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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Ezra 8

Verses 1-20

Ezra 8:1-20

And I gathered them together to the river that runneth to Ahava.

The assembly at Ahava


I.
The long journey commenced.


II.
An important inspection made. This halt illustrates--

1. The need of seasons of rest.

2. The use of seasons of rest.


III.
A grave deficiency discovered. Ministers of religion are sometimes slow in making personal sacrifices and rendering personal assistance even in a good enterprise.


IV.
The supply of the deficienct sought. He sought them--

1. By means of influential men.

2. By sending them to the right place.

3. By sending them to the right man.

4. By sending them with precise instructions.


V.
The supply of the deficiency obtained.

1. The supply was sufficient.

2. The supply was various.

3. The supply was remarkable for the presence of at least one man of distinguished ability.

4. The supply was obtained by the blessing of God. (William Jones.)

A man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli.

Men of understanding


I.
Are the gifts of God.

1. They derive their abilities from Him.

2. They rightly develop their abilities by His blessing.

3. They attain their moral excellences by His blessing.


II.
Are of great worth amongst men.

1. Understanding is essential to the beneficent employment of other gifts and powers.

2. The employment of understanding itself confers great benefits upon society.

Conclusion: It behoves us--

1. To praise God for men of understanding.

2. To prize such men.

3. To endeavour to become men of understanding. (William Jones.)

Verse 21

Ezra 8:21

Then I proclaimed a fast there.

Prayer and fasting

(preached on the occasion of a public fast):--


I.
That the best means to procure success upon our counsels and endeavours is to seek God for his blessing.

1. This results from the first principles on which all religion is built.

(1) That there is a God of infinite power who governs the world and can dispose all things in it to such ends as are agreeable to His will.

(2) That human policy and strength are of no moment when they come in opposition to His providence: “There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.”

(3) That He has a particular ears of those who serve Him faithfully.

2. In giving His assistance God does not always act in so palpable a manner as that whereby we see second causes producing their effects. But that it is the most rational and most religious way to begin at Heaven in all His consultations and designs will appear by reflecting--

(1) That it is impossible for a creature to be independent.

(2) That God can no more cease to govern the world than He can cease to be God.

(3) That He cannot govern His creatures if He does not influence them.

(4) That those who depend upon their own policy and strength, without any regard to His will, affront His majesty, reject His government, and justly provoke Him to punish and disappoint them (Proverbs 3:6-7).


II.
That solemn fasting is a proper method to be used in such addresses to God. We have but two ways to express our thoughts and the inclinations of our minds, either by words or by such actions as naturally flow from them, and both of these are equally proper and therefore such as become our devotions. For God is the author of decency and order, and His service is then most decent and orderly when it is unaffected and agreeable to nature; and therefore such gestures or actions are proper in His worship which do naturally flow from or by custom are used to accompany such a disposition of mind as we ought to be in when we make our approaches to Him. Thus kneeling becomes us at our prayers, because it is the usual posture of supplicants; singing of hymns is decent in thanksgiving, because songs and music are fit attendants on praise and joy; and fasting is extremely proper for a solemn humiliation before God, for the begging pardon of our sins, and assistance in our difficulties, because it is a natural expression of sorrow, and is productive of humble thoughts in ourselves and devout ones towards God. And therefore we find that it has been the practice not only of the Churches of God, but even of the heathens themselves, to use solemn fasts upon extraordinary applications to Heaven, so that fasting is a part of worship prescribed by nature and by common sense of men. Public fasting should be attended with public demonstrations of seriousness, such as gravity in our discourse and behaviour, a ceasing from the business of our particular callings, abstaining from ornaments, recreations, and places of civil concourse, and spending the day in the public devotions of the Church and in the retirements of our closets. For though It private Christian may fast (as he may pray) without any of this pomp, and discharge the duty in his own breast, yet to make it public there is no other way but an outward solemnity; and a community cannot hold a fast but by such an appearance. In this the minds of men are more apt to be grave and serious when there is no appearance of jollity to divert them, they are drawn off from thoughts of worldly business and fixed on pious meditations, when they see their neighbours thronging to the temple, when there is no commerce in the shops nor hurry in the streets. Such a face of things shows that men are about the more serious business of another world. (William Hayley, D. D.)

Verse 22

Ezra 8:22; Ezra 8:28

For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers.

Ezra’s confidence in God


I.
Confidence in God avowed.

1. In His providence.

2. In His providence as efficiently promoting the interests of His people.

3. In His providence as opposed to those who forsake Him.


II.
Confidence in God tested.

1. By their need of guidance.

2. By their need of protection.


III.
Confidence in god maintained.

1. In not seeking guidance and defence from the king.

2. In seeking guidance and defence from God.


IV.
Confidence in god vindicated.

1. In their inward assurance.

2. In the outward result. (William Jones.)

Ezra and his times


I.
Ezra’s language was in striking contrast with the general state of opinion around him. He knew he was right, and could afford to be singular. 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. Such men have no ultimate fear for truth; they know its vitality. Such men never change sides. 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. 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.


II.
Ezra’s situation afforded him an opportunity for asserting this great principle under very trying circumstances. Christ’s whole life illustrates Ezra’s principle of confidence in God under circumstances of great temptation. (W. G. Barrett.)

Ezra an example in business


I
. His humiliation.


