THE PURSUIT OF SPIRITUAL RESTORATION
“Striking Out in Faith” Ezra 8
The need to trust God is a very human desire. There are so many things, which are beyond our ability or capability to manage or control or impact. Life often brings us to the end of ourselves—to the knowledge that we have limited capacities and capabilities. We just have to depend upon God so we pray. This is an intensely human need. We have been praying a lot for a number of you and your concerns that would qualify for prayer because these needs are beyond our capability to control. Imagine of we had a God who did not care in addition to are limitations. That would be a double-whammie. That would justify Fate and Chance. It turns out, though; that we have a God we can cling to. We can ask Him for help and he gives it. In Ezra’s case they are striking out in on a dangerous and perilous journey. They will be vulnerable and targeted for ambush and robbery—especially because they have a lot of goods and money with them vss 24-30. Ezra prays for help and strikes out in faith!
FAITH IN GOD IS THE LEGACY OF GODS PEOPLE 8:1-14
1. A life of faith in God is what marks us as God’s people. Here the concern is that this group, about to embark on their journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, is connected to the faith of their predecessors and then ancestors. The lists of names of individuals or the leader of a family and the numbers of those returning have continuity with the first groups of returnees under Zerubbabel in 2:2. The list of names there amounts to about 50000 people on this first return. This took place about eighty years earlier. In the meantime, they have settled in the land, rebuilt the temple, and been harassed all throughout. This group is much smaller, totaling between 4000 and 5000 people.
2. So the need for continuity with the pre-exilic Israelites was not just a concern for Zerrubabel and the first group of returnees but also this second group with Ezra. This connection for the community is essential to ensure they are identified as God’s people and associated with the original group of Israelites God had made His promises too. If they are, then they too are recipients of these same promises and need themselves to become committed to and dedicated to God to receive the benefits of those promises.
The reason why we identify ourselves with and as God’s people is because there is uniqueness to that identity. We do not just belong to a god out there but can trace our origins throughout history and into scripture all the way to the apostles. There are signs and beliefs and promises and hopes and lifestyle and perspective and obedience that set us apart a Gods people. One of these is faith in our God. That is, faith in His word and his promises. We have continuity with so many before us who trusted and prayed and walked by faith. So faith in God is something we have in common with our predecessors—there is continuity. It is a constant and we do no differently than they did.
THOSE WHO ARE DEVOUT ARE SPIRITUALL FOCUSED 8:15-23
People who have a spiritual focus while living in this world and doing things in this world will lead the people of God. We see this in the example of Ezra’s leadership as a devout follower of the God of Israel.
1. An example is Ezra’s concern for the spiritual life of God’s people he is leading. We see this concern in vss. 15-20. Ezra discovers that there were no priests or Levites among those who had volunteered to return with him vs. 15. He sends a delegation to Casiphia requesting ‘servants for the house of our God’ 8:17. The point here is the Levites were God’s ordained mediators for a proper relationship with Him, and the priests were God’s chosen instruments to teach His people the Law (Deut 24:8).
Ezra’s concern that there be sufficient Levites in the return is indicative of his concern for the spiritual lives of God’s people. He reiterates the theme of God’s gracious goodness in his acknowledgment that the tremendous response he received—in this tally, 250 men—was the result of ‘the good hand of our God upon us’ 8:18. Ezra’s concern was God’s concern and he could expect God to respond to the need for spiritual leadership of the people.
2. After the Levites arrive Ezra calls a fast 8:21 to humble themselves before God and seek a safe journey from him. Ezra’s actions model the humble dependence upon God that should characterize His people. For Ezra, even the safety of his journey was dependent upon God. Notice that he admits a desire to ensure some type of human protection but realizes that to do so would undermine his testimony to the king 8:22. Ezra recognizes that man’s behavior and God’s character are the two factors that co-determine the relationship between them. If men will seek Him, God will bless them. Ultimately, it is leaning hard on God and not on men that is the interest of the devout. To do otherwise Ezra says is to incur God’s wrath if we do not. God is worthy of our trust.
So life is essentially spiritual in nature. We cannot just live at the level of our physical sustenance. It is not just about getting by with some type of human ingenuity. There are real threats to our existence. There is real harm in this world. We can expect to be vulnerable and in jeopardy. There is nothing about living in this world that we should expect it to be turned in to heaven.
So we can turn to God in the midst of it. When we have a downturn or potential setback or things look threatening the devout perceive the spiritual inside the natural. God can be trusted in this. We can pray as we pursue the righteous path and know that God hears us. We may fear but we can pray. Wed may have more questions but we can ask one for help who has answers. We can pray and fast in dire circumstances and potential loss. The devout see the spiritual nature of life and out it to use in the physical one.
GOD RESPONDS TO OUR PLEAS FOR HELP AS WE TRUST HIM IN PRAYER
This last section is the scene of the preparation for the journey. There are four brief scenes recounting the safe arrival of Ezra’s convoy.
1. The weighing of the temple vessels 24-30; 33-34. These were gifts for the temple given by the Persian officials and non-returning Israelites. It amounts to 25 tons of silver, silver and gold about 6 tons, 20 bowls of gold and two expensive bronze pieces. This would be cause for concern on this journey. Everything made it 33-34.
2. The returnees burnt offering and sin offerings 8:35. The four kinds of animals were the same offered at the temple dedication in 6:17 but here the number is smaller. These offerings once again connect to the theme of continuity as these returnees sacrifice on behalf of all of the tribes of Israel.
3. Informing the provincial satraps and governors of Artaxerxes decree 8:36. A copy was given to them and they were to carry out the king’s command under Ezra’s leadership. The result was these surrounding peoples assisted the Jewish community now newly embedded in the territory.
4. When journey ends Ezra again acknowledges—as he has all along—that the exiles safe arrival was the result of the good hand of God upon them by delivering them form any enemy and threat along their 900 mile journey through rock and crevice and forest. This was so evident that even the surrounding peoples assisted in the sacrifices vs 36 the means of fellowship with this God.
God often works in such a way in answer to our prayers that there is no doubt it only He could do it. The evidence is so clear that only God can be praised for the outcome. Even those outside of that fellowship can acknowledge that your God did it. God does respond to our pleas for help when those pleas are consistent with the will and plan of God for us. Ezra was launching into something that God wanted Him to do. It was the will of God. And in response to Ezra’s prayers, God heard and answered. You can trust that God will help you to perform His will in the presence of threats and danger of the unknown.
1. We cannot avoid relating to God in faith on this side of the grave. We have evidence that God works and we can boldly step out in life when things seem difficult for us to do God’s will.
2. The closer we walk with God and stay near His heart the more spiritually focused we are in this world. Spiritual focus is essential if we are going to minister to others so they too can grow in their life of faith.
3. A large part of that spiritual focus is praying. Praying to God when we need his help is based in the assurance that he hears us and he can be trusted with our need.