Ezra 8

The second exodus

In this new exodus, Ezra is accompanied by part of the people who had remained in the province of Babylon.  These people, like their leader, possess an exact genealogical record.  Scriptures mentions all of them according to their families and not, like part of those in Ezra2, according to their cities.  In the first great movement of restoration, there had been relatively little doubt as to the rights of individuals to belong to the people of God, and this doubt was essentially in relation to the priesthood, but here it seems to be necessary to be even more strict than at the beginning.  This phenomenon is a frequent one.  The enthusiasm of first love may offer some mixture, because love and joy overflow and support the whole of the people.  Foreign elements may enter in and often, shortly after the beginning, the painful experience of this situation becomes evident, but the power of the Holy Spirit is there to discern these foreign elements and separate them when the occasion presents itself.  The history of the Church, at its inception, affords similar examples to us.  Lying enters with Ananias  and Sapphira; the flesh, which has only the outward appearance of conversion, enters with Simon the magician, but the Spirit of God watches, judges and discerns, and the house is momentarily preserved from damage.  Later the assembly is more vigilant against evil: "Thou hast tried them who say themselves [are] apostles and are not, and hast found them liars" (Rev. 2: 2).  It is not a sign, nor greater power, nor greater love, but rather this vigilance which becomes a necessity if one would preserve the purity of the testimony of God. 

In the midst of this procession, the sons of Adonikam shine, most of whom had returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra2: 13).  Now the last  children (v. 13) go up with Ezra; their names are not forgotten; thus, the entire family is complete and this special blessing is mentioned here in the book of God.  May we also see entire families, like the family of Adonikam, among those whom the Lord calls to testify of Him in these final days!

These men, including the priests, who are mentioned in first place, and the chief men, numbered 1502 (vv. 1-14) (translator's note: seems to be  1514).  But before setting out on their journey, Ezra makes a very afflicting observation: "I surveyed the people and the priests, and found none of the sons of Levi there" (v. 15).  Already they were very few in Ezra2, as we have seen, and numbered only 74 persons.  Here, not a single Levite presents himself.  They remain in the cities of the nations, occupied with their own personal interests, without any thought of going up with their brothers to serve in the house of God.  Ezra is obliged to send them a special embassy of chief men and men of understanding, to induce them to join their brothers. At last 38 Levites come!  There are 220 Nethinim, or approximately six servants for each Levite!  Isn't a situation like this very humiliating, and can we not find instruction in it for ourselves as well?  Where are the ministers, among the people of God, for, as we have said more than once, the ministers today correspond to the Levites of those days?  Where are those who serve the house of God and who fill the functions which God has assigned to them?  Why is there this scarcity and poverty?  Those who remained among the nations might excuse themselves on account of their occupations and responsibilities in the midst of their fellow countrymen, but must the house of God remain without their cooperation?  Ought they not to sacrifice their own position and interests, in order to serve the Lord there where He desired to be served?

In spite of everything, we find this expression: "The good hand of our God [was] upon us" (v. 18), the only resource which Ezra could count on.  And if the help granted to them was insufficient, revealing the great areas of lack caused by the people's ruin, at least there was some help, and the Lord did not abandon His own.

Faced with this culpable insufficiency, what should Ezra and his companions do?  Should they attempt to remedy the situation by some human contrivance suggested by the circumstances?  In no way!  The house was built; the place of gathering the people together was set up; the name of the Lord dwelt there; and they must go there without delay.  But, in these conditions, one thing, only one thing was necessary: humiliation.  "And I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God" (v. 21).  No blessing was possible without this fasting and humiliation, demanded by the miserable state of this handful of men, about to go to Jerusalem.  How could they have found the "right way" for themselves, their children, and their possessions, in this state which was so poor and so incomplete?  Others would have been tempted to "require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help them against the enemy".  This thought does not even enter the heart of godly Ezra; he would have been ashamed to nourish such a thought and give it free reign.  Had he not said to the king: "The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his anger is against all them that forsake him" (v. 22)?  Would he say: I trust in the Lord, and then give the lie to this same confession by adding: But that does not completely suffice me: I must also trust in man?  No, this weak remnant fast and humble themselves, and pray to God.  This, and nothing else, is exactly what was called for.  "We fasted, and besought our God for this; and he was entreated of us" (v. 23).

