Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God…
The halt on the banks of the Ahava lasted three days. Ezra lost no time. He viewed his company, and finding no Levites, organised a mission to induce some of them to join him. To the credit of the sons of Levi, strong as was their attachment to the silver of Casiphia, they promptly forsook it in favour of Zion. On the third day the caravan was made up; but before the journey was undertaken Ezra proclaimed a fast. Consider -
I. THE OBJECT. It was to obtain the Divine guidance and protection.
1. The adults needed this for themselves.
(1) The weight of responsibility rested with them. Duties are claimed from adults which are not required from children: religious, civil. Excuses may be pleaded for infants which would not avail for adults.
(2) Where responsibilities are onerous, the greater the need of prayer and fasting. This is not sufficiently considered. Hence the serious blunders, the disasters.
2. They needed it on behalf of their "little ones.
(1) Any army encumbered with women and children would be at an immense disadvantage in the face of a foe. The claims of natural affection would so distract as to destroy presence of mind, and expose to a more easy prey the very objects of solicitude.
(2) This would be so in the highest degree in an army of civilians. How helpless are we in the face of our spiritual adversaries! What need have we for the hand of God upon us for good I
3. They needed it for the safety of the treasure in their custody.
(1) It was vast in its value (vers. 24-27). The plate alone is estimated at £1,038,600. Then there was the private property, all the substance," of the whole caravan.
(2) It was therefore tempting to the cupidity and rapacity of marauders. These were known to exist. "The enemy in the way." We have to guard our Christian honour, which is of priceless value, against the rapacity of the "enemy in the way." So have we need of fasting and prayer.
II. THE MOTIVE.
1. He was jealous for the honour of God.
(1) He might have had an escort from the king. He had influence enough at court to have procured this. The safety of the treasure, to which the king himself and his counsellors and princes had so handsomely contributed, would have been a sufficient reason to influence him.
(2) But then he had proclaimed to him great principles, viz. -
(a) That "the hand of God is upon all them for good that seek him." The king might say, "Why then do you not seek him and trust in him?" May we not say this to ourselves when we are tempted to lean upon an arm of flesh?
(b) That "his power and his wrath are against all them that forsake him." The king might reply, "Why then do you not confide your defence to him from those wicked persons who would molest you?"
(3) What a testimony to Artaxerxes of their faith in their principles, and of the jealousy of God for his honour, that Ezra did not ask for a military escort, and yet was prospered in his way!
2. He was jealous for the honour of his people.
(1) The great principles enunciated might be true, and yet the way of the people might be disastrous. In that case it would argue that they did not "seek God," and that, "forsaking" him, they made him their adversary.
(2) To prevent this the fast was proclaimed. The "afflicting of the soul" was to express repentance for departures from God, that his wrath might be averted and his favour conciliated. Do we not need this?
(3) Prayer was then added to the fasting (ver. 23). Fasting and prayer are naturally associated (see Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 17:21).
III. THE ISSUE.
1. "The Lord was entreated of them.
(1) Some favourable sign may have been given them. On another occasion God anthenticated his servant Ezra by sending heavy rain to show his anger (see Ezra 10:9). Their faith in God would have carried its own evidence. True faith is of Divine inspiration (Colossians 2:12). Therefore it is the subsistence of things hoped for, i.e. things hoped for are to genuine faith as certain as though they subsisted.
2. The success of their journey proved it.
(1) They were delivered from the hand of the enemy." The enemy was there, but he was restrained by the hand of God upon his people. The lurking foes as well as the avowed enemies were restrained (see ver. 31).
(2) They "came to Jerusalem" in safety (ver. 32). Our safe arrival in heaven will be the most glorious proof of the good hand of God upon us. But it would be folly to remain unassured of that good hand upon us until this proof may or may not be given. Until a present assurance be given we should not cease to pray; and if prayer without fasting does not secure it, then let fasting be added unto prayer. - J.A.M.
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.