I have heard this told to me many times. Maybe you have heard others say it to you. Maybe you have thought this or said it yourself. “I just do not see God’s hand in my life.” “I do not see what God is doing.” “I feel like God is not with me.” I think everyone feels this way at various times in their lives. But Ezra 7-8 is going to show us God’s hand at work. The text is going to show us how to find and see the good hand of God.
Ezra 7 opens by telling us that about 60 years have gone. Sixty years is quite a long time. Sixty years is enough time that we are talking about a new generation and we are talking about a time when things can be very different from the past. If we do the math, 60 years ago for us would be all the way back in 1962. America was a very different place with a very different culture in 1962 than where it is right now. So it is important to keep this in mind. Even though we have gone forward only one chapter in the book of Ezra, we have fast forwarded 60 years, which is enough time to have new people and a new culture in place.
The next important piece of information is about a person named Ezra. What you will see is a genealogy for Ezra that extends all the way to verse 5. We like to skip genealogies but there are important reasons for their existence in the scriptures. This is a very important genealogy. As you trace through his lineage, please notice where it ends: son of Aaron, the chief priest. Ezra is not just a Levite, but he can trace his family bloodline all the way back to Aaron the high priest.
Preparing Self (7:1-10)
Not only does his bloodline show him to be from the line of priests, but great descriptions are given about him. Look at verse 6. Ezra was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses. But the important declaration is made at the end of verse 6. The king of Persia granted all that Ezra asked because the hand of the Lord his God was on him. Ezra has determined to made the journey to Jerusalem and some other Israelites want to join him. Ezra safely makes the journey “for the good hand of his God was on him” (7:9). Now notice the reason for God being with Ezra. Look at verse 10.
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)
The NASB 2020 reads that Ezra firmly resolved to study the Law of the Lord. The CSB reads that Ezra determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord. The NIV reads that Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord. The NET reads that Ezra dedicated himself to the study of the law of the Lord. I want us to see this picture of Ezra. He devoted himself and dedicated himself to study God’s law, to do God’s law, and teach God’s law. Friends, is there a better decision you can make today? Is there a better thing to do with your time? Is there a better thing to devote yourself for?
I want you to notice that in this paragraph, verses 1-10, the text twice records that the good, gracious hand of God was on Ezra. Why was the good hand of God on him? Because Ezra had prepared himself for God. Ezra prepared himself. Ezra prepared his heart. Ezra prepared his life. Ezra gave himself to studying God’s law, to doing God’s law, and to teaching God’s law.
Looking For God’s Hand (7:11-28)
Verses 11-26 record a copy of the letter that the king of Persia gave to Ezra for his return to Jerusalem. The letter records a second exodus from Persia being authorized. Anyone of the people of Israel may freely go back to Jerusalem (7:13). The decree includes sending money and resources back with Ezra. Also the decree is made to the treasurer beyond the river to provide whatever the God of heaven needs (7:21-23). Ezra is authorized to appoint judges in the area to apply God’s law, requiring all of Israel to obey it. But I want us to see what Ezra says about this in verses 27-28.
Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me. (Ezra 7:27–28 ESV)
Ezra credits all of it to God. All of the success is given to God. Ezra recognizes that God has moved the heart of the king to send Ezra back to do the work. Ezra believed that the hand of the Lord was on him which gave him the courage to go to Jerusalem and do the work. What Ezra is able to do is look at the good things that were happening in his life and attribute them to the good hand of God. It is an interesting phenomenon that we go through. When things go bad, we are often ready and willing to blame God for our difficulties. But when things go well, we are often ready and willing to credit ourselves and not God. We fail to see the good hand of God because we are not looking for it. Ezra does not credit himself. He does not think of himself as a great priest or great teacher or great student as the reason why the king has given him the ability to return to Jerusalem. Ezra recognizes that it is all God.
Preparing Others and Humbling Ourselves (8:1-36)
Ezra 8 opens by recording the number of people who returned with Ezra to Jerusalem (8:1-14). But Ezra observes a problem before they leave Persia in verse 15. None of the people who returned were Levites. So Ezra sends for the leaders of the people and tells them that they need servants for the house of God (8:17). You will notice again that Ezra completely depends on the Lord. In verse 18 he says that the gracious hand of God was on us and so Levites were brought out to go with the people to work at the temple in service to the Lord. Ezra calls the people to leave their comfort zones and leave their Persian lives to go do the work before them.
But the important way this all comes about it recorded in verses 21-23. Ezra proclaims a fast that they might humble themselves before their God. Ezra sees that there is a long journey ahead and a great work that needs to be accomplished. Before they can do anything and before they set out, they turn to the Lord. They humble themselves before the Lord through fasting and prayer. Now Ezra points out that there was a really important reason for needing God’s good hand. Look at what he says in verse 22. Ezra says that he did not want to ask the king for protection in their travels because he had proclaimed the goodness and righteousness of God to the king. He told the king this great truth:
The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.
Ezra is saying that he wanted to prove his faith in God before the king. He wanted to show the truth of his faith. God’s good hand will be on all who seek him and his wrath will be against all who forsake him. So verse 23 records that the people fasted and implored God for this and God listened. They believed God would provide. They believed that God would give them what they needed. They believed that if they devoted themselves to the work that God would be with them. It is a beautiful picture. Ezra says we need servants and God is going to be with us because we are devoting our lives to him. Our lives are in God’s hands. Ezra wanted all to see that God would take care of them.
I want you to think about how many times you have seen the good hand of God in this way. Have you ever told someone that God was going to take care of you? Have you ever told others that God would take care of them? But I do not mean in just a flippant way to say something encouraging. What I mean is in the way that Ezra does. Ezra humbles himself and looks to God in complete dependence before they make their journey, believing God will be with them. How many times have you seen God do this?
But let me flip the question the other direction. How many times have we done what Ezra did? How many times have we humbled ourselves before God, in complete poverty of spirit and recognition of God’s sovereign power, and asked for God’s help before going forward in a decision or direction in life? How many times have we even done this to start our day? Ezra is showing us that we will see the good hand of God when we humble ourselves before him in every aspect of our lives. Start your day humbling yourself before God. Humble yourself before making decisions. We show our humility when we seek God first for our day rather than only coming to him when we are in trouble.
The Good Hand of God
The repetition found in these two chapters is the good hand of God. There are three key principles that we have observed in these two chapters about the good hand of God. First, Ezra devoted himself to studying God’s law, doing God’s law, and teaching God’s law. If we want to see the good hand of God, we must devote ourselves to God. Why would expect to see the good hand of God and experience in our lives when we devote ourselves to so many things other than studying, doing, and teaching God’s word?
Second, Ezra looked for the good hand of God and attributed all the good he experienced to God. Do we do this? Do we attribute all of our good to God’s hand or to our own hand? Paul reminded the Corinthians:
What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV)
What do we act like is because of ourselves and not received from God? Perhaps we have missed so many things in our lives that is God showing his good hand toward you. Look for the good hand of God actively working in your life.
Third, we need to humble ourselves to see the good hand of God. We must show that we are depending on God’s hand and not our own. Ezra had courage because he saw God’s hand at work. He did the work because he knew that God was with him. In the same way, God is with us if we will humble ourselves, devote ourselves to him, and look for God’s good hand.