Today: [Ezra Chapter Eight] The Challenges of Being a Part of a Move of God. In this chapter we see the narrative of a second group of returnees to Jerusalem. Ezra and his group are a new generation of returnees coming together 70 years after the first revival under Zerubabbel and Zecheriah. Their parents had no interest in the first return but their children are stirred and wanting to go and be a part of what God was doing in Judea. It was quite a challenge however and not everyone was on board with the effort. Ezra deals with many perils and challenges that will be informational to you and I if we desire to be a part of what God is doing and not just sit and warm a pew till Jesus comes.
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[Ezr 8:1-36 KJV] 1 These [are] now the chief of their fathers, and [this is] the genealogy of them that went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king. 2 Of the sons of Phinehas; Gershom: of the sons of Ithamar; Daniel: of the sons of David; Hattush. 3 Of the sons of Shechaniah, of the sons of Pharosh; Zechariah: and with him were reckoned by genealogy of the males an hundred and fifty. 4 Of the sons of Pahathmoab; Elihoenai the son of Zerahiah, and with him two hundred males. 5 Of the sons of Shechaniah; the son of Jahaziel, and with him three hundred males. 6 Of the sons also of Adin; Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him fifty males. 7 And of the sons of Elam; Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him seventy males. 8 And of the sons of Shephatiah; Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him fourscore males. 9 Of the sons of Joab; Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him two hundred and eighteen males. 10 And of the sons of Shelomith; the son of Josiphiah, and with him an hundred and threescore males. 11 And of the sons of Bebai; Zechariah the son of Bebai, and with him twenty and eight males. 12 And of the sons of Azgad; Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him an hundred and ten males. 13 And of the last sons of Adonikam, whose names [are] these, Eliphelet, Jeiel, and Shemaiah, and with them threescore males. 14 Of the sons also of Bigvai; Uthai, and Zabbud, and with them seventy males.
In this chapter we see a further account of the second return of the exiles from Babylon. The first group came with Zerrubabel and Jeshua sent by Cyrus king of Persia. This second group came led by Ezra sent by Artaxerxes a later king. This chapter is a retelling of what Ezra refers to in Ezra 7:1-10. This second return is in the second year of Artaxerxes otherwise known as Darius. The first group of returnees numbered approximately 50,000. This was a smaller group coming years later numbering about 5000. It has been 69 years since Zerubabbel came with the first group so this is a whole new generation who would have heard in Babylon of the exodus back to Jerusalem. They however were born of those who chose to remain in Persia – in captivity. The parents of Ezra’s group had no interest in returning to the Promised Land. They did no doubt however romanticize the story of the first return just like we tell stories of revival from the days of Azusa Street or the 50’s healing revivals, etc. There is a weakness of character in those who have not participated in a prophesied outpouring to make the thing that God does larger than life – connecting themselves more with the narrative of a move of God rather than participate themselves. The parents of these 5000 returnees talked about and romanticized that which they had no willingness to sacrifice in order to participate in. Ezra and his generation came up listening to the revival stories about Zerubabbel and Zecheriah and Haggai and decided they wanted more than mere exaggerated stories of what God had done they wanted the demonstration of it themselves. They realized you don’t have to talk about what you demonstrate.
15 And I gathered them together to the river that runneth to Ahava; and there abode we in tents three days: and I viewed the people, and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi. 16 Then sent I for Eliezer, for Ariel, for Shemaiah, and for Elnathan, and for Jarib, and for Elnathan, and for Nathan, and for Zechariah, and for Meshullam, chief men; also for Joiarib, and for Elnathan, men of understanding. 17 And I sent them with commandment unto Iddo the chief at the place Casiphia, and I told them what they should say unto Iddo, [and] to his brethren the Nethinims, at the place Casiphia, that they should bring unto us ministers for the house of our God. 18 And by the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel; and Sherebiah, with his sons and his brethren, eighteen; 19 And Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, his brethren and their sons, twenty; 20 Also of the Nethinims, whom David and the princes had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinims: all of them were expressed by name. 21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. 22 For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God [is] upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath [is] against all them that forsake him. 23 So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us. 24 Then I separated twelve of the chief of the priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them, 25 And weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, [even] the offering of the house of our God, which the king, and his counsellors, and his lords, and all Israel [there] present, had offered: 26 I even weighed unto their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and silver vessels an hundred talents, [and] of gold an hundred talents; 27 Also twenty basons of gold, of a thousand drams; and two vessels of fine copper, precious as gold. 28 And I said unto them, Ye [are] holy unto the LORD; the vessels [are] holy also; and the silver and the gold [are] a freewill offering unto the LORD God of your fathers. 29 Watch ye, and keep [them], until ye weigh [them] before the chief of the priests and the Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.