II.
His faith.


III.
His prayer.


IV.
His holy jealousy.


V.
His success. (R. Cecil.)

Heroic faith

Our text gives us a glimpse of high-toned faith, and a noble strain of feeling. Ezra knew that he had but to ask and have an escort from the king that would ensure their safety till they saw Jerusalem. It took some strength of principle to abstain from asking what it would have been so natural to ask, so easy to get, so comfortable to have. The symbolic phrase “the hand of our God,” as expressive of the Divine protection, occurs with remarkable frequency in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and though not peculiar to them, is yet strikingly characteristic of them. It has a certain beauty and force of its own. The hand is, of course, the seat of active power. It is on or over a man like some great shield held aloft above him, below which there is safe hiding. So that great hand bends itself over us, and we are secure beneath its hollow. As a child sometimes carries a tender-winged butterfly in the globe of its two hands, that the bloom on its wings may not be ruffled by its fluttering, so He carries our feeble, enamoured souls enclosed in the covert of His almighty hand. As a father may lay his own large muscular hand on his child’s tiny fingers to help him, or as “Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands,” that the contact might strengthen him to shoot the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance, so the hand of our God is upon us to impart power as well as protection; and “our bow abides in strength” when “the arms of our hands are made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.” That was Ezra’s faith, and that should be ours. Note Ezra’s sensitive shrinking from anything like inconsistency between his creed and his practice, and we may well learn this lesson--to be true to our professed principles; to beware of making our religion a matter of words; to live, when the time for putting them into practice comes, by the maxims which we have been forward to proclaim when there was no risk of applying them; and to try sometimes to look at our lives with the eyes of people who do not share our faith, that we may bring our actions up to the mark of what they expect of us. Especially in regard to this matter of trust in an unseen hand, and reliance on visible helps, we all need to be very rigid in our self-inspection. Faith in the good hand of God upon us for good should often lead to the abandonment, and always to the subordination, of material aids. Each man must settle for himself when abandonment or subordination is his duty. We ought to work into our lives the principle that the absolute surrender and forsaking of external helps and goods is sometimes essential to the preservation and due expression of reliance on God. What shall we say of people who profess that God is their portion and are as eager in the scramble for money as anybody? What kind of commentary? Will sharp-sighted, sharp-tongued observers have a right to make on us, whose creed is so unlike theirs, while our lives are identical? Do you believe that “the hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him”? Then do you not think that racing after the prizes of this world, with flushed cheek and labouring breath, or longing, with a gnawing hunger of heart, for any earthly good, or lamenting over the removal of creaturely defences and joys, as if heaven were empty because some one’s place here is, or as if God were dead because dear ones die, may well be a shame to us, and a taunt on the lips of our enemies? Note further that his faith not only impels him to the renunciation of the Babylonian guard, but to earnest supplication for the defence in which he is so confident. So for us the condition and preparation on and by which we are sheltered by that great hand is the faith that asks and the asking of faith. We make God responsible for our safety when we abandon other defence and commit ourselves to Him. He will accept the trust and set His guards about us. So our story ends with the triumphant vindication of this Quixotic faith: “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; and we came to Jerusalem.” The ventures of faith are ever rewarded. When we come to tell the completed story of our lives, we shall have to record the fulfilment of all God’s promises, and the accomplishment of all our prayers that were built on these. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Fear of inconsistency


I.
Ezra’s conviction.

1. He was convinced that there were some men who sought God, and others who forsook Him. There were some who sought--

(1) The knowledge of God.

(2) The favour of God.

(3) The glory of God.

But there were others who cared for none of these things. So it is still. There are some who read the Bible and listen to the gospel with an earnest desire to know God, and who feel that to have God for their friend is to have the business of life accomplished; while there are others who turn a deaf ear to the invitations of Divine love, and who never seriously ask regarding the requirements of the law of God. The conviction of Ezra is that of every thoughtful good man. There is also the further conviction that this is the grand distinction. He who thinks of one neighbour being a seeker of God, and another a forsaker of God, looks at a distinction of the soul, and one which will prove lasting and important as the soul itself.

2. Ezra was convinced that God’s hand for good was on the one class, and that His power and wrath were against the other.

(1) The Bible declares this in the plainest terms (Genesis 18:23-25, etc.).

(2) This is illustrated by the history of the Jews and of others with whom they had to do.

(3) This truth is as evident now as it was then.

Sloth and intemperance and profligacy lead to ruin, while diligence and sobriety lead to respectability and competence.

3. Ezra was convinced that he and his companions were among those who sought God, and on whom God’s hand was for good. He calls Jehovah “our Lord.” His language was intended to convey that they were in a state of favour with God, and that they knew this. From this we learn that a man may assure himself of God’s friendship.


II.
Ezra’s declaration of his conviction. This declaration was probably made when he requested authority to make his proposed journey to Jerusalem, At such a time he would feel under peculiar obligation to declare his belief in God, and his hope that Jehovah was his own Father, Protector, and Guide. This obligation every good man ought to feel. Christ requires us to confess Him. Such a profession is made by the observance of outward and positive institutions. When a man calls his family around him, sings a song of praise, and reads a portion of Scripture, and presents an offering of supplication and thanksgiving, he is telling his children and neighbours that he is a disciple of Jesus Christ. When he engages in the exercises of public worship, and especially when he takes his place at the communion-table, he is making an open and decided declaration that he is a disciple of Jesus.


III.
Ezra’s anxiety lest he should do anything inconsistent with this declaration. Two instructive points require to be looked at.

1. There was real and great danger.

2. The inconsistency from which he shrank was more apparent than real. A good man believes that God renews the face of the earth, and covers the valleys with corn, but he does not neglect to plough and sow; he believes that God is a refuge and a strength, a sun and a shield, yet he takes food when he is hungry and medicine when he is sick; he does not expect that God is to protect and bless him apart from such means as prudence and experience may dictate. If Ezra had asked for a guard of soldiers, the request would not have been inconsistent with confidence in the power and faithfulness of God, but it would probably have appeared so to the king and his nobles, and he feared lest in this way the character of God should suffer. Things which are in themselves lawful are at times inexpedient, and a Christian man by doing such things may greatly injure both his comfort and usefulness. A. sacrifice of principle and a wise consideration of times and circumstances are very different things, and to confound them shows only ignorance and folly. (J. B. Johnston, D. D.)

