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Under God's Good Hand

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
November 8, 2023 12:00 am

Under God's Good Hand

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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November 8, 2023 12:00 am

Listen to or read the full-length version of this message here: https://www.wisdomonline.org/teachings/ezra-lesson-09  If you want to please God then be good as He is good. Be a good employee, a good boss, a good parent, a good student, a good mechanic, a good doctor. In this message Stephen challenges us to demonstrate to a lost world that God doesn't just save lives . . . He changes them as well.

 

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Paul says that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work.

Colossians 1 10. If you want to please God, ladies and gentlemen, furthermore, if you want to be like God, then be good. Be a good employee. Be a good boss. Be a good father, a good mother. Be a good doctor, a good mechanic.

Be the kind of person that people would say, that's a good person to be around. You reflect the attribute of a good God into your society. Have you ever evaluated the circumstances of your life and concluded that God was not good?

Maybe life seemed unfair and in some ways you wondered if God was mistreating you. Well, God is good, and we're going to study that today in a lesson Stephen has for us entitled, Under God's Good Hand. Stephen, I know that the passage we are about to look at today is especially important to you.

It is. It's one of my favorite texts of Scripture. In fact, I guess when I hear people say I've got a life verse, a lot of times it's a verse that marks or directs the path of their feet.

This would be mine. Whenever someone asks me to sign their Bible or if I sign the bottom of a letter at times, I'll add this particular reference, Ezra chapter 7 verses 9 and 10. This is the text, friends, that describes the passion of Ezra, and as we've been studying this book together, it really does relate back to the goodness of God and a believer who was willing to follow the good hand of God.

And in so doing, they reflected the goodness of God themselves, and this is our challenge today. The text may be familiar to you, but here's how it goes in Ezra chapter 7 at verse 8. Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king, for on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon, and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him. In other words, he didn't arrive in Jerusalem because he just had a good journey and his horse didn't go lame.

It was because of the goodness of God. And now, listen to the passion and direction of his life, verse 10. For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel. He determined in his heart to study the word of God, and not just study it, but to practice it, and then to teach it to Israel. You know, I can't think of a better objective for any believer than to study the word of God, not just to become a smarter person, but to become more like Christ.

In fact, I think of a New Testament passage that's a wonderful complement to this for the New Testament believer, where Paul is writing to Timothy, and he says this in 2 Timothy 2 and verse 15, "'Be diligent to present yourselves approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling or rightly interpreting the word of truth.'" So be diligent. Study. Get into the word. Become a workman.

Put on your overalls. This is hard work, by the way. Have you ever thought, man, studying the Bible is hard? Well, it is. This is a deep quarry, and some of the gems of Scripture are buried rather deep.

You have to dig them out. So be diligent in this as a workman, that is, somebody who's got his work clothes on, and don't be ashamed as you accurately handle the word that is you understand it and you apply it to life. Stephen first preached this message back in 1999, and the truth of it is just as important today. Before we jump in today's lesson, let's pray, and we're going to pray specifically for those who may be wondering or struggling with knowing that God is good to them. Let's pray together. Father, thank you so much for the truth of your word.

We are excited to be able to explore it together. And Lord, we know that we have many listeners who love you deeply, and maybe their life is good right now. We also have listeners who love you deeply, and things are maybe not going so well. But in all of our circumstances, we are under your good hand, and we are grateful for that reminder today. So will you please open our hearts as we study God's word together. In Jesus' name, amen.

And now friends, let's join Stephen with today's lesson. Whenever God repeats himself over and over again, he wants us to take note. One phrase appears six times in the next few verses.

In fact, the remainder of chapter seven and chapter eight. And all I want to do is expound on the six uses of this phrase related to God's good hand. Whenever Ezra refers to the hand of God and he says the hand of God was good, he is not referring to a hand with five fingers. God does not have a hand with five fingers. That is God the Father, God the Spirit. The Son of God took flesh.

That's the one we will look at. He does have a hand with five fingers. But whenever the Old Testament refers to the hand of God, he is referring the Old Testament writer to the to the strength of God, to the power of God, to the overarching sovereignty of God among the circumstances of life. And Ezra will repeat that phrase over and over again.

So let's just look at the six times that it appears. The first, if you have your highlighter or your your pencil, you'll discover it in chapter seven, verse six. Then Ezra went up from Babylon and he was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given. And the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the Lord is God was upon him.

