I don’t know why I am surprised. Maybe it’s because we often suppose that we have to think of some clever way to introduce what we speak on and beat our heads against the wall to figure out how an ancient document has anything to do with life today…
But sometimes the answer is right under my nose. I recently preached from Ezra 7:10 at a rescue mission.
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
How could this help the men who are seeking help to come out of rough situations? Is it immediately obvious? Certainly, it is good to encourage them to devote themselves to study, practice, and teach the Bible, and I did that.
But I found a great on-ramp to share that by noticing the situation not far from the verse I planned to preach. Times like these make me so grateful for the sound counsel of reading the whole book in which the preaching text is contained. I didn’t have to view Ezra 7:10 in isolation of the rest of the book (actually, it can be dangerous to do that sort of thing!).
I found the relevance in the historical background in Ezra 7:9, and in Ezra 8:22.
For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.
[Then notice how the last phrase of verse 9 is connected with verse 10, “For,” or because of this reason] For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
and Nehemiah’s words to the king in 8:22:
The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.
What did I draw from this? Ezra was part of a group coming up from the Babylonian captivity, where the nation had landed because of their refusal to hear and obey God’s Word. Furthermore, to have the blessing of God (his good hand upon them), required a heart that diligently sought Him, seeking His Law, obeying it, and teaching it. Ezra 8:22 shows that God’s hand could be on more people than Ezra.
As I saw these connections in God’s Word, the light bulb came on! What a natural path of application! As the people in Ezra’s day were seeking a new start, so are the men at this rescue mission. As the people in Ezra’s day needed to study, do, and teach God’s Word and seek God to have his good hand upon them, so the men in this mission needed to diligently pay attention to the Bible, obey it, and be prepared to share it with others. A right approach to God’s Word was foundational to a new start for the children of God then, and is also key to a “new start” for those who know Christ now.
Never underestimate the value of studying the context. Sometimes you don’t need clever ideas. Often, you just need to read, pray, and think about the text surrounding your text. You may just be surprised at what you find.