Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 13 2019 - Ezra 8:1, 15-36 – Ezra's return

Ezra chapters 7 and 8 may seem to be a bit back-to-front. In Ezra 7 we read of Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem with his letter from King Artaxerxes. In today's chapter, the story backtracks to provide the details of Ezra's journey from Persia.

In today's reading we have skipped over the list of family names in verses 2-14 along with the numbers returning with those family heads – a great number of people. We have picked up the story where they have gathered in a camp by the "canal that flows towards Ahava" in preparation for their journey. When Ezra checked out who had arrived he found that there were no Levites, so he sent for a great number more to join them (vv. 16-20). Then, when all had assembled in their transit-camp, Ezra proclaimed a day of fasting and prayer. The people were to humble themselves before God, asking forgiveness for the sins that had led to the exile and to pray for "a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions" (v. 21). Ezra had not asked the king of Persia for soldiers to guard the travellers because he had told the king that their God would protect them.

Ezra divided between twelve men the gold and silver given them by the king, entrusting it to their care during the journey and charging them to bring it safely "to the house of our God in Jerusalem" (vv. 24-30).

So they set out on their long trek to Jerusalem. And their prayers were answered; Ezra records, "The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way. So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days" (vv. 31-32). After their rest, they offered sacrifices in the temple, giving thanks to God for a safe journey. "They also delivered the king’s orders to the royal satraps and to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, who then gave assistance to the people and to the house of God" (v. 36).

It is now that Ezra's work must really begin.

From this chapter I want us to take note of the way that trust in God and careful planning and organisation go hand-in-hand. Ezra's faith is seen in his confidence that the Lord his God would watch over him and protect him and his companions on their journey. It finds expression also in his insistence upon prayer, seeking God's blessing on their enterprise. But Ezra was also meticulous in his preparations. He set up the transit-camp for people to gather together before the journey and was careful to check who had arrived and to send for those who were missing before they set off. He was careful to distribute the gold and silver they were taking with them between twelve men so that if they were attacked, they were unlikely to lose everything. He was a careful planner.

This chapter reminds us of the need for us both to trust God in every part of our lives but also to plan and prepare carefully for the things that we do. It is said that Oliver Cromwell told his troops to "Trust in God and keep your powder [i.e. gunpowder] dry". Trusting in God was not to be a substitute for careful action and concern on the part of the troops. God wants a people whose lives are marked by both piety and practicality. What does this mean for the things that the Lord has laid on your heart to do for him? Do them in a humble spirit and with heartfelt prayer for the Lord's help in all you do. Do it also with careful consideration and attention to all that is required to bring it to a successful conclusion. And when you have managed to complete some work for God, don't forget to give thanks to him for enabling you to do it.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the way in which you equipped Ezra with the skills and character necessary for doing the work you had for him to do. Thank you that you watched over him and kept him and his companions safe on what could have proved a dangerous journey. Help us to know the work that you have for us to do and to do it both diligently and prayerfully. And may you get all the glory and praise.

Peter Misselbrook