Living under the Good Hand of God

J. Gary Ellison • Tuesday, 2 March 2021 • JBI Chapel

ESV Ezra 7:1–10 — 1 Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2 son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3 son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4 son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5 son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest— 6 this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him. 

7 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 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.

We read of Ezra in verse 9 that “the good hand of his God was on him.” I would like that to be true of me. Perhaps it has been said of you. Perhaps you are here at Joy Bible Institute because someone said of you, “The hand of the Lord is on that young man.” Or, “The hand of the Lord is on that young woman.”

In Ezra chapters 6, 7, and 8, we read six times that the hand of the LORD was on Ezra. It will help us to understand what the Lord’s hand of blessing produced in Ezra’s life.

We first learn that Ezra was from a long line of priests, going all the way back to Aaron, but his life did not begin in Israel. Ezra was a child of the exile, born in the Persian empire.

You know the story of Abraham and how God promised to make of him a great nation. But the descendants of Abraham found themselves as slaves in Egypt for 430 years. They were delivered by Moses. This was followed by 40 years in the wilderness, several hundred years under the judges. Then God gave them a king. Three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon, reigned for 120 years. 

Then the kingdom was divided between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom last 210 years before God judged them for their idolatry. The kingdom of Judah lasted 325 years. The prophet Jeremiah warned the people that they must repent of their idolatry, but they would not. They trusted in the temple. They claimed that God would not allow His own temple to be destroyed. “Long God yumi stanup!”

But that was not true. God sent the King Nebuchadnezzar and Babylonians to carry the people off to Babylon. Daniel and the three Hebrew, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were taken. Ezekiel was taken. For 70 years Israel was in exile in Babylon. By then, the Persians had conquered the Babylonians. King Cyrus gave permission for the Jews to return, but many stayed.

When we read this passage in Ezra, nearly 80 more years had passed. People like Ezra were born in Babylon, in the Persian Empire. Many were happy to stay in Persia. Ezra had been very successful, rising to a place of great prominence in the administration of King Artaxerxes. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible states that he was the “Secretary of State for Jewish Affairs” in the Persian empire.[1] We read in verse 6,

ESV Ezra 7:6 — this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.

Back to Jerusalem: Authorization to Lead a Group of Exiles

Chapter 7:11-26 contains a long letter from King Artaxerxes authorizing Ezra to make the journey from Babylonia to Jerusalem. The king sends Ezra with offerings of silver and gold from the king’s treasury. The letter protects Ezra from any taxes and gives him and all those with him free passage to Jerusalem. So Ezra blesses the Lord because His hand was upon him:

ESV Ezra 7:27–28 — 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.

Needed Ministers for the House of God (8:1-21)

Ezra chapter 8 gives details about preparing for the journey. Ezra the scribe was very detail oriented. He made a list of all the families going up with him, but he noticed that there were no Levites. 

ESV Ezra 8:15 — I gathered them to the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the sons of Levi.

There were no ministers among those who were to return to Jerusalem! Life had been good in Persia. They had prospered. They had good paying jobs. They had nice homes. Life was good! Why leave? Why go someone else? Why bother?

  • Why should Ezra leave his position as Secretary of State for Jewish Affairs? 
  • What a contrast between Ezra of the tribe of Levi and the other Levites, the lazy Levites in the land of Persia!

The temptation to live for this world is ever present with us. We get a good education, a good job, and nice house, and that’s what we want. Who cares about Jerusalem? Who cares about the islands? Life is good!

We are always looking for students who have the hand of the Lord on their lives. We look for students who have the call of God on their lives. Students come, telling us that they are called of God. They are recommended by their pastors. But only God knows the heart. Some don’t even finish. Some finish and never go into ministry. Some start in ministry and they find some position in a business or government position. Life is good! Who needs to think about the villages and islands and places where ministers are needed?

Ezra sent some leading men, men of insight to request, “Send us ministers for the house of our God.”

ESV Ezra 8:16–18 — Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of insight, and sent them to Iddo, the leading man at the place Casiphia, telling them what to say to Iddo and his brothers and the temple servants at the place Casiphia, namely, to send us ministers for the house of our God. And by the good hand of our God on us…

258 ministers and temple servants were sent “by the good hand of our God on us.”

Jesus told us to pray for workers:

ESV Matthew 9:37–38 — Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Divine protection on the journey (Ezra 8:22-31)

Then there was the journey. It would take four months to make the journey from Babylonia to Jerusalem. It was a long journey. It was a dangerous journey. They would be carrying much silver and golden. They would be targeted by warring tribes along the way.

Ezra was in a position where he could have asked the king for protection. He could have asked for soldiers and horsemen to protect them, but he was embarrassed. 

ESV Ezra 8:21–23 — Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “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.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

ESV Ezra 8:31 — Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way.