Not because Ezra was well respected within the Persian kingdom, not because he did such a great sales job on Artaxerxes, king of Persia, that Artaxerxes just couldn't say no. But because the good hand of God was upon him, he gave him all that he requested. If you look at verse 27 of this chapter, he summarizes and you read this phrase again. Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers who has put such a thing as this in the king's heart to adorn the house of the Lord, which is in Jerusalem and has extended loving kindness to me before the king and his counselors and before all the king's mighty princes. Thus I was strengthened according to the hand of the Lord, my God upon me. And I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me. Ezra was encouraged by the good hand of God upon him. God was sovereign over rulers. If you wonder why he was so encouraged, all you have to do is read the preceding letter that has been preserved for us by God. One of the few letters that we find between ancient pagan kings and their subjects.

This happens to be one of them. Fascinating reading. We can't, for the sake of time, read it all.

But if you look back at verse 20, you'll see the primary reason that he knew God was at work in the life of Artaxerxes, much like Zerubbabel before him. It says, and the rest, the king writes, of the needs for the house of your God for which you may have occasion to provide, provide it, provide for it from the royal treasury. In other words, whatever you need, the assets of the kingdom of Persia are at your disposal. Ezra, take whatever you'd like. That would be a miracle.

Some of you fellows give your wife or teenage daughter the checkbook and say, go to the mall. I want you to get anything you want. That would be a miracle. King of Ezra is, or the king who is over Ezra, discovers there is a king above him and his heart is turned. And Ezra reflects in his memoirs, it was because of the good hand of God upon me. Secondly, Ezra recognizes the initiation of God's work through believers. If you go back to verse nine of chapter seven, for on the first of the first month, he began to go up from Babylon, and on the first of the fifth month, he came to Jerusalem because the good hand of his God was upon him. In other words, even the initiation of this service, the inaugural event of his ministry was because, not because Ezra said, I have this wonderful idea, but because God initiated in his heart what God wanted him to do.

And he would do it. Ezra never, never takes credit for what God has done. He never assumes, he never implies, God did all that he did as I traveled from Persia to Jerusalem because of my faith. He had faith, but he recognized the sovereign God initiated the work that he did through him and he initiates it, by the way, in the work he does through you and through me. It's all of God. We just, as one author said in scripture, we just get in God's way. If you ever wonder why at the judgment seat of Christ, you will be receiving rewards because of the things that you've done in obedience to him. And then we read where they just give it back. All the believers give them back. They cast their crowns at his feet.

Why? Because you and I will recognize and realize there with great perception, without sin, without pride, that it was God who willed it. It was God who initiated it. It was God who performed it in and through us. It was God who blessed it. And that Bema seat, that judgment seat will simply be the place where God's works are rewarded. And after receiving rewards, we can do nothing less than give them back. The good hand of God, Ezra says, initiated this work.

There's more. The good hand of God is responsible for the recruiting of additional workers. If you look over chapter eight in verse 15, Ezra has assembled the Jews at the river.

They're about to embark on their journey. And while they are there, Ezra makes a startling story. He discovers that there aren't any Levites who volunteered. Now, he had been copying the law for years, and he had copied Numbers chapter one and Numbers chapter three and Numbers chapter four. And he had read in the law that it would be the Levites who handle the sacred objects of the temple. And now they're taking these objects back that Artaxerxes has released from the Persian treasury house. And he wants Levites to carry them.

Now the law doesn't specifically say that in transporting in this manner, you have to have a Levite doing it. But he is so careful. He is so concerned with applying the law to his life that he stops, he halts, and he forms a recruiting party of men to go and find by the grace of God, some Levite who will volunteer. I can tell you over our very brief 12 years that we have one of the same critical needs that he had here. And that is we need people who will volunteer to handle sacred things. Ezra recognized that that cry ultimately goes to God who would provide what he would provide. And the Lord Jesus himself said, you go and you beseech the Lord of the harvest.

You go and you cry to the God of the harvest that he will bring forth workers to shoulder up to you for the task. Well, you want to notice what God did? Look at verse 18, according to the good hand of our God, not according to the good recruiting methods, but according to the good hand of our God upon us, they brought us a man of insight of the sons of Molly, the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely the son of cherubiah and his sons and his brothers, 18 men.

What a great day, 18 fresh new volunteers. Thank God for his provision. And Ezra will say it is because of the hand of God upon me. Now I want you to notice there's another usage as Ezra refers to the promise of protection over evil doers.

It's in verse 21 and it's a rather transparent note. Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Hava that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from him a safe journey for us, our little ones and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way because we had said to the king, the hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek him, but his power and his anger are against all those who forsake him. I love his openness. He says, I told the king that God was capable of protecting us as we left and traveled to Jerusalem, but now I'm ashamed to ask him for an escort, meaning he was afraid he wanted to ask and that brought shame to him because he realized what that meant was he had said something to the king and now on the edge of this river, he had second thoughts.

