THE NUMBER OF THOSE WHO WENT UP TO JERUSALEM WITH EZRA, AND THE NAMES OF THE CHIEF MEN (Ezra 8:1-14). This list is parallel with that of Ezra 2:3-19, and repeats for the most part the same family names, though not quite in the same order. The numbers are in each case very much smaller, never amounting to one-third, and sometimes falling below one-twelfth. At the utmost, three new families are mentioned as furnishing colonists those of Shechaniah (Ezra 2:5), Shelomith (Ezra 2:10), and Joab (Ezra 2:9); but in two of these cases the reading is doubtful Altogether, we may say that Ezra was accompanied to Jerusalem by members of the same families as Zerubbabel, but by fewer families, and by fewer members of each. Thus Ezra's list is much shorter than Zerubbabel's. It contains, however, more names of chiefs, eighteen such names being given, whereas in Zerubbabel's list there are, including Zerubbabel himself, only eleven. The entire number of adult male colonists who accompanied Ezra was, including Levites and Nethinim, 1773. Counting five to a family, this would give a total of nearly 9000 souls. Among the chief men, there is no name that is remarkable, excepting that of Hattush. "Hattush, of the sons of Shechaniah," is, beyond all reasonable doubt, the descendant of David mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:22, who was a son of Shemaiah, and Zerubbabers great-great-grandson.
On the expression chief of the fathers see comment on Ezra 2:68.
Of the sons of Shechaniah. This clause should be attached to the preceding verse, since it refers to Hattush, who was Shechaniah's grandson; and Ezra 8:3 should begin with the words, "Of the sons of Pharosh, Zechariah."
A name has fallen out either between "Shechaniah" and "the son of Jahaziel," or between "of the sons" and "of Shechaniah." The Septuagint has, "Of the sons of Zattu, Shechaniah, the son of Jahaziel." Zattu is mentioned in Ezra 2:8.
Here again there is a similar omission of a name, which the Septuagint supplies by reading, "Of the sons of Bani, Shelomith, the son of Josiphiah." Bani appears as the head of a family in Ezra 2:10.
The last sons of Adonikam are probably his younger sons, whose descendants returned with Ezra, their elder brethren's families having returned with Zerubbabel.
DETAILS OF EZRA'S JOURNEY FROM BABYLON TO JERUSALEM (Ezra 8:15-31). We gather from scattered statements in this passage—
1. That Ezra, with his companions, after a journey of nine days' duration, reached Ahava from Babylon on the ninth day of the first month;
2. That he rested three days at Ahava, and proclaimed a fast;
3. That he was there joined by a small number of Levites and a considerable body of Nethinims from the immediate neighbourhood;
4. That, on the twelfth day of the first month, he resumed his journey, and, though threatened by some opposition upon the way, arrived safely at his destination fourteen weeks after he quitted Ahava, and exactly four months after he had started from Babylon. The only other important fact mentioned is, that at Ahava twelve of the principal priests were selected by Ezra, and the royal offering of silver, gold, and vessels handed over to them for safe custody, after having been carefully weighed. The weights are recorded with Ezra's usual exactness in verses 26, 27.
1 gathered them together to the river that runneth to Ahava. The "river that runneth to Ahava" is now generally identified with the Is of Herodotus, a small stream flowing into the Euphrates from the east, at a point where stood a city of the same name, distant (according to Herodotus) eight days' journey from Babylon. The city appears to be mentioned under the slightly variant forms of Ava ( עַוָּא) and Ivah ( עִוָּה) in the Second Book of Kings (17:24; 19:13). It is called Aia, or Aba, by the LXX.; Ihi in the Talmud; Aei by Isidore of Charax. The modern name is Hit. The town has always been one of some importance in connection with the bitumen springs of the neighbourhood. Ezra s reason for selecting the place as a halting-point seems to have been the fact that many Jews were settled in the district (see verse 17). We abode in tents. A large caravan, like Ezra's, even when it reached a town, would pitch its tents outside, and remain in them rather than scatter itself among the khans and caravanserais. The phrase is therefore to be understood literally. I viewed the people. Rather, "I looked among the people"—I looked to see whether there were any Levites or no. ("Quaesivi in populo et in sacerdotibus de filiis Levi."—Vulg.) And found there none of the sons of Levi. It is difficult to account for the fact; but there seems certainly to have been a special disinclination to return to Jerusalem on the part of the Levites. Only seventy-four went up with Zerubbabel, when the priests who returned were 4289 (Ezra 2:36-40); and now there was not a single one in the whole of Ezra's band. Did the jealous spirit of Korah (Numbers 16:8-10) still animate the great body of the tribe?
Iddo, the chief at the place Casiphia. Not "the Caspian" certainly; nor even "Casvin," which is at least 400 miles from Hit by the nearest route, but some Babylonian village in the vicinity of Ahava, not otherwise known to us. Unto Iddo, and to his brethren the Nethinims. The "and" here is rightly supplied. It has fallen out in consequence of the word Iddo ending with the same letter. Iddo, though the head man of the village under the Persians, belonged by descent to the comparatively low grade of the Nethinims.
By the good hand of our God upon us. This is Ezra's usual mode of acknowledging the good providence and favour of Almighty God (see Ezra 7:6, Ezra 7:9, Ezra 7:27; and Ezra 8:31). Similar expressions occur also in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:8, Nehemiah 2:18), but not elsewhere in Scripture. A man of understanding. In the Hebrew Ish-sekel, which some take for a proper name, but without any necessity. No such name is known to have existed; and the real name of "the man of understanding" appears to have been "Sherebiah," who is mentioned more than once in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:7; Nehemiah 9:4, Nehemiah 9:5) as a chief Levite. And Sherebiah should be simply "Sherebiah." The preposition "and" (Hebrew ) ן has been inserted by a careless copyist.
The Nethinims, whom David and the princes had appointed. We learn this fact from the present passage only; since neither in Kings nor Chronicles is there any mention made of David's adding to the hieroduli, or temple servants. It is, however, quite in accordance with his other arrangements that he should have done so. The original Nethinims were the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:23). All … were expressed by name. Iddo sent to Ezra a list of the Nethinims, which, however, he does not think it necessary to insert.
The rendezvous, or the second muster.
We have been told twice before in this story that Ezra went up from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:6-8, Ezra 7:9), and that he did not go by himself. But we only now enter upon the actual details of this second and supplementary expedition. Who were those that went up with him? And what was the nature of the first step which he and they took in common? We may answer these questions in the opposite order. The first step was to meet Ezra at the river or town of Ahava, situated, it is supposed, on the road to Jerusalem via Carchemish, and far enough off from Babylon to ensure comparative quiet and proper discrimination. Those who came consisted of two principal detachments, one of which came to the spot not only before the other, but in a somewhat different way. We may describe the first detachment as one in which we find the first last; the second as being one in which we find the last first.
I. THE FIRST LAST. Who might be expected to be foremost in a case of this kind? Where do we find them in actual fact? Let us consider this—
1. As to family. Judging by all analogy, the family of David, the royal family of Judah, ought to have been foremost in such a matter. Who so likely to feel the evils of captivity as the heirs to a throne? Who so eager to return from banishment (one would suppose) as those who had been banished at once from dignity and from home? The previous return, also, under the edict of Cyrus, seems to bear out this idea. Though no figure there is so prominent as that of Ezra is here, yet the most prominent of all those there mentioned is that of Zerubbabel, the lineal descendant of David, and representative of his house. Under his Babylonian name of Sheshbazzar he is the only person mentioned by name as returning in Ezra 1:1-11; and be comes first of all in the detailed catalogue of Ezra 2:1-70. Most probably, also, judging from what we read long afterwards of the descendants of David in Luke 2:4, the 123 returning "men of Bethlehem" mentioned in Ezra 2:21 in a later part of the same catalogue were kinsmen of his. In the present instance, on the other hand, we find apparent mention in Ezra 2:2, Ezra 2:3 of only one of this same royal family as returning, viz; Hattush, of the sons of Shechaniah. Also we find even this solitary specimen of that royal race only occupying the third place on the list of those named. Whatever the reasons, therefore, this is the fact, that the family first in rank and genealogy appears anything but first here either in importance or position. Is it the beginning of that descent which ends long after with finding David's greatest descendant as a "carpenter's son"?
II. THE LAST FIRST. This will be seen by considering the steps taken by Ezra to remedy the state of things just described. We find that he went
(a) As to number, bringing back 258 pilgrims in all;
(b) as to qualifications, all brought back being such "ministers" (verse 17) as were sought;
(c) as to variety, being both Levites and their assistants;
(d) as to character, being all men of resolution and purpose, whose "names" (end verse 20) would be given as those of men whose minds were made up.
Also, among these, two especially of much note, viz; Sherebiah and Hashabiah (comp. verse 24, and Nehemiah 8:7; Nehemiah 9:4; Nehemiah 10:11, Nehemiah 10:12; Nehemiah 12:24), the first named especially being a man of such acknowledged judgment and learning that his coming was regarded as a special mark of God's providential goodness (so we understand, with many, begin, verse 18). Thus conspicuously were the "last first;" thus happily were the vacant places in Ezra's company, as it were, more than supplied—Ezra himself being judge.
In CONCLUSION, we may see here—
1. How important religious movements often begin, viz; with the comparatively undistinguished, the rank and file. So with John the Baptist (Matthew 21:26), and our Lord himself (Mark 12:37; John 7:48). Both cases seem referred to in Matthew 21:31, Matthew 21:32.
