite the king’s offer of a band of soldiers to guard them on the way, Ezra had refused this, and said in effect, “God was able to look after them on the way.”
The moment of truth has arrived, so Ezra called for fasting and prayer and besought God for His help. Romans 8.
v. 31—The four month journey is covered in this verse. Note the glowing testimony. “He delivered us from the hand of the enemy.” “He delivered us from those that lay in wait by the way.”
Is God less able to take care of His own today? Psalm 34:7.
Illustrate this by telling missionary story.
Elisha at Dothan—2 Kings 6. “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Elisha answered, “Fear not; for they who are with us are more than they who are with them.” “Lord I pray you, open his eyes, that he may see.” And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, etc.
The God who lived in Ezra’s time is just the same today.
v. 32—At last Jerusalem was reached. They rested three days.
v. 33—Then came the day of reckoning when account had to be made of the treasure committed to them.
The gold and the silver were weighed, the test is made.
Praise God the priests were found faithful. 12 priests.
Their godly character was vindicated. Verse 28 says that they were “holy men” engaged in “holy business.”
We Christians today have delivered into our keeping veritable treasures:
1. The faith which was once delivered unto the saints—Jude 3.
2. We are stewards of the mysteries of God.
3. An elder is a steward of God in a special way.
4. Every one of us has a fight from God and we have to use this as a good steward.
Beloved the day of reckoning is coming. 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10.
2 Corinthians 3:12-15—Every ma’s work will be manifest.
The fire will consume the wood, hay and stubble. The gold, silver and precious stones will remain. For our work that stands the fire we will be rewarded. For that which the fire consumes we will suffer loss. Picture a person standing in heaven, saved but denuded of all blessing or reward.
Consider Matthew 25:14-30. Parable of the talents.