SUCCESSFUL PIONEERING MISSIONS COUPLE EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP WITH DEPENDENCE UPON THE BLESSING OF GOD –
SIX STEPS IN LAUNCHING A SUCCESSFUL REBUILDING MISSION FOR GOD
Here we have additional details regarding the return of the exiles to Jerusalem for the rebuilding project and restoration of Jewish worship (a summary had been provided earlier in chapter 7). The model presented here would make a good study for a church planting team or for other types of pioneering ministries where the blessing of God must be secured in conjunction with careful planning, teamwork, stewardship of resources and diligent execution. The key is always dependence upon God for His favor and blessing. Spiritual preparation via fasting and prayer must be our primary tactic. The successful outcome must lead to thankful worship as we continue to trust the Lord for ongoing support.
Williamson: There are three main elements in the narrative of this section, and by reference to God’s good hand upon Ezra and his companions, each is marked out as having been carried through under the blessing of divine providence (vv 18, 22 and 31). These three elements are the gathering of Levites, the care for the treasures to be presented at the temple, and the journey itself, with all its attendant dangers. Small wonder that sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered at its conclusion!
I. (:1-14) BUILDING A FUNCTIONAL TEAM
A. (:1) Heads of Households
“Now these are the heads of their fathers’ households and the genealogical enrollment of those who went up with me from Babylon in the reign of King Artaxerxes:”
Constable: The descendants of the priestly and royal families in Israel appear first in this list (vv. 2-3). Then the names of the rest of the Jews follow (cf. 1 Esdras 8:28-40). A comparison of verses 3-14 with 2:3-15 shows that Ezra’s companions were mainly the relatives of those Jews who had returned 80 years earlier under Sheshbazzar. The one exception was Joab’s family (v. 9).
Breneman: The emphasis on the “family heads” reminds us of the great responsibility of being head of a family. The family is the basis of society, and the father is the head of the family. As such he has a tremendous responsibility under God to direct and teach his family. Ezra’s carefulness about registering each family should be a challenge for Christians today to take seriously each family in the church community.
B. (:2-14) Key Players
“2 of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom;
of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel;
of the sons of David, Hattush;
3 of the sons of Shecaniah who was of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah and with him 150 males who were in the genealogical list;
4 of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah and 200 males with him;
5 of the sons of Shecaniah, the son of Jahaziel and 300 males with him;
6 and of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan and 50 males with him;
7 and of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah and 70 males with him; 8 and of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael and 80 males with him;
9 of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel and 218 males with him;
10 and of the sons of Shelomith, the son of Josiphiah and 160 males with him; 11 and of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai and 28 males with him; 12 and of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan and 110 males with him;
13 and of the sons of Adonikam, the last ones, these being their names, Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah and 60 males with them;
14 and of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud and 70 males with them.”
Guzik: Shecaniah — There were three of this name; the second is mentioned in Ezra 8:5, and the third Ezra 10:2. They were all different persons, as may be seen from their fathers’ houses” (Clarke). . .
Adding the counts of the male members of the group together, there was a total count of at least 1,496 men in the group. Adding an estimated number of women and children (Ezra 8:21), we can surmise that the total number of the party coming with Ezra in the days of King Artaxerxes was something like between 6,000 to 7,000 people.
Derek Thomas: This is a second wave of returnees. The first returnees came back from Babylon in 537, in response to the decree of King Cyrus. We are now 445 B.C., eighty years and perhaps then some into the future, and this is a second wave of returnees led by this godly man, Ezra. There’ll be another wave of returnees when we come to the book of Nehemiah. That’s about twenty years down the line.
Gary Smith: Although the list of names in 8:1–14 may seem rather pedantic and boring, it was theologically essential to know who was going to return to Jerusalem and what their genealogical background was. An emphasis was placed on being the people of Israel and especially on having legitimate priests and Levites serving in the Temple.
II. (:15-20) RECRUITING MISSING WORKERS (LEVITES FOR TEMPLE SERVICE)
A. (:15-17) Addressing the Problem of Missing Workers
1. (:15) Observing the Deficiency
a. Encampment to Assess Readiness
“Now I assembled them at the river that runs to Ahava,
where we camped for three days;”
b. Evaluation of Assembled Skill Set – No Levites Found
“and when I observed the people and the priests,
I did not find any Levites there.”
Andrew Swango: Technically, priests are Levites because they are the sons of Aaron, who is a son of Levi. Obviously, the implication is that Ezra is looking for Levites who can perform the other duties, such as Merarites (who were in charge of the building pieces of the tabernacle) or Kohathites (who were in charge of the furniture inside the tabernacle).
Guzik: Perhaps the Levites were generally too comfortable with their lives in Babylon to go back to Jerusalem. Perhaps they were not willing to come back to their ancestral temple duties that put them under the authority of the priests. Whatever the reason was, Ezra had the money and the authority he needed, but not the men.
Derek Thomas: Now the Levites did all sorts of things. They did all sorts of menial work. They were essentially servants to the priests. The priests had access to various parts of the innermost temple to which the Levites generally had no access. The Levites were the ones who kept the outer gates of the temple. Now there are no gates as such at this second temple as yet. We believe that there was a stone wall that surrounded this temple, and in that wall there were various rooms, accommodations for priests and perhaps some of the Levites who were on duty there for upwards of a week at a time. There will be storerooms for utensils and food and other bits and pieces, pots and pans and so on, within that wall. The Levites were the ones who would keep the temple and the surroundings of the temple clean. They would make sure that the utensils were cleansed. They were the ones who would keep watch over the temple. They would police the temple. They would guard the entrance ways into the temple to ensure that only those could enter that were allowed to enter. But on the whole the Levites did menial work.
2. (:16) Organizing a Team of Recruiters
a. Leading Men
“So I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leading men,”
Andrew Swango: We learn that many of these priests who were traveling with Ezra back to Jerusalem had married foreign wives (Ezra 10:18, 10:29, 10:31, 10:39, 10:26).
Derek Thomas: If you look at the list of names in verse 16, only two of those names appear in verses 1-14. In other words, of the leading men, only two of them were heads of families. That’s a problem to some. It’s not a problem to me, but it’s a problem to some. My response to that is yes, yes, there were only two leading men who were heads of families. That says something about the relative importance or unimportance after the exile of heads of families within Jewish society, that there were leading men who could be singled out and named who actually weren’t heads of families.
“and for Joiarib and Elnathan, teachers.”
3. (:17) Ordering the Desired Outcome = Bring Back Levites
a. Strategic Appeal
“And I sent them to Iddo the leading man at the place Casiphia;”
b. Specific Agenda
“and I told them what to say to Iddo and his brothers,
the temple servants at the place Casiphia,
that is, to bring ministers to us for the house of our God.”
Derek Kidner: The absence of Levites and other Temple servants is a revealing contretemps; it was only natural for these men to shrink from a prospect which was doubly daunting: not only the uprooting which all the pilgrims faced, but the drastic change from ordinary pursuits to the strict routines of the Temple. So it is no surprise to read of Ezra’s careful choice of emissaries to rectify this (nine of them for the weight they carried in the community, and an extra two for their diplomatic skill, verse 16), and to notice his explicit briefing of them (‘telling them what to say’ and whom to approach, 17).
The outcome (v.18) was highly satisfying, not only numerically but in the provision of a gifted leader; and Ezra, as ever, recognized in this the good hand of our God upon us.
B. (:18-20) Appreciating God’s Provision of Essential Workers
1. (:18) Testimony of God’s Provision of Capable Levites
“And according to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of insight of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, and his sons and brothers, 18 men;”
Derek Thomas: Ezra’s giving a testimony as to what happened, and he’s telling us that what happened is that 38 Levites came forward, along with 220 temple servants. The mission to Iddo had been somewhat of a success. You might have credited that to Ezra. Ezra is a phenomenal leader. But he credits it all to the Lord. The kind of leadership that Ezra wants us to emulate, you see, is a leadership in which God is given all the glory. Ezra didn’t sit back and say, ‘Well, if God wants Levites to come, He’ll bring them.’ No, he marshaled arguments, he sent his best men, he gave it his best shot! But the outcome was of the Lord. Man may plan, and man may marshal arguments, and man may scheme, and man may plot, but the outcome is of the Lord.