2. How they are often perfected afterwards, viz; by the coming in then of distinguished persons assuming the lead of the whole. So amongst those baptized by John came Jesus among the last (Luke 3:21). See, also, in regard to the burial of Christ, how the two "counsellors," Joseph and Nicodemus, then interfered. And, finally, in the preaching of the gospel, how Paul was "born" last and became the first (1 Corinthians 15:8-10; 2 Corinthians 11:5, 2 Corinthians 11:23, etc.; Galatians 2:5, Galatians 2:8).
3. How all so assisting have their peculiar points, both good and evil. Some are to be praised for forwardness (2 Corinthians 9:2), some for steadiness when begun; some to be blamed for backwardness, some for fickleness, as the Galatians. So John is first to reach the sepulchre, Peter first to go in.
4. How perfect the impartiality of the Scriptural record. All this, so little to the credit of the Levites, written by a Levitical hand. Comp. story of Genesis 34:1-31; also Genesis 49:5-7, as recorded by Moses, himself a Levite.
5. How devoutly humble its spirit. Every advantage is attributed to the good hand of our God (1 Corinthians 15:10; Psalms 115:1; Philippians 2:13).
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
The Church preparing itself for duty.
I. THAT IT IS PREPARED BY COMING OUT FROM A HUMILIATING CAPTIVITY. "This is the genealogy of them that went up with me from Babylon" (Ezra 8:1). Ezra and his comrades must quit the scene of their captivity before they can carry the sacred vessels to Jerusalem; the Church must arise and leave its moral Babylon before it can serve God in successful enterprise.
II. THAT IT IS PREPARED BY PRAYERFUL SOLITUDE. "To the river that runneth to Ahava" (verse 15).
1. Sacred solitude. Not the solitude of the misanthrope.
2. Prayerful solitude. Seeking guidance before setting out for Jerusalem.
3. Thoughtful solitude. Counting the cost of the journey to Jerusalem.
4. Active solitude. Ezra inspected the people and the priests, and finding none of the sons of Levi, successfully sent for them.
5. Friendly solitude. The companionships of heaven were with Ezra and his company by the river. Such solitude cannot fail to prepare the Church for duty.
III. THAT IT IS PREPARED BY THE PROVIDENTIAL GIFT OF TALENT (verse 18).
1. Talent required. Ezra inspected his company. God requires ability in the work of his Church. Ministers should see that the Church has the requisite capability for its work.
2. Talent varied. "The people, the priests, the Levites." The Church needs combined capabilities; the lower as well as the higher; the Levites as well as the priests.
3. Talent absent. "And found there none of the sons of Levi."
4. Talent sought. Ministers should endeavour to bring talent into the Church.
5. Talent obtained providentially. "And by the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of understanding." Thus God prepares the Church for duty.
IV. THAT IT IS PREPARED BY THE ENERGY OF ONE DEVOUT MAN. "And I gathered them together" (verse 15). Who was this man? He was a "ready scribe." He had "prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord" (Ezra 7:10). Such men are competent to prepare the Church for duty; they have first prepared themselves.
1. The power of sanctified individuality in the Church.
2. The use God makes of a sanctified individuality in the Church.
3. The wisdom of a sanctified individuality in the Church. It discovers the absent Levites.
4. The authority of a sanctified individuality in the Church. It sends for the Levites and they come.—E.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The halt at the Ahava.
The journey of the children of Israel from Babylon to Jerusalem may be viewed, like that of their fathers from Egypt to Canaan, as a type of the pilgrimage of Christians from the abominations and miseries of the sinful world to the purity and happiness of heaven. In this view the halt at the "river that runneth to Ahava" may suggest—
I. THAT WE SHOULD HAVE SEASONS FOR REELECTION.
1. The halt furnished Ezra with such a season.
2. The review discovered to Ezra a want of Levites in the company.
II. THAT REFLECTION SHOULD LEAD TO ACTION.
1. Ezra resolved upon a mission.
2. The mission he resolved upon he organised.
3. He then instructed his missioners.
III. THAT WELL-DIRECTED EFFORT WILL INSURE SUCCESS.
1. The missioners returned, having gained over "a man of understanding."
2. Thirty-eight Levites are next mentioned.
3. Then follow 220 Nethinims.
Then I proclaimed a fast there. The fight of the civil ruler to "proclaim a fast" was unquestioned among the Jews and Israelites. Jezebel proclaimed one in Ahab's name when she wished to impress the Jezreelites with the notion that a great crime had been committed. Jehoshaphat did the same when he was invaded by the Ammonites, Moabites, and Mehunim (2 Chronicles 20:1-3). A fast was proclaimed in the fifth year of Jehoiakim when the kingdom of Judah was menaced by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 36:9). Ezra therefore assumes that he may command one now, in connection with the perils of the coming journey. That we might afflict ourselves. The Jews were commanded to "afflict themselves" on the great day of atonement (Le 16:29), and understood that the affliction was to be mainly by fasting and abstaining from the bath. To ask of him a right way. Or "a direct road," i.e. a prosperous and unimpeded journey to Jerusalem. For us and our little ones. The colonists went up attended by their families.
