In yesterday’s Old Testament reading from Ezra 7 we see how King Artaxerexes having appointed Ezra his personal representative to the Jews in Jerusalem, now decrees that any Jew in Babylon can return home and he generously opens the royal treasury to finance Ezra’s trip and to offer as gifts in worship.
Chapter 8 opens with the passenger manifesto – a listing of the descendants of 15 individuals. It is estimated that about 6,000 including women and children accompanied Ezra on the three and a half month journey.
After camping for three days at the canal that flows towards Ahava, a check of the people assembled reveals that there were laymen and priests but no Levites to act as attendants for the temple amongst them (v18). They had chosen to stay in the comfort of Babylon rather than return to carry out the strict routines of service in the Temple.
To remedy this major problem, Ezra summons the leaders to help find Levites to accompany them on the journey. But even then only about 40 Levites from two families were willing to join Ezra’s caravan. So they had to further enlist 220 temple servants (v20) to fill the void. These were men of a mixed origins who were inferior to the Levites in status but were motivated by God’s spirit to make the trip.
Reflecting on these verses I find myself questioning if I/we at times show a similar reluctance to step up for service of the Lord? Am I / are we too comfortable to want to get involved in ministry opportunities? Would I have wanted to remain in Babylon than to set out on the journey into the unknown?
That issue resolved Ezra proclaims that the travellers fast to humble themselves and beseech God’s protection for the people and possessions on the journey. The treasures that the group were transporting to Jerusalem made them tempting target for bandits. Verse 22 is particularly revealing about Ezra:
I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’
Ezra had gone out on a limb by proclaiming his faith in God’s ability to protect the caravan. Having done so, he was now embarrassed to ask for human protection.
It is a challenge to us to likewise go out on a limb for God and when we do so not rely on human intervention to help us get through.
In verses 24-30 we see that the sacred objects were entrusted to the Levites and priests for safe keeping. The silver, gold and bronze they were to carry were worth many millions of dollars in todays value – yet they left with no military escort or armoured van. Verse 28 tells us that both the people and the objects were sacred and consecrated to the Lord. They stepped out in faith and God answered their prayers (v31).
Their journey safely completed and treasure delivered, the returning exiles offered a huge sacrifice as a thanksgiving to God for his mercies and as a sin offering.