THE SECOND RETURN

EZRA 8

 

One of the complaints that is often made of the Bible is that it contains what is perceived to be two different creation accounts. There is the account given in Genesis 1 in which we see a setting forth of the six days of creation. And then there is a second account given in Genesis 2 in which man and woman are created in a single day and set into the Garden of Eden. These two accounts reflect a common Hebrew style of writing known as parallelism. First we see the broad description of what took place - sort of a birdís eye view. Then we come back for a closer look at the key elements of that narrative, focusing on a wormís eye view. The same thing takes place in the seventh and eighth chapters of the book of Ezra.

Ezra 7

Ezra 8

Birdís eye view of the Return

Wormís eye view of the Return

Describes the entire journey from preparation to end in just a few verses

Gives an in-depth description of the preparations and the actual journey

Gives a copy of the Decree of Artaxerxes granting permission for the journey

Sets for the list of names of those who went on the journey

 

THE ENROLLMENT OF THE SECOND RETURN

Now these are the heads of their fathersí households and the genealogical enrollment of those who went up with me from Babylon in the reign of King Artaxerxes: 2 of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom; of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel; of the sons of David, Hattush; 3 of the sons of Shecaniah who was of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah and with him 150 males who were in the genealogical list; 4 of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah and 200 males with him; 5 of the sons of Zattu, Shecaniah, the son of Jahaziel and 300 males with him; 6 and of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan and 50 males with him; 7 and of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah and 70 males with him; 8 and of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael and 80 males with him; 9 of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel and 218 males with him; 10 and of the sons of Bani, Shelomith, the son of Josiphiah and 160 males with him; 11 and of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai and 28 males with him; 12 and of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan and 110 males with him; 13 and of the sons of Adonikam, the last ones, these being their names, Eliphelet, Jeuel and Shemaiah, and 60 males with them; 14 and of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud, and 70 males with them. (Ezra 8:1-14).

As we read through this list of names, we cannot help but to be struck by a sense of deja vu. We have done this before. We have seen some of these same names when we read through the second chapter of Ezra.

That had taken place 70 years earlier. It had been in the days of Cyrus, the founder of the Median-Persian Empire. That empire has now been established for 70 years. Persian emperors have come and gone. The city of Jerusalem and its Temple have been rebuilt. And by now, even the generation that saw that rebuilding have now grown old and died. A new generation has arisen. This new generation are a people divided. There are those in the new generation who live in Jerusalem and Judea. And there are those who live somewhere else in the Persian Empire.

It is at such a time that Ezra is moved by the Lord to institute a second return of Jews to the land. Some of these returnees will be cousins and nephews to those who returned the first time under Zerubbabel. This will be reflected when we see them coming from the same family names.

 

EZRAíS CALL FOR LEVITES

Now I assembled them at the river that runs to Ahava, where we camped for three days; and when I observed the people and the priests, I did not find any Levites there.

So I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, teachers.

I sent them to Iddo the leading man at the place Casiphia; and I told them what to say to Iddo and his brothers, the temple servants at the place Casiphia, that is, to bring ministers to us for the house of our God.

According to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of insight of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, and his sons and brothers, 18 men; 19 and Hashabiah and Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, with his brothers and their sons, 20 men; 20 and 220 of the temple servants, whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites, all of them designated by name. (Ezra 8:15-20).

Ezraís band had gotten as far as the Ahava canal when Ezra noticed that something was wrong. Ahava means "river" and might be a reference to the Euphrates river, possibly near the place where it and the Tigris flow together just before reaching the Persian Gulf. It was a staging area. It was the gathering place for everyone who was going to meet before they began the last stage of their trip.

The Levites were the workers at the temple. They were responsible for the care and maintenance of the holy place. They were the ones who were chosen to clean up after the sacrifices, to make sure everything was in place and they were responsible for the daily routine at the temple. Being a student of the law, Ezra knew that only Levites could perform those jobs. Yet when the call went out for people to return to Jerusalem to revitalize the worship in the Temple, no Levites stepped forward.

And so, a second call is sent out. Ezra asks for some very specific volunteers. And this time he gets them.

Is there a principle for us today? After all, there is no more Temple today and therefore no need of Levites to serve within it. How are we to apply such a passage.

You are the temple. And today the Lord seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. The call has gone out and the response has not been adequate. And so, a second call goes out. You are needed, not merely to fill a pew, but to be an active, serving member of a community of worship.

 

PRAYER AND FASTING

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions.

For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, "The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him."

So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty. (Ezra 8:21-23).

Did you hear about the five-year old girl attended a formal wedding with her grandmother? Although she had been in Sunday school, this was her first time in a formal church service. During the wedding, the minister said, "Let us pray." Every person bowed his head in prayer. The little girl looked around and saw all the heads bowed and all eyes turned toward the floor. In her confusion she yelled out, "Grandma, what are they all looking for?"

What are you looking for when you pray ó A God who awaits your beck and call, ready to fill your slightest whims? Or an Almighty Lord who sovereignly rules the affairs of nations yet gracious determines to listen to your petitions?

There is a principle here. It is that Godís people do not presume upon God. Ezra knew the promises of God. He was a scribe - a professional student of the Scriptures. He was confident in Godís promise to bring them back to the land.

But he does not take God for granted. Ezra knows that Godís will is accomplished in response to prayer. He knows that Godís blessings are appropriated through prayer. And so he lead the returnees to fast and pray.

This tells me something about prayer. It tells me that prayer is a sign of dependence upon God. Their prayer showed their dependence on Godís protection. They confessed that they did not have the power to protect themselves or to complete their journey successfully. They needed God, or they would fail without Him.

Indeed, they had committed themselves to trusting in God alone. Ezra tells us that he was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, "The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him." Do you see what he did? He deliberately refused to request the protection of the king of the Persians for this returning party. He went out on a limb for God. He told the king, "God will protect us." And now he turns to the Lord and says, "If You do not protect us, then no one will."

This prayer is accompanied by fasting. Fasting involves an abstinence from food. That is not a pleasant thing. It shows that they were serious about this; they were willing to give up everything, even life itself.

What is the purpose of this fasting? The answer is given in verse 21: I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God. Do you see it? One of the purposes of fasting is to humble us. It is to remind us of our NEED. Just as we need food, so also we need the Lord. And so we fast as a sign and a reminder of that need.

Ezra had determined NOT to ask Artaxerxes for protection. He had proclaimed that God would protect His people. And now he is leading them in prayer and in fasting that they might receive that protection.

You might be looking at this and thinking that Ezra went out on a limb and now he is praying that the limb not be sawed off. When was the last time you went out on a limb for the Lord? When was the last time you did something that required you to really depend upon the Lord? There is something to be said here about Ezraís faith. May our faith be similarly strengthened.

 

TWELVE COMMISSIONED MEN

Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and with them ten of their brothers; 25 and I weighed out to them the silver, the gold and the utensils, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes and all Israel present there had offered.

Thus I weighed into their hands 650 talents of silver, and silver utensils worth 100 talents, and 100 gold talents, 27 and 20 gold bowls worth 1,000 darics, and two utensils of fine shiny bronze, precious as gold.

Then I said to them, "You are holy to the LORD, and the utensils are holy; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD God of your fathers.

"Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leading priests, the Levites and the heads of the fathers' households of Israel at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD."

So the priests and the Levites accepted the weighed out silver and gold and the utensils, to bring them to Jerusalem to the house of our God. (Ezra 8:24-30).

There is a very careful accounting of all of the silver and the gold and the other valuables which are to be brought to the Temple. Care is taken to avoid even the appaearance of impropriety.

 

THE JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM

Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way. (Ezra 8:31).

Up to now we have been reading of all of the varied preparations for the journey to Jerusalem. That actual journey takes place in this verse and then we will see in the rest of the chapter all of the aspects which take place upon the completion of that journey.

8:1

Preparations for the Journey

Numbering

Initial numbering

8:15

Call of the Levites

8:21

Prayer & Fasting

8:24

Financial Distributions

8:31

The Journey

8:32

Completion of the Journey

Arrival & Rest

8:33

Financial Collections

8:35

Offerings in the Temple

8:36

Delivery of Edicts

Ezra had his fellow travelers in prayer and fasting that they might have a safe journey. The answer to that prayer is seen in the brevity of this one verse. There is nothing to tell about the journey. No bandits. Not even a speed bump. Instead we read that the Lord delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way. The fact that they were said to have been delivered from enemies and ambushes assumes that there were indeed enemies and ambushes from which they had to be delivered. They had not been unreasonably afraid.

 

THE DELIVERY OF THE COMMISSION

Thus we came to Jerusalem and remained there three days. 33 On the fourth day the silver and the gold and the utensils were weighed out in the house of our God into the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui.

Everything was numbered and weighed, and all the weight was recorded at that time.

The exiles who had come from the captivity offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel: 12 bulls for all Israel, 96 rams, 77 lambs, 12 male goats for a sin offering, all as a burnt offering to the LORD.

Then they delivered the king's edicts to the kingís satraps and to the governors in the provinces beyond the River, and they supported the people and the house of God. (Ezra 8:32-36).

Notice the integrity of these proceedings. Ezra had been given charge of a vast financial fortune in these funds that were to go to the Temple. And so, Ezra was careful to set up a system of accountability for these funds. There was an exact count taken before they left and now there is an exact count taken as they arrive.

The church needs this kind of accountability. There have been far too many instances in which large Christian ministries have been rocked by financial scandals. It ought not to be. The pattern of the Scriptures is for a financial accountability.

In conclusion, this chapter points out five needs within the church:

1. The Need for Committed Workers.

This is seen in Ezraís call to the Levites. It was not enough to have scribes or priests. There were needed those who would do the actual work of ministry.

I suppose that God could have accomplished His purposes through the angels. He could have written the gospel in the clouds or announced it in the thunder and lightning. But He didnít. Instead, He uses MEN. Men are His method. I love the prayer that goes, "Lord, as long as you are going to use men, use me."

2. The Need for Prayer.

Before setting out on the journey, Ezra let the entire group in a time of prayer and fasting. Prayer was a priority. It was a priority to Jesus, too. How many times would you see Jesus going off to be alone in prayer. He never gave His disciples any tips on preaching. He gave no strategy for church growth. But He did teach them how to pray.

3. The Need for Faith.

We saw that Ezra had determined not to ask Artaxerxes for protection. This was a determination to trust upon the Lord. Notice that real faith brings about corresponding actions. Because of Ezraís faith, his actions took a necessary direction.

Are there actions in your life which give evidence of your faith? Howard Hendricks asks it in this way: "What is there in your life that can only be explained in terms of the supernatural?" Real faith results in a changed life.

4. The Need for Integrity.

Ezra took a great deal of care to make certain that the exact amounts of money were delivered to the Temple ministry. There was a careful accounting involved.

The church needs to avoid every appearance of evil. This includes the way in which the church handles its finances, but it is not limited to this. We need to live our lives in such a way that there is no doubt about our integrity.

 


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