PEOPLE POWER

EZRA 7

2 Jun 2013

 

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            Three Sundays ago we completed our study of the sixth chapter of Ezra, and while on paper chapters six and seven are separated by only a half an inch, in real life there was a fifty-eight year gap.  The first phrase of the seventh chapter of Ezra, is, "After this ..."

            After what?  Unfortunately, Ezra does not tell us.  We do know from other biblical sources that one of those things that transpired over the fifty-eight year period was the marriage of a king to a beauty contest winner named Esther.  Some of you have read the Book of Esther.  The Book of Esther has the dubious distinction of being the only book of the bible that does not contain a reference to God.  None.  Nil.  Nada.  And it reads something like a soap opera, filled with treachery, intrigue, lust and courage, with lust characterizing the King, and courage, characterizing Esther.  The King, the same one mentioned here in the seventh chapter, was dissatisfied with his previous trophy-wife queen, who had a little too much spunk for his taste, so he got rid of her, and held a beauty contest to choose a new trophy-wife queen.  The winner was a closet Jew, a beautiful woman, a stunning looking woman, named Esther, and at the urging of her uncle Mordecai Esther used her womanly wiles to gain favor with the King concerning his policies toward the Jews living in Persia.  One result of Esther's womanly wiles we'll see in just a bit as her behind the scenes efforts on behalf of the Jews in Persia positively impacted the namesake of this book, the man Ezra.

            But I digress.  During the period of time between Ezra, chapter six, and Ezra, chapter seven, something else happened.  Something negative.  The excitement surrounding the completion of the Temple had waned.  As we pick up the action some fifty-eight years later, the city of Jerusalem, still lies in ruins without walls or gates with the people having returned to farming the land and enjoying their own homes.  The people had also settled for mediocrity in their relationship with God going so far as to intermarry with unbelievers in Israel.  In other words, the pioneering spirit fostered by Zerubbabel and Jeshua  was gone!  Think of it this way.  Zerubbabel had rebuilt the temple.  Nehemiah will come along later and build the city.  That's the book of the bible that follows the book of Ezra and now Ezra comes along to build the people.  Got it?  Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple.  Nehemiah will rebuild the city, and Ezra will rebuild the people.

            The people of Israel needed a reformation and reformation throughout history occurs when people rebuild their lives according to the blueprint of the Bible.  Martin Luther, the reformer of the 1500s, put it this way:

 

            I have made a covenant with God that He send me neither visions nor dreams nor even angels. I am satisfied with the gift of the Holy Scriptures, which give me abundant instruction and all that I need to know both for this life and for that which is to come.

           

            Well, that's going to be Ezra's task.  He's going to build the people around the blueprint of the Law of Moses and we finally get to meet him this morning.  As we do I want us to note three things about him.  First, note his family relations, his spiritual pedigree, if you will.  Let's begin reading in verse one.

 

            After this, in the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, (there must have been a mother or father in there who liked rhyming names!) 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 Phineas, son of Eleazar, son of the chief priest Aaron - this Ezra went up from Babylonia. 

 

            That is a significant family tree.  Ezra can trace his lineage all the way back to the first high priest, Aaron, the brother of Moses.  This guy has a great spiritual pedigree. 

            Now, to be clear, not all of the priests between Ezra and Aaron are mentioned, but enough of them are listed to remind the nation of Ezras significant heritage.    For example, verse one mentions Seraiah.  This was actually Ezras grandfather.  He was the high priest who was martyred by Nebuchadnezzar when Babylon captured and enslaved the Israelites.  Do you recall another of Seraiah's grandsons?  It was Jeshua, who served as the chief priest under Zerubbabel.  Apparently, Jeshua was in line to be chief priest before Ezra, with Ezra being sort of the Prince Harry of priests in his time.

            Further on in verse one,  Ezras forefather Hilkiah is mentioned.  In II Kings, chapter 22, we discover that, as the nation Israel was being reformed under the godly King Josiah, it was Hilkiah, the high priest, who discovered the forgotten book of the Law.  It was that discovery that brought about a national revival.  I find it interesting that Ezra, generations later, will do something similar.

