Introduction: This chapter tells the story of the third exodus. In 538 B.C., under God’s influence, King Cyrus II issued the first decree allowing the Jews to return to the Promised Land (Ezra 1:1-2; 5:13-17). Under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1:11; 5:16) and Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:1), a small number of faithful Jews returned and rebuilt the Temple. Yet, most sadly stayed behind because they were unwilling to part with their new lives in Babylon. In 458 B.C., also under God’s influence, King Artaxerxes Longimanus I issued a second decree, which again gave the Jews the right to return (Ezra 8:1). Under Ezra’s leadership, a small minority of the remaining Jews accepted God’s second chance to return. This chapter recounts God’s deliverance and the Jews’ gratitude for their deliverance. From this account, God reveals seven things that He desires from you. These include your: (1) faith, (2) sacrifice, (3) dependence, (4) sanctification / holiness, (5) gratitude, (6) accountability / integrity, and (7) worship.
First, between six or seven thousand Jews had the faith to accept God’s second chance to return to the Promised Land. God also offers you many second chances. He desires your faith to accept His calling. Second, many Levites were reluctant to return because they could not own land in the Promised Land. In the end, a minority accepted God’s calling and agreed to sacrifice for Him. Jesus sacrificed His life for you. In response, He desires your sacrifice for Him. Third, Ezra did not ask the Persians for protection. Instead, he fasted and prayed for God’s protection. God also desires that you depend upon Him alone for your deliverance. Fourth, the priests and Levities who managed God’s holy things set themselves apart to stay pure and holy. In order to serve God, He also desires that you remain sanctified, holy, and pure. Fifth, upon arrival in Jerusalem, Ezra showed his gratitude by giving God all the credit. God also desires your gratitude for His deliverance. Sixth, the priests and Levites allowed the gold and silver to be publicly accounted. God also desires that you stay accountable to others to maintain your integrity before Him. Finally, the Jews showed their love for God through worship sacrifices. God also desires that you show your love for Him through your worship and songs of praise.
The Jews with the faith to return with Ezra to the Promised Land. At the beginning of his journey, Ezra recorded 1,496 men of faith (not counting women children) who agreed to leave their old lives behind and serve in the Promised Land: “1 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: 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 Zattu, 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 Bani, 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.” (Ezra 8:1-14). In 458 B.C., during King Artaxerxes Longimanus I’s reign (circa 464 – 423 B.C.), Ezra led this new wave of returning Jews to the Promised Land (Ezra 7:1-10). With the women and children (Ezra 8:21), up to six or seven thousand people might have been in this wave of returning immigrants. The first in the line were a few faithful priests from the line of Phinehas (Ezra 8:2). These Jews joined the first wave of Jews, who left Babylon 80 years earlier. Each of these persons responded to God’s second calling to be redeemed.
Ezra led 1,496 men of faith who responded to God’s calling to return to Israel1
You also can trust in His promises to you. God’s prior fulfillment of His promises to the Jews in rebuilding the nation of Israel and in rebuilding the Temple showed these initially reluctant Jews that they could trust His promises. His fulfillment of His promises to the Jews also shows how you can also trust His promises for you as well. “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thess. 5:24). “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;” (Dt. 7:9). “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9). He is faithful, even when you are not: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). Have you given thanks that you can trust in His faithfulness in your life?
God wants all of His people to be saved. Like the second exodus, the third exodus represented a small percentage of the Jews still living in exile. But Ezra’s list contained exactly 12 families (Ezra 8:1-14). The 12 families symbolized the 12 tribes of Israel. At the end of the journey, they also sacrificed 12 bulls and 12 goats to atone for all the nation’s sins (Ezra 8:35). Thus, these immigrants represented all of the remaining Jews. God loved all of the Jews and wanted all of them to return to the Promised Land. He also loved the world so much that He sent His only begotten son Jesus to die on the cross so that any with faith could make it to the eternal Promised Land (Jo. 3:16). If you have accepted Jesus’ second chance, are you encouraging others to do the same? “And He was saying to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”’ (Lk. 10:2).
