In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called, “Outliers.” In the book he says that 10,000 hours is the secret to success. Gladwell says that if you want to master something then you have to commit the time to practicing over and over again, day-after-day, for 10,000 hours. He cites so many different examples of the 10,000 Hour Rule in his book. For example, he says The Beatles were who they were because of what they did in Hamburg, Germany. Paul McCartney and John Lennon met in Liverpool in 1957. They formed a band with friends George Harrison, Pete Best, and Stuart Sutcliffe, but nothing really happened for them until eight years later, after Hamburg. 

The summer of 1960 changed their lives. They were invited to play clubs in Hamburg, Germany and they played five to six hours a night for four solid months. In 1964, they took four more trips to Hamburg and played set after set, night after night. They had played 1,200 shows before they ever arrived in America and experienced Beatlemania. The key to their success? Practice, practice, practice!

In Cal Newport’s book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” he writes that what makes people rise above the rest is their willingness to become experts at practicing. Dr. Newport says that it is deliberate practice, what he calls “deep work,” that is a game changer for those who set themselves apart from the rest of the crowd. 

Malcolm Gladwell didn’t use Ezra as an example of an “outlier” and neither did Dr. Newport use him as an example of his “deep work” principle, but as soon as I read Ezra 7:10 I knew they both missed a great opportunity. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Turn to Ezra 7:10 with me.

10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:10 NIVO)

“Ezra had devoted himself.” He “practiced” his studies of God’s Word, living out God’s Word, and teaching God’s Word. We will talk more about this verse, and Ezra’s devotion in a few minutes, but first let me set the scene for you as we continue our study of Ezra and the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. 

In our last study, in Ezra 6, we talked about how Darius, the king of Persia, had ordered that no one was to interfere with the work being done on the temple. Even more than not interfering, he ordered Tattenai, the governor of the region, to provide the Jews with anything and everything they needed to finish the work so they could begin worshiping God. We learned that the temple was completed in 515 B.C., “in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius” (Ezra 6:15). 

Today, we’re taking a look at Ezra 7, the very next chapter, and yet you need to know that there is about a 57 year gap between the pages of Ezra 6 and Ezra 7. King Darius died in 486 B.C., almost 30 years after the temple was completed. His son Xerxes took over the throne and ruled Persia for twenty years, from 485-465 B.C. If you have ever read the little book of Esther, then you are familiar with Xerxes. It’s a beautiful story of the Sovereignty and Providence of God in saving the Jewish people who were scheduled to be wiped out by an official named Haman. Esther fits in this 57 year gap between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7, and Esther is the only book of the Bible where the word “God” never appears…yet His fingerprints are found on every page. 

Xerxes was assassinated in 465 B.C. by one of his own officials, a man named Artabanus who wanted to rule Persia, but he was killed by one of Xerxes’ sons, Artaxerxes, who is the king we now find ruling Persia at the beginning of Ezra 7.  Let’s read the first ten verses of Ezra 7. 

1 After these things, during the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, 2 the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, 3 the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, 4 the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, 5 the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest— 6 this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him. 7 Some of the Israelites, including priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. 8 Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. 9 He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:1-10 NIVO)

Finally, after six chapters and some 80 years since the first exiles made their way from Babylon back to Jerusalem, we meet Ezra. It has been about 57 years since the temple has been completed and there is no word about what has happened in Jerusalem since. God moved upon the heart of a man named Ezra who was living in Babylon and gave him a desire to lead a group of people back to Jerusalem, but who is this Ezra? 

In the first five verses of Ezra 7 we run into a list of names: Seraiah, Azariah, Hilkiah, Shallum, Zadok, and other names that are tough to pronounce until we end up with Aaron who is called “the chief priest.” All of these men were priests and the first thing we learn about Ezra is that he is from a long line of priests who can trace their ancestry all the way back to Aaron, the brother of Moses. 

The second thing we learn about Ezra is found in verse 6. Ezra was a “teacher,” or a “scribe” depending on which translation of the Bible you read. The Hebrew word can be used to describe a “recorder, scribe, secretary, or teacher.” The word was originally used to describe the position of state secretary or a royal private secretary. Later, the word was used to describe someone who studied, interpreted, and copied the Scriptures. 

