By J.R. Miller
EZRA is an interesting character. He was a priest and scribe who was commissioned to return from Persia to Jerusalem, and so took an active part in the civil and religious affairs of the Jews at Jerusalem. He led a fresh company of exiles back with him. A royal edict had been issued by Artaxerxes, clothing Ezra with authority. He was the bearer of offerings for the temple made by the king and by the Jews. He led a caravan. He was influential in enforcing the Mosaic law among the people, who had become indifferent to many features of it. Before setting out, he gathered his company together and spent three days in making preparation for the journey. The first thing he did was to seek God's guidance. He says, "I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions." We should begin every new journey, every new undertaking, every new piece of work--by asking God to show us the way.
The Bible very significantly begins with the words, "In the beginning God." At the beginning of everything, God should be recognized and honored. No friendship ever reaches its best--unless God is in it and God's blessing is on it. No business ever can have the fullest success--unless the hand of God is in it and God's guidance be sought. The things we cannot ask God's blessing upon--we would better not do. The place into which we cannot ask God to guide us--we never should enter. Ezra asked the Lord to show him a safe journey to Jerusalem. We need always to seek guidance of God, for only He can show us the right way.
Ezra is very frank in giving the reason why he cast himself so completely upon God. He was seeking the honor of God, and wished therefore, as far as possible, to be independent of human help. "For I was ashamed to ask of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way." He had told the king that the hand of God would be upon all them that sought Him for good, and he wished to give the king proof of this in his own experience. It was a dangerous journey upon which he and his company were about to set out. No doubt the king, with his kindly interest in the expedition, would have furnished an escort if Ezra had asked for it. But Ezra felt that this would be dishonoring God.
A life of faith--is a life of dependence upon God. Part of our witnessing for God before the world--is showing that our trust is not in human strength--but in God Himself. We say, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want." Do we prove our faith in this confession? When need is upon us, do we show ourselves trustful because the Lord is our Shepherd! We say, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." We sing the words with a measure of triumph in our voices. But do we live as if God were indeed our refuge, as if He were indeed a very present help in all trouble? Many of us are too easily frightened in time of danger or trouble. With such a God as ours--we ought to be ashamed to be afraid of anything. We ought not to turn to the world's help after we have declared so strongly that God is our defense and our refuge. We should show by the way we meet difficulties, dangers, losses, sorrows, that there is a divine reality on which we are leaning.
Ezra was taking up with him a great quantity of silver and gold and the sacred vessels for the house of God. He took special care for the safety of these treasures. He set apart twelve of the chiefs of the priests . . . and weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels." First, these were godly men, honest and trustworthy, whom Ezra selected. This was important. Sometimes sufficient care is not taken in choosing those who are to be the custodians of money belonging to others. In this case, the money and the treasures were all carefully weighed and the amount set down. Again, at the end of the journey, the men were required to account for everything they had received. Some people are very careless about money matters. Young people should learn that it is part of their religion--to be strictly honest. If others put money into their hands for any purpose--it should be accounted for to the last cent. In societies of different kinds, there is money to be handled, and certain people have to act as treasurers. Those who accept this position should realize their responsibility. No matter if only a few cents a month are to be handled, there should be the same careful putting down of the amount and the same accuracy in accounting for it at the end as if the sum were thousands of dollars.
The charge of Ezra to these men who were entrusted with the treasures, is worthy of careful study. He said unto them, "You as well as these articles are holy to the LORD. The silver and gold are a freewill offering to the LORD, the God of your fathers. Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in the chambers of the house of the LORD in Jerusalem before the leading priests and the Levites and the family heads of Israel." The men themselves were holy; that is, they had been set apart to a holy service. The treasures entrusted to them were holy. The money and the vessels did not belong to any man--but to God. The men were now to carry them safely through all the dangers of the thousand-mile journey. They would be held responsible for their safe-keeping, until they deposited them in the house of God in Jerusalem. Then the treasures would be weighed again, to see that they had been carefully guarded and that nothing, not even a fraction of an ounce, had been lost.
This was a very solemn trust. But every one is continually receiving trusts which he is to guard amid the world's dangers, and deliver at last at God's feet. A Christian convert in a missionary country said of something he was guarding with special care, "It is God's--but I am in charge of it." This is a true statement of our position regarding many of our responsibilities. It is true not only of the religious funds entrusted to our custody--but just as really of money of any society or institution or corporation or business that may be entrusted to us. It is true of anything for which we may be responsible. Our own life is a sacred trust committed to us, for which we must give account.
There are many applications of this principle. Other people are continually putting into our hands the gold and silver of their love, their confidence, their friendship, trusting us with things which we are to guard and keep for them.
Do you ever think, for example, of the responsibility of being a friend? One confides in you and comes under your influence. How careful must you be lest you harm the life that thus entrusts itself to you. We accept friendships and confidences eagerly, and sometimes perhaps thoughtlessly, not asking ourselves if we can care for them, guard them, keep them. We forget that we must answer to God for every touch and teaching and for every impression we put upon any other life.
Our own good name also is a trust committed to us to be kept unspotted. We must guard it and live so every day that no stain may ever fasten upon it through any act or conduct of ours, or any association with evil. So the good names of others are in our keeping. We must be careful never to tarnish another's name by any careless word we may speak concerning the person.
Ezra testifies to the faithfulness of God in caring for him and his company on the way. "Then we departed . . . and the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy." At the beginning of his journey Ezra committed the care of himself and other pilgrims, to the good hand of God. He was glad to say that without any help from the king, without escort of soldiers to guard them, they had come to the end of the long journey, through manifold dangers--yet without harm.
We never know how much good we owe every day and every night to the good hand of God that guards us amid life's dangers. We think we are keeping ourselves by our own tact or shrewdness, or that we owe our safety in our journeys to the perfection of the railways and vessels on which we travel, or to some sort of chance that favors us. We leave God out too often when we are thinking of our safety, our protection, our comfort, the countless favors of our lives. Always the eye of God is upon us and the good hand of God is over us. This is our Father's world, and we have children's care in it.