Ezra 8

Ezra 8

SERIES: The Providence of God

Accompaniments of Revival

Introduction:  Last Sunday we noted that there are three essential ingredients to experience revival:  a renewed commitment to Scripture, earnest prayer, and confession.  I think I would like to change that slightly.  Prayer and confession really go together, while the third ingredient is better stated as true repentance.  

We’ve already seen the importance of the Scriptures in the life and ministry of Ezra, and next Lord’s Day we will examine a powerful passage in chapters 9 & 10 on prayer and confession and true repentance.  But this morning in chapter 8 I want us to consider some other factors that will almost always be found in a life that is being re-energized by God.  Rather than include them as prerequisites for revival I have chosen to call them accompaniments of revival, but an argument might be made that these characteristics are just as important.  We want to consider five of these factors:

Praise and thanksgiving for God’s gracious providence (7:27-28; 8:18, 22, 31)

A person who is seeking revival in his own life or in his church will be on the lookout for God’s fingerprints in his life and when they are spotted, will respond with praise and thanksgiving.  There is a phrase which we saw last Sunday in chapter 7 that appears numerous times also in chapter 8: “the gracious hand of the Lord our God was upon us.”  Allow me to point out the references: 7:6b, 7:9b, 27, 28, 8:18, 22, 31b.  Most of these are first-person affirmations by Ezra that God was active in his life.  He didn’t consider himself lucky; nor was he so righteous that God had no choice but to bless him.  Rather, he was prospering spiritually in his efforts because of the gracious providence of God.  He knew that and he praised and thanked God for it.

Why is it that Ezra was so aware of God’s providence while many believers today don’t seem to have a clue about it?  Do you think God is less active today?  Do you think He has abandoned the human race for other more promising endeavors?  Or has our scientific and technological age, and our relative prosperity so conditioned us that we are unable to see the evidence of God’s activity in our behalf?  I think that’s part of it.  It was easier to thank God for providing one’s food when one had to go out and find it each day, whereas many of us have a month’s or more supply in our pantries and freezers at any given time.  

Perhaps it was easier to thank God for a safe journey 40 years ago when there was an even chance on any trip that you’d experience a blowout (you younger folk may have never seen a tire blow out, but it used to be a rather common occurrence—sometimes at 65 mph!  The year before I was born my parents moved from Phoenix to Dallas, where my dad was entering Seminary.  It was during the war and tires were just unavailable.  They made the trip on tires, one of which had 27 patches; believe me, they praised and thanked God when they arrived.  

Friends, we need to look behind our luxury and security to see the fingerprints of God and continually thank Him for sparing our lives and our families from crime and AIDS and divorce and poverty and countless other potential threats that are all around us.  Now the second accompaniment of revival I see in Ezra’s life is …

Moral courage (7:28)

Look at the last verse of chapter 7:  “Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.”  Friends, the simple fact that King Artaxerxes has granted permission for Ezra to lead a rescue mission back to Jerusalem didn’t eliminate the need for courage in his life.  Often God opens doors for us and we fail to walk through because we lack courage.  But Ezra “took courage” (it literally means “he strengthened himself”).  He strengthened himself in the knowledge that the project which lay on his heart was in reality God’s project and therefore would be attended with success.  

By the way, Ezra’s moral courage stands in stark contrast to that of the Levites.  At the beginning of chapter 8 the census is given of those who volunteered to go to Palestine with Ezra, but in verse 15 Ezra says, “When I checked among the people and the priests, I found no Levites there.”  Levites were critical to the operation of the temple.  The priests were like senior pastors and the Levites were support staff.  No church can function in a healthy manner with just a senior pastor and Ezra saw that it was critical that he recruit some Levites.  

Why hadn’t they volunteered?  Probably the same reason it’s tough to recruit missionaries today.  You see, Levites were not allowed to own property—they had to live on the tithes of others, which can be humbling.  Furthermore, Levites were subordinate to the priests, a mundane role without a lot of prestige.  Back in Babylon, however, where there was no temple, the Levites had become bankers, and they were doing very well.  Their attitude was probably, “Ezra, more power to you!  How can we help?  You need a thousand dollars?  No problem!  Write to me if you need more and I’ll send you another check.”  It doesn’t always take moral courage to give a check; it always takes courage to give of ourselves.

Moral courage is a commodity that is increasingly scarce in our society.  Our politicians lack the moral courage to tell the American people the truth that there are no free lunches.  Unions lack the moral courage to admit that featherbedding and other common labor practices are killing American industry and driving jobs overseas.  Middle-level executives lack the moral courage to tell their bosses they won’t participate in unethical business practices, even if it means their jobs.  Churches lack the moral courage to call sin “sin” and risk the loss of influential members.  Kids at school lack the moral courage to say no to drugs and alcohol, premarital sex, filthy language, and indecent movies.  

Where are we going to find people who are willing to take a stand for what is right, no matter who is watching, and to do what is right, no matter what the cost?  If we really believe that the hand of the Lord is on our lives, then we have every reason to be people of courage.  A third inevitable concomitant of revival among God’s people is …

Unusual faith (21-23)

Look again at verse 21, where Ezra writes, 

    “There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.  I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’  So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.” 

I’m reminded of Psalm 20:7:  “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  They are brought to their knees and fall but we rise up and stand firm.”  Unusual faith, accompanied by prayer and fasting and humility before God, is almost always in evidence when revival touches God’s people.

Now think carefully with me about this situation facing Ezra, because there are some potential pitfalls of interpretation here if we’re not careful.  This passage is not telling us that seeking protection is ungodly or necessarily a lack of faith.  I would not suggest that, in order to see revival in your life, you go on a Saturday night drive through East St. Louis with your car doors unlocked. Frankly, there are religious people who thrive on proving their faith by purposely putting themselves in danger.  In certain parts of Tennessee and Kentucky there are snake-handling churches where every Sunday those who are really “godly” will pick up rattlesnakes and dance with them wrapped around their arms and necks.  If they are bitten that just proves they didn’t have enough faith.  Well, I don’t call that unusual faith—I call that unusual stupidity.  It tempts God besides.

But maybe some of the 5,000 people who were taking this trip with Ezra thought his refusal of a military escort to be unusual stupidity too.  What’s the difference?  The difference is in the motivation.  There is no possible value in handling snakes other than to prove to your friends that you are a person of unusual faith.  In other words, the motive is essentially one of spiritual pride. But Ezra’s motive is very different.  He had talked so sincerely and enthusiastically to the king about God’s sovereignty and providence that to turn around and ask for a military escort would make his words ring hollow.  For the sake of God’s reputation, not his own, he opts for the avenue of unusual faith.  

By the way, in the book of Nehemiah a very different approach is taken.  Turn over just a couple of pages to the second chapter of Nehemiah.  The events recorded here occur about 14 years after Ezra’s trip, with Nehemiah asking permission from the same king for the privilege of leading a group back to Jerusalem, this time for the purpose of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  Look at the end of verse 8 of Neh. 2: “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.  So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters.  The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.” 

Does this mean Nehemiah was not as much a man of faith as Ezra?  No, not necessarily. The situations are very different.  Ezra was a priest on a clearly religious mission. Nehemiah, on the other hand, was a political leader on a building mission.  Besides, Nehemiah, as we will see in a few weeks, demonstrated unusual faith in other ways.  Faith is never a cookie-cutter issue—it is an individual matter before the believer and God.

Many of you have heard of George Mueller, a dedicated Christian who founded numerous orphanages Bristol, England in the 19th century.  He had a philosophy of never telling anyone about the financial needs of his ministry but rather relying solely on prayer to meet the considerable needs of his children.  Because George Mueller demonstrated unusual faith in this matter (and God honored it), does that mean we have to operate the same way in order to qualify as people of faith?  Frankly, it may actually take more faith to honestly share one’s needs with people and change directions if God doesn’t provide.  Because a certain church chooses to build only after all the money is given in cash, does that mean we have to do it the same way?  It may actually in certain circumstances take more faith to move ahead in response to the growth that God has brought and trust him for faithful givers to retire the mortgage.  Unusual faith may mean different things in different situations.

Allow me to comment on a side issue, if I may.  Please note that Ezra and his fellow pilgrims pray for journey mercies, but not the way a lot of people pray today.  I frequently hear people praying like this, “Lord, I thank you that you have already provided a safe trip, or have already healed so-and-so, or have already met this need or that.”  I don’t desire to be critical of sincere prayer (on the contrary, I’m delighted when anyone prays), but what is the biblical basis for that kind of praying?  Can you find any biblical examples of prayer that claim the answer before it is granted? 

I’m sure most people who pray that way do so because they believe it expresses more faith in God than if they just ask for something.  After all, they are believing that God has already ordered it done.  But there may be a fine line between faith and presumption.  Ezra here is obviously exercising incredible faith, but he doesn’t thank God for a safe journey—he asks Him for one.  Of course, when the answer is granted, he is sure to give God the glory.

Now a fourth accompaniment of revival that characterized Ezra’s life and must characterize ours if we want to experience spiritual renewal is …

Unassailable integrity (24-34)

Starting in verse 24 we find Ezra expressing great concern about the treasures his caravan will be carrying from Babylon back to Jerusalem.  If you turn back to chapter 7 and the letter of Artaxerxes that begins in verse 12 you will find financial resources mentioned prominently.  Look first at verse 15:  

    “Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisers have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, together with all the silver and gold you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the freewill offerings of the people and priests for the temple of their God in Jerusalem.”  

Verse 19 adds, “Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God.  And anything else needed for the temple of your God that you may have occasion to supply, you may provide from the royal treasury.”  

Artaxerxes goes on to order all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates to provide further financial resources and then exempts all the clergy from paying taxes or duties (I like that), but it is the previously mentioned treasures that Ezra is responsible to transport 900 miles (I think I mistakenly said 500 last week) across bandit-infested territory without a military escort.

Interestingly, Ezra seems more concerned about internal security than external security.  God would take care of the potential bandits along the way—Ezra will not worry about that.  But what about traitors in their midst who might embezzle along the way?  To avoid any temptation in that direction he sets apart twelve of the leading priests and twelve laymen and weighs out to them the silver and gold and articles that the king and everyone else have donated.  

The weight of this horde is figured by modern scholars at over thirty tons.  This includes 25 tons of silver, silver articles weighing 3 3/4 tons, gold weighing 3 3/4 tons, 20 bowls of gold that weighed about 19 pounds, and two expensive bronze objects.  All this today would be valued at over $50 million.  If you doubt the authenticity of this account, as some liberal scholars do, it is well to keep in mind that Persian kings were well known for their incomparable riches, and during this very time the banking business of the Jewish Murashu family was flourishing in Babylon, according to secular history.  People like them could have contributed substantial gifts for the effort in much the same way that American Jewish families give today to help sustain the State of Israel.

Not only are the resources themselves publicly dedicated to God, but so are the individuals to whom the resources are entrusted (v. 28).  “Guard them carefully,” charges Ezra, “until you weigh them out in the chambers of the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.”  In verse 31 careful note is made of the fact that “the hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way,”and the next few verses make it evident that Ezra’s precautions protected them from embezzlement from within.  Verse 34 states, “Everything was accounted for by number and weight, and the entire weight was recorded at that time.”  

The principle I see here is that God requires unassailable integrity—financial and otherwise. Probably as many Christian leaders have fallen in this area as have fallen in the moral area.  When ABC TV did their expose on TV preachers some months back, they did not reveal sexual misconduct on the part of Larry Lea, Robert Tilton, and others.  But in each case they revealed a serious lack of financial integrity in those ministries.  And it’s not always the clergy who are guilty of misconduct—sometimes it’s local church treasurers.  About the same time our church began in 1983 a very close friend of mine named Bill Hull left the Free Church he pastored in the Moline, Iowa, and moved to San Diego to start a church from scratch.  I asked him how he could know if it was the Lord leading him from Iowa to San Diego!  If it were the other way around there wouldn’t be any question. 

At any rate, the church there grew about like ours did here in St. Louis, and they bought property and drew up plans for a new building, only to discover that the church treasurer had embezzled a large amount of money!  There was no way to recover it and the church had to eat the loss.  Sadly, that is a much more common occurrence than you would think in evangelical circles. And that’s why our Elders and Deacons have worked to provide every sensible precaution so that the money you give will go for the purpose for which you gave it.  That’s also why they forbid the pastors from handling any church funds at all or even knowing who gives what.  Financial integrity is essential in a church that desires God’s blessing.

But financial integrity is just as important in a believer’s personal life as it is in a church’s life.  A church can rise no higher than its individual members, because a church is its members.  Let me ask you, how is your own financial integrity?  Is your credit good?  Is your borrowing out of control?  If you’re a salesman, do you always speak the truth about what you’re selling?  If a clerk gives you more change than you’re due, do you return it?  Do you pay less tax than required?  Are you robbing God of what is due Him in respect to your giving?   

Sincere worship (35-36)

It says in verse 35 that the exiles who returned with Ezra, having rested for three days, weighed out the gold and silver they brought, then offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel—12 bulls, 96 rams, 77 male lambs, and 12 male goats.  All this was a burnt offering to the Lord—a recognition of their sin and an act of worship because of His amazing grace.

Where Christians seek renewal and revival one will always find increased attention being given to worship.   Worship can become very routine.  Sing a couple of hymns, read some Scripture, pray, take up an offering, sing a few more songs, have a sermon, welcome the visitors and off to the donuts!  But friends, if and when we get really serious about our relationship with God, our worship takes on an entirely new dimension in our lives.  Our singing will come from our hearts, we will pray along with the one who is leading us, we will take joy in our privilege of generous giving, and we will listen carefully as the Word of God is taught, pen in hand to record insights that God lays especially on our hearts.  And we will demonstrate Christian love to one another.

This morning we have looked at five major accompaniments of revival, which are offered here in Ezra in addition to the absolute prerequisites of renewed commitment to Bible study, earnest prayer and confession, and true repentance.  We have considered a spirit of praise and thanksgiving for God’s providence, moral courage, unusual faith, unassailable integrity, and sincere worship.  

Conclusion:  Friends, revival is not a mystical experience that “just happens” wherever and whenever the Spirit of God chooses.  It is instead a predictable, perhaps even inevitable, result when certain kinds of attitudes and actions characterize the people of God.  Let me ask you to choose one or two of these characteristics which you know before God needs to be a higher priority in your life.  Choose those areas which you know are preventing you from experiencing victory and revival in your spiritual life.  

A man once came to Gipsy Smith, the celebrated English evangelist, and asked him how to have revival.  Said Gypsy, “Do you have a place where you can pray?”  “Yes,” was the reply. “Tell you what to do, you go to that place, and take a piece of chalk along.  Kneel down there, and with the chalk draw a complete circle all around you—and pray for God to send revival on everything inside the circle. Stay there until he answers, and you will have revival.”  His point was simply this:  revival starts with us as individuals.  It will never come to a church or a city or a nation without coming first to its members and its citizens.  May God do a work in our hearts as we bow for a moment of silent prayer.

DATE:  June 7, 1992







Ezra 9, 10
Ezra 7