For Ezra had prepared and set his heart to seek the Law of the Lord [to inquire for it and of it, to require and yearn for it], and to do and teach in Israel its statutes and its ordinances.
I love the simplicity and the essence of this single verse in Scripture. Within this one sentence is so much instruction to us, as modern-day Believers. I think we will find that we have much in common with the circumstances behind Ezra's commitment to his people.
First of all, we need to understand who Ezra is ... he is a descendant of Seraiah the high priest, and was living in Babylon during the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. Around the year 457 BC, the king sent him to Jerusalem to teach the laws of God to any who did not know them... and the number was considerable.
I know for some people, "the laws of God" are a stumbling block. To many, this terminology refers to the restrictions placed on the Israelites in terms of foods to eat, how they were to worship, laws governing the administrations of the priests, prophets, and kings, etc. It can seem overwhelming and stifling to those who consider themselves "New Testament" Christians, and to whom the laws of the Jews have no validity.
I do not claim to understand all the reasons that God gave these original laws and commandments to Moses, but I think it is fair to say that they needed some pretty strict guidelines to turn them away from all the heathen and pagan practices they had learned while in bondage in Egypt. God needed a way to keep them focused on Him, rather than on the foreign gods they had been introduced to during their captivity and slavery.
And how many times was it the Law that brought them back to God, after they were tempted to follow pagan practices and worshipped false idols? For me, it all comes down to the many times in Scripture that the Law is summed up in terms of loving God and loving your neighbor; both of which are exemplified in the Ten Commandments. I think it is best stated by our Lord in Matthew 22:37-40: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Now that I have established what I believe Ezra was concerned with in today's passage, let's get to the significance of this verse for us. Notice all that Ezra did concerning the Scriptures. He "prepared and set his heart" ... remember that at this time, the Jews had all but forgotten their ethnicity and their theological identity. The Hebrew language was nearly lost, as they had adopted the common Aramaic language during their years of captivity in Babylon. In fact, Jesus spoke Aramaic when He came into the world.
So God used Ezra to bring back solidarity and identity to His people. As a priest and a scribe, Ezra was instrumental in battling the opposition of non-Jews (who had settled in and around Jerusalem during the long exile), as well as the carelessness of the Jews in regards to the statutes and commandments of the Lord. In essence, Ezra's purpose was to help re-establish the nation of Judah for God. It was God who had prepared his heart to seek the knowledge of His Law and to teach it to the Jews, who were in danger of losing it.
You see, the people were not familiar with the Word of the Lord; a danger that I believe we are facing today. We do not "inquire for it, and of it"; nor do we "require it and yearn for it", as Ezra did. That goes way beyond just reading the Bible. I'm not sure too many Christians "require" or "yearn" for the study of God's Word; let alone follow or do His commandments. And I feel pretty safe in saying, we do not enthusiastically pursue the teaching of God's Law, even if we do study it with a passionate heart.
Plus, do you see the similarities between the state of the Jews, who had lost their identity and theology, and the state of our nation? We, too, have forgotten our heritage and God as the foundation of our people and nation. We, too, are in dire need of re-learning what we have neglected and how to righteously live our lives.
So, God put it on Ezra's heart to not only understand His commandments, but to thirst for the Word with diligent study, and then to teach it His people who had nearly lost it. That's what we need today! We need to all become like Ezra; to inquire of the Lord through diligent study of His Word, and then to be examples of what it means to follow His commands. And finally, we need to become on fire to teach the Word. Because, like the Jews who nearly lost their identity in God, we are in danger of becoming unfamiliar with the full extent of the Truth in His Word. The survival of our people, nation, and Church depend on rediscovering it, instituting it, and teaching it.