Ezra, the Man for His Times (Ezra 7:1-10)

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If you want to see life and ministry flourish. If you want to know how to live in this age of hostility, apathy, and apostasy. If you’re going to see revival and reform in the church of God, may God help all of us to “set our hearts” to know, obey, and teach his Word. This heart—this reforming passion—makes Ezra not only the man for his times but also a model for all seasons.

Ezra, The Man for His Times

Rev. Matthew J. Stanghelle
March 23, 2020

How do we do life and ministry when ambivalence to the gospel is not merely in the culture, but also in too many parts of the church? What do you do when the love of God grows cold? As we pick up the narrative in Ezra 7, we find ourselves transported almost 60 years into the future. Looking back, God’s post-exilic people enjoyed nearly 30 years of prosperity under the reign of King Darius after he helped them complete the temple. But after he dies, persecution and apostasy haunt them again.

We know from the historical interlude that we explored back in Ezra 4:6-22 that further persecution and political oppression causes the work on the temple and holy city to stop well after the days of former King Darius. Moreover, God’s people are falling into sin once again. The oppression and lack of leadership are wearing them out. They need a leader to teach them the ways of God. So, whatever gains are made at the end of chapter six, seems almost entirely lost these sixty years later. The revival is over. The love is cold. What would you do if you were in their shoes? I will tell you what God does. He raises up leaders to answer the call.

Seasons of dead churches, and dead leaders, and dead people who need to be reformed by God’s Word fills the pages of church history. In every age, we need God to raise up leaders to answer that call—leaders whose hearts burn to study, obey, and teach the Word of God. God’s people desperately need them, and it is God who provides them. In Ezra 7, God does just that. He brings Ezra to the stage. In the first ten verses of chapter 7, we discover that God promotes Ezra as the man for his times and a model for all seasons. The worldwide church so desperately needs reform. You know it, and I know it. We need to understand this model reformer, and we need God to provide such men in our day. To understand this reformer, we will look at Ezra 7:1-10 in two parts.

Ezra, the Man for His Times

The age of the prophet is almost over. Haggai and Zechariah have come and gone. The last prophet, Malachi, is concluding his ministry, and the period of prophetic silence has come. But the lamp of the Word is not entirely extinguished. We enter the dawn of a new age. The age of a new kind of teacher has come. God’s people are asking questions. How do we obey the Law of God in a foreign context? They need guidance to learn how to live for God in the land of hostility.

God’s people need a new man and a new kind of teacher for this generation, and they find it in Ezra. God’s hand is on this man who is living deep in the heart of Babylon. Ezra’s heart burns with a passion for answering the call and coming to the aid of his people. He sees their need. He makes plans to help them, and his God is with him.

Ezra is the man for his times because…

1. As a priest, he has the authority to care for God’s people (Ezra 7:1-6a)

God is not random when he assigns leaders. He has authorized certain men to keep watch over the souls of his people. This is true in both the Old and New Testaments. Though the manner of assigning that authority is different. In the Old Testament, God gave that authority to the sons of Aaron.

Aaron was Moses’ brother and the first high priest for the nation of Israel. Aaron and his descendants were given the permanent role of the priesthood under during the Old Covenant era. No one but Aaron and his descendants was allowed to care for the souls of God’s people. Korah rebellion is an excellent illustration of that (Num. 16-17)!

In the opening verses of this chapter, we learn that Ezra is the son of Aaron, sixteen generations deep! God is now using this son of Aaron to bring back a second wave of his people to the promised land, and to care for the souls of those who are already there.

Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest— this Ezra went up from Babylonia.

—Ezra 7:1-6a

Talk about a pedigree! Ezra was no usurper of power. He was of the direct line of Aaron. So, as Ezra comes on to the scene, the first thing the text wants us to see is that Ezra is first and foremost a priest after the order of Aaron. This is made explicit when Ezra is called a priest in verse 11.

