Ezra 7 (New Century Version)
Ezra Comes to Jerusalem
1 After these things during the rule of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra came up from Babylon. Ezra was the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah,2 the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub,3 the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth,4 the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki,5 the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the high priest.6 This Ezra came to Jerusalem from Babylon. He was a teacher and knew well the Teachings of Moses that had been given by the Lord, the God of Israel.
Here we are introduced to Ezra, and we read that he came from a long line of priests, going all the way back to Aaron himself, the first high priest. We also learn that Ezra was living among the exiles in Babylon and that he “was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). Ezra had worked to gain knowledge of the Word of God. In fact, the rabbis considered him second only to Moses. Ezra was skilled in the Scriptures, which in his day referred to the Pentateuch. He was both called and equipped to serve as Israel’s priest.
Ezra received everything he asked for from the king, because the Lord his God was helping him.7In the seventh year of King Artaxerxes more Israelites came to Jerusalem. Among them were priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and Temple servants.
8 Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of Artaxerxes’ seventh year as king.9 Ezra had left Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, because God was helping him.10 Ezra had worked hard to know and obey the Teachings of the Lord and to teach his rules and commands to the Israelites.
Ezra 7:10 (English Standard Version)
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.
This verse is one of the Bible’s best summaries of what it means to be a faithful servant of God’s Word. It is a wonderful verse for pastors, for seminary students, for theology professors—really, it is a wonderful verse for everyone. I know this from experience because I embraced this verse early in my time at seminary. I wrote it out on a note card and tucked it into the little Bible I carried in my briefcase. From time to time I would pull it out and meditate on it or pray over it. Over time, God used it to shape my understanding of what it meant to be a student and a teacher, a husband and a pastor. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he can use it to shape your life and ministry, too.
The logic of this verse is impeccable. There were three things that Ezra was committed to doing, and he had them in the proper order, like “A-B-C” or “1-2-3.” In fact, Ezra had them in the only order that makes any sense: he had his heart set on studying, doing, and teaching the Word of God. This was his heart commitment, the direction of his life, the settled intention of his soul.
Start with studying. Before we can do what God wants us to do, or teach anyone else what God wants them to do, we need to know what God wants us to do, and that means studying God’s Word. Ezra had committed himself to doing that. We do not know his study habits, but we know that he was skilled in the Law of Moses. His “delight was in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditated day and night” (Ps 1:2). Since he was raised in a family of priests, he had studied the Scriptures from his earliest childhood. He undoubtedly spent hours each day reading the Bible, pondering its meaning, and discussing its implications with other students and scholars. In those days, a scribe of Ezra’s stature would have committed large portions of Scripture to memory. The unrelenting ambition of his life was to know the Word of God.
But Ezra did not stop there. He did not want merely to learn the Bible; he wanted to live it. So the Scripture says that he set his heart to do the law that he had studied. This meant loving the Lord his God with all his strength and loving his neighbor as himself. It meant keeping the Ten Commandments. It meant following all the regulations for priestly holiness and public worship. It meant doing everything he could to live by God’s law. Ezra understood that the only true theology is applied theology. I am reminded of the parishioner who met the preacher at the door after the service and said, “Pastor, that was a wonderful sermon.” To which the pastor replied, “Well, that remains to be seen, doesn’t it?” This was Ezra’s approach exactly. What good is it to study the Bible, unless we also live by it?
Then there was a third step: teaching God’s statutes and rules in Israel. He wanted to reach his entire nation with the Word of God. He saw that he had a responsibility to the wider spiritual community. It was his calling and privilege to spend long periods of time studying God’s Word. But this was not for his benefit alone; it was for the edification of the people of God. Eventually God granted Ezra his heart’s desire. When he read the Book of the Law to all the people in Jerusalem, he was teaching God’s statutes and rules in Israel–the Bible teacher for the kingdom.
Bear in mind that this is the goal of all your studies. You do not study God’s Word only for your own benefit, but for the sake of others. The knowledge you gain is a sacred trust that God has given you in order that you might give it away. So set your heart to study the Word of God, and to do it, and to teach it to wherever God calls you.
–Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, former Senior Minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, now President of Wheaton College in Illinois
Artaxerxes’ Letter to Ezra
11 King Artaxerxes had given a letter to Ezra, a priest and teacher who taught about the commands and laws the Lord gave Israel. This is a copy of the letter:
12 From Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven.
13 Now I give this order: Any Israelite in my kingdom who wishes may go with you to Jerusalem, including priests and Levites.14 Ezra, you are sent by the king and the seven people who advise him to ask how Judah and Jerusalem are obeying the Law of your God, which you are carrying with you.15 Also take with you the silver and gold that the king and those who advise him have given freely to the God of Israel, whose Temple is in Jerusalem.16 Also take the silver and gold you receive from the area of Babylon. Take the offerings the Israelites and their priests have given as gifts for the Temple of your God in Jerusalem.17 With this money buy bulls, male sheep, and lambs, and the grain offerings and drink offerings that go with those sacrifices. Then sacrifice them on the altar in the Temple of your God in Jerusalem.
18 You and your fellow Jews may spend the silver and gold left over as you want and as God wishes.19 Take to the God of Jerusalem all the utensils for worship in the Temple of your God,20 which we have given you. Use the royal treasury to pay for anything else you need for the Temple of your God.
21 Now I, King Artaxerxes, give this order to all the men in charge of the treasury of Trans-Euphrates: Give Ezra, a priest and a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, whatever he asks for.22 Give him up to seventy-five hundred pounds of silver, six hundred bushels of wheat, six hundred gallons of wine, and six hundred gallons of olive oil. And give him as much salt as he wants.23 Carefully give him whatever the God of heaven wants for the Temple of the God of heaven. We do not want God to be angry with the king and his sons.24 Remember, you must not make these people pay taxes of any kind: priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, Temple servants, and other workers in this Temple of God.
25 And you, Ezra, use the wisdom you have from your God to choose judges and lawmakers to rule the Jewish people of Trans-Euphrates. They know the laws of your God, and you may teach anyone who does not know them.26 Whoever does not obey the law of your God or of the king must be punished. He will be killed, or sent away, or have his property taken away, or be put in jail.
27 Praise the Lord, the God of our ancestors. He caused the king to want to honor the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.
Proverbs 21:1 (New International Version)
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD;
he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.
28 The Lord has shown me, Ezra, his love in the presence of the king, those who advise the king, and the royal officers. Because the Lord my God was helping me, I had courage, and I gathered the leaders of Israel to return with me.
Ezra had the will to lead.
It has been a long haul for these Israelites. They know the story — how God chose them, out of His goodness, to be His people, and gave them the Law and kings and prophets and priests. And how they disobeyed so intentionally and constantly that God had to send them out into exile, for they were unworthy, unteachable, unreachable. And here, wonder of wonders, God in His lovingkindness calls them back to Himself and to Jerusalem.
Michael W. Smith and “Never Been Unloved.”