The good hand of God

It is a glimpse into a spiritual history which our text here presents to us. Of Ezra himself we have but a vague and shadowy idea; he has long since passed to the realm where storms and struggles are ended, and the mystery of life gives place to the clear sunlight of God’s love. But within that strong, devout soul a great struggle was once fought out. The anxious questioning of his troubled and perplexed spirit was real enough then. And while it is possible to miss the true lesson and to push the teaching to a dangerous extreme, it will, if we penetrate to the spirit of the story, supply an answer to a modern problem and a truth fruitful for our modern lives. Ezra sought to satisfy the old equation between the Divine power and the human agency. He put to himself the familiar question--Is the use of means any the less a trusting in God? may not the means fall within the compass of God’s plan of deliverance? And the issue of the struggle was this: at every hazard he must stand right with God and with his own heart, and therefore he refused to resort to an arm of flesh at all. We appear to have here a plain and blank refusal to use means. Some would have said--“Surely we may trust in the good hand of God, and the soldiers of the king.” But to Ezra’s scrupulous faith it presented an alternative. One or the other but not both. One or the other he must elect to have. He refused, not only because of the nature of the instrument, but also because it was an instrument. He said in effect, “Both we and our enemies are in the hands of God; it is His work, therefore, and not ours, to secure our safety and our welfare.” Let us not suppose that we have here a unique instance of complete trust in God. It was when Jacob saw no human way of escape, and God had showed him his utter helplessness, that he went forth with a calm face and a brave heart to meet his brother Esau. It was when the horsemen were hard upon the children of Israel that the Lord began to trouble the Egyptians. There is nothing grander in this Book than the calm tramp of Moses on through the wilderness, with no attempt at self-defence, only the simple assurance, “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” Let me remind you of the boy who went to meet the mightiest of living warriors with a sling and a stone. Perhaps there were some who said, “Surely you can trust in God and put on the armour of Saul as well.” But David felt that the armour was unnecessary if he had the shield of God’s power. In all these examples we find a faith which rested in God and not in means of deliverance. We may find it hard to understand Ezra, because our Christian character is often composed of one part of faith and ninety-nine parts of common sense, while his contained ninety-nine parts of faith and one part common sense. We trust in God, but feel safer if the mail-clad warriors are at our side; we know the twelve legions of angels are around us, but we are glad to feel the two swords concealed beneath our cloaks; we believe that the manna will fall day by day, yet we like to take bread with us lest it should fail to come. At the same time it is important to observe that it is the spirit of this incident we are to copy and not the form. As an instance of the rejection of means it is not an instance for all times and for all circumstances. Our Lord Himself taught us not to trust in God to do that which we may do for ourselves. The jars of water at Cane, the net cast into the sea, and the stone rolled away from the sepulchre, teach us that God will work through earthly instruments. But we maintain that failure oftener results from trusting in the means more than in God than from trusting in God and not in means. It i| the deepest truth for the Christian worker that our churches, our ministrations, our methods, are but channels for the grace of God. We want not so much the eloquent tongue as the bended knee; not so much the crowded church as the crowded prayer meeting; not so much the beautiful temple as the glory of the Lord within. The great need now is not for better and more perfect machinery, but for a more consecrated spiritual life, and for a profounder trust in God, who can work with or without our machinery. It is, moreover, the secret of peace for the Christian life. But further, not only had Ezra the earnest longing to be right with God, but also to seem right. He was unwilling to put any stumbling-block in the way of the king. Though Artaxerxes might grant the request, might it not lessen his conception of the goodness and power of God? This age, which more than any other demands reality in its religion, demands the most careful seeming also. Tell men that we are pilgrims, and then let them see us making our habitations here; tell them that we are laying up the incorruptible riches, and then let them see us intent on the corruptible gain; tell them our confidence is in God, and then let them see us as hard in sorrow, as cynical in disappointment, as unbelieving in distress as themselves; tell them that we live for the unseen and the eternal, and then let them mark us caring for nothing we cannot see and clutch with our fingers; tell them that we confess a higher allegiance, and bow before a higher will, and then let them see us conforming our lives to their cold, worldly maxims, and we may say what we will, but they will treasure up our words as among the hollow falsities of a false creed. Let us be on our guard not to offend a watching world by the broad gulf between the spoken word and the visible life. (J. H. Shakespeare, M. A.)

Faith and prudence

Ezra felt what Christian people still often feel, the conflict between prudence and faith. We observe--


I.
That as a grand rule in the Christian life faith and prudence must go together. The Scriptures give no countenance to presumptuous reliance on supernatural intervention. As a rule of life they 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. 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 that 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 have no faith in the band of soldiers. They leave their property uninsured; in times of disturbance they will not claim the protection of the magistrate; and in times of sickness they will not call the physician. That is, to a large extent, a serious mistake. As a rule we are to accept the band 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. 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. As the rule of life we must march through the desert with the hand of soldiers. Our religion is not fatalism. “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 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? When are we justified in neglecting policy and appealing to the higher law? 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 feared Him,” And now he 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. On this ground he elected to brave the perils of the wilderness without the military escort. 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 marked here 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 soldiers altogether. Are we not too anxious about material helps end visible securities? Has not the Church, by clinging so feverishly to visible resources and helps and defenders, given some sanction to the world’s unbelief? Ezra blushed to ask Artaxerxes for help that might seem a denial of the power and presence of God. Are we sufficiently sensitive on this matter? Trapp says, “It is the ingenuity of saints to study God’s ends more than their own.” And if we are very jealous for the honour of God, and seek to uphold His government in the eyes of the world, we shall sometimes be ready to imperil our personal interest and safety for His sake; and let us be assured that when we act in this lofty spirit of faith and self-forgetfulness, we shall not be confounded. 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. Policy drove him to find assistance in a suspicious quarter, and so he retired to the higher ground of simple trust in God. 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 their 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 fortunes 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; 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. 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 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 (verse 23). No precipitancy, no levity, no presumption. By fasting and prayer they obtained the assurance that God would honour their faith and preserve them. Not lightly must we discard ordinary defences and helps. When we can do no other we must humbly, solemnly rest ourselves in the hands 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 to be the truest policy. In Hebrews 11:7 Noah’s conduct in preparing the ark is spoken of as “prudence.” “By his believing obedience he came to be at last the one who was truly prudent. A truth of great practical importance. He who like a child blindly follows the will of God, regardless of all consequences, is the one who is truly prudent, for he builds on the Eternal, and He will never allow His own to come to shame.”--Ebrard. And on the contrary, policy leading God’s people to rest on worldly men and means and measures, finally demoralises and betrays them (Isaiah 31:3). (W. L. Watkinson.)

