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Ezra 7:1a, 610, 2528; 9:46; 10:1012comment (0)

May 12, 2011

By M. Sydney Park

Related Scripture: Ezra 7:1a, 610, 2528; 9:46; 10:1012

Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

Walk With God
Ezra 7:1a, 6–10, 25–28; 9:4–6; 10:10–12

Contemporary Christianity, along with Christian colleges and universities, places a heavy emphasis on encouraging and educating future leaders. Indeed the slogan for many Christian higher education institutions, including seminaries, reads, “Come to our school and we will make you a leader.” But specifically what qualities make a person a leader? Are these qualities for leadership different for believers as opposed to the secular world? A winsome personality, charismatic presence, good head for marketing/business, fund-raising skills, a pinch of humor and a pinch of good looks are too often seen as a recipe for a good Christian leader. None of these traits is listed as a requirement for leadership among God’s people in Scripture. And in Ezra, we find that God’s Word plays a critical role in determining leadership.

Have a Heart for God (7:1a, 6–10)
The momentous task of leading the Israelites in captivity back to Jerusalem with the approval of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, (7:11–26) was given to Ezra. According to modern-day sensibilities, one might speculate that in order to be successful, Ezra would require knowledge of the terrain from Persia to Jerusalem, a map or a travel guide. Perhaps Ezra would need administrative skills or the ability to delegate tasks. And most certainly, some military skill to ward off unfriendly intruders along the way was needed. But Scripture points to one central qualification for leadership: thorough knowledge of and devotion to Scripture. Becoming a student of Scripture precedes all acts of leadership. But Christian leadership also requires something beyond the clinical knowledge of biblical data — obedience to God’s Word is non-negotiable. And Ezra’s commitment to God’s Word was not simply for personal edification but that of others; his goal was to teach God’s Word to the people.

Build a Reputation of Integrity (7:25–28)
Because of Ezra’s commitment to Scripture, he earned Artaxerxes’ respect. Contrary to modern-day belief that Christian leaders can procure the secular world’s respect by excelling in secular criteria for leadership, Artaxerxes’ estimation of Ezra was based on his commitment to Scripture. Because Ezra’s devotion to God’s Word was demonstrated through his character, he gained a secular ruler’s respect and endorsement. Integrity is the result of holding on to God’s Word above all else.

When Ezra and Israel’s remnant arrived in Jerusalem, all was not well. They found that many of the Israelites, including priests and Levites, had intermarried with Gentile women (Ezra 9:1). The problem was not so much inclusion of Gentiles among Israel; Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute (Josh. 2); Ruth the Moabite; and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam. 11:3), were not only incorporated into Israel but also counted among Abraham and David as progenitors of Jesus Christ, the Messiah (Matt. 1:1–11). Rather the difficulty with these intermarriages lay in the fact that Israel’s belief and devotion to Yahweh is compromised, as these marriages led to syncretism of Israel’s faith with idolatry. And idolatry was the primary reason behind Israel’s exile.

Identify With the People You Lead (9:4–6; 10:10–12)
In light of this grave issue, Ezra’s response was not to avoid confrontation or diminish the gravity of the situation. Although Ezra had no part in the sin of idolatry, he took it upon himself to repent and fast on the people’s behalf. A leader of God’s people spearheads the way for communal repentance and submission before Him. The leader is neither exempt from nor unsullied by the people’s sins; he identifies himself with the people and leads them in the proper response of repentance before God when sin is revealed. The leader stands accountable to God for those under his authority. And as confirmed in Ezra, people willingly follow the leader who identifies with them and is able to stand in accountability on their behalf before God.

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