By Sam E. Stone
Today’s lesson is the last of five studies in the life and ministry of the respected Old Testament leader Ezra. In the book that bears his name, he describes how the Jews came to return to Israel from their Babylonian captivity. Ezra includes seven official documents or letters, in addition to his own memoirs. Especially striking is the prominence of Levites and temple personnel.
When Ezra realized that no Levites were among those committed to return with him, he sent a delegation to a nearby area (Kasiphia) to recruit some. They were to “bring attendants to us for the house of our God” (8:17). Two Levitical families totaling 38 heads of households volunteered to go with them to Jerusalem, along with other temple servants.
James E. Smith notes that Ezra appointed a committee of 12 leading priests and 12 leading Levites to be responsible for the transportation of the gifts for the temple. The law required priests to handle the sacred objects and the Levites to carry them (see Numbers 3:8, 31; 4:5-15).
It is difficult for us to imagine the immense value of the gifts sent back for the temple. The Living Bible converts the gifts into American money: $1.3 million in silver, $200,000 in silver utensils, and $3 million in gold. Also included were 20 gold bowls and two objects of polished bronze whose purity and design made them as valuable as gold. The total weight would have been about 30 tons—no small feat for this band of travelers, as Ruben Ratzlaff observed.
Given the great monetary value of the gifts they were taking, it is all the more amazing that Ezra did not ask for a military escort to ensure their safety in travel. As we learned last week, Ezra did not request such protection since earlier he had assured the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him” (8:22). Instead, for their protection, the people fasted and prayed and God answered their prayer (v. 23).
Those put in charge of counting and carrying the generous offering took their duties seriously. By carefully transporting these gifts, they set an example for Christians today. Good stewardship requires both faithful giving and wise usage of the gifts. The apostle Paul used the Macedonian believers as an example of generosity and responsibility: “Their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. . . . They gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Corinthians 8:2, 3).
Although we do not send our gifts to Jerusalem today, we are to be equally responsible with these funds. Paul gave this principle: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Regular, proportionate giving remains the scriptural command.
Completing the Mission
Ezra reviewed what had taken place. The group had traveled some 880 miles in this four-month period. Only the providential care of God could account for their safety as they brought this huge offering to the restored temple in Jerusalem. C. F. Keil writes, “After their arrival at Jerusalem, they remained, as Nehemiah subsequently did, quiet and inactive for three days, to recover from the fatigues and hardships of the journey (Nehemiah 2:11), before they undertook the arrangement of their affairs.” It may be that one of these days was a Sabbath. This would make their time of rest especially meaningful.
On the fourth day, the travelers went to the house of our God. The official transfer of the silver, gold, and sacred articles was made there. The priests and Levites had been given the responsibility of making a careful record of all of the gifts before they left Babylon. Now they were to be sure that each gift was personally presented to the priest and the Levites at this special moment in the temple. Everything was accounted for by number and weight, and the entire weight was recorded at that time.
This was followed by the offering of sacrifices in the temple. All of the people were included in this day of burnt offerings to the Lord. James E. Smith wrote, “The inhabitants of postexilic Judea considered themselves the survivors and representatives of all the tribes of Israel. They were the covenant people (Ezra 8:35).”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.