All work that is truly God’s must be put to the test. For the man of faith, taught in the thoughts of God, difficulties are never invincible. Such a man of faith is Ezra, as this chapter shows.
Although the work of God in which Ezra and the others are involved is different from that of Zerubbabel and the others, no new principles are introduced. They apply the same principles as those who have come to the land before. They adhere to what they have learned from the Word of God. No new center is invented or a new place of worship chosen. That is why Ezra goes to Jerusalem.
They will soon see that those who have gone before them have failed in what has been entrusted to them. Failure requires appropriate service, admonition and correction to righteousness. False principles and a false position are not a basis for restoration, but must be given up.
1 - 14 List of Ezra’s Travel Companions
1 Now these are the heads of their fathers’ [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.
Verse 1 immediately connects to the last verse of the preceding chapter. Among the heads of families there is grave concern for the house of God, and this at a time when they, who had previously been delivered from Babylon by God, have become unfaithful. What this unfaithfulness consists of we will see in Ezra 9.
The genealogy (verses 2-14) shows how valuable to God are the names of those who now answer His call and go up to Jerusalem. He always attributes to His people what He Himself works in grace in their hearts. He never forgets what has happened in faith and submission to His Word.
Some descendants of Adonikam, the last ones, receive a separate mention (verse 13). At the first return a part, that is the older generation, has already gone along with it (Ezra 2:13). Now the youngest offspring go back with Ezra. God’s appreciation for their return can be seen in the mention of their names. God wishes that whole generations take their place in the land.
15 - 20 Call to Levites
15 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. 16 So I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, teachers. 17 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. 18 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 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 and his company stay “three days” at the river (verse 15a). “Three days” determines us at the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus was three days in death and rose from the grave on the third day (cf. Jn 3:1-2). The spiritual meaning of these three days is that any return to the principles of Scripture can only take place in the awareness of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Through His death and resurrection another world, the world of the Father, has been opened up for the believer. This is where the believer finds himself in faith and where the spiritual realities are experienced.
At the river Ezra notices that there are no Levites (verse 15b). The absence of Levites is a sad feature of the situation of decay. The Levites have not responded to the call to return. They do not see it as a privilege to be able to serve again in God’s presence, but feel at home in Babel, the place where they ended up by God’s judgment.
Where are the servants of God’s people today? We shall experience the same if we start thinking on earthly things instead of “seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1-2). We then become indifferent to our spiritual prerogatives and may even be “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18). No child of God who understands his heavenly calling can be content to live in ‘Babylon’.
Ezra is not satisfied that the Levites are staying behind and is taking action. He sends out nine leaders and two men who are “teachers” (verse 16) to persuade Levites to go up with him to Jerusalem. The family leaders are important because of their position, and the two men are important because of their understanding the Word of God. It is a privilege to have such people in a time of decay. The nine heads of the family have a sense of responsibility and the two with insight complement this. If shortages are observed in the church, it is important that those who notice these shortages or are made aware of them help each other to provide for these shortages.
Ezra orders the eleven men to go to Iddo (verse 17). Iddo holds a position of authority in Casiphia. How the men should speak to Iddo and those who are with him, they are told by Ezra. They must ask them to “to bring ministers to us for the house of our God”. Ezra is not concerned with his own interests, but those of God. He knows the needs of God’s house and that is what matters to him. He is like Him Who was consumed by zeal for the house of God (Psa 69:10; Jn 2:17). It is painful for Ezra to see that no one had come forward to do the service in connection with the sanctuary.
Through God’s blessing and protection, “according to the good hand of our God upon us” (verse 18), his action is successful. “A man of insight “, Sherebiah is brought to him, “and his sons and brothers”, a total of eighteen men. The word “brought” gives the impression that it took some encouragement to get these Levites to join Ezra. Sherebiah is “the son of Israel”. The fact that he is called like this shows something of God’s appreciation for his coming, even though he has to be awakened, as it were, and his joining Ezra is at the last minute. Though late, his coming is ‘princely’ (Israel means ‘prince of God’).
