I recently got the incredibly good news from a publisher offering a book contract on my Song of Solomon novel. Thinking they were being magnanimous, they even offered me a 2-book deal, asking that I write one of the “future projects” listed in my original proposal. I should have been thrilled, right? Wrong. Months before, right after turning in the proposal, I had researched that “future project” topic and came up totally blank. Instead, my heart had been drawn to a different topic for my next book. The publisher had no way of knowing this, of course, but the great news of my first book contract was now tainted with worry over how I would produce a manuscript on a topic I had no research or passion to write. Well, it’s a good thing my daughters knew CPR (heart-to-heart talks with mom) and my husband knew resuscitation techniques (a few kisses always help) – because I needed reviving several times before I called the editor, asking to change the topic of the second book. She took the decision before the publishing committee. My faithful team of prayer warriors battled on their knees, and by the time the committee made their decision, the Lord had opened my heart to either choice for that second book. But by God's grace, the committee changed the contract to the book of my passion, and they still offered the 2-book contract. “Good news, bad news” became pure, unabashed great news! Our friend Ezra experienced the same kind of roller coaster emotions, when the great King Artaxerxes offered a gift he couldn’t refuse….
Ezra 7:21 – “Now I, King Artaxerxes, order all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you…”
- Imagine if you were one of the treasurers of the Trans-Euphrates, and this little Jewish guy walks up with a letter from the king, ordering you to fulfill every whim of the man standing before you. What would be going through your mind? Wouldn’t you wonder how he managed to bamboozle the king so thoroughly?
Ezra 7:22-23 – “…up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and of his sons?”
- A good healthy fear of the Lord is one reason King Artaxerxes is being so cooperative. He must have read the part about the Exodus/Moses, the plagues of Egypt and Pharaoh’s firstborn son, huh? But fear is a short-term motivator. This kind of long-term commitment drips with respect – for Ezra and the “God of heaven” to which the king refers again and again.
Ezra 7:24-27 – “You [treasurers of Trans-Euphrates] are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God. And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates--all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment. Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king's heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way…”
- The king has just taken away both gold and government from the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates – both of which mean power. As a general rule, how eager are men to give up money and power? Hmmm. How popular do you think that would make Ezra among the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates? Hmmm, again. Ezra is not stupid. He sees the great news of the king’s generosity toward the Jews – and the bad news of the dissension he faces when he arrives in Jerusalem. But his first response to the impending struggle is praise. He realizes IT’S ALL ABOUT GOD. IT’S NOT ABOUT EZRA AND HIS COMFORT OR HIS STRUGGLE.
Ezra 7:28 – “…and [the LORD] who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king's powerful officials. Because the hand of the LORD my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.”
- When Ezra’s attention did finally turn inward, he focused on how God’s faithfulness had been displayed in his life. He admits his fear (“I took courage”) and uses his God-given wisdom to surround himself with top-notch people. Thinking of God first doesn’t mean we belittle our own needs. It means we move forward in a power beyond ourselves.
Lord, You never said this life was supposed to be easy; in fact, just the opposite. You have called us to take up our cross daily. The Good News is that the Cross is empty – because You conquered it 2000 years ago. The bad news is I must carry it for as long as I live in this sin-sick world. The Great News is that one day I will see You face to face, and there will be no more crosses to bear.