The Piety of Ezra
“Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers.”- Ezra 7:27–28
Ezra and Nehemiah appear in our Bibles as separate books, but these works originally were united as a single book written by the same author. Over the years, there has been some debate as to the identity of this writer, with proposals including Ezra, Nehemiah, and even the Chronicler (the author of 1–2 Chronicles). Ezra and Nehemiah are often suggested as the author of the respective works because these books include first-person accounts of some of the events; for example, today’s passage is a comment on Ezra’s commissioning by Ezra himself (Ezra 7:27–28). Certain identification of the author remains elusive, but it does not really affect our interpretation of these books in any case. If the author was not Ezra or Nehemiah, we know that he at least had access to some of what they wrote down because of texts such as today’s passage.
In Ezra 7:27–28, we find a comment from Ezra blessing the Lord for granting success to the scribe’s endeavors. As we would expect from one trained in the Scriptures, Ezra’s prayer reflects a high view of the Lord’s sovereignty. He attributes the king’s favor to God, who put it into the heart of Artaxerxes I to allow Ezra to go to Jerusalem (v. 27). We cannot help but think of Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” Although it may appear that the rulers of this world are directing history, they act only according to the Lord’s overarching plan. God is the real power in control. Note also that it was a good thing that the Lord put in the heart of the king to send Ezra to Jerusalem. Matthew Henry comments on this, reminding us of the true source of any good that we find: “If any good appear to be in our own hearts, or in the hearts of others, we must own it was God that put it there, and bless him for it.”
Ezra says also that the Lord showed love to His servant before the king and the king’s counselors and mighty officers (v. 28). Any favor we have in the sight of others comes from our sovereign God. When such God-given favor is present, we should take courage as Ezra did, knowing that no weapon “fashioned against [us] shall succeed” (Isa. 54:17). The Lord’s blessing moved Ezra to fulfill his mission, so he gathered “leading men from Israel” to go with him (Ezra 7:28). Here, “Israel” designates the entire covenant community, not merely the tribes of the northern kingdom that mostly disappeared when Assyria took them into exile in 722 BC.
When we make plans to secure the favor of others, how often do we entreat the help of God? As we set out to accomplish the mission that the Lord has given us, we must recognize that we will not find favor in the sight of others unless God grants it to them to look kindly on us. As we look for the favor of others, let us not forget to ask for the Lord to give it to us, and let us not forget to thank Him when He does so.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 1:3