Click to donate today!
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.] This chapter contains—(i.) A list of the heads of houses, with the number of adult males accompanying each of them, who went with Ezra from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:1-14). (ii.) An account of the encampment for three days at the river Ahava, and the doings there; viz., obtaining ministers for the Temple service (Ezra 8:15-20); proclaiming and observing a religious fast (Ezra 8:21-23); arranging for the safe keeping during the journey of the offerings and the precious vessels for the Temple (Ezra 8:24-30). (iii.) A brief record of their departure from Ahava and arrival at Jerusalem (Ezra 8:31-32); and (iv.) Of the careful delivery of the treasures in the Temple (Ezra 8:33-34), the offering of sacrifices to God (Ezra 8:35), and delivering their commissions unto the king’s lieutenants (Ezra 8:36).
Ezra 8:1. The chief of their fathers] or, “the heads of their families.” Keil: “The heads of the houses.”
Ezra 8:2-14] This list is parallel with that of chap. Ezra 2:3-19. Many of the family names (or, as Keil calls them, “designations of races,” e.g. Pharosh, Pahath-moab, &c.) are common to both; while some are found in each which are absent from the other. The presence of the same family names “in both lists is to be explained by the circumstance that portions of” such families or races “returned with Zerubbabel, and that the rest did not follow till Ezra’s departure.” The number of families in Ezra’s list is smaller than in that of Zerubbabel, and the members of each family less numerous. The total number of adult males, including Levites and Nethinim (Ezra 8:18-20), who returned with Ezra was 1775, according to this list.
Ezra 8:2-3] The first member of Ezra 8:3 should probably be joined to Ezra 8:2 : Of the sons of David; Hattush, of the sons of Shecaniah] It is almost certain that this is the Hattush of 1 Chronicles 3:22, the son of Shemaiah and grandson of Shecaniah.
Ezra 8:5] The Hebrew text seems to be imperfect here by reason of the falling out of a name. Keil suggests that the reading, as in the LXX., should be, “Of the sons of Zattu, Shecaniah, the son of Jahaziel.” (Comp. chap. Ezra 2:8.)
Ezra 8:10] A similar defect seems to exist in the text of this verse. The deficiency is thus supplied in the LXX., “And of the sons of Bani, Shelomith, the son of Josiphiah.” (Comp. chap. Ezra 2:10.) This emendation is also accepted by Keil.
Ezra 8:13. And of the last sons of Adonikam] &c. “Here, instead of the name of the head of the house, we read the words, ‘last, and these their names;’ whereupon three names are given, and not till then, ‘and with them sixty males.’ Here, then, it is not the head of the house who is named, but in his place three heads of families, amounting together to sixty males. Now, as these three families did not form a house, these sixty sons of Adonikam who returned with Ezra are, with regard to the six hundred and sixty-six sons of Adonikam who returned with Zerubbabel (chap. Ezra 2:13), designated the last, or last arrived, and thus comprised with them as one house.”—Keil.
Ezra 8:15. The river that runneth to Ahava] In Ezra 8:21; Ezra 8:31 : “the river of Ahava.” The name both of a place and of a river. “The latest researches,” according to Mr. Grove (Bibl. Dict.), “are in favour of its being the modern Hit, on the Euphrates, due east of Damascus,” and north-west of Babylon, from which it was about eighty miles distant. The place is famous for its bitumen springs. “The river of Ahava” is a small stream which here flows into the Euphrates. And there abode we in tents three days] From this statement, and that of Ezra 8:31, “We departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month,” we learn that they arrived at Ahava on the ninth day of the first month; the journey from Babylon having been commenced on the first day of that month (chap. Ezra 7:9).
Ezra 8:17. Casiphia] “a place of uncertain site on the road between Babylon and Jerusalem.”—Bibl. Dict. “The place Casiphia is entirely unknown, but cannot have been far from the river Ahava.”—Keil. It seems that both Levites and Nethinim, the upper and lower orders of Temple ministers, had settled in Casiphia; and that Iddo was the chief man of the place, and possessed considerable influence amongst these orders.
Ezra 8:18. By the good hand of our God upon u] (Comp. chap. Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:9; Ezra 7:28.) A man of understanding] Heb.: Ish sechel. Keil regards this as a proper name. But it seems to us better to take it as in the A. V.; or as Fuerst renders it, “A man of knowledge.” The man of understanding was named Sherebiah The ו copulative (and) was probably “inserted by a careless copyist,” or, if it be retained, it should be translated even. “A man of understanding, … even Sherebiah.” He is again mentioned in Ezra 8:24; Nehemiah 8:7; Nehemiah 9:4-5; Nehemiah 10:12; Nehemiah 12:24.
Ezra 8:19. Hashabiah] is again mentioned in Ezra 8:24; Nehemiah 10:11; Nehemiah 12:24.
Ezra 8:20. The Nethinims] (See on chap. Ezra 2:43.) All of them were expressed by name] i.e. Iddo sent a list of them to Ezra.
Ezra 8:21. A right way] Fuerst: An “even” or “plain way;” i.e. a prosperous journey (Comp. Jeremiah 31:9 : “A straight way, wherein they shall not stumble.”)
Ezra 8:24. Then I separated twelve of the chief of the priests, Sherebiah] &c. It seems from the rendering of the A. V. that Sherebiah and Hashabiah were priests; but they have been already described as Levites (Ezra 8:18-19). The Heb. is לְשֵׁרֵבְיָה; but in the A.V., as in the Vulgate, ל is not translated. Keil suggests that for לְ, we should read וְ, and translate, “and Sherebiah;” for this reason that if we retain לְ, and translate “for Sherebiah,” we “place the priests in a servile relation to the Levites, contrary to their true position.” We prefer to retain the לְ, and to translate, “Then I separated twelve of the chief of the priests to Sherebiah,” &c. This would not involve the subordination of the priests to the Levites; but would mean that Ezra appointed twelve chiefs of the priests to act with twelve chief Levites, of whom Sherebiah and Hashabiah were two, in keeping the offerings fur the Temple during the journey.
Ezra 8:26. Six hundred and fifty talents of silver] According to Dr. Arbuthnot’s tables this would be equivalent to £222,421, 17s. 6d. of our money; and according to Mr. R. S. Poole’s estimate (Bibl. Dict.), to about £260,000. Of gold an hundred talents] or £547,500 of our money, according to Dr. Arbuthnot, and a little over £1,000,000, according to Mr. Poole.
Ezra 8:27. Two vessels of fine copper, precious as gold] Margin: “Heb., ‘yellow, or shining brass, desirable as gold.’ ” “They may have been,” says Canon Farrar, “of orichalcum, like the Persian or Indian vases found among the treasures of Darius (Aristot. de Mirab. Auscult.).”—Bibl. Dict. Keil speaks of them thus: “Two brazen vessels of fine golden brilliancy, precious as gold.”
Ezra 8:29. The chambers of the house of the Lord] (Comp. 1 Kings 6:5; Nehemiah 13:5.)
Ezra 8:31. The river of Ahava] (See notes on Ezra 8:15.) He delivered us from] &c. (Comp. Ezra 8:22.)
Ezra 8:32. Abode there three days] for rest after the fatigues and trials of their long journey. (Comp. Nehemiah 2:11.)
Ezra 8:33. Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest] He is mentioned again in Nehemiah 3:4; Nehemiah 3:21; Nehemiah 10:5; Nehemiah 12:3. Eleazar the son of Phinehas] is probably the person who is named in Nehemiah 12:42. Meremoth and Eleazar were priests. Jozabad the son of Jeshua] is mentioned in chap. Ezra 10:23; Nehemiah 8:7. Noadiah the son of Binnui] is not named in the subsequent history. Jozabad and Noadiah were distinguished Levites.
Ezra 8:34. By number and by weight] &c. The vessels were both weighed and counted; the gold and silver were probably only weighed. And all the weight was written at that time] “i.e. an authentic list was made at the delivery which then took place.”—Keil.
Ezra 8:35. The children of those that had been carried away, which were come out of the captivity] i.e. those who had returned with Ezra. Offered burnt offerings] &c. (Comp. chap. Ezra 6:17; and see notes on that verse.)
Ezra 8:36. The king’s lieutenants] Keil: “The satraps of the king.” He says they “were the military chiefs of the province.” Rawlinson says they “were the highest class of the Persian provincial governors.” The governors] were, according to Keil, “the heads of the civil government.” Rawlinson: “It denotes a lower grade of official.” They furthered the people] &c., or, “they supported the people,” &c.
THE ASSEMBLY AT AHAVA
I. The long journey commenced. “These are now the chief of their fathers, and this is the genealogy of them that went up with me from Babylon,” &c. “Upon the first day of the first month” (chap. Ezra 7:9) they set out from Babylon, and continued their journey for several days without any lengthened encampment. They entered upon their journey, we conceive, with mingled feelings of hope and fear. They were encouraged by hopes of reaching their famous fatherland, and of there enjoying the precious privileges of their religion; but the pleasure of these anticipations was moderated by the thought of the difficulties and dangers of the long journey that lay before them. Moreover, it is almost certain that, in leaving Babylon, most of them were sacrificing temporal advantages, and breaking up treasured associations, and severing themselves from dear friends, and these things could not have been done without much mental suffering; but at the summons of duty and the invitations of sacred privileges, they deliberately encountered these trials, and went up from Babylon. Their departure may be looked at as an illustration of the exodus of the soul from the captivity of a life of sin and its setting out on its upward pilgrimage.
II. An important inspection made. “And I gathered them together to the river that runneth to Ahava; and there abode we in tents three days; and I viewed the people and the priests.” On the ninth day of the first month they encamped at Ahava, they remained there “in tents three days” (Ezra 8:15), and then, “on the twelfth day of the first month,” they departed from the river of Ahava to go unto Jerusalem (Ezra 8:31). This halt illustrates—
1. The need of seasons of rest. The company with Ezra needed rest after the excitement and trials of their departure, and the toils of the first stage of their long journey. The Almighty recognised and provided for man’s need of rest when He ordained the night to succeed the day, and in the institution of the Sabbath. Jesus Christ recognised it, and said unto His disciples, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile.” In our life-pilgrimage there are times when we need to rest from our labours for awhile, and, if possible, to lay aside our cares. (a).
