Daily Reflections January 7, 2017
In chapter 7 we finally meet Ezra the character. Up until this point in the narrative Ezra has not yet appeared in his story. There were multiple waves of immigrants coming out from Babylon/Persia and resettling in the land of Israel and Ezra was not part of the first wave, though he obviously interviewed people who were. I’ve always loved how Ezra is introduced:
He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him. (Ezra 7:6 ESV)
For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. (Ezra 7:10 ESV)
Ezra seems like a man I would like to know.
He was commissioned by Artaxerxes to teach the people the law of God in the land of Israel. Persia had a very different policy toward subject peoples then had Babylon. Babylon and Assyria before them had gone with the divide, crush and conquer approach often taking defeated people from one place and transplanting them to another. Persia wanted people in their own lands, worshipping their own gods and growing in prosperity. They figured that happy, fat, rich, fulfilled people would be easier to rule and tax in the long run. Whatever the motivation, Ezra found himself being commissioned and funded for religious service by the King of Persia. Fittingly he says:
Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king (Ezra 7:27 ESV)
Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is one of the longest discourses in the New Testament. In it he argues that God had repeatedly sent the Jews prophets whom they rejected. He is making the case that it is not Jesus who wavered from the true path - it is them! They have been rebelling against God since the beginning; and now, to top it all off, they have rejected and murdered their Messiah - unless they repent they can expect nothing but judgment from Almighty God! As you might imagine, his sermon was not well received. They shut their ears, they ground their teeth, they dragged him outside the city and they stoned him to death. Thus Stephen became the first martyr of the Christian church.
At the stoning and giving his approval, was the Apostle Paul - known then as Saul the Pharisee. He will take up the task of persecuting the early church until his own conversion in chapter 9 - more on that later.
Pastor Paul Carter