2. (:19) Testimony of God’s Provision of Merarites
“and Hashabiah and Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari,
with his brothers and their sons, 20 men;”
Andrew Swango: These were the men Ezra found to be Levites (non-priestly temple servants). But, with a static temple that would not need Merarites to carry the temple pieces and furniture anymore, what would these men do? In Nehemiah’s day, they either became a leader of a district in the province of Judah (Neh 3:17), they publicly read the Law to the people (Neh 8:7), lead the people in praises (Neh 9:4- 5ff), or signed Nehemiah’s confession document (Neh 10:11-12).
3. (:20) Testimony of God’s Provision of Additional Temple Servants
“and 220 of the temple servants, whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites, all of them designated by name.”
III. (:21-23) SEEKING GOD’S PROTECTION AND BLESSING (BY PRAYING AND FASTING) FOR ALL THE LOGISTICS (HERE = SAFE JOURNEY)
A. (:21) Fasting and Praying as the Primary Tactic
1. Proclamation of Fasting
“Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava,”
Derek Thomas: First of all, I want us to see the setting in which faith is expressed. This is a journey of faith. Ezra, five thousand men, women, children…they’re saying their farewells. They’ve got a thousand-mile journey at a walking pace in the heat of a Near Eastern summer. It’s going to take them four months. They’re carrying enormous amounts of wealth in terms of goods, gold and silver. It’s a situation of great nervousness. I wonder what’s going through their minds as they camp by the river Ahava on the outskirts of Babylon. They’re facing a life-changing scenario.
2. Posture of Fasting = Humility
“that we might humble ourselves before our God”
3. Purpose of Fasting = Prayer for a Safe Journey
“to seek from Him a safe journey for us,
our little ones, and all our possessions.”
B. (:22) Boasting in God’s Power and Protection as the Public Testimony
1. Rejecting Dependence on the Flesh
“For I was ashamed to request from the king
troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way,”
Derek Thomas: I want to reflect a little on that: that two men of God, Ezra and Nehemiah, can come to opposite conclusions about whether it was right to ask the king for a secular military escort back to Jerusalem. It says something to us, I think, that men of God who love God and who love His word, and who are deeply saturated in the Scriptures as both Ezra and Nehemiah were…they were men of prayer, they were men of consecration. You wouldn’t begin to doubt the godliness or the consecration of Ezra or Nehemiah. But in this matter, both of them seek the will of God and they come down in opposite places. Ezra concludes it would be wrong to ask for the king’s help. Nehemiah sees no problem and asks for a military escort. I think it says something to us about certain decisions that godly men can sometimes make.
Fensham: But we can explain this difference of approach as follows. Ezra the priest went to Jerusalem on a religious mission. In such a case a military escort would have seemed strange, because the religious group would then have shown no faith in their God. Nehemiah went as a political official, a governor, to Jerusalem. In such a case, the king would protect his official with a military escort.
2. Relying Only on Faith in God
“because we had said to the king, ‘The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.’”
C. (:23) Seeking God Successfully as the Providential Triumph
1. Activity of Fasting and Praying
“So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter,”
2. Answer to Prayer
“and He listened to our entreaty.”
Derek Thomas: God answered Ezra’s prayer. You know, in verse 23 when he says, “We fasted and implored our God for this, and He listened to our entreaty,” you understand he’s writing after the fact. At the time he may well have been nervous. He may well have been second-guessing what he had said to the king. But after the fact, when he writes his memoirs (and a lot of Ezra is full of his memoirs, you understand), he’s saying ‘God heard our prayer! God delivered us! There were dangerous moments along this journey, there were ambushes along this journey–bandits, marauders, thieves.’ And it looks as though everyone got there. No one was killed. No one was injured. What a blessing that is!
Rata: The expression “And [God] listened to our entreaty” is one of the Christian’s greatest encouragements and comforts. Our God is not a deaf, granite-carved God who does not care about His children. Rather, our God is the only true God, and the One who hears our prayer (Gen. 30:17, 22; Exod. 2:24; Judg. 13:9; 1 Sam. 1:19; 1 Chron. 4:10; 2 Chron. 1:11). When Ezra and his compatriots prayed and fasted, they experienced the power of fasting and praying manifested in God answering their prayers.
IV. (:24-30) STEWARDING THE PRECIOUS RESOURCES DEDICATED TO GOD’S SERVICE
A. (:24) Key Leaders Assigned the Accountability of Stewardship
“Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah,
and with them ten of their brothers;”
B. (:25-27) Precious Resources Require Faithful Stewarding
1. (:25) Summary of the Accountability
“and I weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the utensils, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes, and all Israel present there, had offered.”
