The book of Ezra records the early struggles of the Jews following the end of their captivity in Babylon. The early chapters concentrate on their efforts to rebuild the temple and renew the law’s sacrifices under the leadership of Zerubbabel, while the latter chapters emphasize the work of Ezra, the priest, to restore morality and righteousness among the people. While we regularly emphasize the first, the latter, though the work of the book’s namesake, sometimes gets overlooked. Sadly, this often happens in the church as well. Preachers and elders focus on those matters pertaining to the church as a whole—its worship, work, and doctrine—but forget the necessity of addressing those issues that determine who people really are. The latter requires a very different type of man, dedicated and determined—whatever the situation—to stand with God and turn the people back to him. It requires men like Ezra.
When introduced to Ezra, we find that he is an outstanding student of God’s Word (Ezra 7:1-11). Already “a skilled scribe” (Ezra 7:6) while in Babylon, when he returned to his homeland, he was an “expert in the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of His statutes to Israel” (Ezra 7:11). However, we are not left to wonder how he achieved this status. He states explicitly the reason for his knowledge and skill in the law: “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Ezra’s knowledge of God’s Word was no accident, nor did he enjoy it simply because “it came easy for him.” Ezra knew the scriptures because he wanted to know the scriptures (1 Pet. 2:2), because he studied the scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15), and because he lived the scriptures (1 Tim. 4:12), and this produced a man prepared to teach others the scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15-4:8).
But Ezra was not simply knowledgeable. Hardly! He applied what he knew so that he became a man of high character (Ezra 7:12-20). When Ezra returned to Jerusalem, King Artaxerxes entrusted him with a cache of silver and gold to be offered to the God of Israel (Ezra 7:12-16). That a Persian king would recognize Ezra’s trustworthiness to this degree is beyond commendable. Beyond this, however, he recognized his discretion, advising him to “be careful” in how he spent the money (Ezra 7:17) and acknowledged Ezra’s good judgment (Ezra 7:18-20).
Ezra’s leadership skills stood out to the king as well as to those who experienced it and benefited from it (Ezra 7:21-28). Artaxerxes recognized Ezra’s wisdom in making decisions and his ability to discern the character of others and their ability as well (Ezra 7:25a). Moreover, he understood that Ezra could instruct the people in the law and could even instruct others in how to teach the law to the people (Ezra 7:25b). The king trusted Ezra’s leadership enough to entrust him not only as an emissary and teacher, but also as a judge (Ezra 7:26). However, in all these things, Ezra saw his own abilities only as they pertained to his responsibilities before God and beyond that saw his abilities and opportunities as blessings from God for which he was thankful (Ezra 7:27-28).
The church today needs more men like Ezra. We need men who dedicate themselves to the study of God’s Word—whether preachers, elders, or anyone else—so that they can know, live, and teach it faithfully. We need men with integrity, whose character stands out well enough to be recognized as commendable by people in the world as well as members of the church. We need men prepared to lead—men with wisdom and the ability to make important judgments on the finest of issues while never seeing themselves as anything but God’s servants. We need such men in the church. We need to develop such men for the future. We need to become such men right now.