EZRA 7:1 – 8:36 and ACTS 19:1–41
Ezra is one of my favourite Bible Characters and chapter 7 of Ezra is one of my favourite all time chapters. This chapter advances forward by about 50 years from the previous ones. We are introduced to Ezra as a priest who comes forth from the line of Zadok. We remember that Zadok was the faithful priest of King David even at the time of his death when Abiathar and other prominent leaders sided with Adonijah the usurper. Zadok can trace his lineage to Eleazar who was one of the four sons of Aaron. The line of Eleazar was given the promise of an eternal priesthood as a result of Phinehas’s actions at the time of Balaam (Num 25:13). Ezra represents (in my opinion) the type of priesthood that must emerge in these pivotal days. His ministry was one that brought instruction and order to the work of the restorers. The ministry of the teaching priest is epitomised through this man. A brief lineage is recorded concerning Ezra in verses 1-5 which indicates that he is a son of Zadok (vs 2) as well as a son of Phineas and Aaron (vs 5). The sons of Zadok are highlighted in Ezekiel 44. If one were to examine verses 15-31 of Ezekiel 44 they would see a clear portrayal of the type of priest that Ezra was.
In verse 6 we see that Ezra was a man who came up from Babylon. Once again we call to mind the promise of God as spoken by Jeremiah the prophet in Jer 24:6-7. Those who accepted the message of Babylon would be those who would one day return and be planted by the Lord. No man would be able to pluck them up and they would have a heart that would know God. Ezra is a product of that verse from Jeremiah. He was a ready scribe in the Law of Moses; he was a man who also experienced great favour from the king. We saw a similar favour upon the earlier restorers as well. The favour of God and man is a last day anointing that will prove pivotal in seeing the purposes of God established; to see His kingdom done on earth as decreed in heaven. It is an anointing that comes with a price since it will not be given to just any man. It is given to a person whose heart and ways are pleasing to God. Ezra was such a man. In verse 10 it says of Ezra that he prepared his heart to seek after the Law of the Lord and to do it. Is God’s law elevated in the church today? Sadly, it is being diminished and redefined mostly due to a false application of grace. It may be good to again post a quick definition of God’s Law that may prove helpful. The Law of God can be defined in three ways:
1) It defines who God really is.
2) It defines man, primarily in his inability to keep the Law.
3) The Law gives strength to sin. The more you embrace and come to understand the law of God the greater awareness you will have of sin. This will be picked up in future commentaries. We also see from Ezra 7:10 that Ezra taught God’s Law and statutes to Israel. We need such teachers today.
In verses 11-21 the King (Artaxerxes) gives a profound commandment in making sure that Ezra has everything he needs in the rebuilding of God’s house. This is a heathen king literally giving Ezra unlimited access to anything that would be needed. Why would God allow such a blessing and such favour to come upon this priest? It is because he is fulfilling God’s heart completely. Ezra is a priest who can be trusted. He is in the position of standing in God’s stead. This is what a true priest does. He is teaching the pure Word of God by upholding His Laws and commandments. God moves upon the heart of this king to open the fullness of the kingdom to him. We will later see Nehemiah having this same honour and privilege. We should take special note in how the King makes his decree as seen from verse 21.
And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily.”
In verse 23 we do see that there was a measure of the Fear of the Lord upon the King. The king goes on to tell Ezra to appoint magistrates and judges throughout the land that will know the Laws of God and to teach the others who do not know the Law. The king also gives instruction to execute swift judgement upon the ones who do not the Laws of God. What a beautiful blessing and privilege that is being placed upon this wonderful man known as Ezra. He thanks the Lord for putting such a wonderful thing into the heart of the king. Ezra knew that this was all God’s doing; he is humble and yet resolute in carrying through in his ministry. Can you see why this ranks as one of my favourite chapters in the Word of God?
There are some fascinating incidents in this chapter which again speak to the greatness of Ezra. In verses 1-14 we see a genealogy of people who came up out of Babylon. There was a lack of ministers for the house of God which posed a problem from Ezra. God was faithful to supply a faithful group from the sons of Mahli, who was a Levite. There was Sherebiah with his sons and brethren. There were also a group of Nethinims whom David had appointed at one time who were found and used for the service. In verse 21 Ezra proclaimed a fast due to an enemy that was coming against them. Ezra could have sought help from the king for help and would have probably received help from him. Ezra proclaimed the Lord’s ability to deliver against any enemy and felt it would be a reproach in asking for the king’s help. This could well be one of the primary qualities that distinguished Ezra from others. Most would probably seek the resources of man (king) to go to help in battle. King Asa made this mistake in his later years after putting in many godly reforms in the early years of his reign. Ezra walked in the Fear of the Lord and felt to take the matter to God through prayer and fasting. The Lord heard his prayer and moved on their behalf.
Ezra then appointed and separated 12 chief priests and brought before them the weighed portion of gold and silver as well as other precious items of the house of the Lord. Ezra stated that they and the vessels were consecrated and holy unto the Lord. There were enemies that stood in their path while they trekked to Jerusalem but the Lord protected them along the way (vs 31). They arrived safely in Jerusalem and brought their possessions to the house of the Lord for sacrifice. The process of restoration is not an immediate one but we can see the things of God coming back into order and alignment. Israel now has a true teaching priest who knows well the heart of God and is capable in representing God to the people. We will see Ezra function as a priest on behalf of the people to God in the ensuing chapters.
