Ezra 8:22
For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken to the king, saying, The hand of our God is on all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(22) Because we had spoken unto the king.—The whole verse goes back to the past. Ezra had magnified God’s providence before the king: His “hand” upon his own “for good”—the habitual tribute to Providence in this book and Nehemiah—and His power “against” His enemies “for evil” not being expressed. This sublime testimony made the “seeking” God a condition of safety. Hence the solemn fasting and prayer, following many precedents (Judges 20:26; 1Samuel 7:6).

Ezra

HEROIC FAITH

Ezra 8:22 - Ezra 8:23
, Ezra 8:31 - Ezra 8:32.

The memory of Ezra the scribe has scarcely had fairplay among Bible-reading people. True, neither his character nor the incidents of his life reach the height of interest or of grandeur belonging to the earlier men and their times. He is no hero, or prophet; only a scribe; and there is a certain narrowness as well as a prosaic turn about his mind, and altogether one feels that he is a smaller man than the Elijahs and Davids of the older days. But the homely garb of the scribe covered a very brave devout heart, and the story of his life deserves to be more familiar to us than it is.

This scrap from the account of his preparations for the march from Babylon to Jerusalem gives us a glimpse of a high-toned faith, and a noble strain of feeling. He and his company had a long weary journey of four months before them. They had had little experience of arms and warfare, or of hardships and desert marches, in their Babylonian homes. Their caravan was made unwieldy and feeble by the presence of a large proportion of women and children. They had much valuable property with them. The stony desert, which stretches unbroken from the Euphrates to the uplands on the east of Jordan, was infested then as now by wild bands of marauders, who might easily swoop down on the encumbered march of Ezra and his men, and make a clean sweep of all which they had. And he knew that he had but to ask and have an escort from the king that would ensure their safety till they saw Jerusalem. Artaxerxes’ surname, ‘the long-handed,’ may have described a physical peculiarity, but it also expressed the reach of his power; his arm could reach these wandering plunderers, and if Ezra and his troop were visibly under his protection, they could march secure. So it was not a small exercise of trust in a higher Hand that is told us here so simply. It took some strength of principle to abstain from asking what it would have been so natural to ask, so easy to get, so comfortable to have. But, as he says, he remembered how confidently he has spoken of God’s defence, and he feels that he must be true to his professed creed, even if it deprives him of the king’s guards. He halts his followers for three days at the last station before the desert, and there, with fasting and prayer, they put themselves in God’s hand; and then the band, with their wives and little ones, and their substance,-a heavily-loaded and feeble caravan,-fling themselves into the dangers of the long, dreary, robber-haunted march. Did not the scribe’s robe cover as brave a heart as ever beat beneath a breastplate?

That symbolic phrase, ‘the hand of our God,’ as expressive of the divine protection, occurs with remarkable frequency in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and though not peculiar to them, is yet strikingly characteristic of them. It has a certain beauty and force of its own. The hand is of course the seat of active power. It is on or over a man like some great shield held aloft above him, below which there is safe hiding. So that great Hand bends itself over us, and we are secure beneath its hollow. As a child sometimes carries a tender-winged butterfly in the globe of its two hands that the bloom on the wings may not be ruffled by fluttering, so He carries our feeble, unarmoured souls enclosed in the covert of His Almighty hand. ‘Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand?’ ‘Who hath gathered the wind in His fists?’ In that curved palm where all the seas lie as a very little thing, we are held; the grasp that keeps back the tempests from their wild rush, keeps us, too, from being smitten by their blast. As a father may lay his own large muscular hand on his child’s tiny fingers to help him, or as ‘Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands,’ that the contact might strengthen him to shoot the ‘arrow of the Lord’s deliverance,’ so the hand of our God is upon us to impart power as well as protection; and our ‘bow abides in strength,’ when ‘the arms of our hands are made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.’ That was Ezra’s faith, and that should be ours.

Note Ezra’s sensitive shrinking from anything like inconsistency between his creed and his practice. It was easy to talk about God’s protection when he was safe behind the walls of Babylon; but now the pinch had come. There was a real danger before him and his unwarlike followers. No doubt, too, there were plenty of people who would have been delighted to catch him tripping; and he felt that his cheeks would have tingled with shame if they had been able to say, ‘Ah! that is what all his fine professions come to, is it? He wants a convoy, does he? We thought as much. It is always so with these people who talk in that style. They are just like the rest of us when the pinch comes.’ So, with a high and keen sense of what was required by his avowed principles, he will have no guards for the road. There was a man whose religion was at any rate not a fair-weather religion. It did not go off in fine speeches about trusting to the protection of God, spoken from behind the skirts of the king, or from the middle of a phalanx of his soldiers. He clearly meant what he said, and believed every word of it as a prose fact, which was solid enough to build conduct on.