Alliance with God

We are like William of Orange, with a few followers and an empty purse, making war against the master of half the world, with the mines of Peru for a treasury. But like William, too, when questioned concerning our resources, we can reply, “Before we took up this cause we entered into a close alliance with the King of Kings.” Those on the Lord’s side are on the winning side. He never has, and never will, lose a battle. (David Gracey.)

God’s protection

Pastor Oncken was forbidden by the burgomaster of Hamburg from holding religious meetings. “Do you see that little finger?” said the burgomaster; “as long as I can move that finger, so long will I put down the Baptists.” “Yes,” said Oncken, “I see your little finger, and I see also the great arm of God; and whilst that arm is lifted on our behalf, your little finger will have little terror for us.

Want of faith in God manifested

Mr. G. J. Holyoake, in his “Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life,” gives an interesting account of the Zulus who converted Bishop Colenso. Robert Ryder, a secular carpenter, was employed by the bishop to build his church and school-house in Natal. Ryder sent Mr. Holyoake several photographs of the actual Zulus who accomplished the conversion, long before the change was heard of in England. The Zulu workers under Ryder were conversed with by the bishop daily. They were remarkably shrewd in argument. They remarked upon the fact that the bishop had a room built in the rear of his church, in which he stored an eighteen-pounder. They knew what that cannon was for, and they thought that the bishop, fair-spoken as he was, did not place his ultimate reliance on the “Good Father,” in whom he told them to trust.

Faith in God

A century ago William Carey entered Nottingham with the thought in his heart, from which he preached the following day in a sermon which really originated the Baptist Missionary Society: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” It was a very simple thing. It was very memorable. It was one of those inspirations that illumine as by a single flash the whole realm of thought. “Expect great things from God.” Looking back over a hundred years, it was interesting to note upon what Carey based his expectations. Not on human resources, not on wealth, not on eloquence. Those few men who gathered together at Kettering had no worldly backing. They were obscure men in the extreme. With scarcely an exception they were quite unknown outside their own immediate neighbourhood. The wise and prudent in the Christian world doomed the enterprise to ignominious failure. With one exception, there was not a man of any mark in London who would have anything to do with it, and when a meeting was held to consider the advisability of forming an auxiliary, the idea was negatived by an overwhelming majority. But Carey believed in God. Doubts, unlikelihoods, impossibilities, vanished from his mind. And what has been the result of this faith? During the last hundred years, wherever the missionary had gone God had given testimony to the word of His grace by signs and wonders as marvellous as miracle. As in no former age the world lay open, aye, and opened-minded to the Gospel. (J. Culross.)

Fearlessness of the godly

“I go up alone,” General Gordon wrote, as he started from Cairo to Khartoum, “with an Infinite Almighty God to direct and guide me; and I am so called to trust in Him as to fear nothing, and, indeed, to feel sure of success.”

A lesson of faith

I was passing one of the busiest spots in the City of London, opposite the Royal Exchange. Here numerous turnings meet, and pour their mighty burden of vehicular traffic in bewildering streams. As the cabs, carriages, carts and waggons hastened along I could not help thinking what need there was for care in crossing, and how dangerous at that busy hour a false step would be. With such thoughts, nay attention was attracted by something that seemed entirely out of harmony with the whole surroundings. Right in the midst of the danger, at a time when the traffic was most bewildering, I saw a woman crossing the street. She was pushing a perambulator, not eagerly or excitedly trying to reach the other side, but with perfect calmness, and apparently without fear. What was the explanation? A City policeman held her arm, and she relied upon him. And shall we not place the same confidence in our Guide, and though dangers and difficulties, and trials and temptations surround us, shall we not trust Him perfectly who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us, faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy? Shall we not disdain to fear, knowing that we are protected and sustained by the everlasting arm? (Signal.)

Luther’s courage

Luther’s words in the first struggles of his public ministry have the sacred anxiety, the solemn confidence, and almost the language, of the apostle: “I am compassed with no guards, but those of heaven. I live in the midst of enemies who have legal power to kill me every hour. But this is the way in which I comfort myself: I know that Christ is Lord of all; and that the Father hath put all things under His feet, among the rest, the wrath of the emperor and of all evil spirits. If it please Christ that I should be slain, let me die in His name. If it do not please Him, who shall slay me?

Definition of faith

Phillips Brooks gave a definition of faith so true and helpful to sinners needing salvation, that I reproduce it. “Forsaking All, I Take Him.” It will be noticed that the initial letters spell “Faith”; and what I want you to do to-night is to “forsake all and take Him.” It would be a good thing if every one present were to write on the fly-leaf of their Bibles those beautiful words, “Forsaking all, I take Him.” (W. R. Bradlaugh.)

The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him: but He power and His wrath is against all them that forsake Him.

Contrasts


I.
A contrast of human character.


II.
A contrast of divine treatment. Conclusion--

1. How solemnly man’s destiny is in his own hands, or, more correctly, in his own choice. “Deeds axe destiny; character is fate.”

2. In this world character may be changed (Hosea 14:1-2; Hosea 14:4). (William Jones.)

Seeking the Lord, and its advantages

We are directed--


I.
To seeking God and its advantages.

1. Seeking God denotes--

(1) A consciousness of our need of Him.

(2) Earnest and fervent prayer to Him Ezra 8:23).

(3) Coming to Him in the way of His appointment.

(4) To labour in all things to have His approbation.

2. The advantages to those who thus seek Him. “The hand of our God is upon all,” etc. The hand of His--

(1) Pardoning mercy.

(2) Delivering power.

(3) Providing goodness.

(4) Heavenly guidance.

(5) Sustaining grace.

(6) Manifest providence.


