Would you like for people to say about you, “The hand of God is upon that person.” That statement is made in the Bible about a man named Ezra. Ezra was a man who was chosen by God to lead Jewish exiles from Babylon, where they had been held captive for seventy years, back to the Promised Land. The task would be very difficult. A 900 mile journey would have to be made. It was a long, hot, dangerous trip. His group would include people of all ages, even newborns and the elderly. The group would be carrying great wealth, and they would be easy prey for bandits and enemies as they traveled. Even so, Ezra refused to allow the King of Babylon to send soldiers to protect his troop, because Ezra had declared that the God of Israel could protect His own people. A summary of Ezra’s journey is found in the book of the Bible that bears Ezra’s name, in Ezra 7:9-10. It reads as follows:
On the first day of the first month he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel. (NKJV)
Did you see it? Ezra completed his journey, his vulnerable exiles arrived safely in Jerusalem, according to “the good hand of his God upon him.” It is evident as you read the entire story that follows in chapters 7 and 8 that God’s blessing was upon Ezra. In fact, three additional times in the longer version that follows our text, the Bible states that the hand of God was upon Ezra. God’s care, provision, and protection were with Ezra and those returning to Judah with him. So, the question arises: Why? Our text tells us that the good hand of God was upon him, for Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.
In Ezra 7:10, the first word, “for”, means “because”. God’s hand was upon Ezra because he was determined to do three things. Let’s look at his determination and the three critical actions that would follow.
Our text says that Ezra had prepared his heart. The literal rendering of this word is that Ezra “set his heart”. In the Bible, when used in this sense, the heart is the inner man. It is the real person when all pretense is removed. It is the mind, the emotions, and the will all combined at the deepest level. The Puritans of the 1600’s were fond of saying ”the heart of the matter in the Christian life is always the matter of the heart.” This is true. It is with the heart that one believes unto righteousness. God told Moses and Jesus taught His disciples that we must love the Lord our God with all of our hearts. To set the heart is to determine, to devote, and to dedicate our whole being to something. Ezra was life and death serious. No flippant pronouncements here. There were three actions that he would do or die trying. What were they?
Please note that all three actions are taken with respect to the Law of the Lord. At first in the Old Testament, the Law refers specifically to the first five books of our Bible, but by the time that Ezra writes, the meaning had gradually broadened to include the Psalms, wisdom literature, and prophetic writings that were being recognized as Scripture. We would say, today, the Word of God.
The first action that Ezra would take toward the Law of the Lord was to seek it. The word “seek” implies a willingness to invest time and effort in obtaining something. The Psalmist taught us that the Word of God is more to be desired than gold, much gold. If I absolutely knew that there was gold, much gold, buried in my back yard, I would seek it. I would dig in one corner, then the other. I would sweat, get dirty and keep on going. If I wore out my shovel, I would get a spoon, and I would seek that gold until I found it. No doubt.
Gold will buy us temporal goodies, things that will eventually ruin and fade. But the Law of the Lord, the Word of God will lead us to Christ and eternal salvation (2Timothy 3:14-17). To seek the Law of the Lord, then, is to invest time and effort in studying the Bible. We seek to know the mind, the heart, and the ways of God through His Word. The hand of God was upon Ezra because he was determined to know and understand God’s Word.
The second action to which Ezra was committed was that of doing the Law of the Lord. That is, obeying God’s Word. To know the Word without practicing it is to fail to love the Lord (John 14:15, 21). James taught that to be a hearer of the Word without being a doer of the Word is to be self-deceived (James 1:22). And, Jesus taught us that the wise person is the one who observes what He taught us to do (Matthew 7:24-25). His Great Commandment was to teach people to observe, that is, to obey all things that He has commanded (Matthew 28:20). The hand of God was upon Ezra because he was determined to obey God’s Law.
The third action upon which Ezra had set his heart was to teach Israel to know and do the Law of the Lord. Ezra determine to be a witness, an evangelist, and a missionary. He realized that everyone needed to know and obey God’s Word. Ezra had been called by God to restore the Law of the Lord in the life of Israel. The hand of God was upon Ezra because he determined to teach God’s Word to others.
We must notice that Ezra pursued these three actions in exactly the right order. He knew that he must know the Law of the Lord before he could do it. He also knew that he could only proclaim God’s Law with authenticity if he was obeying it.
The hand of God, His gracious blessing, was upon Ezra because he set His heart upon seeking, doing and teaching the Word of God. So, too, must we.