1 After these events, during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, Ezra—Seraiah’s son, Azariah’s son, Hilkiah’s son, 2 Shallum’s son, Zadok’s son, Ahitub’s son,3 Amariah’s son, Azariah’s son, Meraioth’s son, 4 Zerahiah’s son, Uzzi’s son, Bukki’s son, 5 Abishua’s son, Phinehas’s son, Eleazar’s son, Aaron the chief priest’s son 6 —came up from Babylon. He was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which Yahweh, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he requested because the hand of Yahweh his God was on him. 7 Some of the Israelites, priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants accompanied him to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. 8 Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, during the seventh year of the king. 9 He began the journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month and arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month since the gracious hand of his God was on him.10 Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Ezra was an ordinary man whom God chose to bless in extraordinary ways. He was favored and trusted by King Artaxerxes, even though the king was not of his same nationality and was not a follower of his God (Ezra 7:18). He was given great responsibility in a time of importance, and the king granted him anything he wanted.
The reason for all these things is that the hand of God was upon Ezra (v.6). God had chosen to bless him, “for Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” (NIV) Because of Ezra’s choices and lifestyle, he was rewarded with favor, purpose, and God’s presence. Verse 6 tells us that Ezra was a teacher well versed in the laws of Moses. He instructed others in the laws and truths of God –but he also followed those laws himself, and devoted himself to studying and practicing them in his own life.
To devote yourself to something means that you have set your heart on it (NAS). You have given it a place of central importance in your life, and have allowed it to shape who you are. In a literal sense, our heart is the thing that pumps blood to every other part of our body – it keeps us alive, and its function impacts everything we do. To set our heart on something figuratively means we have allowed our lives to be permeated, impacted, kept healthy and sustained by that thing. When Scripture says Ezra devoted himself to the study and observance of the law of the Lord, this shows how serious Ezra was about these things. He made them his life. He set his heart on them.
Ezra understood the value of studying the Scriptures, rather than just reading them occasionally. These were laws that had been spoken directly by God, to Moses – they were things that God thought important. Ezra diligently studied, in order to align his mind with God’s mind.
But he also understood that knowledge by itself was not enough. These laws were holy, and their fulfillment was motivated by a desire for righteousness. They required action and obedience. Ezra set his heart on obeying each of the laws that he knew and had studied, so he could align his ways with God’s ways. This type of devotion requires humility and discipline – but by doing both of these things together, Ezra was able to align his heart with God’s heart. And from that position of alignment with God he was able to teach others about what he knew to be true.
Personally, reading and studying are both things I enjoy and find to be enriching – but I know for many people studying is not fun at all! Because of that, I believe this spiritual discipline often overwhelms and gets disregarded. But it is vital to our continued development as believers in Christ, and the lack of it often halts our progress towards obedience to Christ in our personal lives. It is nearly impossible for me to put into action Scriptures I have not read, studied, and allowed my heart to become connected with in some way.
One way I study Scripture is by reading a passage of text in multiple Bible translations. For example, when I studied to write this devotional, I looked up Ezra 7:1-10 in three different translations – the New International Version, the New American Standard Version, and The Message Bible. The NIV says Ezra “devoted himself” to the study and observance of Scriptures – but the NAS describes it as Ezra setting his heart on those things. Both say the same thing, but evoke different emotions. This subtle shift in word-choice sometimes helps me to think about a passage differently.
Another way I study is by reading the entire context of a passage. Since today’s devotional was written from Ezra 7:1-10, I read a few chapters around this text – Ezra 6, 7, and 8. This helped me form a picture in my mind of what else was going on in the time this particular passage was written. Context is always a great thing to uncover when you’re studying the Scripture.
To study God’s Word and obey what it says will draw us close the heart of God. This is a discipline that is never wasted, and the time we devote to studying these things God has spoken will align our lives to receive the rich blessings He longs to give us.
- Due to the fast pace of our culture, we like things to be delivered to us concisely and without delay. But we must not study the Scriptures with the expectation of ease or speed. We must study the Scriptures with the intent of learning them – and this takes time.
- If you like to read, I would encourage you to always read the surrounding context of a particular passage of Scripture. Sometimes it won’t offer much insight, but most of the time it will! When you get ready to read your Bible, allow yourself time to read the verses around the one you are studying. It will help you see the main point of the passage, and it will mitigate your unintentionally confusing the meaning of the verse.
- Check out some new translations if you have been in the habit of only using one. My favorite is the New American Standard Bible, because its wording tends to be more poetic (especially in the Psalms and some of Paul’s letters in the New Testament). The Message Bible is good for broad overviews and practical application. Find out which one most resonates with you and the way you talk. It may help Scripture come alive more for you in your daily reading.