“Ezra” series (post #14)
There might come a time in your life when God will relocate you. In the case of Ezra, He relocated him from Babylon to Judah by having him lead a group of Jews on that 900-mile, one-way trip. Since Ezra and his group had all been born and raised in Babylon, moving to a new land and living out the rest of their lives there was no small thing. Therefore, it’s not surprising that they took the time and put in the effort to make the necessary preparations before fully embarking on the journey.
Once Ezra received permission from Artaxerxes to make the trip (7:6-8), he began seeking other Jews to join him. In the opening verses of chapter 8, we find a list of those who accepted the offer. The list features prominent Jewish families and their heads. Most of the people listed were related to the families who had been part of the group that had been led by Zerubbabel. Obviously, the families who had made up that group had left relatives behind in Babylon. In all, Ezra’s group consisted of 1,496 men. If we add in women and children, the total number of people was probably somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000. While that number seems impressive, it was a far cry from the almost 50,000 people who had joined that first group.
After traveling a few days — perhaps 9 days according to the math we deduce by taking Ezra 7:9, 8:15, and 8:31 all into account — Ezra had his group set up camp for three days at a site near a river in the area of Ahava. Before launching off fully toward Judah, Ezra wanted to get a better idea of just exactly who he had with him. It was then that he realized that there were no Levites (members of the tribe of Levi) in his group. That was a major problem because, per the Mosaic law, the Levites were to be the caretakers of the temple (Numbers 3:5-8). Ezra did have priests with him, and priests were also from the tribe of Levi, but the duties of the priests and the Levites weren’t the same. Zerubbabel’s group, by comparison, had included 74 Levites (2:40).
Ezra’s solution to his shortage of Levites was to send eleven trusted men to the city of Casiphia. The fact that he seemed to know that a group of Levites lived in Casiphia might imply that it was a city inhabited by Levites and the Nethinim. The Nethinim, as I explained in post #5 from this series, were the temple workers who performed the lowliest jobs in the temple, jobs neither the priests nor the Levites did. Ezra instructed his men to speak to Iddo, the leader of the people of Casiphia, and ask him to help recruit Levites and members of the Nethinim to travel to Jerusalem and become servants in the second temple (8:17).
And did Ezra’s efforts to recruit more help work? Yes. 38 Levites and 220 Nethinim accepted the call and came and joined the group (8:18-20). Following the arrival of these men in camp, Ezra proclaimed a fast by which he sought the Lord’s guidance and protection for the potentially dangerous trip (8:21). By Ezra’s own admission, he would have been embarrassed to ask King Artaxerxes for a royal escort of soldiers because he had previously told Artaxerxes that God would keep the group safe (8:22).
Next, Ezra selected a group of priests and Levites and gave them the job of weighing all the items that had been donated by Artaxerxes and others to finance the trip. We’re talking about approximately 25 tons of silver, 7,500 pounds of gold articles, 7,500 pounds of silver articles, 20 bowls of gold, and two articles of polished bronze. Bible scholar Charles Ryrie estimates that the haul would be worth around $20 million today. The same men who weighed all the items were also given the responsibility of guarding them over the duration of the four-month trip.
So, as we come to the close of this post, how can we apply this part of the book of Ezra to us today? My answer is that we can learn that God doesn’t want us haphazardly rushing into major moves. Even if we know for certain that He is the one saying, “Go,” He has a certain way in which He wants us to do the going. Whether we need to finish unfinished business or tie up loose ends, there is no need to rush off in a haste that foregoes proper preparation. The goal is mark off all the items on God’s check list for our leaving, not try to set a land speed record getting to where He is taking us. Like Ezra putting in the time to sign up those workers and ensure that those treasury items were counted and protected, we should make sure that we aren’t leaving anything or anyone out even as we are leaving out. Ezra never regretted taking a few days to seek out those temple workers and see to those items that had been donated, and we won’t regret taking the time to do whatever it is that we need to do, either.