2. The use of seasons of rest. Ezra employed the three days which were spent at Ahava in such a manner that great advantages to his company resulted from them. He reviewed the assembled people, &c. Rest time should not be waste time. As individuals we should use our seasons of rest in reviewing the way in which the Lord hath led us, in considering our present condition and circumstances, and in preparing ourselves for future work. And if a church has comparative rest for a brief season, such rest should be employed in equipping its members for more vigorous service.
III. A grave deficiency discovered. “I viewed the people, and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi.” There were no Levites in the company, except such as were priests, and they had their own proper duties. All the priests were “of the sons of Levi,” but all “the sons of Levi” were not priests, but those only who were of the family of Aaron. Of the Levites proper, members of the other families of the tribe of Levi, who ministered in subordination to the priests, Ezra could not find any in his company. None of them was present. This was to their discredit. They should have been most eager to embrace the opportunity of going to Jerusalem, and there entering upon the duties of their sacred calling. They who are in possession of sacred privileges and engaged in the performance of sacred duties, are not always characterised by personal zeal and devotedness in the cause of God. Ministers of religion are sometimes slow in making personal sacrifices and rendering personal assistance even in a good enterprise. (b). They should be leaders, &c.
IV. The supply of the deficiency sought. “Then sent I for Eliezer, for Ariel, for Shemaiah, and for Elnathan,” &c. (Ezra 8:16-17). Ezra was unwilling to proceed until he had secured a band of Levites to go with them. The means which he employed to obtain them are worthy of notice. He sought them—
1. By means of influential men. He called for eleven leading men of his company; nine of them are characterised as “chief men,” and the other two as “men of understanding” or wisdom (Ezra 8:16), and sent them to seek for “ministers for the house of God.” Such men were likely to succeed where men of an inferior type would have failed. Important affairs should be entrusted only to competent men.
2. By sending them to the right place. He “sent them unto the place Casiphia.” It has been conjectured that there was at Casiphia a college “for the education of priests, Levites, and Nethinim, over which Iddo presided; where they had the free exercise of their religion, and had so comfortable a support that they were not inclined to remove. ‘It is very probable they had their synagogues or other places where they met for religious worship; for we find the people resorting to Ezekiel in their captivity, and him preaching to them the Word of God, in many places of his book (Ezekiel 33:31), &c. And Ezra in all likelihood was an instructor among them.’ ”—Bishop Patrick. But, apart from conjectures, it is clear that a considerable number of Levites and Nethinim dwelt at Casiphia, and that Ezra was cognisant of the fact; therefore to that place he despatched his messengers.
3. By sending them to the right man. Ezra “sent them with commandment unto Iddo the chief,” &c. Iddo was probably a Levite; for the Nethinim being a lower order of Temple servants, it is not at all probable that one of their number would be “chief” over Levites. Iddo was “the chief at the place Casiphia,” was evidently disposed to further the movement under Ezra, and, from his sending a list of the names of those who went from Casiphia (Ezra 8:20), seems to have been a man of methodical and business-like habits.
4. By sending them with precise instructions. Ezra “told them what they should say unto Iddo,” &c. Margin: “Heb., ‘I put words in their mouth.’ ” Thus this mission was admirably selected and sent forth, and it deserved success. (c).
V. The supply of the deficiency obtained. “And by the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of understanding,” &c. (Ezra 8:18-20). Notice—
1. The supply was sufficient. About forty Levites and two hundred and twenty Nethinim went from Casiphia and joined the returning exiles under Ezra.
2. The supply was various. There were Levites, and Nethinim “for the service of the Levites.” Different grades of ministry are necessary for the various spheres of service in the Church of God.
3. The supply was remarkable for the presence of at least one man of distinguished ability. “They brought us a man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel, even Sherebiah.” This man afterwards rendered important service in the history of the people, as we see from Ezra 8:24; Nehemiah 8:7; Nehemiah 9:4-5; Nehemiah 10:12; Nehemiah 12:24.
4. The supply was obtained by the blessing of God. “By the good hand of our God upon us they brought us,” &c. Thus Ezra traces the success of this mission to the gracious assistance of God.
“Except the Lord conduct the plan,
The best concerted schemes are vain,
And never can succeed;
We spend our wretched strength for nought!
But if our works in Thee be wrought
They shall be blest indeed.”
“If,” says M. Henry, “where ministers have been wanting, the vacancies are well supplied, let God have the glory, and His good hand be acknowledged as qualifying them for the service, inclining them to it, and then opening a door of opportunity for them.”
(a) It will be confessed by all men, even by the veriest slaves to their ever-driving ambition, that physical rest is sometimes needed. The aching limb asks for it; the hand that is so weary that it cannot any longer hold pen, or tool, or weapon of war, says, in its trembling weakness, “Let me rest awhile;” and the fevered brain, over-driven, excited almost to madness, says, in its sleeplessness and throbbing and heat, “Let me rest awhile.” Well, then, here is so much gained. We shall be able to make our way from this low point to a much higher phase of rest, and find our way upward, from the cry of the feeble and exhausted flesh, to the greater, more solemn, and urgent wants of our over-excited spiritual nature; we shall understand, in some degree, that our highest, divinest faculties must occasionally pause, rest, and recover themselves, if they would fully, with completeness and perfectness, discharge all the duties and obligations which Almighty God has imposed upon them. Rest is as necessary as labour. He is not a philosopher, but a madman, who lights the candle of his life at both ends.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) There is an old proverb, “The temple mouse fears not the temple idol.” It is a painful experience, present to the hearts of most of us, how different is the awe of the first service in which we ministered, and of the fiftieth or hundredth. At first, the putting on of the surplice was a dedication—the entering of the vestry was a solemnity—the opening Sentences, the Exhortation, the Confession, read by our lips, seemed as though they consecrated those lips themselves to a new use and a new religion. So was it with each function of the holy office. The first reading of the Commandments—the first Sermon—the first Communion in which we followed with the Cup—the first baptism, the first wedding—the first visit to a sick-room, the first commendatory prayer beside the dying, the first saying of the words, “Dust to dust,” by the open grave—each was an event, each was an epoch, of the life within—it had an effect, a spiritual effect, upon the conscious immortal man. It may be that we relied upon this—thought it needless to impress the feeling, to turn emotion into principle, by prayer and watching—felt confident that the repetition of the occasion would revive the effect—trusted to this, and left it there. A year afterwards we could stand unmoved by the grave, talk and laugh in the vestry, fall half asleep as we read the Prayers. Even with the best efforts made and persisted in, we could never reawaken the solemnity of the beginning. Duty becomes habit, habit becomes familiarity, and familiarity, if it breeds not contempt, at least forbids that kind of awe which is more nature than grace.
And some of us make the fatal mistake of expecting our Profession to make or to keep us spiritual. Living always in holy things, what can we be but holy? We learn a new lesson as years advance—and although we can give thanks still for the blessing of having the inward and the outward life of one piece and of one colour, occupied in the same thoughts and the same studies, mutually helpful and sympathetic with each other—yet we feel more and more that there is no security, in this harmony, for holy living; that there is no royal road, but that which is open for all wayfarers, to the saint’s life and the saint’s rest; nay, that there is even an added risk, for the priest of God’s temple, lest he find that “common” to him which is “holy” for all besides, just because he must daily touch and daily handle, daily prepare and daily dispense, that bread of life which souls only can digest, and which his soul may, by the very having, have not. There is nothing for it but to say to ourselves, and act upon it, “Like people, like priest.” Just what they want, I want—just what I bid them do, I will do. I will prepare for my work, I will do my work, not as though it could sanctify, not as though it were (of itself) either hither or thither as to my soul’s state, but as needing, like any commonest trade or handicraft, a soul at peace with God beforehand, a soul in full communion with God beforehand, a soul preoccupied by the Holy Spirit sought and cherished, a soul setting God always before it, by Him first quickened, then to Him afterwards ministering.—C. J. Vaughan, D.D.
(c) Ministers will not be found ready made, and ministers cannot be made to order. There is no royal road to the supply of the ministry. There is no climate in which ministers are indigenous. There is no patent by which ministers can be manufactured. Ministry is a gift, ministry is a growth, ministry is an inspiration. It is not every educated man—still less is it every uneducated man—who is even capable of it. The minister is the ultimate product of a long operation of Providence and of grace, working individually, working secretly, and giving no account of itself. When our Lord looked upon the vast shepherdless multitudes, He had but one suggestion to make for the ministerial supply: “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest”—and He was there Himself—“that He will send forth”—and the word is a very strong one—“labourers into His harvest.” This is the one hope now. In comparison with this, any other suggestion must be timid and tentative. Yet something perhaps might be done by a keen and practised eye directed towards our schools and homes. Young intelligence, young diligence, young devotion, sought out by the loving watchfulness of master or minister, might be fashioned, here and there, even from a humble stock, by a wise influence and sometimes a generous bounty, into an eventual aptitude for the ministry. To foster this promise, but in one or two cases, into performance, is a noble ambition for any one who cares for his Church’s future.—Ibid.
THE COMPANIONS OF EZRA ON HIS JOURNEY to JERUSALEM
The following observations are suggested by these verses:—
1. Whilst love of the world and fear of the cross induce most men to neglect the salvation of the Gospel, they who obey the gracious call stand recorded in the Book of Life, and will be honoured by God Himself (Ezra 8:1-14).
When some of a family embrace the Gospel, they who linger behind may probably follow; till sometimes, in answer to fervent prayers, the very last are brought in (Ezra 8:13).
Alas! that professed ministers, who ought to take the lead in every good work, are generally so backward to labour, or venture, or suffer in the cause of God, and need to be stirred up by the example and exhortations even of their lay brethren! (Ezra 8:15, last part).