II.
Forsaking god and its attendant evils. Learn--

1. The value of true religion.

2. The awfulness of apostasy.

3. The necessity of both vigilance and perseverance (Hebrews 3:12; Hebrews 4:10-13). (Jabez Burns, D. D.)

Verses 24-30

Ezra 8:24-30

And weighed unto them the silver and the gold, and the vessels.

The guardianship of the sacred treasures


I.
The treasures to be guarded.

1. Valuable in themselves.

2. Valuable as being consecrated to God.

3. Valuable as being the spontaneous gifts of friends and well wishers.


II.
The guardians of the treasures.


III.
The charge to the guardians of the treasures.


IV.
The acceptance of the guardianship of the treasures. Conclusion--

1. Our subject speaks to ministers of the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Titus 1:7; Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14).

2. To all who have charge of public funds or the property of others.

3. To all men (Matthew 25:14-30). (William Jones.)

The charge of the pilgrim priests

Without being unduly fanciful, I think I may venture to take these words as a type of the injunctions which are given to us Christian people, and to see in them a picturesque representation of the duties that devolve upon us in the course of our journey across the desert to the temple-home above.


I.
Consider: the precious treasure entrusted to our keeping.

1. The treasure is first our own selves, with all that we are and may be under the humiliating and quickening influence of His grace and spirit. That which we carry with us--the infinite possibilities of these awful spirits of ours, the tremendous faculties which are given to every human soul, and which, like a candle plunged into oxygen, are meant to burn far more brightly under the stimulus of Christian faith and the possession of God’s truth, are the rich deposit committed to our charge. The precious treasure of our own natures, our own hearts, our own understandings, wills, consciences, desires--keep these until they are weighed in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem.

2. The treasure is next--This great word of salvation, once delivered to the saints, and to be handed on without diminution or alteration to the generations that are to come. Possession involves responsibility always. The word of salvation is given to us. If we go tampering with it, by erroneous apprehension, by unfair usage, by failing to apply it to our own daily life, then it will fade and disappear from our grasp. It is given to us in order that we may keep it safe, and carry it high up across the desert as becomes the priests of the most high God.


II.
Next, the command, the guardianship that is here set forth. Watch ye and keep them. That is to say, Watch in order that ye may keep. This involves--

1. Unslumbering vigilance.

2. Lowly trust.

3. Punctilious purity.

It was fitting that the priests should carry the things that belonged to the temple. No other hands but consecrated hands had a right to touch them. To none other guardianship but the guardianship of the possessors of a symbolic and ceremonial purity could the vessels of a symbolic and ceremonial worship be entrusted; and to none others but the possessors of real and spiritual holiness can the treasures of the true temple, of an inward and spiritual worship be entrusted, “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord,” said Isaiah long after. The only way to keep our treasure undiminished and untarnished, is to keep ourselves pure and clean.

4. Constant use of the treasure. Although the vessels borne through the desert by those priests were used for no service during the march, they weighed just the same when they got to the end as at the beginning. But if we do not use the vessels that are entrusted to our care they will not weigh the same. There never was an unused talent yet, but when it was taken out and put into the scales it was lighter than when it was committed to the keeping of the earth. Gifts that are used fructify. Capacities that are strained to the uttermost increase. Service strengthens the power of service; and just as the reward of work is more work, the way for making ourselves fit for bigger things is to do the things that are lying by us. The blacksmith’s arm, the sailor’s eye, the organs of any piece of handicraft, as we all know, are strengthened by exercise, and so it is in the higher region.


III.
The weighing in the house of the Lord. Though it cannot be that we shall meet the trial and the weighing of that day without many a flaw and much loss, yet we may hope that by His precious help and His pitying acceptance we may lay ourselves down in peace at last, saying, “I have kept the faith,” and may be awakened by the word “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

From Ahava to Jerusalem

This illustrates the pilgrimage of the Christian.


I.
The setting out from ahava.

1. From captivity to liberty.

2. From exile to their ancestral home.

3. From the land of idolatry to the scene of true worship.


II.
The progress on the journey.


III.
The arrival at jerusalem. This was characterised by--

1. Grateful rest.

2. Joyful welcome. (William Jones.)

.



Verse 28

Ezra 8:22; Ezra 8:28

For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers.

Ezra’s confidence in God


I.
Confidence in God avowed.

1. In His providence.

2. In His providence as efficiently promoting the interests of His people.

3. In His providence as opposed to those who forsake Him.


II.
Confidence in God tested.

1. By their need of guidance.

2. By their need of protection.


III.
Confidence in god maintained.

1. In not seeking guidance and defence from the king.

2. In seeking guidance and defence from God.


IV.
Confidence in god vindicated.

1. In their inward assurance.

2. In the outward result. (William Jones.)

Ezra and his times


I.
Ezra’s language was in striking contrast with the general state of opinion around him. He knew he was right, and could afford to be singular. 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. Such men have no ultimate fear for truth; they know its vitality. Such men never change sides. 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. 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.


II.
Ezra’s situation afforded him an opportunity for asserting this great principle under very trying circumstances. Christ’s whole life illustrates Ezra’s principle of confidence in God under circumstances of great temptation. (W. G. Barrett.)

Ezra an example in business


I
. His humiliation.


II.
His faith.


III.
His prayer.


IV.
His holy jealousy.


V.
His success. (R. Cecil.)

Heroic faith

Our text gives us a glimpse of high-toned faith, and a noble strain of feeling. Ezra knew that he had but to ask and have an escort from the king that would ensure their safety till they saw Jerusalem. It took some strength of principle to abstain from asking what it would have been so natural to ask, so easy to get, so comfortable to have. The symbolic phrase “the hand of our God,” as expressive of the Divine protection, occurs with remarkable frequency in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and though not peculiar to them, is yet strikingly characteristic of them. It has a certain beauty and force of its own. The hand is, of course, the seat of active power. It is on or over a man like some great shield held aloft above him, below which there is safe hiding. So that great hand bends itself over us, and we are secure beneath its hollow. As a child sometimes carries a tender-winged butterfly in the globe of its two hands, that the bloom on its wings may not be ruffled by its fluttering, so He carries our feeble, enamoured souls enclosed in the covert of His almighty hand. As a father may lay his own large muscular hand on his child’s tiny fingers to help him, or as “Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands,” that the contact might strengthen him to shoot the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance, so the hand of our God is upon us to impart power as well as protection; and “our bow abides in strength” when “the arms of our hands are made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.” That was Ezra’s faith, and that should be ours. Note Ezra’s sensitive shrinking from anything like inconsistency between his creed and his practice, and we may well learn this lesson--to be true to our professed principles; to beware of making our religion a matter of words; to live, when the time for putting them into practice comes, by the maxims which we have been forward to proclaim when there was no risk of applying them; and to try sometimes to look at our lives with the eyes of people who do not share our faith, that we may bring our actions up to the mark of what they expect of us. Especially in regard to this matter of trust in an unseen hand, and reliance on visible helps, we all need to be very rigid in our self-inspection. Faith in the good hand of God upon us for good should often lead to the abandonment, and always to the subordination, of material aids. Each man must settle for himself when abandonment or subordination is his duty. We ought to work into our lives the principle that the absolute surrender and forsaking of external helps and goods is sometimes essential to the preservation and due expression of reliance on God. What shall we say of people who profess that God is their portion and are as eager in the scramble for money as anybody? What kind of commentary? Will sharp-sighted, sharp-tongued observers have a right to make on us, whose creed is so unlike theirs, while our lives are identical? Do you believe that “the hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him”? Then do you not think that racing after the prizes of this world, with flushed cheek and labouring breath, or longing, with a gnawing hunger of heart, for any earthly good, or lamenting over the removal of creaturely defences and joys, as if heaven were empty because some one’s place here is, or as if God were dead because dear ones die, may well be a shame to us, and a taunt on the lips of our enemies? Note further that his faith not only impels him to the renunciation of the Babylonian guard, but to earnest supplication for the defence in which he is so confident. So for us the condition and preparation on and by which we are sheltered by that great hand is the faith that asks and the asking of faith. We make God responsible for our safety when we abandon other defence and commit ourselves to Him. He will accept the trust and set His guards about us. So our story ends with the triumphant vindication of this Quixotic faith: “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; and we came to Jerusalem.” The ventures of faith are ever rewarded. When we come to tell the completed story of our lives, we shall have to record the fulfilment of all God’s promises, and the accomplishment of all our prayers that were built on these. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Fear of inconsistency


I.
Ezra’s conviction.

1. He was convinced that there were some men who sought God, and others who forsook Him. There were some who sought--

(1) The knowledge of God.

(2) The favour of God.

(3) The glory of God.

But there were others who cared for none of these things. So it is still. There are some who read the Bible and listen to the gospel with an earnest desire to know God, and who feel that to have God for their friend is to have the business of life accomplished; while there are others who turn a deaf ear to the invitations of Divine love, and who never seriously ask regarding the requirements of the law of God. The conviction of Ezra is that of every thoughtful good man. There is also the further conviction that this is the grand distinction. He who thinks of one neighbour being a seeker of God, and another a forsaker of God, looks at a distinction of the soul, and one which will prove lasting and important as the soul itself.

2. Ezra was convinced that God’s hand for good was on the one class, and that His power and wrath were against the other.

(1) The Bible declares this in the plainest terms (Genesis 18:23-25, etc.).

(2) This is illustrated by the history of the Jews and of others with whom they had to do.

(3) This truth is as evident now as it was then.

Sloth and intemperance and profligacy lead to ruin, while diligence and sobriety lead to respectability and competence.

3. Ezra was convinced that he and his companions were among those who sought God, and on whom God’s hand was for good. He calls Jehovah “our Lord.” His language was intended to convey that they were in a state of favour with God, and that they knew this. From this we learn that a man may assure himself of God’s friendship.


II.
Ezra’s declaration of his conviction. This declaration was probably made when he requested authority to make his proposed journey to Jerusalem, At such a time he would feel under peculiar obligation to declare his belief in God, and his hope that Jehovah was his own Father, Protector, and Guide. This obligation every good man ought to feel. Christ requires us to confess Him. Such a profession is made by the observance of outward and positive institutions. When a man calls his family around him, sings a song of praise, and reads a portion of Scripture, and presents an offering of supplication and thanksgiving, he is telling his children and neighbours that he is a disciple of Jesus Christ. When he engages in the exercises of public worship, and especially when he takes his place at the communion-table, he is making an open and decided declaration that he is a disciple of Jesus.


III.
Ezra’s anxiety lest he should do anything inconsistent with this declaration. Two instructive points require to be looked at.

1. There was real and great danger.

2. The inconsistency from which he shrank was more apparent than real. A good man believes that God renews the face of the earth, and covers the valleys with corn, but he does not neglect to plough and sow; he believes that God is a refuge and a strength, a sun and a shield, yet he takes food when he is hungry and medicine when he is sick; he does not expect that God is to protect and bless him apart from such means as prudence and experience may dictate. If Ezra had asked for a guard of soldiers, the request would not have been inconsistent with confidence in the power and faithfulness of God, but it would probably have appeared so to the king and his nobles, and he feared lest in this way the character of God should suffer. Things which are in themselves lawful are at times inexpedient, and a Christian man by doing such things may greatly injure both his comfort and usefulness. A. sacrifice of principle and a wise consideration of times and circumstances are very different things, and to confound them shows only ignorance and folly. (J. B. Johnston, D. D.)

