Ezra the Difference Maker

            A little more than 75 years after a remnant had returned from Babylon (Ezra 1, 2), another even smaller group returned to Babylon. Though they brought various gifts for the temple, the most important element of this return was its leader—Ezra. It was about 458 B.C. when this skilled scribe led a few thousand people from Babylon to Judah, and while Ezra was not a builder like Zerubbabel who had come before him, or like Nehemiah, a contemporary who would join him about thirteen years later and lead the rebuilding of the walls, Ezra was a great reformer and diligently sought to make a difference in the lives of God’s people. While we live in very different circumstances and are no longer under the Mosaic covenant of his day, we too can make a difference if we have the qualities Ezra manifested.

            It starts with the heart. “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord…” (Ezra 7:10). This man came to know God’s law because he “set his heart to study” (ESV). We may wish we knew more and could do more, but wishing and hoping will not of themselves accomplish anything. We need more than a vague wish; there must be a firm determination to increase our knowledge, develop our abilities, overcome sin, form better habits, etc. before the needed changes can take place. Are we determined to do better?

            Determination is an essential first step, but then we must act. As the NKJV margin and the text of the ESV put it, Ezra engaged in study. He wanted to be able to please God and help others, so his determination led him to put in the hard work necessary to know the law of the Lord. Anything we may desire to do in the kingdom of God will require knowledge, so we must begin where Ezra began and become more diligent in our studies. Those who have prepared their hearts to seek the law of the Lord come prepared for Bible class; they want sermons filled with the word; their time at home often turns to the Scriptures. Growing in knowledge of the truth is vital for all (2 Pet. 3:18), but can we also apply this principle to other areas of service? Want to improve your ability to teach, lead singing, greet visitors, or any other thing which needs to be done? Work at it! There are no magical secrets to development of knowledge or skills; instead, the truly determined put in the necessary time and effort.

            He wanted to know God’s will and he came to know it, but knowing was not the end, for Ezra became that teacher he had set out to become. We must put in the effort to increase our knowledge, abilities, etc., but we must then make certain we are not so busy with other things that we have little time for teaching and serving in other capacities. Let’s be sure we have not equipped ourselves for service, but then failed to serve. And as we develop our knowledge and skills, let’s be sure we have four other qualities seen in the life of Ezra.

            In Ezra 8:21, 22 he wrote of proclaiming a fast that they might humble themselves before God and seek His help. Ezra was leading a small group to Jerusalem and carrying a lot of gold and silver, but refused to ask the king for an escort of soldiers lest it seem they didn’t trust God. Few things will do more damage to our service in God’s kingdom than a haughty, arrogant spirit. Yes, we must put in a lot of hard work of our own, but let’s never lose sight of the fact that all our abilities come from above and without the help of God we would be nothing. Also, one of the greatest enemies we face in developing our abilities to serve is fear, but with the kind of faith and humble trust Ezra displayed we can overcome those fears.

            “So when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down astonished” (Ezra 9:3). When he learned of the intermarriages with pagans and how the leaders of Israel were heavily involved, Ezra took this sin seriously. We will accomplish little in the Lord’s service if we don’t have a strong, passionate love and concern for God’s people, but that love must lead us to take sin seriously. When we want the best for our brethren, we are patient, understanding, and sympathetic, but if we see sin in our lives we don’t ignore it. Ezra cared deeply about sin—do we?

            That Ezra’s concern sprang from love and not an air of superiority is seen in his prayer when he regularly identifies himself with the people (Ezra 9:6-15). “Our iniquities…our guilt…we have been very guilty…we have forsaken your commandments…our evil deeds” and other similar expressions fill the prayer of a man who could have easily said their sins and their evil deeds. When Ezra took action in ch. 10 and began to order the dissolution of the unlawful marriages, one has to believe his willingness to identify with the people contributed to the success he had in getting the people to follow him. Though it’s not always the case, the old adage often rings true that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

            How was Ezra able to make a difference in Israel? How can we make a difference today? “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” (Ezra 7:10). Let’s all strive to be more like him.