Ezra was a teacher, but he was a teacher of a very specific subject, the “Law of Moses,” the Torah, and he was “well versed” or “skillful” in the subject of God’s Word. We read in verse 10,

10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:10 NIVO)

How did Ezra become skillful, well-versed, in God’s Word? He “devoted himself.” This got me thinking and I hope it will spark some thoughts in your mind as well. Where was Ezra when he became so well-versed in God’s Word? He wasn’t in Jerusalem was he? He didn’t take his seat every morning in a yeshiva and study under a learned rabbi within the shadow of the temple either. He was in Babylon, a strange land filled with many gods, many distractions, and innumerable challenges for a young Jewish boy growing up among the Persians. Yet Ezra “devoted himself,” day-after-day, to sitting at the feet of those who knew the Word of God and in studying the Word of God for himself. As he did this day-after-day he became skillful, he grew to know God’s Word like the back of his hand. Ezra was not devoted to so many other things that his peers found interesting or fun. He was devoted to learning God’s Word. 

There is a great lesson in this for you and me. You don’t have to go to Bible college or seminary to become skillful in the Word of God. What you must do is devote yourself to learning God’s Word. You say, “I don’t know anything about the Bible. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.” I’ll tell you where to begin. Begin by saying “No” to distractions and lesser things and devoting yourself to learning God’s Word. Begin by coming to me and saying, “I want to learn God’s Word.” There is nothing more I would love than to help you begin to learn. 

Many Bible teachers believe that Ezra was given a high office in government by King Artaxerxes. They describe his office as something like “Secretary on Behalf of Religious Institutions.” The reason they believe this is because of two things: First, a scribe was first known as a secretary or clerk, an administrative position. Second, he had access to King Artaxerxes and the letter King Artaxerxes sent with Ezra when he went to Jerusalem let’s us know the king was very familiar with Ezra and he had great faith in him. In the last sentence of Ezra 7:6 we read,

6The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him. (Ezra 7:6 NIVO)

Evidently, Ezra was the one who initiated the thought of his going to Jerusalem. God moved on the heart of Ezra just as He had moved on the hearts of Cyrus and Darius. Ezra went to the king with a plan and the king “granted him everything he asked.” Why did the king do this? Ezra tells us, “for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.” That phrase, “the hand of the LORD his God was on him” is repeated in Ezra 7:9,28; 8:18,22,31; and in Nehemiah 2:8,18. Ezra was well aware that it was God who was making everything happen. 

King Artaxerxes allowed Ezra to leave Babylon and to take priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants with him. It was a four month journey from Babylon to Jerusalem and we read in Ezra 7:9,

9 He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. (Ezra 7:9 NIVO)

Ezra and the group left Babylon on April 8, 458 B.C. and arrived in Jerusalem on August 4, 458 B.C. When Ezra walked into the city he was carrying a letter from King Artaxerxes. We’re not going to read the letter, but let me summarize what’s in the letter found in Ezra 7:12-26. First of all, King Artaxerxes says that whatever Ezra needed for worship to take place at the temple, he would provide it for him. Artaxerxes even sent a large amount of silver and gold with Ezra on the journey. The money was to be used to buy rams, bulls, and male lambs for sacrifice along with grain for offerings. The king said whatever money was left over he trusted Ezra to use it where it was needed. There are two tasks King Artaxerxes gave Ezra that are detailed in the letter that jumped out at me: First, in Ezra 7:14 we read,

14 You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand. (Ezra 7:14 NIVO)

Think about that. A Persian king asked a Jewish Bible guy to send him a report concerning how the Word of God was being lived out by the people in Jerusalem. It had been 57 years since the temple had been completed. Were the people still seeking to walk with God? Were they still serving God? Had they turned to idols and foreign gods like their ancestors had done so many times throughout their history? King Artaxerxes wanted a report. 

The second task Ezra was given by the king is found in Ezra 7:25. King Artaxerxes told Ezra he was to teach the Word of God to the people who did not know it. Take a look at Ezra 7:25 and let’s read it together.

