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Ezra 7-8: Staying True to the Word Print E-mail
Sunday, 03 April 2016

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Being a new parent of two boys, I often wonder about the best way to pass on the faith to my children. How do I make sure that they hear the good news and see it lived out in a way that is true and winsome? For me, I wonder how to avoid the Ďpreacher's kidsí stereotype. How do I do my best to serve the Church and point my boys to the truth and the beauty of the gospel? I am sure that if you are a parent or a teacher or a coach or anyone who ever works with kids, then you have often thought to yourself: How do we pass on the faith to the next generation?

Of course, the answer is not nearly as difficult as we might think. In the end, we just do the simple things: we teach them, we pray with them, we model to them, we show them the value of Christ by treasuring Him the most in our own lives. These are not complicated tasks to understand, but we all know that understanding them and actually doing them are two different things. What seems so simple can become so difficult at times. We can get so caught up in the moment that we forget to take the long-view of things. We obsess over past mistakes, which leads to only repeating them or over-correcting them. We look around and feel like everyone else is doing great but not us. One season of seeming success is followed by one of repeated failures. And it hits us: Passing on the faith to the next generation is no easy task. In fact, it feels beyond us at times, precisely because it is.

There is a sixty year gap between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7. Once the temple is completed in chapter 6, we are told very little about that particular generation. Ezra 7 opens with Ezra himself finally coming to Jerusalem. That first wave of exiles wanted to follow the Word in their rebuilding of the temple. And the Lord gave them success in that task. Yet, will the next generation do the same? Will they remain faithful to the Word? Ezra is called to fight for just that. He wants to labor for the faithfulness of this new generation of returned exiles. And we can learn from his efforts as we seek to do the same. So what does he do?

The necessity of instruction

We are told a little bit about Ezra in 7:1-6. The first few verses contain Ezraís genealogy, which shows that he is a descendent of Aaron through the line of Eleazar. We are are told a little bit about the man in verse 6. Look at that with me. So a few things to note here. Ezraís genealogy shows that he is a priest, born in the line of Eleazar and Aaron. Not only that, but we see that he was skilled in the law of Moses. This means that he knew the Word well. If you had a question about the Law, then Ezra could be quick with the answer.  We are also told that the king granted him all that he asked. This might seem strange for a Jew to be so well treated by the Persian king (although it should not surprise those who have read the book of Ezra up to this point). Why was he favored by the king? We are told: for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. Again, God is sovereign over Ezraís life and over the life of the king. He has a plan to use Ezra in the life of His people and that plan involves favor from the king of Persia.

With the kingís favor, we are told that Ezra returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in verses 7-9. Look at those with me. Ezra did not go up by himself and we will see more about those who traveled with him in chapter 8. It took him only four months to make this difficult trip because the good hand of his God was on him. So then, Ezra the priest, who is skilled in the Law, has now come to Jerusalem. We might be wondering: how did Ezra get so skilled in the Law? We know that Godís favor was upon him, but is that it? Look at verse 10. Ezra became skilled in the Law through study: he set his heart to study the Law of the Lord. Why did he do this? So he could teach his statutes and rules in Israel. Ezra wanted to teach the Law to the next generation and he knew that he had to study to do that. So he set his heart to that task. Do you want to teach the next generation to follow Christ? Do you want them to know the Word and follow the Word? Then you must set your heart to studying the Word so that you can teach it to them. What is your plan for that? What are you doing to make certain that you know the Word?

The king sends a letter with Ezra, which is recorded for us in 7:11-28. In his letter, the king commissions Ezra to teach the Law to the people of Israel. Look at verses 25-28. The king wants the people in Israel to follow the commands of their God and he sends Ezra there to teach them and to appoint others who can teach them. In this we see the necessity of instruction. If the next generation is going to follow the Word, then they need to be taught the Word. I have said before and I believe it to be true: the best way to be taught the Word is to teach the Word. Set your heart to studying the Word so that you can teach it to the next generation. That is what Ezra did.

