Ezra does five things as he draws attention to the sin of the people. Scripture tells us he:
- Has them sign a covenant
This is a big deal. Ezra demonstrates most of the same things that Nehemiah did as he led the people back to God. We can learn much by just watching here. Ezra rounded them up and led them to repentance and action. They had to “separate….from the people of the land and their foreign wives”. They had to truly repent – to turn and go the other way – God’s way. That meant walking away from wives, husbands, inlaws and friends that were not people of God. The people sit outside the palace and listen as Ezra instructs them. “Buckets of rain” were coming down on them yet they waited for his instruction. Everyone was there listening. He pointed out that they had “broken trust” with God and change had to happen immediately. How much easier this would have been had people not violated God’s commands in the first place. That is always the case guys! Sin hurts……
Ezra is in full confession mode here at the end of chapter 9. He acknowledges that even though they were outlaws god has “brightened our eyes and lightened our burdens”. God has blessed them in spite of themselves. He lists the three things God has had them doing, all of which were very good and definitely a God thing:
- Build the temple
- Restore its ruins
- Construct a defensive wall
Been a pretty darn good run for the people under Ezra’s direction. They have accomplished much even though they were still under the authority of a foreign king. But Ezra makes it plain they may have done some really good stuff, but all the while they have been missing the mark. He says it like this: we have “thrown your commands to the wind”. Not a good thing to have to say to the God of the Universe. God has been blessing the people and they just drifted away from obedience. Things were good, they lost focus and wham – the enemy was there to say – do whatever you want – life is good and God is busy elsewhere. He won’t care. Pay attention to what Ezra says next. He points out three things that God specifically told them not to allow. Sounds a lot like the instruction that Adam and Eve got in the garden as it starts out: “Whatever you do, don’t”……
- Intermarry with those outside your clan
- Cultivate their good opinion
- Make over them and get them to like you
The three things God specifically told them not to do – they did them all. They were heavily intermarried allowing both sons and daughters to marry from all the peoples around them. They were working hard to get those foreigners to have a high opinion on them and to get them to like them so they could make money. The root here – sex and money. The more the world changes the more it stays the same. Satan’s tactics are the same today – he is out to destroy us by getting us to focus on the wrong things. Watch!
Ezra stops for a minute to listen to the leaders who come to him and tell him the facts of what is going on. “We have not kept …..separate….mixed in with these other peoples”. They had allowed their sons and daughters to intermarry with the neighboring people and were not remaining set apart as God had commanded. He specifically had told them not to allow this to happen. But “leaders have led the way in this betrayal” – their kids were doing it too. You know how it is. For a while when you are told something is bad you stay away. But soon enough you inch closer and then test the waters to see what really is going on. The people did not stay holy in God’s eyes – they allowed themselves to just mingle with the other people groups and now Ezra is upset. Check out how he shows he is “appalled….from my utter devastation”:
- Ripped my clothes and my cape
- Pulled hair from my head and out of my beard
- Slumped to the group
This is some serious business and Ezra responds pretty strongly. Pulling hair out – now that is a new one I can’t remember seeing before but that is a real statement. He is upset that the people have ignored God’s command to remain apart. Here is what he says as he approaches God in prayer. “We’ve been stuck in a muck of guilt”. And now – just when things are starting to look up a little bit – we have done it to ourselves again. That is what he is thinking. How can we be so stupid and fail to obey again? Time to look in the mirror guys. Ezra responds with deep repentance to disobedience. He has just led an unbelievable return to Jerusalem with the people. They have rebuilt things and life should be really good. But instead, he sees that their lives don’t line up with God. They are missing the mark of obedience. And he knows the consequences of disobedience. He has seen them and read about them for a very long time. We need to get out of the muck of guilt. Know how? It really is pretty simple. We just need to obey!