25 And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates– all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. (Ezra 7:25 NIVO)

You’ve got to stop and really consider who this command is coming from for it to really sink in. This is not a command of the High Priest of the temple or a faithful follower of God. Artaxerxes never pretended to worship the God of the Jews and yet he ordered Ezra to teach God’s Word to all of the people of the region around Jerusalem. How do you explain this? The only way to explain it is the way Ezra explained it: “The hand of the LORD his God was on him.” God gave Ezra favor with King Artaxerxes. God moved the heart of the king just as He had moved the heart of King Cyrus and King Darius. 

I want to go back to Ezra 7:10 and take a longer look at it before we leave here this morning. I’ve already pointed out that Ezra devoted himself to learning the Word of God, but Ezra had a purpose in learning the Word of God. Let’s take another look at Ezra 7:10.

10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:10 NIVO)

Ezra’s devotion to learning the Word of God was purposeful and the purpose had three goals. He devoted himself to learning the Word of God. He devoted himself to then living out the things he learned in the Word of God. He devoted himself to teaching, discipling others, in the Word of God. This is a simple and yet brilliant pattern for every follower of Jesus to follow throughout our lives. 

There are some of you who are here this morning who have never devoted yourself to following Jesus. Some have never accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life. Others have prayed a prayer, maybe even been baptized and attended church, but you’ve never really devoted yourself to becoming a follower of Jesus. You go to church now and then, but outside of Sunday morning you never crack the Bible, you haven’t devoted yourself to learning the Word of God. I believe the Lord has brought you here today to hear this message and stir your heart. Let today be the day you go “all in” on following Jesus. Let today be the day you devote yourself to learning God’s Word because it is only in applying yourself to knowing God’s Word that you will learn what it means to truly follow Jesus. 

With each and every man I’ve discipled over the past 25 years, I’ve always started with Psalm 1. It is in the opening verses of Psalm 1 that we find what a man after God’s own heart desires more than anything in life. Read it with me.

1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2 NIVO)

A man or woman after God’s own heart has no desire to hang out with the crowd, to follow the pattern of what the world says is important. Instead, the man or woman who wants to follow Jesus delights in the Word of God and they meditate on it day and night. They read God’s Word and think about it, ponder it, look for ways to apply it to their own lives. What a blessing it is to see a man or woman discover this truth for themselves! 

This is what Ezra did, but even more importantly, it is what Jesus did. Jesus knew the Word of God because He studied the Word of God. Do you know that in the Gospels Jesus quoted from 24 different Old Testament books? How was He able to do that? He studied the Word of God. Why did He study the Word of God? He wanted to live out God’s will for His life. 

Ezra’s second ambition was to live out what He learned in God’s Word.  God has not given us His Word so that we can simply know it–He wants us to live it, apply it, to walk it out in everyday life. Once again, we find the greatest illustration of living out God’s Word in the life of Jesus. Let me give you an example. I love the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The woman came to draw water and Jesus said, “I’ll give you water so that you will never thirst again.” He told her about the Living Water that only comes through a relationship with Him and her life was changed. She ran back to her village and told everyone she knew. We can pick up on the story in John 4:30. Read it with me.

30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him. 31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4:30-34 NIVO)

Jesus’ food was to do God’s will and to finish the work God had given Him.  Jesus told His disciples, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17 NIVO). It does us absolutely no good to learn God’s Word if we are not going to live out what we learn. James wrote,

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it– he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25 NIVO)

Learn it, live it, and last of all, Ezra devoted himself to teaching God’s Word to others. King Artaxerxes told Ezra to teach others the Word of God. You can’t teach what you don’t know. So we are called to learn from God’s Word and share what we learn with others. Jesus was the greatest Teacher that has ever lived. If you read the Gospels you will find Him teaching His disciples as well as many, many others. Those disciples, after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, began to teach others. Those who had been taught found someone and they taught them what they had learned from God’s Word. And on and on the story goes until it came to you and me. We are the beneficiaries of those who faithfully taught God’s Word throughout the ages. What will we do? Will we devote ourselves to learning God’s Word, living out God’s Word, and teaching God’s Word to others? This morning we have the opportunity to commit our lives, devote ourselves to learning God’s Word–will you make that commitment? 

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

November 10, 2019

Here Comes Ezra!
Ezra 7
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