In parts of the world where God’s Word has had significant influence, leaders have recognized and acknowledged dependence on God’s hand of direction and protection during difficult times. Verse 21 was the text of John Robinson’s last sermon preached at Leiden on July 31, 1620 before the Pilgrims sailed for the New World. A century-and-a-half later, men whose names are inseparably connected with the birth of the United States of America gave testimony to the providential care of God.
“It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” –Letter to Abigail Adams, referring to the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, July 3, 1776
“It is the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the SUPREME BEING, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshiping GOD in the manner most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession or sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship.” –Thoughts on Government, 1776
“We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom alone all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven, and with a propitious eye beholds his subjects assuming that freedom of thought, and dignity of self-direction which He bestowed on them. From the rising to the setting sun, may His kingdom come.” –Speech at the State House, Philadelphia, August 1, 1776
“Here is my Creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That He ought to be worshiped…” –Letter to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale University, March 9, 1790
“a punctual attendance of Divine services, to implore the blessing of Heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense.” –General Orders, July 4, 1775
“Let us then rely on the goodness of our cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions.” –General Orders, July 2, 1776
God’s providential care and protection of his people did not begin in 1620 or 1775 or even 458 BC when Ezra set off for Jerusalem. It began in the Garden with Adam and Eve where God gave expression to the promise of a Redeemer who would prevail over Satan, sin and death. Implied in the promise of a Redeemer is the guarantee of a people to be redeemed. Down through the centuries, that redeemed people would need the protecting hand of the Lord God for their very survival – Noah and his family, Esther and Mordecai, and now Ezra and the volunteers headed for Jerusalem.
As Ezra gathers up the caravan of people bent on bringing revival to the church in Jerusalem, we see the hand of the Lord God at work protecting his plan of redemption and the people of his church.
A. the plan of redemption for his church
1. godly remnant v.1
those who had a zeal for God and his worship – see 7:13-14
always a remnant in each generation – that group of people faithful to God regardless of circumstances. Whether Elijah who thought he was sole survivor (really 7000 at least who were on God’s side (1 Kings 19:18) or other bleak times in world history, God has had his people on the earth.
God had promised a remnant, those who would be left after he brought judgment on his people; through the prophet Isaiah God declared that:
“…the remnant who have escaped of the house of Judah Shall again take root downward, And bear fruit upward.For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, And those who escape from Mount Zion. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” Isa. 37:31-32
This would not be self-preservation but a direct act of God himself, using the means at his disposal to protect those who are his.
Paul declared that a remnant still perseveres in the present age, graciously preserved by God for salvation (Rom. 11:5). They are descendants (at least spiritually) of the faithful who returned to Jerusalem with Ezra to excite renewed faithfulness among their brothers.
2. kingly line v.2
Hattush – descendant of Shecaniah; descendant of Zerubbabel (1 Chr. 3:19), leader of the temple rebuilding project and mentioned in Matthew 1:12-13, Luke 3:27; descendant of Jehoiachin and Jehoiakim, 2 of the final kings of Judah and descendants of King David.
remarkable preservation of Jewish people accomplished by God through Esther and Mordecai included specific families – those necessary for an unbroken line of descent from Adam through David to our Lord Jesus. Hattush included here to encourage later generations of the remnant during 400 years of silence while waiting for the promised Messiah.
gives encouragement to us 2500 years later: our Lord God’s protecting hand is particular. God is not like the schoolteacher who makes the entire class miss recess so she can determine who needs special treatment. God gives protection to groups of people – made up of particular individuals of his choosing. There are no accidental benefits when it comes to the care of our Lord.
Because the hand of the Lord God has protected and preserved a godly remnant, we are here worshiping him today. Because the hand of the Lord God has protected and preserved the kingly line, we gather around the King’s Table and partake of elements signifying his completed work of redemption on our behalf.
B. the people of his church
1. providing for their instruction v.18-19
teachers: see also Eph. 4:11-12 “And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”
If the people of God are to be proper worshipers of God and servants for God, they must be taught from the Word of God. If individual believers could effectively fend for themselves, divorced from the teaching ministry of the church, Christ would not have gifted his church specifically with teachers. Ezra made certain there were effective teachers headed for Jerusalem – to help people directly, to teach others how to teach.
put into practice: Neh. 8:8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. NIV
2. providing for proper worship v.17,20
temple servants – Ezra wouldn’t leave town without people resources necessary for worship to be conducted “decently and in order” 1 Cor. 14:40
as with teachers, God using one part of church to aid another part – church in Casiphia, having in abundance, helping church in Jerusalem, having a need
Nethinim – responsible for bringing wood and water for temple service, custodial work within the temple, keeping the worship area clean and neat and presentable
3. preparing a straight (safe) path for his people v.21-23
Ezra said right thing with outside voice, spoke from heart even though had second thoughts later. Statement to the king (v.22b) absolutely correct; v.22a indicates temporary doubt that had been quickly overcome by more right thinking and acting.
Course of action absolutely correct: pray diligently, vehemently and specifically; follow through on intended action; acknowledge answer to prayer and its source. Fasting helped focus; fervent prayer served to remind of dependence, and omnipotence of God. Prayer the means God uses to meet our needs because he has so ordained it.
4. providing deliverance from enemies v.31
another acknowledgment of God’s answer to their prayer – they hadn’t picked a safe route, God had kept them safe on their route, protecting them from enemies and ambush along the way. Had no armed escort, probably no weapons of their own; would have been an inviting and easy target for bandits.
We are “pilgrims on the journey of the narrow road”, our final destination – heaven. There are enemies all along the way: pride, apathy, busyness, discouragement, routine, distractions, temptation, sinful desires and habits. The same sovereign omnipotent God that brought Ezra and his companions safely to Jerusalem is ruling his creation today. He can be counted on to bring us safely to the heavenly city, delivering us from our enemies and ambushes along the road.
Did Paul have Ezra’s passionate declaration of verse 22 in mind when he penned Romans chapter 8? That God works all things for good for those who love him? Those who seek him? Remember Isaiah’s promise:
Isa. 45:6-7 Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near.Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.
God is merciful and gracious to those who seek him, to those who turn from their sin and seek pardon from our loving Lord. His grace exceeds our sin and our guilt, it is marvelous, infinite, matchless, freely bestowed on all those who come to the foot of the cross.