William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah,Ezra Chapter 7
In Ezra 7 we have a very important and fresh feature in this book, and that is the mission of Ezra, who comes, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, to visit the children of Israel. "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of Jehovah, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments" (Ezra 7:10). This is a most important thing, beloved brethren, for those who are in the place of the remnant now. It is not the vain asking for power - a great snare in a broken state of things. When the church began, it began with power, but now it is in a state of ruin. It is not power that we want, but self-judgment - self-judgment and the heart to obey - to do the will of God, which always goes along with self-judgment. Whereas the difference is this. If people think that the great want is power, they virtually throw the blame upon God. They say that there is such weakness now. "It is no use to meet together to worship the Lord or to do anything else: we have not power." Vain foolish thought! Most peculiarly so to those who know that the very essence of what God has wrought in the church is to send down the Holy Ghost to be therein for ever, and if the Holy Ghost be not power I know not what is. But, beloved friends, what we really want is faith in the power that we have got, instead of these murmurs and complaints, as if God had taken away the power, and as if our business was to go on in our own poor and wretched way crying out for power. Not so. What we have to do is to put our hand upon our mouth, and ourselves in the dust, and to take the place of real humiliation where there is that which hinders the action of the Spirit of God. But the great point is to seek in humiliation to do His will.
Some years ago there was a working among certain persons who bore the name of the Lord, and they took, formally, their position upon this need of power; and they cried to God for power At any rate they cried for power. What was the consequence? They got power; but I am persuaded that that power was really of the devil, and not of God; and although there seemed to be most remarkable things done, and even a sort of painful imitation of the gift of tongues, it was only a sham: it was a non-reality: it was of Satan. It began, and it ended too, with the most frightful departure from the truth of God, and the most complete dishonour that was ever put upon the name of the Lord up to that day. There never was such systematic dishonour of the Lord Jesus in the church, as far as I know, as that which took place as the result of all this. Whereas, beloved friends, what should characterise us - that true work of God in which, through the grace of God, we have our part, is this - not the crying out for power, and staying in disobedience till we get power, but ceasing from the evil, and seeking of God to learn to do well - the acknowledging of the sin of the church and of our own sin, in particular - our own failure, and separating, at once, according to the light that God gives us, from what we know to be offensive in His sight.
This was exactly what filled the heart of Ezra. He comes with his heart set upon doing the will of God. This is the great thing. "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of Jehovah and to do it and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe." On this I need not dwell. Ezra is empowered to act then; but the grand point, you observe, is the purpose of his heart to do the will of God. And this we are entitled to expect now, that is, our heart should be towards the Lord, as we find, for instance, was the case with the church in Philadelphia. How does the Lord introduce Himself to us there? What does He speak about His action? "I have set before thee an open door." He has power to open, and none can shut, and to shut, and none can open. But the way He here uses this power is to set before us an open door. In the book we are considering, king Artaxerxes is the figure of one that sets an open door before Ezra. Yes, but Ezra's heart was set to do the will of God. God works all outward circumstances, and opens the way when our heart inwardly is set to do the right thing in the sight of the Lord. We have no ground ever to complain of circumstances if only our heart be right with the Lord. The Lord can and will take care of all else.
What we, then, have to do is to judge ourselves. I am persuaded that this is the great want at the present moment of the remnant in Christendom, not to be asking for power which, if it were given, might be the ruin of us. We want rather ballast to carry the truth we have got than to have full sails to carry us (I fear) in a more uncomely way than we are even doing now. For do not we all know, beloved friends, that our knowledge is far beyond our grace; and do you think, that we want something more to make us top-heavy? I am persuaded the very contrary - that what we want is rather the spirit of self-judgment instead of giving ourselves greater airs than we are apt to assume even now. We should seek to carry the truth of God in lowliness of mind, and in love, and in a deep sense of our shortcomings. This is the thing which becomes us. This is what we ought to seek. Power in such a state of things would be ruinous to us, I am persuaded, and therefore I thank God that He is not pleased to give more power of that sort. What we need is the action of the Spirit in our self-judgment, and if that were the case our blessing would flow like a river.
The son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub,
The son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth,
The son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki,
The son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest:
This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.
And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king.
And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.
For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes to Israel.
Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time.
I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee.
Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellers, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand;
And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellers have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem,
And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem:
That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem.
And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the will of your God.
The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem.
And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king's treasure house.
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,
Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.
Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?
Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them.
And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not.
And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.
Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem:
And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellers, and before all the king's mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.