A Second Awakening
We reach a new beginning, as it were, in the present chapter, when Ezra for the first time, is definitely identified with the movement for returning to the place where God had set His name.
Another Artaxerxes is now on the throne, and in his reign God revives the spirits of many who had hitherto remained in Babylon, and fills their hearts with a desire to go up to Jerusalem. Of these Ezra himself is the leader. He was a direct lineal descendant of Phinehas, the man whose javelin had turned aside the wrath of the Lord in the days of Baal-peor, when Balaam taught Balak how to seduce Israel by unholy alliances with the daughters of Moab (Num. 25). To him had been granted an everlasting priesthood, and of this pledge Ezra is witness.
He was, we are told, “a ready scribe in the law of Moses,” and one who had the confidence of the king; so when he preferred a request to be permitted to lead another company up from Babylon to the city of God, his petition was heard, and full permission given, “according to the good hand of the Lord his God upon him.” This expression is characteristic. In all his ways Ezra recognized “the good hand of the Lord,” and to that alone, he attributes every forward step.
With Ezra went up a considerable company of the children of Israel, including priests, Levites, singers, porters and Nethinim, who left Babylon in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, and in about four months arrived in Jerusalem to join the former company, and there to set forward the work of the Lord.
Of Ezra we read that he “had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (ver. 10). His was just the ministry now needed, among the returned company, and “the good hand of the Lord” supplied it. A competent, sober man of sound judgment, a man mighty in the Scriptures, and an able instructor of his brethren; how invaluable he would be at this time.
Not a mere intellectual student of the word of God, nor one teaching others what had not gripped his own heart and controlled his ways, was Ezra. He had begun by earnestly preparing his own heart to seek the law of the Lord. “The preparation of the heart in man is of the Lord.” This Ezra recognized. So it is not said that he prepared his head-but his heart. His inmost being was brought under the sway of the truth of God. His affections were controlled by the Scriptures. He might have said, with Jeremiah; “Thy words were found, and I did eat them: and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” He was personally right with God, and so was prepared to help set others right. Then there was more than inward preparation. Having learned the mind and will of God, he undertook to do it. He did not preach truth that he was not living. When under the good hand of God the king granted him all his requests, to leave Babylon and go to Jerusalem for the sake of the Name, he considered not circumstances (which might well have held him where he was, in place of going up to a desolated land and a ruined city), but he at once prepared to go forth trusting “the good hand of the Lord upon him.”
One reason there is so little power with much of the preaching and teaching of the day is a lack of consistently doing the truth ere proclaiming it. Men preach the Lord’s near coming, who give no evidence that the “blessed hope” has moulded their ways. Men teach the truth of the mystery of the one body, who yet, for filthy lucre’s sake, or because of other circumstances, abide in what practically denies it. Men proclaim the heavenly calling who have never learned to walk on earth as strangers and pilgrims. Is it any wonder their words are without power and their ministry but as clouds without water? The path of blessing is doing-then teaching. It was thus with the true Servant. Luke writes “of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). Woe be to any man, however able and gifted, who ventures to neglect the first while carrying on the second. Ezra was a pattern man in this respect. He undertook to do what he found written; then “to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” Let every servant of God lay this 10th verse to heart, and ask himself: Am I thus serving my Master? No doubt such a question will at once bring before every conscientious soul much that calls for self-judgment; and Ezra himself, doubtless, would have felt the same. But the aim, the bent of the life, is what I refer to-the endeavor to carry out the order here indicated.
A copy of the letter of Artaxerxes is given in verses 12 to 26, and, as in the case of the previous decrees, this passage is reproduced in Aramaic or Chaldean, directly transcribed from the Persian records. There is something very beautiful in the salutation of this letter: “Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace,” and so forth (ver. 12). How marked the contrast between the two. How different their titles. And, in God’s sight, how much higher was Ezra’s rank than that of him who vain-gloriously designated himself by a title that properly belongs alone to the Lord Jesus Christ: “Who, in His own times shall show, who is that blessed and only Potentate, King of kings and Lord of lords!”
Who that lived in those olden days would have supposed that in the course of the centuries the name and achievements of Artaxerxes would be almost unknown by millions to whom Ezra’s name and work would be as familiar, as if he had lived but yesterday! There are many such contrasts in the word of God. Ahasuerus is not even certainly identified to-day, but Mordecai is known wherever the word of God has been carried. The Pharaoh of the Exodus has been supposed to be one of half a dozen different monarchs, but no one makes a mistake as to Moses. Gamaliel is only remembered as the teacher of the devoted apostle Paul, and because of his moderation in treating the despised Nazarenes. And so with many more. Better far is it to be a child of God and to walk with Him than to wear earth’s proudest diadem or have the widest reputation among carnal men.
Nor, in writing thus, would I reflect adversely upon Artaxerxes. His letter gives good evidence of sincere regard for the glory of the God of heaven. But he takes the place of a patron, Ezra of a servant. And between the two there is a vast difference.
The decree is largely after the order of that of Cyrus. As in the former, so here, stress is laid upon the voluntariness of the project. Permission is given to any or all of the people of Israel “that are minded of their own free will to go up to Jerusalem,” to go with Ezra. God would have no coercion, hut He removes every legal barrier for those who have the heart to take the arduous journey and to retrace their fathers’ steps back to the place where His house is established.
Silver and gold, a free-will offering from the king and his counsellors, as well as from the people, for the habitation of God, Ezra is bidden to carry up to Jerusalem for sacrificial offerings, to be offered on Jehovah’s altar in Jerusalem; while full liberty was granted to use any superfluity in anyway that seemed best “after the will of their God” (vers. 16-18). Goodly vessels were also supplied for the service of the house of God out of the king’s own treasure; and assurance was given that if more were needed, they would be forthcoming (vers. 19, 20).
Commandment was likewise laid upon the king’s treasurers beyond the river to help forward the work by giving “whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the God of heaven,” might require, “unto a hundred talents of silver, and to a hundred measures of wheat, and to a hundred baths of wine, and to a hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much” (vers. 21, 22).
All that they needed for the service of “the God of heaven” was to be done; and His priests and servants were to be freed from all toll or tribute. Besides all this, Ezra was commissioned to establish order throughout the province, by appointing magistrates and judges, and teaching the law of God to all ignorant of it (vers. 24, 25). And the decree closed as did that of Darius by denouncing severe penalties upon any who were hardy enough to act contrary to its provisions (ver. 26).
Ezra’s heart was filled with rejoicing as he received and perused the letter. He recognised it was a greater King who had thus moved Artaxerxes so to favor His people. In holy exultation of spirit he cries, “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is at Jerusalem: and hath extended mercy unto me before the king and his counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes.” Thus had the king’s gracious act produced thanksgiving to God, and joy of heart in the breast of His servant.
Again Ezra speaks of “the hand of God.” He was a man who seemed never to look at mere human instrumentality, but, back of the hand of man, he saw the guiding, or controlling, hand of the Lord. “I was strengthened,” he says, “as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me” (ver. 28).
Of the going up we have already had a brief epitome in verses 6 to 9, but we are to have a fuller description, to learn something of the difficulties to be overcome, the perils to be faced, and the testings of faith, as also its glorious triumph in the next chapter.
Every work that is really of God will have to be tried; but to the man of faith, instructed in the mind of the Lord, difficulties are never insurmountable; but he will be able in holy confidence to say with Paul, “None of these things move me.” Of such a spirit was Ezra the scribe, and of such must be all who would count for God in a day of ruin.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezra 7". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany