“I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (v. 21).
Before Ezra continues his account of his journey to Jerusalem, he pauses in Ezra 8:1–14 to give a genealogy of those who returned with him from Babylon. Since we are so far removed in time from the people mentioned in this list and in many other biblical genealogies, our tendency is to treat such records as unimportant. We must remember, however, that these lists were vital to the original audience for tracing their family histories. Also, most of the family names in this list appear also in 2:3–15, which lists the initial Jewish returnees who went back to Judah when Cyrus issued his decree in 538 BC. That some members of these families were still in Babylon in Ezra’s day many decades later shows that there were divisions among the Jews over going back to the land. Some were eager to go back; others were not.
This lack of eagerness is on display in today’s passage as well. Ezra says that when he gathered a company of Jews to go back with him, he found no “sons of Levi” among them (8:15). This problem had to be addressed; after all, Ezra was going back to teach the law, and he would need help in doing so (see 7:1–26). Ezra sent some men to gather sons of Levi, and several joined the party.
After gathering some Levites to join the company of Jews returning to the land, Ezra proclaimed a fast, asking the Lord to grant them a safe journey (8:21). Furthermore, Ezra explains that he called for the fast because there were no soldiers going with them to give protection. He was, in fact, ashamed to ask King Artaxerxes for help since he had told the ruler that God’s hand was on them and would thwart those who were against the Lord and His people (v. 22). This note by Ezra seems strange. After all, the Bible in many places joins prayer with wise planning (Gen. 24; Prov. 16:9). Here, Ezra prays but does not include a company of soldiers in his plan for return. Furthermore, Nehemiah, a man of great faith in God, took soldiers with him when he returned to Judah (Neh. 2:9), indicating that requesting a military escort did not necessarily signify a lack of trust in the Lord. Ezra’s reluctance to ask for military help seems to be based on the uniquely religious character of his mission and might indicate that in his mind at least, it was out of place for soldiers to guard those on a priestly mission to teach the law. Whether or not Ezra was right to be hesitant to accept protection, the Lord did hear Ezra’s prayer, for He was committed to His people (Ezra 8:23).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Ordinarily, there is no contradiction between making plans for the future and trusting the Lord for the future. God uses our plans to accomplish His purposes, so we should not think that the plans that we make are necessarily opposed to faith in His providence. As the Lord gives us wisdom, we should plan, always entrusting these plans to Him for His will to be done.