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Ezra’s Example

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God is patient and kind, holy and righteous. We see these attributes in the way He responded to His people after calling them out of Egypt. They witnessed God’s power through the plagues He brought on the Egyptians and the parting of the Red Sea. Yet a short time later, the people who had been delivered by God bowed down to a golden calf as Moses received the Ten Commandments on the mountain above. The new nation continued to exhibit a pattern of faithful obedience followed by idolatry and rebellion throughout their wilderness journey and settlement of the Promised Land. They sinned, experienced judgment, repented, and sinned again. God forgave them and delivered them, time after time after time.

When the people finally asked God to appoint a king to reign over them like the nations around them, He agreed. He does not force His rule on anyone. Only Saul, David, and Solomon served as kings of Israel before the people’s disobedience and disagreements became so severe that the nation split. After the people ignored God’s pleas through the prophets, judgment fell on the Northern Kingdom (Israel) when the Assyrians took them captive in 722 bc.

God sent Jeremiah and others to warn the Southern Kingdom (Judah) that desolation would come to them as well, and the people would be taken to Babylon if they did not return to the Lord (Jeremiah 25:11-13). In the same breath, God revealed His plan for restoration.

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive (29:13, 14).


God is true to His word. The Southern Kingdom survived until 586 bc, when the Babylonians stormed Jerusalem. Many people were taken captive, while others were left in Israel to fend for themselves or die. Those taken to Babylon were expected to leave their way of life and assimilate into the culture of that land.

Fifty years later, the Babylonian Empire had given way to Persia, which reigned over the still-captive Israelites. Cyrus the Great founded the Persian Empire. It included Persia, Media, Babylonia, and Chaldea, as well as smaller countries.

During this time, Ezra served as a priest and scribe in Babylon. Although the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, Ezra, a man intimately acquainted with the law, had undoubtedly kept up with his task of reading and studying God’s Word — the Law, or Pentateuch. It is possible Ezra brought scrolls with him when he was taken captive.


In the first year of his reign, Cyrus felt the prompting of God’s Spirit and issued a proclamation that represented the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy: “All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:2).

The first six chapters of Ezra tell the story of the remnant of Israel (men from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, along with the Levites) returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Jeshua (6:15).

Chapter 7 begins the second part of the book of Ezra and describes Ezra’s journey to
Jerusalem, with permission and provision from King Artaxerxes. Throughout his life, Ezra lived in captivity, had limited opportunities to teach the Bible, and encountered trials and threats while physically rebuilding city walls. But through it all, he stayed faithful to the Lord. His relationship withstood the tests and trials because of his preparation and practice: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (7:10).

These spiritual disciplines weren’t just interesting facts about Ezra. We can glean three lessons from them if we desire to grow in our relationship with the Lord.

Study God’s Word

Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord.

As a scribe, Ezra performed the hard, tedious task of pouring over scrolls, comparing passages, scribbling notes, and prayerfully asking God to reveal the truth of His Word. Ezra did not open his laptop and search for interesting Bible facts in his favorite search engine. He couldn’t compare Bible translations, consult commentaries, or discover the number of times a specific word appeared in the text. The New King James Version says Ezra “prepared his heart” to seek God’s Word. Other translations say he had “determined to study” (NLT), “set his heart to study” (NASB), “committed himself to study” (NIRV), and “devoted his life” to study (GNT). Scripture was Ezra’s passion.

Paul gives us insight into why it is essential to continue studying these ancient writings:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

In addition to these practical benefits, we are blessed when we study God’s Word because we grow in a more intimate relationship with the Lord. We get to know our Father, the King and Creator of the universe. We discover the humility, kindness, courage, and power of our
Savior. And we experience the presence, guidance, and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

But knowing God’s Word and its Author is only the beginning.

Obey God’s Word

[Ezra had prepared his heart] to do it.

Once we know God’s Word, it’s time to follow it. Ezra knew his position as a priest demanded a commitment not only to studying God’s Word but to carrying it out in his life, bringing glory to God as a spiritual leader. This must have been difficult while residing in a foreign land. The Israelites could not follow God’s commands for sacrifices, offerings, and festivals. But they could live out the moral laws that set them apart from their captors. Again, a difficult task while being assimilated into the Babylonian culture.

Daniel, however, had proven in the early years in Babylon that this could be done (1:8-16). After being tested by eating only foods God considered clean, Daniel and his friends proved that following God’s way would not diminish their work for the king. Ezra might have followed their example.

As Christians, we too must obey God’s Word. Because Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17), we are not commanded to follow every sacrificial law in the Old Testament but to bring glory to God as we obey His laws, teachings, and commands. As James says, we must do the Word, not just hear it (1:22).

To be a doer is to commit your entire life to Christ. In fact, Jesus connected obeying Him with loving Him: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15; cf. vv. 21-24).

Teach God’s Word

[Ezra had prepared his heart] to teach statutes and ordinances.

The final chapters of Ezra (8-10) give details on who returned with Ezra and some of their attempts to be faithful to the Lord’s commands. In the book of Nehemiah, we read about Ezra’s God-ordained assignment to bring God’s Word to the people. Nehemiah 8-10 records the impact on the people when they heard Ezra read it.

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground (8:5, 6).

It is possible many of the people listening were hearing Scripture for the first time, yet they responded in awe before Ezra read one word.

God fulfilled His prophecy, delivered through Jeremiah: judgment and restoration. The captives taken to Babylon experienced the consequences that came with sin and disobedience. But the next generation — a remnant of Israel — was restored to their home with a new appreciation for God’s words.

Ezra served as an instrument in fulfilling God’s promise of restoration. As he opened God’s Word, the people were reminded that God is patient and kind, holy and righteous. He keeps His promises. When we obey His Word, we will be blessed. And when we teach His ways to future generations, as Ezra did, we will witness God’s saving and restoring power for all who believe in His Son.

Modern Ezras

We can learn so much from Ezra, beginning with setting our hearts to seek God. We can be assured that if we truly seek Him, we will find Him — right in the pages of His Word.

Caroline S. Cooper has been published in such publications as Standard, Indian Life magazine, and Focus on the Family Online. She has also contributed to a number of book compilations and has self-published books. Caroline lives in Harrisonville, MO.

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