By J.G. Bellet
As we enter these chapters, we have passed an interval of about sixty years, and are in company with a new generation of captives, and are about to witness a second exodus from Babylon.
This portion of the book gives us the story of Ezra himself. It consists of two parts: his journey from Babylon (Ezra 7, 8); his work at Jerusalem (Ezra 9, 10).
We find him, in each of these, eminently a man of God. He is in ordinary circumstances; no miracle distinguishes the action; no display of glory or of power accompanies it; nor have we the inspiration which filled the prophets Haggai and Zechariah on the last revival, as we saw in Ezra 5, 6. All is ordinary: his resources are only what ours in this day are, the word and the presence of God. But he used them, and used them well and faithfully throughout. Ere he began to act, he prepared his heart to seek the Lord; he had meditated on His statutes, till his profiting, as we may surely say, appears to all of us. And as soon as he begins to act, and all through to the very end, we see him in much communion and in secret with the Lord. And he will carry the word of God through every difficulty and hindrance.
He leads home from Babylon to Jerusalem a comparatively small remnant; but he exercises a spirit of faith and obedience in no common measure.
In starting on the journey he is careful to preserve the sanctity of holy things. In such a spirit had Jehoiada the priest acted, as he was bringing back Joash to the kingdom. He would not sacrifice the purity of the house of God to any necessity of the times (2 Chr. 23). And so now, in leading his remnant back to Jerusalem, Ezra will not sacrifice the sanctity of the vessels of the house to any hindrance or difficulty of his day. He will look out for the Levites to bear them home, though this may delay him on the banks of the Ahava for twelve days. He is far above king David in all this. David, in an hour when he might have commanded the resources of a kingdom, did not keep the book of God open before him, but hastily set the ark of God on a new cart. But Ezra is as one who has the word of God ever before him; and, though in the zeal of David takes care against the haste and heedlessness of David (1 Chr. 13).
It is very sweet to see a saint thus in weakness of circumstances, with nothing but ordinary resources, so carrying himself before God, and through his services and duties.
And further, as we next see him, he is one that will not take a backward step. He had boasted of the God of Israel to the king of Persia, and he will not now (beginning a perilous journey) ask help of him, gainsaying in act the confession of his lips. He will get strength from God by fasting, rather than from the king by asking.
There are beautiful combinations in all that we have now traced in this dear man. He used God's word and God's presence; richly instructed as a scribe, he was much in secret with the Lord. He was a diligent, meditative student at home, but he was energetic and practical and self-devoting abroad. He would not go behind his conscience or sacrifice the word of God to any difficulty or hindrance; and if his confession did for a moment go beyond his faith, and he found himself not quite up to the place he had been put in, he will wait on God to have his heart strengthened, and not timidly or idly let his confession be reproached.
And yet all his circumstances were as ordinary as ours of this day. He had God's word and God's presence, as I have said; and so have we. But that was all: he had not even the inspiration of a Haggai or a Zechariah to encourage him. It was simply the grace of God in the power of the Spirit, awakening a saint to fresh service by the word.
If other portions of the story of the returned captives have instructed and encouraged and warned us, surely, we may now say, this may well humble us. In Ezra's condition, how coldly and how feebly are our souls exercised in his spirit of earnest service and secret communion!
The journey was accomplished, the second exodus from Babylon is performed, and Jerusalem is reached by Ezra and his companions without any mischief or loss by the way. The good hand of their God was with them, and proved itself enough without help from the king. The treasures were all delivered in the Temple, as they had been weighed and numbered at the Ahava. All that, in the days of Noah, had gone into the ark came out safe and sound. Not a grain falls to the ground of such treasures at any time; and here all arrive at Jerusalem that had left Chaldea.
In due time Ezra had to look around him in Jerusalem. He meets what he was but little prepared for; and the sight is overwhelming. Decline among the returned captives had set in rapidly, and corruption had worked wonderfully. What a sight for the spirit of such a man! Ezra blessedly illustrates "the godliness of weeping for other men's sins"--a Christ-like affection, indeed; and the sample of it in this man of God may well further humble some of us.
Israel had again married the daughter of a strange god. The holy seed had mingled themselves with the people of the land. The Jew had joined affinity with the Gentile.
To maintain anything of purity in the progress of a dispensation, reviving power has to be put forth again and again; and a fresh separation to God and His truth has to take place under that reviving virtue. So it is now with Ezra at Jerusalem. But we here pause for a moment, to consider some divine principles. When sin entered, and the creature and the creation became defiled, the Lord God had to set up a witness to Himself, that there was now a breach between Himself and that which had been the work of His hands, and the representative of His glories. The ordinance of clean and unclean did this service at the beginning (Gen. 8: 20).
In the progress of His ways we find two other operations of His of like character:--I mean, His judgments and His call. He separated defilement from Himself and His creation by judgment in the day of the Flood, about to make the earth the scene of His presence and government in the new or post-diluvian world. But when that world defiled itself like the old world, He distinguished between clean and unclean by calling Abraham to Himself, to the knowledge of Him and a walk with Him apart from the world. And these are samples of what He has ever since been doing, and is doing now, and will do still.
Separation from evil is, in a great sense, the principle of communion with Him. The truth, the knowledge of God, life in Christ, is the positive ground, means, or secret of communion, surely; but separation from evil must accompany that. For if we meet the Blessed One Himself, we must meet Him in conditions suited to His presence.
Ezra soon finds that the returned captives had practically forgotten all this. They had mingled themselves with the people of the land. They were involved again in that evil from which the call of God had separated them. They were defiled. For sanctification is by "the truth;" the washing of water is "by the word;" and, if holiness be not according to God's word, and God's word as He applies it at the time, or dispensationally, it has no divine quality. There is no Nazaritism in it, no separation to God. The children of the captivity had been marrying, and giving in marriage, with the Gentiles. Ezra sets himself to the work of reformation, and does so in the same spirit in which he had set himself to be for God before his journey, and on his journey. And this is what we have very specially to mark in Ezra. He was, personally, so much the saint of God, as well as a vessel gifted and filled. This shows itself in Ezra more than in any who had served among the captives before him. He was a vessel that had, indeed, purged itself for the Master's use; for the reformation in Jerusalem is accomplished in the like zeal as the journey from Babylon; and the blessing of God awaits upon it. There is no miracle; no displayed glory; no mighty energy bespeaking extraordinary divine presence: nothing is seen out of the common measure, or beyond ordinary resources. Service is, if done and rendered according to the written word, for the glory of the God of Israel, and in the spirit of worship and communion. It is but a sample of what service with us at this day might be, and, as we may add, ought to be. Ezra, throughout, does not listen to expediency, or yield to a difficulty, or refuse diligence and toil; he maintains principles, and carries the word of God through every hindrance.
Deeply do I believe, that the saints of God in this our day may read the story of the returned captives, as very good for the use of edifying; and find plenty to instruct, to encourage, to warn, and to humble them.
"How precious is the book divine
By inspiration given!
Bright as a lamp its doctrines shine
To guide us on to heaven."