Hopefully you have been amazed at what God has done from the beginning of Ezra chapter one: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia …” A little background will be helpful to set the stage of what is going on in Ezra.
The people of Israel where carted off into captivity. If you remember back in Deuteronomy, we read this:
Deuteronomy 31:16-18 And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, 'Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?' And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.”
This text was written when Moses was still alive. Judah was carried off into captivity in about 580 B.C. The northern kingdom was carried off much earlier (790 B.C). It is important to remember that in the time before Christ, the numbers run backwards–they are counting down to Christ–which is the central point of all history. In Ezra 5:10 and following, we see the leaders of Israel acknowledge that their forefathers have angered God, and that Israel worshipped false gods was not a surprise to the God of heaven, as He knew when He made His covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai that this would be the case. God ordained this to be a part of His perfect plan to bring about redemption, which was promised in the Garden.
Two takeaways from this brief history: First, nothing surprises God. There is nothing that has cropped up in history that has God surprised or wasn’t ordained by first or secondary causes. Man’s wickedness, Israel’s disobedience, Israel being conquered by another country; none of this was outside of the preordained plan of God. The Scriptures tell us that God raises up kingdoms and tears them down according to His good, wise, and perfect counsel. This should be a comfort in this time of turmoil as we come to elections. The Lord holds the heart of the king in His hand. He orchestrates and what He has ordained will be the outcome. Israel chose to follow after the false idols, and they are held accountable for these actions. God is not responsible for Israel’s sins of disobedience, idolatry, and all the other commands they broke. God cannot be tempted by evil.
Second, we see God’s faithfulness or steadfast love. Ezra 1:1 says, “… that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus King of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing.” This is a huge statement leading off the book of Ezra. Hopefully you see God’s active hand in the life of Ezra. God promised through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11,12; 29:10, 14) to bring His people back, and His promise was written in His word—written to the people to comfort them. God gives comfort in trial via His unchangeable word/promise. If God says it in His word, it will happen. We need to trust that God does what He says He will do. This is a comfort and a warning. Israel was God’s chosen people, and God still punished them for their disobedience. Many thought that since they were the physical descendants of Abraham, this would not happen. God disciplines those whom He loves so that we will repent and honor Him again. Take comfort that God did not leave them in their exiled place. God actively worked in Cyrus’s heart to bring about His holy will. Cyrus did not know God (Isaiah 45:5), but that doesn’t matter because God holds the heart of the king. God is sovereign over all things, and people will act in accordance with this.
Now, this does not give us free reign to throw our hands up and not do anything! God has given us responsibilities. We are to act in accordance with what He has commanded us. We are to engage the public square based on God’s character and attributes. We are to obey our civil government as if following the command of God. We are to help the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions. We are to raise our families in ways that glorify God, because this is the expectation of what God has given us. We don’t just let our children do anything they want, but we train them and nurture them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. When we do this, we know that we have been faithful and obedient, and that God will do what is good and right according to His counsel. We do not always understand what is good and right, but we can trust that God does and He is good and right.
In our reading, we find God ordained Ezra to play an important role. Ezra was a priest and a scribe of God. He was a Levite, which means he was of the priestly tribe. He was sent by Cyrus to help the people of Israel to follow after God. Ezra 7:10 says, “For 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.” First, notice that Ezra was ruling his heart (referring to his inner most being–emotions and mind). He was not allowing fleshly things to control him but was choosing to act in accordance with God’s desire. He actively went after God’s law. Second, Ezra was a man of God. The Law of God was living to Ezra. This was a challenge, as Ezra had to respond and deal with an Jewish culture that had absorbed many practices of the cultures around them and where breaking the commands of God without even realizing it.
In chapter eight we see Ezra lead by an example. In Ezra 8:21-23 it says, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For 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.’ So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.”
This is a great passage. When Ezra was preparing to lead the people back to Israel, he didn’t ask for protection from the king but fasted and prayed. This is a great example for us. Many times we can reach out and get the problem solved, but we do it without trusting in God. What would it look like if instead of looking to just fix it yourself, you fasted and prayed more often? When we slow down and seek God in faith, He shows us the way. This does not mean that we forsake the means He has given us. It is simply slowing down to acknowledge that He is God and is at work. It is a way to protect us from getting out of step with His will and ways. Many times we solve the problem ourselves without involving Him. This is not what Ezra does; he went to God and trusted Him, and God listened! God hears our prayers. Let’s go to Him more than we do.
As things progressed, Ezra had to make some radical changes in the latter part of the book, to bring Israel back into submission to God’s word. If Ezra had not studied the word, he would have not known this was necessary. In Chapter 9, we see again that Ezra prays about it first. This is the pattern of Ezra: problem, pray, trust God, obedience. This is the cycle that we as believers should follow. What problems do you need to use this pattern for? How can you make this a regular practice?
Ezra, as a scribe and a priest, was a type that points to Christ. As a priest, he fulfilled a mediatorial role for the people of Israel. He interceded between the people and God—performing the sacrifices, showing them that sin needs to be atoned for. All the while, Ezra was a man who did not fulfill this role perfectly. In this he shows us our need for the truer and better priest, Jesus Christ. In the New Covenant secured in His blood, Christ pleads our case before the Father against the accuser because we are His. Praise the Lord.
Ezra was a shadow of Christ in teaching the Law. Jeremiah 31:31 tells us we have the law written on our hearts. This is in a greater way than just knowing it; it is following it willfully. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, the law is written on the believer’s heart in a way that we now can obey it and glorify God. Do you know God? Have you trusted in Jesus’ mediatorial work for you, that He has robed you in His (Jesus’) righteousness and that you can come before the Father with boldness? If you have not cried out to God, ask Him to give you saving faith. If you have, then walk and talk with Him every day, as you obey His commands and navigate this broken world for His name’s 0sake and others’ good.
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC
*Special thanks to J.Taylor who helped me prepare this week’s devotion