Friday, May 9, 2008

Inviting the Good Hand of God

The hand of God, as the term is used in scripture, can mean many things.  Often it illustrates the idea of God's protection, provision, and direction.  It can also mean deliverance or salvation, and can even be used with regard to discipline or punishment.

In the twin books of Ezra-Nehemiah, three times the phrase "good hand of God" is employed.  Each of the three instances displays the sovereignty of God as He acts in a particular way to bless an individual or group.  Certainly, scripture describes God's ability to do as He pleases (Psalm 115.2-3), and that whatever He desires to do, He can and will do (Psalm 135.5-6), even if it means changing the heart of a pagan king (2 Chronicles 36.22-23).

And yet, it is interesting to note that in Ezra 7.6-10, we have a brief explanation of why God's good hand was upon someone—in this case, Ezra.  The text says in verse six that the pagan king who was holding Ezra captive was granting whatever Ezra requested because the hand of God was on him.  And again in verse nine, it speaks of the speed and ease with which he was able to travel and begin his work, since "the good hand of his God" was on him.

What is very intriguing to me is that in verse ten, we are given a glimpse of why God's good hand was on him.  It says His good hand was working for the good of Ezra, "For," or because of, certain characteristics in Ezra's life.  Because of faithfulness in some specific areas, God was directly honoring Ezra's obedience and was blessing his work.  So what was it that Ezra was doing that, from a human vantage point, seemed to please the heart of God and invite His good hand?

Ezra 7.10 tells us the human side of the equation.  Ezra "had set his heart," or purposed or resolved within himself, that he would continue to do three things as he fulfilled his calling and work.

1.  He had resolved to study the scriptures.

...had set his heart to study the law of the Lord...

2.  He had resolved to apply the scriptures.

...had set his practice it...

3.  He had resolved to teach or share the scriptures.

...had set his teach His statutes and ordinances...

To be certain, we cannot manipulate God.  We can't orchestrate situations so that we gain His attention and hopefully draw His blessing on us.  But this scripture reminds us of what is near to the heart of God: that we would be people who study His word, actually live out the scriptures in our daily routines, and then, to whatever degree God gives us influence, share and explain with others what we have learned in our study and practice.

If only I would set my heart to the same three priorities, faithfully and passionately resolving to be faithful to God's word!  For Ezra, the result was God's blessing in his work, and favor and goodwill not only with the followers of God, but also with those in the larger culture who were not believers.

Now that's a good model to follow.