Two more descendants of Merari with brothers and sons, a total of twenty men, are brought to Ezra. This means that only thirty-eight Levites in total will go with Ezra. The rest remain in their pleasantly built up existence in Babel. The prerogatives of God’s service no longer exert any power on their hearts and consciences.
Where are the gifts that the Lord has given to the church today? Who still exercises his gift? Many believers feel comfortable in a system where everything is arranged and where they can come and go without obligation whenever they feel like it. It is good to exhort believers to fulfil the task given to them, as Paul says to the Colossians that they should exhort Archippus: “Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it” (Col 4:17).
The temple servants are more in number (verse 20). They are also “all of them designated by name”. This underlines God’s approval of their willingness. Temple servants are not as prominent as Levites. They work more in the background. However, their service is indispensable, because they ensure that the Levites can do their service. In the same way, there are many tasks to be performed today that may not be so conspicuous, but that are important for others to do their service well. Here, too, God’s appreciation is evident. Temple servants are first and foremost gifts “whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites”. In the second place they are “all of them designated by name”. They may not be known to men, but God knows each of them personally by their name.
21 - 23 Fasting and Prayer
21 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. 22 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.” 23 So we fasted and sought our God concerning this [matter], and He listened to our entreaty.
When everything seems ready to go up to the house of God in Jerusalem, Ezra proclaims a fast (verse 21). No matter how much prosperity they have had so far, it doesn’t make Ezra independent of God. He also wants to ensure the further course of the journey of the protection of God. Ezra knows that the road is full of dangers. The company is complete, but now they all have to come into the right relationship with God. That is why they seek His presence in fasting and prayer.
A work for Him requires spiritual exercise; it is not a matter that can be started lightly. Humility is the right starting attitude and the right mind to persevere. By humility we allow God to search our hearts and consciences and test our motives. We should not ask for power, but humble ourselves, that’s what matters. Again, there is no ark that goes before them, no pillar of cloud that leads them. They know, however, that He Who used to lead His people through the wilderness has not changed. It is important that all have the same goal and that there are no people who have joined the company with other intentions. It must also be clear that for the journey they can entrust themselves to nothing but the good hand of God.
Ezra is ashamed to deviate in practice from what he has confessed (verse 22). Instead of relying on a troop of soldiers to protect them, he relies on God to protect them, which is much better. This is how they get through all their enemies. How little the spirit of Ezra is found today. For much of what is called a work for God, support is sought from people. This is done through letters asking for money, or asking people if they want to stand guarantor, or asking men of name if they want to exert influence. These are all methods the world uses for the sake of success.
It is a joy for God to answer the trust of His people with the promise and proof of His help. He comes to the aid of those who bear witness to what He is to them in the midst of trials and dangers. We sometimes say things in sincere faith. That trust is not in vain, but reality is tested. In view of this, we must seek God’s presence. That is what Ezra and those who travel with him do.
They refrain from food in order to focus entirely on God in view of the way ahead (verse 23; cf. Acts 13:2-3). Specifically, they ask God, “our God”, the God they know through their personal dealings with Him, “concerning this [matter]”, that is, whether He wants to protect them. It is important to ask the Lord concrete things. He desires to give us things that increase our trust in Him. He lets Himself be entreated. We read this here and six more times in the Old Testament (Gen 25:21; 2Sam 21:14; 24:25; 1Chr 5:20; 2Chr 33:13; Isa 19:22).
24 - 30 Taking Care of Silver, Gold, and Utensils
24 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. 26 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. 28 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. 29 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.” 30 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 separated twelve men from the leaders of the priests to charge them with the care of silver and gold and certain utensils (verses 24-27). They are set apart for a special work. The separation of some priests has nothing to do with separating a group of people into a clergy.
We read a peculiarity at the end of verse 27, where there is talk of “two utensils of fine shiny bronze, precious as gold”. Here we see bronze with the characteristic of gold. Bronze is a picture of God’s righteousness that can withstand judgment. Gold is a picture of God’s glory. We see both in the Lord Jesus on the cross.
Ezra says that they are “holy to the LORD” (verse 28). Holy’ means separated for a purpose. The utensils entrusted to them are also holy. This sanctification, this separation, is for “the LORD God of your fathers”. Everything is consecrated to Him. People and means must be sanctified and pure if they are to be able to connect with God in order to be used by Him (Isa 52:11).
Here we see that this remnant, like the remnant that has returned before, brings silver and gold. We can apply this in such a way that from time to time God renews His work of revival and complements the previous one. Each time, something is added to what is already known. For example, we can think of the letters of correction to the Corinthians and Galatians, in which things are written that add to what is already known by the saints.
What has been entrusted to them to take with them (verse 29), they must deliver in the same weight and number (verses 33-34) upon their arrival in Jerusalem. This is not a matter of mistrust, but of accountability (cf. 2Cor 8:21). The command in the last days is: “Guard, ... the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2Tim 1:14; cf. 2Tim 4:7).
Everything entrusted to the care of the priests is weighed out (verse 30). It is to be taken to Jerusalem, with “the house of our God” as its final destination. What has been entrusted to us has also been carefully weighed up and must be preserved and protected within the church, God’s house in this day. We are stewards of what has been entrusted to us as spiritual goods. We must hold on to the whole of the truth and not lose any of it. Ezra has lost nothing of what he took along the way, just as everything that went into the ark with Noah came out safe and sound.
31 - 36 Come to Jerusalem
31 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. 32 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. 34 Everything [was] numbered and weighed, and all the weight was recorded at that time. 35 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. 36 Then they delivered the king’s edicts to the king’s satraps and to the governors [in the provinces] beyond the River, and they supported the people and the house of God.
Then the time of departure has come. There is no detailed account of the journey of about four months. On that journey Ezra and the ones who went with him have often been in danger. We hear nothing more about this. Ezra describes no heroic deeds and no fears. He honors God and summarizes the journey in such a way that the company is protected under the “hand of our God” who delivered them from “the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way” (verse 31). He left with prayer. He arrived in peace with thankfulness, for God delivered them and brought them safely to Jerusalem.
God is for us what we expect of Him. Too often we limit Him, because we think so little of Him. He is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20). This is the infinite source of faith.
When they have arrived in Jerusalem, they first come to rest and reflect for three days. Again there are three days (verse 32; verse 15). For us this means that everything is again considered in the light of the death and resurrection of Christ. There is also talk of “the fourth day” (verse 33). On the fourth day the reckoning takes place in front of four men. Four is the number of the earth, of the walk on earth. Of all that has been entrusted to us and how we have dealt with it on earth, we will have to account for before the judgment seat of Christ (2Cor 5:10; cf. Mt 25:14-30).
Everything is checked according to number and weight (verse 34). Faithful servants of God will take great care that not one part of the precious truth is lost or weighed down. In Christianity, more and more truths are no longer proclaimed, and more and more truths lose weight, i.e. importance. Some truths have been abandoned because they are no longer of our time. Other truths are deprived of their power by giving them another meaning. Often there are still the form and the words, but their true spiritual weight is no longer on the hearts.
After the delivery of all treasures, the people bring burnt offerings to the LORD (verse 35). The remnant that has just returned becomes a people of worshipers. In bringing the offerings they also give thanks to God for His preservation during the journey.
As with the dedication of God’s house (Ezra 6:17), the weak remnant sees “all Israel” represented there. We also see this thought in the recurring number twelve or a multiple thereof. It means that all those who stayed behind in Babylon are also involved in the burnt offering. A constant remembrance of the whole people of God saves us from sectarian thinking and acting.
Only after they have introduced themselves to God on the basis of their sacrifices do they go to the king’s servants (verse 36). God always has the first rights and must first be given what is due to Him. Then it is the turn of others. They deliver the king’s edicts to the king’s satraps and to the governors. The king’s officers act according to what the king has commanded them (Ezra 7:21-24) and “support the people and the house of God”. Ezra thus fulfills the purpose of the enterprise. What he does in the two following chapters is not a goal of his journey, but a consequence of his main goal.