Ezra’s pedigree and role in Israel’s history are so distinguished that Jewish tradition regards him as a second Moses.[1]Furthermore, it is Ezra who stamped Israel with the reputation of being the people of the book.[2]

Ezra foreshadows the need we have for the greater high priest in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus holds the permanent role to care for our souls because he alone has made the once-for-all atonement for our sins (cf. Rom. 6:10; Heb. 9:12, 26; 10:10). More than that, he has appointed the care of his people to duly ordained officers in the church. Thus, Paul and Barnabas were ordained for their missionary work (Acts 13:3). Elders were appointed in every church as they went on their way (Acts 14:23). Likewise, Timothy was ordained for his office (1 Tim. 4:14).

Jesus has not abandoned his church. He has appointed duly ordained leaders to care for the souls of his people. We have gone to Hebrews 13 several times in recent weeks, but we are again reminded of the minister’s solemn duty when the writer says,

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.

—Hebrews 13:7

The Lord appoints Ezra to care for his people amid the darkness of their generation, as he still does today through duly ordained ministers. God sees our distress and he faithfully raises up authorized leaders to care for our souls.

2. As a scribe, he has the skills to teach God’s Word (Ezra 7:6b)

After 70 years of exile and the subsequent years of persecution and apostasy, God’s people are in desperate need of instruction on how to live according to the Law of Moses.[3] Furthermore, as the prophetic voice in Jerusalem ebbs away, God’s people are left without guides without many guides to teach them.

How should the Law be obeyed in a foreign context? What does it mean to be faithful to God when you are living in a foreign land, or when a foreign power rules over you? How do you make sacrifices without a temple? How do you follow God’s civil laws when you have a foreign king? These are the kinds of questions they are asking. The post-exilic community is mostly at a loss for answers, and they wander off severely, as we will see in later chapters.

So, God’s people have a significant need, and the Lord answers it by raising up scribes. Scribes are experts in the Law of Moses, and Ezra is one of these men. We read in verse 6,

He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.

—Ezra 7:6

As we move forward in the book of Ezra, we see that once again, it is the Word of the Lord that breathes life back into God’s people. He uses the prophets before, and now he is using men like Ezra to feed his people with the Scriptures. He goes up from Babylonia to Jerusalem to make the Word of God central in the lives of God’s people once more.[4]

A people who make the Word of God central in their lives and community is the need for every generation. What God’s people need in every age is for ministers of the gospel to hold up the Word and make it central in our lives. We need men who are not only ordained but also trained in the Scriptures. The church needs ministers who know how to handle the Word of God and apply it to the lives of God’s people as we live in foreign lands. For here, beloved, we have no lasting city!

Was it not also this need for which God sent his only son, who taught not as the scribes, but as one who has authority (Matt. 7:29)! And not only did he perfectly teach the law, but he also perfectly obeyed it (Heb. 4:15)! Moreover, Jesus leads us into all truth. He shows us how to understand the Old Testament revelation through his word in the New Testament. The great mysteries are there revealed to us—most gloriously of all is that, by faith in him, we are fellow heirs and members of the same body and fellow partakers of the same promises given to these Old Testament saints (Eph. 3:6). This is the gospel!

And what this generation needs more than anything is for pastors to give their people the gospel, and for church members to give each other the gospel—and for parents to give their children the gospel, and friends, and coworkers and neighbors and the nations!

If the Word of God is not central, we have no hope for the future. The people need the Word, and for that to happen, we need God’s people to make it central in everything, and it starts with ministers in their churches. Oh, may God raise up a thousand Ezras in our day to preach the Word in our land, and may that Word spread to the nations!

3. As a reformer, he has the heart to return to God’s ways (Ezra 7:7-10)

Ezra is a man who brings people with him. He has a love and a passion for people. Indeed, his passion for the Word of God drives his desire to see God’s people reformed by the Word. So, God’s hand is with Ezra, and he is using him to start a movement that is going to deal with a lot of reform and heart work in the coming chapters.

And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 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.

