Ever since the time of the Reformation, Protestants have emphasized the importance of hearing the Word of God preached in the covenant community as a vital means of grace through which the Lord builds up His church (Eph. 4:11–14). Personal study of the Scriptures has likewise been encouraged in order that the Lord’s people might be equipped for ministry and grow into a greater knowledge of His will.
Individual Bible study is another element of personal piety that is rooted in the Old Testament. There are many passages that could be considered, but today we will look at one that describes Ezra, who was also our model for fasting. With the people of God back in the land of Palestine after their sojourn as exiles in Babylon, there was a desperate need for religious education and reform if the Jews were to be fully restored to their vocation as God’s nation of priests (Ex. 19:1–6). Ezra, the scribe from the tribe of Levi (Ezra 7:1–9), was an ideal figure to lead this renewal, and today’s passage explains why. Having “set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (v. 10), Ezra was prepared to provide the guidance needed to restructure the covenant community according to the Word of God.
Every period of reformation in history begins with a return to sacred Scripture, and this was as true in Ezra’s day as it was in the Protestant Reformation. For reformation to have lasting effects, this return must be a living reality — the church must be willing not only to learn biblical content but also to put it into practice. In preparing himself to do and to teach God’s law, Ezra is a model for how the church should study Scripture and apply it in a way that fosters reformation.
Of course, the first step is to know what the Lord says in His Word. Matthew Henry comments regarding God’s will that Ezra “made it his business to inquire into it, searched the scriptures, and sought the knowledge of God, of his mind and will, in the scriptures, which is to be found there, but not without seeking.” The information in the Bible does us no good if it merely stays on the printed page; rather, we must diligently inquire into its depths and draw out the meaning the Spirit has placed there. As we are able, let us study the Bible wholeheartedly with the aim to rightly handle the “word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). That way, we will be prepared to serve God rightly.