A Meditation on the Book of Ezra
F. A. Hughes.
Revival! What hopeful desires engage our thoughts as we contemplate such a word! How our hearts long to see affections stimulated in loyalty and devotion to Christ and to the truth of His Word! Not spectacular movements of outward greatness, but our prayers mingling with that of Ezra "that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving" (Ezra 9:8). Conditions in Ezra's day were similar in a moral sense to those obtaining now — God's throne was no longer established in Jerusalem, His rights were disowned; His people scattered and in captivity; His laws disobeyed and His Name dishonoured. Repeatedly He had pleaded with and warned His people visiting them in mercy; but although there had been, from time to time, some partial response to His goodness, in general His overtures were refused. Are not these features of departure around us today? Where once the power and light of God's words were treasured that word is now mutilated and rejected; the rights of Christ as Lord are ignored; the teaching and authority of the Spirit of God called in question, and the power of darkness has spread like a canker over the sphere of christendom. Captivity and scattering abound!
In such circumstances one may well ask with the Psalmist — "Whence shall my help come? My help cometh from Jehovah" (Psalm 121 N. Trans.). There is no vain repetition in the 26 verses of Psalm 136. The peculiar nature of the opposition demanded the intervention of God Himself, not only in sovereign mercy to His people, but for the glory of His Name. The adversaries of Judah and Benjamin must be overthrown! The enemy would if possible silence the praise of God (Judah) and becloud the vision of the glorious Man of God's right hand (Benjamin). Thus God acts, His goodness to His people is manifested. "The king's heart (albeit a Gentile monarch) in the hand of Jehovah is as brooks of water; He turneth it whithersoever He will" (Proverbs 21:1 N. Trans.). Shall not streams of help and refreshing meet His people's dire need? Blessed be His Name! His praise shall continue; the glory of the risen Christ shall shine before His people's vision, and if for the moment praise is silent in Zion, and His earthly people see no beauty in Christ to desire Him, let us adoringly appreciate the privileges which are open to us in His marvellous grace. The day of Israel's complete restoration will yet be seen — the blowing of the trumpets in the seventh month is indicative of their full recovery.
The favourable attitude of Cyrus (under the hand of God) brings earnest men to light, amongst them "Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren" (chapter 3). Hidden in their names are the dual thoughts of 'righteousness' and 'seeking God'. How essential are these features if revival is to be experienced — the rights of God, what is due to His Name, treasured in hearts that have constant recourse to His presence for help. Whilst these men undoubtedly appreciated the favourable attitude of Cyrus, we learn from Haggai that the source of strength for the work was "they feared the Lord" (Haggai 1:12-15). It is here that wisdom, strength, and protection are to be found.
Their first activity was to "build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God" (Ezra 3). By all human standards this would appear to be a rather unusual procedure. The walls and gates of the city were in ruins — the house of God had been completely destroyed — would it not be wiser to repair these before embarking upon building the altar? The significance of the "walls" and the "house" is not to be lightly regarded, therein are embodied truths of vital importance to believers in these days. But the "altar of burnt offerings" speaks of that which is intrinsically precious to God. It speaks (in its anti-type) of One blessed Man who, in a scene ruined by the self-will of man, stood with unswerving devotion to the will of His God — even to death. Beloved brethren, if we long for conditions amongst the people of God which yield joy to His own blessed heart, then it is vital that Christ should have the first place in our affections — only thus will our priorities be right! all else must be built up on this. The fundamental truth of the "walls," the exquisite preciousness of that which they enclose; and the atmosphere of the house of God redolent with the preciousness and fragrance of "Christ, as Son" (Hebrews 3:6), will be the more intelligently pursued as Christ Himself has the place of pre-eminence in our hearts.
A right apprehension of the glory of Christ will result in a true appraisal of one's self. In Ezra 7 Ezra himself comes on the scene — of priestly heritage, a ready scribe who recognised the law of Moses as expressive of the rights of God (v. 6); one who had "directed his heart to seek the law of Jehovah and to do it"; one whose conduct in the presence of the king was such as to call forth the testimony — "Ezra the priest, an accomplished scribe of the law of God." He could recognise him too as one in whose hand was the wisdom of God (v. 25). What qualifications! What moral worth! and yet, withal, what lowliness of mind, what self-effacement, what contrition of spirit! The rending of clothes; his personal confession in regard of the general failure of the people; his feeling of shame for the dishonour brought to the Name of God, and outstandingly his appreciation of the "evening oblation." What positive help such features are amongst the saints of God in a day of confusion and breakdown. Do we wonder that his very name means — "help"? Let us, dear brethren, consider the motives and desires of such a help. Associating himself with the "remnant" he requests that God would give them "a little reviving," and asks that they might be given a nail "in His holy place." The word "nail" is really "tent peg" — a small somewhat insignificant article in an almost out-of-sight position — but how vital to the safety of the structure! In Exodus 27 we learn that the tent pegs were to be made of brass (copper) — and it has been pointed out that such Scriptures as Deuteronomy 33:25 and Jeremiah 15:20 etc. would indicate copper as having ability to endure. What endurance is needed if one is to be maintained in a spirit of self-judgment and contented obscurity with the unselfish objective of helping the saints. 1 Corinthians 12 should help us to value and desire the gift of "helps." "God has set certain in the assembly … helps." The verb "set" is in the middle voice, reflexive, "set for Himself." How precious such a service — the saints helped and refreshed and the heart of God rejoiced. "They furthered the people, and the house of God."
Inevitably the enemy will seek to prevent any feature of revival amongst the people of God — but as in Ezra's day so also now the power of the prophetic word is available to all who seek it — "Then spake Haggai the LORD'S messenger in the LORD'S message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD."
The full recovery of God's earthly people awaits its consummation but the word of God is sure — "Thus saith Jehovah … Jerusalem shall be called The City of truth; and … The holy mountain … and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness" (Zechariah 8). Thus the church too, in spite of all its outward breakdown and apparent ruin, shall yet be presented by Christ "to Himself a glorious Church … holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5). Blessed indeed to have, under the hand of our Lord, any part however small, in serving so great a people! It is said of Apollos that he "helped them much which had believed through grace." How? He shewed from the Scriptures the glory of Christ! (Acts 18:27-28).
Whatever may be the significance of the "two vessels of shining copper, precious as gold" (Ezra 8:27) how good to see them coming to light in such a day! Copper! like gold! "Glorify now then God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:20); (cf. also 2 Corinthians 3:3, 18).