            Even further back than Hilkiah, in verse two, is the mention of Zadok.  Zadok was the priest who refused to follow Davids son, Adonijah, and remained loyal to old King David, even when it seemed that everyone else was following David's son, the usurper to the throne. He risked his life by following Davids orders and anointing a young son, named Solomon, to the throne.

            So, given all this Ezra possessed quite a heritage!  Given his family relations, it is no wonder that Ezra had an immediate following when he made his decision to leave Babylon and go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the people according to the Law of Moses.

            Of course, having a great spiritual pedigree is a blessing, but it is not enough.  Some of us had the good fortune of growing up in a nurturing, Christian home.  We grew up with a strong, Christian family tree.  In that way we are like Ezra.  Others of us did not grow up in a Christian home.  We do not come from a long line of believers.

But regardless of our Christian pedigree, let's remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, who said, "I dont know who my grandfather was.  I am more concerned with what his grandson will become."  It's nice to have a strong Christian pedigree.  It's more important to make sure the pedigree continues. 

            Second, note Ezra's skillful occupation.  I draw your attention to the sixth verse.

 

            This Ezra went up from Babylonia.  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 upon him.

 

            We'll say more about the hand of God next week.  Today I want us to note something else.  The word for "skilled" in the Hebrew literally means  quick" implying that Ezra was a fast copier.  However, given it's context here, it also could mean that he was not only a speedy copier of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and, most likely, Joshua, which was also available, but also that Ezra was a quick study in the Law of God.  In fact, the term for scribe referred to a man who was a scholar in the Torah, in the law.  In reality, the thing that made Ezra stand out among his peers, the quality that made him so dynamic in the hands of God, was not his heritage, it was his heart. 

            And that leads us to the third and final thing I want us to note about Ezra.  I want us to note his heart, his passion, what got him up in the morning excited for the new day.    Look with me at verse ten.

 

            For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of The Lord, and to do it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances of God.

 

            Given his heart for the law of God Ezra was given a nickname, a title. Generations after Ezra called him the Second Moses."  He led the people of his day out of spiritual darkness into the light of spiritual truth.

            Let us take a personal survey this morning. You do not need to turn to any scripture.  In fact, I would recommend that you do not write anything down, but formulate, in your mind, the answers to these questions:

 

            How many hours, this past week, did you spend reading the newspaper? Was it fifteen minutes, an hour, or two?

            How many hours, this past week, did you spend watching television, videos, the NBA playoffs, or going to the movies. Was it three hours, four, or five?

            Now calculate how many hours you spent in some form of additional activity, golf, working out, enjoying a hobby.

            Now how many hours did we spend reading and studying the bible?  And you can count today in your calculations.  Give yourself an hour or two for being here this morning.

 

            Now we could argue about the value of hobbies, movies, sporting events, and the newspaper and never really get anywhere.  And to be clear, I am not suggesting that any of those things are wrong. In fact, I would be tempted to put watching baseball or golf up there with spiritual enrichment!  My argument is not along the lines of inherent value in any one of those things; my concern has to do with the time they demand and the influence they exert.  Given the current situation, is it any wonder that the average Christian, today, knows a lot about the world and very little about the Word?

            I don't want to make anyone feel badly, but it seems to me that we can discuss the events of Benghazi and the Middle East, yet know nothing of Colossians and the Minor Prophets.  It seems to me can identify clothing fashion, but not define Christian faith.  It seems to me we can defend our political preferences, but we cannot defend the gospel.  It seems to me we can quote stock prices, but cannot quote scripture.  It seems to me we know the hottest actors and actresses by name, but not the names of the twelve apostles.  It seems to me we can find our way through the Wall Street Journal and Fortune Magazine, but not be able to locate the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible?

            Are we people of the world?  Or, are we people of the Word?  It seems to me if Ezra were alive today, he would have his work cut out for him.  Amen.