The Good Hand of Our God
adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 19 Feb 2010
For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, 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” (Ezra 8:22)
We are in a series of studies on the great and precious promises of God. These promises are expressed in different ways throughout the Scriptures. Sometimes they appear as direct and explicit promises. Sometimes they are expressed indirectly or implicitly. But explicit or implicit, we will be able to find, I believe, at least one promise in every book of the Bible. And so we have begun on a journey to find them and to examine them.
We began with Genesis and strode through the history of redemption of God’s people from creation of the world, to the development of God’s people into a nation, to the establishment of the theocracy, to the decline of the kingdom and its exile to Babylon. Well, actually the kingdom had split into two and only the Southern kingdom was exiled. The Northern Kingdom was destroyed and scattered.
The exile of the Southern Kingdom occurred in the year 605 BC when Nebuchednezzar attacked Jerusalem and ordered the mass displacement of most of the people in Judah.
But now about 70 years later, God raised up the Persians under the leadership of King Cyrus the Great. Cyrus defeated the Babylonians, and one of the first things he did was to reverse the decrees of Nebuchednezzar. People who were sent into exile by Nebuchednezzar were to be given the option of returning to their homeland.
Soon, about forty-two thousand Jews led by Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, headed back to Jerusalem. When they arrived, one of the first things they did was to rebuild the altar to worship the Lord. Then they laid the foundation for the temple. Sadly, however, the people were distracted by opposition and the cares of the world, so much so that they left off rebuilding the temple until 16 years later when the Lord raised up Haggai and Zechariah to exhort them to finish up what they had begun to do.
Now, it was 57 or 58 years after the temple was completed, that God impressed upon a young Aaronic priest by the name of Ezra to return to Jerusalem under the behest of King Artaxerxes. Ezra was to lead about a thousand and five hundred families back to Jerusalem.
Our text is part of Ezra’s journal record pertaining to the journey back. What is remarkable is that unlike the return under Zerubbabel, the return under Ezra was clearly bathed in prayer and carried by promise!
Ezra had gathered the people at the River of Ahava and led them to fast and pray for God’s mercies. This was especially as he had not requested for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect the people in their dangerous four month-long journey (compare v. Ezr 7:8, 9; 8:30-31). It was dangerous because bands of robbers were known to prey on travellers along these ancient highways.
Why did Ezra not request for a security detail from the king? Was it because he forgot? No, he did not forget. Was it because he was afraid the king would not accede to his request? No, Ezra was in the king’s good books and the king had even given Ezra a letter to make sure that everything he needed was to be charged to the king’s treasury.
So what was Ezra’s reason for not asking for protections? The reason was as Ezra put it: because he was ashamed to ask the king to supply a protection detail when he had told the king saying, verse 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. 
Ezra had, in other words, told the king the promise of the Lord to bless and protect those who seek him; and for that reason he could not with a clear conscience ask the king for protection. Of course, God does generally make use of ordinary means for the protection and blessing of His people, so it would not have been wrong even if Ezra had asked the king for help. 
However, we must remember that Artexerxes was not a believer. He was polytheistic. Had Ezra asked him for help, his view of God would have been much diminished.
But be as that may be the case, let us consider briefly Ezra’s statement of the promise. This promise is probably not new to most of us, but it is good to be reminded: 
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.
This promise has two parts: (1) God’s hand of favour is upon those who seek Him; and (2) God’s hand of wrath is against those who forsake him.
1. God’s Hand of Favour
The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him
The term ‘hand of God’ is one of Ezra’s favourite’s metaphors.
  • In Ezra 7:6, he speaks of how the hand of God was upon him so that the king granted him all that he requested.
  • In Ezra 7:28, he speaks about how it was the hand of the LORD that strengthened him as he gathered the chief men of Israel to go back with him.
  • In Ezra 8:18, he speaks of how the good hand of the Lord provided them with a Levite that they were lacking.
  • And finally, when they had successfully completed the journey, he would say in Ezra 8:31:
“The hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way. And we came to Jerusalem…” (Ezr 8:31-32b; cf. Ezra 7:9)
What does Ezra mean by the ‘hand of the Lord’? Well, clearly he is referring to God’s sovereign, providential power! In other words, what Ezra was saying to Artaxerxes is that the LORD will powerfully order providence for the good of those who seek him.
Notice that he is not saying that things will ultimately work out, but that the Lord is working all things together for the good of those who seek him.
And notice that Ezra is not simply saying that what ever happens in God’s hand is good for his people. That is indeed true, but Ezra knew that if his caravan were to be attacked by robbers, it would not be good—neither in the sight of Artaxerxes nor in his own eyes.
This is why Ezra did not simply make a theoretical statement to Artaxerxes and then adopt a whatever-will-be-will-be. No, no; he was much in prayer; and he got the people to fast and pray.
This is the nature of God’s promise. It is always true that whatever happens in the life of those who love God and are called according to his purpose is good so that no calamity ultimately befalls the elect. And this is, I submit to you, true regardless of whether we pray for it or not. However, there is a relative good that we all desire in this life—to be kept in good health, to be delivered from robbers and thief, to be protected from accidents, etc.
Such providential good is also covered in the promise of God; but they do not come to us automatically. We must ask for them sincerely and wholeheartedly—like Ezra.
But now consider the converse of the promise…
2. God’s Hand of Wrath
…but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.
Now, the converse of God’s promises is always difficult to appreciate.
In the first place, we must ask the question: Is Ezra talking about God’s future wrath as in suffering in hell? And the answer is: No; he is actually talking about the present. Notice the present tense. Notice also the reference to the power of God, which is basically the providential power of God.
In the second place, we must ask: Who exactly does Ezra mean by those who forsake the LORD? Is he referring to the heathen? Or is he referring to professing believers and God’s covenant people who refuse to seek the Lord?
I believe he is referring to both. The word ‘forsake’ (bz¾[;) can refer to leaving someone or refusing someone. Most times in Scripture it refers to leaving someone. So it is very likely that Ezra was thinking of those who are outwardly God’s people who have departed from the Lord.
It appears that what Ezra is saying is that dark and unhappy providence will follow those who refuse to seek the Lord or who depart from the Lord. For the reprobate, this is God’s wrath and punishment begun in this life. For the errant or backsliding elect child, on the other hand, it is God’s fatherly wrath and chastisement.
Now, we must remember that this is a general pattern rather than an absolute truth. So we must not fall into the error of Job’s friends of accusing our brethren of particular sins when bad things happen to them.
Remember that when bad things happen to ourselves, we must examine ourselves to see whether God is chastising us; but when it happen to others, we must think of it charitably as a trial and pray for them.
But as a preacher, I must gently warn you against forsaking the Lord. What does it mean to forsake the Lord as a believer? Well, it is, I believe, backsliding, walking lawlessly, prayerlessness, etc. When that happens, unless we repent, we can expect God to ignore our prayer and we can expect chastisement designed to wake us up.
Beloved brethren and children, remember well this promise: 
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. 
Do not live like an atheist or a fatalist. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; seek the Lord fervently in prayer if you would enjoy the good hand of the Lord in your life.
Don’t begin to doubt the Lord if he does not order providence in your favour; but know that in general the Lord hears the cries of His children who seek Him without doubt and wavering (Jas 1:6) in all aspects of their life.
This is the lesson of Scripture and of providence. Amen. Ω