Ezra 8. Prudence and Daring.
Key Notes: The risks of travel in an unprotected caravan. Moedern risk-takers. Don't waste your life.
The account of Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem is interesting because of the huge investment he carried, and the risks he took.
Ezra 8:1–14 The list of the people who made up the second excursion to Jerusalem seems tedious, but is remarkable because the family names are the same as those of Ezra 2. There is only one exception, the added name of Joab. (8:9). Seventy years have passed, but the same families who felt compelled to go the first time are continuing the tradition. What about all the others?
8:15–20 So they set out, camping three days by the River. There he checked his list and found that there were no Levites in the group. He sent eleven men to Iddo and asked for temple servants. They returned with Sherebiah and Hashabiah, and a group of 240 workers. Some people need to be invited.
8:21–23 At the River they fasted and asked God to give them a straight course to Jerusalem. “Ourselves, our children….” was a company of 1500 men and their families, probably numbering 5000–10,000 people. He thought about asking for a Persian guard, but had told Artexerxes that God protected those who sought after Him. They fasted until they were satisfied that God had heard their petition.
8:24–30 Ezra parceled out to twelve priests, including Sherebiah and Hashabiah, 25 tons of silver, 3.5 tons of silver articles, 3.5 tons of gold and some other precious objects.
8:31–36 The trip of 500 map miles, 900 walking miles, took four months. That is not surprising when we think of the loads carried and the number of people. If an animal can carry 150 lbs, the pack train would require 450 donkeys or camels as well as those required for personal possessions.
They did not suffer attacks from bandits or enemies. For three days in Jerusalem they rested (bathed, washed clothes, repaired shoes, ate good food). On the fourth day, the treasure was weighed out into the hands of the priests. Sacrifices were offered and the king’s documents were delivered.
The tension of the passage has to do with three risks:
•risk of a long journey with a huge amount of money—probably more than 100 million dollars in bullion-
• the lives of thousands of people. They were strung out along a long highway. The men may have been armed but they would have appeared to be totally vulnerable.
•the honor of God. Ezra had testified to Artexerxes that God would protect them. He could not go back on his word.
One man decided that they were not seek military assistance, but rely only on the Lord for their protection. He did not do this lightly, but had the whole group fasting and praying before the journey. On the face of it. it does not seem prudent to risk thousands of lives and millions of dollars because of a remark he may not have realized the implications of. Would it not be better to go back, and apologize and ask for help?
Ezra was not a man given to rashness. When he arranged the trip, he distributed the bullion --and the risk—among a group of twelve leaders, held accountable at the beginning and the end of the journey.
Our society is obsessed with security. Exposure to involuntary threat must be minimized.
We pay large amounts for
*Insurance: life, real estate, personal property, liability, flood, mortgage, farm crop, long-term care.
•Personal security: self-activated lights, security locks, guard-dogs, cell-phones, neighborhood watches, seat-belts, school guards, bank vaults.
•Health: nutrition labels on foods; Zocor, vitamins, organic vegetables, exercise programs, bottled water, air purifiers.
•National safety: Homeland Security, FDA, EPA, FBI, CIA, National Guard, spy networks, Interpol.
We are criticized by some for being paralyzed by our fears of inadvertent danger.
On the other hand, we (mostly young people) also love danger: extreme sports, early sex, gambling, illegal psychoactive drugs, motorcycles, mountain climbing, raves.
What risks are worth taking? The Bible is full of risk-takers. Many of them are listed in Hebrews 11. God directed them. They did not invent challenges. They were often reluctant. They were asked to do things beyond their ability, and sometimes beyond their imagination. Think of Moses, an old shepherd, away from city life for 40 years, being told that he was to liberate two million slaves from Egypt.
I believe the God also directed Ezra. He was following the mandate to return, prophesied by Isaiah and Jeremiah and authorized by Cyrus. It was an obligation. If God willed the rebuilding of the Temple and the City, then God would be there for them.
Risk-takers in recent history are less well-known. Many were Christian missionaries or evangelists.
•Roger Williams (1630) was the first missionary to the American Indians.
•David Brainerd (1718–1747) died exhausted at the age of 29 in his mission to the American Indians. His diary inspired Jonathan Edwards and has inspired many since.
•Adoniram Judson (1788–1850) learned Burmese and preached the Gospel fluently on the streets of Rangoon. Converts were rare, ”...like pulling the tooth of a live Bengal tiger,” he said. He translated the Bible into Burmese. He was imprisoned and nearly died from the effects of years in prison.
• William Carey (1761–1834) has been called the father of modern missions. When he was 25 years old (1786), he asked a ministers’ meeting “whether the command given to the Apostles to teach all nations was not obligatory on all succeeding ministers to the end of the world, seeing that the accompanying promise was of equal extent.” He was told by J.C. Ryland to sit down. “You’re an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He’ll do it without consulting you or me.”
(The Life and Faith of the Baptists. H.W. Robinson; Kingsgate,’46; p.213)
He began a mission in India at a time when it was dangerous enough that he started in a European enclave. He was brilliant, translating the Bible into at least 6 Indian languages.
His slogan was “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
•William Booth (1829–1912) was burdened by the poverty and filth of the slums of London and founded the Salvation Army. Early Salvationists paraded in the streets of London, preaching and soliciting funds with street-corner bands. They were beaten and abused. Now the Salvation Army is a world-wide, a respected ministry to the poor.
•David Livingstone’s life-work (1813–1875) was exploring equatorial Africa. The New York Herald sent H.M. Stanley to find Livingstone and write a story about him. Stanley made the famous understated quotation on finding Livingstone: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” Stanley was impressed by Livingstone’s dedication to Christ. He was converted and went back to Africa to preach. Livingstone preached the Gospel, loved the African people and died in Africa. They took his body back to England for burial, but his heart was buried in Africa.
•Amy Carmichael (born in Ireland, 1867) spent 56 years in India and founded a home for children sold into slavery as temple prostitutes. She said, "Missionary life is just a chance to die."
•Hudson Taylor in 1865 founded the China Inland Mission. In 1914 there were a thousand missionaries in China.
*Isobel Kuhn and her husband John pioneered a mission in the southwest corner of China, at the Burmese border (1928–1954). They traveled the Burma Road, lived through the Japanese invasion and the disintegration of China, ministering to the Lisu people.
They took risks. They are world-famous. Don’t waste your life being cautious. May it not be said in your obituary: “She kept a clean house”, or “He enjoyed playing cards."