Jesus does not have any lost sheep. The list of names provided for the third exodus is similar to the list of names presented following the second exodus (Ezra 2:2-35; Neh. 7:6-69). To some, reading these lists of names is boring. Most commentators also have little to say about it. Yet, like any data about a population, this census count is filled with interesting facts once you know what to look for. The first census took place near the end of the building of the Tabernacle (Ex. 30:11-12). The second census took place after the Jews were ready to invade the Promised Land. But that count was limited to the men of fighting age (20 years or older) from the twelve tribes who would fight, which excluded the Levites (Nu. 1:2-4). After 38 years of wandering in the wilderness, God commanded that the third census again count every man of fighting age who would fight the battle for the Promised Land (Nu. 26:2). Starting first with the big picture, the famous Jewish commentator Rashi observed that the census counts show that God loves His people and keeps careful track of them the way a good shepherd keeps track of his sheep. Jesus knows every hair on your head (Matt 10:29; Lk. 12:17). He not only knows about you. He cares about you as well. There is no problem that God either doesn’t know about or can’t deal with.
Jesus will remember His faithful sheep. In addition to keeping careful track of His sheep, Jesus will also remember and record the acts of faith, love, and charity: “Whatever the list’s purpose, these individuals were honored as being the first to return (Nah. 7:5), showing their faith in the promises of God and especially the value they place on the land God had promised to Abraham. . . Finding one’s name on a list is frequently satisfying and encouraging; it gives assurance that arrangements have been made – that one is expected, valued, and privileged. Such was surely the case with these numbered here among the people God welcomed back to the land of promise, a land that represented God’s commitment to redeem the earth from sin and judgment and to establish a divine and eternal kingdom of righteousness.” (Mervin Breneman, The New American Commentary, Vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 75, 77). Your sins will be forgotten in heaven (Heb. 8:12). Jesus will forget your sins when you get to heaven (Heb. 8:12). But He will record and celebrate your acts of faith, love, and charity in heaven. What are you doing for Jesus that He can record and celebrate?
A church must keep track of Jesus’ sheep as well. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (Jo. 10:11). But He has appointed many deputy shepherds to watch over His sheep until He returns. God calls the believers in Christ His royal priesthood (2 Pet. 2:5, 9). As His priests, we have a collective responsibility to carefully count and keep track of His sheep (Ex. 30:11-12). But it is fashionable today for large churches not to keep member lists or to count who comes and goes to church. To be seeker friendly, no one should feel pressure to join, be monitored, or counted. People have the freedom to float in and out with no accountability. But this does not follow the example God set for us with the census counts. We cannot care for God’s sheep if we don’t keep track of them. Are you following up with people who have stopped coming to church or church events?
The importance of being a witness to your family. One commentator observes: “All of the names on this list (vv. 3-14) are also found in Ezra 2. So those who returned to Jerusalem with Ezra must have had relatives in Jerusalem from the first return (eighty years earlier).” (Breneman, The New American Commentary, p. 139). This suggests that family representatives from the first wave of immigrants sent messages for others to join them. Believers are also commanded to share Jesus’ good news with their family members. It took 80 years for these family members to accept the message and return to the Promised Land. How long will you wait for your family members to accept Jesus?
Ezra’s request for more Levites to join him. After the group had assembled together, Ezra discovered that no Levite temple servants had joined the group. Thus, he sent out a call for more to join: “15 Now I assembled them at the river that runs to Ahava, where we camped for three days; and when I observed the people and the priests, I did not find any Levites there. 16 So I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, teachers. 17 I sent them to Iddo the leading man at the place Casiphia; 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. 18 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; 19 and Hashabiah and Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, with his brothers and their sons, 20 men; 20 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.” (Ezra 8:15-20). The group met at the river of Adiava in Assyria (Ezra 8:15). With the exception of the priests, Ezra discovered that no other members of the tribe of Levi had accepted this second invitation to come to the Promised Land (Ezra 8:15). Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel had a similar challenge, only a small number of Levites joined them on their journey. Ezra selected nine leaders and two teachers to head back and appeal for Levites to join them who could serve in God’s Temple (Ezra 8:16-17). “According to the good hand of our God” they were successful in recruiting Levites (Ezra 8:18-20). God influenced the hearts of both Persian kings and reluctant Jews. If you have a friend who lacks faith, are you praying for God’s intervention?
