Monday, 14 January 2008

One man ministry - Ezra 8

Isn't it amazing how, throughout the Bible, one man whose heart is all out for the Lord he loves (and who first loved him) can make such a tremendous difference. We hear a lot in the modern 'motivation speak' world about how one person can make a difference if he or she 'believes'. Of course, if this is belief in him or herself, then this is absolute drivel. However, if it is faith in God (and faith is a gift from God) applied so that we step out for Him in His will even when the situation seems impossible, then He can use that man or woman greatly for His Kingdom.

In Ezra 7 we read an amazing letter. King Artaxerxes had given Ezra a letter promising to allow any Israelite who wanted to return to Jerusalem to go with him, all the silver and gold that he could collect from Babylon to be permitted to go as well, and a supply of gold, silver, grain, oil and wine from every region should it be needed. God had opened His resources to restore the temple, exactly as prophesied. And, God had done it through a pagan King whose interests should have laid elsewhere. But how had this come to pass, humanly speaking? Well, Ezra 8v22 gives us a hint - Ezra had been in personal communication with the King. In fact, it seems from Ezra 7v25 that the communication had been sufficient for the King to get to know Ezra well, and more than that, had been sufficient for Ezra to declare the might, power and dominion of God faithfully to the King (8v22). What an opportunity! We are not sure how this came to pass, but God placed Ezra, as He had done with Daniel and Nehemiah, in a position to speak with the King, and Ezra had been faithful to God in that circumstance. How different things would have been if Ezra had held back, had been afraid, had not spoken faithfully of God.

But that was just the start. We see Ezra's faith in action time and time again. Setting out on the journey, the first thing he does is to stop and assemble the people (8v15) to ensure that the needs were provided. He finds that there are no Levites present, and so in faith he requests others to come, and he testifies in v18 that they came "because the gracious hand of the Lord was on us". He then proclaims a fast (v21) because he wanted to travel with all this wealth without escort so that the name of God who he had faithfully spoken about to the King should not be dishonoured. He believed in God's power, and understood the importance of prayer in this work. He was passionate that the people should walk aright with God. He taught them God's word and made sure they understood it (Neh 8v1-8). He saw the people weeping and rejoicing and knew that God had spoken. It is not surprising, then, that when he heard that there had been compromise (Ezra 9, Neh 13) he tore his clothes, pulled out his own hair and was devastated (9v3-4). He did not scold, he did not rebuke, but he led the people in powerful personal repentance, with weeping, confession and submission to God (9v5, 10v1). The people saw it and joined with him, and there was a heart for God, for His word and for personal purity because of a desire for God's glory.

And how did all this come to pass? Read Ezra 7v10 - "Ezra devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel". It came to pass by the work of God in the heart of one man - a vision for the knowledge of God and His way - that led to the re-establishment of the temple and the worship of God. Here was a man who was prepared to be used by God and, in God's will and perfect timing, he was the man God used to fulfill His purposes. Sadly, there were so few others who were ready or prepared to be used. The King had given free choice to all Israel to return, yet how few chose to go (see 8v1-14) - not one Levite wanted to return, the very people who should have been the first volunteers (8v15). They were all too comfortable in Babylon. They had all compromised too much. They had settled and integrated in the world, they had become content with the riches they had there.

How much we need people like Ezra, Daniel, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah who did not just start by 'weeping by the rivers of Babylon', but placed their hearts and affections on God and were ready and willing to be used by Him. God does do great work through one man or woman, if others are not prepared to stand. So, even when it looks as though 'there are no other prophets in Israel' (1 Kings 19v14), keep going in Him, seek His will and when He calls be ready to say, in the faith that He has given you, 'Here am I, send me'.

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