Grace For The Journey
Most of you know the setting of the book of Ezra. The Babylonians had begun their conquest of Jerusalem in 606 BC, and had finally destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and took many of the people captive. After 70 years in captivity, in 538 BC, Cyrus issued a proclamation allowing the Jews to return to their land and rebuild their temple, and nearly 50,000 returned under the leadership of Zerubbael.
The primary architect of Israel’s new identity was Ezra, the priest, described in Ezra 7:6 as the, “ready scribe of the law of Moses.” As a scribe, his primary task was the study and exposition of the law. Through the work of Ezra, Israel had a job to do, and although they faced times of trial, testing, and tribulation, the Lord saw them through.
Ezra is one of the great spiritual leaders of the Old Testament. His name means, “Yahweh helps.” He was used of God to lead the Israelites back to the Promised Land, much like Moses did previously. In fact, this return to the homeland from Persian captivity has been called Israel’s “second exodus.”
The book of Ezra tells the story of two returns. The first was led by Zerubabbel to rebuild the temple (in chapters 1-6) and the second was led by Ezra to rebuild the spiritual condition of the people (in chapters 7-10). The key verse of the book is found in Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.”
Interestingly, the principles found in this small book stating how God dealt with His people more than 2,500 years ago, still speak to the heart and issues of God’s people today. Here are 10 powerful principles from the book of Ezra which intersect the lives of believers in today . . .
- God is sovereign. In the book of Ezra, God was at work through historical events. Persia defeated the Babylonians and took possession of the Israelites. However, Persian national policy allowed deported people to repatriate. This allowed the Israelites to return home after 70 years in captivity, thus fulfilling a promise of God. God is still sovereign over the affairs of nations today.
- God raises up people for specific purposes. Most likely, Ezra’s parents were a part of the original deportation from Israel and Ezra was born in captivity. Despite difficult circumstances, God raised up Ezra for the special task of leading His people (1:1-4). God still raises up people today for special work.
- God often uses the most unlikely sources. Whenever the Israelites prepared to return, God spoke to Cyrus, the King of Persia, to provide treasures to help rebuild the Temple in Israel (1:5-11). It is amazing how God works in the hearts of the most unlikely sources to accomplish His work.
- It is vital for a person to ensure they are truly in God’s family. In Chapter 2, great care was taken to ensure the pure lineage of Israelite families in their return (2:1-70). Today, people must ensure they have truly experienced salvation through Jesus Christ.
- Place spiritual matters as a priority. Whenever the Israelites returned, their primary emphasis was upon re-building the Temple first rather than the city walls or gates (Chapter 3). The Temple was used for spiritual purposes, while the wall was used for military and political purposes. Putting spiritual matters in order in your life is always the greater priority.
- There will always be opposition to God’s work. As Zerubbabel led the first group of Israelites back to their homeland and began to rebuild the Temple, great opposition arose from their neighbors. The opposition came at two different times as they re-built (4:1-22; 5:3-6:12). Today, the enemy often brings opposition whenever believers attempt to carry out God’s commands and work.
- Joy is possible in the midst of difficult circumstances. Four times in the book of Ezra the word “joy” is mentioned. Two times the text mentions the joy of the Israelites whenever the foundation of the Temple was completed (3:12-13). Two times the joy of God’s people was mentioned whenever the Temple was dedicated (6:16; 22). Their circumstances were far from joyful as the charred remains of their homeland surrounded them and provisions were meager. Yet, the Lord gave them joy. Today, it is important for believers to remain joyful regardless of the outward circumstances.
- God’s Word is primary. Beginning in Chapter 7, the priest Ezra arrived in Israel. His primary emphasis was upon God’s Word. He devoted himself to the Word of God and to teach its ordinances (7:10). God’s inerrant, infallible Word must be primary today. Devoting ourselves to it and its commands is the first task of every believer, minister, and church. God will bless the primacy of His Word.
- Spiritual leaders are to be prayer warriors. One of the most inspirational passages in the book was when Ezra prayed for the people. He was made aware by servants of the sin of intermarriage among the people. Interestingly, Ezra did not petition God for one request, yet he immediately confessed the sins of his people to the Lord and set an action plan of repentance. The poignant words of Ezra form one of the most beautiful prayers of the Old Testament (9:5-15). Spiritual leaders must intercede for God’s people today and be prayer warriors on their behalf.
- God Takes Seriously Marrying Outside of the Faith. In Chapters 7-10, one key sin plagued the Israelites – They disobeyed God by intermarrying with those who did not have a covenant relationship with Yahweh. The prohibition was not based upon race rather it was based upon faith. The monotheistic worship of God alone was to remain pure among His people. Today, it is imperative that believers in Jesus Christ avoid being unequally yoked with unbelievers in a marriage relationship (2 Corinthians 6:14).
One of the undercurrents running throughout this small, yet powerful, book is one of hope. The story of Ezra encourages a people who had lost hope in the future. This is the plight of many in our modern culture as well. Many people have lost hope. The pulpit is a wonderful place to encourage their spirit from the book of Ezra and show that a vital, living relationship with God through Jesus Christ provides wonderful hope for the future.
The book of Ezra can also be a great “help” for Christians today. Let me explain why. Ezra gives us a historical account of the return of some of God’s people to Jerusalem. Many of the events that happen are fitting illustrations for God’s people today. As we go through the Book, we will discover many parallels between the time it speaks of and ours. In this sense, Ezra is very up to date and pertinent in relation to many issues we face in our Christian lives today. This old book sheds so much light on many questions which Christians ask today, such as . . .
- How should Christians gather?
- Can a minority be right?
- The unity of the church, what does it mean for us today?
- What do we do when many turn their back on biblical teaching?
- Separation from evil and the unity of the church, a contradiction?
- How can we recognize a true revival?
The book of Ezra describes a wonderful revival which occurred after 70 of the darkest years of the history of God’s people. What had happened? In 722 BC the 10 tribes had been led captive into Assyria (2 Kings 17:6). Over time, they vanished completely, and we still do not know where they are today. Only two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, were left in the country. Just over one hundred years later, in 606 BC, Nebucadnezzar came and took the vessels of the temple, as well as the most promising young people as captives (2 Chronicles 36:6.7). A captivity of 70 years followed, just as Jeremiah had predicted (Jeremiah 25:12 and 29:10). Here they were, far from Jerusalem, without temple, without sacrifices, without their national feasts, and unable to sing the songs of Zion (Psalm 137:1-4).
At the end of these 70 years, a Persian king, Cyrus, conquered the Babylonian Empire and founded the Medo-Persion Empire. This new king made a proclamation stating that all the Jews who wished to do so were free to go back to Jerusalem and to build the house of the Lord there. About 43,000 people responded to this call and went up to Jerusalem. Their experiences are extremely instructive for believers today. Their return to Jerusalem encourages us to return to first principles and faith principles found in the Word of God, not modified by the ideas of men.
The faith of those who returned; their failure, their work, their “ups and downs” all speak volumes to the believer today. To the extent that we, similarly, are not satisfied with “Bablylon” but have a heart for the place God has chosen, we will be able to derive much “help” from this book of Ezra. I am looking forward to this adventure with you!
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”