But such as address them on these occasions should be “chief men,” or “men of understanding;” lest they should be irritated, instead of being persuaded (Ezra 8:16-17). They must not, however, be left to their negligence: and their superior brethren, having given them a good example, may send or speak to them, with more authority and effect than others can; and often those who were before inattentive will profit by meek and faithful admonitions.
5. When ministers for the work of the house of our God are raised up, who are men of piety and understanding, we should acknowledge “the good hand of our God upon us,” and give Him the praise; as we ought at all times to lift up our prayers to Him for this blessing to His Church (Ezra 8:18-20).—Arranged from Scott’s Comm.
MEN OF UNDERSTANDING
“By the good hand of our God upon us, they brought us a man of understanding … Sherebiah.”
Sherebiah was not merely a man of knowledge and intelligence, but of wisdom and prudence. Sechel, here rendered “understanding,” signifies moral excellences as well as mental abilities, as may be seen from its use elsewhere. The word rendered “them of understanding” in Daniel 11:35, and “they that be wise” in Daniel 12:3, comes from the same verb as sechel, viz., sachal. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding (sechel) have all they that do,” &c. (Psalms 111:10). “There is no solid wisdom but in real piety.” (a).
The text teaches that—
I. Men of understanding are the gifts of God. Ezra traces the presence of Sherebiah amongst them to “the good hand of their God upon them.” Wise men are God’s gifts, inasmuch as—
1. They derive their abilities from Him. He bestowed upon them the faculties and capacities of their mental and moral nature.
2. They rightly develop their abilities by His blessing. He inspires them to every worthy purpose, and aids them in its prosecution.
3. They attain their moral excellences by His blessing. They “are His workmanship,” &c. (Ephesians 2:10). “By the grace of God they are what they are” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
II. Men of understanding are of great worth amongst men. Ezra perceived the value of Sherebiah to his company, acknowledged the goodness of God in his arrival amongst them, recorded his quality and his coming, and found him very useful subsequently. Men of understanding are of great worth in society because—
1. Understanding is essential to the beneficent employment of other gifts and powers. For example—
(1.) Zeal without understanding is a very perilous thing. “Zeal without knowledge is like expedition to a man in the dark.”
(2.) Strength without understanding often acts injuriously. “Wisdom is better than strength.… Wisdom is better than weapons of war; but one sinner destroyeth much good.”
“It is excellent
To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.”—Shakespeare.
(3.) Great gifts of any kind without moral excellences are productive of great evils. Without grace, great powers are great engines of mischief and ruin, a curse and not a blessing to society. “Good understanding” is needful to ensure the usefulness of great abilities.
2. The employment of understanding itself confers great benefits upon society.
(1.) In restraining from unwise and sinful projects. We have an example in Acts 5:34-40.
(2.) In originating and inciting to wise and good projects.
(3.) In devising appropriate methods for the attainment of such projects.
(4.) And for direction in life and work generally. “Wisdom is profitable to direct.” See how useful Sherebiah was to the Jews (Ezra 8:24; Nehemiah 8:7; Nehemiah 9:4-5; Nehemiah 10:12; Nehemiah 12:24). (b).
CONCLUSION: It behoves us—
1. To praise God for men of understanding.
2. To prize such men. Too often they have been neglected, and frequently cruelly persecuted while living, and honoured after death. Let us value them highly while they are yet with us. (c).
3. To endeavour to become men of understanding. “Wisdom is the principal thing: get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding.” “In understanding be men.” (d).
(a) The greatest man is he who chooses right with the most invincible resolution; who resists the sorest temptation within and without; who bears the heaviest burdens cheerfully; who is calmest in storms, and most fearless under menaces and frowns; whose reliance on truth, on virtue, and on God is most unfaltering.—Seneca.
Remember that he is indeed the wisest and the happiest man who, by constant attention of thought, discovers the greatest opportunity of doing good, and, with ardent and animated resolution, breaks through every opposition that he may improve these opportunities.—P. Doddridge, D.D.
(b) We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man without gaining something by him, He is the living light-fountain, which it is good and pleasant to be near; the light which enlightens, which has enlightened, the darkness of the world; and this, not as a kindled lamp only, but rather as a natural luminary, shining by the gift of Heaven; a flowing light-fountain, as I say, of native original insight, of manhood and heroic nobleness, in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them.—Thomas Carlyle.
(c) Let us not forget that if honour be for the dead, gratitude can only be for the living. He who has once stood beside the grave, to look back upon the companionship which has been for ever closed, feeling how impotent, there, are the wild love and the keen sorrow, to give one instant’s pleasure to the pulseless heart, or atone in the lowest measure to the departed spirit for the hour of unkindness, will scarcely for the future incur that debt to the heart, which can only be discharged to the dust. But the lesson which men receive as individuals, they do not learn as nations. Again and again they have seen their noblest descend into the grave, and have thought it enough to garland the tombstone when they had not crowned the brow, and to pay the honour to the ashes which they had denied to the spirit. Let it not displease them that they are bidden, amidst the tumult and the dazzle of their busy life, to listen for the few voices, and watch for the few lamps, which God has toned and lighted to charm and to guide them, that they may not learn their sweetness by their silence, nor their light by their decay.—John Ruskin, M.A.
(d) If you look at what keeps the world astir, you will at once conclude that most men around you are under the actuating influence of a very different maxim from that presented in Proverbs 4:7 : “Wisdom is the principal thing: get wisdom; and with all thy getting, get understanding.” You might, without being at all chargeable with a libel, read, “Money is the principal thing; therefore get money; and with all thy getting, get a fortune.” This, alas! is the world’s “one thing needful.” All else is postponed to this. The world’s advice to the young is, “Get money first. Secure a competency,” a word of which the limit is never defined; “and when that has been done, you will have leisure to think about what good folks call ‘better things.’ Mind you the main chance. This world is the one with which we have first to do, as we are placed first in it. This world, then, first, and then the next.” Ah! what a delusion!—Ralph Wardlaw, D.D.
Labour to be men of knowledge and sound understanding. A sound judgment is a most precious mercy, and conduces much to soundness of heart and life. A weak judgment is easily corrupted; and if it be once corrupt, the will and conversation will quickly follow. Your understandings are the inlet or entrance to the whole soul; and, if you be weak there, your souls are like a garrison that hath open or illguarded gates; and if the enemy be once let in there, the whole city will be quickly his own. Ignorance is virtually every error; therefore, let the Bible be much in your hands and hearts.—R. Baxter.
EZRA’S CONFIDENCE IN GOD
I. Confidence in God avowed. “We had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God,” &c. (Ezra 8:22). Here is a declaration of faith—
1. In His providence. Ezra believed that God was interested in human affairs; that “His eyes are upon the ways of man, and He seeth all his goings;” and that His hand was working amongst men, directing and controlling, rewarding and punishing them. (a).
2. In His providence as efficiently promoting the interests of His people. “The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him.” He regards His people with approval, guides their footsteps, guards them and their interests, and makes “all things work together for good to them.”
3. In His providence as opposed to those who forsake Him. “His power and His wrath are against all them that forsake Him.” The power which works for righteousness must be hostile to the workers of iniquity. The government of a holy God must set itself against impiety and wickedness.
II. Confidence in God tested. A long journey, which would involve many difficulties and dangers, was before Ezra and his great company; and he was the responsible leader in that journey. Can he trust in God and in His providence now? His confidence was tested—
1. By their need of guidance. The journey they were entering upon was a long one; they required some one to lead them in “a right way.” They had no visible symbol of the presence of God with them and guiding them, as their fathers had in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Can Ezra and his companions trust the invisible “hand of their God” in this matter?
2. By their need of protection. The journey that lay before them was a perilous one.
(1.) There was danger from “the enemy in the way.” The country through which they had to travel was infested with Arabian freebooters. And it seems probable, from Ezra 8:22; Ezra 8:31, that a plan had been arranged by some of them for attacking and plundering this company.
(2.) This danger was increased by the treasures which they carried with them. There was their own “substance,” and the gold and silver and precious vessels for the Temple service; the gold and silver alone, according to one computation, being worth upwards of three quarters of a million of our money, and according to another, upwards of a million and a quarter. What a temptation this would be to “the enemy in the way.”
(3.) Their danger was also increased by the character and composition of their company. Amongst them were many women and “little ones,” who in case of an attack would not be able to assist in repelling it, but would themselves require defence. Thus, if they were assaulted, they would be able to offer only a feeble resistance. Can Ezra trust their defence to the hand of their God upon them for good? Can he go forward towards “the enemy in the way,” relying upon that power which is against the wicked? Or, will he seek for help elsewhere?
III. Confidence in God maintained. Ezra considered their position and prospects, their difficulties and dangers, and their consequent needs, and he decided to trust in God for all, and to give practical proof of their confidence:
1. In not seeking guidance and defence from the king. “I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way.” The terms of the king’s commission to Ezra leave no room for doubt that if he had requested of him a military escort, the request would have been readily granted; but he determined not to do so. He and his companions might have adopted the words of David, “The Lord will hear from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God” (Psalms 20:6-7).
2. In seeking guidance and defence from God. “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava,” &c. (Ezra 8:21). See how they sought unto God for what they needed—
(1.) Humbly. They fasted and afflicted themselves before their God, in deep self-abasement and penitence on account of sin, and with a view to its forgiveness.
(2.) Believingly. They not only fasted before God, but they prayed unto Him for a prosperous journey. Their confidence in Him did not lead them to neglect prayer to Him. True faith in God and in His gracious providence is not a substitute for prayer to Him, but an incentive thereto. (b).
(3.) Earnestly; as is indicated by their fasting and prayer, to which for a time they seem to have entirely given themselves. “So we fasted and besought our God for this.”
Thus Ezra’s confidence in God, being tested, did not fail, but was nobly maintained and manifested. (c).
IV. Confidence in God vindicated. “And He was intreated of us.” Their faith was vindicated—
1. In their inward assurance. They had a firm conviction that their prayers were heard and accepted, and that God would secure to them a prosperous journey.
