Ezra 7


Here we enter on a new period in our history.  Forty-seven years have passed since the dedication of the temple, approximately sixty-eight years from the time of the decree given by Cyrus.  Ahasuerus (also known by the name of Xerxes), the monarch referred to in the book of Esther, the son of the Darius the Great (Hystaspis) mentioned in Ezra 5 and Ezra 6, had succeeded his father during this interval, and he had been followed on the throne by Artaxerxes his son (Artaxerxes Longimanus), who is spoken of in this chapter.

In Ezra 5, the revival had been characterized by the power of the prophetic word, producing a renewal of energy in the people, who had long since abandoned the work of the house of God.  Ezra5 and Ezra6 tell us of the results of this revival.

Now that the first work was completed, the people is called to taste its fruit in peace.  Will their spiritual level be maintained in these new circumstances?  No, times come when this level declines rapidly.  The world infiltrates; profane alliances, as we shall see at the end of this book, are tolerated and weaken the moral fiber.  Evil was still hidden in the times when Ezra was raised up, for it was his presence, with new uncontaminated elements, which revealed the evil present.

Where, then, can one find a resource against this spiritual decline and its results?  There is but one resource: the word of God.  God raises up Ezra to teach the people the law of Moses and to remind them of its importance.  It is not a question of new revelations here, as when Haggai and Zechariah spoke to the people, but simply of bringing the "statutes and ordinances" (v. 10)  contained in "the law of Jehovah" to light again and of applying them to the conscience.

Let us not forget that this is also our only safeguard in the present day, and our only means of restoration.  The Lord says, "To this man will I look, to the afflicted and contrite in spirit, and who trembleth at my word." (Isa. 66: 2).

Ezra was, in every respect, remarkable as chosen of God to fulfill this mission.  In the first place (vv. 1-5), we find his genealogy which presents no gap.  He was of the priestly race and through his ancestors and their virtues (the faithfulness of a Zadok, the zeal of a Phinehas), he had his origin in "Aaron the chief priest".

Should not the case be the same today for the ministers of the Word?  Their persons, their works, and their conduct should clearly show that their "all [their] springs are in [Christ]" (Ps. 87: 7), the true high priest.  It should be evident to the eyes of all who their Leader is and from whom they have received life.

Ezra was "a ready scribe of the law of Moses, which Jehovah the God of Israel had given" (v. 6).  God had prepared him beforehand, as a special gift, to be the leader of His people, but that did not suffice to qualify him to exercise his ministry: "Ezra had directed his heart to seek the law of Jehovah, and to do it" (v. 10).  He prepared his heart to seek it first of all, and then to do it, for as far as he was concerned personally, he did not separate practice from knowledge.  He was not like those teachers of the law who, in the days of Jesus, laid upon "men burdens heavy to bear," and they themselves did not touch " the burdens with one of [their] fingers" (Luke 11: 46).  His practical life was impregnated with the precepts of the Word which he fed on.  And it was only after this that he set his heart "to teach in Israel statutes and the ordinance" (v. 10).  In a word, his life and his conduct were in complete agreement with his teaching.

The consequence of this entire consecration to the Word and to the work, was that "the good hand of his God [was] upon him", for, it is said (notice this "for") he had directed his heart.  We find this in every period of time: God's protection rests especially on those who, forgetting themselves to depend upon Him alone, consecrate themselves without reserve to His work.

In order to follow this path of obedience, without turning aside from it, Ezra needed special knowledge of the whole body of Scripture.  He was a ready scribe in the law of Moses (v. 6); he was "the scribe,  a scribe of the words of the commandments of Jehovah, and of his statutes to Israel" (v. 11).  Often nothing is more fatal to souls than a superficial and limited knowledge of the Word.  How many divisions and disputes would be avoided among the children of God, if they would consider the Scriptures in their various facets.  To separate one truth from other related truths, without taking these related truths into consideration, is generally a proof of ignorance and self-will, if not the fruit of proud self-satisfaction which desires to teach others, and refuses to be instructed of God.  Almost all false doctrines have the starting point in a truth taken out of context, and therefore poorly understood, which thus becomes the very root of error.

The decree of Artaxerxes, as well as the letter of Darius (Ezra6), shows us the mental dispositions of the sovereign rulers of Persia.  They had a certain fear of God, but without quickening faith.  Like his grandfather Darius, Artaxerxes acknowledged the God of heaven.  Although he allowed, as history tells us, each people to keep their idols, he himself had none.  The doctrine of Zoroaster, the belief in a supreme God, the teachings of the wise men: all this mingled with philosophical views concerning the principal of good and evil, formed the religion of these sovereign rulers.  Without doubt, this disposed them to acknowledge the "God of the heavens", but, in his decree, Artaxerxes goes further: he acknowledges the God of Ezra (v. 14), the God of Israel (v. 15), and the God of Jerusalem (v. 19).  He also acknowledges his responsibility toward this God whose wrath is to be feared (v. 23).  Moreover, he shows great confidence in Ezra, a man of God, for he commits the establishment of magistrates and judges for the region beyond the river to the hand of Ezra (v. 25); he knows very well that godly Ezra will not choose any who rebel against the royal authority.  He desires this man to instruct the ignorant, and for him this is the guaranty of peace for his reign (v. 25).  Lastly, he orders severe measures against those who break the law of God and of the king, for, in his mind, he identifies these two laws one with the other (v. 26).

As for Ezra, he attributes everything to God, even the favor of the king: "Blessed be Jehovah the God of our fathers, who has put [such a thing] as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of Jehovah which is at Jerusalem; and has extended mercy to me before the king and his counselors, and before all the king's mighty princes!" (vv.  27, 28).  Above all else, he lives in the presence of His God and proves that "the hand of Jehovah. [is] upon [him]" to answer his prayer (v. 6), protect him (v. 9), strengthen him (v. 28), and deliver him (8: 31).