The good hand of God

It is a glimpse into a spiritual history which our text here presents to us. Of Ezra himself we have but a vague and shadowy idea; he has long since passed to the realm where storms and struggles are ended, and the mystery of life gives place to the clear sunlight of God’s love. But within that strong, devout soul a great struggle was once fought out. The anxious questioning of his troubled and perplexed spirit was real enough then. And while it is possible to miss the true lesson and to push the teaching to a dangerous extreme, it will, if we penetrate to the spirit of the story, supply an answer to a modern problem and a truth fruitful for our modern lives. Ezra sought to satisfy the old equation between the Divine power and the human agency. He put to himself the familiar question--Is the use of means any the less a trusting in God? may not the means fall within the compass of God’s plan of deliverance? And the issue of the struggle was this: at every hazard he must stand right with God and with his own heart, and therefore he refused to resort to an arm of flesh at all. We appear to have here a plain and blank refusal to use means. Some would have said--“Surely we may trust in the good hand of God, and the soldiers of the king.” But to Ezra’s scrupulous faith it presented an alternative. One or the other but not both. One or the other he must elect to have. He refused, not only because of the nature of the instrument, but also because it was an instrument. He said in effect, “Both we and our enemies are in the hands of God; it is His work, therefore, and not ours, to secure our safety and our welfare.” Let us not suppose that we have here a unique instance of complete trust in God. It was when Jacob saw no human way of escape, and God had showed him his utter helplessness, that he went forth with a calm face and a brave heart to meet his brother Esau. It was when the horsemen were hard upon the children of Israel that the Lord began to trouble the Egyptians. There is nothing grander in this Book than the calm tramp of Moses on through the wilderness, with no attempt at self-defence, only the simple assurance, “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” Let me remind you of the boy who went to meet the mightiest of living warriors with a sling and a stone. Perhaps there were some who said, “Surely you can trust in God and put on the armour of Saul as well.” But David felt that the armour was unnecessary if he had the shield of God’s power. In all these examples we find a faith which rested in God and not in means of deliverance. We may find it hard to understand Ezra, because our Christian character is often composed of one part of faith and ninety-nine parts of common sense, while his contained ninety-nine parts of faith and one part common sense. We trust in God, but feel safer if the mail-clad warriors are at our side; we know the twelve legions of angels are around us, but we are glad to feel the two swords concealed beneath our cloaks; we believe that the manna will fall day by day, yet we like to take bread with us lest it should fail to come. At the same time it is important to observe that it is the spirit of this incident we are to copy and not the form. As an instance of the rejection of means it is not an instance for all times and for all circumstances. Our Lord Himself taught us not to trust in God to do that which we may do for ourselves. The jars of water at Cane, the net cast into the sea, and the stone rolled away from the sepulchre, teach us that God will work through earthly instruments. But we maintain that failure oftener results from trusting in the means more than in God than from trusting in God and not in means. It i| the deepest truth for the Christian worker that our churches, our ministrations, our methods, are but channels for the grace of God. We want not so much the eloquent tongue as the bended knee; not so much the crowded church as the crowded prayer meeting; not so much the beautiful temple as the glory of the Lord within. The great need now is not for better and more perfect machinery, but for a more consecrated spiritual life, and for a profounder trust in God, who can work with or without our machinery. It is, moreover, the secret of peace for the Christian life. But further, not only had Ezra the earnest longing to be right with God, but also to seem right. He was unwilling to put any stumbling-block in the way of the king. Though Artaxerxes might grant the request, might it not lessen his conception of the goodness and power of God? This age, which more than any other demands reality in its religion, demands the most careful seeming also. Tell men that we are pilgrims, and then let them see us making our habitations here; tell them that we are laying up the incorruptible riches, and then let them see us intent on the corruptible gain; tell them our confidence is in God, and then let them see us as hard in sorrow, as cynical in disappointment, as unbelieving in distress as themselves; tell them that we live for the unseen and the eternal, and then let them mark us caring for nothing we cannot see and clutch with our fingers; tell them that we confess a higher allegiance, and bow before a higher will, and then let them see us conforming our lives to their cold, worldly maxims, and we may say what we will, but they will treasure up our words as among the hollow falsities of a false creed. Let us be on our guard not to offend a watching world by the broad gulf between the spoken word and the visible life. (J. H. Shakespeare, M. A.)

Faith and prudence

Ezra felt what Christian people still often feel, the conflict between prudence and faith. We observe--


I.
That as a grand rule in the Christian life faith and prudence must go together. The Scriptures give no countenance to presumptuous reliance on supernatural intervention. As a rule of life they 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. 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 that 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 have no faith in the band of soldiers. They leave their property uninsured; in times of disturbance they will not claim the protection of the magistrate; and in times of sickness they will not call the physician. That is, to a large extent, a serious mistake. As a rule we are to accept the band 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. 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. As the rule of life we must march through the desert with the hand of soldiers. Our religion is not fatalism. “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 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? When are we justified in neglecting policy and appealing to the higher law? 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 feared Him,” And now he 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. On this ground he elected to brave the perils of the wilderness without the military escort. 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 marked here 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 soldiers altogether. Are we not too anxious about material helps end visible securities? Has not the Church, by clinging so feverishly to visible resources and helps and defenders, given some sanction to the world’s unbelief? Ezra blushed to ask Artaxerxes for help that might seem a denial of the power and presence of God. Are we sufficiently sensitive on this matter? Trapp says, “It is the ingenuity of saints to study God’s ends more than their own.” And if we are very jealous for the honour of God, and seek to uphold His government in the eyes of the world, we shall sometimes be ready to imperil our personal interest and safety for His sake; and let us be assured that when we act in this lofty spirit of faith and self-forgetfulness, we shall not be confounded. 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. Policy drove him to find assistance in a suspicious quarter, and so he retired to the higher ground of simple trust in God. 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 their 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 fortunes 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; 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. 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 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 (verse 23). No precipitancy, no levity, no presumption. By fasting and prayer they obtained the assurance that God would honour their faith and preserve them. Not lightly must we discard ordinary defences and helps. When we can do no other we must humbly, solemnly rest ourselves in the hands 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 to be the truest policy. In Hebrews 11:7 Noah’s conduct in preparing the ark is spoken of as “prudence.” “By his believing obedience he came to be at last the one who was truly prudent. A truth of great practical importance. He who like a child blindly follows the will of God, regardless of all consequences, is the one who is truly prudent, for he builds on the Eternal, and He will never allow His own to come to shame.”--Ebrard. And on the contrary, policy leading God’s people to rest on worldly men and means and measures, finally demoralises and betrays them (Isaiah 31:3). (W. L. Watkinson.)

