Summary: God sets His hand on the person who sets his or her heart on God’s Word
There are about 18 million Jews worldwide—0.2% of the world’s population. But Jews make up 54% of the world chess champions, 27% of the Nobel physics laureates and 31% of the medicine laureates. Within the United States, Jews make up only 2% of the US population, but 21% of the Ivy League student bodies, 26% of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37% of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38% of those on a recent Business Week list of philanthropists, and 51% of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.
Such disproportionate success in these areas by the Jewish people is obviously not just a coincidence. There has to be some explanation and there has been no shortage of people who have attempted to figure out what it is. Even well-known atheist Richard Dawkins acknowledges just how astounding these statistics are and admits he has no explanation.
What is fascinating here is that this success can’t be explained merely by genetics. It’s not like saying that someone who is 6’5” tall and can jump is 99.9% more likely to make it to the NBA than me. Those who have studied this phenomenon have found that it can’t be explained merely by IQ scores for instance. Jews as a whole aren’t innately more intelligent than the rest of the population.
Those of us who are familiar with the Bible shouldn’t be all that surprised at these numbers though. All the way back in Genesis 12, God promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed by his descendants. Certainly, the main blessing God had in mind there was Jesus, the Messiah who would be from Abraham’s lineage and who would bless all of mankind by providing a way for them to be reconciled to God. But that promise also seems to mean that the entire world also gets blessed by the achievements of God’s chosen people in areas like science, commerce and the arts.
The passage that we’ll study this morning will give us some further insight into why the Jews have become so successful in these arenas. But I’m going to warn you up front that it is also going to challenge us to reevaluate our lives to make sure that we are also being the blessing to the rest of the world that God has called us to be.
Let me briefly remind you of our timeline.
After the Babylonian exile of the Jews ended, a group of about 50,000 Jews returned to Israel under the leadership of Zerubbabel in 536 BC Under his leadership the rebuilding of the temple was begun. This first return to Jerusalem is recorded in Ezra 1-6.
Roughly 50 years later, Xerxes, who is also known as Ahasuerus, becomes king of Persia. During his reign, Esther becomes queen and her influence in the Persian court paves the way for a second and third returns. We looked at some of those events last week.
A second return of a small company of only about 2,000 Jews takes place during the reign of King Artaxerxes in 457 BC, led by Ezra. That return is recorded in Ezra 7-10 and that will be our focus this morning.
A third return takes place 13 years later in 444 BC when Nehemiah leads a small group back to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the walls. The account of that return is obviously found in the book of Nehemiah and we’ll take a look at chapter 8 of that book next Sunday.
You’ll notice that Ezra chapter 7 begins with these words:
Now after this…
There is nearly a 60-year gap between the end of Ezra 6 and the beginning of Ezra 7. The events recorded in the book of Esther occur during that long break. The events in chapter 7 occur during the reign of the Persian king Artaxerxes. The first 5 verses of the chapter give us the genealogy of Ezra. This genealogy is not complete at all – several generations are left out. But the important thing here is that Ezra’s lineage is traced back to Aaron to prove that he was qualified to be a priest, even the high priest.
We’ll pick up the account in verse 6.
[Read Ezra 7:6-10]
Although Ezra had been born in Babylon, he is deeply committed and loyal to his Jewish roots. During his life, the era of the prophets was drawing to a close. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were the last of the prophets. But during this time God raised up this godly man named Ezra, whose name means “help”.
In addition to being a priest, Ezra was also a scribe. Since there were no printing presses or copy machines in those days, the Scriptures, which primarily consisted of the “Torah” – the first five books of our Bible – had to be copied by hand by the scribes. But as we’re going to see this morning, Ezra did much more than just copy the Scriptures. He very likely authored 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah and possibly even Esther. And Jewish tradition holds that he was the one who assembled the books of the Old Testament.