“For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.”
Ezra had just completed a 4 month journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. Verse 9 says that his journey was successful because God’s hand was upon him. Verse 10 gives an explanation of one of the reasons why God’s hand was on Ezra, his heart was right in God’s sight. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts (proverbs 21:2).” In this case, the Lord had searched Ezra’s heart and found it pure and sincere. What was pleasing to the Lord about Ezra as a teacher?
1. Ezra had made the study of God’s word a matter of the heart. When we grow in learning we may become proud. We may begin to think that our knowledge gives us privilege or some special standing. Knowledge is nothing if it doesn’t change our heart. The heart is our innermost being where motives, intentions, and goals arise. Jesus, quoting Isaiah, had condemned the Pharisees for their great learning and meticulous detail because their hearts were blackened, “these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me (Isa. 29:13).” There is a word for people who study and teach the Bible without the involvement of their hearts: Hypocrit. This indictment was not true of Ezra. He drew near with his mind and his heart. Those who do not know the truth with their hearts do not really know it. And no one should teach the truth that doesn’t really know it.
2. Ezra’s approach was intentional. To put it another way, this focus on his heart was an active duty. He had prepared his heart. Focusing on our hearts in the study of the truth is the hardest thing of all. Our flesh resists. It is so much easier to learn the truth in order to win an argument or teach a lesson. But to preach the truth to your own heart is difficult. Why is it difficult? It involves seeing unpleasant things about ourselves. It also requires the humbling work of repentance when we see our sins. It requires that we see God’s word as a way to draw close to God Himself. We cannot do this in our own strength; we need God’s help. But this will never happen on accident, it must be the resolve of the heart. Lastly, the hard work of applying the truth to the heart is difficult because it is unseen. There are no bulging biceps, no certificates on the wall, no initials or letters to leave after your name, no pay raise. No one compliments you for it, because no one else sees it. It is one of the truest signs of real religion because it is done for God.
3. The study of the word, applied to the heart brought about certain results. The effect was obedience. Ezra was a doer of the word. What this means is that you would not need to say about Ezra, “do what he says but do not follow his example.” A careless life will sweep away the best teaching. Those who obey the truth through the many seasons of their lives have the best insight into what the word really means. Furthermore, teachers who are “doers” appeal to more than just the mind of their hearers. They are able to petition the heart. A life committed to God calls out to something inside the hearer, to something that looks at an orderly life and finds it attractive. A teacher who is a doer is a man who dresses up the gospel. The example of an obedient, happy life says that the obedience is not only right, it is beautiful; by grace it is possible by real people, and it is satisfying to the heart.
4. The last step in this description of Ezra is last for a reason. It comes after all these other things. It is unfortunate that so many want to put it sooner. They want to teach before the truth has affected their hearts, and their lives. They want to study and then teach. This can be done with many subjects…but not with the Law of God. Note as well that teaching God’s people was Ezra’s resolve and final goal. To be a faithful teacher to God’s people takes resolve and commitment, and should be done willingly.