Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.
The book of Ezra begins where 2 Chronicles left off – the decree of King Cyprus for the release of the captives to their native land. The book of Ezra is only one out of the 5 post-exilic books in the Bible, and Ezra is one of the three most prominent figures in the immediate aftermath of the exile – Zerrubbabel rebuilt the temple, Ezra re-established the law, Nehemiah rebuilt the city walls. While Ezra was the title character of the book, he was only introduced from chapter 7 onwards – after a 57 year gap, an interval when the events accounted in the book of Esther had taken place. He was sent back to re-establish the law, a matter of great significance to the Israelites as they were thus far only governed by the laws of Persia. While the laws of Persia wouldn’t have stopped the Israelites from inter-marrying with the pagan tribes, the laws of Moses would, and now there was a problem which demands to be dealt with. Ezra collapsed (fell) onto his kneels and went onto a long session of prayer and weeping, but Shecaniah son of Jehiel came to remind him that there is hope, but Ezra needed to stand tall with resolve. In this study, we will examine the words of Shecaniah and identify certain attributes that a leader must have even in modern times.
Rise up – We know from the previous chapter that Ezra was kneeling and crying out to God in his shame and guilt for Israel – Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God [Ezra 9:5]. Was he kneeling because he had sinned, and was praying for forgiveness for himself? No, he had not erred. He was kneeing and crying out to God a prayer of horror and confession as the weight of what his people had done bore down on him. This was a priest of the people, a leader of the people, someone whom the Persian king had given authority over the Israelites. His first reaction, upon hearing the news, was to kneel and cry and pray to God. His first reaction was to turn back to God. However, when Shecaniah came to speak to him, he analyzed the situation in an objective manner for Ezra – the situation is bad, but not desperate. The Israelites had sinned, but they were not hopeless. Now crying over this is good, but rising up and doing something about it is better! So rise up, Ezra! Rise up and do something about it!
this matter is in your hands – as a scribe, and as a priest, and as the leader of his people, it was only right that Ezra take charge at a time of crisis for their nation. He could have washed his hands away from it – he had not erred. But that’s what leaders do. You clear your people’s mess. You take the matter of your people’s into your own hands. Their problem is your problem. Their sin – while not your sin – affects you. Their guilt is your guilt. This is when the people need to stay united, and unity starts from the leadership level. Indeed, that was what Ezra did in the aftermath of this verse. He gathered the people together – A proclamation was then issued throughout Judah and Jerusalem for all the exiles to assemble in Jerusalem [Ezra 10:7].
We will support you – nobody can lead without any support. You cannot become a leader if you do not have any followers. Ezra was a man of authority – he was charged by the King of Persia himself to go back to Jerusalem and re-establish the law. In doing that, he was given authority over the Israelites. He was also a man who had proven to be worthy of that charge – a learned man well-versed in the law. Indeed, at that time, there was no-one else other than Ezra who was able to take charge of the situation. There was no-one else to support – Ezra was the clear man apart. However, that declaration and promise of support was crucial. Every leader needs support, or they cannot rise up.
so take courage – why did he tell Ezra to take courage? Was Ezra afraid? I think Ezra was, indeed, very afraid. It was a tall order – to take this matter into his own hands. It was like asking him to take the responsibility of something he did not do and was not aware of, and face God’s wrath while standing in front of everybody else. Note his immediate reactions – his prayer to God was full of grief, full of guilt, full of fear of the wrath of God which he knew was certain to come. As a man of God, as a man who loved and revered God, he knew that God was just – I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens [Ezra 9:6]. Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us,leaving us no remnant or survivor? [Ezra 9:14]. To Ezra, their deeds were evil and their guilt was great [Ezra 9:13]. To remedy their wrongdoings would require great courage – it would be an unpopular move, and there may even be great opposition to it – indeed, he asked them to separate from their foreign wives, and that sure doesn’t sound easy.
and do it – Do it. At the end of the day, nothing matters if you do not do it. It wouldn’t matter, even if you take the matter up in your own hands, but don’t do anything. If wouldn’t matter, even if the whole world supported you, but you do nothing. It wouldn’t matter, if you rise up, but do not do a thing. It wouldn’t matter, if you are full of courage, but do not do it. Did Ezra do it? Yes – so Ezra rose up [Ezra 10:5]; gathered the people [Ezra 10:9]; told them what to do [Ezra 10:11]; and dealt with the matter [Ezra 10:17].
This was a huge incident during the days of Ezra, and one out of the very few recorded events of Ezra’s in the Bible. Indeed, this wasn’t a small matter. We know enough about Ezra to know that he was a godly man, a prayerful man (boy, his prayers are long), a man well-versed with the law, a man who was able to lead the Israelites. We also know that he was priest and scribe. We know that the gracious hand of God was on him [Ezra 7:9] for Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel [Ezra 7:10]. This was a good man, a righteous man, a man made by God to lead the Israelites.
Yet even a man like Ezra needed encouragement and support from somebody else to stop his despair and take charge as he should. Rise up and take courage, and do it, because we will support you. Often, as new leaders rise up, they need encouragement, they need support, they need courage. As followers, as people who watch them rise up, let us support them, let us encourage them, and let us walk their walk together. For what’s most important is that the word of God is glorified, and God’s will is done.