Alliance with God

We are like William of Orange, with a few followers and an empty purse, making war against the master of half the world, with the mines of Peru for a treasury. But like William, too, when questioned concerning our resources, we can reply, “Before we took up this cause we entered into a close alliance with the King of Kings.” Those on the Lord’s side are on the winning side. He never has, and never will, lose a battle. (David Gracey.)

God’s protection

Pastor Oncken was forbidden by the burgomaster of Hamburg from holding religious meetings. “Do you see that little finger?” said the burgomaster; “as long as I can move that finger, so long will I put down the Baptists.” “Yes,” said Oncken, “I see your little finger, and I see also the great arm of God; and whilst that arm is lifted on our behalf, your little finger will have little terror for us.

Want of faith in God manifested

Mr. G. J. Holyoake, in his “Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life,” gives an interesting account of the Zulus who converted Bishop Colenso. Robert Ryder, a secular carpenter, was employed by the bishop to build his church and school-house in Natal. Ryder sent Mr. Holyoake several photographs of the actual Zulus who accomplished the conversion, long before the change was heard of in England. The Zulu workers under Ryder were conversed with by the bishop daily. They were remarkably shrewd in argument. They remarked upon the fact that the bishop had a room built in the rear of his church, in which he stored an eighteen-pounder. They knew what that cannon was for, and they thought that the bishop, fair-spoken as he was, did not place his ultimate reliance on the “Good Father,” in whom he told them to trust.

Faith in God

A century ago William Carey entered Nottingham with the thought in his heart, from which he preached the following day in a sermon which really originated the Baptist Missionary Society: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” It was a very simple thing. It was very memorable. It was one of those inspirations that illumine as by a single flash the whole realm of thought. “Expect great things from God.” Looking back over a hundred years, it was interesting to note upon what Carey based his expectations. Not on human resources, not on wealth, not on eloquence. Those few men who gathered together at Kettering had no worldly backing. They were obscure men in the extreme. With scarcely an exception they were quite unknown outside their own immediate neighbourhood. The wise and prudent in the Christian world doomed the enterprise to ignominious failure. With one exception, there was not a man of any mark in London who would have anything to do with it, and when a meeting was held to consider the advisability of forming an auxiliary, the idea was negatived by an overwhelming majority. But Carey believed in God. Doubts, unlikelihoods, impossibilities, vanished from his mind. And what has been the result of this faith? During the last hundred years, wherever the missionary had gone God had given testimony to the word of His grace by signs and wonders as marvellous as miracle. As in no former age the world lay open, aye, and opened-minded to the Gospel. (J. Culross.)

Fearlessness of the godly

“I go up alone,” General Gordon wrote, as he started from Cairo to Khartoum, “with an Infinite Almighty God to direct and guide me; and I am so called to trust in Him as to fear nothing, and, indeed, to feel sure of success.”

A lesson of faith

I was passing one of the busiest spots in the City of London, opposite the Royal Exchange. Here numerous turnings meet, and pour their mighty burden of vehicular traffic in bewildering streams. As the cabs, carriages, carts and waggons hastened along I could not help thinking what need there was for care in crossing, and how dangerous at that busy hour a false step would be. With such thoughts, nay attention was attracted by something that seemed entirely out of harmony with the whole surroundings. Right in the midst of the danger, at a time when the traffic was most bewildering, I saw a woman crossing the street. She was pushing a perambulator, not eagerly or excitedly trying to reach the other side, but with perfect calmness, and apparently without fear. What was the explanation? A City policeman held her arm, and she relied upon him. And shall we not place the same confidence in our Guide, and though dangers and difficulties, and trials and temptations surround us, shall we not trust Him perfectly who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us, faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy? Shall we not disdain to fear, knowing that we are protected and sustained by the everlasting arm? (Signal.)

Luther’s courage

Luther’s words in the first struggles of his public ministry have the sacred anxiety, the solemn confidence, and almost the language, of the apostle: “I am compassed with no guards, but those of heaven. I live in the midst of enemies who have legal power to kill me every hour. But this is the way in which I comfort myself: I know that Christ is Lord of all; and that the Father hath put all things under His feet, among the rest, the wrath of the emperor and of all evil spirits. If it please Christ that I should be slain, let me die in His name. If it do not please Him, who shall slay me?

Definition of faith

Phillips Brooks gave a definition of faith so true and helpful to sinners needing salvation, that I reproduce it. “Forsaking All, I Take Him.” It will be noticed that the initial letters spell “Faith”; and what I want you to do to-night is to “forsake all and take Him.” It would be a good thing if every one present were to write on the fly-leaf of their Bibles those beautiful words, “Forsaking all, I take Him.” (W. R. Bradlaugh.)

The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him: but He power and His wrath is against all them that forsake Him.

Contrasts


I.
A contrast of human character.


II.
A contrast of divine treatment. Conclusion--

1. How solemnly man’s destiny is in his own hands, or, more correctly, in his own choice. “Deeds axe destiny; character is fate.”

2. In this world character may be changed (Hosea 14:1-2; Hosea 14:4). (William Jones.)

Seeking the Lord, and its advantages

We are directed--


I.
To seeking God and its advantages.

1. Seeking God denotes--

(1) A consciousness of our need of Him.

(2) Earnest and fervent prayer to Him Ezra 8:23).

(3) Coming to Him in the way of His appointment.

(4) To labour in all things to have His approbation.

2. The advantages to those who thus seek Him. “The hand of our God is upon all,” etc. The hand of His--

(1) Pardoning mercy.

(2) Delivering power.

(3) Providing goodness.

(4) Heavenly guidance.

(5) Sustaining grace.

(6) Manifest providence.


II.
Forsaking god and its attendant evils. Learn--

1. The value of true religion.

2. The awfulness of apostasy.

3. The necessity of both vigilance and perseverance (Hebrews 3:12; Hebrews 4:10-13). (Jabez Burns, D. D.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezra 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/ezra-8.html. 1905-1909. New York.