Introduction: This chapter introduces the leader Ezra, who inspired the name of this book. He was a priest, a scholar, a leader, and a man of faith. He sought to teach God’s Word to the Jews, and he tried to inspire them to live according to God’s Word. By Jewish tradition, he was like a second Moses. He reintroduced God’s Word as the standard for holy living. He established the role of the scribe, later called a rabbi, as the leader of God’s Word and the spiritual leader of the Jews. From God’s selection of Ezra and His blessings on Ezra, God reveals seven lessons for being an effective leader. His effective leaders: (1) lead by faith, (2) teach His Word, (3) love Him, (4) love His sheep, (5) steward His funds, (6) seek His justice, and (7) worship Him.
First, Ezra’s lineage represented a continuation of the Levitical leaders of faith. He succeeded as a great leader first and most importantly because of his faith in God and His Word. To be an effective leader of God, you must also have faith in God and His Word. Second, both the Persians and the Jews celebrated Ezra as a scribe and teacher of God’s law. An effective leader for God also shares and teaches His law and His Word. Third, God blessed Ezra because he studied and taught the law out of a love for God. An effective leader for God also loves to teach and share His law and His Word. Fourth, God blessed Ezra with the authority to lead the Jews because he had a love for God’s people. Like Ezra, an effective leader for God must also love His Sheep. Fifth, God also blessed Ezra with the right to control certain taxes because he was a faithful steward of God’s resources. Like Ezra, an effective leader for God also faithfully stewards His resources. Sixth, God further blessed Ezra with the right to set up judges and adjudicated disputes amongst God’s people. An effective leader for God also seeks His justice for all people. Finally, Ezra responded to God’s blessings by giving Him praise and worship. Effective leaders for God also give Him the credit, praise, and worship for all their blessings.
Ezra was one of the great Levite leaders of faith. Decades after the Jews rebuilt the Temple, God raised up a Levite named Ezra to lead the Jews in Israel: “1 Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, there went up Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2 son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3 son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4 son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5 son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest.” (Ezra 7:1-5). In 458 B.C. nearly 60 years after the completion of the Temple, God appointed the scribe and teacher Ezra to lead a new wave of returning Jews to the Promised Land. These events took place during the reign of Persian King Artaxerxes Longimanus I (circa 464 – 423 B.C.). He was King Xerxes’ successor, and the grandson of King Darius II. At one point during his reign, he married the Jew named Esther. God used him to appoint the second giver of God’s law, Ezra. Ezra led the Jews in learning to live according to God’s Word.
Ezra represented a continuation of God’s covenant with the faithful Levite leaders. Ezra was a man of faith. He represented the continuation of God’s covenant with Aaron (Ezra 7:5; Ex. 29:44). Aaron’s son Eleazar became High Priest after God struck down Aaron’s oldest sons Nadab and Abihu for their disobedience (Ezra 7:5; Nu. 3:4; 20:28; Lev. 10:1-2). Phinehas was Aaron’s grandson and the third High Priest (Ezra 7:5; Nu. 25:10-13; Josh. 22:13). Because of his faith, God formed a “covenant of a perpetual priesthood” with Phinehas and his descendants (Nu. 25:11, 13). Abishua was Phinehas’s son, the great-grandson of Aaron and the fourth High Priest (Ezra 7:5; 1 Chr. 6:35). Bukki was Abishua’s son and the fifth High Priest (Ezra 7:4; 1 Chr. 6:4). Uzzi was Bukki’s son and the sixth High Priest (Ezra 7:7; 1 Chr. 5:31-33; 6:36). After Uzzi, the role of high priest passed to the line of Itamar, until God judged that line because of the sins of Eli the High Priest and his sons (1 Sam. 2:12-26). The line of high priests of faith returned five generations later with the High Priest Zadok (Ezra 7:2). Zodok represented the restoration of the line of faithful descendants of Phinehas after Solomon judged the High Priest Abiather for his support for the Adonijah coupe attempt (1 Kgs. 1:7-8; 2:35). Through the prophet Ezekiel, God called Zadok’s line faithful and free