What is the one thing we all must know?
Published 4:01 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Who is your favorite person in the Bible?
I asked this question a few days ago. Other than Jesus, who would you choose?
Among the answers I received were Moses, David, Peter, Paul—all great choices. But one woman said, “Ezra.”
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Now that’s a name you don’t hear very often. Can you place him? Was Ezra:
One of King David’s mighty men;
A Jew living in Babylon in the 5th century B.C.;
One of Jesus’ 12 disciples; or
A missionary who worked with Paul in Cyprus?
I’ll give you a big hint: A small book of the Bible is named for Ezra—only ten chapters long. Blink and you’ll miss it. But I know a group who can easily tell you where to find Ezra.
Teaching second grade Sunday school was one of my great joys, and those kids can still tell you the books of the Bible. I used “Shortenin’ Bread,” and we sang the names to the tune of Mama’s little baby loves short’nin’ short’nin’.
Try it. Sing along with me: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. It’s fun, right?
Second verse: First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First and Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah.
And there it is. Ezra!
Now look again at your choices. You can easily eliminate the New Testament ones, right? And I’ll give you another hint: Ezra was famous in his day. He was chosen by the king for a certain mission.
Okay, one more hint. That king was Persian. Lock in your final answer.
You need a teeny bit of history to understand what’s happening. I can do it in four sentences—stay with me.
King David’s son, Solomon, married foreign women and began worshipping their gods in the 10th century B.C. That caused Israel to split.
Northern Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians several centuries later. The Babylonians then conquered Southern Israel in roughly the 6th century B.C., destroying the temple and taking the Jews captive. The Babylonians were then conquered by a God-fearing Persian king.
Wheww. Fast. But I’m done.
That’s how Ezra, a Jew, finds himself living in Babylon under a Persian king in the 5th century B.C. The answer is No. 2.
As I said, Ezra was so famous that the king chose him over everyone. Why? It seems the Persian king wanted to win favor with God, and Ezra was known as God’s guy.
“Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10)
Ezra is loaded down with thousands of pounds of gold and nearly ten times that in silver, along with other valuables. He’s sent to sacrifice for the king at God’s house and to beautify it. Moreover, any Jew who had been captured by the Babylonians could return with Ezra.
But it’s a dangerous, four-month long journey. Listen to what Ezra says—another wonderful passage.
“I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him…’” (Ezra 8:22)
And, indeed, Ezra arrives safely.
The Persians had already sent Jews to rebuild the temple. Those people greet Ezra when he arrives. But Ezra’s joy immediately turns to grief.
He says, “I sat appalled…” (Ezra 9:4)
Remember how Solomon had placed Israel on the road to destruction by marrying foreigners and worshipping their gods? The Jews who’d returned ahead of Ezra had done the same thing, intermarrying with heathen women.
All Ezra can do is weep.
He mourns for hours.
Ezra then turns to God. His prayer is in chapter nine, and you’ll want to read it. He thanks God for saving a remnant of Jews. God’s people had deserved being conquered by enemy nations, having been faithless. Then Ezra confesses that the Jews are doing it again, turning from God’s words.
But Ezra isn’t done. No. He so thoroughly convicts God’s people that they turn back to the Lord.
That’s why Ezra appears early in Scripture, when his contemporaries (Haggai, Zechariah. Malachi) are at the end of the Old Testament. Ezra says the one thing we all must know: God is more important than anything. Ezra convinces the Jews to remove what’s endangering their relationship with Him.
Carefully examine your life and do the same.
The Rev. Mathews (BA, MDiv, JD) is a faith columnist, seminary graduate, and the author of “Reaching to God.” Contact her at Hello@RAMathews.com.
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