“Because of God’s Hand”
Ezra 8

The first six chapter of Ezra told us about a new exodus, which Isaiah had promised, Isaiah 11:16, 

“There will be a highway for the remnant of His people who will survive from Assyria, as there was for Israel when they came up from the land of Egypt”

It was God who paved the way for those in exile to return to Jerusalem. The exodus began in the first year of Cyrus, 539 BC and continued until the days of Artaxerxes, around the time Nehemiah returned in 445 BC. Nearly 100 years goes by in the first part of the book of Ezra. Whereas the events covered in the last part of the book take place in one year. 

You will also notice a similar pattern of events in both parts of Ezra. 

First, a decree was given by a Persian King to return

Second, the Israelites were numbered before taking their journey.

Third, a crisis was faced by the returned remnant. 

Chapter 7 gave us the decree and Chapter 8 begins with a list of the family heads who were returning with Ezra. The arrangement of these names has significance. The first two named were priests descending from Aaron and the third was a descendant of David. By placing the priests first Ezra was demonstrating the importance of liturgical worship and with a descendant of David, Ezra points to the promise of the Messiah. 
Then twelve different descendant families were mentioned, signifying the twelve tribes of Israel. 

Before setting out on their journey, they stopped “at the canal that flows toward Ahava,” where Ezra makes a point to check who was with them, and who was not. The decree Artaxerxes had given explicitly stated that “any of the Israelites…. Including their priests and Levites, who wanted to go to Jerusalem,” could go. Upon inspection, Ezra discovered not one Levite was among the group. 

It was the Levite’s job to assist the priest in his duties in the temple. In fact, the priest could not perform all of his duties without them. What happened? Had they not received the message? Or, were they content to stay in Babylon? This wasn’t the first time the Levites had abandoned an exodus. 
When Moses and Aaron were leading the people in the wilderness, Korah and his Levites rose up against them. You can read about it in Numbers 16. A challenge was made and Korah and the Levites lost the challenge, the results were they were swallowed up by the ground and went down alive and the earth closed over them. Perhaps the Levites Ezra was addressing had learned from their ancestors’ mistakes, because Ezra sent some leaders to Casiphia with a specific message for a leader of the Levites. They return with over 258 men, of which Ezra claimed the good hand of God was upon them. Wouldn’t you like to know what Ezra told them? I’m curious. But then, whatever words Ezra may have given, the fact remains, it was God’s hand that moved the Levites from complacency to packing up their families, leaving everything they had known and walking to Jerusalem. Sometimes, some of us need a little prodding. 
We may hear the decrees from God, but for whatever reason we aren’t moved by them. That’s where the family of God comes into play. It’s where leaders are called to go to the people and check on them. Repeat the call, give encouragement, perhaps even get them back on the right road. Had Ezra not checked on who was in the group they could have made it to Jerusalem without the Levites. Had the leaders not confronted the Levites they would not have had a second chance to join the group. All along, knowing that God’s hand was in it. 

In verse 21, Ezra has everyone ready and he chooses to prepare them spiritually for the journey. He realized they needed God’s protection. They were traveling, by foot, with wives and children as well as a large amount of silver and gold. The highway they were to travel was not safe. There would be no state troopers around but there would definitely be some bandits and pirates. 
Ezra admitted that he had boasted in the Lord to Artaxerxes so he did not feel comfortable going back to him and asking for guards and soldiers. Ezra was prepared to put their safety in the hands of God. His statement to Artaxerxes proved it, verse 22b, 

“The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 

Ezra had a point. The history of the Israelites had demonstrated that when they relied on foreign powers, such as Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, instead of the Lord, they experienced the wrath of God. 

This verse sums up the theology of the book of Ezra, “God’s good hand will be on those who seek Him, but His wrath will be against those who forsake Him. ”

God is glorified when He shows justice and mercy. He will be glorified in salvation through judgment. All through chapters 7 & 8 we read “because of the hand of God,” Ezra and those returning with him, receive good. 

7:6—The king grants his request because of God’s hand on him.
7:9—Ezra arrives in Jerusalem because of God’s hand on him.
7:28—Ezra has courage because of God’s hand on him.
8:18—Upstanding Levites are provided by the good hand of God.
8:22—All who seek God have His hand on them for good.
8:31—They are delivered from enemies and bandits by God’s good hand.

Ezra shows how to ensure the good hand of God will be in our lives. It doesn’t mean that if we do what Ezra did we can be given everything that Ezra was given. But Ezra’s God is the same God we worship and He doesn’t change. 
So if we, like Ezra, choose to turn from our sin, seek the Lord in the person of Jesus Christ, we too will experience the good hand of God on our life. Romans 10:13, 

Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”

If you will turn away from forsaking God and if you will seek Him, as Ezra 8:22 says, you will be delivered from God’s wrath and enjoy His good hand upon you.”

In verse 31, we read that they made it to Jerusalem. 

“On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way. So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days.”

After resting, they weighed out the silver and gold again and discovered everything was accounted for by number and by weight. The concept of financial faithfulness is one we rely on still today. Ezra believed the men would be as faithful as they believed God was holy. A standard that remains true today, how we steward what God has given us, shows what we really think of God. 
The returnees then turn to sacrificing burnt offerings to the God of Israel. Notice the twelves and sevens represented in 12 bulls, 96 rams (12X8), 77 lambs, and 12 goats. They also followed through by delivering the king’s orders to the royal satraps and governors, which would result in re-establishing God’s laws in God’s land by God’s returned people. 

Wow! The Israelites have made it out of exile. They are back in Jerusalem. May sound good, but let’s take a look at some details. There were maybe 3,000 people with Ezra on his trip in chapter 8 and there were about 49,000 people who returned back in chapter 1. Even if we round it up, a bit, that gives us around 55,000 people. That’s it?
That’s all of the kingdom of God on earth?

It may not be a lot of people, but here we are reading about it 2,500 years later. 
This should be an encouragement to us. Damariscotta Baptist may not have many members, we may not look significant in the eyes of the world, we don’t have a lot of power or status or influence. Or do we? Ezra 8 shows how God advances His kingdom in the world, with nobodies, who are nothing, and there weren’t very many, either. Wow! What a God! A God who uses people like us. A God whose hand is for good on all who seek Him and with God’s hand, anything is possible. 

Let’s pray.