I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers. Before he apprehended danger Ezra had boasted to Artaxerxes of the power and goodness of God, and had spoken of himself and his brethren as assured of the Divine protection. Now that peril threatened he found himself afraid, and would have been glad of such an escort as Nehemiah obtained at a later date (Nehemiah 2:9). But after his boasts he was ashamed to confess his fear. Who the enemy in the way was it is impossible to decide; but we may gather from verse 31 that it was no imaginary foe. Probably some of the Arab tribes, who owed no allegiance to Persia, had formed a design to intercept the caravan and plunder it.
Then I separated twelve of the chief of the priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, etc. Our translators, following the Vulgate, have omitted to render the preposition לְ, which occurs in the Hebrew text before the name of Sherebiah, and have thus represented Sherebiah and Hashabiah as priests, whereas they were not priests, but Levites, as appears from Ezra 8:18, Ezra 8:19. The true sense is given by the LXX.—"Then I assigned twelve of the chief priests to Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren; i.e. "then I appointed twelve chief priests to act with twelve chief Levites, of whom Sherebiah and Hashabiah were two, in the matter of the royal offering." Ezra seems to have considered, that as the gift of Artaxerxes was an offering to the house of God, it ought to be handed over at once to the custody of the ministers of religion, and not remain in secular hands (compare verse 28).
And weighed unto the the silver, etc. We may gather from this that the silver and gold were in bars or ingots, and not in coined money. The Persians had coined money at this tin. e, but the Treasury kept the bulk of its stores in bars (Herod; 3.96).
Six hundred and fifty talents of silver, according to Mr. Peele's estimate of the talent, would be nearly a quarter of a million of our money. The annual revenue of Persia was about three and a half millions (Herod; 3.95). Of gold an hundred talents. Rather more than a million of our money.
Twenty basons of gold, of a thousand drams (see comment on Ezra 2:69). The "basons" would be worth about £55 each. Fine copper, precious as gold. The metal intended is probably that known to the Romans as orichalchum, which is generally believed to have been brass, but which may have been a more complicated amalgam. Being rarely, and perhaps only accidentally, produced, this metal was highly valued.
Ye are holy. Consecrated to God by their office, the priests and Levites were the fitting custodians of consecrated things.
The chambers of the house of the Lord are the rooms placed on either side of the main building (see 1 Kings 6:5), partly as chambers for the priests, partly as store-rooms (see Nehemiah 13:5).
The river of Ahava. Rather, "the river Ahava," as in the Vulgate ("a fiumine Ahava"). The place had probably taken its name from the stream. The twelfth day of the first month. Compare Ezra 7:9, and Ezra 8:15, from which it appears that Ahava was reached by Ezra and his company on the ninth day after they left Babylon, which helps to identify Ahava with Is, since Is (according to Herodotus) was eight days' journey from Babylon (see comment on verse 15). God delivered us from … . such as lay in wait. The boast of Ezra (verse 22) was justified by the event. He "trusted in God," and was "delivered"—how delivered we are not told, but evidently through no "arm of flesh." The hand of God led him safely through all the perils of the way, and brought him and his companions without loss or damage to the "city of their rest."
EZRA'S THREE DAYS' REST AT JERUSALEM, AND SUBSEQUENT EXECUTION OF THE MORE PRESSING OF THE COMMISSIONS INTRUSTED TO HIM (Ezra 8:32-36). After the fatigues of a four months' journey, a brief period of complete rest was well-nigh necessary. Like Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:11), Ezra was content with a rest of three days. On the fourth he discharged himself of his commission to present to the temple treasury the offerings of the Persian king, his counsellors and lords (verse 25), together with that spontaneously contributed by the Israelites who had accompanied him (Ezra 7:16). This he did by appearing in person before the priests and Levites who were in charge of the temple, and making over to them the entire offering of gold, silver, and vessels which had been brought to Jerusalem from Babylon. At the same time the exiles whom he had induced to return, and whom he had conducted in safety through so long a journey, sacrificed on the altar of burnt offerings a number of bullocks, rams, lambs, and he-goats, as a token of their thankfulness to God for delivering them from the perils of the way. After this Ezra proceeded to make known to the satraps and other governors of the provinces lying west of the Euphrates the terms of the permanent commission which he had received from the king. The result was that these officials thenceforth helped the Jews instead of hindering them, and furnished the necessary supplies for the temple service.
