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The March Of Faith
What I would especially press upon the conscience of my reader at this juncture is this: Albeit the movement in which Ezra and his company were participants was distinct from that of Zerubbabel, Jeshua and their brethren, there were no new principles involved than those the former company had already learned from the word of God. No new centre was ever thought of. No new place to gather was suggested. Jerusalem was the one only place and Jehovah the one only Name. He had set His name at Jerusalem: consequently thitherward were the faces of all Ezra’s company turned. They were soon to learn that those who had preceded them had “made a mess and a failure”4 of the whole thing; but that did not set them inquiring if it would not be wise to gather elsewhere, to give up the principle of separation, to step aside from the movement and contentedly go back to Babylon. Not at all. God’s word remained. God’s centre remained. God’s Spirit remained,. And for this fresh company there was nothing to do, as guided by that Spirit, but to return to and continue to own the one centre in accordance with the unchanging Word.
Surely in this we may learn a lesson which some are fast letting slip-a lesson which really learned would save from much discouragement as well as from many a blunder here and from much loss at the judgment-seat of Christ.
We turn now to our chapter, and here again we have a table of the chief of the fathers-a table that God delighted to put on record, and which, like the former one, stands on the books of eternity. All will be forever remembered by Him who never overlooks anything done in faith and subjection to His Word. Had one of these turned back to Babylon He would have noted it too; and had any stopped half way between the land of Shinar and the city of God, His eye would have discerned it and His hand recorded it. Solemn considerations are these for any who might be disposed to trifle with divine truth.
Not one of the names here listed may be otherwise known to us; but all stand in God’s sight for distinct living personalities, all of whose acts and words are as clear in His mind as though they still tabernacled in flesh and blood, and walked the earth as strangers and sojourners, servants of the God of heaven, cleaving to His name in the midst of ruin. It is for us to occupy this very position to-day, as though in their place; and, if faithful in it, rest assured, He who forgets not one of them will pass by nothing in our history that He can reward in that day.
When the whole company were assembled together by Ezra’s orders, by “the river that runneth to Ahava,” they abode in tents-the sign of pilgrimage-for three days, the period of full display or testimony: and then all were reviewed before their priestly leader, who soon observed that the sons of Levi were sadly conspicuous by their absence. Not one was found among the pilgrim band. What did it mean? Evidently it was harder for these men whose whole portion must be in God, to rise to the blessedness of such a place, than for those who expected to have an inheritance in their ancient home. The Levites were settled in a large measure of comfort in the land of the stranger. To forsake it all and go forth in simplicity to the place of the Name, meant more to them than to some others.5 But, on the other hand, how much greater the blessing, when one thus puts God to the test and finds Him ever the all-sufficient One anticipating every need, and leading the soul out in a way that others seldom know.
Ezra at once sent a deputation of faithful men to lay before the Levites and the Nethinims, who were of old appointed by David to the service of the Levites, to lay before them the importance of going forth with them, “That they should bring unto us ministers for the house of our God” (vers. 55-17). And thus it was that a number of both classes were, as Ezra so beautifully puts it, “by the good hand of our God upon us,” led to join their company. Among these one is especially mentioned as “a man of understanding.” Valuable indeed in any movement of God’s Spirit are such men; like those of old, who “had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”
The company was now, one might have supposed, ready to go up to the house of God at Jerusalem. But Ezra has other thoughts. He knows the way is long and lonely. Dangers abound. There are perils of robbers and perils of wild beasts. A safe convoy is surely needed, and where shall such be found but in the living God? “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him and delivereth them.” So a fast is proclaimed by the river-side, and all the people are urged to humble themselves before God, to entreat of Him “a prosperous way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance” (ver. 21). What a lovely sight in the eyes of the Lord was that self-judged; fasting company, in the dust before. Him, crying to Him to be their Guide and Deliverer. No ark, borne on the shoulders of anointed priests, was there to lead them now. No pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night was there to guide. But they knew that He who of old had led them through the wilderness changeth not; and they sent up their petition to Him to be indeed their Shepherd, preserving them from every danger and meeting every need, all along their march of faith. It would have been easy to have applied to their royal patron, Artaxerxes, for a convoy, but this would have given the lie to the profession Ezra had made in his presence. It stirs the heart to read his reasons, so artlessly given in verse 22, for turning alone to God. “For I was ashamed,” he says, “to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to keep us against the enemy in the way; because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him; but His wrath is against all them that forsake Him.” This is most blessed. Alas, how 1ittle is the spirit of Ezra entered into in our time-serving age, when almost any means are adopted for carrying on what is called the work of the Lord, and any help is greedily sought, even from the unholy and profane, with no thought of the awful dishonor done to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Money is begged from all sources; patronage desired from the ungodly, if they have but wealth and influence-and this by professed followers of Him who said, “If I were hungry I would not tell thee;” and whose servants in apostolic days “went forth, for His name’s sake taking nothing of the Gentiles.” Ezra’s faith and godliness might well put all such to shame. His stand contrasts with the dreadful lowering of the standard so prevalent throughout Christendom.
