Toward the end of the Old Testament, we read of Ezra, a scribe dedicated to the Word of the Lord. He’s a man among the captives in Babylon. These were people taken from the land of Israel during the empires that ruled the Middle East region in those days.
The Medo-Persians controlled things at this point. From West India across Arabia and to North Africa, this empire reigned over 127 distinct territories. The populace was a very mixed multitude. All manner of people groups were forced to co-exist under this government.
Pockets of Jews had been re-settled throughout the various provinces by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians. The division of the peoples was calculated and utilized to maintain order and peace.
Some of the Jews’ best and brightest were drafted into government service. Our Bibles contain the stories of Daniel and the three Hebrew boys, of Nehemiah, of Mordecai , and of Esther. These wise ones wound up in the palaces of the kings as counselors and servants, governors and queens.
Ezra, however, spent his time in captivity studying and teaching. Some ancient rabbis connect Ezra to Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses. This psalm is formed of 22, eight-line stanzas tied to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Ezra may not have written all of these words, but several commentaries credit him with the psalm’s organization. His one concern apparently was that the language of Hebrew could fade as the Jews intermingled with other peoples – hence his use of the Hebrew letters.Strange gods captured the attention of the Israelites and so the people found themselves in strange places with strange leaders. Click To Tweet
This scribe thought that if the people of God lost sight of their letters, they would also lose sight of their Law, and as a result they would lose sight of their God. This was no small concern. Israel’s disobedience to the Law of the Lord was what led them into idolatry and eventually captivity. Strange gods captured the attention of the Israelites and so the people found themselves in strange places with strange leaders.
But these strange leaders knew the strong God of Israel. They feared Him and desired His favor even as they, in some cases, worshiped their false idols. The Lord was faithful to supply a witness to His power and His authority.
A Faithful Witness
Ezra was one of these witnesses. His life spoke for him and for the Lord, so much so that Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, sent this scribe of Israel on an official mission. He was sent to Jerusalem.
Invasions had left the city of David, the capital of Judah, battered and ruined. And, yet, the Persian rulers recognized the significance of this place and the Lord of it. The Jews were invited to return and rebuild. A few thousand answered the call. However, opposition and distraction interrupted the restoration process again and again.
At last, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah arrived to stir the people to the work. A new temple was constructed and Israel began to reclaim its identity through its worship.
Enter Ezra. The new residents of Jerusalem needed a man of the Book. The king saw the “good hand of God” on Ezra, a man learned in the commandments of the Lord.
To Jerusalem, Ezra carried an official Persian order, a document sealed by the king that defined the mission given to him. Ezra, already an ambassador of God, now stood as an ambassador of Artaxerxes.
The text of Artaxerxes’ order is found in the seventh chapter of Ezra. It is quite an exhortation to both Ezra and the people of Israel. Had Artaxerxes become a true believer in Yahweh? This is difficult to determine for sure, but this king did know what the God of Israel stood for.
The one thing I take from his order is his understanding of the Lord as the personal God, the God who knows and can be known. He commanded Ezra to operate according to “the Law of your God which is in your hand” (Ezra 7:14). Make offerings on the altar of “your God” that is in “the house of your God,” declared the king (Ezra 7:19).
The wisdom of “your God” is in “your hand,” the king said to Ezra. Go and teach those who do not know the laws of “your God” (see Ezra 7:25, 26). Of course, in the midst of all of these words, Artaxerxes made a request. He wanted prayers to be made in full for him and his sons to the “God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm” (Ezra 7:23).
Yes, the king wanted God’s favor. He understood something that many of the people of Israel had forgotten about their God.
The King’s Heart
This passage should speak to us who are Christians. Our God is real, and He is personal. He is aware of every thought we have before it comes out of our mouths. He knows the number of hairs upon our heads.
Is this the God people see living in us?
Artaxerxes saw this God — our God — in the life of Ezra and wanted Ezra’s people to live for Him, to worship Him, to learn of Him. Imagine a corporate executive drawing up a job description that commissions us to tell our fellow workers about Jesus and the Bible. Imagine that same business leader instructing us to pray for the company’s success and blessing.
This is what happened to the scribe, who finished Ezra 7 with these words: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 7:25).
How great is our God. How great is our witness. The Spirit moves men of power and the Lord’s purposes are accomplished.
Holy is His Name. His will is done on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.