The limited number of priests and Levities willing to return and sacrifice for God. The missing Levites in the third exodus were also similar to the missing Levites during the second exodus (Ezra 2:36-42). On both occasions, the vast majority of the Levites were unwilling to leave their old lives behind and return to the Promised Land. These families were free to own land during their Babylonian captivity. Yet, they could not own land if they returned to the Promised Land. Unlike the other tribes, the tribe of Levi did not receive an inheritance in the land because they would live amongst the other tribes and devote themselves to serving God and the other people: “The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the LORD'S offerings by fire and His portion.” (Dt. 18:1). “Only to the tribe of Levi he did not give an inheritance; the offerings by fire to the Lord, the God of Israel, are their inheritance, as He spoke to him.” (Josh. 13:14). They had an even better blessing. Instead, God was their “portion” and their “inheritance.” “They shall have no inheritance among their countrymen; the LORD is their inheritance, as He promised them.” (Dt. 18:2; Nu. 18:20). Thus, only a small number of Levites were willing to sacrifice for God. If you give up anything for Jesus, He has an even greater blessing for you waiting in heaven.
Store up your treasures in heaven and let Jesus be your inheritance. Any person seeking to be a servant of God must be willing to make sacrifices. In the case of the Levites, in addition to sacrificing the right to own or inherit land, they were not meant to be self-reliant. Their food was limited to what the people gave them as part of their tithes (Dt. 18:1-2; 10:9; 12:12; Nu. 18:20; Josh. 13:33; 18:7). Jesus is our High Priest (Heb. 4:14). To fulfill the Law, He lived without owning land while He lived as man on Earth (Matt. 8:20; Lk. 9:58). Like the Levites, you are today part of His holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Like the Levities, He calls upon every believer to store up all forms of wealth (not just land) in heaven (Matt. 6:19-20; Lk. 12:33). But He did not prohibit people from owning land. Having wealth is not in and of itself sinful. If it were, God would not have rewarded Job or Solomon with riches (Job 42:10; 2 Chr. 1:11). Instead, Jesus asks you to give up wealth if it causes you to covet. He commanded a young man to give up his wealth because He knew that the man’s wealth had caused him to hoard wealth: “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matt. 9:21; Lk. 18:22). If Jesus were to call upon you to give away your wealth, would you be filled with sadness?
Let Jesus be your inheritance. As part of God’s holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), your sacrifice is not without a reward. Like the Levites, you have the right to count Jesus as your inheritance: “And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, that I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel-- I am their possession.” (Ezek. 44:28). “The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words.” (Ps. 119:57). “The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot.” (Ps. 16:5). “But you will be called the priests of the LORD; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, everlasting joy will be theirs.” (Is. 61:6-7). Yet, unlike the Levities, you do not need to wait to receive your inheritance. First, Jesus offers any believer the Holy Spirit as a down payment on His inheritance: “who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” (2 Cor. 1:22). Second, when you act in one accord with your fellow believers for Christ, Jesus further gives part of His glory to you (Jo. 17:22). Third, you have an inheritance in heaven that is so great that it cannot be adequately described: “[B]ut just as it is written, ‘Things which the eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’” (1 Cor. 2:9). “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Ro. 8:18). Are you storing up treasures in heaven by denying yourself of pleasures on Earth?