from idolatry (Ezek. 44:15-16). Shallum was a High Priest and a faithful descendant of Zadok (Ezra 7:2; 1 Chr. 6:13). Hilkiah was a High Priest and a faithful descendant of Shallum (Ezra 7:2; 1 Chr. 5:39; 9:11). Hilkiah was a man of faith who found the missing book of the law during King Josiah’s reign and helped lead Judah in a spiritual revival (2 Kgs. 22:3-20; 2 Chr. 34:8-28). Azariah was a faithful High Priest near the end of Judah’s existence who descended from Hilkiah (Ezra 7:1; 1 Chr. 5:35; 6:10). Seraiah was the last High Priest of Judah before the exile (Ezra 7:1; 2 Kgs. 25:18; 1 Chr. 6:15). Jehozadak was his son (1 Chr. 6:14-15), and Jeshua was Seraiah’s grandson and the first High Priest after the exile (Hag. 1:1). Because of the time gap, the reference to “Ezra son of Seraiah” (Ezra 7:1) meant that he was a descendant of Seraiah, not his son. In Hebrew, the word for “son of” can either mean a son or a descendant. Thus, he had a right under God’s law to lead the Jews in spiritual matters. Yet, he was never the high priest. Moses was also a Levite who never served as high priest (Ex. 2:1-10). Instead, Moses was a man of faith who came to give God’s law following the first exodus. Ezra came to reintroduce God’s law following the second exodus. Thus, by some, he is referred as the second Moses.
God is faithful even when we are not. Even though the Jews had done nothing to deserve God’s blessings while in captivity, God was still faithful to keep His promises to restore Israel and rebuild His people: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). Just as He sent Moses after the first exodus to give His Word, He sent Ezra to restore God’s Word to guide the reborn nation (Ps. 119:105).
Be faithful to be an effective leader for God. Without faith, nothing that you do for God will be pleasing to Him: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). Thus, having faith in God and His Word is a prerequisite to serving Him. Do you believe that all Scripture is inspired and worth studying (2 Tim. 3:16)? Or, are you only studying the New Testament and the parts of the Old Testament that you like?
Ezra’s blessing for teaching God’s Word. Because Ezra was a faithful teacher and scribe of God’s law, God used King Artaxerxes I to bless him with all that he requested to lead: “6 This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him. (Ezra 7:6). The Hebrew word for “scribe” (NASB/ NKJ) is also recorded in some translations as “teacher.” (NIV). Because books did not exist, many teachers learned the law by transcribing it. This allowed for God’s Word to be preserved and disseminated to the people. Instead of offering new revelations, like a prophet, the scribe or teacher helped to apply God’s Word. By Jewish tradition, Ezra had memorized the law and could write it from memory. Thus, he was an expert in the Mosaic law and how to apply it under the changed circumstances. He was “learned in the words of the commandments of the Lord and His statutes to Israel.” (Ezra 7:11). He was like Paul, who later revealed that he was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel in the strict ways of our ancestral law.” (Acts 22:3).
God’s hand was on Ezra and blessed all that he did. King Artaxerxes I granted Ezra all that he asked “because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him.” (Ezra 7:6, 10). This theme was repeated throughout the book of Ezra. It stressed God’s providence that He is sovereign and in control of history and powerful leaders. God’s Word is sharper than a two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). It can influence even a king or leader “ . . .; I address my verses to the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” (Ps. 45:1(b)).
Be a teacher of God’s law and His Word. The Shema, or the Jewish call to worship, included a call for every believer to teach God’s law to their children: “7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Dt. 6:4-9). This is a common theme throughout Deuteronomy (Dt. 4:9-10; 5:31; 11:19). This commandment is also repeated throughout the Old Testament: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6; Ps. 78:4-6). It is also repeated again in the New Testament (Eph. 6:4). “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Heb. 5:12). Yet, failing to properly teach God’s law can lead to judgement: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (Jam. 3:1) Will you study God’s law and Word so that you can teach it properly?
Ezra’s blessing for having a heart to study God’s law. God did not bless Ezra with the authority to lead a new wave of emigrants merely because he had memorized the law. Instead, God blessed him because he had a heart for God’s law: “7 Some of the sons of Israel and some of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers and the temple servants went up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.” 8 He came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (Ezra 7:7-10). All of the Jews were freed to return when Zerubbabel led the first wave of returning Jews (Ezra 1-2). God was patient with those who were unwilling to part with their old lives. As the God of second chances, God raised up Ezra to give the Jews another opportunity to return to the Promised Land. In 458 B.C., the seventh year of King Artaxerxes I’s reign, the second wave returned home. The journey from Babylon to Jerusalem covered almost 1,000 miles. It lasted 4 months. On the western calendar, they left in April and arrived in August that same year.
God wanted His people to return to the Promised Land. God raised upon the prophet Zechariah to, among other things, admonish those who failed to return to the Promised Land: “Ho there! Flee from the land of the north,” declares the Lord, ‘for I have dispersed you as the four winds of the heavens,’ declares the Lord. 7 ‘Ho, Zion! Escape, you who are living with the daughter of Babylon.”’ (Zech. 2:6-7). Yet, the Bible sadly records that the second call to return to the Promised Land did not meet universal acceptance. Instead, only “7 Some of the sons of Israel” accepted this second call to return (Ezra 7:7). His call to the eternal Promised Land is also voluntary. Sadly, many are called to come to the eternal Promised Land but only few accept the offer (Matt. 22:14). God is looking for people who will help share the invitation. Will you be one?
Have a love for God’s law and His Word. God blessed Ezra because he “had set his heart to  study the law of the Lord and  to practice it, and  to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10). The Psalmist also proclaimed: “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Ps. 119:97) “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (Ps. 1:2). Every believer should follow after Ezra’s example: “We see here a threefold intention in Ezra. He came to seek, to do, and to teach God's word. . . . We may say that this threefold intention is essential in anyone who wants to make an impact on others with the word of God. - First, to seek the Law of the LORD. This means that full impact with God's word is made by those who diligently seek after His word and fellowship with God in His word. - Second, to do it. This means that full impact with God's word is made by those who are not only hearers of the word, but actual doers of the word. It has to be lived, not only known. - Third, to teach. This means that full impact with God's word is made by those who actually teach it to others. What has been learned in the seeking and the doing must be put into effect through the teaching of God's word.” (David Guzik on Ezra chapter 7) (emphasis in original). Can you also profess to love God’s law and His Word?
The greatest commandment: to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and might. After repeating the Ten Commandments, Moses distilled them down to just one in the Jewish call to worship or Shema: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Dt. 6:5). In Hebrew, the reference to a person’s “heart” also includes their “mind.” (e.g., Zech. 8:17; Dt. 9:4; 2 Sam. 13:33; 2 Kings 23:25; Esth. 4:13; Is. 10:7). Centuries later, a Pharisee lawyer sought to test Jesus. He asked Jesus to name the greatest Commandment (Matt. 22:34). Jesus responded by quoting the second verse of the Shema. Yet, because the word “heart” in Greek does not include the word “mind,” He added the word “mind” when He stated the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:35-38; Mk. 12:29-30; Lk. 10:27; Ex. 20:1-8). If you love God, you will want to keep His commandments out of love and not obligation: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 Jo. 5:3). Do you love Jesus’ commandments out of devotion?
The required balance in studying God’s law. When studying the law, it is important to begin by noting what the law will not do. It is not a route to salvation. If that were the case, Christ’s death was not necessary: “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Gal. 2:21). Long before Jesus ever came, God condemned the Jewish religious leaders who had turned the law and the festivals into a set of ritualistic obligations. People did what they were told, but their hearts were not in it. “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21; same Is. 66:3). Jesus’ greatest condemnations were therefore directed at religious leaders who turned the law into a set of legalistic rituals (e.g., Matt. 23:24). We must be careful not to do the same in studying the law. Christ came to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17). By faith in His atoning death, we are no longer judged under the law as a condition of our salvation: “But now we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Ro. 7:6; 8:3). “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal. 5:18). These warnings have caused many modern Christians to treat God’s law like toxic waste. Some assume that because Jesus fulfilled the penalty for breaking the law, there is no point in studying it. But this is also a mistake. In many cases, this is the equivalent of treating Jesus’ death on the cross as a license to sin (Ro. 6:1-2).
Jesus rebuked scribes who preached with hypocrisy and without a heart for God’s Word. Jesus referred despairingly of the scribes or teachers who were hypocrites in failing to practice what they preached: “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses;’ therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.’ (Matt. 23:1-3). “for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matt. 7:29). But this did not mean that Jesus considered the law irrelevant. “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19). If you are teaching that the law is irrelevant, you have misrepresented Jesus’ teachings. More importantly, you risk being called least in heaven.
The seven benefits in having a heart for God’s law. Although not a path to salvation, there are seven benefits to studying God’s law. First, through the study of the law your sins become known to you so that you can repent of them (Ro. 3:20; 7:7). If the law did not apply, there would be no sins for God to reveal to you. And if you believe that you are without sin, the truth is not within you (1 Jo. 1:8). Second, compliance with the law out of devotion (not obligation) is a sign of your love for Jesus. Jesus says that if you love Him, we will keep His commandments (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6; Matt. 19:17). He is the great “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14). Yet, Jesus came to correct people’s motives in following the Ten Commandments. He wants your obedience to be motivated by love and not obligation. He therefore summarized the Ten Commandments as something that comes naturally once a person loves the Lord and his or her neighbor (Matt. 22:35-38; Lk. 10:27; Dt. 6:5). Moses taught us to live obediently as it is written. Jesus taught us to love obediently as it is written. Third, voluntary compliance with God’s law and the Holy Spirit sets you free from slavery to sin. If you obey the law for the right reasons, you become a slave to righteousness. Yet, if you rebel against the law, you become slaves to sin (Ro. 6:12, 16; Jo. 8:34; Ro. 1:24-28; Eph. 4:19; Ps. 81:12). Fourth, voluntary compliance with God’s law helps you to live a holy life, as every believer is called to do (1 Pet. 1:16; Lev. 11:44). When you are holy through moral conduct and a loving heart, you become a light to others (Dt. 4:5-6; Matt. 5:14). Conversely, you dishonor God and repel others when you break the law (Ro. 2:23-24). Fifth, the Ten Commandments provide a standard of righteousness to aspire to, not a means for salvation (Ro. 3:20; 2 Tim. 3:16). Sixth, voluntary compliance with God’s law brings wisdom and understanding (Dt. 4:5-6; Ps. 119:98-105). Only “fools” reject the wisdom of God’s law (Prov. 1:7). Finally, Moses promises certain conditional “blessings” (not salvation) for those who follow the law (Dt. 28:1-13). One example is in the area of health (Ex. 15:26; Lev. 26:3-13; Dt. 28:2-14). Another example of this is in the area of prayer. When you follow the law out of devotion (not obligation), He can clearly hear your prayers (Jam. 5:16). Conversely, when you openly rebel against Him, your prayers may be “hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7; Jo. 9:31; Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:9; Isa. 1:15). The reason for this is that sin cannot be in His presence (Hab. 1:13). When you act righteously, your prayers are a sweet aroma (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3). Are you eager to share God’s law with others?
Ezra’s blessing of King Artaxerxes I’s authority to lead and govern the Jews. Under God’s sovereign influence, King Artaxerxes I issued a decree to again permit the Jews in exile to return and to grant Ezra full financial, civil, and spiritual authority over the Jews: “11 Now this is the copy of the decree which King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, learned in the words of the commandments of the Lord and His statutes to Israel: 12 ‘Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace. And now 13 I have issued a decree that any of the people of Israel and their priests and the Levites in my kingdom who are willing to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. 14 Forasmuch as you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God which is in your hand, 15 and to bring the silver and gold, which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 with all the silver and gold which you find in the whole province of Babylon, along with the freewill offering of the people and of the priests, who offered willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem; 17 with this money, therefore, you shall diligently buy bulls, rams and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings and offer them on the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. 18 Whatever seems good to you and to your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do according to the will of your God. 19 Also the utensils which are given to you for the service of the house of your God, deliver in full before the God of Jerusalem. 20 The rest of the needs for the house of your God, for which you may have occasion to provide, provide for it from the royal treasury.”’ (Ezra 7:11-20). This part of King Artaxerxes I’s decree contained several important components. First, under the law of the Persians, his public decree would prevent anyone from trying to undermine it (Ezra 7:11; Dan. 6:8). This would deter the opponents who tried to thwart the first wave of returning immigrants from doing God’s will (Ezra 4:4-24; 5:3-17). Second, King Artaxerxes I verified Ezra to be an expert in God’s law to support his claim of authority to lead the Jews (Ezra 7:12). Third, King Artaxerxes I tried to prevent any of his subjects from alleging that the Jews were still their slaves by reaffirming King Cyrus II’s decree, which gave the Jews the right to return (Ezra 7:13; 1:3). Yet, the right of return was voluntary. Fourth, King Artaxerxes I sent his “seven counselors” from Persia and Media to ensure that his will was carried out and to assist Ezra (Ezra 7:14; Esther 1:14). Fifth, King Artaxerxes I authorized the treasury to give financial aid to Ezra and protect him as he transported the King’s gold and silver to the Promised Land (Ezra 7:15). Sixth, for the Jews who remained in Babylon, King Artaxerxes I authorized Ezra to collect and oversee a freewill offering for God’s Temple sacrifices and as God otherwise directed him (Ezra 7:16-18). Finally, after the discovery of Temple vessels that had been left behind after King Cyrus II’s decree, King Artaxerxes I ordered these items to be return to the Temple (Ezra 7:19-20; 1:7-11).
Love God’s sheep. Ezra led the Jews out of a love for them: “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15). “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds;” (Prov. 27:23). Like Ezra, believers are commanded to “shepherd the flock of God . . .;” (1 Pet. 5:2). Jesus also calls on you to “‘Tend My sheep.’” (Jo. 21:17). “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28). Do you love and seek to help the lost members of God’s flock?
Love Jesus as your King of kings. King Artaxerxes I called himself the “king of kings,” (Ezra 7:12). He was the most powerful king in the Middle East. Yet, his power did not compare to Jesus, the real King of kings (Rev. 19:16). In the end times, every knee will bow and confess Him as Lord and the true King of kings (Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 17:14; 19:16). You may accept that Jesus is the source of your salvation. Yet, if you disobey Him, He is not the true Lord over your life. And, if you love Him, you will have a passion for His lost sheep. Are you asking Jesus where to tend to His sheep?
Ezra’s blessing of King Artaxerxes’ authority of taxation. In addition to giving Ezra financial gifts from the treasury and the right to manage the Jews’ freewill gifts, King Artaxerxes I gave him the right to raise taxes for the Temple sacrifices, and he gave protections from taxation for the Temple servants: “21 ‘I, even I, King Artaxerxes, issue a decree to all the treasurers who are in the provinces beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, may require of you, it shall be done diligently, 22 even up to 100 talents of silver, 100 kors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt as needed. 23 Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal for the house of the God of heaven, so that there will not be wrath against the kingdom of the king and his sons. 24 We also inform you that it is not allowed to impose tax, tribute or toll on any of the priests, Levites, singers, doorkeepers, Nethinim or servants of this house of God.’” (Ezra 7:21-24). This part of the decree gave Ezra authority over the King’s treasurers between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean to allow Ezra to buy offerings for sacrifices up to 100: (1) talents of silver, (2) kors of wheat, (3) baths of wine, and (4) oil and salt (Ezra 7:21-22). He desired to maintain Yahweh’s blessings and protection, most likely after having suffered a defeat against the Greeks (Ezra 7:23). Finally, he exempted from taxation those who serviced the Temple (Ezra 7:24). At that time, the Temple servants did not have their own sources of income.
As Jesus’ ambassador, manage God’s resources with integrity. Like Ezra, a believer should also be “beyond reproach” in stewarding God’s resources (1 Tim. 3:1-7). “You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.” (Dt. 16:19). “You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.” (Ex. 23:8). As Jesus’ ambassador (2 Cor. 5:22), you represent His light (Matt. 5:14). Thus, He calls upon you to be blameless: “so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1:11). Do your actions reflect fairly upon Jesus’ righteousness?
To be a good steward, faithfully tithe from God’s resources. All of your blessings, including your income, are from God (Jam. 1:17). Although part of the Mosaic law, the duty to tithe preceded the law. After receiving God’s blessing, Abraham set an example for all believers by giving a tenth of what he received back to God (Gen. 14:20(b)). The book of Hebrews clarifies that Abraham gave a tenth of his best spoils from the war for Melchizedek’s priesthood (Heb. 7:4). Following Abraham’s example, his grandson Jacob gave a tenth to God as a tithe (Gen. 28:22). Like Abraham, the Jews were to tithe only their best things to God (Ex. 23:19(a); 34:26; Lev. 23:10; Nu. 18:13; Dt. 26:2, 10). “Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce;” (Prov. 3:9). When giving is done without any expectation for reward, He will give back more than you gave Him (Mal. 3:10). As a faithful steward of God’s monies, do you give Him the best of your time, talent, and treasure?
Ezra’s blessing of King Artaxerxes’ authority of justice. Finally, King Artaxerxes I’s decree gave Ezra the right to appoint magistrates and judges to adjudicate disputes between Jews in the Promised Land under the Mosaic law: “25 ‘You, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God which is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges that they may judge all the people who are in the province beyond the River, even all those who know the laws of your God; and you may teach anyone who is ignorant of them. 26 Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed upon him strictly, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of goods or for imprisonment.’” (Ezra 7:25-26). The decree would not have applied to Persians, non-Jews and Jews living to the east of the Euphrates. The decree further allowed him to instruct the Jews on the Mosaic law so that no one could claim ignorance. Any Jews under the decree who refused to comply with the rulings of the Jewish magistrates or judges could be punished with confiscation of property, imprisonment, banishment or, in egregious circumstances, capital punishment (Ezra 7:26l Dt. 28:14-68).
The Levities were the source of God’s justice. King Artaxerxes I recognized that Ezra would administer justice according to “the wisdom of your God which is in your hand,” (Ezra 7:25). The Levite priests resolved disputes that people brought to the Temple (1 Chr. 23:4; Dt. 17:9). Yet, because God did not want justice denied, He also ordered that judges be appointed in each town to resolve disputes as needed: 18 “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” (Dt. 16:18-20; 1 Chr. 26:31-32). “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands.” (Ps. 78:72).
Be a source of God’s justice in the world. God also wants believers to be concerned about injustice in the world. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Prov. 31:9). “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.” (Ps. 82:3). “[D]o justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic. 6:8). “[L]earn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.” (Is. 1:17; Dt. 10:18). You are God’s “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13-16). Are you advocating for those in need?
Be compassionate and loving to others. The priests were further required to apply God’s justice with love toward others: “Thus has the LORD of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother;”’ (Zech. 7:9). “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jo. 13:34). When others are suffering, do you make time in your busy schedule to show them love and compassion?
Ezra’s praise for God’s faithfulness and protection. Ezra responded to these blessings by praising God for influencing a pagan king to revitalize both the Temple and the Jewish nation: “27 Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to adorn the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem, 28 and has extended lovingkindness to me before the king and his counselors and before all the king’s mighty princes. Thus I was strengthened according to the hand of the Lord my God upon me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.” (Ezra 7:27-28). Ezra took no credit for this miracle. He further felt strengthened knowing about God’s involvement. Finally, he had the wisdom to select capable leaders to help him lead.
God is sovereign and able to influence kings and powerful leaders. Ezra proclaimed that God “put such a thing as this in the king’s heart,” (Ezra 7:27). God also put on King Cyrus II’s heart to issue the first decree to let the Jews return and rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:1-4). God also influenced King Darius I to rebuke the Temple opponents and to provide the financial resources needed to complete the Temple (Ezra 6:1-12). God also influenced Pharaoh’s heart to grant favor to Joseph (Gen. 39:21). He also influenced the Babylonian king’s heart to grant favor to Daniel (Dan. 1:9). “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Prov. 21:1). Daniel explained: “It is He [God] who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.” (Da. 2:21). “He makes the nations great, then destroys them; He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.” (Job 12:23). “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.” (Is. 40:15). “All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.” (Is. 40:17; Ps. 10:16; Is. 9:3(a); Dan. 4:35). Even when evil surrounds you, do you trust that God is in control?
The Holy Spirit will give you the courage or strength to serve Him. Ezra proclaimed that he “was strengthened according to the hand of the Lord my God upon me, . . .” (Ezra 7:28). When you have faith as Ezra did, the Holy Spirit will also give you courage or strength to serve (2 Tim. 1:7). Moses also encouraged the Jews not to fear their enemies (Dt. 20:1-4; 31:8; Is. 41:10, 13). If you are facing trials, ask God to strengthen you.
Find Spirit-led leaders to help you. Ezra also revealed that he “ . . . gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.” (Ezra 7:28). Satan’s goal has always been to break down authority through rebellion. His goal is to create chaos and misery by causing people to turn away from God. Satan first led a third of the angels in rebellion against God’s rule (Rev. 12:3-9). He then led Eve to rebel against God’s rules (Gen. 3:1-4). He then led Adam and Eve to rebel against each other (Gen 3:16). Satan tries to make us rebel against God’s institutions of authority. In quoting a prophesy, Jesus revealed what happens when we submit to Satan’s attempts to make us rebel: “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” (Mark 14:23). Without godly shepherds, the sheep descended further into sin. Will you be one?
Without Spirit-led leaders, the people will naturally drift into rebellion. Without godly leaders, “. .. every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdgs. 17:6(b); 21:25.) Both then and now, God warns: “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes;” (Dt. 12:8.) Moses also warned that the people would return to rebellion without guidance (Dt. 31:27-30). You also should not judge a leader based upon how popular they are. God’s warns: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” (Is. 55:8). Thus, the Church must ensure that God-fearing leaders are selected to guide His people.
Praise God for all your blessings by offering your life as a sacrifice of praise. In response to God’s blessings, an effective leader gives Him the credit and offers his or her life as a sacrifice of thanksgiving: “To you I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the Lord, I shall pay my vows to the Lord.” (Ps. 116:1, 17-18). “ . . . I will render thank offerings to You. For you have delivered my soul from death.” (Ps. 56:12-13; 116:8). “. . . Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyful singing.” (Ps. 107:1, 2, 22). “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18). “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” (Eph. 5:20). “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). How are you thanking God for His blessings?