Ezra is not just the chronicler of this expedition – he was the actual leader. We have now also some context about who Ezra is and what his motivation was as he penned the last three books of the bible that we have been studying. Ezra was highly motivated to understand the backstory of his people. He is now walking INTO the narrative that he had been studying just as you and I can walk INTO the narrative of the study of the word of God not just hearing what OTHERS have done but garnering to ourselves OUR OWN TESTIMONY.
Ezra gathers his group together after gaining permission to depart. He finds however that there are no Levites in their group. There are many prominent families whose children have joined with them – but it is disappointing and inexplicable that not one Levite is interested in leaving Babylon to journey to serve in the temple. So we see this was a grass roots movement that wasn’t sanctioned by the leadership. We see this today in a move of the Spirit in the prophetic that for the most part is not endorsed by established church leadership. In choosing not to return with Ezra no doubt there was a general consensus among the leaders of the synagogues that perhaps Ezra was making a mistake. The people were being misled by a misdirected zealot. They had all they needed right there in the synagogue in Persia. Why couldn’t the people just be satisfied in what they had? Didn’t they know that time had passed? What were they trying to accomplish anyway?
Ezra didn’t accept the problem represented by the absence of the Levites. He sends word back to the synagogues in Babylon that the Levites would come and join them. He doesn’t pretend that the problem doesn’t exist. He chooses 9 “men of understanding” to go back and to recruit the Levites to come out of their comfortable lifestyles in Babylon and join with the work that is going forth to return to Judea to continue and complete the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. These men had their work cut out for them. It would not be easy to convince the Levites to come with them. This was not something that Ezra the prophet could do for himself. It took others who stood with him and believed in his mission that were willing to approach their unwilling and convince them to reconsider their decision to marginalize and ignore what God was doing. No doubt they were not well received at every home and every synagogue they went to be heard. They were no doubt told in no uncertain terms that they were not going to bring that message into the groups staying behind. But they persevered and had some moderate success. This is a picture of the typical response of prevailing leadership in the midst of a move of God that they are not initiators of. The prevailing leadership almost always resists the emerging thing that God is doing.
Ezra’s delegation finds success in a likeminded Levite by the name of Sherebiah who leads a delegation of reluctant Levites to join with the returning exiles let by Ezra. After the Levites joined with the group Ezra declares a fast and prays for God’s protection as they desire to move out in their campaign which was a long and dangerous journey. Being such a small group and travelling with a large quantity of captive treasure from the temple they were vulnerable. Ezra is ashamed to ask the king of Persia for an escort so they seek the Lord and pray for protection and guidance as to how to proceed. It was one thing for the king of Persia to give permission and finance the expedition it is another thing to ask him to protect them along their way. To Ezra he would rather put the campaign at risk than to damage their testimony of trust in God that He would see them through to Jerusalem. In seeking the Lord’s wisdom Ezra divided the gold, silver and other resources between the different groups of people traveling with him in order to make the treasure more secure as they travelled.
30 So took the priests and the Levites the weight of the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, to bring [them] to Jerusalem unto the house of our God. 31 Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth [day] of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way. 32 And we came to Jerusalem, and abode there three days. 33 Now on the fourth day was the silver and the gold and the vessels weighed in the house of our God by the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest; and with him [was] Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them [was] Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah the son of Binnui, Levites; 34 By number [and] by weight of every one: and all the weight was written at that time. 35 [Also] the children of those that had been carried away, which were come out of the captivity, offered burnt offerings unto the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety and six rams, seventy and seven lambs, twelve he goats [for] a sin offering: all [this was] a burnt offering unto the LORD. 36 And they delivered the king’s commissions unto the king’s lieutenants, and to the governors on this side the river: and they furthered the people, and the house of God.
After all the deliberation, delay and peril Ezra and his band successfully arrive at Jerusalem and deliver themselves and their treasure up to further the work of the house of God that had begun 69 years before. They were protected from ambush and from the perils of the journey by the hand of God. One thing you must realize is when you step out of the ranks of lukewarm religious expression you will become a target for the enemy. When you accept the responsibility of the resources of the kingdom there will be those who will see you as nothing more than a target of opportunity on several levels. The returnees in Ezra constantly had to deal with false friends, betrayal, jealousy, robbery and deceit. They were criticized from within their ranks and assaulted from without. They were first given permission to return then commanded to halt the work. They were at first provided all the resources necessary then stripped of those resources by those who lied to the authorities about what their original intent was. When you are a part of something God is doing things don’t always go smoothly. It would have been easy to say “I’m going back to Babylon… at least in Babylon we know what to expect and we don’t have so much upheaval….” This was the problem with Judas in travelling with Jesus. The other disciples as well bickered often because things didn’t go their way and they wanted to be in charge and always arguing about who was going to benefit by what God was doing. If you are going to be more than a pew sitter in your walk with God you have to make up your mind that you are going to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. You are going to have to be willing to take responsibility without an iron clad compensation agreement about what you are going to get out of the proposition. You must be willing to risk and take criticism. You must be willing to step out of comfortable religious thinking and into the instability and challenge of being a part of a move of God.
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