Like the Levites, you are privileged to sacrifice for God. The Levities learned that their privilege to serve was not without sacrifice. As your High Priest, Christ also sacrificed for His church by paying the ultimate price for your sins (Mk. 3:28-29). Like the Levites and like Christ, your privilege in serving as a priest means that you will also sometimes suffer for Him. But you must always remember that this is a privilege. Peter advised those who suffer for the cause of Christ to rejoice (1 Pet. 4:13). Your suffering, trials, and humiliation make you a better witness for Him (Ro. 5:3; Jam. 1:2-4). Through your trials, you can tell others that Jesus offers the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). But if you have never had to cling to God in a rough storm, how much will someone in a storm trust your advice? How good can you be at fulfilling your duty in comforting others (2 Cor. 1:4) if you have never needed comfort yourself?
Accept Jesus’ calling to be part of His priesthood. Jesus also calls you to be part of His holy priesthood: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pet. 2:9, 5). “[A]nd He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-- to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 1:6). As a holy priesthood, you are a co-builder in building God’s Church on Earth: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9). Are you willing to serve in faith?
Ezra proclaimed a fast and prayed for God’s protection. Ezra then led the people as they sought to humble themselves before God through prayer and fasting to obtain His protection for the adults and children: “21 Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. 22 For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, 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.” 23 So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty.”’ (Ezra 8:21-23). Ezra did not want to request the Persian king’s help to protect them from Arabs, Samaritans, and other hostile groups who might try to rob them along their route. He was afraid that this would undermine their claims about God’s mighty power. He was not testing God. Instead, his goal was to force the Jews to depend upon God.
Ezra prayed for God’s protection2
Dependence on God. Prayer and fasting were important for both Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 8:21; 9:6-15; Neh. 1:4-11; 2:4-5; 5:19; 9:5-37; 13:14, 22, 31). Both depended upon God, not strong leaders. Paul also found his strength by depending upon Jesus, not himself: “I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor. 12:9). Living without a king forced the Jews to pray to God instead of depending upon a king to deliver them as they had done in the past. “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps. 146:3). “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.” (Ps. 118:8). “How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood.” (Ps. 40:4). Are you turning to Jesus for your needs? Or, have you put your trust in your own abilities, powerful people, or your political party to deliver you?
God exalts those who humble themselves before Him. God wants His leaders to humble themselves before Him, like Ezra did, so that He can exalt them: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.” (Lk. 1:52). God will also humble you before He exalts you: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Jam. 4:10). “So that He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.” (Job 5:11). God will also heal a nation when it humbles itself (2 Chr. 7:14). Are you praying for your leaders and nation to repent?
Read God’s Word and pray to let the Holy Spirit guide your actions. God wants you to seek His guidance through prayer and the Word. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19). When you read God’s Word and pray, the Holy Spirit can speak to you: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:16). “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (Jo. 16:13). Are you reading the Word and praying on a daily basis to allow the Holy Spirit to guide your steps?
The effective fervent prayer of the righteous can accomplish great things. God acted upon Ezra’s prayers because Ezra first repented. He then prayed fervently and in faith: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (Ja. 5:16). In a similar way, God heard Elijah’s prayers to both stop and later restart the rain in Israel: “17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” (Ja. 5:17-18). God also wants you to pray fervently to Him to intervene when you need deliverance.
Ezra sets apart 12 priests to guard God’s holy treasures. Ezra then selected 12 leading priests and set them apart to stay holy and to watch over God’s Temple treasures: “24 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and with them ten of their brothers; 25 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. 26 Thus I weighed into their hands 650 talents of silver, and silver utensils worth 100 talents, and 100 gold talents, 27 and 20 gold bowls worth 1,000 darics, and two utensils of fine shiny bronze, precious as gold. 28 Then I said to them, “You are holy to the Lord, and the utensils are holy; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the Lord God of your fathers. 29 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.” 30 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.” (Ezra 8:24-30). Ezra selected the most trustworthy Levites, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren (Ezra 8:18). They were “set apart” (Ezra 8:18) to remain “holy” (Ezra 8:28) and “watch and keep” (Ezra 8:29) God’s holy things. The gold and silver included the gifts from King Artaxerxes I and the freewill offerings of the Jews who stayed behind (Ezra 8:25; 7:15). A “talent” weighs in modern terms approximately 75 pounds. Thus, these Levites guarded gold weighing approximately 7,500 pounds, silver weighing approximately 48,750 pounds, and silver vessels weighing approximately 7,500 pounds (Ezra 8:26-27). Ezra stressed that these items were holy and intended for use in God’s Temple (Ezra 8:28-29).
