by Pastor David Groendyk
Here we read about Ezra’s actual journey back to Israel. The rest of the book shifts to Ezra’s first-person perspective, and we read everything from his point of view. As with the previous chapter, “God’s good hand” is the leading theme of Ezra 8. This time we see God’s good hand upon his people in the form of Ezra making good decisions with great wisdom.
In verses 1–20, we see that one of Ezra’s aims in returning to Jerusalem is to restore both the priesthood and the Davidic kingship. Three of the genealogy lines that come back with him are the sons of Phinehas (a former priest), the sons of Ithamar (a former priest), and the sons of David. However, Ezra realizes that they’re missing any Levites, whom David had appointed to lead the worship in the temple. So he sends for some Levites to come with them, and “by the good hand of our God on us” (v. 18), some men answer the call. By God’s grace, Ezra is wisely bringing back with him workers for the temple. Without these workers, there could be no worship or sacrifices (at least, not to the extent that they need it).
In verses 21–36, we see Ezra’s wisdom in seeking God’s protection during their journey. This protection was especially important because this group was carrying with them a massive amount of silver and gold (vv. 26–27)! Why, then, did Ezra turn down Artaxerxes’ military protection? Was it because asking the king for help would make him a faithless person? No. If you read ahead in Nehemiah 2:6–9, Nehemiah specifically requested the king’s help. Was he any less faithful than Ezra? Was Ezra a stronger believer than Nehemiah? No. In fact, Nehemiah attributes the king’s help to the fact that “the good hand of my God was upon me” (Neh. 2:9). So what’s the difference between the two? Ezra says he was “ashamed” to ask for the king’s help, because he had been bold enough to claim that the only thing he needed was God (v. 22). In a sense, Ezra had painted himself into a corner. If Ezra had gone around proclaiming that God was all he needed and then turned around and decided to take matters into his own hands, he would’ve completely voided his bold witness about God.
The lesson to be learned here is not that true Christians should never accept the government’s help or use earthly provisions to get things done. In fact, many times in life, the very provision of the king’s resources is God’s good hand upon you (again, see Nehemiah 2 as an example). There is tremendous wisdom in seeking God’s help through secondary means. Rather, the lesson is that our proclaimed bold trust in God must be backed up by an actual bold trust in God. How easy it is for us to publicly proclaim with the psalmist that we trust the name of the Lord our God rather than the chariots and horses of men (Psa. 20:7), but how difficult it is for us to secretly live that out. We publicly rejoice in God’s sovereignty, providence, and goodness, but in secret we grumble and complain and prefer to take matters into our own hands. Every Christian ought to have bold trust in God! But every Christian ought also to live it out with bold action. Be careful about discrediting your own witness by your actions. God’s good hand is most certainly upon you, and he is worthy of being trusted! If you proclaim it, live it out too.