Paul comes through Ephesus once again and asks some of the disciples there as to whether they had received the Baptism of the Holy Ghost since they believed. Personally, I feel these few verses (vs 2-6) help give the best definition and distinction between the Baptism of John unto Repentance and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. There are two different baptisms that are clearly stated here. Paul references the words of John the Baptist when he said that there would be one greater than him who would come baptizing in the Holy Ghost and in fire (Math 3:11-12). Paul then laid hands upon these few disciples and they immediately spoke in other tongues and prophesied (vs 6). Soon afterwards he did what he always did; he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly concerning the things of the kingdom. As at other times there were those who opposed the teachings and created a stir amongst the people. Paul took initiative to do something somewhat new to counter this constant threat while catering to those who truly sought to grow in the matters of the kingdom. He started teaching the disciples in the school of Tyrannus. I liken this to a Bible School where people can gather for an intensive and deliberate period of spiritualized growth.
In verse 10 we see that Paul continued here for a period of about two years (vs 10). I like to use this verse whenever I first address a Bible School Class. I ask the question as to what it must have been like to sit under the Apostle Paul for about two years. I especially like to refer to this verse whenever I teach from the Book of Colossians. There were many future leaders who sat under Paul while he was teaching at Ephesus. There was a man named Epaphras who was the founder of the Colossian church. There are some who surmise that Epaphras would have been among those who heard Paul at Ephesus and was greatly impacted by his teaching. If true, it helps to give further credence to the importance of Bible Schools. This was a new strategy for Paul as opposed to going to other places and ministering solely in synagogues. No doubt his ministry had great merits while preaching and teaching in the public arenas. The ability to dedicate himself solely to intentional students in a constant atmosphere of prayer and Bible Study would surely provide future long term fruit.
In addition to this teaching ministry Paul was greatly used in the miraculous in both healings and deliverances (vs 11-12). A good Bible School program should consist of all of these features. An intense teaching, study and taking in of the Word of God. This will allow for faith to be developed (Rom 10:8, 10, 17) whereby God can move in the supernatural. We need to be careful in making sure that these areas are in balance since there is can be an over-emphasis on one area at the expense of the other. The Word must take the pre-eminence seeing that the Lord Jesus is the Living Word.
There were a group of men who observed Paul and the miracles he was able to do. They sought to duplicate these supernatural acts for themselves. This group are known as the 7 sons of Sceva, referring to a man who was a chief of the priests of the Jews. There is an interesting exchange that takes place between the evil spirit and these men which should prove insightful to those who look to be involved in deliverance ministry or in the gifts of the Spirit. The kingdom of darkness knows who you are and knows the level of authority that you possess. They knew the authority in Jesus and in Paul but there was no such authority in these men. These men were then overtaken by this evil spirit and fled naked and wounded from where they were gathered. The gifts of God cannot be merchandised and we need to be sure as to the source of any spiritual movement. Discernment is essential in this day and hour where spiritual activity is heightening by the day. This incident became known whereby many of the people burned their books and any evil possession. The Fear of the Lord grew and many more came into the kingdom. The more the persecution the more the Gospel message spread forth. Paul was now contemplating what his next move would be. He purposed to go back to Jerusalem and then go onto Rome.
The gospel message continued to gain traction with the reputation of Paul becoming more known amongst the people. He was becoming a greater threat throughout regions in Asia to those who made a living in the realms of idolatry. There was a well-known silversmith by the name of Demetrius who made silver shrines unto Diana, who was a goddess to many people. This is how the wealth of many was maintained. It is easy to see how stirred and worked up these men and merchandisers would be. Think about the modern day versions of Diana’s today. Much of the world’s economy caters itself to things that promote idolatry at the expense of seeking after the living God. Today’s idolatry is not limited to images alone but can be applied to entertainment and many other outlets. Strong preaching and the promotion of the Gospel poses a direct challenge to these modern day Demetrius’s who will not take too kindly to such threats in their area of domain. How will we the church respond to this? How are we responding? The people and the cities around them were filled with wrath and cried out in support of Demetrius and the goddess Diana that they worshipped (vs 28). The situation became tense and was about to get out of hand. A man by the name of Alexander was brought forth by the Jews, not a Christian, who would heap further scorn upon Paul and those with him. A town clerk, a man who had great influence and authority came forward and pacified the crowd. He stated that these men had not blasphemed their goddess nor had they robbed their churches. He made clear that it was a matter that could be taken to the courts according to their law. This town clerk is a figure that God can work through to help bring sanity to unruly mobs. We need to see such people in prominent positions of the world today. They tend not to be believers but they are reasoned enough to help ensure that matters of contention can be resolved civilly. These town clerks are aware of the reputation of their respective areas of jurisdiction and help to maintain a peace and calm. They can be instruments of the Lord at crucial times as seen in this account in the Acts.