Have you ever handed something to a friend of family member to hold for a few minutes? Maybe you had someone watch your bags at the airport while you went for a snack, or you gave your wallet and phone to a friend before going on a water ride at the amusement park.
From the previous article, a group of Israelites is getting ready to travel to Jerusalem in Ezra 8:15-23. In verses 24-30, we find that Ezra – who is leading this group – entrusts valuables (given by the king and others) to 12 specific priests for the journey. This is a serious responsibility, given the probable value of these treasures that these men were responsible for. However, it sounds like Ezra took a careful accounting of the goods at the start of the journey. (In fact, it probably makes it easier for all of us to be honest when we know that someone is watching. Yes, we should know that God is always watching, but somehow we are still tempted to think that we can get things past Him.)
Then, it’s time to get going. Ezra and others – including those who would serve at the temple – travel from Babylon to Jerusalem.
It takes them four months to make the trip (which appears to include the “staging” time described in chapter 8). Researching online, this distance is about 500 miles, but [per Schoville, p.98] the actual route (rather than just striking out and crossing a desert!) was probably more like 900 miles. While we might be able to travel that far in a day – a really long day – by car or bus (or in a couple of hours by jet), four months to travel with a caravan by foot or on an animal for 900 miles is probably reasonable. If my math is correct, that’s about 7½ miles per day, or closer to 9 miles per day if they rested on the Sabbath. (For my readers outside of the United States, that’s about 1500km, traveling 12 or 15 km per day, on average.)
God answers their prayers, and the journey is safe from attacks.
On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way. So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days.
Ezra 8:31-32 NIV
After a four-month journey, a few days’ rest seems like a good idea!
Then, in verses 33-34, on the fourth day, the valuables that had been entrusted near the start of the trip to responsible men are counted back out at the temple, including making a record of it. These men were accountable for what they had been entrusted with, God kept them – and the goods – safe, and their trustworthiness was confirmed.
So, what can we learn from this chapter? I don’t know about you, but I am not currently transporting silver and gold gifts from a foreign land to Jerusalem…or, am I? Am I currently responsible for ensuring that someone else’s goods get to where He wants them?
Let’s not forget that we have been entrusted with gifts from God. It’s important that we remember that we are just making use of (or “stewarding”) what God has allocated to us, and that everything is really His in the first place. When we remember that everything we have is God’s, it becomes a lot easier to do with it what He asks of us.
I don’t imagine these 12 priests going around bragging that these goods were their own, or trying to negotiate how much of it they could keep. When we think about stockpiling money that we are provided, along with what we are going to do with it for ourselves, we run the risk of being like the rich man that Jesus talked about in Luke 12:13-21.
Letting go of ownership to our money and material goods only makes sense, though, if God is sovereign, generous, and/or loving.
- If God wasn’t in authority over the universe (and immeasurably wise), we might claim that He didn’t have the right to direct our decisions.
- If God didn’t provide us with everything that we have, we might think that we were solely responsible for earning what we had.
- If He hadn’t proved His love for us, we might argue that we needed to take care of ourselves.
However, God is all of these things, as well as righteous and gracious.
Having said that, I think that if we remember that everything we have is a gift from God, then it becomes easier to remember that He has always taken care of His people, often in miraculous ways. I don’t see any indication that these men with Ezra (who were entrusted with valuables for the temple of God) went hungry, or didn’t have clothing or shelter. In fact, I suspect that they did just fine, because God had more than enough resources available to them, even without dipping into what they were carrying for their own purposes.
If you trust God (or are ready to start), have some frank conversations with Him about how He would like for you to invest what you’re holding onto for Him. Jesus will be coming back, and I suspect that it’s going to be a lot more enjoyable to show Him the good that you did with what He gave you (like the first two men in Matthew 25:19-23), rather than having to admit that you pilfered things for yourself that were meant (by Him) for other people or other purposes.
When you are following His direction, don’t worry about what you need to keep back for your own provisions. When you are in His will, you are His to take care of, and He’s more powerful, more generous, and more wealthy than you ever will be in trying to provide for yourself by yourself.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 22, 2023
- The Lookout, January 22, 2023, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville. © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.