I am afraid a great many of us would rather have tried to reconcile our asking for a band of horsemen with our professed trust in God’s hand; and there would have been plenty of excuses very ready about using means as well as exercising faith, and not being called upon to abandon advantages, and not pushing a good principle to Quixotic lengths, and so on, and so on. But whatever truth there is in such considerations, at any rate we may well learn the lesson of this story-to be true to our professed principles; to beware of making our religion a matter of words; to live, when the time for putting them into practice comes, by the maxims which we have been forward to proclaim when there was no risk in applying them; and to try sometimes to look at our lives with the eyes of people who do not share our faith, that we may bring our actions up to the mark of what they expect of us. If ‘the Church’ would oftener think of what ‘the world’ looks for from it, it would seldomer have cause to be ashamed of the terrible gap between its words and its deeds.

Especially in regard to this matter of trust in an unseen Hand, and reliance on visible helps, we all need to be very rigid in our self-inspection. Faith in the good hand of God upon us for good should often lead to the abandonment, and always to the subordination, of material aids. It is a question of detail, which each man must settle for himself as each occasion arises, whether in any given case abandonment or subordination is our duty. This is not the place to enter on so large and difficult a question. But, at all events, let us remember, and try to work into our own lives, that principle which the easy-going Christianity of this day has honeycombed with so many exceptions, that it scarcely has any whole surface left at all; that the absolute surrender and forsaking of external helps and goods is sometimes essential to the preservation and due expression of reliance on God.

There is very little fear of any of us pushing that principle to Quixotic lengths. The danger is all the other way. So it is worth while to notice that we have here an instance of a man’s being carried by a certain lofty enthusiasm further than the mere law of duty would take him. There would have been no harm in Ezra’s asking an escort, seeing that his whole enterprise was made possible by the king’s support. He would not have been ‘leaning on an arm of flesh’ by availing himself of the royal troops, any more than when he used the royal firman. But a true man often feels that he cannot do the things which he might without sin do. ‘All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient,’ said Paul. The same Apostle eagerly contended that he had a perfect right to money support from the Gentile Churches; and then, in the next breath, flamed up into, ‘I have used none of these things, for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.’ A sensitive spirit, or one profoundly stirred by religious emotion, will, like the apostle whose feet were moved by love, far outrun the slower soul, whose steps are only impelled by the thought of duty. Better that the cup should run over than that it should not be full. Where we delight to do His will, there will often be more than a scrupulously regulated enough; and where there is not sometimes that ‘more,’ there will never be enough.

‘Give all thou canst; high Heaven rejects the lore

Of nicely calculated less or more.’

What shall we say of people who profess that God is their portion, and are as eager in the scramble for money as anybody? What kind of a commentary will sharp-sighted, sharp-tongued observers have a right to make on us, whose creed is so unlike theirs, while our lives are identical? Do you believe, friends! that ‘the hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him’? Then, do you not think that racing after the prizes of this world, with flushed cheeks and labouring breath, or longing, with a gnawing hunger of heart, for any earthly good, or lamenting over the removal of creatural defences and joys, as if heaven were empty because some one’s place here is, or as if God were dead because dear ones die, may well be a shame to us, and a taunt on the lips of our enemies? Let us learn again the lesson from this old story,-that if our faith in God is not the veriest sham, it demands and will produce, the abandonment sometimes and the subordination always, of external helps and material good.

Notice, too, Ezra’s preparation for receiving the divine help. There, by the river Ahava, he halts his company like a prudent leader, to repair omissions, and put the last touches to their organisation before facing the wilderness. But he has another purpose also. ‘I proclaimed a fast there, to seek of God a right way for us.’ There was no foolhardiness in his courage; he was well aware of all the possible dangers on the road; and whilst he is confident of the divine protection, he knows that, in his own quiet, matter-of-fact words, it is given ‘to all them that seek Him.’ So his faith not only impels him to the renunciation of the Babylonian guard, but to earnest supplication for the defence in which he is so confident. He is sure it will be given-so sure, that he will have no other shield; and yet he fasts and prays that he and his company may receive it. He prays because he is sure that he will receive it, and does receive it because he prays and is sure.

