Bible Reading: Ezra 8:21-36

“The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” (Ezra 8:22b)

In God’s awe-striking mercy and sovereign providence, Artaxerxes, king of Persia, finally issued a decree for Ezra to reinhabit Jerusalem and God’s temple with its wealth and people. Thus, after years of exile and oppression, the people were finally given room for freedom. It was indeed an exciting time. However, it was also a moment for fearing God’s goodness and benevolent faithfulness to His people. 

After harking the good news to Israelite leaders in the diaspora, Ezra camped at the Ahava river with all these leaders and all the gold and silver king Artaxerxes had returned for God’s temple. There was one final stretch to Jerusalem. But, it would be a dangerous one. 

Ezra’s camp of newly released exiles was weaponless and weak. On top of that, they carried with them an exceedingly large amount of treasures for God’s temple. The 650 talents of silver they carried equate to about 22 metric tons of silver in today’s units of measurement. Ezra and his crew were walking through the middle of nowhere. They were an easy target for enemies and anyone who would be interested in plundering them. 

Now, Ezra had a choice. His party actually had political support behind them. The royal infantry was presently at his disposal. It simply took a messenger to King Artaxerxes, and mighty horses and elite warriors would have galloped to their rescue. It would have been pretty neat. It’s not every day that you have the nation’s military power in your hands. 

However, this was not Ezra’s response. Ezra did not want to trust in the power of men. Previously, Ezra had testified to the king that the God of Israel was a good God who would protect those who sought Him. Asking for military support would have only shown Ezra to be a hypocrite, one who did not trust his own God. 

However, in the hard and seemingly impossible circumstance of unarmed ex-exiles surviving some army’s attack, Ezra brought the people to humble themselves and plead for God’s mercy. Ezra knew that his God had opened the doors for the temple to be rebuilt. Ezra knew that he was doing God’s will. And so, he put his full trust in the God who he knew was faithful. He brought all his people to humble themselves, pray and seek God’s mercy. Ezra knew he and the Israelites were sinful. Being decimated by some foreign army would not have come close to God’s wrath they knew they deserved. So they fasted, pleading that God would have mercy and lead their journey that God’s temple would be finished and God’s will be done. Surely enough, God was faithful, and He listened to their entreaty. 

Do we put our trust in God or man? When God has set before us His plan, will we trust that He will be faithful in accomplishing it no matter the odds? Will we decide to choose the path of faith over the path of human help? 

In his old age, Rev. Dr Stephen Tong unveiled that his gravestone should be engraved with the epitaph, “A man who never asked for money from any rich man”. Rev. Tong served his whole life by this principle laid out by Ezra. He turned to prayer rather than man. He pleaded for God’s mercy instead of fundraising wealth. And surely, God’s good hand faithfully guided Rev. Tong through all His ministries. The same God is waiting for us to seek Him and see how He will fulfil all things in His time. 

Lord, these life principles are foreign to us. We are apt to worry and think about the matters revolving around our own life, and little, if any, do we think about Your works. Give us a burden to serve You. Moreover, give us context to seek You and trust in You. Only then will we learn who You are, the faithful and living God. As You have guided Your servants in the past, in Your mercy, raise us up as well as Your servants in the coming generation. In Jesus’ name, amen.