Meremoth the son of Uriah, or Urijah, was one of the heads of the priestly order, both under Ezra and under Nehemiah. He is mentioned as repairing two pieces of the wall of Jerusalem when Nehemiah was governor (Nehemiah 3:4, Nehemiah 3:21), and also as one of those who set their seal to the covenant with God which the whole people entered into, under Ezra's and Nehemiah's guidance, shortly after the completion of the wall, in b.c. 444. Eleazar the son of Phinehas is perhaps the Eleazar mentioned as taking part in the dedication of the wall (Nehemiah 12:42). Like Meremoth, he was a priest. Jozabad and Noadiah, chief Levites, occur again in Nehemiah 10:23, and Nehemiah 8:7; Nehemiah 10:9; and Nehemiah 12:3.
By number and by weight. The gold and the silver were weighed; the vessels were both counted and weighed; the object being to see that what was delivered to Meremoth corresponded exactly with what Ezra had given in charge to Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and others at Ahava (see above, verses 24-27). All the weight was written at that time. Not only were the vessels counted and weighed, but an inventory of them was made by the priests in charge of the temple, and the weight of every vessel noted. Such was the care taken to prevent any embezzlement of the temple property by its custodians.
Also the children of those who had been carried away. i.e. the newly-returned exiles. Like their predecessors under Zernbbabel, who had made an offering for all Israel (Ezra 6:17), so the present colonists under Ezra, assuming that they represented all Israel, offered for the whole nation. The classes of animals offered are the same on the two occasions, and the number of the he-goats is identical; but in every other case the victims are far less numerous now than on the former occasion. This is fully accounted for by the comparatively small number of those who returned under Ezra.
And they delivered the king's commissions. Parts of Ezra's firman concerned vitally the other provincial governors, and had of necessity to be communicated to them. Such were the provisoes concerning Ezra's power of drawing upon the provincial treasuries for corn, wine, oil, salt, and money (Ezra 7:22, Ezra 7:23), and concerning the exemption of all ranks of the Jewish sacred order from taxation of any kind whatsoever (Ezra 7:24). Unto the king's lieutenants, and to the governors. The word translated "lieutenants" is that which corresponds to the Persian term "satrap," and designates the highest class of the Persian provincial governors. That translated "governor" is the term which has been already applied by Ezra to Tatnai (Ezra 5:3, Ezra 5:4) and Zerubbabel (Ezra 6:7). It denotes a lower grade of official. They furthered the people. The satraps and lower officials, on being made acquainted with the king's wishes, readily complied with them, and became supporters and favourers of the Jewish people.
Ezra's body of travellers now duly assembled and organised, what else was required? On the one hand, they were in a condition of much danger. Without being very numerous, they were numerous enough to be worth attacking while prosecuting their journey. On the other hand, they were in a position of much responsibility, being intrusted with the care of many treasures for God's house. These were the two things Ezra had to see to before they actually moved. The plans he adopted in doing so are very characteristic and instructive, and may be employed to exhibit to us, in the first place, an example of courage, and in the second a model of caution.
I. EZRA'S COURAGE. As we have partially noted already, the danger was great. The travellers were possessed of some "substance" (verse 21). They were carrying trust-treasures as well. They were also bound on a route where persons so circumstanced were exceedingly likely to be attacked. At the same time, as a company, they were by no means organised for defence, being little more, in fact, than a large family party, with many women and "little ones" (verse 21) among them. Almost like Luke 10:3. How natural, in such circumstances, to think of military protection! How readily obtainable, also, such protection in this case! Ezra seems to feel (naturally enough under the terms of his commission, Ezra 7:12-26) that he had only to ask for this to obtain it. Instead, however, of going out of his way at all to obtain it, he rather goes out of his way to avoid it. He turns from the king to Jehovah. Refusing to ask at all in the one case, he asks with all his heart in the other, and prepares to go forward armed with nothing whatever but promise and prayer. How conspicuously great, therefore, his courage; more so even than that of David in 1 Samuel 17:39, 1 Samuel 17:40, 1 Samuel 17:45; still more so than that of Jacob (Genesis 32:1-32.), and almost a contrast to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:9). The secret of this was to be found
(a) with becoming earnestness, as shown by their "fasting" or turning aside from ordinary pleasures and occupations in order to be wholly occupied in this seeking (comp. Isaiah 58:1-14, and Isaiah 58:3; Acts 13:2). Sought it
(b) with proper humility, as shown by their "afflicting" themselves on account of their sins, and not asking this great favour as though they in any way deserved it. Sought it
(c) with a profound sense of his goodness, as being One concerned much for the "little ones "(verse 21; comp. Genesis 32:11; Jonah 4:11) of his people, and far from unconcerned also even as to their "substance" or temporal welfare at large (comp. Psalms 35:27; Matthew 6:25, Matthew 6:26, end 32; Luke 12:7). These were the kind of thoughts which made these companions of Ezra as we find them pictured to us here in verse 23, viz; with Babylon left behind them, a perilous journey before them, yet all the defence they sought for found in fasting and prayer (see Psalms 36:7).
