This month we are looking at the book of Ezra. His name means “helper,” “strength” or “Yahweh has helped.” This word is descriptive of God when we say He is the stone of help. In Hebrew its “Eben-Ezer.” This word is also used for a wife, that she is a “helper” to her husband. Don’t think for a second though that this is just some meek servant. The context in each usage of the word refers to God and His ARMY. Imagine God’s huge army coming to assist, support and help YOU in your struggle. That’s enormous help! They would need it to finish what God had required. What is God requiring of you in this hour? Is that same supply of “help” available today?
Look for the big themes when you study Ezra—return, repent, rebuild, restoration, etc. Those words formed the blueprint for rebuilding the Temple and just happen to also be the exact words we need to rebuild the Church today. It is God’s blueprint.
God told His people that He was going to judge them for bad behavior. If God speaks a warning, He is not playing. True prophecy is not just all bad news though—then or now. It usually contains some appeal that IF we do something demonstrating a turnaround, that God’s favor will return and even bless us. Zerubbabel is stirred by God and commissioned to go back to Jerusalem and build the wall. He not only obeys that call but takes his buddies with him. I don’t know if he begged them or gave them incentives. I don’t know if they heard from God also or just went along because he was their friend. What I do know is the list of names of those who returned, because it appears in Ezra 2:2 and Neh.7:7.
These guys were commissioned to return and rebuild the temple back in Jerusalem. Maybe they thought this was their one big chance to return to their former homes, occupations, and Temple. Maybe this was their daily prayer until it was realized. But there was one who perhaps did not realize that this event was more about his daughter than it was about him. You see in the list of those who return there was a man who had adopted a little girl whose parents were either killed or died along the way. It’s possible he even returned and stepped into their lives when he returned. He was a godly man and promised to watch over the little girl. We are not told if she was in exile and returned with him or he returned to find her in need of a guardian but nevertheless Mordecai, perhaps the uncle of Esther is the Mordecai in that list. On top of God using Mordecai to restore the Temple and return, he is granted to be a fill-in dad. Pure religion is this—to help the widow and orphan. Sometimes our moving into a new season is not for ourselves but for others. Whenever we step in to obey God and fulfill His plans, He tends to bless way more than we could think or imagine.
God answers Ezras prayers in chapter 8 when he requests traveling help and mercy. He has to move a large number of people. People who were traumatized and exiled. See chapter 8:23: “So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and He answered our prayer.” Not only was Ezra their spiritual guide, but he became their travel guide and mobile priest as well. Ezra demonstrated to the people around him that God was his helper. We got to see from the beginning to the end of his journey that God was beside him, assisting all the way.
There are many detours and distractions in their attempts to rebuild. Some cranky folks come along and impede the progress by saying the work was not authorized. It gained momentum and for FOURTEEN years the legitimate work is stopped. This work was stirred by God and sanctioned by the King. Those who stayed should have been thrilled God’s word was finally coming to pass but because they were not the ones leading the revival, they were jealous and tried to abort what Jeremiah had prophesied long ago. It’s also possible that when they were rebuffed with their help they rose up. However, this did not stop God’s plan or prevent it from being fulfilled because God keeps His promises.
The original folks living in Jerusalem remind me of the prodigal son’s older brother—“but we’ve been here all along.” On the East Coast they have a category for that, they call it the “from here” or “come here” people. Well, the from here people in Ezra’s day did not want the “come here” people directing traffic! Both sides were Israelites and God’s people. All were needed for the rebuild. However, those who were exiled came back very different. Some had married, some had lost spouses, some had taken on Babylonian ways. They were more than a hot mess. The new leaders were shocked at the changes. Ezra got very disillusioned with the carnality of the people around him. Those who had made the long, hard journey now acted carnal, they talked wicked, they walked wicked. So, Ezra, disappointed, cries out to God and prays:
4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice. Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God 6 and prayed: “I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. 7 From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.8 “But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in His sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. 9 Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.10 “But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands 11 you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. . . .
Chapter 10 starts out saying, “While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly.” This is a beautiful moment but here is where it takes a wrong turn: Neither God nor Ezra told the people to divorce. Malachi, a contemporary of Ezra, later sets the record straight by preaching that God hates divorce. In this moment someone comes up with an idea and they, in their own strength, are going to make things right. They then followed the suggestion of a man who was in the crowd. Not a revelation or leading from God after wise council, but the mere suggestion of a mere man.
“Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. 3 Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. 4 Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
Their solution was to send away the women. Conversion, teaching is absent here.
In chaos, in spiritual warfare, in reflection of their own sin, that was their big idea. There is no evidence they sought God’s approval, even took a beat to pause and reflect on the implications for the wives and children! Reconciliation to prevent broken homes was not the plan. Shekaniah wanted the leaders to make a covenant. Note the difference between that and God making a covenant with them or them making a covenant with God at His direction. We make many vows, agreements in our lives but without God’s opinion or intervention it is just a human contract. Their “vow” to fix the problem was just as bad as the problem. Good works are different from God works.
We can appreciate that Ezra was a man of prayer. We can appreciate that he mourned over broken covenant and commandments. We can appreciate that rebuilding and restoration and repentance were part of his ministry—all good characteristics of a leader. Where we MUST stop short is that when he moves on to lead or let others lead in the flesh, it is not God’s heart that he was representing. Galatians tells us, “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? In the effort to be holy, it got worse.
Zerubbabel rebuilds the temple, Nehemiah rebuilds the wall and Ezra takes on the spiritual and moral challenges to rebuild the people. All three of these leaders working together came close to the heart of what God was wanting for His people. In spite of the many pauses, misses and mistakes, their goal was eventually reached but it was not perfect by any means. We see the human side of Ezra’s leadership here also.
Ezra set his heart from an early age to seek God and know His word. He prepared His heart to know and understand God. Ezra made sure his heart was postured, set, aligned to God so he would know and serve Him forever. This is this man’s legacy. He served him all the days of his life. He became what his name was—help. Not just being a servant but being the help of the One who ran the Heavens. Divine help. He sought, He heard and He carried out God’s instructions to build the Temple.
A temple made by human hands with both the “from here” and the “come heres,” did not work so well. The Temple in the future would need to be made with the permission of a King and without human hands. A Temple that would be rebuilt perhaps by God Himself. . . . That leader would need to be sent from above. That builder would be worth the wait!
May we be like Ezra in our day—full of prayer, repentance, revival and restoration. May we know and obey God’s word. God help us to follow Ezra’s example and be holy, listening, in covenant with God, in our generation.
Renae Roche 2024