By Eric Keiper
In approximately 536 B.C., Cyrus the king of Persia issued a proclamation. The house of the Lord was to be built again in Jerusalem. What excitement must have filled the hearts of the Jews as they longed to return to their land. They had been deported from Judah to Babylon for resisting Nebuchadnezzar’s rule and remained in captivity when Persian rule began. The Jews had remained in captivity for approximately 80 years in Babylon. How they must have longed to return home. Let alone, how excited they must have been to rebuild the temple which Nebuchadnezzar had burned with fire!
The Jews knew the reason for their captivity. As a nation, they had forgotten God. They even had desecrated the Temple of the Lord with pagan worship. Their captivity was essentially discipline from God, directing them again to faithfulness.
As the Jews began to move back to Jerusalem, they must have been filled with joy. However, I am certain that their joy was tempered with caution and fear. After having been disciplined by God for their unfaithfulness, perhaps they were uncertain what they ought to do. Some, though aged, were still present who remembered the former temple in her glory, and perhaps they too remembered the teachings of the priests and prophets in the former order. What confusion must have filled their minds as they recalled that the religious leaders were corrupt. Those who they had trusted for teaching and direction had mislead the people. The faithful prophets of the Lord had cried out, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20). And again, “For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed” (9:16).
These peo- ple had been fooled, and then disciplined for their foolishness. A sense of carefulness and caution surely prevailed as they returned to Judah to rebuild the Temple. One central question must have prevailed in their minds: “How do we know what is right?” They’d been fooled by their leaders before, so how would they know how to build the temple? Who could they trust? How would they know how to worship? How would they know how to organize the Priesthood and her work? How would they know how to live pleasing to the Lord?
While these issues may sound complex, convoluted, and even frustrating, the answer is simple. The answer comes in the plain narrative about a man who sought the very answer to these questions. “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10). Ezra lays out a three part plan that makes a whole lot of sense.
The first thing Ezra did was “prepare his heart to seek the law of the Lord.” This is the very foundation upon which all inquiry rests. One who has determined to seek diligently will prize what he finds much higher than the casual observer. Remember the parable of the “Pearl of Great Price” “. . . the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matt. 13:45-46). Did you notice the response of the sincere seeker? He traded everything that he had that he could gain his great pearl. The same is true with word of God. When one is seeking the truth of God’s word, he will without hesitation lay down the “darkness that has been put for light” and the “bitter that has been put for sweet.” This process of “preparing the heart to seek” is determining to sort out falsehood and clinging to the truth. The measure we use is God’s word.
The process that Ezra went through was much more than just learning the principles. Seeking and sorting was just the foundation. The purpose which he gives for his search is two fold: “to do it, and to teach.” Ezra sorted out all these things so he would know what was right so he could do it himself. He would then know the answers to: “How do we build the temple? How do we worship? How do we organize the priesthood and her work? How do we live?” The second part of his purpose was to teach others. Not only did Ezra benefit from his search, but others could benefit from his search. Others could then know what to do. Furthermore, I believe that the order of seek, do, and teach is important. How can one who has sought and not “done” effectively teach? The one who has “done” can teach in practical terms how the principle applies.
As we consider this example of virtue, let’s make direct application today. The apostle Paul links Old Testament examples to New Testament application when he says, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Ezra’s example gives us hope. Sometimes when we try to search for what is right, as Ezra did, we can lose hope. It can become discouraging to sort through what is false. It can be discouraging to try to sort through all of the issues challenging the church today. How do we know which way to go? How do we know what is right and wrong? How do we know what is pleasing to God? How do we know what is acceptable as worship to God? How do we know what to do in the work of the church? How do we know how to organize the church?
All of these questions can find an answer in the scriptures. Just as Ezra sought to restore the Jewish nation to faithfulness, we can be restored to faithfulness today. Have we forgotten this plea of restoration? Do we perceive that the church has already been completely restored and there is no more work to do? Will there be no more issues which will cause us to delve again into the pages of Holy Writ to learn which way to go? Will there be nothing more to test our mettle? The Apostle Paul said, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19). Sounds like issues will continue!
Where will you stand? Are you approved? If you’re certain of your answer, how do you know for sure? I read a bumper sticker recently that read, “Question everything!” Does that make you uncomfortable? Sometimes it’s hard to question what we believe and what we do. It impugns our own judgment if we have believed what is false. But if we seek like the man did for his pearl, we will make diligent inquiry and exchange everything we have for the truth.
900 Pump Rd., Apt. 77, Richmond, Virginia 23233-5516