Almost sixty years after the events of the previous chapter, we move into a time period where King Artaxerxes ruled the Babylonian Empire. We are given a long introduction of the teacher of the Law, Ezra, perhaps to establish his link straight to Aaron and the original priestly order.
Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on himEzra 7:6
Not only the latest favor of going up to Jerusalem, but the king had always granted Ezra everything he had asked for, fearing the God who was with him. We are not given any context or justification to this seemingly irrational fear, that drives the king the extra mile to please Ezra and his band of exiles but some also attribute it to Esther’s influence on the kingdom with the preceding ruler.
He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him.Ezra 7:9
The first section summarizes Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem and how he was able to lead such a large group safe and sound and that too in record time. The author reaffirms that God was with Ezra and cited that as the reason for the King’s favor and the super-fast journey.
As usual the author encloses the latest decree made by King Artaxerxes, to officially record the message the king was sending the Jews and the other inhabitants of the Trans-Euphrates region. There was great fear and respect in the tone of the king’s letter. The king gave a lot of freedom to Ezra and the departing Jews, such as everyone who wished to accompany Ezra, was allowed to leave (Ezra 7:13), silver and gold was provided to them even by the king and his advisors (Ezra 7:15) and if they needed anything else, they could dip into the royal treasury of the region of Trans-Euphrates (Ezra 7:20).
Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisers have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in JerusalemEzra 7:15
Artaxerxes is perhaps under the impression that the power of the God Israel is limited to the walls of Jerusalem. He seems to be trying his best to pacify this God, lest He should get angry at him. Sometimes we also feel the same way about God.
We feel that God is restricted to a Church and we try to pacify Him with our offerings and services. For some, God is someone they visit every Sunday and then return home leaving God under the care of the priests and church keepers. We try to limit God and thereby his effect on our lives to a building or a day of the week or a time of the day. God wants to reside in your heart and is not pleased with your empty sacraments and offerings.
Why should his wrath fall on the realm of the king and of his sons?Ezra 7:23
Clearly, this king feared the wrath of Yahweh, which could only come from experience. Either he had faced the wrath of God in the past or had seen it come down on his foes in one of his battles. He even abolished the collection of taxes for priests and other temple workers.
Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.Ezra 7:26
The Jews were joyous beyond belief that the king who was governing over them, gave such honor to the God of heaven and earth.
Ezra gathered all the men willing to join him on his journey to Jerusalem and setup a meeting point at Ahava canal. They had stopped there for three days, as Ezra counted the heads and made a list of the people making this journey, when suddenly Ezra realized that they had no common Levites in their party, Levites not of the priestly order who were needed for menial work in the temple.
But because God was watching over them and guiding Ezra’s actions, they were able to find a score of Levites willing to accompany them along with a couple of hundred temple workers.
When God guides our paths, all the arrangements are made for us. Ezra did not have to worry about the finances for his trip or the funds for the temple sacrifices and ornaments or even to gather his troops, everything was prepared by God.
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 8:22
But Ezra was just a human and like the rest of us, fear crept into his mind. Fear of the unknown, fear of the things that were not under his control. They were carrying extremely valuable cargo across a long route, full of bandits and those who wanted to harm the people of Jerusalem. Ezra had seen how God had provided everything they needed for their journey and more, that too at the hands of a king who had earlier halted the work on the temple. Yet, he was anxious before starting his journey.
He could not have asked the king for the royal escort, as that would have undermined his own hand that he had played in talking up the God of Israel. So, if he asked the king for help, Ezra thought he will bring shame on the name of the Lord and if he didn’t ask for help and they were robbed on their way, then again the king would question ‘why did your God not protect you?’
We sometimes face such situations where we feel that it is our job to save the reputation of our God from slandering mouths or perhaps a mess that we ourselves have created by not following His voice. Remember, that God does not need our protection and doesn’t want us to waste our time in defending His name. But sometimes, we bring upon such problems by either falsely testifying or promising someone a miracle without God leading us to say so. We must always reach out to God and consult him as to what should be our next steps rather than hyping up something that we ourselves are not sure about.
The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way.Ezra 8:31
Ezra fasted and committed his fears to God, which the Lord graciously answered and helped Ezra and the other exiles safely return to Jerusalem, with all the precious cargo accounted for. Ezra gave all glory and honor to God for their successful and comparatively quick journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. The exiles that had returned earlier, joined them in Jerusalem, where they celebrated their safe return from captivity by sacrificing burnt offering to our Lord.
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 8:36