The purity of God. The Temple was meant to contain items inside that were overlaid with pure gold (1 Kgs. 7:48-49). The Holy of Holies was also meant to be overlaid with pure 24 karat gold (1 Kgs. 6:21-22). The gold symbolized God’s riches, His beauty, His purity, and His divinity. The gold in the Temple also foreshadows the gold throughout heaven (Rev. 21:18). “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” (Rev. 21:21). If your body is now the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16), God wants you to be pure as well (2 Cor. 6:16). Are you tolerating evil anywhere in your life?
Let Jesus refine you. Jesus also wants you to establish fellowship with Him by refining you into precious metals, like the Temple’s gold and silver. This requires that you submit to His refining fire to burn away the things that are not of Him. Jesus is a “refiner and purifier of silver, and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (Mal. 3:3). The Holy Spirit also purges sin from us through fire and tribulation (1 Cor. 3:13-15; 1 Pet. 1:7). Jesus further revealed that He is the vine and the vinedresser (John 15:1). When a vinedresser trims a vine, it helps the vine grow. If you are rooted in Jesus, His fire will refine you. But those who are not rooted in Him will be thrown into the fire (John 15:6). Are you welcoming Jesus’ pruning and refinement of the dead flesh in your life?
Your sacrifice for Jesus should include living a holy life. Jesus bought your body for a terrible price on the cross: “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:20). No one is comparable to Jesus’ holiness (1 Sam. 2:2). Yet, He wants you to try to live by His holy example out of gratitude: “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’” (Lev. 19:2; 11:44; Ex. 22:31; Dt. 18:13). These instructions also apply to Christians: “for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1:16). “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1). “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48; Eph. 1:4, 5:1). “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (Ja. 4:17). God will not withhold any good thing when you walk with Him (Ps. 84:11). Is there any part of your walk that you need to clean up?
Ezra credits God for protecting the returning Jews from enemy attacks. After the Jews arrived at the Promised Land, Ezra credited God with the Jews’ protection from enemy ambushes: “31 Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way. 32 Thus we came to Jerusalem and remained there three days.” (Ezra 8:31-32). They departed two days before Passover began, during the month of Nisan. God protected the Jews from their enemies because of their faith (Ezra 8:31). After arriving, they rested in Jerusalem for three days (Ezra 8:32).
Ezra led the Jews in giving thanks God for their deliverance3
Ezra repeatedly gave thanks for God’s sovereignty and protection. Ezra took no credit for their safe journey. Before the Jews left, Ezra proclaimed that ‘“The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, . . ..”’ (Ezra 8:22). After they arrived, he acknowledged that “the hand of our God was over us” (Ezra 8:31). He previously celebrated that King Artaxerxes I granted him all that he asked “because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him.” (Ezra 7:6, 10). Ezra also proclaimed that he was strengthened because “the hand of the Lord my God upon me.” (Ezra 7:27-28). God’s providence and control over history, leaders, and your enemies is a central theme of Ezra. Ezra celebrated that God was in control, and that he did not need to worry.
Show your gratitude by giving Jesus the credit for His deliverance in your life. Like Ezra, you should never boast when God blesses you. “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer. 9:23-24). “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14). Do you boast about your accomplishments? Or, when others praise you, do you give the praise to Jesus?