Ezra chapter eight lists the people who are making the trip with Ezra to Jerusalem. This really does parallel Nehemiah’s journey in many ways. He calls them to assemble beside the Ahava Canal and they spend three days their waiting to take off on the journey of a lifetime. Ezra finds he is short a few people that he wants in the city so he sends for some Levites. He has literally hundreds there, but he wants the right team going. And this is what he says: “the generous hand of our God was on us”. Ezra gets it right. This assembling of the people to return to their homeland is not his event. The God of the Universe is in charge here. And God was faithful to bless him. I am impressed that while they are getting ready to leave Ezra declares “a fast to humble ourselves before our God and pray for wise guidance”. Can’t you feel the excitement. People have come together to make a trek back to Jerusalem to live and Ezra stops them for a few days by the canal to prepare for their journey. He wants them to fast. Seems like the exact opposite way that you would prepare to walk for miles. He wants them focused on humility. That seems strange since this is really a victory march in a sense. He wants them to pray for guidance when it was obvious that Ezra was the man and would lead them home. How easy it would have been to just rush on toward Jerusalem thinking it was all about Ezra. But he wasn’t about to let that mistake happen. He stops the team and makes sure they get their heads on right, their hearts lined up with God and everyone in the right seat on the bus before they take off. This wasn’t going to be a simple little jaunt. Ezra tells us he “was embarrassed to ask the king for a cavalry bodyguard to protect us from bandits on the road”. They had to transport 3.75 tons of gold and 28.75 tons of silver to the temple. And they didn’t have an 18 wheeler to haul it in guys. This was a major task. This is Nehemiah craziness all over again. The impossible is happening here right before our eyes. God is in the miracle business. He shows it to us over and over in His word. It happens in this chapter of Ezra. It is happening in your life today. Do you see it? If not it isn’t because He is not at work. You just aren’t looking!
Artaxerxes, king of the land, sends Ezra on his way to get the temple finished. The second half of chapter seven gives us a very different set of circumstances from earlier when the rebuilding of the temple was kaboshed. The king tells Ezra to get on with his trip to Jerusalem and gives him this direction:
- Anyone wanting to go along may go
- Take back the silver and gold the king is giving toward the project
- Do the offerings and activities in keeping with the will of God
- Pay for anything you need out of the royal bank
- Ask any of the treasurers along the way for whatever you need
- There is to be no hesitation on the part of anyone to do what you say
- There can be no tax imposed on what you do
Does this seem like a big about face to you? It sure does to me. The king also tells Ezra to “exercise the wisdom of God that you have in your hands”. People could see that Ezra was filled with God’s wisdom. The big change of heart happens because Ezra’s life and prayers changed things. He was walking with God and God took care of all the details. I love the way Andy Stanley has said this: “what God originates, God orchestrates”. If God is in the center of the plan the details are His. We often stop moving because we can’t see how the details will work out. But if God is in control, that is His to deal with. We just need to keep moving where He leads. The king goes on to also say that anyone who does not obey may be imprisioned, fined, banished or killed by Ezra. Talk about handing over the keys to the kingdom here. Ezra has been handed power on a platter.
But the real key is what Ezra says to end the chapter. He tells us the result of his prayer and it is powerful. He says that God:
- Put it in the mind of the king
- Caused the king to “actually like me and back me”
- My God was on my side and I was ready to go
I love how he ends his analysis of what is happening. God is on my side and I am ready to go. Does that describe you? God is on your side. Are you ready to go? Are you already going? I believe He wants us to be moving. He wants us to be taking action. He wants us to be on the path of serving Him. God wants to us use just like He did Ezra, and Nehemiah too. Leaders who are willing to pray and then take action in the power of God, leaving the details to Him. Let’s become that kind of man!
We finally get to know this guy that the book is named after – Ezra. Chapter 7 starts with a little lineage lesson on him. He shows up while Artaxerxes is on the thrown. Scripture tells us he was connected all the way back to Aaron the high priest. In the Message version – after the list of his great, greats back 16 generations it says this: “That’s Ezra”. Does your lineage define you? Do you even know who your relatives are more than a generation or two back? I have spent some time doing geneology and trying to track some of it down for my family. It is a lot of work but I do enjoy the research. I must say that the Internet certainly has made it much easier than it once was. When I first started doing it back in the 80’s there was no computer, no software and no Internet. Research was slow, it had to be written down and of course with every change it had to be redone. No delete key on paper. Heritage does matter. The facts are we can’t change the past. But we can determine the future. Some day you will be in the list of lineage for your future offspring. Is the result going to be what Ezra experienced? Check out what scripture says: “Because GOD’s hand was on Ezra, the king gave him everything he asked for”. Oh yeah, that is what I want for myself and the generations that come after me. I want my grandson Micah to have God’s hand on him. Certainly some of that happens because of the life of the person, but the heritage of the past also matters. We need to keep that in mind. What we do impacts people for years to come. Ezra takes off for Jerusalem and gets there “under the generous guidance of his God”. Note the personal relationship here. Ezra knows God. God knows Ezra and leads him back to Jerusalem. God wants the same from us. He wants us to know Him and spend time so He becomes our God. When that happens He will give us “generous guidance” as well. He doesn’t want us wandering aimlessly in the desert. He just wants us to be in relationship so He can put His hand all over us. Is He touching you?
