I know I’m on shaky ground.
The topic of this post is a theological octopus. It has the potential to make people angry, cry “FOUL,” shoot me scathing emails, and unsubscribe.
It’s my Sunday school teacher’s fault, really. She led me to this verse, although I noticed she left the ticking time bomb untouched. Me, well, I had to pick it up, sparking fuse, sizzling flame, and all.
“. . . he (Ezra) arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him” (Ezra 7:9).
You may remember the story.
Ezra the priest, with the permission of King Artaxerxes, was leading a contingent of 5,000 Jews. They were carrying precious metal back to Jerusalem. Ezra’s troupe comprised the second wave of exiles returning to their homeland after the diaspora (dispersion).
The journey was 900 miles long and dangerous, yet Ezra and the Jews made it safely, successfully transporting over 24 tons of silver and bronze to build the new temple.
What caught my eye in the story was the phrase, “and the gracious hand of his God was on him.”
The gracious hand of God granted Ezra safety, protection, favor, and provision on his 900-mile journey.
Imagine what the gracious hand of God would look like in our lives.
We’d be crazy not to want it, but how do we get it?
Can we earn God’s favor?
I’m not talking about earning God’s love—Scripture tells us that is unconditional. Ask the toddler in the church nursery lisping through John 3:16; God’s love is undeserved and unmerited.
I’m talking about God’s favor. His inclinations to bless us, help us, and answer our prayers. Can we earn the gracious hand of God upon our lives?
I think so.
Let’s read the next verse:
“. . . the gracious hand of God was upon him. 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” (9b-10).
By studying God’s Word, obeying what it said, and teaching it to others, Ezra positioned himself to experience the gracious hand of God upon his life.
It’s a no-brainer, really. A loving Father blesses his obedient child. We do it all the time. Which child are we more inclined to favor, the obedient, loving, compassionate one, or the lazy, rebellious, selfish one? This doesn’t discount the mercy of God, nor does it limit his compassion only to those who obey him. It does, however, acknowledge the primary way God responds to his children—in response to their actions.
But herein lies the potential for confusion. The gracious hand of God is not a spiritual Coke machine. We can’t just feed the God machine and expect it to pay out. God doesn’t invite us to check off the boxes in an attempt to manipulate him into doing what we want.
God wants us to seek him diligently, obey him sincerely, and share salvation with others because it’s the best for us. And the best for the world. He wants our motivation to be love for him, not lust for stuff. And when we study, pursue, and tell others about him, the natural outcome of these actions is that we will be about his business. And the gracious hand of God will be upon us. It all comes down to relationship.
Ezra loved God, and God called him to do some pretty amazing things. Then, through his gracious hand, God provided everything Ezra needed to accomplish it.
I want this.
How about you?
What are your thoughts on the subject? I’d love for you to leave a comment below and chime in.
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