So for us, the condition and preparation on and by which we are sheltered by that great Hand, is the faith that asks, and the asking of faith. We must forsake the earthly props, but we must also believingly desire to be upheld by the heavenly arms. We make God responsible for our safety when we abandon other defence, and commit ourselves to Him. With eyes open to our dangers, and full consciousness of our own unarmed and unwarlike weakness, let us solemnly commend ourselves to Him, rolling all our burden on His strong arms, knowing that He is able to keep that which we have committed to Him. He will accept the trust, and set His guards about us. As the song of the returning exiles, which may have been sung by the river Ahava, has it: ‘My help cometh from the Lord. The Lord is thy keeper. The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.’

So our story ends with the triumphant vindication of this Quixotic faith. A flash of joyful feeling breaks through the simple narrative, as it tells how the words spoken before the king came true in the experience of the weaponless pilgrims: ‘The hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way; and we came to Jerusalem.’ It was no rash venture that we made. He was all that we hoped and asked. Through all the weary march He led us. From the wild, desert-born robbers, that watched us from afar, ready to come down on us, from ambushes and hidden perils, He kept us, because we had none other help, and all our hope was in Him. The ventures of faith are ever rewarded. We cannot set our expectations from God too high. What we dare scarcely hope now we shall one day remember. When we come to tell the completed story of our lives, we shall have to record the fulfilment of all God’s promises, and the accomplishment of all our prayers that were built on these. Here let us cry, ‘Be Thy hand upon us.’ Here let us trust, Thy hand will be upon us. Then we shall have to say, ‘The hand of our God was upon us,’ and as we look from the watch-towers of the city, on the desert that stretches to its very walls, and remember all the way by which He led us, we shall rejoice over His vindication of our poor faith, and praise Him that ‘not one thing hath failed of all the things which the Lord our God spake concerning us.’Ezra 8:22. For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers, &c. — He might have obtained from the king any thing that he desired; but he had so openly declared that he depended solely upon God for safe conduct, that he was ashamed to ask a guard of the king to secure them on their journey from their enemies. For the king, not being much instructed in divine matters, might possibly have thought that what they had said of God’s favour toward them, and the prophecies concerning their restoration, were but vain boasts, in case they had seemed to distrust the power and favour of that God of whom they had spoken so magnificently, by making application to the king for his protection and defence. Rather, therefore, than give any such umbrage, they were resolved to commit themselves entirely to God: but then it was necessary they should beseech that of him which they would not ask of the king; this they did, as we have just seen, by fasting and prayer.8:21-23 Ezra procured Levites to go with him; but what will that avail, unless he have God with him? Those who seek God, are safe under the shadow of his wings, even in their greatest dangers; but those who forsake him, are always exposed. When entering upon any new state of life, our care should be, to bring none of the guilt of the sins of our former condition into it. When we are in any peril, let us be at peace with God, and then nothing can do us any real hurt. All our concerns about ourselves, our families, and our estates, it is our wisdom and duty, by prayer to commit to God, and to leave the care of them with him. And, on some occasions, we should decline advantages which are within our reach, lest we should cause others to stumble, and so our God be dishonoured. Let us ask wisdom of God, that we may know how to use or to refuse lawful things. We shall be no losers by venturing, suffering, or giving up for the Lord's sake. Their prayers were answered, and the event declared it. Never have any that sought God in earnest, found that they sought him in vain. In times of difficulty and danger, to set a season apart for secret or for social prayer, is the best method for relief we can take.What "enemy" menaced Ezra, and on what account, is wholly uncertain (compare Ezra 8:31). Perhaps robber-tribes, Arab or Syrian, were his opponents. Ezr 8:21-36. A Fast Proclaimed.

21. Then I proclaimed a fast there—The dangers to travelling caravans from the Bedouin Arabs that prowl through the desert were in ancient times as great as they still are; and it seems that travellers usually sought the protection of a military escort. But Ezra had spoken so much to the king of the sufficiency of the divine care of His people that he would have blushed to apply for a guard of soldiers. Therefore he resolved that his followers should, by a solemn act of fasting and prayer, commit themselves to the Keeper of Israel. Their faith, considering the many and constant perils of a journey across the Bedouin regions, must have been great, and it was rewarded by the enjoyment of perfect safety during the whole way.

