21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 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.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
24 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, namely, Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their brothers, 25 and I weighed out to them the offering of silver and gold and the articles that the king, his advisers, his officials and all Israel present there had donated for the house of our God. 26 I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 27 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and two fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold.
28 I said to them, “You as well as these articles are consecrated to the Lord. The silver and gold are a freewill offering to the Lord, the God of your ancestors. 29 Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in the chambers of the house of the Lord in Jerusalem before the leading priests and the Levites and the family heads of Israel.” 30 Then the priests and Levites received the silver and gold and sacred articles that had been weighed out to be taken to the house of our God in Jerusalem.
31 On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way. 32 So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days.
33 On the fourth day, in the house of our God, we weighed out the silver and gold and the sacred articles into the hands of Meremoth son of Uriah, the priest. Eleazar son of Phinehas was with him, and so were the Levites Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui. 34 Everything was accounted for by number and weight, and the entire weight was recorded at that time.
35 Then the exiles who had returned from captivity sacrificed burnt offerings to the God of Israel: twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven male lambs and, as a sin offering, twelve male goats. All this was a burnt offering to the Lord. 36 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.
(Ezra 8:21-36 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, we heard Ezra begin speaking in the first person and of current events. Ezra’s first words were a doxology to the Lord, thanking and praising God for all He had done, was doing, and was about to do in the future.
Ezra then took a roll call of the family heads going with him to Jerusalem. As Ezra looked over the roles represented, he realized there were no Levites among the assembled caravan. Ezra reached out to the head of one of the Levite clans with a request for participants, and volunteers from both the Levites and the temple servants stepped forward.
As we begin today’s text, we see Ezra continuing the details of the preparation for the journey, the actual trip, and the arrival in Jerusalem. When Ezra summarized the journey in Ezra 7:9, we saw the journey took four months. Today’s text provides the details of those four months.
Ezra begins with the preparation for the trip in verses 21-30. If you’ll remember from our introduction to the book of Ezra, we noted that Ezra was most likely the author of the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. As a historian, Ezra had recorded God’s promise to King Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14 (“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”).
As a practitioner and servant of the Lord, now Ezra had to live out his faith and obedience to God’s Word that he had recorded years before. With everyone who will go on the trip now assembled, Ezra declares days of fasting and seeking the Lord. Ezra declared those days set aside to seek God, humble themselves before Him, and pray for their journey.
In verse 21, we see that the headcount Ezra provided in the first part of chapter 8 was of the men (as heads of families) only; now we see that children and spouses were also part of the journey. Ezra was also in prayer about the possessions they were taking with them – all the offerings of gold, silver, money, and other valuables that the king and others were sending to the Temple as offerings to the Lord.
Ezra had been talking about his faith and the greatness of God with King Artaxerxes; now he had to live out his faith, to walk the talk. Ezra knew of the dangers and perils of the trip, and the bandits that loved to steal valuables from traveling parties. Ezra now had a choice to make – a crisis of faith – to trust God for protection as God had promised, or to use the king’s army to provide protection for the trip.
Ezra chose the Lord, but began by fasting, seeking God’s face, humbling themselves, and praying for the Lord’s protection and provision. In verse 23, Ezra notes that God assured them of safe passage. They didn’t move until God responded.
In verses 24 – 30, Ezra records the inventory and accounting for the gifts to the Lord that were set aside for the Temple. Again, Ezra was very careful to have accountability before the Lord for this task. Ezra engaged priests from the traveling party to help with this work. Ezra charged them with the responsibility and authority to transport these gifts, with a careful count and weight measures recorded for each and every gift. Ezra declared both the gifts and the priests who transported them holy to the Lord, set aside for God only during the journey as well as when they reached the Temple in Jerusalem.
Verse 31 records the trip as successful; verse 32 shows Ezra’s consideration for the weariness of the journey and rest for all involved.
Verses 33 – 36 provide closure to the trip itself. In verses 33-34, Ezra has all the priests who carried the offerings and holy objects check them in at the Temple. Ezra notes that the inventory was taken, compared to the counts and weights recorded at the beginning of the trip, and everything was accounted for – nothing was missing.
Verse 35 records the worship service and the sacrifices made to the Lord in honor of arriving safely in Jerusalem.
Verse 36 records Ezra dispatching his official duties with the regional governors, officials, and rulers. Ezra read King Artaxerxes’ letter and decrees; all the officials responded in support of the king, of Ezra, of the Jewish people, and of the Temple.
As I read and studied this passage, I was struck by Ezra’s high view of God:
- he put God first and foremost in everything he did
- his careful preparation – spiritually first, through fasting and prayer
- he walked the talk and practiced what he preached
- he trusted God, even when would have been easy to accept the king’s protection for the journey instead of relying on the Lord
- his attention to detail and accountability for the gifts entrusted to him
- his spiritual leadership in engaging others with the work of the Lord (transporting the gifts, declaring both the gifts and the priests who bore them as holy)
I am humbled by Ezra’s role model.
May we seek to honor God in every part of our lives as Ezra did.