The second half of Ezra 6 gives us the story of the completion of the Temple. I love what scripture tells us happens when the word of King Darius gets back to the governor: “They carried out the decree ………. precisely and promptly”. Is that what you do when you get direction? Is it prompt and precise obedience? That is what God expects from us. He doesn’t want arguing, procrastination, diversion or any of a host of other things we might do. He just wants us to get after it and do it His way. NOW. Too often we have to analyze, prioritize, fantasize and who knows what other “ize” we may apply to God’s truth. We need to just do it. His way, His time, every time. The result of their obedience – the Temple is finished and they “celebrate” – not just a little party – one whopping big celebration. They sacrificed 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs – this was no ordinary deal. The key is that by working together in obedience to God’s direction under the leadership of God’s chosen men – Haggai and Zechariah – this job was put to bed and completed. The chapter ends with these words – which I think should be our goal for life: “GOD had plunged them into a sea of joy”. Are you living in a sea of joy? How did they get there? They didn’t do it themselves. God “plunged them” there because they obeyed and got after it. I don’t think it is a stretch at all to think we can experience the same if we do the same. After all, our God is the same “yesterday, today and forever”. He is the great “I Am”. He wants the same result in your life and mine. JOY! Jesus came that we may have life full of “abundant joy”. It happens when we walk with God. When we obey and do what He has instructed. Much of those instructions are already written in the Bible. Some He delivers to us in other ways – be He isn’t hiding it and we already know a lot of it. The breakdown comes in our heart at the level of obedience. Let me ask again – are you filled with JOY?
You may recall that in Ezra 5 King Darius had received a letter asking him to search the archives to find a decree from Cyrus to rebuild the temple. “A scroll was turned up” and Darius finds it to be true. He gives the following instructions to Tattenai who was the governor of that area:1. Stay out of their way2. Help the leaders in the rebuilding3. All construction costs are to be paid4. Pay them on time5. Whatever is required for worship is to be given to them daily6. Anyone who violates this order is to be impaled…and their house made into a manure pitSo this is a big turn around from stopping the work on the temple rebuilding. Talk about God going ahead and making the preparations for success. This might have been considered risky business when they began rebuilding without permission and then asked for the king to rule on their work. But with God in control, there was no risk as they obeyed in faith. They just did what God instructed. He took care of the rest. This story has a lot of similarities to Nehemiah doesn’t it? God is so awesome and good.
The people again begin rebuilding the temple and again are challenged with the question of “who issued the building permit” which obviously there was no answer to. But they did make their case about why the temple needed to be rebuilt. The real key is what scripture has told us: “God had his eye on the leaders of the Jews” – so God used the circumstances to His glory. The people of Israel knew they had time to get their case made to the king – now Darius because the message would have to be carried their from the local governors hand. They make their case and lay out the facts from history of the importance of the temple and how prior kings had supported or allowed it to be built and used. God somehow got the governor to send that message to King Darius as it was presented so God’s truth was carried to him. God has His eye on everything we do guys. Nothing slips past Him or goes unnoticed. He has a plan and a way for every situation we face. We just need to listen and follow His direction.
In Ezra 4 the people are rebuilding the “Temple of God in Jerusalem”. They are hard at work and their enemies come in to try and put a halt to it. They use a number of different tactics:
- Volunteer to help
- Try to “beat down the morale”
- “Harass them as they built”
- “Hired propagandists”
“They kept this up for 15 years” in an effort to derail the rebuilding. Wow this sounds a lot like the enemies of Nehemiah when he was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The enemy does try and put a halt to things we are doing for God. He wants to discourage us and get us to just give up. But the people did not so the enemies took the next step – they wrote a letter to the king full of lies and “accusations” and sent it to him. Of course, he fell for the thing hook, line and sinker and says that “rebellion is an old story there”. So he “orders them to stop” and the work is halted. The enemies “put a stop to the work” immediately and I am sure were smiling from ear to ear. They had used every trick in the book to convince the king that this project was bad for the kingdom. Our enemy will use every trick in the book to derail us as well. We need to be prepared for the discouragement and roadblocks that will come as we work to serve God. He is the king of kings and can help us overcome, but we need to be ready for the things the enemy will throw our way and not be overwhelmed or give up. God is our source of strength. He can conquer it all!