Guzik: Ezra divided the valuables among the leaders of the priests, making each of them responsible for their portion. They were responsible then to watch and keep them until they arrived in Jerusalem and delivered them to the leaders of the priests and Levites there.
Breneman: Following Ezra’s example, Christian leaders should delegate responsibility. Ezra carefully chose the people to whom he gave responsibility. It may seem exaggerated to have taken such precautions with the money, to weigh it out carefully, to record every detail. However, to do things carefully, with decisions and transactions documented in writing, is a sign of wisdom rather than a lack of confidence. It protects everyone involved. Many present-day scandals could be avoided if Christian leaders would learn from Ezra.
2. (:26-27) Specific Value of the Precious Resources
“Thus I weighed into their hands 650 talents of silver,
and silver utensils worth 100 talents,”
“and 100 gold talents, and 20 gold bowls, worth 1,000 darics;
“and two utensils of fine shiny bronze, precious as gold.”
Loken: The amount of treasure recorded here is staggering. A Babylonian talent weighed approximately 75 pounds. Therefore, the 650 silver and 100 gold talents together weighed almost 30 tons! Equally impressive are the various gold, silver, and bronze utensils. The silver articles alone weighed 7,000 pounds. The gold bowls probably weighed about a pound each. Also mentioned are 1,000 darics. A Persian daric was a thick gold coin that weighed about 128 grains troy. The coin was named after the Persian king Darius. The obverse of the coin had a picture of the king with his crown while holding a bow and arrow (or javelin or dagger). Many scholars have questioned the amount of treasure detailed here. Blenkinsopp (169), for one, believes the amounts are greatly exaggerated. However, the Persians were well known for their extraordinary wealth.
C. (:28-29) Resources Are Valuable Only to the Extent They are Dedicated to the Lord’s Service
1. (:28) Emphasis on the Need for the Dedication of Valuable Resources
“Then I said to them,”
a. The People
“You are holy to the LORD,”
b. The Temple Utensils
“and the utensils are holy;”
c. The Freewill Offerings of Silver and Gold
“and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering
to the LORD God of your fathers.’”
Rata: The expression “holy to the Lord” originates in the Pentateuch and it first appears in conjunction with God setting apart the priesthood for service at the tabernacle (Exod. 28:36). The expression appears only one other time in Ezra-Nehemiah, and it refers to the sacred day when Ezra read the Law of the Lord to the people (Neh. 8:9). It could be that the Israelites needed to be reminded of their special status before the Lord since they had sojourned a long time among a profane people who worshipped other gods. The absence of the temple and subsequently the absence of atonement provision were conducive to the people falling into complacency. Through Ezra, God reminded the people that they were set apart for Him and for His purposes. Just like in the Pentateuch, not only are people holy but offerings and temple vessels are also set apart to be used for sacred purposes. It seems that some temporary quarters have been assigned to hold these sacred vessels and offerings. Williamson states that “the chambers of the temple were rooms around the edges of parts of the temple area used both for administration and storage and for the priest’s personal convenience.”
2. (:29) Emphasis on the Need for Watchful Stewardship and Faithful Accounting
“Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leading priests, the Levites, and the heads of the fathers’ households of Israel at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.”
D. (:30) Responsibility of Stewardship Must Be Accepted and Carried Out
“So the priests and the Levites accepted the weighed out silver and gold
and the utensils, to bring them to Jerusalem to the house of our God.”
Gary Smith: So the priests and the Levites accepted the task — Ezra was not a dictator but a man who led and challenged his followers with rational decisions based on traditional roles in the books of Moses. His followers willingly accepted this responsibility, making adherence to the law of Moses their own purpose. It was not just a burdensome job they had to do, but a means of serving God so that his name would be glorified through their efforts.
Constable: Ezra took special precautions to make sure the expensive temple utensils arrived safely and to guarantee that everyone would perceive that his handling of the precious cargo was completely honest (cf. 2 Cor. 8:20-21). The Babylonian “talent” (v. 26) weighed about 66 pounds. The “daric” (v. 27) was a thick gold Persian coin that weighed 130 grams or about 4 1/2 ounces. The total weight of the precious cargo the exiles took with them seems to have been about 28 tons. There are records that indicate that there were some very wealthy Jews living in Babylon at this time.
