Ezra 8:21
Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) To seek of him a right way for us.—The wilderness was now before them, and an enemy, indefinitely referred to, was in the way: probably desert tribes, always lying in wait for unprotected caravans.

Our little ones.—An intimation that whole households went up.

Our substance.—Chiefly the treasures for the Temple, though the term signifies cattle and other goods, with an undertone of abundance.

Ezra 8:21. Then I proclaimed a fast there — Ezra had procured Levites to go along with him, but what would that avail unless he had God with him? this is therefore his chief care. No doubt he had himself begged of God direction in this affair, from the first time he had it in his thoughts: but for public mercies, public prayers must be made, that all who are to share in the comfort of them, may join in requests for them. Thus, in all our ways we must acknowledge God, and in those particularly wherein we are endeavouring to serve the interests of his kingdom among men. That we might afflict ourselves before our God — For our sins, and so be qualified for the pardon of them. When we are entering on any new condition 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 imminent peril, let us be sure to make our peace with God, and then we are safe; nothing can do us any real hurt. To seek of him a right way for us — A safe and prosperous journey; such a way and course as might be best for us. And for our little ones, and for all our substance — They had the greater reason to fast and pray, because they carried with them their little children, treasures of gold and silver, and divers vessels, and other things, of very considerable value, and were apprehensive of enemies, who would waylay them to plunder them of their substance; namely, the Arabs, Samaritans, and others, against whom they peculiarly needed the divine protection and aid.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.And Sherebiah - Either a name has fallen out before the words "a man of understanding," or the "and" here has crept into the text by accident. Sherebiah appears among the most earnest of the Levites under Nehemiah (see the marginal references). 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.

A right way, i.e. a safe and prosperous journey; or such a way and course as might be best for us. Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava,.... After the messengers to Iddo were returned with those they brought with them:

that we might afflict ourselves before our God; humble themselves before him for their sins, confess them, and declare their repentance of them, and ask forgiveness for them:

to seek of him a right way for us; to take from thence towards Jerusalem, to be directed by him in it: either by a prophet, or by a vision in a dream, as Eben Ezra; or rather by the guidance of his providence; this they sought in prayer by the river side, where it had been usual with them, and since has been, to perform religious exercises, see Ezekiel 1:1, hence Tertullian (z) calls the prayers of the Jews "orationes littorales"; they sought not so much which was the shortest and easiest way for them to travel in, as which was the safest:

and for our little ones and for all our substance; for the safe conveyance of them; this shows, that though males only are numbered, as before, yet they had their wives and children with them; for little ones cannot be supposed without women to take care of them.

(z) Ad nationes, l. 1. c. 13. Vid. lib. de jejuniis, c. 16.

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict {f} ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.

(f) He shows that the purpose of fasting is to humble the body to the spirit, which must proceed from the heart that is touched, or else it is hypocrisy.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
21–36. The Events of the Journey

21–30. Preparations for the journey. (a) 21–23. The rendezvous and solemn fast at Ahava

21. I proclaimed a fast] For “fasting” see also on Ezra 9:3, Ezra 10:6. Here however the fast is not proclaimed in connexion with any special commission of sin. Ezra appoints the fast (a) as the symbol of submission before God’s will and of repentance from sin, (b) as the means of intensifying religious fervour in prayer through the restraint laid upon physical appetite, (c) as the testimony that ‘man lives not by bread alone’.

Viewed in this aspect, the public fast proclaimed by Ezra was a spiritual exercise; from which the pagan notion of propitiating God’s favour by voluntary human suffering was altogether absent. Cf. 2 Chronicles 20:3.

Compare the fast of Judas Maccabeus and his companions (1Ma 3:47) before they addressed themselves to the conflict with the forces of Antiochus Epiphanes.

that we might afflict ourselves] R.V. that we might humble ourselves. A moral not a physical discipline. The self-affliction or humiliation is expressed by a verb which gave rise to the regular word in later Hebrew for fasting, “Taanith”.

a right way] R.V. a straight way. Both a direct road, that they might not have to turn aside on account of attacks and dangers from robbers or enemies, and a level road without obstacles and inequalities. Cf. Isaiah 40:3, ‘make straight (or level) in the desert a high way for our God’; where the same word occurs.

our substance] same word as is rendered ‘goods’ in ch. Ezra 1:6 (see note).Verse 21. - Then I proclaimed a fast there. The fight of the civil ruler to "proclaim a fast" was unquestioned among the Jews and Israelites. Jezebel proclaimed one in Ahab's name when she wished to impress the Jezreelites with the notion that a great crime had been committed. Jehoshaphat did the same when he was invaded by the Ammonites, Moabites, and Mehunim (2 Chronicles 20:1-3). A fast was proclaimed in the fifth year of Jehoiakim when the kingdom of Judah was menaced by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 36:9). Ezra therefore assumes that he may command one now, in connection with the perils of the coming journey. That we might afflict ourselves. The Jews were commanded to "afflict themselves" on the great day of atonement (Leviticus 16:29), and understood that the affliction was to be mainly by fasting and abstaining from the bath. To ask of him a right way. Or "a direct road," i.e. a prosperous and unimpeded journey to Jerusalem. For us and our little ones. The colonists went up attended by their families. 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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