Babylon forced the Jewish nation into exile, the Persians subsequently conquered the Babylonians and allowed a portion of the Judean exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of God. Ezra, a scribe skilled in the Law, who was in charge of Jewish affairs in the Persian court, was authorized in 458 BC to undertake a journey to Jerusalem and oversee the people.
Ezra (7:1–5) traces his priesthood back to Aaron the brother of Moses. He is called a scribe, well versed in the “Law of Moses” (7:6), and sought to make these laws the basic rule of life in the restored community in Jerusalem. Ezra is sometimes accused of having been a legalist giving excessive attention to the letter of the law. However, he gave to his people cohesion and spiritually united them, which helped to prevent the disintegration of the small Jewish community re-settled in the province of Judah following the exile. Ezra set the tone of the postexilic community, and it was characterized by fidelity to the Torah, Judaism’s authentic way of life. “For Ezra prepared his heart, so that he might search the law of the Lord, and so that he might keep and teach precept and judgment in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
When you read this edited history our first thought might be that religion is just filled with rules and laws and so many other “things” that it might be said, make personal freedom very difficult.
One of the most influential atheists of post-reformation age Ludwig Feuerbach said: “Christianity set itself the goal of fulfilling man’s unattainable desires, but for that very reason ignored his attainable desires.” He advocated dismissing God for an easy freedom! David sings; “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and gracious in all His acts. The Lord is near all who call out to Him, all who call out to Him with integrity. He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry for help and saves them. The Lord guards all those who love Him, but He destroys all the wicked. My mouth will declare Yahweh’s praise; let every living thing praise His holy name forever and ever.”
Ezra challenged the people to seek fidelity with God’s laws and provided them discipline over their “will” in order to achieve the “good”. Can you name anything in life worth achieving; the “attainable things” and those that require sacrifice, which do not demand discipline? The craftsman, the artist and the Olympian paint an effortless mosaic drawn from tearful trials and disciplined wills. God desires that we might have the attainable, reach the unattainable; and, it’s an art that does not come easy. Ain’t it so!