Having borne faithful testimony to the king, he and his company turned to God in fasting and prayer, beseeching Him to lead them forth as of old; and, the record adds, “He was entreated of us” (ver. 23). And so will He ever be where there is faith to count upon Him, and holiness to refuse all that would compromise His glory.
Not only did Ezra thus honor God’s name before the powers of the world, but he was equally careful in caring for what belonged to the house of God, the treasure committed to him, “that good deposit” consisting of the gold and silver given by his brethren as an offering unto the Lord’s house, and the vessels entrusted to him by the king. All were carefully weighed and tabulated, and delivered for safe-keeping to twelve of the priests, who were especially separated for this particular trust. To them Ezra gave a solemn charge, reminding us of Paul’s charge to his son in the faith, Timothy, in the first chapter of his second epistle. “Ye are holy unto the Lord,” Ezra says to them, “the vessels are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a free-will offering unto the Lord God of your fathers. Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chief of the priests and the Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the Lord” (vers. 28, 29). These were earnest and serious words, and must have made each of the twelve feel intensely the sacredness of the trust committed to them. So to us has a deposit of holy things been entrusted, even the truth of which God has seen fit to make us stewards. We are to safe-guard this holy treasure all through our journey, until we reach the place of manifestation, when all will be weighed once more in the balances of the sanctuary. Well will it be for us then if we have lost nothing on the way, but have held fast, like the beloved apostle Paul, all that has been committed unto us.
The priests and the Levites duly witnessed and tabulated the amount of gold and silver and the weight of the vessels, and the appointed guardians took all in their charge, after which, the journey was begun.
On the twelfth day of the first month the caravan left the river of Ahava, seven days after Ezra’s first start (chap. 7:9), a week having passed in needful preparation. All along the journey the hand of God was upon them, and Ezra testifies, “He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and of all such as lay in wait by the way” (ver. 31). What indeed had they to fear from the hand of the enemy when under the protecting care of the hand of God. And what has any saint to fear when that same almighty, yet infinitely tender Hand is ever upon him for good. It has well been said that God is all that we take Him for. The great trouble with many of us is we are so straitened in ourselves, and thus we limit the Holy One of Israel. “Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” is the unlimited resource available to faith.
At last Jerusalem was reached, and for three days the pilgrims rested after their long and arduous journey. Then came the day of reckoning, when account was to be made of the treasure conveyed by the twelve appointed priests. The gold and silver and the vessels were all weighed in the house of God by Meremoth, Eleazar, Jozabad and Noadiah, four men, upon the fourth day. The number in each case is significant, for throughout Scripture four speaks of testing. “By number and by weight of every one,” the test is made, and all recorded in the priestly record, and found intact. The twelve had fulfilled their trust in a way that you and I, my reader, will be glad indeed to have done, if the day of reckoning give us as clean a sheet as they obtained.
The accounting rendered in a rightful manner, the newly arrived company now flock about the altar of God as a band of worshipers, with a great number of burnt offerings; and, as at the dedication of the temple, with “twelve he-goats as a sin offering for all Israel.” They take their stand with their brethren as part of a failed people, acknowledging their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, but counting on the covenant-mercy of their faithful God (ver. 35).
It was a scene of great moral beauty, and must have deeply affected the whole company, as once more they were permitted to approach God at the appointed place, and sing the Lord’s song about His altar and in His house. Often had they longed for this hour when “by the rivers of Babylon they sat down and wept when they remembered Zion” (Psalms 137:0). There they had cried, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” Now they were actually in the place where Jehovah had caused His name to dwell of old, and the sweet savor of a multitude of burnt offerings ascended to His throne to testify to the gladness of their hearts; while the sin offering, burned to ashes, told how fully they recognized the evil of having departed from Him who should ever have been the joy of their souls; the God of their fathers, now fully recognized as their God, despite their feeble condition.
It has been supposed by many, on the authority of Jewish tradition, that the “Songs of degrees” (Psalms 120:0 to 134) were sung by Ezra and his company at various stages of the way, until at last they stood in the house of the Lord and could lift up their hands in the sanctuary and bless Jehovah. These psalms, read in this connection, are, at least, very suggestive, and lead the soul along the way from the tents of darkness to the house of God most blessedly.
The last verse of our chapter tells us that the king’s commissions were duly delivered to the authorities beyond the river, as a consequence of which they dared no longer hinder; but in accordance with their instructions “they furthered the people and the house of God.” So had the wrath of man been made to praise Him, and the remainder been restrained.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezra 8". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany