Pilgrims and Strangers
The Book of Ezra is easily divided into two parts.
Chapters 1-6 records the return of the first fifty thousand Jews from Babylonian Captivity back to Jerusalem in response to the decree of Cyrus. This first return took place in 538 BC during the first year of the reign of Cyrus and was under the leadership of Zerubbabel.
No sooner had they arrived in Jerusalem and started building the temple when opposition arose, but you can read about all of this in the earlier messages in this series. In spite of the opposition, the temple was finally completed, as recorded in Ezra 6:15.
Chapters 7-10 record the second return about eighty years later of about eight hundred Jewish men, as well as their wives and children (which could increase the total number from 5,000 to about 10,000) as they journeyed to Jerusalem, led by Ezra the priest and scribe during the reign of Artaxerxes of Persia. Possibly there were about ten thousand in this group and possibly many of them were related to the first group who returned to Jerusalem.
EZRA THE MAN
I mentioned earlier that Ezra was a ready scribe and a priest. His mind and heart were saturated with the Word of God, a very important qualification for a spiritual leader. As a priest, he had direct access to God. The New Testament teaches in I Peter 2:5 and Revelation 1:5-6 that every Christian is a priest before God. Christian men and women are a kingdom of priests to carry out God’s work. We too are blessed as we are saturated with the Word of God and allow it to influence our thoughts, actions and attitudes.
Artaxerxes’ decree, as well as Cyrus’ decree eighty years earlier, were kind and generous and thoughtful; not forceful nor threatening; but giving permission to those Jews who wished to return to Jerusalem to do so. Those who returned did so of their own free will.
THE JOURNEY ITSELF
Artaxerxes reigned from 465-425 BC. The Jews left Babylon in the seventh year of his reign which would be 458 BC. They left on the first day of the first month of that year (which would be about our April) and they arrived in Jerusalem four months later ( which would be our August.) A four month’s journey of about 1000 miles would be about eight miles per day.
It was a dangerous journey, filled with thieves and wild animals along the way; but God brought them safely to their destination with no loss of people, animals or material wealth.
Their journey from Babylon to Jerusalem is a picture of the journey we all take as Christians from the Babylonian system of “Mystery Babylon” of this wicked world system (spoken of in Revelation 17 and 18) to the New Jerusalem of Heaven. Along the way, they enjoyed the fellowship of God’s people. We all need that regular fellowship to strengthen us each week, as we meet together to worship God and hear the preaching of His Word. Read about this need of fellowship in Psalm 119:63, I John 1:7 and Acts 2:42-47.
A third return would follow thirteen years later under Nehemiah whose calling was to start rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
THE MINISTRY OF EZRA
Ezra was not just an academic scribe like the cold, spiritually dead scribes and Pharisees Jesus faced in His ministry five hundred years later. Ezra 7:10 says that Ezra had prepared his heart; not just his mind.
There are lots of Christians today whose only concern is for an academic, objective understanding of the Bible They like to fill their notebooks with the objective notes from the sermon; but they don’t want the Scriptures applied it to them personally.
It’s one thing to understand theory in our heads. It’s another thing to seek to understand Bible doctrine in our hearts and desire to know how to live to please God. It’s that kind of preaching that strengthens us spiritually and produces beautiful lives that bless others and attract others to join us in the Lord’s work, as Ezra 7:27-28 teaches.
As Jesus’ ministry was a combination of what He did and what He taught, according to Acts 1:1, so our ministry must be a combination of how we live as well as what we teach. That was Paul’s instruction to young Timothy in I Timothy 3:1-16, II Timothy 2:15 and 3:16-17.
THE SECRET OF EZRA’S SUCCESS
Ezra 7:6,9 and 29 teach us that “The hand of the Lord was upon him. That means success for anyone who lives and preaches the Gospel. It was the same for Joshua in Joshua 1:6-9.
What a privilege to know the hand of God on our lives. Read the entire 139th Psalm and see the importance of His hand on us.
What did God’s hand on Ezra mean for him?
1. God blessed him and those who accompanied him on the long journey from Babylon to Jerusalem.
2. God granted him all his requests Ezra 7:6
3. Ezra possibly wrote the decree for Artaxerxes, for Artaxerxes would not have known all that Jewish information in the decree. Ezra probably wrote it and Artaxerxes simply affixed his seal or his signature to it.
THE CONCLUDING DOXOLOGY Ezra 7:27-28
Ezra praises God for molding the king’s heart and for God’s mercy shown to him and for God’s strength given to him and for all the encouragement.
He sensed the hand of the Lord upon him: not just to build, but beautify the house of God. So it has been the desire of my heart as a preacher to not simply build a church, but to beautify the Body of Christ. Only then can we worship Him in the beauty of holiness. I Chronicles 16:29, Psalm 29:2. 96:9.
Beauty attracts others. Ugliness repulses. God help us as we seek to work together to not only beautify our House of Worship; but more importantly, may He beautify our lives so that others are attracted to Christ.
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