There are many examples in Scripture of men and women who have been used by God in a great way. Hebrews 11 is often called ‘The Hall of Faith’ and indeed it lists many names of those who lived by faith and saw God move mountains. Yet there is another name that we might include in this list that is not found in Hebrews 11. That name is Ezra.
Ezra lived around 500 years before the birth of Christ. Unlike many of the great men in the Old Testament, Ezra was not a prophet but rather a priest. He had been a part of those who lived in captivity under the Babylonians and no doubt his life had been greatly influenced by men like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. God used Ezra in a great way to help rebuild the nation Israel after their years of captivity.
Ezra was also associated with two other men: Zerubbabel and Nehemiah. Many of you are familiar with Nehemiah. He’s the man God used to miraculously rebuild the walls around the city of Jerusalem. Zerubbabel preceded Ezra and was used by God to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem. The first six chapters of the book of Ezra involve the work of Zerubbabel. Chapter eight of the book of Nehemiah includes the ministry of Ezra. In some ways we might say that God used Zerubbabel to rebuild the praise, Nehemiah to rebuild the protection and Ezra to rebuild the people.
Lee Roberson was the founder of Tennessee Temple University. Though I did not know Dr. Roberson personally, Tammy and I heard him preach many times at Highland Park Baptist Church. He was well up in years by this time but still had an aura around him that let you know that this had been a great man of God. In the early years of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell said that his inspiration to build a Christian university came from the example of Lee Roberson. Dr. Roberson used to say – “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” That statement both inspires me and intimidates me. You don’t know how many times I have said in my prayers – “Lord, I am unworthy and incapable. Please help me.” Warren Wiersbe writes in his commentary on Ezra – “When God wants to judge a nation, He sends them inferior leaders; but when He wants to bless them, He sends them men like Ezra.” I’m not a great leader but I want to be; not for my own glory but for the glory of God. And I want even more to somehow to be used by God to inspire you to be great leaders in your homes, in your marriages, in our Sunday School, Awana, TFC, deacons, at your workplace, wherever the Lord places you. I want us to be a church of men and women like Ezra.
What was the key to Ezra’s greatness as a leader? It can be determined from a phrase that is used concerning him six times in just two chapters. (Ezra 7:6, 9, 28; 8:12, 22, 31)
Ezra 7:6 This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.
What was his secret? “The hand of the LORD was upon him.” That phrase and others similar to it mean that God’s favor is upon your life. God’s presence is with you and He is using you to accomplish His will. Our quest tonight is to find out why Ezra had the hand of God upon him?
As I have studied the life of Ezra, I have been reminded of many of the principles that Henry Blackaby discusses in his study, Experiencing God. To help us better understand God’s activity in Ezra’s life and to refresh our thinking about many of our previous studies, I will try to bring the two together.
I. Ezra Joined God In What He Was Already Doing
Ezra did not dream up the plan to go back to Jerusalem. He responded to what God was already doing. Henry Blackaby says that God is always at work around us. Indeed God was already at work in the life and times of Ezra. Sixty years before the call of Ezra, God stirred in the heart of king Cyrus to allow the Jews to return and rebuild.
Ezra 1:1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, 2 Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. 4 And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. 5 Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.
Blackaby says in his study that God’s revelation is His invitation for us to join Him in what He is already doing. In the fullness of time, God began to stir in the heart of Ezra for him to lead an envoy of priests back to Jerusalem for the purpose of reestablishment of the worship.
Ezra 7:1 Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra … 6 This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.
Notice what Paul teaches us in Philippians 3. Philippians 2:12-13 says – “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” In other words, what we do for God is not something that we initiate on our own, but rather a response to the desires He places within our hearts.
II. Ezra Pursued a Relationship With God That Was Real and Personal
How did God guide Ezra? In vs. 10 we read of three principles that helped prepare Ezra’s heart for a life of service:
A. He Diligently Studied God’s Word. It is reported that D. L. Moody often said, “Every Bible needs to be bound in shoe leather.” In other words, faith without works is dead, being alone.
Ezra diligently studied God’s Word to discover God’s will. Secondly, he determined in his heart to obey what he discovered. Thirdly, he dedicated his life to helping others do the same.
2 Tim 2:15 says – “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Notice that it says – ‘a workman.’ That word means – a laborer. Someone who employs himself in God’s business. What is God’s business? It is to reach all nations with His gospel and then to teach them how to live the Christ-honoring life. God’s business is to develop fully committed followers of Jesus Christ.
B. He Sought God’s Help Through Sincere Prayer
Ezra was about to lead an envoy of priests and other temple workers to Jerusalem in order to reestablish proper worship. Their journey would take them through many enemy nations. In addition to this, they were taking with them their families and over 24 tons of silver and over 4 tons of gold. King Cyrus offered to send soldiers along to help protect them. But Ezra had already proclaimed that God would protect them.
Ezra 8:21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. 22 For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. 23 So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us.
Perhaps Ezra thought for a moment, “I shouldn’t have been so quick to boast about my faith!” But now he was at a cross-roads, or as Blackaby puts it – a crisis of belief. Blackaby says in his study that you can’t go with God and stay where you are. Instead of panicking, Ezra prayed. The Bible says that he sincerely prayed. They afflicted themselves with fasting and sought God with all their hearts. Notice again what scripture says – “The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us.” God is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.
C. He Walked by Faith and Not By Sight
Ezra 8:31 Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way.
It was a treacherous journey to a despairing place. Not the kind of opportunity many of us pray for. Yet Ezra believed that it was God’s will and the right thing to do and therefore he was willing to walk by faith and not by sight. The men and women who experience the hand of God upon them are those who live by faith.
III. Ezra Was Willing to Make Necessary Adjustments
Henry Blackaby says in his study – “Principle 5 God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action. Principle 6 You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.” The major adjustments that we must make involve our response to the crisis of belief. As Ezra worked to reestablish proper worship in the hearts of the people, he faced a crisis that required him to make some major adjustments.
Ezra 9:1 Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass. 3 And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied. 4 Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice. 5 And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God, 6 And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.
Many of the Jews had taken wives for their sons from the daughters of the enemy nations. For the Jewish people, this was direct disobedience to the law of God. The easy thing would have been to compromise on the biblical principles. Yet compromise never brings blessings.
Ezra 10:1 Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore. 2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. 3 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. 4 Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.
Was it painful thing to do? Of course it was. Many of these men had established families through these foreign wives. These wives and children had to leave and return to their homelands and to their families. You may or may not like what this says, you may agree or disagree. It doesn’t really matter. It’s what God’s Word says happened and apparently it was the will of God for this particular group of people at this particular point in time.
Rather than focusing on them, let’s take a moment and focus on ourselves. That happened 2,500 years ago. What’s happening in our lives today? When Jacob returned from Haran with his wives and children, scripture says that Jacob said to his family -
Genesis 35:2 Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: 3 And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.
“Put away the strange gods that are among you, be clean, change your garments and come to Bethel (house of God).
Ezra was a man greatly used by God. The reason for his success was because the hand of the LORD was upon him. The reason God’s hand was upon Ezra was because:
- He Was Willing to Join God in What He Was Already Doing
- He Was Willing to Pursue a Love Relationship With God that Was Real and Personal
- He Was Willing to Make the Necessary Adjustments