II. EZRA'S CAUTION As we have already intimated, he was in a position now of great trust. The mere money value of the trust was exceedingly large, amounting in silver alone, if we take the talents as Hebrew talents, worth £375 each, to £650 × 375 + £100 × 375. It was also valuable as being contributed by many of the chief personages of Persia (the "king," etc; etc.), and by all the elite of Israel in those parts ("all Israel there present"). And it was especially precious as being intended for the most sacred, as then known, of all purposes, "the house of the Lord." It was truly requisite, therefore, for such a steward not only to be "faithful," but to be "found" so (1 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 8:20, 2 Corinthians 8:21). Accordingly, Ezra took care, first, to transfer the safe-keeping of thin precious trust to other hands than his own, thus avoiding all ground for mistrust or possibility of scandal in one important direction. Next he selected for this purpose, out of the two classes most suitable by office for such a trust, a company of no fewer (apparently) than twenty-four men (verse 24), taking especial care to have among them two of those last-comers whose coming had been looked upon as so great a gain to them all. Further, all that was intrusted to them he duly and carefully weighed (we are told of this twice) in their presence, and then placed in their hands, evidently accompanied by a correct catalogue of the whole. And, finally, in handing it over, he sought to impress upon them a similar feeling of responsibility to that entertained by himself. "Watch ye and keep" (verse 29) these treasures. Do so
From the whole we learn—
1. To avoid some common mistakes. Courage is not imprudence. Caution is not cowardice. It was brave conduct on Ezra's part to be afraid of the reproach of unfaithfulness or of bringing shame on God's cause. It was prudent conduct on Ezra's part to neglect human defence for Divine.
2. To make an important distinction. Precaution, in trusting God, is always weakness, generally folly, and sometimes sin. Precaution, in trusting men, even men of God, is none of the three. In such a case it is not unadvisable to associate men in companies so as to be checks and supports to one another (Luke 10:1); and to appeal to comparatively low motives, such as prudence and the fear of detection, and not only to high ones (Luke 12:1, Luke 12:2).
3. To recognise the spiritual unity of the Bible. In Ezra we find a man so identified with the "Law" that he has been called a second Moses. Yet the gospel itself could not teach us more than we have learnt here of the freeness of God's mercy.
"We departed." "We came." Thus it is that Ezra here relates the rest of his journey, the only thing worthy of note between Ahava and Jerusalem being this, that, through "the good band of God" upon the travellers, they were kept in safety the whole way. This being acknowledged with a suitable note of thanksgiving, as something remarkable in such a journey (see end of verse 31), the story goes onto tell us of the first doings of the pilgrims after reaching the place which they had sought and thought of so long. Some of these doings, we shall find, affect their position principally as travellers just arrived; and some have to do with them, on the other hand, rather as residents just admitted.
I. TRAVELLERS JUST ARRIVED. Under this aspect we see them, very naturally,
II. As RESIDENTS JUST ADMITTED. Their next cares, therefore, were in connection not with their journey, but their arrival. What were the duties devolving on them in connection with the place they bad come to? They had some such duties, it is clear,
1.; 2 Chronicles 29:1-36. end 31, and Psalms 66:13-15, for the connection of devotion or "vows" with burnt offerings, and the various kinds of animals so offered, almost the same as here). In so consecrating themselves, however, they only acted as a portion of that whole consecrated Israel of God to which they belonged. This identification of themselves with the covenant people they appear to have represented by their evidently studied reference in the number of animals offered to the appointed number of the covenant tribes, viz; by offering twelve bullocks, twelve he-goats, and 8 X 12, or ninety-six rams. Note, also, how it is expressly said of the twelve bullocks that they were offered "for all Israel," and comp. 6:17, and Numbers 7:2, etc. For the peculiar number of lambs (seventy-seven) it seems difficult to account, but the mention of the twelve he-goats as being for a "sin offering" was a silent confession on their part of their own need, and of all Israel's need, of propitiation and atonement. In the next place, these three religious duties of consecration, communion, and confession being thus duly attended to, we find them turning to those civil duties which were required by their position; i.e. to their duties
CONCLUSION. Let all those who name the name of Christ see from all this—
1. The importance of showing "all good fidelity" (Titus 2:10). Before these returned children of the captivity allowed themselves to present their offerings in that house of God which they had travelled so far to visit and to benefit, they made all clear on this other point. We find a somewhat similar spirit in 1 Samuel 12:3-5; 2 Corinthians 8:20, 2 Corinthians 8:21; and may be reminded in two different yet equally instructive ways of Numbers 16:15, and Matthew 5:23, Matthew 5:24.
