The Hand of God is a section of commentary on Ezra from the Holman Commentary. But it isn’t just commentary. The Holman Series goes more in-depth with background and application, in a very easy -to-follow way—more than most commentaries. Check out this excerpt to see what we’re talking about!


Almost sixty years lapsed between the completion of the temple and the journey to Jerusalem by Ezra, the priest and scribe. Like those before him, the new Persian king, Artaxerxes, responded favorably to Jewish religious interests.

1. INTRODUCTION

The Wrong Neighborhood

Commentary on Ezra - Introduction

Location, location, location.

Success, we are told, depends on it. Whether one wants to start a business, advance a career, raise a family, or sell a house—location tops the list of critical considerations. The experts, armed with charts and statistics, point to business visibility, traffic patterns, purchasing habits, networking, safety—and the list goes on. This may explain why so many Christians equate finding God’s will with where they should live, work, or attend school. After all, it’s all about location.

Or is it?

In 516 B.C., when the temple in Jerusalem was completed, priests and Levites were installed in their duties, and the rituals of the law were inaugurated. The environment for spiritual development couldn’t have been better. The holy city was reoccupied by consecrated priests and Levites. They served in the temple courts, offered the daily sacrifices, safeguarded the golden vessels, and conducted the annual feasts; these were men who were well-positioned. Yet, in less than sixty years, the community developed spiritual problems.

In spite of their prime location, the Jerusalem priests remained a peripheral element in the coming spiritual renewal. Instead, it was Ezra who initiated reform—a man trained and sharpened for service not in Jerusalem but in Babylon.

But, of course, the issue was not where Ezra lived but how he lived. Known for his devotion and integrity, Ezra understood the heart of God and was prepared to serve him anywhere. He knew that God’s will was resolved not in a particular location but in holiness and faithfulness. These could be practiced anywhere. Ezra’s “success” was rooted not in the neighborhood but in piety.

2. COMMENTARY ON EZRA 7

The Hand of God

Commentary on Ezra - Hand of God

MAIN IDEA: God’s grace flows perpetually; he works from an economy of generosity and renewed opportunities. Once again a group of Jews prepared to leave Babylonia and journey to Jerusalem, led this time by Ezra, a priest and devout teacher of the Mosaic Law.

A. Ezra the Man and the Mission (7:1-10)

SUPPORTING IDEA: Ezra’s priestly heritage served as a backdrop for presenting his devotion and integrity. Recounting his lineage also connected him in history to other great priests and validated his authority.

1. Ezra’s background (7:1-6)

Ezra 7:1-5

The writer’s aim was to track the Jews’ spiritual history, not to trace the tides of social or political change. Consequently, the concluding years of Darius and the entire reign of Xerxes (nearly sixty years) were relegated to silence. The narrative fast-forwards to the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia.

It was imperative for the Persian government to solidify Jerusalem and Judea as a temple state. For this task Ezra was commissioned. But to the Jewish mind, the next essential step after completing the temple was religious purity as prescribed by the Mosaic Law. In order to establish Ezra’s qualifications, a genealogical sketch was amended to the text. Though incomplete compared to 1 Chronicles 6, the genealogy in Ezra is accurate. The main purpose of the record was to establish connecting points of authority, going back to Phinehas … Eleazar … and Aaron the chief priest.


Ezra 7:6

Ezra was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. The term teacher can also translate as “scribe,” denoting a person skilled in the study, practice, and teaching of the Torah. It was a position that gained importance in the postexilic community and increased in influence through the time of Jesus. Ezra’s highest commendation was that he was a skilled student of the Pentateuch, an honorable practitioner of its commands, and an effective teacher of its laws.

Ezra stood in favor with God and man: The king had granted him everything he asked. It remains uncertain what Ezra requested, but the statement indicates the high regard in which he was held by the Persian court. Even so, the ultimate determination of blessing and judgment rested with God. Ezra was given what he requested because the hand of the LORD his God was on him.

2. A summary of the mission (7:7-10)

Ezra 7:7

Ezra was not alone. In his company were Israelites—priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers and temple servants. Over the years several waves of Jews had returned to Jerusalem. Yet, for whatever reasons, many faithful, obedient Jews remained in Babylon. Some returned now, with Ezra, but other faithful Jews stayed behind.


Ezra 7:8-9

Ezra and his caravan arrived in Jerusalem in August (the fifth month) 458 B.C. (the seventh year of the king), having left their Babylonian homes in April (the first month). Leaving on the first day of the first month may have been the plan, but as recorded in Ezra 8:31, they left for Jerusalem “on the twelfth day of the first month,” having spent twelve days by “the canal that flows toward Ahava” (Ezra 8:15). Ezra’s journey lasted fourteen weeks, and it took the caravan through nine hundred miles of harsh countryside and treacherous lands. Their safe arrival in Jerusalem was attributed to God’s guidance and protection.


Ezra 7:10

Ezra was not only skilled in scholarship and knowledge of the law but in living according to its mandates and spirit. His life was held in balance by a devotion to wisdom, a commitment to righteousness, and a desire to teach others the ways of God.


The commentary continues through verse 28. However, there are so many great sections following the commentary, that we are going to skip ahead. You can purchase the Ezra volume of the Holman Commentary to read the sections we skipped.


3. CONCLUSION

Crossings

Commentary on Ezra - Conclusion

Hundreds of years before Ezra’s time, Joshua stood on the banks of the Jordan River ready to lead the Israelites into the promised land. God called him to act courageously. He knew that Joshua would face danger, difficulties, even uncertainty and loneliness. To persevere he needed courage. Each directive of God—“be strong and courageous”—was founded on one of three critical elements.

First, his courage rested on God’s promise that Joshua would “lead these people to inherit the land” (Josh. 1:6). He was participating in God’s design; he was a partner in God’s work. Joshua could lead confidently because he believed God was trustworthy, and he knew he was centered in the divine will.

Second, Joshua’s courage issued from his own obedience (Josh. 1:7). While the foundation for Joshua’s courage rested on God’s character, he was responsible to act in harmony with God’s instructions; he was to obey. Obedience was evidence of trust; it complemented God’s guidance and compassion.

Third, a relationship was established. This intimacy armed Joshua with courage because he knew God would never leave him or forsake him (Josh. 1:9). As Joshua headed into the unknown, he was defended and loved by the God who ruled the nations.

In the spring of 458 B.C., Ezra assembled a small group of Jews on the banks of a Babylonian canal (8:15). The return of the people seemed less threatening than similar events from the early pages of Jewish history. But for Ezra and those with him, it was no small mission. Ahead stretched nine hundred miles of hostile territory and uncertainty about how the people would receive them. Even so, according to Ezra’s journal, he was filled with courage because “the hand of the LORD my God was on me” (Ezra 7:28).
Ezra rediscovered the truths declared to Joshua. He saw God’s sovereign power at work in the heart of Artaxerxes, the supply of materials, and the gathering of exiles. He recognized divine providence and God’s faithfulness to his people. Assured of God’s nearness, Ezra set his face toward Jerusalem.

Principles

  • The righteous and unrighteous alike live under God’s sovereign rule.
  • God’s will is not confined to a place or religious form. His will for righteousness, mercy, justice, and love applies to all peoples.
  • Courage comes from deepening intimacy with God—being confident in his character and obedient to his commands.
  • Christians should be known for their integrity.
  • God deserves all praise.

Applications

  • Guard your heart. Be persistent in seeking God through prayer and Bible study.
  • Forge a reputation for integrity and trustworthiness. Speak honestly with others; never gossip or complain.
  • Devote yourself to practicing the will of God.
  • Act with courage. Rather than allowing circumstances to determine your response, obey God’s revealed will.
  • Cultivate the habit of praising God. Establish a time each day for private worship, and each week attend a local church to join in praising God with others.

We are skipping section four, Life Application. It contains a story about a bridge collapsing over the Tacoma Narrows in Western Washington. Although beautiful, the architecture lacked integrity, not being able to withstand pressure. In contrast, Ezra had integrity that allowed him to maintain firmness to withstand outside pressure.

5. PRAYER

Prayer

Lord, each day the lure of compromise pushes, pulls, and presses us. Establish us in your truth, strengthen us by your Spirit, and grant us clarity of mind that we may live in unwavering obedience, worthy of your love. Amen.


We are opting to skip sections 6 and 7, Deeper Discovers and Teaching Outline, respectively. These sections also have great content and insights. You can read them by purchasing the Ezra volume of the Holman Commentary.


8. ISSUES FOR DISCUSSION

  • What are some elements of personal integrity? In what ways might Christian character be distinctive?
  • Define piety. How does our culture view it? How can a Christian develop a proper piety?
  • Artaxerxes expected the Jews to offer sacrifices and prayers for him and the empire. What responsibility does the Christian have to government? How should we pray for leaders and governments
  • Share experiences in which you believe you have seen the hand of God working through circumstances.

LEARN MORE WITH COMMENTARY ON EZRA

This commentary on Ezra is found inside the Holman Commentary Series. The Old and New Testament Set comes with 32 volumes. But you can also purchase the volumes separately, like this Ezra volume, to get started.

Each volume includes:

  • “In a Nutshell” summary of the content and teaching of the chapter.
  • Verse-by-verse commentary.
  • Bible principles and specific contemporary applications.
  • A brief prayer to aid in daily life commitment to the principles and applications of the chapter.
  • “Deeper Discoveries” for more personal, deeper study of the words, phrases, and themes of God’s Word.
  • A teaching outline to assist the teacher in group Bible studies.

This resource for local church Bible teaching will enrich the ministry of group and individual Bible study, and lead God’s people to truly be people of the Book, living out what God calls us to be.

Get more commentary on Ezra and the rest of the Bible with the Holman Commentary Series.

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