Ezra finds Levites for the temple
15I brought everyone together by the river that flows to the town of Ahava where we camped for three days. Not one Levite could be found among the people and priests.16So I sent for the leaders Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam. I also sent for Joiarib and Elnathan, who were very wise.17Then I sent them to Iddo, the leader at Casiphia, and I told them to ask him and his temple workers to send people to serve in God's temple.
18God was kind to us and made them send a skilful man named Sherebiah, who was a Levite from the family of Mahli. Eighteen of his relatives came with him.19We were also sent Hashabiah and Jeshaiah from the family of Merari along with twenty of their relatives.20In addition, 220 others came to help the Levites in the temple. The ancestors of these workers had been chosen years ago by King David and his officials, and they were all listed by name.
Ezra asks the people to go without eating and to pray
21Beside the River Ahava, I asked the people to go without eating and to pray. We humbled ourselves and asked God to bring us and our children safely to Jerusalem with all our possessions.22I was ashamed to ask the king to send soldiers and cavalry to protect us against enemies along the way. After all, we had told the king that our God takes care of everyone who truly worships him, but that he gets very angry and punishes anyone who refuses to obey.23So we went without food and asked God himself to protect us, and he answered our prayers.
The gifts for the temple
24I chose twelve of the leading priests—Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their relatives.25-27Then I weighed the gifts that had been given for God's temple, and I divided them among the twelve priests I had chosen. There were gifts of silver and gold, as well as the articles that the king, his advisers and officials, and the people of Israel had contributed. In all there were: 22 tonnes of silver; 100 silver articles weighing 70 kilogrammes; 3,400 kilogrammes of gold; 20 gold bowls weighing over 8 kilogrammes; and 2 polished bronze articles as valuable as gold.
28I said to the priests:
You belong to the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and these things also belong to him. The silver and gold were willingly given as gifts to the LORD.29Be sure to guard them and keep them safe until you reach Jerusalem. Then weigh them inside God's temple in the presence of the chief priests, the Levites, and the heads of the Israelite families.
30The priests and Levites then took charge of the gifts that had been weighed, so they could take them to the temple of our God in Jerusalem.
The return to Jerusalem
31On the twelfth day of the first month, we left the River Ahava and started for Jerusalem. Our God watched over us, and as we travelled along, he kept our enemies from ambushing us.
32After arriving in Jerusalem, we rested for three days.33Then on the fourth day we went to God's temple, where the silver, the gold, and the other things were weighed and given to the priest Meremoth son of Uriah. With him were Eleazar son of Phinehas and the two Levites, Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui.34Everything was counted, weighed, and recorded.
35Those who had returned from exile offered sacrifices on the altar to the God of Israel. Twelve bulls were offered for all Israel. Ninety-six rams and seventy-seven lambs were offered on the altar. And twelve goats were sacrificed for the sins of the people.36Some of those who had returned took the king's orders to the governors and officials in Western Province. Then the officials did what they could for the people and for the temple of God.
Reading and studying the Old Testament is both exhilarating and at times confusing! We need to be careful when we read it not to assume that we are always meant to copy the actions of the people we read about. Ezra 8 I think is a good example.
Let’s not forget our last reading from Ezra 7, how King Artaxerxes went over and beyond to make sure that these returning exiles had all they needed. On the one hand I love the vulnerability of verse 22, in Ezra admitting not wanting to ask for help, but surely the king would have happily obliged?
The road to Jerusalem was both treacherous due to weather and ascent but also fraught with danger from attack by bandits. Why would Ezra put his people in harm’s way needlessly?
Because he had told the king that he trusted God to protect him. He fasted and prayed. And then he acted in faith. But notice that later, Nehemiah, making the same journey, accepted a military escort (Nehemiah 2:9). So Ezra’s action is not necessarily one to be copied blindly.
Yet we delight in a faithful God who kept his promise and brought them safely back to Jerusalem. And we also pay careful attention to his humbly fasting and praying as we lay our needs before our father in heaven.
From a chapter full of details and events, we find a powerful statement. Four words spoken over the priests, “You belong to God” (v 28). These priests bore great responsibility and the weight of leadership but what they needed to hear first above all else and what all their work should flow from is their identity in God.
Before you do anything today, before you serve anyone, remember that YOU belong to God.
God, thank you for your faithfulness through the ages and your faithfulness to me. May all I do today flow from the love that you have shown me.