1. Someone who is devoted to God’s Word
1 After these things, during the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra 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 chief priest- 6 this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him… 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
• Ezra was part of the second wave of those who returned to Jerusalem
• He was a scribe who was skilled in the Law of God
“well versed” : In his case it is emphasized by the word skilled, or literally ‘rapid’ (cf. Psalm 45:1) – suggesting a quickness of grasp and ease of movement amid this complex material which was the fruit of the devoted study described in verse 10.” (Kidner)
“His name stands very high in Jewish tradition, where he came to be regarded as a second Moses, and indeed it was he, more than any other man, who stamped Israel with its lasting character as the people of a book.” (Kidner)
… 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
• Study, observe, teach
2. Someone who can recruit and empower others
15 I assembled them at the canal that flows toward Ahava, and we camped there three days. When I checked among the people and the priests, I found no Levites there. 16 So I summoned Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, who were leaders, and Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of learning, 17 and I sent them to Iddo, the leader in Casiphia. I told them what to say to Iddo and his kinsmen, the temple servants in Casiphia, so that they might bring attendants to us for the house of our God. 18 Because the gracious hand of our God was on us, they brought us Sherebiah, a capable man, from the descendants of Mahli son of Levi, the son of Israel, and Sherebiah’s sons and brothers, 18 men; 19 and Hashabiah, together with Jeshaiah from the descendants of Merari, and his brothers and nephews, 20 men. 20 They also brought 220 of the temple servants—a body that David and the officials had established to assist the Levites. All were registered by name.
• Ezra knew that he needed Levites to help lead in the worship
• He chose leaders to recruit leaders
Ezra planned carefully in the Levite recruitment effort. He specifically chose the recruiters – nine leaders, and two men of understanding to make the appeal as persuasive as possible. Then he carefully instructed the recruiters as to what they should say, and directed them who specifically to make the appeal to (to Iddo and his brethren). Indeed, the good hand of our God was upon the recruitment effort, but it was also upon the planning of it.
• We see that Ezra could inspire, empower and delegate
• This is spiritual multiplication
3. Someone who risks to live by faith and prayer
21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
• Ezra proclaims a fast to seek God and ask for miracles
• Because he told the king that God would protect and provide, he did not ask for help or a military escort, they were in the wilderness with a lot of money and no defense!
• We need to walk our talk
• They fasted, prayed and God provided
• 45 Days of Prayer, Mid-week prayer meeting, Power Prayer, prayer focus for 10 days, 24 hour prayer
iv. “There is an added interest in the fact that Nehemiah, in his day, would see the matter quite differently, accepting a military escort as part of God’s bounty (Nehemiah 2:7-9).”
4. Someone who is a responsible and faithful steward
24 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, together with Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their brothers, 25 and I weighed out to them the offering of silver and gold and the articles that the king, his advisers, his officials and all Israel present there had donated for the house of our God. 26 I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 27 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and two fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold.
28 I said to them, “You as well as these articles are consecrated to the LORD. The silver and gold are a freewill offering to the LORD, the God of your fathers. 29 Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in the chambers of the house of the LORD in Jerusalem before the leading priests and the Levites and the family heads of Israel.” 30 Then the priests and Levites received the silver and gold and sacred articles that had been weighed out to be taken to the house of our God in Jerusalem.
31 On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way. 32 So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days.
33 On the fourth day, in the house of our God, we weighed out the silver and gold and the sacred articles into the hands of Meremoth son of Uriah, the priest. Eleazar son of Phinehas was with him, and so were the Levites Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui. 34 Everything was accounted for by number and weight, and the entire weight was recorded at that time.
• The mention of this wealth and its management indicates stewardship and careful responsibility
i. “These are enormous sums, worth millions of dollars.” (Yamauchi) The king of Persia sent great treasure to support the ongoing work of the temple.
b. So the priests and the Levites received the silver and the gold: This took some measure of faith, because holding this wealth made them targets for violence by robbers or bandits. They received this responsibility and stewardship
a. The silver and the gold and the articles were weighed: Those in Jerusalem expected a proper accounting for what had been sent from Babylon. We may say that this was more to prove the integrity of the men in Ezra’s expedition than to disprove it.
“According to Babylonian tradition, almost every transaction, including sales and marriages, had to be recorded in writing. Ezra may have had to send back a signed certification of the delivery of the treasures.”
• How we handle money reflects our heart, our values and our faithfulness
• Ezra was a person whose commitment to God’s Word extended to even how he organized tasks, handled money and stewarded God’s resources
• Let this work both ways; if we are negligent here apply the truth to our lives; if we are faithful here, extend that to all areas of our lives!
5. Someone who is broken before God and grieved by sin
1 After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. 2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”
3 When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. 4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.
5 Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God 6 and prayed:
“O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens…13 “What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved and have given us a remnant like this. 14 Shall we again break your commands and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? 15 O LORD, God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”
• It wasn’t that this intermarriage was the only problem; but as these communities intermarried, there would be no areas left untouched by pagan associations – business, government, social life. To allow intermarriage with idolaters was to allow all these other areas of compromise.
• With respect to the abominations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites: This shows that the problem was not primarily ethnic. The problem was they did not separate themselves from these abominations, specifically the idolatry of these people.
• With this forsaking of Jewish identity and the at least partial embrace of idolatry (or its toleration in the Jewish community), in a few generations there would cease to be any distinctive Jewish community in the Promised Land.
• Ezra 9:1-2 seems to recall passages from the Law of Moses against intermarriage with the surrounding Canaanite tribes – in particular, Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-4.
3 When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled.
• Certainly one of the reasons for his mourning (expressed in the tearing of the garment and the plucking of the beard) was that Ezra remembered that it was these sins of idolatry and compromise that caused the tribes of Israel to be exiled before. He no doubt wondered how the people could endanger themselves like this again.
• Those whose hearts were convicted gathered with Ezra in repentance
ii. Both Ezra and Nehemiah were confronted with the sin of pagan intermarriage. Nehemiah responded by plucking out the hair of the guilty (Nehemiah 13:25); Ezra responded by plucking out his own hair.
“The ‘evening sacrifice’ took place about three P.M. (cf. Exodus 12:6; Acts 3:1). The informants had probably visited Ezra in the morning, so that he must have sat in this position for many hours. The time of the evening sacrifice was also the appointed time for prayer and confession.”
ii. Ezra also spread out his hands to the LORD. This was the most common posture of prayer in the Old Testament. Many modern people close their eyes, bow their head, and fold their hands as they pray, but the Old Testament tradition was to spread out the hands toward heaven in a gesture of surrender, openness, and ready reception.
13 “What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved and have given us a remnant like this.
• Ezra took full responsibility for the sin and the consequences, in fact he humbly acknowledges that God could punish them more
• God is acknowledged as righteous and the people as sinful. God was holy and free to do what He purposed
• This anguished confession of sin and cry for repentance is the mark of humility and brokenness. God responds to the cry of the humble
For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite
6. Someone who can persuade others to repent and follow God
1 While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. 2 Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. 3 Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. 4 Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
• Ezra’s repentance was genuine
• Ezra’s repentance was expressive
• Ezra’s repentance was public
• Ezra’s repentance was contagious
Men, women and children gathered to him and the people wept bitterly
• Through the centuries, one mark of a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit among the people of God is that they are convicted of their sin and feel compelled to confess it and to put it away. The old Puritan John Trapp thought of confession as a purging of sin. “This is the soul’s vomit, which is the hardest kind of physic [medicine], but healthsomest. This the devil knows . . . and, therefore, he holds the lips close, that the heart may not disburden itself by so wholesome evacuation.” (Trapp)
In his book The Second Evangelical Awakening, Dr. J. Edwin Orr quoted the observations of a high-ranking army officer upon the work of the Spirit in his Scottish town: “Those of you who are ease have little conception of how terrifying a sight it is when the Holy Spirit is pleased to open a man’s eyes to see the real state of heart. . . . Men who were thought to be, and who thought themselves to be good, religious people . . . have been led to search into the foundation upon which they were resting, and have found all rotten, that they were self-satisfied, resting on their own goodness, and not upon Christ. Many turned from open sin to lives of holiness, some weeping for joy for sins forgiven.”
• Ezra allowed the conviction of sin to hit at home with those who were guilty. They volunteered the actions of repentance. People own sacrificial action far more when it arises from within, rather than from without
• The people repented and made a covenant with God concerning the actions of their repentance
• Ezra exuded devotion to God and he influenced those around him to be similarly devoted. How is God using you to impact your family, this church, your neighbors, your co-workers to repent and follow God?