“Ezra” series: (post #15)
Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road. So we came to Jerusalem… (Ezra 8:31-32, N.K.J.V.)
Ezra’s group left Babylon on the first day of the first month of the Jewish calendar year (7:9). After traveling for a few days, they set up camp for three days at a site near the river of Ahava (8:15). They left that site and headed for Jerusalem on the twelfth day of the same month. Putting all these dates together seems to indicate that the site by the river was located nine days out of Babylon. That would have placed it 100 miles or so from Babylon and another 800 miles or so from Jerusalem. Finally, on the first day of the fifth month, Ezra and his group completed their four months of travel and arrived in Jerusalem (7:9).
All kinds of things could have gone wrong on that trip. In particular, the group was carrying a veritable fortune in donated items and could have encountered murderous robbers and bandits along the way. Remember that Ezra had refused to ask Artaxerxes, the ruler of the Medo-Persian empire, for an armed escort to ensure the group’s safety. Instead, Ezra had confidently asserted that God would keep the group safe (Ezra 8:22). And God did indeed keep them safe. As Ezra says in our text: “And the hand of God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road.”
After arriving safely in Jerusalem, the group rested for three days (8:32). It’s interesting that three-day rests were part of the beginning of their journey and the ending of it. On the fourth day in Jerusalem, the group brought out all the articles from the offering they had collected in Babylon from Artaxerxes, his seven royal counselors, and the Jews (7:14-16). The articles were taken to the second temple where they were weighed by the group of priests in charge and officially recorded (8:33-34). Presumably, everything about the offering matched up perfectly to the inventory and weighing that had taken place more than three months earlier at the camp sight at the river near Ahava (8:24-27). That showed that the priests that Ezra had charged with protecting the offering had done their jobs well over the long miles of the trip (8:28-30). As for what we Christians today can glean from this part of the story, we can take it as a good reminder that offerings made to support the Lord’s work should always be handled with the utmost diligence, integrity, and accountability.
With the offering turned over to the temple, Ezra and his group proceeded to offer burnt offerings upon the temple’s altar as Artaxerxes had instructed them to do (7:17). For a sin offering, they offered 12 bulls (one bull for each of the 12 tribes of Israel), 96 rams, 77 lambs, and 12 male goats (8:35). These four types of animals were the same types that had been sacrificed as part of the dedication ceremonies for that temple 75 years or so earlier, albeit with differing numbers (6:15-17). The importance of this event cannot be overstated. Ezra and his group of new arrivals were worshiping in their homeland, at their temple, for the first time in their lives.
Next, Ezra formally delivered to the Medo-Persian satraps (local rulers) and governors (regional rulers) in Jerusalem his copy of the letter from King Artaxerxes (7:11-26). That letter was the official decree from Artaxerxes that authorized Ezra’s mission, called for that mission to be financed by Medo-Persia, and gave Ezra the empowerment to appoint magistrates and judges to judge all the people who lived in Medo-Persian lands to the west of the Euphrates river. To the credit of the satraps and the governors, they read the letter and threw their full support behind the Jewish people and the second temple (8:36).
With that, Ezra’s job of bringing together a second group of Jewish exiles and leading them to Judah was finished. There would be many more jobs for him to do in the days ahead, but him being able to check off that first big one from his “to do” list was monumental. Nothing he would ever do would be any more important. Neither he nor any of his group would ever see Babylon again, and that was a good thing. They were home now, really home, resettled in the land that God had given to their forefather Abraham.
Finishing a job well is always important in the eyes of God. In the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians, we read that the Christians of Corinth, upon hearing that the Christians of Jerusalem had fallen upon difficult times financially, committed themselves to sending a love offering to them (2 Corinthians 8:1-6, 10-11; 9:1-2). For whatever reason, though, a full year passed without those Corinthians following through on that commitment. So, as part of his letter to them, the apostle Paul implored them to complete the job by collecting the offering and getting it sent (9:5). As he told them:
I suggest that you finish what you started a year ago, for you were the first to propose this idea, and you were the first to begin doing something about it. Now you should carry this project through to completion just as enthusiastically as you began it. Give whatever you can according to what you have. (8:10-11, N.L.T.)
Now let’s apply Paul’s words to our story from Ezra. What if Ezra and his group had gotten all stirred up about relocating to Judah, charted out their course for the trip, said, “Goodbye” to their friends and neighbors, but never left Babylon? Would that have been pleasing to God? Of course not. But that’s how so many Christians today operate. They receive a burden from God to do something, get off to a good start doing it, but then quit, leaving the God-ordained job unfinished.
Christian, if you have one of those on your track record, you would do well to revisit the subject with God and be open to what He wants you to do about it. It just could be that He wants you to finish what you started. I’m not saying for certain that He does, but if the job is still finishable, I’d say that the chances are high that He wants you to complete it. What was it that Jesus said on the cross concerning the job that God the Father had given Him to do? He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And may you and I be able to say the same thing today about the jobs that we are given.