By the canal that flows toward Ahava, I announced a fast. I told the people not to eat any food. In that way, we made ourselves humble in God’s sight. We prayed that he would give us and our children a safe journey. We asked him to keep safe everything we owned. I was ashamed to ask King Artaxerxes for soldiers and horsemen. They could have kept us safe from enemies on the road. But we had told the king that our God would keep us safe. We had said, “Our God is gracious and helps everyone who looks to him. But he becomes very angry with anyone who deserts him.” So we didn’t eat anything. We prayed to our God about all these matters. And he answered our prayers.
Today we take a look at Ezra and the fast he called for. Most of us, even those who don’t know a whole lot about the Bible, can name a few great people from the Bible. There’s David – the classic underdog story. There’s Noah – commandeering a floating zoo of epic proportions. There’s Moses – the guy with the big stone tablets and a bunch of people running through the sea. I am sure you could probably name a few more. But what about Ezra? Did his name pop into your head? Probably not. So who was he?
The commentary in my Life Application Bible describes him as “a priest, a scribe, and a great leader. His name means “help,” and his whole life was dedicated to serving God and God’s people.” We are told in Ezra 7:9-10, that the gracious hand of God was on Ezra because he had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teaching its decrees and laws to Israel. We meet up with Ezra almost 80 years after the first wave of Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem from being captive in Babylon. Babylon had been defeated by Persia and the new king issued a decree to send anyone else – a second wave of exiles – who wanted to, to return home to Jerusalem. He put Ezra in charge of the trip. Ezra began a search for families who wanted to return to Jerusalem and he began to make plans. But along with the physical plans for the journey, Ezra made spiritual plans. He called the people to fast and pray before they ever set out for home. Ezra was certain of God’s faithfulness and he trusted in God’s promise to protect his people – but he also knew that they needed to put God first. Choosing to fast and pray, asking God for protection for the journey and to sustain them as they went, was admitting that God was in control and that they were dependent on God for the success of the journey.
The same is true for us. God is still faithful today. And we can trust His promises for our lives. But we need to seek Him first – setting our priorities right and placing our reliance solely on the one who can provide and protect us for the journey ahead. Don’t get caught up in just making physical plans. Seek God first and start with some spiritual plans.