Today’s reading in Ezra (chapter 8) does not look at first very interesting with all its detail about those returning from captivity in Babylon. It appears that Ezra himself wrote this chapter and the next. He led a company of Levites who were returning to Jerusalem and they had with them a great quantity of gold and silver, as detailed in chapter 7; this was the what Nebuchadnezzar had plundered from the Temple about 100 years before.
The Persian King is motivated to send it back to the Temple that had now been reconstructed. It is just possible that this King was the son of Queen Esther of whom we are going to read in a couple of weeks’ time. Ahasuerus is mentioned chapter 4:6 and Daniel refers to a king of this name in Daniel 9:1: a connection would explain the action of this king Artaxerxes (see chapter 7:21).
These Levites are carrying a cargo of enormous value, the 20 gold bowls (verse 27) alone contained 250 ounces of gold! What a target for robbers what a challenge of faith for Ezra and his fellow Levites.
Ezra proclaims a fast (verse 21). before they set out “that we might humble ourselves”. He then said, “For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all those who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all those who forsake him’”.
Scripture shows that sometimes God leads us through the valleys for our ‘long term’ good – that we grow and gain the full assurance of faith: these are times of testing to teach us to even more earnestly commit our lives to God. If we are ‘soldiers for Christ’ there are journeys to be undertaken and tests to be endured; we will read examples of such in Paul’s letters from tomorrow as we have just finished reading in Acts. As we grow spiritually stronger we must not be ashamed of professing our faith.
When Ezra reaches Jerusalem he says, “The hand of our God was on us and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way” (verse 31). As we complete the journey of our own lives may we say the same – or when it is evident that our Lord is returning and the ‘virgins’ are going forth with their lamps and are seeing “the power of his wrath … against all those who forsake him” (verse 22).