Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God…
I. THE SPIRITUAL NEEDING THE AID OF THE SECULAR. "To require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way" (ver. 22). Ezra was about to conduct his comrades on a perilous journey to Jerusalem; hence he felt the need of a military guard as well as of the good hand of God upon him. The spiritual, as a rule, requires the aid of the secular.
1. Divine truth needs secular aid. As the companions of Ezra would be in danger during this march, so the word of God is often in peril in the world; infidels assail it, and secular aids are necessary to defend it.
2. The Church of God needs secular aid. It is exposed to many enemies on its journey to Jerusalem, and requires the defence of secular agencies - legislative, intellectual, and social.
3. The life interests of the good need secular aid. The good man needs the aid of the physician; his property must be protected, his ships must be insured. True, God loves his own book, his own enterprise, his own people, but it is his method to aid them in the use of means. As a general rule Ezra must employ both horsemen and prayer; prayer and precaution must go together.
4. The moral needs the aid of the secular: -
(1) Because God has ordained that the spiritual shall move in the sphere of the secular. The sacred vessels of the sanctuary journey in the desert under the care of man; piety is subject to physical law.
(2) Because the spiritual is in danger through the natural antagonism of the sinful heart. Ezra and his companions were endangered by men who wished to frustrate their mission; the carnal hates the spiritual, hence the need of horsemen.
(3) Because God has intrusted the spiritual to men as a discipline. The truth of God is put within the power of men that they may be cultured into a right attitude toward it; that they may become "fellow-helpers of the truth."
II. THE SPIRITUAL ACTING WITHOUT THE AID OF THE SECULAR. "For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers."
1. Why did Ezra act without the aid of the secular?
(1) Because he feared lest he should manifest greater dependence upon the aid of a heathen king than in the God of heaven. Ezra did not wish Artaxerxes to take the place in his enterprise which belonged to God; he had more confidence in his God than he had in his king. There are times in religious life and in moral service when it would be wrong to put any trust in man, when Divine aid may alone be sought. Ezra wanted to show that God was the object of his supreme confidence; that he was indeed conducting the sacred vessels to Jerusalem.
(2) Because he feared lest he should deprive God of the glory of his own operation. Had Ezra obtained the band of soldiers, they would have concealed the operation of God; Christian workers must not give the glory of the Divine activity and achievement to another, much less to the soldiers of a heathen monarch.
(3) Because he feared lest he should seem to compromise Divine truth in the view of the king. Ezra had said to Artaxerxes that "the hand of our God was upon all them for good that seek him;" he feared even in appearance to compromise this statement.
(4) Because he feared lest he should substitute a carnal expedient for a spiritual preparation. Secular aids do not often avail in the absence of moral fitness. Soldiers cannot give safety to disobedience.
2. How did Ezra act without the aid of the secular? He was not indifferent to the danger to which he might be exposed in marching without the band of soldiers; he did not superstitiously seek to avert it; he did not frantically rush into it; he religiously braved it.
(1) Humility. He humbled himself before God in view of his perilous journey.
(2) Supplication. He sought the Divine aid. Thus must we act when we are called upon to reject the secular aids of life.
3. When did Ezra act without the aid of the secular? Ezra travelled without the soldiers n an important crisis; it is but seldom that we are called upon to divorce prayer and precaution.
4. What moral qualities did Ezra exhibit in thus acting without the aid of the spiritual? It is evident that he was zealous for the honour of God; courageous in sacred toil; devout in daily life; and could act alone when necessary. God answered his confidence by leading him safely to Jerusalem. - E.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.