The Hand of the Lord God – Directing

Ezra 7:1-28

Artaxerxes – son of Xerxes (Ahasuerus), grandson of Darius, on the throne ruling over an empire in decline. 58 years elapsed since chapter 6, covered partly by events of Esther. Not only the Persian empire that was in decline, Jewish church was also. Once again zeal for God had been overtaken by other concerns – hints of what was going on present in chapter 7, more detail in chapters 9 & 10.

Behaving in some ways like church of Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) – God was standing at the door of his Jewish church, knocking, most inside the church oblivious to who was outside the door.

content to leave a portion of the Holy City and wall around in ruins

had forgotten or forsaken God’s laws

were living by their own standards – both in the church (worship) and outside the church (relationships)

allowed regular religious instruction to fall by wayside – religious leaders couldn’t be bothered to teach, people couldn’t take time from their busy schedules to attend

had grown lukewarm in religious affections – keeping the sabbath/going to church a routine done out of habit, not out of love for God and desire to please him and meet with him and be spiritually nourished by him

There was one who did hear knock of God on the door and responded to it – Ezra. Obvious in remaining chapters of Ezra that here was a man committed to holiness and stirring up a desire for holiness among God’s people. Ezra was determined that his God would be properly regarded by Jew and Persian alike; was not concerned with being popular, wealthy, or being a finalist on “Babylonian Idol”. Was concerned with pleasing God – both himself and his countrymen. In today’s terminology Ezra was “sold out for God”. He lived by the principle Jim Elliot expressed – “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”.

God honored that whole-hearted commitment in ways that went even beyond Ezra’s dreams; the sacred writer has made it plain in our text that the hand of the Lord God was at work directing the affairs of men in 5th century Persia. We see evidence of the hand of God, the reason for God’s hand being on Ezra, and the way by which Ezra recognized it was God’s hand.

A. the evidence of “the hand of the Lord God” at work

Directing the actions of pagans

I. to grant the requests of God’s servant v.6

key players:

Artaxerxes – ruthless pagan king who killed his older brothers to consolidate his hold on power

Ezra – quintessential priest, direct descendant of Aaron himself, learned in the things of God more than palace intrigue

key requests:

permission – group passport to Jerusalem, safe passage v.13-14

people – largely religious workers v.13

authority – to set up judicial and educational systems v.25-26

II. to financially support God’s work v.15–20, 27

freewill offerings of silver and gold

from the king and his counsellors v.15

from the Persian people and priests v.16

gold, silver and bronze vessels for temple use v.19(see also 8:25-27)

whatever other specifics – from the king’s treasury v.20, 27

III. to establish good laws v.24–26

recognizing value of religion

implementing just tax laws – taxing earned income but not that derived from offerings (charitable gifts)

empowering a judicial system to maintain the rule of law – ecclesiastical & civil

Directing the steps of His servant

at critical times

before the king and his men v.6, 28

details of what to request

way in which to present the request

so it would be received favorably and granted

on the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem v.9

4-month journey without any loss

of life

of possessions

of direction – during 900-mile trip

when his servant needed courage v.28

to speak boldly as God’s emissary

before the king and his cabinet

to be certain of his commission

it REALLY was God’s plan for Ezra to be used in this way

B. the reason “the good hand of the Lord God” upon Ezra

Because of Ezra’s attitude toward God: see v.9-10

The gracious hand of his God was on him, because Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the LORD, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel. HCSB

3 elements of Ezra’s commitment:

seek/study – not merely for the sake of building a knowledge base

do – knowledge with the goal of application to daily practice

came to God’s Word with mindset – whatever the Book says I’ll do – total submission to the authority of the Word of God

teach – not in Babylon but in Israel; understood need of sound religious instruction for a healthy church and community

package deal: seek and do and teach; to seek alone fuels pride; to seek and do fuels selfishness; to do and teach fosters ignorance; to seek and teach is hypocrisy; all three are essential

Just as our Lord himself, the world’s greatest teacher, grew in wisdom and practiced full obedience, the effective teacher in Christ’s church has for his foundation knowledge of biblical principles and experience of biblical practice. Even that is not all that is necessary: he is effective because the hand of God is on him. Jesus announced at the beginning of his earthly ministry that “the Spirit of the Lord God [was] upon [him]” anointing him to preach the gospel (Luke 4:18). Similarly, Ezra would succeed in carrying out his commission because his right attitude and right behavior was honored by God and made effective as “the hand of the Lord God was upon him” directing his steps.

C. recognition of “the hand of the Lord God” upon Ezra v.28

It was Ezra himself who identified the source of his success and courage as “the hand of the Lord [his] God”. How did he know where to direct the credit?

the Law (Word) of the Lord God was

in his heart – v.10 and in his hand (possession) – v.14

he had made the principles of God’s Word his own

he carried his Bible in his heart as well as his hand

on his label – v.6b, 11b, 21b, 25a

life characterized by obedience to God

life led by the Spirit of God indicating he was a true son of God (Rom. 8:14)

a child of God recognizes his Father’s presence, his Father’s handiwork

a child of God willingly goes where his Father leads him

May God direct our steps as he did Ezra’s and may we willingly follow wherever he leads us, content to be in his presence and the place he has chosen for us.

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