2. The importance of believing in the necessity of atonement. Even the burnt offerings of God's own Israel, without the sin offering, would not be acceptable. That which we desire to offer to him must be purified first. But how can it be purified except by the sacrifice of the cross (Hebrews 9:22; Hebrews 10:10)?
3. The importance of being good subjects. We have seen the significance, in this respect, of the beginning of Matthew 5:36. We may- also see the good results thus secured in what is recorded in the end of that verse. It caused those who had the rule in that land to "further" the welfare of God's "people," and the work of God's "house." This is one advantage of honouring the "powers that be" as ordained of God. It causes them, in return, to honour and favour the religion we profess. Just as it is with servants in a household, so is it with subjects in a kingdom; it is thus they may especially "adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour" (Titus if. 9, 10). Other branches of "politics" may not be forbidden; this is positively enjoined (Romans 13:1, etc.).
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The fast at the Ahava.
The halt on the banks of the Ahava lasted three days. Ezra lost no time. He viewed his company, and finding no Levites, organised a mission to induce some of them to join him. To the credit of the sons of Levi, strong as was their attachment to the silver of Casiphia, they promptly forsook it in favour of Zion. On the third day the caravan was made up; but before the journey was undertaken Ezra proclaimed a fast. Consider—
I. THE OBJECT. It was to obtain the Divine guidance and protection.
1. The adults needed this for themselves.
2. They needed it on behalf of their "little ones."
3. They needed it for the safety of the treasure in their custody.
II. THE MOTIVE.
1. He was jealous for the honour of God.
(a) That "the hand of God is upon all them for good that seek him." The king might say, "Why then do you not seek him and trust in him?" May we not say this to ourselves when we are tempted to lean upon an arm of flesh?
(b) That "his power and his wrath are against all them that forsake him." The king might reply, "Why then do you not confide your defence to him from those wicked persons who would molest you?"
2. He was jealous for the honour of his people.
III. THE ISSUE.
1. "The Lord was entreated of them."
2. The success of their journey proved it.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
The spiritual and secular aids of life.
I. THE SPIRITUAL NEEDING THE AID OF THE SECULAR. "To require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way" (Ezra 8:22). Ezra was about to conduct his comrades on a perilous journey to Jerusalem; hence he felt the need of a military guard as well as of the good hand of God upon him. The spiritual, as a rule, requires the aid of the secular.
1. Divine truth needs secular aid. As the companions of Ezra would be in danger during this march, so the word of God is often in peril in the world; infidels assail it, and secular aids are necessary to defend it.
2. The Church of God needs secular aid. It is exposed to many enemies on its journey to Jerusalem, and requires the defence of secular agencies—legislative, intellectual, and social.
3. The life interests of the good need secular aid. The good man needs the aid of the physician; his property must be protected, his ships must be insured. True, God loves his own book, his own enterprise, his own people, but it is his method to aid them in the use of means. As a general rule Ezra must employ both horsemen and prayer; prayer and precaution must go together.
4. The moral needs the aid of the secular:—
II. THE SPIRITUAL ACTING WITHOUT THE AID OF THE SECULAR. "For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers."
1. Why did Ezra act without the aid of the secular?
2. How did Ezra act without the aid of the secular? He was not indifferent to the danger to which he might be exposed in marching without the band of soldiers; he did not superstitiously seek to avert it; he did not frantically rush into it; he religiously braved it.
3. When did Ezra act without the aid of the secular? Ezra travelled without the soldiers n an important crisis; it is but seldom that we are called upon to divorce prayer and precaution.
4. What moral qualities did Ezra exhibit in thus acting without the aid of the spiritual? It is evident that he was zealous for the honour of God; courageous in sacred toil; devout in daily life; and could act alone when necessary. God answered his confidence by leading him safely to Jerusalem.—E.
The sacred trusts of life.
I. THE TRUST GIVEN. "And weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering of the house of our God" (Ezra 8:25).
1. Their nature. As the men appointed by Ezra had costly and sacred vessels committed to their care, so men have given to them money, time, genius, and influence to carry through life.
2. Their purpose (verse 28). These vessels of gold and silver were given for the use and adornment of the temple at Jerusalem. Men must hold their sacred trusts for God.
3. Their measure (verse 26). The gold and silver given were carefully weighed; all the capabilities of men are weighed by God: to some he gives two talents, to others five talents; to each man according to his several ability.
4. Their responsibility. The comrades of Ezra had the responsible task of safely conveying the vessels of the temple to Jerusalem; human talent is a solemn gift.
