(42) Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it – Ezra 7:10

Ezra was a priest, born in exile, who made the journey to Jerusalem as part of the second return from exile in 458 BC, eighty years after the first return and almost sixty years after the completion of Zerubbabel’s temple. Being a priest in exile, Ezra had not had the opportunity to take part in the sacrificial rituals but 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 ESV).

This combination provides a great example for us. It is good to study God’s word, but not as an academic exercise. God’s word is designed for living out so it is important to put it into practice. Similarly, it is possible to focus on the doing and do what we think is best without regard for what God says. But this assumes that we know better than God what is best and so we run the danger of getting it wrong if we don’t invest time in study. Not everyone is a teacher but we all set an example for others in the way we live our lives and this should spur us on to ensure that both our study of God’s word and our putting it into practice is diligent and thorough so that others will benefit from our ‘teaching’ by example.

Ezra had come to the attention of the king of Persia, Artaxerxes I, who granted a request from Ezra to lead a party of Jews back to Israel to establish worship among the people there. Artaxerxes was not passive in this but sent him with gold, silver and provisions for his mission.

Ezra’s role was not confined to the temple but he was also to appoint magistrates and judges who would administer justice in line with the laws of God. This Israelites did not see an artificial distinction between the spiritual and the secular but the law God had given them covered all matters in relation to people’s relationship to God and to other people.

Ezra gathered a group of about 1,500 men and their families and set off for the hazardous four month journey to Jerusalem. When they arrived they delivered the silver and gold to the priest in the temple. Ezra then set about assessing the state of the people and found that many of the Israelites that had returned, including some of the leaders and priests, had married foreign women from the surrounding nations.

Ezra’s reaction was immediate and dramatic. He tore his clothes and sat fasting for the day. He then falls before God at the time of the evening sacrifice and prays, identifying himself with the whole nation and saying, “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” (Ezra 9:6). He quotes from the law that he knows so well which prohibits intermarriage with the people who lived in the land before them because of the danger that it will lead them into their detestable practices.

Ezra’s confession drew in others and led to “all the men of Judah and Benjamin” assembling in Jerusalem during the rainy season where they sat “greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain” (Ezra 10:9). The majority of the men then separated from their foreign wives.

This seems a very drastic step, and at odds with the Bible’s high regard for the sanctity of marriage. But Ezra knew, both from his study of God’s law and his knowledge of Israel’s history, that integrating with other nations this intimately led to a combining of religions and a loss of commitment to God. It was through his foreign wives that Solomon was led into idolatry and the loss of half the kingdom and ultimately the Israelites lost their right to the land that God had given them through mixing with these nations. Ezra’s strong action came from a desire to safeguard the people and all the good things that God had graciously given them in the return from exile.

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