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Bible study

Bible Study – The Power of a Faithful Witness (Ezra 8:21-23)

Today’s Reading: Ezra 8-9

Today’s Reflection: Ezra 8:21-23

21) Then 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. 22) For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.”  23) So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

What is this text saying?

Ezra was leading a group of Levite priests to the recently rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.  Though he was doing so with the permission of Artaxerxes, the king of Persia who had authority over the territory of Judah and Jerusalem, Ezra did not request protection from the king for this long journey.  Instead he and his company put their trust in God for protection and traveling mercies.

Why is it important?

By the beginning of Ezra, the Jewish people had been conquered and exiled from Palestine.  The city of Jerusalem and the Lord’s temple had been destroyed.  But the Lord had moved the Persian king Cyrus to commission the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1:1-4).  After the temple was rebuilt and the feast days were once more being observed at Jerusalem (Ezra 6:19-22), the Levite Ezra was impressed to study the law of God and teach these statutes to the resettled populace of Israel (Ezra 7:10).  The task at hand was nothing less than the re-establishing of God’s chosen people in the land God had promised to them.

As Ezra and the priests who chose to join him embarked on their journey, safety was a serious consideration.  Traveling in those times was a perilous undertaking, especially for a large group including women and children.  Also the rebuilding of Jerusalem had already sparked jealously among the neighboring tribes and peoples around Judah (Ezra 4:1-6).  Despite these threatening circumstances Ezra chose fasting and prayer to God rather than the armed guards Artaxerxes could have commanded to accompany them.

How can I apply this?

It was known among the Levites that the support of the Persian Kings (Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes) for the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem was not of man but of God, fulfilling the prophesy given to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:10-14).  Ezra recognized that this was a witness to rulers and kings that it was God who had authority over all of the affairs of the earth.  For Ezra to have then asked for the king’s protection would have suggested he put more faith in man than in God and undermined this witness.  So Ezra trusted that God would fulfill what He had begun by taking them safely to their destination.  Ezra 8:23 makes it clear that God did just that.

The lesson here for us is the importance of our witness before others, especially those who don’t know or are just coming to know God.  Just as Ezra recognized the importance of living by the words he proclaimed, we each must learn to do the same.

Unfortunately the greatest indictment of God is the faithlessness of His people.

Romans 2:23-24 – You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

People who do not know God will first judge Him based on the example set by His people.  When we speak of faith but endlessly worry, speak of honesty then steal or cheat, speak of love and show hate, speak of giving and then demonstrate greed and selfishness, we bring dishonour on the name and reputation of God.

But when we speak and live faith, speak and live honesty, speak and live love, speak and live giving and selflessness, we set an example powerful enough to penetrate the most jaded mind, touch the most broken heart, impress the greatest intellect, and command the attention of the highest earthly authorities (Matthew 5:13; John 13:35; Luke 21:1-4; Acts 26:24-28).

As important as it is to share the Word of God (Romans 10:17) the Word also must be seen, experienced and witnessed in action (Matthew 24:14).

James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Romans 2:13 – For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

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