Leadership in Ezra
Whenever the people of God find themselves in disarray, there arises a need for proactive, bold, and God honoring leadership. The days of Ezra are a time such as this. The period of Ezra is marked by the rebuilding of both the physical temple as well as the spiritual wellbeing of God’s people. God, in his surprising providence, has given the Israelites a way back home under the reigns of favorable Persian kings like Cyrus (600-530BC), and Artaxerxes (465-424BC). He has put “such a thing into the heart of the king” (Ezra 7:27). In Ezra 7, we see the numerous blessings God gives to his people including great wealth, resources, political protection, and blessing from the most powerful empire on the earth. Yet more valuable than these, he gives the people leaders to guide them.
What qualities mark Ezra as a leader? How is it that he could so effectively steer God’s people back to covenant faithfulness? Let me offer two reasons:
First, Ezra was “skilled in the law of Moses” (7:6). He had a deep appreciation for, and a profound knowledge of the word of God. But it goes much further than this. For Ezra, the word of God was not something to be admired from afar. Merely an ideal never to be reached. Instead, Ezra was “skillful” in the law. That word indicates quick and decisive action. It pictures a man who is ready, equipped, and prepared to act in every circumstance. Being skilled in God’s word kept Ezra from two great errors. First, he did not hesitate unnecessarily. Of course, we must always be cautious in our acts, but we must never be indecisive. Ezra could be quick to action because he knew the powerful truth of God’s word. For example, God had prophesied through Jeremiah that the exile would end after 70 years. Ezra had witnessed God's fulfillment of the prophesy firsthand and knew that whatever is spoken of in God's word is sure and true. Second, knowing God’s word kept Ezra from foolish actions. Decisiveness without direction is dangerous. Zeal that is unguided will only bring disaster. Ezra would fall into neither error, but instead would lead by God’s command. It is for this reason that Ezra insists on being a lifelong learner and teacher of God’s word. “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” (7:10). What a blessing it would be for God to give us leaders such as this, who insist on sitting under his word, always learning, and always growing; Leaders who will feed the sheep from that same bountiful feast.
Second, Ezra carried with him a conviction that he would be used greatly by God, only if he walked by faith and entrusted himself to God. Ezra relied on no human strength. Like Paul, he showed forth God’s strength in his own weakness (2 Cor 12:9). At the end of Chapter 7, Ezra comments on God’s faithfulness:
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 7:27-29)
Ezra had a certain conviction of God’s providence in his life. He longed to see God’s will be done, and he gave himself wholly to that plan. Notice that he is not confident in his own strength, but rather in the revealed will of God. Ezra sees how God is acting and fulfilling his word, and how he is being drawn in to be used of God. In that knowledge he takes courage and moves from faith to action.
What would it look like if Christians today lived like this? That we not only knew the promises of God but also expected the fulfillment? That we not only knew God was working in the world, but that he was working in our midst and in our church? What if we by faith entrusted ourselves to that work of God? What if we pleaded with God to let us join him in his glorious plans? What if we had leaders today doing this? What if we had more Godly pastors, teachers, and shepherds who zealously pursued the glory of God by seeking to do his will? There is only one way to know. Pray for wise leaders in the church, who are skillful in God’s word, and convinced in the strength of almighty God. And pray for many to imitate them.