Aren't you glad God put that in there? He had second thoughts. What do I do now?

Do I ask? See, ladies and gentlemen, if you went through that letter and you calculated the amount of gold and silver Ezra was taking Jerusalem, you might better appreciate why he was worried, why he thought he would be a sitting duck. He was going to travel through land filled with thieves and brigands and he was carrying hauling behind him in wagons. This group of men, women and their children and 18 clergymen, 29 tons of gold and silver. They might as well have hung a sign on the side of a wagon that said over here, free money.

Come and get it. Ezra and his company were in deep danger, but Ezra just couldn't bring himself to ask for the king's help because he had already said the king will help us. But do you get what Ezra's priorities are here then? He is more afraid of losing his testimony before the king than he is in losing his life. He's more concerned about the credibility of God before this king that he has testified before than he is his own safety. What does it take for you and me to drop our testimony by the side?

What does it take? Look at this man, his back against the wall. He would either cave in and tell the king, oh, listen, I've changed my mind. I need some protection or I will trust what I have said I believe about my God. He is able to deliver me. Go back to verse 21 and kind of feel his concerns. Then I proclaim to fast there at the river of Heavah that we might humble ourselves before our God and to seek from him a safe journey for us, for our little ones and all our possessions.

You get that? We have children, no way to protect them really. Some of you when you travel on a journey with your family, you pray, don't you? I encourage you to. You start it out. We usually as a habit, we'll turn the van on. Everybody, okay, let's pray. We pray. Lord, we don't know what you have in store for us, but we ask for safety as we travel. Imagine you're on the side of this river and you're about to embark on a journey and you're saying, God, protect us.

And you've got these little ones and you have people that don't know how to fight. You have men who handle sacred objects, who don't handle bows and arrows and spears and swords. And you just simply humble, he said yourself, God, this is it. Then they get to the end of the journey. And the hand of God is seen in the completion of their journey. Look at verse 31. Then we journeyed from the river of Heavah on the 12th of the first month to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was over us.

Now notice this. And he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and ambushes by the way. That text implies there were ambushes set along the way. They were not going to make it to Jerusalem. And this little band of people hauling 29 tons of gold and silver rattled into Jerusalem safe and sound.

Why? Because of the good hand of God over us. What more could they do? And the verses tell us then celebrate in case anybody missed it.

Verse 31, the hand of our God was over us, over us, around us, underneath us, behind us, in front of us, on us, the hand of God's power. And we made it. Can you imagine their celebration? We made it.

Four months. We made it. I happen to believe that I will spend a good deal of time at the outset of eternity jumping up and down for joy, saying things like, I made it. Not by my works, but just saying, I can't believe I'm here. Now you say, Stephen, I would have expected something more spiritual out of you at the outset of heaven.

No, but think about it. Have you ever wanted to be someplace and then you finally arrived at this event, this thing, this place, and you say, wow, I can't believe I'm actually here. Do you think we'd do anything less than heaven? And say, wow, I can't believe I'm here.

The church a few years ago gave my wife and I a tenth year anniversary gift. We could fly anywhere in the world. It's a one-way ticket. And we thought and thought and thought. In fact, that was part of it.

Oh, it would have been better if they had picked the place. And we had the whole world. And we finally settled in on Switzerland. And my wife went to the library and had books on Switzerland. And we looked at pictures and looked at maps and even emailed friends in Europe asking questions. And finally, there we were in Interlaken, this lush valley, village, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

It's right out of a postcard, a river running through it, a tinted green by the ice of the mountains and absolutely stunning. And there we are sitting in a little cafe sidewalk out there and drinking coffee, which interpreted as 10 gallons of caffeine compressed to one little European cup, and saying to each other, can you believe it? We're here.

We're actually here. Well, multiply that a billion times a billion times over. Why? Because of the good hand of our God. Now, let me quickly give you a couple of things. The goodness of God may at times be a mystery. When we say that God is good, we mean that he cannot be improved upon. God will never have to learn to be good. He will never have to improve his character. He is infinitely good. Whatever he is, he is that infinitely. He'll never have to work on his personality.

He'll never have to rub any flaws out of his character. You say, but wait a second. I've been reading the newspapers. Look at all the bad things happening to people. If God is good, why do bad things happen? That is a study in itself.

