Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ezra 8: Grace Overcomes Human Mistakes

Ezra 8:18-23 Because the gracious hand of our God was on us, they brought us Sherebiah, a capable man, from the descendants of Mahli son of Levi, the son of Israel, and Sherebiah's sons and brothers, 18 men;  and Hashabiah, together with Jeshaiah from the descendants of Merari, and his brothers and nephews, 20 men. They also brought 220 of the temple servants — a body that David and the officials had established to assist the Levites. All were registered by name. There, by the Ahava Canal, 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. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, "The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him." So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

Ezra brought with him a new contingent of 1,500 returnees from exile but when they reached Ahava (a city about 7 days' journey from Babylon) and camped there,  he found no Levites among them. So he sent some of the leaders to nearby Casiphia, probably a small village of Jewish exiles, to look for Levites. And because "the gracious hand of our God was on us" (8:18), they found some 258 Levites willing to follow them to Jerusalem. Then he proclaimed a fast among the returnees at Ahava to pray for protection for the rest of the journey to Jerusalem. He was too ashamed to ask the king for soldiers to protect them after he had told the king that God would protect the returnees. God heard their prayer and the group finally reached Jerusalem without encountering enemies and bandits along the way: "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." 

Ezra told the king: "The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him" (8:22). This took place in the safety and comfort of the Babylonian court. But once he got onto the rough and tough journey, he realised that he made a mistake in not asking the king for soldiers. And so he had to resort to complete reliance on God for protection: "So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer." In good times, it's easy to mouth religious platitudes. The real test comes when we are facing dangers and life-threatening situations.

But God answered Ezra's desperate prayer and they arrived safely in Jerusalem. Through prayer, God's grace can overcome our human weaknesses and mistakes. 

Lord, help us to always look to You in prayer, even after we have done some foolish things. Thank You that You do not judge us according to our mistakes, but according to Your grace. Amen.

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