No text from Poole on this verse. For I was ashamed to require of the kings band of soldiers and horsemen,.... Which he might have had, only asking for them; so great was the interest he had in the king's favour:

to help us against the enemy in the way; the Arabs, Samaritans, and others, that might lie in wait for them, to rob them of their substance:

because we had spoken unto the king: of the special favour of God to them, his singular providence in the protection of them:

saying, the hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; that pray unto him, serve and worship him; his hand is open to them to bestow all needful good upon them, temporal and spiritual, and his power and providence are over them, to protect and defend them from all evil:

but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him; his word, his ways and worship; his powerful wrath, or the strength and force of it, is exerted against them and they are sure to feel the weight and dreadful effects of it: and now all this being said to the king, after this, to desire a guard to protect them, it would look as if they had not that favour in the sight of God, and did not believe what they had said, but distrusted his power and providence towards them; therefore, rather than reflect any dishonour on God, they chose to expose themselves to danger, seeking his face and favour, and relying on his goodness and power.

For I was {g} ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.

(g) He thought it better to commit himself to the protection of God, than by seeking these ordinary means to give others a reason to think that he doubted God's power.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
22. I was ashamed] same word as in Ezra 9:6 ‘I am ashamed’, Jeremiah 31:19 ‘I was ashamed’.

to require] R.V. to ask. The simplest rendering for the commonest word.

a band of soldiers and horsemen] Such an escort as Nehemiah had, Nehemiah 2:9, ‘Now the king had sent with me captains of the army and horsemen’.

a band of soldiers] This word is rendered δύναμιν by the LXX. and ‘auxilium’ by the Vulgate. It is the word rendered ‘army’ in the passage just quoted (Nehemiah 2:9) and in Nehemiah 4:2; it is a word of frequent occurrence, e.g. 2 Kings 6:14, ‘horses, and chariots, and a great host’. Here it simply means ‘armed men’.

against the enemy in the way] against ‘the enemy’ generally. No enemy in particular, Samaritan (Ezra 4:1) or Syrian, is contemplated. Rather the reference is to the robbers and Bedouins of the desert, who night easily inflict damage upon a large caravan by robbing stragglers and harassing the line of march.

The hand of God] cf. on Ezra 7:6.

upon all them for good that seek him] R.V. upon all them that seek him, for good. The word rendered ‘seek’ here (biqqêsh) differs from hat rendered by the same English word in Ezra 4:2, Ezra 6:21, Ezra 7:10 (dârash). Both words occur in the same verse in Deuteronomy 4:29, ‘But if from thence he shall seek (biqqêsh) the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him if thou search after (dârash) him with all thy heart and all thy soul’. This word (biqqêsh) is the commonest, denoting ‘to look for’, e.g. Ezra 2:62; Genesis 37:16; Psalm 24:6.

for good] cf. Ezra 7:9; Nehemiah 2:18.

his power and his wrath] cf. the same two words in Psalm 90:11, ‘who knoweth the power of thine anger’, i.e. His might revealed in displeasure.

against all them that forsake him] as if Ezra and his companions, if they had relied on the protection of an armed escort rather than of their God, would have ‘forsaken’ Him. A common expression (cf. 1 Samuel 12:10; Isaiah 65:11; 2 Chronicles 7:22; 2 Chronicles 12:5; 2 Chronicles 13:11; 2 Chronicles 21:10; 2 Chronicles 24:20; 2 Chronicles 24:24) for religious faithlessness.Verse 22. - I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers. Before he apprehended danger Ezra had boasted to Artaxerxes of the power and goodness of God, and had spoken of himself and his brethren as assured of the Divine protection. Now that peril threatened he found himself afraid, and would have been glad of such an escort as Nehemiah obtained at a later date (Nehemiah 2:9). But after his boasts he was ashamed to confess his fear. Who the enemy in the way was it is impossible to decide; but we may gather from ver. 31 that it was no imaginary foe. Probably some of the Arab tribes, who owed no allegiance to Persia, had formed a design to intercept the caravan and plunder it. Account of the journey. - Ezra 8:15 The assembling of the expedition. When the Israelites who were about to return to Jerusalem had assembled, and were ready for starting, Ezra perceived that there were no Levites among them. He then sent for certain chief men among them, and by means of the influence of Iddo, the chief at the place Casiphia, induced a number of Levites and Nethinim to determine on joining the expedition (Ezra 8:15). He then proclaimed a fast at the place of meeting, for the purpose of supplicating God to grant them a prosperous journey (Ezra 8:21).