But let me give you two things to consider if you want to add these to your notes. Number one, bad things happen in the world, not because God isn't good, but because people are bad. It amazes me how God rarely gets the credit when society flourishes, but let something bad happen and God gets all the blame. Look what God did. Why didn't God stop that? Where's God? Well, there are a lot of things in our world that are happening that are not good, but it is not because God is not good. It is because man is not good. And God has allowed man the freedom to act out in his badness on this planet.

But the second point then is critically important. Bad things happen in the world, but for the believer, bad things don't have the last word. Even when your world is falling apart, the story is not over because God's hand is over your life, believer, steering and shaping even the bad events so that ultimately there is good. Joseph was sold into slavery. Bad things happened, suffering for years.

And finally, he's reunited with his brothers and he gives that classic phrase. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for what? For good.

Good. We just don't know what the end of the story is yet, but I do want to say this, dear friend, if you're here without Christ, one of the tragedies of not belonging to God as his child is that the bad things of this world do have the last word in your life. But for the believer, God who is good can take that which is bad and out of it, shape that which is eternally good. So while the goodness of God may at times be a mystery, second thought of application, the goodness of God will at all times be a model. Have you ever thought about very quickly here the fact that you're to be good, you're to do good, you're to be thought of as a good person, not so you'll be accepted by God, but so that you will imitate the God you claim to know and you will reflect his character, his attribute of goodness to a world that watches.

Listen to these passages. So then Paul writes, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of the faith. Galatians 6 10. With good will render servants as to the Lord and not to men knowing that whatever good things each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord. Ephesians 6 7. Paul says that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work.

Colossians 1 10. If you want to please God, ladies and gentlemen, furthermore, if you want to be like God, then be good. Be a good employee. Be a good boss. Be a good father, a good mother. Be a good doctor, a good mechanic.

Be the kind of person that people would say that's a good person to be around. You reflect the attribute of a good God into your society. See, that's the thing about Ezra. It comes out in his writings as he reflects the attribute of this infinitely good God. He just sees the world through the goodness of God.

There is no doubt in my mind that when people looked at Ezra, they said he was a good man. Well, friends, as you face the rest of your day today, I hope that this reminder will not only encourage you but guide your steps. You know, Stephen, we have heard from some people who are encouraged by the lessons they hear on wisdom for the heart.

Yeah, that's right. Paul and Karen have written us from Opelika, Alabama. We heard wisdom for the first time when we moved to Alabama in 2011. It's a long testimony, but suffice it to say we're going through some difficult times, changes in ministry and work, moving, getting used to a new locale, friends in church. Your Bible teaching then was so encouraging to us and still is, and we're grateful how the Lord leads you to unpack his word for us daily, and we thank God for your ministry. Paul and Karen, thank you for that.

Jeff and Suzanne write from North Carolina. We found the ministry of wisdom to be sterling. The remarkable yet humble exposition of truth makes us convinced that we're to take this stewardship seriously.

Every message is truth without disappointment, and it is for these reasons that we support wisdom for the heart monthly. We do so to help the truth continue to go forth, and we're praying for ears to hear and souls to be saved and for lives all around the world to grow in the knowledge of God's gospel through the preaching of the word. It is with joy that we give, for we feel we are helping to further the gospel through this ministry. To God be all the glory. Thank you, Jeff and Suzanne.

One more, Scott. Louis writes from Stevenson, Virginia. I'm blessed to be able to support wisdom for the heart and help keep the program heard around the world. The program has greatly enriched my spiritual life and understanding of the gospel, and I pray often for your ministry needs, all of them to be met. Thank you, Louis, for that. It's true that wisdom for the heart is heard literally around the world in several languages, as well as on radio stations across the United States.

All of this is made possible by the gifts we receive from you, our listeners. Well, Stephen, in addition to being the pastor of Colonial Baptist Church, some people may not know that you're also the president of Shepherds Theological Seminary, also located here in Cary, North Carolina. Yeah, and it's a privilege to see the seminary growing with men and women who want to be used as better Bible teachers for women's ministries, pastors, missionary statesmen, whatever it is.

Yes, that's right. If you or somebody you know is interested in graduate-level theological training, that would be a great way to explore what the school has to offer you. If you'd like to support us, we would be so grateful. You can call us today at 866-48-Bible, and we can give you information over the phone. That's 866-48-Bible, and we would love the opportunity to speak with you. You can also learn more on our website, which you'll find at wisdomonline.org. That's wisdomonline.org. Stephen has two more lessons in our current series, so make plans to join us for that, right here on Wisdom for the Heart. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-08 00:21:34 / 2023-11-08 00:32:13 / 11

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