5. Their registration (verse 34). The gifts of man are written in the book of God.
II. THE FIDELITY REQUIRED. "Watch ye, and keep them" (verse 29).
1. Their peril. The men conveying the costly vessels of the temple would be exposed to many enemies by the way (verse 22); men of talent are liable to many moral enemies—pride, indolence, misuse, and neglect of culture.
2. Their safety. The prayers of these men were their protection. Ezra says, "So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was entreated of us" (verse 23). Devotion is the safeguard of talent.
3. Their inspection. "Weighed in the house of our God" (verse 33). At the last God will judge men for the use of their talents; then every man will be morally weighed in the unerring balance of truth.
4. Their fidelity. The comrades of Ezra were faithful to their trust; happy if at the close of life we are found faithful to the trusts we have received.—E.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The custody of the treasure.
After fasting and prayer, before the caravan moved from the halt on the banks of the Ahava, Ezra made arrangements for the custody of the offerings with which he was intrusted. Whatever is done under Divine direction is intended to instruct, and in these arrangements we may seek for matter of profitable meditation. Let us then consider—
I. THE TREASURE. The vessels which were for the service of the house of the Lord typified his saints (Acts 9:15; 2 Timothy 2:20, 2 Timothy 2:21).
1. The treasure was various.
2. The treasure was precious.
(b) Capable of God (Job 28:19).
Redeemed by the Son of God (1 Peter 1:7).
3. The treasure was sacred.
II. THE TREASURERS.
1. These were twelve in number.
2. They were of the chief of the priests.
III. THEIR DUTIES.
1. They were duly to estimate the value of their c/large.
2. They were to watch over it.
3. They were to present it in its integrity in the temple.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Ezra and the company he had gathered were now fairly on their way homewards, and we may look at them, looking also at ourselves, as—
I. TRAVELLERS TO JERUSALEM. "Then we departed to go unto Jerusalem" (verse 31). They had come forth from a land of captivity and comparative privation, and were on their way to the land where they would no longer be bondsmen, and where every possible privilege would be theirs to enjoy: they were "going home;" to the land consecrated to their thought by innumerable hallowing associations; to the city whose walls should, to their fond imagining, shut them in to liberty, security, and joy. Onwards we move, we who have left the land of spiritual bondage behind us, to the land of our hope; our faces are steadfastly set toward the heavenly Jerusalem. We "seek a city yet to come." Every day we are travelling forward to its open gates; every night we pitch our tent "a day's march nearer" this home on high.
II. GUIDED AND GUARDED OF GOD UPON THE WAY. "The hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy," etc. (verse 31). In answer to their earnest prayer (verse 23) and to their humility (verse 23), God gave them his guidance and guardianship along the road, and whatever enemies may have been near either refrained from attacking them or were easily repelled. In answer to our earnest prayer and our humility, God will be our guide and guardian along the heavenward way. He will
(a) show us the path we should take, saving us from error, and thus from evil, and
(b) defend us from our adversaries:
III. THOSE CHARGED WITH SACRED TREASURE (verses 24-30). Ezra put into the hands of some of the priests and Levites very precious treasure—the gold, silver, vessels, etc; which had been contributed for the temple; they, as holy men, were to take charge of the holy things (verse 28), to watch them and keep them intact, to be prepared to have them weighed when they reached their journey's end (verse 29). All of us who are spiritual pilgrims are men charged with treasure—some with more than others. All of us have in charge that most valuable treasure—more precious than the precious gold they carried (verse 27)—our own spirit, created in God's likeness to bear his image, to dwell in his glorious presence. Each one of us must sedulously, scrupulously, devoutly watch and keep this unharmed, and be ready to have it "weighed in the balances" of God, not being found wanting then. To some of us—parents, teachers, pastors—God has intrusted the precious treasure of others' souls, and he bids us take earnest heed of them, "watching for them as those who must give account," doing our best in every way, publicly and privately, by direct solicitation and by prayer on their behalf, that they may be found whole and blameless "in that day."
IV. AT THE END OF THEIR JOURNEY. They "came to Jerusalem" (verse 32), and their arrival was marked by three things—
When we reach the end of our journey we shall find these three things—
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
When the treasure was disposed in custody of priests sanctified to watch over it, and the caravan was otherwise ordered, the pilgrims started from the camp of the Ahava en route for Jerusalem. As we might expect from the piety which influenced them in their preparations—
I. THEY WERE PROSPERED IN THEIR JOURNEY.
1. They enjoyed the blessing of their God. "The hand of our God was upon us."
2. The Divine protection was respected by the enemy.
II. THEY ENTERED INTO JERUSALEM WITH JOY.
1. It was the end of a toilsome march.
2. It was the satisfaction of a cherished hope.
III. THEY ABODE IN JERUSALEM IN PEACE.
1. They had peace in themselves.
2. They had peace with God.
3. They had peace from their neighbours.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezra 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent