Ezra has to be one of the most neglected books in the Bible. I have been attending church regularly for more than thirty-five years, and I cannot remember ever hearing a sermon from Ezra. There are lots of books written on Nehemiah, Ezra’s partner in ministry, and I have led Bible studies on the book of Nehemiah. But there does not seem to be nearly as much written about Ezra, and I have never led a study on the book of Ezra. I would venture to say that most Christians’ knowledge of biblical history stops at Solomon and does not pick up again until John the Baptist. Ezra, who lived between the eras of Solomon and John, often gets left out.
It really is a shame, since Ezra is a pivotal figure in the history of God’s people. As one of the early leaders of the Jews who came back to the promised land from the Babylonian exile, he instituted religious reforms that had far-reaching consequences. But Ezra, a faithful teacher himself, also serves as a great example of what it means to be a sound Bible teacher today. I owe this observation to one of my seminary professors, who first pointed me to this key text: “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” (Ezra 7:10).
Whether we are pastors or elders, Christian school teachers, Bible study leaders, or parents leading family devotions, this verse has much to tell us about teaching God’s Word to others. First, it discusses the preparation to teach. Ezra “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord.” He was not content with superficial knowledge of Scripture, but he wanted to explore it deeply. So should we. This does not necessarily mean formal seminary training, but it does entail spending time in the Scriptures and thinking carefully about what they say and how they might apply to us. It is a task not reserved for experts but for anyone who loves God’s Word and wants to communicate it to others.
Second, Ezra set his heart “to do” the law of God. Sometimes we think it is enough to study God’s Word before we teach it to others, but Ezra wanted to make sure he also was doing it before he was teaching it. We should seek to imitate him in this because, of course, God commands us to keep His statutes. But it will also make us more effective teachers. People consider not only what a teacher says but also what a teacher does. I have been particularly convicted of that as a parent. All too often, I fall short of doing God’s will and in displaying the kind of character Christ wants us to have. Thankfully, God is gracious and forgives me. Still, my sons and daughters do see my failures. So, seeking to conform my life to Christ’s is particularly important. I must also model what should happen when we sin by asking for their forgiveness when I have been too harsh or unreasonable.
Only when Ezra had studied and done God’s law was he ready to “teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” May we all endeavor to know and to do as we prepare to teach.