—Ezra 7:7-10

Ezra is bringing a brand-new wave of people with him to Jerusalem. Look at the list. We have both clergy and laity. Some of the people of Israel are going. But then there is a whole host of temple workers: priests and Levites, singers, gatekeepers and servants. This group would undoubtedly include women and children, and this group makes the four-month, 1500 km journey back to Jerusalem.

Behind it all is God’s good hand. For the second time in this passage, we see the phrase that ‘the hand of God’ was on Ezra (cf. 7:6, 9). And the question is why? Why is God’s hand with Ezra as he leads God’s people on this significant expedition to reform God’s people in Jerusalem? We are given the reason in verse 10,

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.

—Ezra 7:10

God is with Ezra because he has a passion for teaching the Law of the Lord in Israel. God honors this man because he doesn’t just have the heart to study the Law, nor to strive for personal obedience, but for his heart to teach it to God’s people in Israel. The hand of the Lord was with Ezra, for he had set his heart to study, obey, and teach God’s statutes and rules in Israel.

Ezra was not merely a priest, nor was he merely a scribe. There was, no doubt, plenty of people who are either genealogically qualified to make sacrifices in Jerusalem or men who are studied in the Law of God. But what makes Ezra this unique reformer, who will later be known as the second Moses, is his driving passion for promoting change in Israel. He has set his heart on it, and his God is with him.

Ezra was the man for his times, Israel needed a reformer to show them the ways of God. But when the fulness of time had come, God sent us not only a better reformer but also a perfect redeemer. Christ came to teach us God’s perfect Law, but he also came to save us from the curse of failing to do it. We are adopted as sons and given the power of the Spirit to grow in obedience (Gal. 4:4-5; 5:22-23). That is the reform that we need most, and without it, we have no hope for the future in this life or in the life to come.

But before these greater days, God uses Ezra to preserve his people after the exile. He was the man for his times. But as we reflect on the New Testament, we see that he is also a model for all seasons.

Ezra, a Model for All Seasons

Ezra is never explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, but his character and devotion as a minister to God’s people certainly is. We know, of course, that God gives us the Old Testament to teach and guide us in everything we need to know so that the man of God is equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). And so, there is a great deal we can learn from Ezra.

To put it summary form, Ezra is a model for all seasons. He reveals the heart that all Christians should have for God’s Word, and especially ministers. Several passages from Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy illustrate this point.

1. A Model Student of God’s Word

Ezra’s passion for studying God’s Word is echoed in 2 Timothy 2:15,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

—2 Timothy 2:15

2. A Model Disciple of God’s Word

Ezra’s passion for obeying God’s Word is echoed in 1 Timothy 4:15,

Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.

—1 Timothy 4:15

3. A Model Teacher of God’s Word

Ezra’s passion for teaching God’s Word is echoed in 1 Timothy 4:13,

Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

—1 Timothy 4:13

4. A Model for Equipping Teachers of God’s Word

Ezra’s passion for equipping future ministry leaders is echoed in 2 Timothy 2:2,

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

—2 Timothy 2:2

Ezra has a passion for studying, obeying, and teaching God’s Word. And, as he brings a host of temple workers along with him, we also see that he has a passion for equipping ministry leaders. His heart for the Word of God is vital and necessary in every age. Most certainly in ours when the love of so many has grown cold.

In Ezra’s day, though the age of the prophets was coming to a close, God continues to care for his house through ministers of his written Word. The hand of God is with them because Ezra has set his heart on God’s Law. The Lord is with us too, when we devote ourselves to the Word of God. We have that assuring promise in Isaiah 66:2,

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

—Isaiah 66:2

If you want to see life and ministry flourish. If you want to know how to live in this age of hostility, apathy, and apostasy. If you’re going to see revival and reform in the church of God, may God help all of us to “set our hearts” to know, obey, and teach his Word. This heart—this reforming passion—makes Ezra not only the man for his times but also a model for all seasons.

[1] Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (vol. 12; Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 70.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 814.

[4] D. A. Hagner, “Scribes,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 360.