V. (:31-34) EXECUTING THE MISSION SUCCESSFULLY
A. (:31-32) Completing the Dangerous Journey Safely
1. (:31a) Description of the Journey
“Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem;”
2. (:31b) Divine Deliverance Credited for the Safe Travels
a. Success Attributed to God’s Hand of Favor and Blessing
“and the hand of our God was over us,”
b. Success Amplified by the Dangers Overcome and Avoided
“and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy
and the ambushes by the way.”
3. (:32) Destination Reached with a Well-Deserved Rest
“Thus we came to Jerusalem and remained there three days.”
Gary Smith: we rested for three days . After the long journey was over, they rested three days, similar to Nehemiah’s rest upon arrival (Neh 2:11). Some hypothesize that this was due to an arrival on a Friday; thus they waited until after the Sabbath to deliver the silver and gold to the Temple (Fensham 1982:120, who follows A. Jaubert). Of course, some of the three days would have involved greeting old friends and relatives as well as finding places for the 5,000 new immigrants to live. In addition, it would take some time for the priests at the Temple to empty and prepare secure rooms to store all the silver and gold they were receiving from the Persian king.
B. (:33-34) Completing the Stewardship Responsibility Faithfully
1. (:33) Key Leaders Authenticate the Process of Accountability
a. Role of Meremoth
“And on the fourth day the silver and the gold and the utensils were weighed out in the house of our God into the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest,”
b. Role of Eleazar and Other Key Levites
“and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui.”
2. (:34) All the Valuable Resources Accounted For
“Everything was numbered and weighed,
and all the weight was recorded at that time.”
Constable: The exiles had begun their journey on the first day of the first month (7:9), but they had camped by the Ahava waterway for 12 days (8:31). They arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month (7:9). Thus the trip took four months, and it covered about 900 miles. God kept them safe on their dangerous trip, and all their 28 tons of valuable cargo arrived safely. Burnt offerings represented the consecration of the worshippers’ persons to God (Lev. 1; 6:8-13). Sin offerings provided atonement (covering) for the worshippers’ sinful natures (Lev. 4:1—5:13; 6:24-30). A satrap (v. 36; lit. “protector of the Kingdom”) ruled over governors in the Persian governmental structure.
VI. (:35-36) WORSHIPING GOD AND SEEKING ONGOING SUPPORT
A. (:35) Worshiping God
“The exiles who had come from the captivity offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel: 12 bulls for all Israel, 96 rams, 77 lambs, 12 male goats for a sin offering, all as a burnt offering to the LORD.”
Derek Thomas: They offered sacrifices. The number twelve is deeply significant in the numbers of bulls and so on that are being offered. They are a representative of Israel. They have come back in a sense as part of the true Israel of God, and they’re offering burnt offerings. Burnt offerings had many things, but one of the things about a burnt offering was total consecration. The Hebrew for burnt offering is olah which means to go up. And the sense of a burnt offering was not only for atonement, and not only for acceptance by God, but also for consecration. These men and women and houses and families were giving themselves to the Lord. They had come back for one purpose, and for one purpose only: to serve the Lord with all of their hearts…with all of their hearts.
Breneman: Again there is emphasis on the number twelve, which stands for the twelve tribes. The author emphasized that this exilic community represented all Israel. All the numbers here are multiples of twelve except “seventy-seven,” but in 1 Esdr 8:66 it is seventy-two (thus a multiple of twelve). However, there is no textual evidence for the change. Since seventy-seven is often used to denote a large number, most scholars think the original text must have had “seventy-seven.”
B. (:36) Seeking Ongoing Support
“Then they delivered the king’s edicts to the king’s satraps,
and to the governors in the provinces beyond the River,
and they supported the people and the house of God.”
Andrew Swango: this area included what is today Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, and the northeast part of Libya. And this may have been around 15 provinces. This would have included Tatenai’s province that we read about in chapter 5. Jewish servants were sent to these places with the letter that Ezra received from King Artaxerxes. I wonder what their response would have been to know that they were being forced to give more wealth to the Jewish province of Judah.
Guzik: This reminds us of the great purpose of Ezra’s expedition. In the final two chapters we will see Ezra administering strict correction as a reformer; but he did not come primarily as a disciplinarian. He came to give support to the people and the house of God, and only dealt with the problems of sin and compromise as necessary in the course of this greater goal.