Book of Ezra Chapter Eight Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Have you ever felt like you're invisible? You exist, but somehow it feels like you don't, all at the same time. This chapter in Ezra contains the names of very real people, but we know little of them. They're invisible to us because they're no longer part of humanity on earth. We have their names though we don't see them or know truly who they are. What they felt and thought is gone from us. God in eternity not only knew them, but He knows them right now. You are not invisible and neither are they. Those who have faith in the Lord are written on the hands of Jesus (Isaiah 49:16) and are in His heart. He is our loving Elder Brother, our Savior, King and Friend. We who were invisible and lost are FOUND in Him.
Ezra knew these men and listed their leaders in Verses
1-14: "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." It's easy to feel lost amid the stars and galaxies of this universe, not to mention the billions that form humanity, but God who views us collectively, also sees us as individuals. John 1:12 reveals about Jesus Christ that, "as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His Name." The good father does not forget his children, and God IS our Good Father.
A religious organization needs workers, and so we have Verses 15-17: "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." The "river" of these verses has been identified as a relatively small stream that emptied into the Euphrates River. "Iddo" was named as the grandfather of Zechariah the prophet in Zechariah 1:1,7, and was himself a prophet.
Isn't it surprising that God uses human beings as "ministers" in His service? When we study Scriptures like Genesis 1 and John 1, the Lord God is revealed as the Creator of everything in the universe, and He obviously doesn't need help from people like us at all. So His selection of mere human beings as priests and other types of ministers is simply a GIFT to those who are used by Him. In that gift of service He shares something of His own sovereignty, power and love with the ones who are priviliged to serve. It's not some kind of "burden" to give up other pursuits and serve the Lord—instead it is an honor beyond our ability to comprehend it.
Here in Verses 18-20 are some who were used and honored by God: "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." You may think your service in the Name of the King is small, but He does not think that way, and just as these names are recorded for all time, your name is written in all eternity. No work is too small, no sacrifice is forgotten, no love goes unnoticed by God who loves us. Carefully notice the ones that God called. These were the descendants of the disgraced Levi, not allowed to inherit a portion of the land like Levi's brothers. God will take the weak, the simple and the disgraced of this world as ministers in His service so we will see that the work is of Him and not of ourselves.
Most people work in some manner and it's easy to look at the work of our hands which paid for the food we eat, and conclude as many do: "I did it!" But it's God who gave us those hands, that strength and whatever cleverness we have. He is the giver of everything, and Verse 21 is a temporary, wilful giving up of food, a recognition of our helplessness without Him: "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." King Artaxerxes had been told by Ezra that the God he served was all-powerful, which He is, and so Ezra did not ask for human protection, as related in Verse 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." Instead, Ezra and the others looked to God (as we should) in Verse 23: "So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty." Our God hears us when we call. He is our Protector. We must eat and sleep or we will die. becoming vulnerable in the process, but as Psalm 121:4 reveals, "He that keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." The Lord will give us what we need and He does not have any of our limitations.
In Verses 24-30, we find 12 chosen men who, like the rest of us, were not needed by God, but they were placed in charge of precious metals not really needed either: "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." We are not unlike the Native Americans who sold Manhattan Island to Europeans for a few beads. Money, gold, silver, diamonds, jewelry of all kinds—it's all just paper, base metal and shiny rocks, and all too many have sold their souls for such things. Yet God takes the worthless people and items of this world, using us and them in ways that bring glory to His name and souls to Christ.
Notice in Verses 31-32 that God heard the prayers of Ezra and the others: "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." The route they took was filled with armed robbers who routinely attacked fortified caravans, yet this group was safe because God heard their prayers, accepted their fast and watched over them. He is always watching out for you and me.
See in Verses 33-34, the care they took in avoiding any appearance of taking any of God's possessions for themselves: "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." 1st Thessalonians 5:22 encourages us to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. This group kept careful records and sought accountability as all should do.
Verse 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." And every one of these precious, innocent creatures was noticed by God as their lives on earth were ended. All of these sacrifices are important parables, signposts pointing ahead to the ultimate sin offering and burnt offering, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who would die for the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:5-6, 1st John 2:2).
Verse 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." The king's edicts were a miracle from God and so was the return of this band of people to Jerusalem. Notice that Ezra the man responded to God, gathering the people and leading them as the Lord directed him and following through with all that was needed to be done. God works in amazing ways, often calling people like us to share in His work.
Father, thank You for this record in Scripture that speaks of Your loving, marvelous works. Thank You for Your intention to include us in what You do. We EXIST because You love us, and we praise Your Holy Name. In Jesus Name. Amen.