2. In the outward result. They were led by a right way; they were delivered from the enemy that lay in wait for them; they had a prosperous journey, and arrived safely in Jerusalem. The confidence in God which they had avowed and maintained was splendidly vindicated by His hand upon them for good in their journey. They who honour Him with their hearty trust, He will honour with His great salvation. (d).
(a) But what is to be the justification of this implicit confidence? It can only be justified upon the supposition that God is a being having particular powers, and of a particular character. Confidence in God, for instance, would be entirely irrational if He were conceived of as a destiny, as a force, as a soul of the universe,—if He were not believed to be a person distinct from the universe, its ruler, and its sustainer, as well as its creator, acting upon it in the perfection of His freedom, and without any sort of limit to His power, except such limits as His own moral nature may impose. Again, confidence in God would be misplaced if it were believed that He is the personal, the free, the omnipotent creator; and yet if He were imagined to act, as we should say in human words, capriciously, that is, without reference to those eternal laws of righteousness and truth, the traces, the echoes of which we find within ourselves, and which are in their essence, and demonstrably, not fruits of His arbitrary enactment, but constitutive parts of His eternal nature. Our Lord, therefore, reveals God as a Father, a revelation which assures us at once of His power and His love. It is the combination of these two facts, God’s almightiness and God’s love, which taken together constitute or warrant what we term His providence, His power, that is, under the guidance of his love making provision for the good of His creatures generally, but supremely and in particular of man, and, among men, in a yet more eminent degree of His servants.—Canon Liddon.
(b) “God’s promises, by reason of His unchangeableness, may be relied on; what occasion, then, of prayer, seeing the thing promised will come round of its own steady accord, whether you open your lips or no?” The answer is short and simple. These promises are made only to those who expect, and desire, and ask for them. They are not promised indifferently, and come out of their own accord at all, but to such only who have meditated them, and who value them, and desire them, and earnestly seek them; being, in truth, too valuable to be thrown about to a scrambling mob; being the high and holy attractions by which God intended to work upon the nature of man, and lead it out of its present low and sunken estate into glorious liberty and unwearied ambition of every noble excellence. They are prizes in the hand of God to stimulate the soul’s activities,—more glorious prizes than laurel wreaths, or the trumpetings of fame, or principalities and thrones,—and they are yielded only to an application of faculties, at the least, as intense and ardent as is put forth in pursuit of human ambition. God does not cheapen His promises down to a glance at them with the eye, or a mouthing of them with the tongue, but He requireth of those that would have them an admiration equal to that of lovers, an estimaequal to that of royal diadems, and a pursuit equal to that of Olympic prizes.—Ed. Irving.
(c) Suppose I were to set out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and before I started were to go to Brown Brothers & Co., and obtain letters of credit for the cities of London, Jericho, &c. Then, with these papers, which a child might destroy, which would be but ashes in the teeth of flame, which a thousand chances might take from me, I should go on with confidence and cheer, saying to myself, “As soon as I come to London I shall be in funds. I have a letter in my pocket from Brown Brothers & Co. which will give me five hundred dollars there; and in the other cities to which I am bound I shall find similar supplies, all at my command, through the agency of these magic papers and pen strokes of these enterprising men.” But suppose that, instead of this confidence, I were to sit down on shipboard, and go to tormenting myself in this fashion—“Now, what am I to do when I get to London? I have no money, and how do I know that these bits of paper which I have with me mean anything, or will amount to anything? What shall I do? I am afraid I shall starve in the strange city to which I am going.” I should be a fool, you say; but should I be half the fool that man is who, bearing the letters of credit of the Eternal God, yet goes fearing all his way, cast down and doubting whether he shall ever get save through his journey? No fire, no violence, nor any chance can destroy the cheques of the Lord. When He says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” and “My grace shall be sufficient for thee,” believe it; and no longer dishonour your God by withholding from Him the confidence which you freely accord to Brown Brothers & Co.—H. W. Beecher.
(d) A heathen could say, when a bird scared by a hawk flew into his bosom, “I will not betray thee into the enemy, seeing thou fliest to me for refuge;” how much less will God yield up a soul to its enemy when it takes sanctuary in his Name, saying, “Lord, I am hunted with such a temptation, dodged with such a lust; either Thou must pardon it, or I am damned; mortify it, or I shall be a slave to it; take me into the bosom of Thy love, for Christ’s sake; castle me in the arms of Thy everlasting strength; it is in Thy power to save me from or give me up into the hands of my enemy; I have no confidence in myself or any other; into Thy hands I commit my cause, myself, and rely on Thee.” This dependence of a soul will undoubtedly awaken the almighty power of God for his defence.—W. Gurnall.
FAITH AND PRUDENCE
In the text we find Ezra about to return to Jerusalem, and ashamed to ask the king for any military protection. He had made certain statements to Artaxerxes, and he was reluctant to act in a manner which might bring those statements into question. He felt, what Christian people often feel, the conflict between prudence and faith. Prudence dictates one line of conduct, Christian consistency seems to dictate another, and the perplexity is sometimes painful.
I. That, as a grand rule in the Christian life, faith and prudence must go together. The Scriptures often relate the marvellous helps which good men have found in the days of peril, but they give no countenance to presumptuous reliance on supernatural intervention. As the rule of life, the Scriptures bind us to take all human precautions against the various forms of mischief we have reason to apprehend. In this unbelieving generation there is not much reason to speak against excessive faith, but there is some reason thus to speak. The workman gave as his reason for not going to church, “That religious people were hypocrites, because they called the temple God’s house, and yet put upon it a lightning rod.” This worldly workman could not see that God’s Church ought to recognise God’s law, and act agreeably thereto; but he thought he saw a glaring contradiction in this union of prudence and piety. And some noble men in the Church sympathise with this workman, and reject the securities which prudence would counsel. They will leave their property uninsured; in times of disturbance they will not claim the protection of the magistrate; and in time of sickness they will not call the physician. This is, to a large extent, a serious mistake. As a rule, we are to accept the hand of soldiers which Ezra, in peculiar circumstances, rejected. We must not rashly cast ourselves into peril on the idea that “angels have charge concerning us.” We must “not tempt the Lord our God.” We must not, without imperative reason, leave the ship and step upon the sea, otherwise, with Peter, we must suffer disaster. If devout men do not attend to the dictates of prudence, they must suffer for it; and not only so, but they injure Christianity likewise. The truth of religion is based on false issues, and thus brought into suspicion or contempt. “The good man guideth his affairs with discretion.” Yet there are times—
II. When faith in God must supersede the provisions of ordinary prudence. When faith and prudence gave different counsel, Ezra chose to “walk by faith, and not by sight,” and we must all feel that he did right. The question is: When are we to go beyond merely prudential considerations, and venture all on the unseen power of God? An attentive consideration of Ezra’s situation and conduct may throw some light on this delicate question. We are “shut up to faith” when—
1. Prudential action would most probably be construed as a denial of the Divine government. Ezra had told the king that “the hand of God was upon all them for good who seek Him.” And now Ezra considered that to reveal any anxiety for a guard of soldiers would appear to the heathen king like a practical denial of the overshadowing providence of Jehovah. A band of soldiers would have hidden the Shepherd of Israel; Artaxerxes alone would have been seen; and so Ezra, with a fine spiritual instinct, saw the hour for simple trust had come, and by declining the soldiers left open the full view of God, and His gracious and glorious government. A line of action is here marked out for ourselves. To remove the scruples of the few we are not to take the lightning conductors from our temples, and essay similar reformations; but we must seek so to act that we satisfy the world generally that we do believe in the Divine superintendence and care. A worldly man believes only in the band of soldiers; and, to let him know that we believe in something beyond, we must sometimes be willing to act without the band of soldiers altogether. Are we not too anxious about material helps and visible securities? We have boasted of the power of the Lord’s good hand, and are we then to resort to sorry shifts for our safety and success? Has not the Church, by clinging so feverishly to visible resources, and helps, and defenders, given some sanction to the world’s unbelief? When—
2. Prudential action would cause us to lean on worldly associations and resources. Artaxerxes was an idolater, and Ezra was anxious not to ask too much at his hands. It seemed inconsistent to Ezra that he should be soliciting a band of pagan soldiers to protect God’s people and the treasures of God’s Temple. Here, again, we have a line of action marked out for us. We are the confessed servants of the Holy One of Israel, and prudence must not lead us to worldly alliances and dependence upon sinful circles. In our personal life we must observe this. We must beware of compromises with the world for the sake of our personal safety and aggrandisement. And in regard to God’s Church, we must observe this. Policy would often direct us to expect great things from the greatness, wealth, or wisdom of unregenerate men for the Church’s sake. So far from seeking their assistance, we ought to be shy of their gold and patronage. Thus did Ezra. And thus acted Paul and Silas (Acts 16:16-19). When prudence would lead us to seek for much, either for ourselves or for the Church, at the hands of unbelieving men, we must pause and follow the path faith indicates. Let us dare anything, suffer anything, rather than compromise our own character and the character of God, in the eyes of the world, by linking our fortunes and the fortune of the Church with those who are joined to idols. When—
3. Prudential action might embarrass the progress of God’s kingdom. If Artaxerxes had detected any inconsistency in Ezra, he might have ceased to be favourable to his cause, and have prevented or delayed the return to Jerusalem. Rather than endanger the popularity and progress of the cause of God, Ezra was prepared to run great risks. Here another line of action is marked out for us. If prudence would circumscribe, fetter, or destroy the work of God, the time has come to appeal to loftier considerations. Calculating, cautious piety would condemn the act of Ezra as imprudent, and no doubt, speaking after the manner of men, it was imprudent; but many imprudent things have been done, or there would not have been so much Christianity in the world as there is; and many more imprudent things will have to be done before Christianity fills the world. The practical, calculating spirit of our age invades the Church, and in the administration of its affairs we frequently ask too anxiously about “ways and means,” and are afraid to venture to victories beyond unless we can “see our way.” Let us remember that God’s kingdom is a supernatural one, and in its promotion we must often act with a boldness which could not be justified in the court of prudence. There is a holy venturesomeness in evangelisation which carries with it a far higher guarantee of success than do the pondered schemes of a rationalising statesmanship. Thus, then, there are times—times which a true, delicate, noble spirit will not fail to recognise—when we must renounce the counsellings of worldly wisdom, and, stepping boldly into the darkness, cry, with Ezra, “Help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on Thee!”
III. The separation of faith from prudence must be effected only in the spirit of sincere and earnest dependence upon Heaven (Ezra 8:23). No precipitancy, no levity, no presumption. By fasting and prayer they obtained the sweet assurance that God would honour their faith and preserve them. “He was entreated of us.” Not lightly must we discard ordinary defences and helps. When we can do no other, we must humbly, solemnly rest ourselves in the hand of God. The times come to us all when faith and policy give contradictory counsel. When such times come, let us not be found wanting to our profession and our God. In many circumstances simple trust in God will prove the truest policy.… And, on the contrary, policy, leading God’s people to rest on worldly men, and means, and measures, finally demoralises and betrays them. Hear how God reproaches Israel for their lack of faith in the Unseen Powers: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord.… Now the Egyptians are men, and not God,” &c. (Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 31:3).—W. L. Watkinson.
EZRA AND HIS TIMES
Let us see how much is included in these words of Ezra, and endeavour to ascertain their bearing on our position and circumstances.
I. Ezra’s language was in striking contrast with the general state of opinion around him. He says, not egotistically,—great men have no egotism,—but he says, because he cannot help living when there was a time to speak, “I was ashamed; others can take their own course, but I could not ask our heathen but noble king for a band of horsemen and soldiers to help us in the way.” Others might, and probably did, feel that it would only be courteous to accept the king’s offer; others, that it would look more respectable; others, that it would be safer; others, that they would get through their journey quicker; and others, that Ezra was carrying things rather too far, he might have a little thought for timid women and children. Such thoughts as these were very current, depend upon it, amid that motley crowd. He knows he is right, and can afford to be singular; and, as he can bide his time, he knows the people will one day thank him for what they may now condemn. And here we see a guiding principle for us. At particular crises of public opinion, it devolves upon some men to go into the land of the enemy, that they may bring truth out of captivity. It is a perilous and generally a thankless task; but it must be done, that it may be brought out into a glorious enlargement, before men shall see its form or feel its power. Such men have no ultimate fear for truth; they know its vitality depends upon no accidental prosperity, and can be destroyed by no accidental adversity; such men never change sides; they have sometimes sailed with truth under sunny skies into a secure haven; they have also sailed with her through many a “stormy wind and tempest,” and they have always come right at last. The world wonders at their eccentricity, and recommends them to beg or borrow a band of soldiers and horsemen, to assist them in their progress; but they are “ashamed” to think of such a thing; it hurts their consciences, and wounds there are long in healing, and when healed they leave ugly scars. If they could make truth successful to-morrow, they must do it with truth’s weapons, and her weapons only; but they cannot advance the liberation of truth by any unworthy means, or by any unnatural alliance. “Christ for ever, and His word,” cried Luther, as he left Wittemberg with a penny in his pocket, and a threadbare gown upon his back. “Christ for ever, and His word,” let every modern Ezra and Luther say, until that word shall enlighten every mind and emancipate every heart; and this it will do, if we will let truth do its work, without “soldiers and horsemen.”
II. Ezra’s situation afforded him an opportunity for asserting this great principle under very trying circumstances. In reading the Old Testament, it is needful to call to mind the peculiar political constitution of the Jews. It was a pure theocracy. The only one the world has ever seen, or is likely to see. God was their King, and their King was their God. God would defend them; He would be a wall of fire round about them; He would lead them forth to battle; He would be their national safeguard. This the Jews continually forgot. Their crying sin was departure from the true theocratic idea. They trusted in everything but truth; in every one but God. Egypt and Assyria were, by turns, their strongholds of confidence. Hence the prophet’s cry, “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help,” &c. (Isaiah 31:1, &c.).
But Ezra fell back upon the old principle of the theocracy. What was true in Judea, he took to be true in Babylon. That which was true to Isaiah was true to him now. He could not see any clear path of safety, except in the path of duty; and he would rather be there than in the way of mere expediency. Others might suggest that, under present circumstances, they need not be so very precise; they had permission to return to Jerusalem, was not that enough? If the king, of his own goodness, chose to help them with horsemen, they could accept his offer up to the gates of Jerusalem; they were not now in the land of the theocracy, and allowance must be made for their peculiar circumstances; and to be so strict about an abstract principle was being righteous overmuch. All that was perfectly incomprehensible to Ezra; he knew of no guiding star but principle, and that alone he resolved to follow.
And Christ’s whole life illustrates this principle of confidence in God and in truth, once exhibited by Ezra under circumstances of great temptation; a principle we seek to uphold, as constituting a very essential part of a free, a spiritual Church state. “How often was Christ urged by the impatient longings, and the worldly spirit of the Jews, to gratify their intense and long-cherished hopes, and to establish His kingdom in a worldly form, before the last demand was made upon Him, as He entered, in the midst of an enthusiastic host, the capital city of God’s earthly dominion, before His last refusal, expressed in His submission to those sufferings which resulted in the triumph of God’s pure spiritual kingdom!”
Thus, oftentimes, the good man will have to strive against the spirit of his age; but obeying Christ, and confiding in Christ, whilst doing so, his conflict will lead to certain victory: he will not conquer by “a band of horsemen and soldiers,” but by the exhibition and enforcement of truth, by the use of weapons that are not carnal, but spiritual; weapons mighty, nevertheless, to the pulling down of strongholds, in the use of which the Christian warrior says, “Now thanks be unto God, who causeth us to triumph in every place, by Jesus Christ.”—W. G. Barrett.
EZRA AN EXAMPLE IN BUSINESS
The circumstances in which Ezra was placed were as difficult as can be conceived. He had to contend with the scorn and opposition of pagans, and with the corruptions of Jews. He bears up under his difficulties: he labours through them; he endures as seeing Him who is invisible.
I. His humiliation.
II. His faith.
III. His prayer.
IV. His holy jealousy.
V. His success.
“The hand of our God is upon all them for good,” &c.
I. A contrast of human character.
1. Those that seek God. To seek God implies—
(1.) Faith in Him. Seekers after God believe in the existence of truth, righteousness, love; in the existence of a Supreme and Perfect Being; they believe that God is.
(2.) Desire after Him. Seekers after God believe in Him as the Supremely Good and Beautiful—not only the Almighty, but the All-attractive. They do not simply seek His blessing or His favour, but Himself. The former may be mean; the latter must be noble. To seek Him is to desire the highest truth and righteousness, goodness and beauty, &c.
(3.) Prayer to Him. They who come to God believe not only that He is, but that “He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Out of the faith and longing of their heart they petition Him for His favour and His presence. Their attitude and inclination is towards God.
2. Those that forsake God. Sin is frequently represented as forsaking God, departure from Him, distance from Him (Isaiah 59:2; Jeremiah 1:16; Jeremiah 2:13; Luke 15:13; Ephesians 2:13; Colossians 1:21-22). Forsaking God begins in the heart. Some sinful thought or purpose has been cherished, and so God has been shut out of the heart. Guilt has been contracted, and the sinner has become afraid of God, and tried to escape from Him. (Comp. Genesis 3:8-10.) This forsaking God proceeds from the heart to the conduct. God’s commands may be outwardly obeyed for a time by one who has forsaken God Himself; but ere long the commands also will be set at naught. When the affections are estranged from God, the actions will soon follow, &c.
Here then is the contrast of character: The one seeks God, draws ever nearer to Him, &c.; the other forsakes God, departs ever farther from Him, &c. Ask yourself—Which is my character? Am I a seeker or a forsaker of God?
II. A contrast of Divine treatment.
1. “The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him.” His power is exercised on their behalf; His providence watches over and secures their true interests. But is this really the case? Do we not sometimes find those that seek God in poverty, privation, and pain? Do they not sometimes cry, “Thy hand is heavy upon me”? not, Thy hand is upon me “for good”? Earthly parents see many things to be for the good of their children, which appear unmixed evils to the children themselves. Does the sick infant see that the nauseous medicine which heals him is for his good? Does the young schoolboy see that it is for his good to master the declensions and conjugations of grammar? And
“What am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.”
Not by any hasty conclusions on the results of human character and conduct; not by an induction formed from a brief and narrow observation of human experiences, must our judgment of the Divine procedure be determined; but by His own revelations of His character and government, and by the testimonies of the wise and good amongst men. These unite in assuring us that “the hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him.”
(1.) For their good temporally. Being perfectly acquainted with the circumstances, temperament, and tendencies of every man, He gives to each one who seeks Him what will really be for his good. “No good will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”
(2.) For their good spiritually. Many and precious are the spiritual benefits which He bestows upon His people, e.g., pardon and peace, purity and power, grateful recollections and inspiring anticipations, &c.
(3.) For their good eternally. He is preparing them for a glorious destiny, and endless. Our Lord has gone to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house. And as He was both guide and guardian to Ezra and his company from Babylon to Jerusalem, so is He the guide and guardian of all His people to their blessed and abiding home. They enter heaven through Him.
2. “His power and His wrath are against all them that forsake Him.” A sentimental theory which ignores the stern aspects of the character of God is very popular with some people. There is a growing tendency to magnify the love of God, and then deny His wrath, &c. We rejoice in knowing that “He will have all men to be saved;” that He has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live;” but we cannot question His wrath. God is tender, without weakness; angry, without sin. He is just, as well as merciful. Sin has been punished by Him, is punished by Him, and will be punished by Him. (Comp. Proverbs 11:21; 2 Peter 2:4-9; Revelation 6:16-17). (a). “His power;” who can estimate it? It is “against all them that forsake Him.” (b). Who can conceive “His wrath”? It is infinite as His love. It is His love flaming forth against the incorrigibly wicked. (c). “He is mighty in strength; who hath hardened himself against Him, and hath prospered?”
1. How solemnly man’s destiny is in his own hands, or, more correctly, in his own choice! “Deeds are destiny; character is fate.” For our character we are each responsible. Heaven or hell is the result of man’s own choice and character.
2. In this world character may be changed. Those who have forsaken God may return to Him, assured of a joyous welcome. By the grace of God sinners may here and now be converted into saints. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found,” &c. (Isaiah 55:6-7). “O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God,” &c. (Hosea 14:1-2; Hosea 14:4).
(a) It is very common to separate the question of punishment from its strict relationship to justice, and to argue it on infinite goodness. What is this proper view of God! “Good is the Lord.” But is He good to restrain any administration of government, or to impede any exercise of law? Does His goodness look more indifferently on moral evil than His justice? Is it not its peculiar province to check the consequences of sin? We know not of the goodness which exists only to pity and to spare,—which is a misprison of right and holy principle, which is a connivance at every moral perturbation of the universe. It is easy to reduce this “awful goodness” to our depraved wish and idea.… “Our God is a consuming fire.” “He is terrible out of His holy place.” “God shall destroy for ever.” “The enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs.” Those passages which speak of His ire and wrath are many, reiterated, and vehement. Do they tell of goodness, partial and fond, as it is now presumed? A mere indulgence? A figure, most beautiful and frequent, does Holy Scripture present. God is our Parent. “Have we not one Father?” It is a figure,—“like as a father.” It is argued that all punishment, except for the improvement of the child, would be inconsistent with that relation. But may not the case of the son’s disobedience be so heinous, that all, under the influence of the most natural feeling, would justify a treatment the most extreme? disownment? disinheritance? final separation? The paternal relationship, though not as to its fact, yet, as to its exercise, may be altered by the conduct of the offspring: moral government cannot be altered. The one might be renounced: the other is necessary and insubvertible. May we not fear that, in consequence of sin, the paternal favour is withdrawn, and the filial privilege forfeited? Let that father be the magistrate. The child is now under his jurisdiction as well as discipline. That child may be the transgressor of social law. It is conceivable that his father may be called to pass sentence upon him. Will not all, if it be his inevitable duty, see in its discharge a title to their admiration? Without any impeachment of his tenderness, is not such bearing truly great? Does not history hallow it? Has it not saved commonwealths? Why should not the same suffrage be accorded to God? He is the “righteous Father.” He sitteth King for ever. He reigns not for a part, but for the whole. His goodness must agree with universal justice, or with that which is the same thing, the protection of universal claim and interest.… And if this notion of goodness is to be entertained, how frequently would it have been disappointed! Had earlier creatures than ourselves been forewarned that our earth was soon to be formed, and our race to be created, it would have seemed improbable to them that aught but good could be admitted. The entire scheme would have demanded this expectation. What evils do exist, moral and physical! Then their idea of that which goodness can allow would have been disappointed. It would have been false. When men have been threatened with Divine judgments, they have imagined a presumption against them in the Divine goodness. To the antediluvian the impending fate appeared most unreasonable; the men of Sodom derided the fear of overthrow. If they thought of God at all, arguments like those which we have considered were ready. Goodness forbids it. A parent cannot do it, &c. Then their idea of that which goodness can allow was disappointed. It was false. So we may speculate concerning the future state. Its punishment may affect our views as exaggerated beyond all showing of truth, of reason, of analogy. We may interpose the Divine goodness. We may pronounce that this state of things cannot be. But we are not placed more favourably to give judgment than they who have palpably erred. Our idea may be disappointed. It may be false.—R. W. Hamilton, LL.D., D.D.
(b) How miserable will all wicked rebels be under this power of God! Men may break His laws, but not impair His arm; they may slight His sword, but cannot resist His power. If He swear that He will sweep a place with the besom of destruction, “as He hath thought, so shall it come to pass; and as He hath purposed, so shall it stand” (Isaiah 14:23-24). Rebels against an earthly prince may exceed him in strength, and be more powerful than their sovereign; none can equal God, much less exceed Him. As none can exercise an act of hostility against Him without His permissive will, so none can struggle from under His hand without His positive will. He hath an arm not to be moved, a hand not to be wrung aside. God is represented on His throne “like a jasper stone” (Revelation 4:3), as One of invincible power when He comes to judge; the jasper is a stone which withstands the greatest force. Though men resist the order of His laws, they cannot resist the sentence of their punishment, nor the execution of it. None can any more exempt themselves from the arm of His strength than they can from the authority of His dominion. As they must bow to His sovereignty, so they must sink under His force. A prisoner in this world may make his escape, but a prisoner in the world to come cannot (Job 10:7): “There is none that can deliver out of Thine hand.” There is none to deliver when He tears in pieces (Psalms 50:22).—S. Charnocke, B.D.
(c) Wicked men hereafter will feel the full weight of God’s wrath. In this world they have the wrath of God abiding on them, but then it will be executed upon them; now they are the objects of it, but then they will be the subjects of it. Now it hangs over them, but then it shall fall upon them in its full weight, without any alleviation, or any moderation or restraint.—President Edwards.
SEEKING THE LORD, AND ITS ADVANTAGES
“The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him,” &c. Our text contains a great scriptural truth, applicable to all ages, countries, and persons. It is a truth which is corroborated by many parallel passages, and therefore expresses a subject of more than ordinary importance. There are two things clearly expressed in the text,—man’s responsibility, and the different results of piety and sin. God’s hand shall be upon all those who seek Him, and that for good, and His wrath is against those who forsake Him. Observe, we are directed—
I. To seeking God, and its advantages. Seeking God denotes—
1. A consciousness of our need of Him. Men in general do not regard God, He is not in all their thoughts. Many feel as Pharaoh did when he exclaimed, “Who is the Lord?” &c. But the enlightened, convicted sinner, and the true Christian, feel that God is the fountain of their existence, and the only source of their peace and happiness. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee,” &c. God is all and in all to the pious mind; and their need of Him is every moment’s experience.
2. Earnest and fervent prayer to God (Ezra 8:23.) Seeking and praying are synonymous. Thus Christ taught His disciples. “Ask, … seek, … knock,” &c. Thus, too, Job says (Job 23:3), “Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” &c. We cannot find God but by earnest prayer and supplication, and He is ever near to all who call upon Him. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord,” &c.
3. To seek the Lord is to come to Him in the way of His appointment. We may seek anxiously and fervently, but what will it avail if we seek in the wrong way? Thus heathen philosophers laboured to know the true God. Thus, too, many anxious pagans. Many are like the devotional eunuch, they read, &c., but understand not. The Word of God is, however, explicit and full on this subject. Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.” “One God, and one Mediator,” &c. “No man cometh to the Father but by” Christ.
4. To labour in all things to have Hit approbation. To commit all to Him; to refer all to Him; to acknowledge Him in all; and seek His blessing upon all our steps. To set the Lord always before us, and to labour to walk well pleasing in His sight.
Notice the advantages arising to those who thus seek Him, “The hand of our God is upon all,” &c.
(1.) The hand of His pardoning mercy. To those who thus seek Him, He says, “I, even I, am He who blotteth out your iniquities.” “Seek ye the Lord,” &c. Then it follows, “Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,” &c.
(2.) The hand of His delivering power. He delivers the souls of His people, raises them from the horrible pit, &c. Translates them from the kingdom of darkness, brings their spirits out of the prison of sin, and from the dominion of Satan. Rescues from “the gall of bitterness, and the bond,” &c.
(3.) The hand of His providing goodness. They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing. He is their Shepherd, and they shall not want. He leads them into green pastures, &c. “My God shall supply all your need,” &c.
(4.) The hand of His heavenly guidance. The Lord leads and guides His people. “He led them by the right way,” &c. “The Lord shall lead thee continually,” &c. “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.”
(5.) The hand of His sustaining grace. The Christian is weak and feeble; of himself, insufficient: exposed to many enemies and perils. The saints of the Lord are therefore only absolutely secure in His hand. He keeps them by His mighty power; He preserves them for His kingdom and glory. There is often—
(6.) The hand of His manifest providence. How clearly do we see this in the history of His Church and people! It is said of one, “So long as he sought the Lord, the Lord made him to prosper.” How many thousands have experienced that “godliness is profitable to all things,” &c.
II. Forsaking God, and its attendant evils. To forsake God is the opposite course to that we have described in seeking the Lord. It is refusing Him homage and veneration. It is to disobey Him; to live without His fear; to turn from the way of righteousness; to withdraw our hand from the Gospel plough; to draw back; to make shipwreck, &c. Now, against these. His power and wrath are declared. Power to punish, wrath to inflict a fearful and eternal doom. Power and wrath of God to cast both body and soul into hell fire. (See Hebrews 10:22, &c.) “A certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”
APPLICATION. We learn:
1. The value of true religion. The good hand of the Lord upon us.
2. The awfulness of apostasy from the Lord.
3. The necessity of both vigilance and perseverance. (See Hebrews 3:12; Hebrews 4:10-13.)
4. Urge the unconverted to seek the Lord, and live.—Jabez Burns, D.D.
THE GUARDIANSHIP OF THE SACRED TREASURES
Having sought the Divine guidance and protection in their journey, Ezra proceeds to make wise arrangements for the safe conveyance of the offerings for the service of the Lord at Jerusalem. True prayer will always be followed by earnest effort in the same direction.
I. The treasures to be guarded. “The silver, and the gold, and the vessels, the offering of the house of our God,” &c. (Ezra 8:25-27). These treasures were—
1. Valuable in themselves. “Six hundred and fifty talents of silver,” &c. (Ezra 8:26-27). (We have already stated the estimated value of these things: see Explanatory Notes on Ezra 8:26, and homily on “Ezra’s confidence in God,” Ezra 8:21-23.)
2. Valuable as being consecrated to God. Mark how Ezra speaks of them: “The offering of the house of our God: … the vessels are holy also; and the silver and the gold a freewill offering unto the Lord God of your fathers.” To every pious mind the fact that they were designed for sacred uses would greatly enhance their worth.
3. Valuable as being the spontaneous gifts of friends and well-wishers. “The king, and his counsellors, and his lords, and all Israel there present, had offered … a freewill offering unto the Lord God of your fathers.” As expressions of the good will and kind feeling of the donors to the returning exiles and to their religion, these treasures were very precious. They were well worthy of the most watchful care.
