Good Monday sister,
Thank you for stopping by for the devotion of Ezra Part 2!
We ended part 1 by looking at Ezra, the scribe and priest that practiced what he studied concerning the commandments of the Lord. Don’t worry. God does not “hand-pick” or “only allow” some people to be devoted to him; while others are left feeling around in the dark, never having that singleness of heart that Ezra had. Let’s dig in to learn more about “how” Ezra arrived in a devoted place with his Lord.
So, this is where we are now in Ezra:
- The rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem had finally been completed in 515/516 B.C. after the work came to a 23-year halt by opposers in the region.
- Now in 458 B.C. (during the reign of a new king) God led King Artaxerxes to have Ezra to lead a group of Jews to join the other returned exiles in Jerusalem.
- Ezra would use his skill in the laws of God to establish justice. He would also teach, since many were born during the time away from Jerusalem and were not familiar with the laws. The architectural reconstruction was done. Now it was the time for some spiritual reconstruction!
Ezra 8:21-23 21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 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.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
Dangers of Travel
Traveling over long distances on foot can bring about many hazards:
- Weather conditions-extreme heat/cold.
- Remember the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37? Robbers would hide alongside the road, behind large rocks or bushes looking for someone to rob.
- Let’s not forget also that this group was given silver and gold by the king and his seven counselors. This would be a great temptation for bandits!
- Animal attacks
- Remember when Samson was approached by a roaring lion while going through the vineyards of Timnah in Judges 14:5?
Concerned for the glory of God
So indeed travel was dangerous, even life-threatening. And even though Ezra knew that he was exactly where God wanted him to be, doing what God wanted him to do, he was aware that they would face obstacles as well. Are you aware that there will still be obstacles in your life, right where God has you?
No doubt if Ezra would have requested the king’s soldiers to escort them on their journey he would have done it (7:6, 7:15,16, 7:20). But Ezra did not want to take the glory from God after assuring the King that God was with them. Instead, he took time to fast and pray as he realized the dangers that lay ahead. What impact do you think this made on the king?
If you were Ezra, would you have asked the king for guards? Would you rather be in the safety of guards who you can see and touch, or the God who is the creator of the the very dirt you walked on in the journey? But logic would say, “Why not have the king’s military escorts come along on this monumental occasion? This is official kind of stuff, right?” The rebuilding of the temple after decades of exile…a very important journey indeed!
Yet, even with the King’s zeal and support and God’s strong hand in the journey to return to Jerusalem, Ezra humbled himself before the Lord for the journey. He went to God as a first resort…not a last one. He realized that he was ultimately receiving from God, not the king. I just love that! Any sensible Christian would not think it sinful for Ezra to request help from King Artaxerxes. It may have even been considered wise by earthly standards. Let’s not forget to take note that Ezra had resolved to seek the Lord first. He wasn’t indecisive, pacing back and forth, thinking, “should I…should I not?”
Ezra’s Leadership Style
I appreciate how Ezra used the words: we might humble ourselves before our god. I love how he included himself with others. He did not attempt to stand out. He recognized that he could benefit from the stronger cord of other’s praying with him. He was not a lone-ranger! Let’s read on:
Ezra 8:31-32 31 On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canalto go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way. 32 So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days. NIV
Again, see how Ezra uses we, us and our. Ezra gives us a clearer picture of a humble heart. The word humility is derived from the Latin word humilis, meaning “low”. Considering oneself insignificant. A few synonyms are: meek, lowly, and submissive. Although Ezra knew God’s hand was on him, he was still intentional in taking the time and focus to seek the Lord for protection. What a great way to start out a journey!
What message do you think Ezra gave to the others who would travel with him? What precedent did Ezra set?
I’m trying to stay on track here…So Ezra:
- resolved that he would rely on God’s help and not the king’s, exemplifying humility with God. What position do you put yourself in with those that you work with, live with, etc…?
- proclaimed a time of fasting and prayer for all those returning to Jerusalem in order to seek God’s protection. When you have a prayer request from a friend or loved one, do you identify with them (we, us, our) when praying about their stuggles?
- proceeded on the journey, trusting God for the outcome. And the outcome was a success (Ezra 8:31-32)! Can you count the times God brought you through a hard circumstance?
This was a huge undertaking! The value of the silver and gold they were carrying was equivalent to millions in our day today. The trip was around 800 miles (depending on the route) and it would take around four months to get there. I believe that Ezra’s approach to the “smaller” trips in his life lead to this same approach for this “huge one”. So, Ezra sought God first, prayed and fasted (fasting signifies humility and praying takes setting aside time), and stepped into where God had directed. Remember he put these things into practice! That’s the only way to become skilled in something. Ezra prayed, not in order to get God to validate his agenda, but in order to be mentally, spiritually and emotionally aligned with God’s plan. If you get to read through the remaining chapters, you will find out more about Ezra’s deep concern for the glory of God. Throughout the rest of the book, he would continue to be used by God, a Martin Luther of sorts, a catalyst in the reformation of the remnant in the promised land!
God is not calling for perfection, but faithfulness. This is what the book of Ezra echoes! There is so much more here, but I want us all to be reminded from Ezra that it pays to rely on God.
Pray with me,
Father, thank you for teaching me through your word. Help me to be truly changed as I learn more about who you are. Lord, you are my first line of defense for the obstacles that await me today. Help me to put you first and submit to your perfect will. That is not always easy for me. I thank you for giving me the power by the Holy Spirit to walk a faithful life of obedience. In Jesus’ name. Amen
5 Ways to pray during this COVID 19 pandemic:
1. For the sick and infected: God, heal and help. Sustain bodies and spirits. Contain the spread of infection.
2. For our vulnerable populations: God, protect our elderly and those suffering from chronic disease. Provide for the poor, especially the uninsured.
3. For our scientific community, leading the charge to understand the disease and communicate its gravity: God, give them knowledge, wisdom, and a persuasive voice.
4. For those with mental health challenges who feel isolated, anxious, and helpless: God, provide them every necessary support.
5. For the homeless, unable to practice the protocols of social distancing in the shelter system: Protect them from disease, and provide isolation shelters in every city.