He Set His Heart

September 20, 2022

The Babylonian Captivity is difficult to imagine. The temple was destroyed, and much of Israel’s religious practice had to cease. How do you keep the faith alive in such a hostile environment? Part of the answer is found in the life of Ezra, a priest and scribe.

“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, ESV)

Set His Heart to Study the Law. The phrase “set his heart” is the main verb of this sentence followed by three infinitives, things that Ezra does. Let me suggest that Ezra sets his heart to do each of them, to study, to do, and to teach.* The first thing to notice is that Ezra as priest and scribe studied the law. But I appreciate how it is expressed: “Ezra had set his heart.” The verse not only expresses the idea of Ezra studying but also the commitment that Ezra made to study. Commitment is important in accomplishing goals. As a scribe, Ezra may have made hand copies of Bible scrolls. Having grown up in a world with photo copiers, it is difficult for me to imagine hand copying anything of significant length, but I suspect the discipline would make the text of a copied book very familiar. Study takes effort because it is more than reading. It is the attempt to understand. It involves working through some difficult passages. It requires understanding certain passages in light of other passages.

He Set His Heart to Do It. The study of the Bible is not to be just an intellectual exercise. It is to be applied and lived. Ezra understood that and modeled it. We have sayings like “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one.” The reality is we need both, but the saying emphasizes that we need to see it lived. Those who proclaim God’s word must also walk the walk. People must see in us that we take the Word of God seriously in our own life. The scripture must be transforming those of us who preach and teach. Ezra is a positive example of this.

He Set His Heart to Teach. In Ezra 8, we see that Ezra is commissioned to return to Jerusalem. He is a prepared man for an important work. When he arrives in Jerusalem, he is confronted with a problem, “the people have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations” (9:1). Teaching also includes correction. One of the great teaching scenes in the Old Testament is in Nehemiah 8:1. The people are gathered to the Water Gate in Jerusalem. Ezra reads from the law from early morning to midday. Helpers were moving among the crowd to help the people to understand (Neh. 8:7).

Ezra had a tremendous task of bring Israel back to Torah. And in fulfilling that task, he leaves us a powerful example. We also need to study scripture, practice scripture, and teach scripture. Ezra was faithful in these things because of his commitment. He set his heart.

—Russ Holden

*Devotions on the Hebrew Bible, ed. Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 161.  

Thank You Bible Teachers!

December 1, 2013

The truth is I can’t remember their names except for the ones when I was a teen. I can’t remember specific lessons, although fragments of classes and moments in classes do come to recollection. Somewhere along the line a class made a paper model of the tabernacle. Songs, crayons, rounded safety scissors, Elmer’s glue, and a lot of patience on the part of teachers were a part of the experience.

It was in these classes that my first knowledge of the Bible came. It was there I heard of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Sarah, and all the other great narratives of the Bible. Flannel graph figures of Jesus and the Apostles brought to life the gospels. It was in these classes that a life long study of the Bible was born. It was in these classes that faith took root.

Bible teachers share their time and energy with students. It’s not just the time in class that teachers share. It takes time to be prepared. When you multiply 52 weeks times Sunday and Wednesday times the number of classes that we have, you realize the hundreds and even thousands of volunteer hours it takes for our Bible classes. And it is not just time, but energy too. Preparing a class and teaching a class is work, but it is rewarding work.

Bible teachers share their faith. Why bother to teach? Is it not because we believe in God and in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Our faith motivates us to share this message with others. The Bible lessons we teach are God’s message to a lost world. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 ESV). Even small children have the beginnings of faith. Elementary students have a great capacity to learn facts. When their ability to do abstract thinking develops around the age of 12, this great reservoir of facts is not lost, but is built upon. These basic facts can lead them to more mature understandings of God’s will. And most important of all, the students hearing the word also come to faith.

Bible teachers share their commitment. Teaching requires commitment. There is the commitment of time. There is commitment to be present at Bible studies and worship. There is the commitment to prepare and read your Bible. There is commitment to pray for your students and your class. Commitment is very important and attractive. Commitment begets commitment. Only the live ember spreads the fire.

To the Bible teachers in my life, I say thank you. To the Bible teachers of this church, I say thank you. What you share with others can influence for eternity.