If you are grateful to Jesus, offer your life as a sacrifice of praise. When you accept Jesus, you become a “new creation”, with your old life passing away (2 Cor. 5:17). Out of gratitude, this should motivate you to give the best of your life to Him in praise: “To you I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the Lord, I shall pay my vows to the Lord.” (Ps. 116:1, 17-18). “ . . . I will render thank offerings to You. For you have delivered my soul from death.” (Ps. 56:12-13; 116:8). “. . . Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyful singing.” (Ps. 107:1, 2, 22). “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18). “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” (Eph. 5:20). “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). Is your sacrifice for God limited to going to church on Sundays? Without boasting before others, can you identify anything in your life that you have sacrificed for Jesus?
The priests publicly verify the delivery of all the Temple treasures. After their three-day rest, the priests demonstrated their integrity by weighing the silver and gold and placed them in the care of the priests in charge of the Temple: “33 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, 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. 34 Everything was numbered and weighed, and all the weight was recorded at that time.” (Ezra 8:33-34). The priests Meremoth and Eleazar and the Levite servants Jozabad and Noadiah collected, examined, weighed, and verified that all of the Temple gold arrived.
God’s appointed priests helped to ensure accountability. God wants believers to be accountable to each other to ensure that members of the Body of Christ stay strong in the face of temptation. Believers are commanded to “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;” (1 Pet. 5:2). “Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” (Jo. 21:17). “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28). “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15). “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds;” (Prov. 27:23). “and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Eph. 5:21). “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; . . .” (1 Pet. 5:5). Are you accountable for your actions before a small group of believers in your church?
Have integrity in your dealings with others. God wants accountability to ensure that you are holy and act with integrity (Lev. 11:44; 19:2; Ex. 22:31; 1 Pet. 1:16). You are also an “ambassador” for Jesus (2 Cor. 5:20). Are you a holy witness to the light of Jesus?
The returning exiles offer sacrifices to worship God. Out of gratitude for their safe deliverance and as an act of worship, Ezra and the returning Jews offered sacrifices to God: “35 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. 36 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.” (Ezra 8:35-36). After the Jews finished rebuilding the Temple, they offered 12 goats, 100 bulls, 200 rams and 400 lambs (Ezra 6:16-17). Here, the smaller group of immigrants offered 12 bulls and the 12 male goats as atonement and sin offering for each of the 12 tribes of Israel (Lev. 16:13.) The 96 rams represented offerings atonement offerings for the Jews’ sins against God. The 77 lambs symbolized the Jews’ commitment to live in complete submission to God, a promise they sadly would not keep. Jesus was the Passover lamb (Isa. 53:7; Jo. 1:29;1 Pet. 1:18-19.) Just as He was led submissively like the lamb to the slaughter for us, the Church must submit to Him (Ro. 12:1.) Like the Jews, you have many reasons to worship and praise Jesus.
Jesus also deserves your worship. The Jews understood that worship helped to prepare their hearts to receive God’s Word. Just as Jesus provided for the Jews, He provides for you at all times. In both good times and bad times, He deserves your praise and worship: “The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; and exalted be God, the rock of my salvation,” (2 Sam. 22:47.) “My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my savior, You save me from violence.” (2 Sam. 22:3.) “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” (Dt. 32:4.) “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Ps. 18:2; 31, 46; 19:14.) Through Jesus’ model prayer for you (the Lord’s prayer), He also invites believers to begin by praising God’s holy name. (Matt. 6:9.) Do you praise Jesus for all your successes? Are you also praising Him during your trials?
Your worship of Jesus should include being a “living sacrifice” for Him and others. Jesus’ blood fulfilled the role of the actual blood sacrifice. (Heb. 9:11-14). If God was willing to accept the sacrifice of animals on our behalf, we have no reason to doubt Jesus’ ability to atone for even the worst sinners. (Heb. 9:14). You can show your gratitude by being a “living sacrifice” for Him: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Ro. 12:1). Ezra gave the King Artaxerxes I’s edict to the local officials to confirm his authority and to fulfill his God-given role to “support the people” as they sought to serve God (Ezra 8:36). You can also show your worship for Jesus by being a living sacrifice to support those in need (Matt. 25:40). Are you showing your love for Jesus by serving those in need of help?