Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
God does not fail His people, for they travel safely, even though dangers from enemies and bandits are present. Ezra repeats his favourite phrase here: the hand of God is on him and his people (Ezra 8:31; see 7:6, 28; 8:18, 22).
When they arrive in Jerusalem after a four-month journey, they rest three days (v. 32). The gold, silver, and sacred articles are then handed over to the priests and Levites in Jerusalem. ″Everything was accounted for by number and weight, and the entire weight was recorded at that time″ (v. 34). It may have been the practice of the Persian Empire to require such accounting and to send to the palace a certificate of receipt. In any case, the careful counting and weighing demonstrates the integrity and stewardship of Ezra and his associates, and the administrative effectiveness of the man.
Ezra's personal account continues in 9:1, but before that are two verses (8:35-36) that are written in the third person describing the offerings and sacrifices made by the new returnees at the temple. They offer two kinds of offerings: burnt offerings for the atonement for general sinfulness (Leviticus 1) and a sin offering for the forgiveness of specific sins (Leviticus 4). The burnt offerings include 12 bulls ″for all Israel″ (Ezra 8:35), representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Likewise, the sin offering is 12 male goats. Though the two major tribes present are Judah and Benjamin, the others, such as Levi, also have their representatives in the remnant. God is dealing not just with part of the nation of Israel, but all of it. The people need to be reminded of their sinfulness and guilt as well as God's forgiveness and mercy. This is always the basis of our relationship with God: a deep awareness of God's holiness and His mercy.
Ezra hands over his credentials, letter, and decree of King Artaxerxes to the provincial rulers, who provide help to the temple and the people (v. 36). Ezra can now carry out his mission without any opposition or hindrance. His ministry of teaching will be featured more prominently in Nehemiah; the rest of his book will emphasise his efforts to establish God's law and reform the community.
Some of the lessons we can learn from today's passage include: We are to have integrity as part of good stewardship, exercising care and honesty over the things God has entrusted to us. The basis of our relationship with God is His holiness, mercy, and forgiveness in Christ.
How can we practise integrity in our personal lives, at home, in church, and at the workplace?
Paul wrote, ″Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God″ (Romans 11:22). Why is it important to remember that the basis of our relationship with God is His holiness and mercy?