Ezra 8:15-17

The travellers assembled at the river Ahava, where they encamped three days. In Ezra 8:15 the river is designated אל־אהוא הבּא, i.e., either which comes (flows) towards Ahava, or flows into Ahava; in Ezra 8:21 it is more briefly called אהוא נהר, and in Ezra 8:31 אהוא נהר, which may mean the river of Ahava, of the region or district called Ahava, or, after the analogy of פּרת נהר, merely the river of the name of Ahava. It is doubtful which of these meanings is correct, the name Ahava being still unexplained. Comp. the various conjectures in A. G. F. Schirmer, observationes exeg. crit. in libr. Esdrae, Vratisl. 1820, p. 28ff. The connection points to a place or district in the neighbourhood of Babylon; hence Bertheau is inclined to regard Ahava as a tributary or canal of the Euphrates, flowing through a place, perhaps only a field or open space, of the same name, in the immediate neighbourhood of Babylon; while Ewald supposes it may be the river somewhat to the west or south of Euphrates, called by the Greeks Pallacopas, whose situation would suit the context, and whose name might arise from אהוא פלג, the river Ahwa or Aba. The lxx gives the name Εὐί; in 1 Esdr. 8:40 and 61 we find Θερά, evidently a false reading. Josephus says quite generally, εἰς τὸ πέραν τοῦ Εύφράτου. - When Ezra, during the three days' encampment at this place, directed his attention to the people and the priests (ב הבין, to give heed, Nehemiah 13:7; Daniel 9:23, and elsewhere), he found no Levites among those who had assembled. Ezra 8:16 He then sent several chief men to Iddo, the chief man in the place Casiphia, to beg him and his brethren to bring him servants for the house of God. The lxx translates ל אשׁלחה, "I sent to (or for) Eliezer," etc., which would mean to fetch them: "that I might then send them to Iddo." The Vulgate, on the other hand, and many expositors, understand ל as nota accus., like 2 Chronicles 17:7, which is simpler. Of the nine men here designated as ראשׁים, the names of Eliezer, Shemaiah, Jarib, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam occur again in Ezra 10:15, Ezra 10:18-31, though we cannot certainly infer the identify of those who bear them. The appellation ראשׁים does not determine whether they belonged to the priesthood or laity. The two remaining are called מבינים, teachers; comp. Nehemiah 8:7, Nehemiah 8:9; 1 Chronicles 15:22; 1 Chronicles 25:8, and elsewhere. Although this word is, in the passages cited, used of Levites, yet we cannot suppose those here named to have been teaching Levites, because, according to Ezra 8:16, there were as yet no Levites amongst the assemblage; hence, too, they could not be teachers properly so called, but only men of wisdom and understanding. The Chethiv ואוצאה must be read ואוצאה: I sent them to (על, according to later usage, for אל); the Keri is ואצוּה, I despatched, sent them. Both readings suit the sense. The place Casiphia is entirely unknown, but cannot have been far from the river Ahava. Caspia, the region of the Caspian Sea, is out of the question, being far too remote. "I put words in their mouth to speak to Iddo," i.e., I told them exactly what they should say to Iddo; comp. 2 Samuel 14:3, 2 Samuel 14:19. The words אדּו אחיו הנּתוּנים give no intelligible meaning; for אהיו we must, with the Vulgate, 1 Esdras, and others, read ואחיו: to Iddo and his brethren, the Nethinim, at the place Casiphia. This would seem to say that Iddo was one of the Nethinim. Such an inference is not, however, a necessary one; for the expression may also, like "Zadok the (high) priest and his brethren, the (ordinary) priests," 1 Chronicles 16:39, be understood to mean that Iddo, the chief man of that place, was a Levite, and that the Nethinim were, as a lower order of temple servants, called brethren of Iddo the Levite. The circumstance that not only Nethinim, but also Levites, were induced by Iddo to join the expedition (Ezra 8:8), requires us thus to understand the words. אל לבית משׁרתים, servants for the house of God, are Levites and Nethinim, the upper and lower orders of the temple ministers. From Ezra 8:17 it appears that both Levites and Nethinim had settled in the place Casiphia, and that Iddo, as the chief man of the place, held an influential position among them. No further inferences, however, concerning their settlement and employment can be drawn from this circumstance.

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