There are a couple of things that left an impression on me as I recently reread Bridge’s classic work. The first is the author’s amazing knowledge and grasp of Scripture. Of course, he was not alone among the Puritans in this regard. They were all ‘men of the Book’ who demonstrated an intimate familiarity with all parts of Scripture. This is particularly noticeable in the way Bridge uses an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible to illustrate his teaching. Little known and almost incidental details are pulled out of Scripture (the Old Testament in particular) to perfectly illustrate a point.
The book of Ezra is notoriously difficult to read, let alone preach; but it is there in the canon of Holy Scripture to edify and equip the saints (2Ti 3.16). Whereas, at one level, it provides a crucial link in the chain of God’s redemptive dealings with Israel, it is ultimately vital to our understanding of salvation history for the world. It does this in more ways than we might at first realise.
One area in particular is to provide insight into the spiritual conflict in which God’s people find themselves in the life of faith. This is evident not just in Ezra, but also in its sister books of Nehemiah and Esther. Those who bear God’s name in this world find themselves opposed and oppressed and, at times, even threatened with obliteration – as was the case for the Jews in Esther’s day. The apostle Paul makes much of this in his letters in a way that unmasks the real antagonist behind all earthly opposition as being the devil.
In his commentary on Ezra, in his remarks about the campaign waged against the Jews who had returned to Judah after the exile, Derek Kidner unmasks its real architect. He points to the way the opposition takes on new dimensions in the form of a letter written to King Ahasuerus to frustrate their efforts to repair and rebuild the ruined city. Ezra states, ‘they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem’ (Ezr 4.7). Kidner notes that the Hebrew word translated ‘accusation’ is from the same root as ‘Satan’. He acknowledges it may simply be a coincidence; nevertheless, he suggests it may have been deliberate on the part of the ancient scribe as a means of providing the wider context for the conflict in which they were involved.
This little detail does seem to flow into the following chapter in Ezra’s account. In it, he refers to three letters that were sent to two Persian kings and the impact they had on the Jewish efforts to rebuild the Temple and the walls in Jerusalem. The human authors of these letters are very different, but their underlying focus and content point to a single dark source which they shared – the ‘accuser’ to whom Ezra has already alluded. He is the one who, from the very beginning, has waged a propaganda war against God’s people and God’s cause in the world. The dark enemy knows only too well that, in the words of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ – words are more effective than stones for inflicting serious harm.