The Hand of the Lord: The Hand of Blessing and Grace

We recognize that the hand of the Lord is upon Ezra to bless him. We recognize that this was the grace of God. It was not earned or merited. It was the grace of God:

  • The king’s favor
  • The needed ministers
  • The safe journey back to Jerusalem

It was all of grace.

John Newton wrote the famous hymn “Amazing Grace.” 

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come:
’tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.

You are here because God’s grace has brought you here. You are here because the hand of the Lord has been upon you.

And yet, there is an explanation for God’s grace. Notice 7:9. Verse 9 tells us that they safely arrived in Jerusalem in four months.

ESV Ezra 7:9–10 — For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 

Verse 9 tells us that the good hand of the Lord was on Ezra. Verse 10 tells us why the good hand of the Lord was on Ezra:

ESV Ezra 7:10 — 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.

Notice the word “For”. That word prepares us to understand why God’s gracious hand was upon Ezra. Ezra had set his heart to do three things:

Ezra set his heart…

1.   To Study the Law of the LORD.

ESV Ezra 7:10 — 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.

We read in verse 6 that Ezra “was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses.”

In verse 12, King Artaxerxes addresses Ezra as “the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven.”

Ezra knew the Scriptures. How is it that he knew the Scriptures? He had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD. He read. He studied. He memorized. He meditated. He was like the man of Psalm 1:

ESV Psalm 1:2 — but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

You see, there are things that a Bible school could never do for you and there are things that God will never do for you. No one can study for you, and God will not read and study the Bible for you. He has given you the Word that you may know Him and know His will.

CSB 1 Peter 2:2 — 2 Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow up into your salvation,

NLT 1 Peter 2:2 — 2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment,

The desire of his life was to know the Word of God.

He had set his heart to study the Scriptures.

2.    To do it.

Second, Ezra had set his heart to do it. “He did not want merely to learn the Bible; he wanted to live it.[2]” He studied the Word in order to put it into practice.

  • He made it his goal to love the LORD his God with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might (Deuteronomy 6:5).
  • He kept the Ten Commandments.
  • He searched the Scriptures to know what God expected of him.
  • He put the Scriptures into practice.

We have courses here at JBI that are designed to help you grow as a Christian. It is not enough to learn about prayer; we must pray. It is not enough to learn about faith; we must exercise our faith.  We must apply ourselves to the Word and then apply the Word to ourselves.

ESV Psalm 40:8 — 8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

3.    To Teach It

Third, Ezra set his heart to teach the Lord’s “statutes and rules in Israel.”

It was not enough for him to study it and to do it; Ezra set his heart to teach the Scripture to others. 

But notice where he wanted to teach God’s Word. 

  • Verse 6: “this Ezra went up from Babylonia.”
  • Verse 8: “And Ezra came to Jerusalem…”
  • Verse 9: “he began to go up from Babylonia, and… he came to Jerusalem…”
  • Verse 10: “For Ezra had set his heart… to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

While Ezra was still living in Babylonia, he had set his heart on teaching God’s Word in Israel. He wanted the whole nation to be transformed by the Word of God.

Where do you want to share God’s Word? Some of you will go to new islands, new places. Some of you have come to return to your home island to share the message of God’s salvation.

We find Ezra teaching the Word of God in Nehemiah 8:

ESV Nehemiah 8:1–8 — 1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

Ezra and the Gospel

There is much that Ezra did not know. He did not know much of what you know about the gospel. He did not know the four Gospels or the books of the New Testament. He did not know the life and teaching of Christ. He did not know much about the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Christ. He did not know about the eyewitnesses. He did not know how Christ had fulfilled the Law that Ezra had studied so intently. He did not have the epistles of Paul or Peter or James or John.

Jesus said this about the Old Testament saints:

ESV Matthew 13:17 — For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

What would Ezra have given to come to Joy Bible Institute, to sit where you sit, to learn what you are learning? Think of the privilege that we have to open the Word of God! We must follow the example of Ezra in setting our hearts to study, to do, and to share the Word of God with others.

Set Your Heart

Let me encourage you to set your heart. Notice that Ezra set his heart to study, to do, and to teach. 

There are a number of passages that point to the importance of setting our hearts to seek the Lord. This is an engagement, a commitment that we must make. If you find it difficult to set you heart to study the Word of God, ask the Lord to give you a heart to study. Jeremiah has this promise:

ESV Jeremiah 24:7 — 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

God can give you a heart like Ezra’s to study, to do, and to share the Word of God with others. Ask him to give you such a heart, then set your heart.

ESV Ezra 7:9–10 — …the good hand of his God was on him. 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.


[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Ezra (Person). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 757). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[2] Ryken, P. G. (2008). Pastoral Pensées: Ezra, According to the Gospel: Ezra 7:10Themelios33(3), 66.

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