The necessity of provision

As we have seen already in this book, resources are needed to build the kingdom. We see that again in this passage. And once again, we see God using a pagan king to provide those resources. Look at 7:11-20. The king sends people with Ezra so that they can serve at the temple and support the work. And the king sends money with Ezra so that they can purchase what they need for this service. This money is given by the people of Babylon, including the Jews, and by the king himself. Not only that, but he makes further provisions for when they arrive. Look at verse 21. The people who are already living around Jerusalem are also instructed to provide resources for the work.

Why does the king do this? Why is he providing these resources? Has he become a believer in Yahweh? No, he is just doing this for his own good. Look at verse 23. The king is just doing this for the good of his own family and kingdom. But again, the Lord uses it to provide for His people. They are given resources, they are given money, and they are even exempted from taxes (v. 24). And all of this is done just as the king instructs (see 8:36). Although we might be tempted to think that Ezra has nothing to do with all of this, but it sure seems that these provisions were probably requested by Ezra. Remember, the king granted him all that he asked (7:6). Ezra knows that resources are needed and he asks the king for help. We must provide for and help the next generation see that resources are needed for kingdom work.

The necessity of service

Chapter 8 tells us about the people who made the trip with Ezra and offers us more details about the trip. In the first fourteen verses, we see clearly that Ezra did not go up alone. People were needed to serve and people chose to go with Ezra. Yet, a problem is discovered in verse 15. Look at that with me. Ezra realizes that no Levites have decided to make the trip with him. Why is that such a problem? Because without Levites, Ezra will not be able to lead the people in obeying the Word. They are necessary for worship at the temple. So Ezra makes a request. Look at verses 16-17. Perhaps these men did not go because they were comfortable with their lives in Babylon. Maybe they just did not want to move. We donít know. But Ezra asks for help. And the Lord moves them to respond. Look at verse 18. Ezra needs men who are willing to serve and these men step up. The kingdom continues to need men who will step up and serve. Is that you? Are you willing to serve for the next generation?

After fasting and prayer, which we will look at in a moment, Ezra charges these men to take care of all the money that is being transported from Babylon to Jerusalem. And it was no small amount. Each was given a certain amount at the beginning of the trip and they were expected to deliver that amount when they arrived. Ezra charges them in verses 28-29. This was an important task and Ezra points out that this money belongs to God, he was not unaware of manís temptation when it comes to money. Then we are told of the journey in verses 31-34. So how did it go? Ezra entrusted these men to serve by guarding the money and they delivered it faithfully. These men left their lives in Babylon, traveled a dangerous road to Jerusalem while guarding a significant amount of money, all for the service of God. They recognized the need for service and they rose up to meet it.

Ezra fought for the faithfulness of his generation. He wanted them to maintain the faithfulness that the previous generation had possessed during the rebuilding of the temple. Thus, he studied the Word to teach the Word, he secured provisions, and he sought out men who would serve. These are all great ways for us to fight for the faith of the next generation. We too should set our hearts to studying the text. We should give and teach our children to give. And we should serve in ways, particularly our men, that set an example for the next generation to follow.

But there is one more necessity that I need to draw our attention to this morning, and that is the necessity of Godís favor. Did you catch it as we were looking at these chapters? Over and over again the author notes that the hand of God was on the life of Ezra. Look at that again in 7:6 and 9. Godís hand was on him so that he could know the Law. Godís hand was on him so that he had favor with the king. And Godís hand was on him so that he could make the trip to Jerusalem in four months. All of this was done through the favor of God. Look also at 7:27-28. Ezra praises God for His favor. He recognizes that God gave him favor with the king and because of that he took courage and acted. Look at 8:18. It was God who stirred the hearts of the Levites to go up with Ezra when he requested. Look at 8:21-23. Ezra did not want to ask the king for soldiers, so they made a fast and asked the Lord for protection, which He provided for their journey. Look at 8:31.

In all of this, Godís favor was evident in the life of Ezra. The Lord blessed him and he returned the blessing through his obedience. He taught by the wisdom that God supplied. He provided resources with the money that God gave through the king. And he served with the servants that the Lord raised up and protected. We too are desperate for such favor. And we find it in Christ. The One who paid for our sins at the cross promises to be with us in all our endeavors for the kingdom through the power of the Spirit. Thus, we teach and preach and give and serve through the strength of our God. May He use us to raise up many faithful generations to come! Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 12 April 2016 )

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