Circumstances like those of Ezra are have been found frequently and are still found in our day.  Sometimes difficulties are apparently inextricable.  The enemy lies in wait for us and sets himself between us and the accomplishment of a simple responsibility: the gathering together of the Lord's own and the service of the house of God.   We have no strength to resist the enemy.  The help of Levites, which we had looked to for some hope, fails us.  Satan would like to provoke us to meet him with the king's "band of soldiers and horsemen", with the arms of the flesh, knowing that we will be defeated if we use his own weapons against him.  What is to be done?  The same thing Ezra did: let us persevere in fasting, humiliation and prayer, and we may be certain that God will answer us.  "He was entreated of us", Ezra says.  In addition to these blessed arms, Ezra had the word of God with him and he was the representative of this word to the people.  Was he rich?  Was he strong?  In no way, but he possessed the resources of the One whose strength is made perfect in weakness.

In verses 24 to 30, the priests and Levites receive the deposit of the holy things, vessels, silver and gold, which had been voluntarily given for the house of God.  These gifts were sanctified by the name of the Lord and by the character of those who kept them.  "Ye are holy unto Jehovah; the vessels also are holy; and the silver and the gold is a voluntary offering to Jehovah the God of your fathers" (v. 28), Ezra tells them.  These gifts, coming in large part from the king, counselors and princes, were not defiled in any way.  Since the name of the Lord and his temple had been recognized by these men,  God could take pleasure in their offerings.  But it was necessary, even for these material gifts, whether silver or gold, that the priests watch over them and keep them carefully, for nothing must be lost.  The men entrusted with this deposit must show absolute faithfulness and integrity.  Under the dispensation of grace we see the apostle Paul take the same scrupulous care to watch over the deposit confided to him by the assemblies of Gentile believers for the saints at Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8: 20).

Verses 32-34 tell us of the great zeal of the priests and Levites to fulfill their mission: they carried out their task whole-heartedly.  Nothing was missing; we find the number and weight of all these objects recorded anew.  May we imitate them in the responsibilities, whether great or small, which the Lord entrusts to us: may we never consider anything which He gives into our hand as belonging to ourselves, but rather as something to be rendered again to Him after having been faithfully administrated for Him.  Most of the time the frauds, great or small, which Christians become guilty of, whether they are committed against authorities or against the world, have no other cause than this.  They consider as belonging to themselves personally something which the Lord has given them to administrate, and they often expose themselves to cruel chastening as a consequence of their unfaithfulness.  In contrast, the consequence of faithfulness is seen here.   God watches over His goods and He preserves those who carry these gifts all along the way.  The phrase, so often repeated in these chapters, reoccurs here: "And 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" (v. 31).

After they arrived at Jerusalem,  this feeble troop of "the children of those that had been carried away, who had come out of the captivity, presented burnt offerings to the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel".  They, also, take to heart the recognition and affirmation of the unity of the people.  Their testimony was based on this very principle, even in their low condition.  But let us note that they come to the recognition of this principle only in a condition of humiliation as regards themselves and with care to maintain the holiness of the Lord beyond any reproach.  Indeed, proclaiming principles, without a moral condition which corresponds to them, is nothing less than profaning them.  May we never speak of principles unless they are supported by our practical state.  It is odious in God's eyes to pretend to possess the truth while living in unrightousness (Rom 1: 18).  Ignorance of divine principles, accompanied by a godly walk, according to the knowledge one possesses, is better than understanding of these truths, without holiness in the walk.  In these poor souls escaped from captivity who go up to Jerusalem, we see a lovely example of the union of these two things: holiness or consecration to the Lord, and the maintenance of the unity of the people of God, in the midst of ruin.