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