At first Ezra 8 does not look very interesting with its detail about those returning from Babylon. It appears that Ezra wrote this chapter and the next. He led a company of Levites who were returning to Jerusalem carrying a great quantity of gold and silver (see chapter 7) which was plundered by Nebuchadnezzar from the Temple about 100 years earlier. The cargo was of enormous value, the 20 gold bowls (verse 27) alone contained 250 ounces of gold! What a target for robbers and what a challenge of faith for Ezra and his fellows.

(The Persian King is motivated to send it back now that the Temple had been restored. It is possible that this King was the son of Queen Esther. Ahasuerus is mentioned in Ezra 4:6 and in Daniel 9:1: a connection would explain the action of this king Artaxerxes (see Ezra 7:21)).

Ezra proclaims a fast (8:21) before they set out “that we might humble ourselves”. He then said, “For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all those who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all those who forsake him’”.

Scripture shows that sometimes God leads us through the valleys for our long term good, so that we grow and gain a full assurance of faith. These times of testing teach us to commit our lives to God. If we are ‘soldiers for Christ’ there are journeys to be undertaken and tests to be endured; we will read examples of such in Paul’s letters from tomorrow. As we grow spiritually stronger we must not be ashamed of professing our faith.

When Ezra reaches Jerusalem he says, “The hand of our God was on us and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way” (verse 31). As we complete the journey of our own lives may we say the same.