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.  


A Mother’s Instructions

May 8, 2020

A mother’s instructions are important. Proverbs speaks of that importance.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
and pendants for your neck.
(Proverbs 1:8–9 ESV)

My son, keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always;
tie them around your neck.
(Proverbs 6:20–21 ESV)

Every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles the law was to be read to all Israel including the men, the women, the little ones, and the sojourners (see Deuteronomy 31:10-13). Mothers in Israel were to know moral and spiritual things just like the fathers. Mother’s instructions were important, and so it should also be with Christian mothers.

A child’s moral foundation is formed by the age of nine. Their outlook on truth, integrity, meaning, justice, and morality are formed early in life. Not much can change this outlook except the power of the gospel, so mothers have an important role by their instruction to form this moral foundation. The famous quote from Francis Xavier speaks to the persistence of this early moral training, “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards.”

Batsell Barrett Baxter was a well know preacher among us over 40 years ago. He was also the chairman of the Bible Department at David Lipscomb when I was a student. I had him as a professor and as my course advisor. In his biography, *Every Life a Plan of God,* he speaks fondly of his mother. She read or taught him Bible stories as a child, and that teaching influenced the course of his life. Mothers have an important role in teaching the Bible.

Children are fact absorbers. They memorize easily. They remember the stories we tell them, especially the stories we repeatedly tell them, and the good news is they like stories repeated. Childhood is a time we can teach them lots of information about the Bible. A child’s mind thinks concretely. Concrete thinking is very fact oriented and literal.

Abstract thinking in children usually begins between the preteen to mid-teen years. Abstract thinking sees the significance of ideas and not just the facts. It understands concepts and figurative language (of which there is an abundance in the Bible). All the facts we have taught our children will be processed as they begin to mature mentally and engage in abstract thinking.

Mothers are also on the frontline of manners. This may not be as important as moral and spiritual instruction, but I’m certainly grateful for that instruction too. We are likely to hear mothers saying, “Sit up straight.” “Use your fork not your hands.” “Chew with your mouth closed.” “Say please.” “Apologize to your sister.” “Say thank you.” It is because of this persistent instruction that we are not barbarians when released upon the world as adults.

Mothers are important, and at least one of the reasons for their importance is their instruction in morals, scripture, and manners. I for one am thankful for my mother’s instructions.

— Russ Holden