II. The guardians of the treasures. “Then I separated twelve of the chief of the priests,” &c. (Ezra 8:24). These guardians were—
1. Adequate in number. There were twenty-four of them in all; twelve priests and twelve Levites. It was well to have a goodly number for the weighty responsibility.
2. Appropriate in official character. They were priests and Levites. Ezra “said unto them, Ye are holy unto the Lord; the vessels are holy also.” The consecrated things were intrusted to consecrated persons. This was in harmony with Divinely-appointed usage amongst them (see Numbers 3:5-10). It was also in accordance with the charge of God by Isaiah the prophet: “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isaiah 52:11). The principle is of universal application, that holy things should be committed to the charge of holy persons.
3. Distinguished amongst their brethren. Ezra selected “twelve of the chief priests;” and Sherebiah and Hashabiah were eminent amongst the Levites (see on Ezra 8:18-19). By selecting eminent men for this trust Ezra acted prudently; for they would be the more likely to keep it with fidelity than untried men. He also acted religiously; for he thus honoured in the eyes of the people the Lord God, to whom these treasures had been offered.
III. The charge to the guardians of the treasures—
1. Points out the value of the things committed to them. In three ways Ezra does this—
(1.) By weighing them so carefully before delivering them into their hands. He “weighed unto them the silver,” &c. (Ezra 8:25-27).
(2.) By reminding them of their source. They were the voluntary offerings of “the king, and his counsellors, and his lords, and all Israel there present.”
(3.) By reminding them of their destination. They were designed for the service of the Lord God of their fathers.
2. Enjoins watchful care of these things. “Watch ye, and keep them.” They were to see to it that they were neither lost, nor stolen, nor intermingled with the other possessions of this great company during their long journey.
3. Indicates their responsibility for them. “Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chief of the priests and the Levites,” &c. (Ezra 8:29). Thus Ezra gave them to understand that they would be required to deliver them up at the end of the journey safely and accurately. They would have to account for them—
(1.) Exactly: “until ye weigh them.” The same weight which had been given to them they must deliver up at the end of the journey.
(2.) Unto the chief men of the nation: “the chief of the priests and Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel.”
(3.) In the chief place of the nation: “at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the Lord.” Thus Ezra impressed upon them the importance and sacredness of the trust committed to them, and the greatness of their responsibility.
IV. The acceptance of the guardianship of the treasures. The selected priests and Levites did not seek to excuse themselves from this trust and its onerous obligations; they do not seem to have offered any demur in relation to it, but accepted it at once. “So took the priests and the Levites the weight of the silver,” &c. (Ezra 8:30).
1. Our subject speaks to ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How precious and sacred is the trust committed to them! How solemn their responsibility! (1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Titus 1:7; Titus 1:9.) By the Holy Ghost let them seek to be faithful to their glorious, awful trust (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14). (a.)
2. To all who have charge of public funds or the property of others. Let them copy the scrupulous care and fidelity of Ezra, that they may be able, when called upon, to give a punctual and exact account of the things committed unto them.
3. To all men. God has committed some gift to every man to be used in accordance with His holy will; and He will call every man to account for such gift. Blessed are they who will be able to render such an account as shall call forth from Him the “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Comp. Matthew 25:14-30.) (b.)
(a) Brethren, have we at all understood what was done to us when we were ordained—that it was an act of exchange and of interchange—we giving ourselves to Jesus Christ; He giving to us a trust of ministry, on the definite basis of a Divine communication of truth?
How little have they realised the good deposit, who have regarded it as nothing more than the reading of services or the preaching of sermons, out of the resources of natural or acquired knowledge, and as only a part of the life, of which all other parts might be just as earthly, just as self-indulgent, just as frivolous, as if no transaction at all had passed between us and Jesus Christ! How many must confess, sorrowfully and with tears, that they were not conscious then, if they have ever awakened to the consciousness afterwards, of anything whatsoever having been put into their hands when they became ordained men! Oh, we do not blame them—still less would we let them despair. But surely it is something to be grieved for, that we thus undertook a sacred office in utter ignorance of its sacredness; that we thus took it upon us to tell men the way of salvation, when we scarcely so much as knew what they needed to be saved from, or what it was to be saved.
The good deposit. Let us first of all feel it to be something. Let us try to touch and to handle just one substantial ingredient of it. Let us resolve, let us struggle, let us pray, that this revelation, this self-manifestation of God, which is enshrined in this volume called holy, shall shine out of it upon us. It shall not be a name, it shall not be a formula, it shall not be a mere buzzing sound—it shall be a voice. If we could make one verse speak, if we could make one little sentence of the Testament call us by our name, and tell us to do something because of it, it might be “the beginning of months” to us. It might be the dawning of the day—it might be the very sunrising of an altered life; for then, certainly, we never could rest till it had spoken again to us, and again, and again. Then we should begin to turn to it as our adviser, as our counsellor, as our friend. Then we should never attempt to write or to preach till the revelation had put a word in our mouth; we should listen for it in the night watches; we should kneel to it as we rose from our sleep, God-sustained and God-commissioned.
How serious should we then be—how evidently taken knowledge of as men that had a trust, and were set and bent upon faithfulness to it! Men would come then to listen to us, as to men who were in communication with the world out of sight—as men who were charged, each separate time of ministering, with something special to say, and with the true way of saying it.—C.J. Vaughan, D.D.
(b) Obligation and capacity are commensurate. God does not desire to “reap where He has not sown, nor to gather where He has not strawed,” but where He has “given much, of them He will expect the more.” He expects not from a brute the service of a man, nor from a man the obedience of an angel; He expects not from him that has one talent the results of five, nor from him that has five the results of ten; but He does expect everywhere, and from all beings, that each shall serve according to his actual and “several ability.”
With respect to the power to do something for Christ, this differs in different men, and in the same man at different times. There are differences of talent, wealth, influence, station, opportunity; and there are very frequently growth and accession in all these things as Christians advance and succeed in life. It will often be found, however, that the most able and endowed classes do the least; and of certain individuals it is sometimes true, that as their means increase their doings diminish; for it is diminution, if, while Providence enlarges power, the service rendered is only what it was.—T. Binney, LL.D.
FROM AHAVA TO JERUSALEM; AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE PILGRIMAGE OF THE CHRISTIAN
I. The setting out from Ahava. “Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem.” They went forth—
1. From captivity to liberty. In Babylon they were not in cruel bondage, as their fathers had been in Egypt; and in departing from Babylon they did not go forth to civil or political freedom, as their fathers did when they left Egypt. But in Babylon they were captives. They could not leave the places in which they were settled without permission. Their departure is repeatedly spoken of as a going “up out of the captivity.” And while they who departed were still subject to the Persian civil government, they were allowed full religious freedom. The Christian pilgrim is emancipated from the captivity of sin. “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” But the believer in Christ Jesus is “made free from sin;” he is delivered from “the bond of iniquity,” from the thraldom of evil habits, &c. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.… If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (a.)
2. From exile to their ancestral home. They were going forth to the land of their fathers, which was sacred and dear to them by many precious and glorious memories and associations. They were going home. Christians are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth. They desire a better country, that is, an heavenly,” &c. “Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” “Our conversation” (rather, country or citizenship) “is in heaven.” We, too, are going home.
3. From the land of idolatry to the scene of true worship. The priesthood, the altar, and the temple of the true and living God were at Jerusalem. The chief reason of their return to their own land was that there they could more fully and perfectly worship Jehovah, the God of Israel. We are travelling to the scene of pure and perfect and perpetual worship. Our journey will end in heaven, and there every thought and affection, every word and action will be sacred. (Comp. Revelation 7:15; Revelation 21:2-3.) (b).
“There God in Christ revealed
In fulness of His grace
Shall we behold for ever,
And worship face to face.”
II. The progress on the journey. “And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way.” They progressed—
1. Notwithstanding enemies. The path of the Christian pilgrim is beset with foes. His progress is opposed by—
(1.) Invisible, spiritual enemies. He has to contend against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not “against flesh and blood, but against principalities,” &c. (Ephesians 6:10-17). “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about,” &c. (1 Peter 5:8-9).
(2.) Enemies in human society. The allurements of the world; “the deceitfulness of riches;” the temptation to substitute policy for principle, and to sacrifice the spiritual and eternal for the material and temporal, &c.
(3.) Enemies in our own nature. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit,” &c. (Galatians 5:17). Carnal appetites contend against spiritual aspirations, &c.
2. By reason of the Divine blessing. “The hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered,” &c. He was both guide and guardian to Ezra and his company. And He leads and protects His people in their heavenward journey. “We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” “Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ.” “He hath said, I will, never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper,” &c. (Hebrews 13:5-6).
III. The arrival at Jerusalem. “And we came to Jerusalem, and abode there three days.” Their arrival was characterised by—
1. Grateful rest. For three days they rested after their long and toilsome journey. The rest would be very welcome, &c. “There remaineth a rest to the people of God.” In heaven the Christian pilgrims “rest from their labours.” (c.)
“Rest more sweet and still
Than ever nightfall gave,
Our weary hearts shall fill
In the land beyond the grave.”
2. Joyful welcome. Many of the pilgrims in Ezra’s company had relatives in Jerusalem, persons who had gone up there with Zerubbabel, or the children of such persons, and heartily would they welcome their newly-arrived kinsfolk. Have we not kinsfolk in the “better country” who wait to greet us on our arrival there? We are not journeying to a strange land, but to our “Father’s house.” Many of our loving and beloved ones are already there, and wait to welcome us into their shining ranks, and sacred services, and delightful society. And when once we are united there, we shall part no more. (d.)
“O happy world! O glorious place!
Where all who are forgiven
Shall find their loved and lost below,
And hearts, like meeting streams, shall flow,
For ever one, in heaven.”
(a) The work of grace shall conquer the work of depravity; the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus shall set free the soul from the law of sin and death. Nothing else could do it, nothing external to the soul; no outward law of excellence could do it, nothing that did not work within the soul as a living principle of life and action. By this new principle introduced, this new determination of the will in accordance with Divine grace, the man is set free from the evil dispositions of the unregenerate heart, from its inbred, habitual, long-cherished, long-growing, and powerful corruptions; he is set at liberty to serve God out of love, no longer bound in slavery to the law of sin and death in an evil nature. This is the great deliverance; this is freedom indeed; instead of the death of sin, a death to sin, a redemption from its indwelling power by the working of an opposite power of holiness and life, which, as Christ’s own life, imparted to the soul, becomes the habit of the soul. But it is too low an expression when we say imparted to the soul, for in order to work this freedom, this regeneration, this new creatureship in Christ, Christ Himself takes up His abode within the soul, and works in it. So the man says, this freeman of Christ, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” This new life in the soul is not only a life in Christ, but the life of Christ. “Now the Lord is that Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,”—liberty from the bondage of corruption, from the law of sin and death, liberty of life, liberty of holiness, liberty to serve God, not as a slave but as a child, not with the spirit of bondage to fear, but with “the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”—G. B. Cheever, D.D.
(b) All earthly shrines shall pass away. The beautiful temples shall fade into oblivion; the fanes which utter their silver melody as each Sabbath dawns, awakening the sweetest associations of the soul and calling man from cares and sorrow to God and peace,—all, all shall depart. The music, so subtle and deep and elevating, shall sink into silence; the prayers, so eloquent and importunate and fervid, shall cease; the call to dying sinners, and neglecters and despisers of Jesus, shall no longer be heard. Altars and priests shall be no more. And instead shall come the holiest worship and the purest homage, and the cleansed heart and the immortal body, and man shall walk in that region which sin cannot enter, and death cannot shadow, and pain cannot touch, amid scenes of beauty and undecaying sweetness, and in that realm whose King is the Lord of hosts, and whose subjects are the obedient servants of their lawful Monarch, and the willing children of their Royal Parent. And instead of temples for the hymn of homage, and the prayer of faith, and the voice of persuasion, there shall be the spiritual worship of redeemed souls, and angelic beings uttering a deeper language than ever was heard on earth, and breathing a more liquid hymn of tenderness than ever rose from an earthly pile, and the soft and exquisite expression shall be fully realised: “1 saw no temple therein.”—J. W. Lester, D.D.
Sublime beyond the reach of words to express is the choral service of the heavenly Temple. Inspiring and thrilling are the strains that rise from that mysterious mount on which stands the collective Church of the First-born, and whose praise swells and flows triumphantly away, till the universe is filled with the harmony which comes “rolling back full on the throne of God.”—R. Ferguson, LL.D.
(c) Peace is the very highest mode of joy. It is the joy of rest; and this rest partakes the repose of the Divine nature. It is on God that the soul is fixed, and hence she cannot but enjoy the calm and the quiet of Infinite Perfection.
“As the wave a ray of light receives,
And rests unbroken;”
so it is the fact of each nature being in immediate union with God and of His fulness flowing into it, which insures its everlasting res. In such a case, unrest is impossible. Here we may see a ripple on the bosom of the most placid lake, but there every breast is soothed into unruffled peace. The gentle words of the Saviour—FEAR NOT—addressed to the spirit as she was passing through the waters of death, have there deepened into the tranquillity of a sinless nature, and on the bosom of her God she will recline for ever.
This deep repose of soul in the world of glory is not incompatible with the loftiest and the most unwearied activity. Best is often confounded with sloth, and repose with indolence. But neither indolence nor sloth can exist in heaven, where the purity of each individual nature involves a corresponding vitality, and the vitality a corresponding activity. It is true that the motion of the soul there is ever towards rest; but it is no less true that the rest is ever towards motion. In seeking the one only centre of her life, it is that the soul may come back replenished and filled unto the fulness of God, and thus be prepared to enter on new and still higher spheres of service. In her moments of most profound quiet, her every power is on the utmost stretch and reach of effort.—Ibid.
(d) Thy dead men shall live; that decaying dust shall rise again. Weep not as though thou hadst cast thy treasure into the sea, where thou couldst never find it; thou hast only laid it by in a casket, whence thou shalt receive it again brighter than before. Thou shalt look again with thine own eyes into those eyes which have spoken love to thee so often, but which are now closed in sepulchral darkness. Thy child shall see thee yet again; thou shalt know thy child; the selfsame form shall rise. Thy departed friend shall come back to thee, and having loved his Lord as thou dost, thou shalt rejoice with him in the land where they die no more. It is but a short parting; it will be an eternal meeting. For ever with the Lord, we shall also be for ever with each other. Let us comfort one another, then, with these words.—C. H. Spurgeon.
AT JERUSALEM: THE FAITHFUL SURRENDER OF IMPORTANT TRUSTS
We have here—
I. A sacred trust faithfully discharged. “Now on the fourth day was the silver and the gold and the vessels weighed in the house of our God,” &c. (Ezra 8:33-34). This trust was discharged—
1. With minute accuracy and reverent care. Notice—
1. The particular accuracy with which everything was accounted for. Everything was—
(1) weighed. “The silver and the gold and the vessels were weighed,” &c. “By weight of every one.”
(2.) Numbered. “By number and by weight of every one.”
(3.) Inventoried. “And all the weight was written at that time.”
2. The reverent care with which these treasures were delivered up. This is indicated—
(1.) In the sacred place in which they were delivered. “In the house of our God.”
(2.) By the consecrated persons to whom they were delivered. “By the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest,” &c. It appears from Ezra 8:29 that “the chief of the priests and Levites and the chief of the fathers of Israel” were also present at the time. (a.)
2. With a grateful sense of relief. It seems to us that the twelve priests and the twelve Levites, who had charge of these treasures during the long and perilous journey, must have felt relieved and thankful when the journey was concluded in safety, and the treasures were surrendered entire and inviolate. Blessed is he who, in relation to the trusts of life, will be able to render as satisfactory an account as this! Blessed who at the end of life’s journey will be able to say, “Lord, Thou deliveredst unto me five talents,” &c. (Matthew 25:20-21). Or, with St. Paul, “I have fought a good fight,” &c. (2 Timothy 4:7-8). (b.)
II. Divine worship devoutly offered. “The children of those that had been carried away, which were come out of the captivity, offered burnt offerings unto the God of Israel,” &c. In these sacrifices there was—
1. An acknowledgment of sin and of the need of atonement with God. They “offered twelve he-goats for a sin offering.”
2. An expression of thankfulness and self-consecration. They “offered twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety and six rams, seventy and seven lambs; all this was a burnt offering unto the Lord.”
3. An indication of the unity of the twelve tribes of Israel. A sin offering and a burnt offering was offered for each of the twelve tribes. “Offered burnt offerings unto the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety and six (8 × 12) rams, twelve he-goats for a sin offering.” (For further notes on the significance of these sacrifices, see homilies on chaps. Ezra 3:1-3, Ezra 6:16-18; and for illustrations, see those accompanying the above-mentioned homilies.)
III. The royal letters duly delivered. “And they delivered the king’s commissions unto the king’s lieutenants,” &c.
1. The delivery of these letters was an evidence of loyalty to the Persian government. It was an acknowledgment of the authority of Artaxerxes the king, and of his officers west of the Euphrates. The same Word which commands us to “fear God” commands us also to “honour the king” (1 Peter 2:13-17). “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates.” “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,” &c. (Romans 13:1-7).
2. The time of their delivery was an evidence of their supreme regard for Jehovah their God. First, they gave up the sacred vessels and treasures for the worship of Jehovah; then they presented to Him their humble and grateful sacrifices, and then they delivered the king’s commissions unto the king’s officers. Our loyalty to the earthly sovereign must be subordinate to our reverence for God. To Him must be given our highest, holiest affections, and our constant and complete obedience.
IV. Valuable help promptly rendered. “The king’s lieutenants and governors on this side the river furthered the people, and the house of God.” They carried out the behests of the king expressed in the letters which Ezra delivered to them. Thus the journey of Ezra came to a very satisfactory and successful issue.
(a) Many fill their life with regrets for being confined to such a narrow sphere of usefulness. If they only were in the ministerial office, or had millions of money, they would do so and so; but what can an ordinary labourer, a poor Sunday-school teacher, accomplish? Friend, be content to serve God where He has placed you; for there precisely you can accomplish the most. It is better to make the best of what you have than to fret and pout for what you have not. The man with one talent is never accountable for five; but for his one he must give as strict an account as the other for his five. It may require more humility to husband one talent than five; and, so far as the improvement or misimprovement of either is concerned, they are both equally important in the sight of God. The king’s million and the widow’s mite are worth the same with the Eternal.—Dict. of Illust.
(b) “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Oh blissful sentence! Words of unutterable, inconceivable import! Language of condescending grace, not now to be comprehended! To be acknowledged before the assembled universe, not only as His servants, but His good and faithful servants. To be told that we have served Him faithfully, and told it from the throne of His glory! To hear Him say “Well done!” and have the plaudit reverberated in ten thousand times ten thousand echoes from the lips of admiring and adoring angels, till heaven rings with the sound, “Well done, well done, thou faithful servant of the Lamb!” Nor is this all. “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” “Come into the same place, yea, into the same joy. Come and dwell with Me, and have one felicity common to both.”
This reward will be bestowed on all His faithful servants without exception. It belongs not to apostles merely, nor to martyrs, reformers, missionaries, and ministers; but to the most obscure, and illiterate, and humble Christians on earth. It is not the service of official station merely that is alluded to, but the service of personal religion. Christ is as truly served by the most retired believer, though not as publicly, nor as extensively, as by the most popular and successful preacher. It is the service of faith, patience, self-denial, suffering, mortification, that is to be rewarded; the service of a devoted heart and a holy life that is to be thus honoured and blessed, whether the man who performs it follows Christ in the retirement of a private or the activities of a public station. It is true the reward will be in proportion to the service, and the degrees of glory according to the degrees of grace; but all faithful servants will be rewarded by admission to the presence and service and enjoyment of Christ in heaven.—J. A. James.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent