Searchlights from the Word by G. Campbell Morgan: Ezra

Helpful outline sermon suggestion from every chapter from the Book of Ezra

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The Book of Ezra - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.

Chapter 1

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.
Ezra 1:1

To human observation the purposes of God often seem to tarry. The one thing of which we may remain assured is that they are never abandoned. Indeed, there is a very true sense in which they never for a moment tarry. In the Books we have been reading, we have had the story of the complete failure and break-up of the chosen nation. That nation had become "a people scattered and peeled," having lost national position and power; and, to a very large extent, national consciousness also. Nevertheless, God still moved on toward the fulfilment of His ultimate purpose of redemption, not of His people only, but of the race, through them. Through the seventy years of captivity, by the very processes of suffering, He prepared a remnant to return, to rebuild, and so to hold the fort, until He, the true Seed and Servant, should come. The history of this return sets forth clearly the truth concerning this direct overruling of God. He compelled the most unlikely instruments to contribute to the accomplishment of His will. Babylon had carried away His people into captivity, and by so doing had fulfilled His purpose. They, however, treated the conquered nation with undue severity. In process of time, and in fulfilment of the distinct foretelling of Jeremiah, Cyrus the Persian broke the power of Babylon. This Cyrus was now chosen and commissioned as the very instrument for restoring God's remnant to their own land. His proclamation made that return possible. It was the result of Divine dealing, and, moreover, he was conscious that this was so. How constantly in human history God has compelled kings and rulers to carry out His sovereign will!

Chapter 2

So the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinim, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.
Ezra 2:70

These words summarize the chapter which they close. It contains the register of those who, taking advantage of the decree of Cyrus, turned their faces toward their land, and settled in its cities. The list proceeds in a definite order from the leaders downwards. First the names are given of those immediately associated with Zerubbabel, verses 1,2. Then follow the names and numbers of families, verses 3-35; the names of members of the priest-hood, verses 36-39; the list and numbers of the Levites, verses 40-42; after these the Nethinim, verses 43-54; next the children of Solomon's servants, verses 55-58; then a number who had lost their genealogical relationship, verses 59-63; and finally the totals of the people, and the lists of the cattle. It is an interesting record, showing the mixed and representative nature of the returning remnant. There are one or two matters of special note. First, the people thus returning are distinctly spoken of as "the men of the people of Israel," verse 2. The reference is patently not to the northern kingdom only, for it was the southern kingdom that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away. It does, however, undoubtedly mean that representatives of those tribes which composed the northern kingdom, also returned. Again, it is noticeable that few comparatively of the Levites are named; ten times as many priests as Levites returned. Another point of interest is the Nethinim. Their origin it is almost impossible to determine. In all probability they were of foreign extraction, and had been admitted to some of the minor forms of service connected with Levitical work. The name signified "giver." Jewish tradition identified them with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:3-17).

Chapter 3

The old men that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy.
Ezra 3:12

The leaders in this great movement of return were conscious of the matters of real importance in the life of the people. This is evident from the fact that directly they were settled in their cities, the altar of God was established in Jerusalem. They also observed the Feast of Tabernacles, the most joyful of all the feasts of Jehovah, established all the feasts, and so far as was possible restored the Divinely appointed order of worship. The reason for this activity is expressed in the words, "For fear was upon them because of the people of the countries." Different interpretations have been given of the meaning of this statement, but that which seems to suit the situation best is that they were conscious how, in the neglect of the altar of God in the past, they had become contaminated by the idolatrous practices of surrounding peoples, and in order to prevent a repetition of such failure, they immediately set up the true altar. It is at least significant that they never returned to idolatry. The next step was that of the rebuilding of the Temple. The foundations were laid, and in the second year of the return, with fitting ceremonies, they rejoiced. Then it was that the lamentations of the old men broke out. This can well be understood when the comparative poverty and insignificance of the people and building are remembered. Yet it was an element of weakness. The backward look which discounts present activity in true directions, is always a peril. Regrets over the past which paralyse work in the present are always wrong. Moreover all such regrets, as in this case, are in danger of blinding the eyes to the true value and significance of the present. The Temple these men were building was destined to have more honour and glory than the old one.

Chapter 4

Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God.
Ezra 4:3

This chapter gives us the account of the opposition of the Samaritans to the work of Temple building, an opposition which proved successful for a time. The first method of opposition was that of an offer of co-operation. Zerubbabel was asked to admit into partnership such as were really enemies of the work. It was a very subtle peril. Human reasoning, acting on the level of policy merely, might be inclined to think that there could be no harm, but only advantage in gaining help from any source. Men of faith have often fallen into this blunder, and have associated with themselves those not sharing their faith, and therefore in the deepest sense opposed to their enterprises. These leaders were not deceived. They detected the peril. Their reasoning was complete, in that it was illuminated by their faith, and took in all the quantities in coming to a decision. This is seen in the answer of Zerubbabel: "Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God." The words reveal a principle of perpetual application, and persistent urgency. God must be our God, before we can build a Rouse for Him. Men who are not submitted to Him, can have no part in doing His work. That is a false breadth which proposes to seek the aid of those in rebellion against God, in the doing of the work which is in the interest of His Kingdom. Such inclusion of the unyielded is, moreover, a wrong done to them, as it gives them a false sense of security. To have done many works for the King is of no value, so long as He has to say "I never knew you."

Chapter 5

With them were the prophets of God, helping them.
Ezra 5:2

This page of Old Testament history is interesting in itself, and valuable in the light it sheds on the true relationship between prophetic ministry and national life. A study of the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah make it perfectly clear that the cessation of the work of building was unworthy of the men who had commenced that work. Judged by human standards, they could fairly urge the difficulties of the situation, and the necessity for obedience to the edict of the reigning king. Judged by the Divine standard, which was the true gauge of national prosperity, there was no reason for cessation, and they had no right to cease. It was to this end - the discovery of the true standard - that the burning words of these prophets were addressed. This is ever the contribution which the prophets of God are called upon to make to national life. They introduce into human thinking the quantities which are all too easily forgotten: those of the Divine government, and of the fact that national strength consists in recognition of that government, and right relation thereto. Statecraft which forgets God is powerless to realize the highest conditions for any people. When all the other quantities are considered in the light of His will and wisdom, they assume their proper proportions. Under the inspiration of the prophetic teaching, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the people, commenced their work again, and carried it through to completion. Opposition did not cease, but under the influence of the prophets their consciousness of relation to God had been renewed, and they went forward in spite of the challenge of their foes. The moral of national life is ever lifted to the highest degree of strength when there is a sense of right relationship with God.

Chapter 6

According to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
Ezra 6:14

The right of these men to build had been created by the decree of Cyrus. Tattenai, who was now opposing them as they resumed the work, either did not believe that such a decree had ever been promulgated, or considered that it could not be found. The elders of the Jews, the eye of their God being upon them, persisted in the work, and Tattenai appealed to Darius, that search should he made. That he should accede to such a request rather than exercise his immediate authority one way or the other, was in itself somewhat remarkable. He was as certainly the instrument of God as Cyrus had been in issuing the decree originally. That the search was a thorough one is indicated in the statement as to where the roll was found. The search naturally commenced in the house of the archives at Babylon, but it was not there. It was found at Achmetha in the royal palace. It is easy to realize how easily this might not have been found. If such a document was not in the proper libraries, what more natural than to abandon the search? But under Divine compulsion that search was prosecuted until the decree was found, and the elders were vindicated. Later, another royal decree, that of Artaxerxes, made possible the coming of Ezra, and the beginning of a new spiritual movement.

Chapter 7

A ready scribe.
Ezra 7:6

This phrase, descriptive of Ezra, is full of interest, as it is connected with the emergence of a new order in the life of the nation, that, namely, of the Scribes, which continued through four centuries, and was found in strength numerically, but in degeneracy spiritually, in the times of our Lord's earthly ministry. It is a good thing to study it at the fountain-head. During the time of the monarchy of the United Kingdom, a scribe was a royal secretary. During the later period of the disrupted kingdom, the scribes had become men whose business it was to copy and to study the laws of the nation. With Ezra a new order began. The scribes now became men whose chief business was to interpret the Law, and to apply it to all the changing conditions of life, and the new circumstances constantly arising. As messengers of the will of God, they took the place of the prophets, with this difference: instead of receiving new revelations, they explained and applied the old. Of this new order, Ezra was at once the founder and type. The word "ready" does not apply to his pen, but to his mind. He was expert in exposition and application of the Law. The qualifications for such work are very clearly set out in the statement made concerning him in the tenth verse of this chapter. He "set his heart to seek ... to do ... to teach."

Chapter 8

I was ashamed to ask of the king.
Ezra 8:22

These words constitute a fine revelation of the quiet strength and true greatness of this man, Ezra. The journey before him and those who were about to accompany him was full of peril. He was keenly conscious of these perils, and yet would not ask help of an earthly king, however well-disposed that king might be. He said he was ashamed to do so, because he had boasted to that king of the strength of his God That boast was by no means an empty one; and to this man, the matter of supreme importance was the honour of the name of his God in the mind of the king. The voluntary gifts of the king were welcome. They were expressions of the king's sense of the greatness of his God. These Ezra accepted with gratitude. It would have been quite another matter if he had asked the king to help him to do what he had declared God was able to do for him. To ask for soldiers would have been to make a tacit confession of some doubt in his own heart as to the ability or willingness of God to protect his enterprise. He had no such doubt, and therefore he made no such request. This is a fine illustration of the dependence and independence of those who put their confidence in God. God never fails those who act in full dependence on Himself, and so in complete independence of all others.

Chapter 9

I sat astonied until the evening oblation.
Ezra 9:4

On Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem the princes acquainted him with the failure and sin of the people. During the sixty years which had elapsed since the Return under Zerubbabel, there had been no return to idols, but there had been the wilful breaking of the law of God against inter-mixture with the peoples of the land, and the chief offenders had been the princes and the rulers. This picture of Ezra in presence of this confession is full of light. It is that of a man tempest-tossed with righteous indignation, and profound grief. As the storm of his passion subsided, in which he had rent his garments, and plucked off his beard, he sank into silent astonishment until the evening oblation. Then he fell upon his knees before God, and poured out his soul in prayer. The prayer is recorded. Beginning with his confession of personal shame, he gathered into his cry the whole of the people, identifying himself with them as he spoke of "our iniquities ... our guiltiness." He went back over all the history in contemplation as he knelt before God, and saw clearly that it had been one long story of failure and of consequent disaster. He then remembered and spoke of the grace of God as it had been manifested in the making possible of the return of the remnant through the favour of the kings of Persia. Then the surging sorrow of his heart concerning the new future found expression in free and full confession, until at last, without any petition for deliverance, he cast the people upon God, recognizing His righteousness and their inability to stand before Him. This is a revelation of the only attitude in which a man may become a mediator. He must first have a sense of sin. This is the outcome of the deeper sense of the righteousness and grace of God. It finds expression in a confession of sin in which he identifies himself with the sinners.

Chapter 10

Be of good courage and do it.
Ezra 10:4

The sincerity and passion of Ezra's vicarious repentance produced immediate results. The people had gathered about him during the long hours of the day, and it would seem that they were brought to a keen consciousness of the enormity of their sin as they saw how this man was affected thereby. At last one of their number, Shecaniah, spoke to him, acknowledging the sin and suggesting the remedy. In these words he urged Ezra to courageous action. It was true advice, and that for which Ezra had been waiting. He immediately responded, first calling them into sacred covenant, that they would put away the evil thing from among them; and then proceeding to lead them in the carrying out of that covenant along the line of strict and impartial justice and severity. All the marriages contracted with the women of the land were disannulled. By these drastic measures the people were brought back into the place of separation. How widespread the evil was, may be gathered from the list of the names with which the record closes. Priests, Levites, princes, rulers, and people had been guilty. None was exempt from the reformation, which was carried out with complete thoroughness. Such action is ever the true outcome, and only satisfactory expression, of sorrow over sin. The man who sets himself "to seek, to do, to teach" the law of God invariably brings himself into places where sorrow will be his portion, and intrepid courage necessary.