From Ezra and Nehemiah, we learn that when local churches move forward in ways that are: (1) Shaped by the Word (2) Drenched in Prayer (3) Accompanied by hard work, God’s people can expect to experience his good and strong hand of blessing. – – James Hamilton has written an accessible commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah that will bless you as you study these books.
Read through Ezra-Nehemiah and you are likely to notice the repeated refrain, “the hand of the Lord.” You can scan the texts below.
“THE HAND OF THE LORD” IN EZRA-NEHEMIAH
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. Ezra 7:6
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. Ezra 7:9
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. Ezra 7:28
And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion, of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi, son of Israel, namely Sherebiah with his sons and kinsmen, Ezra 8:18
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.” Ezra 8:22
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. Ezra 8:31
They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. Neh 1:10
and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. Neh 2:8
And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. Neh 2:18
Both Ezra and Nehemiah emphasize that their projects succeeded because God’s hand was on them.
So as a pastor, I am asking, “How can I experience the hand of the Lord”? To help me in my studies, I am reading a number of commentaries including James Hamilton’s commentary. I am only beginning, but so far I have identified the following points.
- Ezra-Nehemiah were Word-centered and so aligned with God’s kingdom purposes.
James Hamilton writes of Ezra:
Ezra 7: 6 tells us that not only did Ezra come from a significant ancestry, he was also godly and was seeking the kingdom of God: He was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which Yahweh, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he requested because the hand of Yahweh his God was on him. The phrase “skilled in the law of Moses” tells us that Ezra was swift in the Scriptures. He was nimble, quick with the Torah. He knew the contents of the Bible, understood the contents of the Bible, and brought the Bible to bear on pressing questions. There are at least two factors at work in any skill : natural aptitude and practice. The Lord had blessed Ezra with abilities, and Ezra had honed the abilities given to him to the point that he could be described as skilled. This means that Ezra had God-given capacities and that Ezra had studied.
Hamilton also highlights Nehemiah’s commitment’s and challenges ours:
In the midst of these responsibilities and duties, with all this influence, Nehemiah knows the Bible. Nehemiah’s supreme concern is for God’s kingdom. I doubt that Nehemiah would plead that he was too busy to study the Bible or pray. He wanted to study the Bible and pray, so he made time for it.
- Ezra-Nehemiah soaked their ministries in prayer. Just read Nehemiah 1 and you will see the centrality of prayer in Nehemiah’s life.
- Ezra-Nehemiah worked hard. In the end, so much of life and ministry comes down to hard work. If you read through Ezra and Nehemiah, you see that because God’s hand was on them – – they worked hard – – and because they worked hard – – God’s hand was on them.
Going into fall ministries, I am praying that our church will be Word-centered – – on our knees – – and working hard. Nothing is more worthwhile than working with God’s good and strong hand on our shoulder.