I am looking forward to meeting Ezra in Heaven. He had a genuine, humble heart, full of thanksgiving and praise, and he acknowledged three times the “hand of our God upon us.” (Ezra 8:18, 22, 31) This praise was well deserved as the LORD was leading His people back to Jerusalem.
“Why were God’s people far away from Jerusalem?” you may ask.
The answer goes all the way back to when Israel, newly freed from slavery in Egypt, was travelling to the Promised Land. On their journey, the LORD warned them of the danger ahead. In Deuteronomy 8:11-20, the Lord promised He would richly bless His people. However, He cautioned Israel when “all that you have is multiplied” and “you forget the LORD your God,” that correction would follow. Their pride and idolatry would cause national punishment “because you would not be obedient to the voice of the LORD your God.” The children of Israel failed to heed the LORD’s warning.
In Jeremiah 25:1-14 the prophet proclaimed the decree from the LORD to Judah. Having rejected repeated warnings and incessantly going after “other gods to serve them,” they would experience the correction of the LORD in serving “the king of Babylon seventy years.”
During this time, the LORD remained faithful to His people. He instructed the Jews in Jeremiah 29:4-7 to “build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit,” have families “that you may be increased,” “seek the peace of <Babylon>” and “pray to the LORD for it.” God promised “in its peace you will have peace.” Heeding the LORD’s Word, the children of Israel prospered. However, their prosperity once again became dangerous. They grew comfortable while in Babylon.
After 70 years was fulfilled, Ezra records the faithfulness of the LORD in keeping His Word. Ezra 1:1-4 tells us King Cyrus’ decreed: “Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel.” (vs 3)
The Lord is ever faithful to His Word, and sovereign over history, and so the joyful announcement was made that God’s people were free! Ezra 1:5-11 records “all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem” along with the returned “articles of the house of the LORD” led by “Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.”
However, our journey through Ezra is far from over. You see, the events of Ezra 8:15-20 took place approximately 80 years after the decree recorded in Ezra 1. Many who witnessed the miracle of the LORD and were decreed free by Cyrus chose to remain in the land of correction. Due to their prosperity, they had grown comfortable in Babylon. That is why, when Ezra records the genealogy of all returning with him to Jerusalem in Ezra 8:15, he notes “I looked among the people and the priests, and found none of the sons of Levi there.”
What an incredible statement! In Numbers 18:6 the Levites were given the special ministry of doing “the work of the tabernacle of meeting.” What’s more, when the land of Israel was divided, the Levites did not receive an inheritance of land because “the LORD God of Israel was their inheritance.” (Joshua 13:33) The sons of Levi had grown comfortable in Babylon and so neglected their holy calling of serving the LORD.
In Ezra 8:17-20, Ezra commanded his traveling companions to seek Levites willing to journey with them. In Jerusalem, they would be able to fulfill their ministry as “servants for the house of our God.” In a classic display of worship, Ezra acknowledges “the good hand of our God upon us” with the arrival of some 258 Levites, willing make the journey.
This passage always reminds me to ask, “Have I grown comfortable in Babylon? Have I allowed the Lord’s correction to reshape my character, further preparing me for ministry? Or has being in a season of correction become an excuse for me to neglect the service He has called me to?”
Hebrews 12:6 reminds us, “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” And so as children of the King, may we receive His loving correction; but may we never grow comfortable in Babylon!
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