The full group is now assembled by the river. But before leaving they NEED to ask to ensure they have protection. Ezra proclaims a fast to ask GOD to be that protection.
The group that Ezra sent to the Levites was successful and now he feels well represented before the Lord. Their numbers, according to those given here, are between 1,770 and 1,785 men. This does not include women and children.
Each family has all the goods that they have gathered while in the land with them. They came in destitute but are leaving full. I looked back to see if the king had told them to ask of their neighbors for gold, silver or clothing but he did not. He did provide them with abundant offerings. They would be a prime target for thieves as these men are not warriors. Ezra recognizes this and makes a plan to deal with it.
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The last of the Levites have made their places among the group gathered by the river. Early in the morning Ezra looks around at the people and love floods his heart. These people are demonstrating in the most tangible way their dedication to their God. They are abandoning all that they have known and walking by faith into whatever the Lord has for them.
Something occurs to Ezra as he scans the group. These people are not fighters. There are MANY women and children among them. And they have no way to protect themselves. They will be traveling a great distance and there are many perils along the way, including robbers. They need protection.
Ezra thinks about asking King Artaxerxes for protection from his garrisons. Just as that thought takes hold another rushes to the surface. It is of him telling the king how God protects those who follow Him. “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of His wrath is against all who forsake Him” (verse 22b).
“This entire group is seeking God” reasons Ezra. “Surely He can protect us. All we need do is ask Him.”
This settled in his heart, he calls the elders from the group and the priests together. He has something he needs all to agree to. This will be their first task as a group.
Ezra addresses the elders. “We have a long way to go and many perils lay between us and our destination. We NEED protection.”
A voice is heard in the group. “Will you ask the king for soldiers to protect and guide us?”
“I had considered that, but no. Our journey is for our God. It is He who we will seek protection from. We KNOW that He watches over His children and that He is able to protect us. We need but humbly ask.”
Ezra pauses and looks around the group. He wants to make certain that everyone is on board and ready for his next directive. All eyes are on him as they wait.
“I am proclaiming a fast to the Lord. From the beginning of the new day until the beginning of the next day, no food or drink will touch our lips. The only exception is for nursing mothers and very young children. They may drink but must abstain from food for the day. As we observe this fast, the Levites will bring our petition before the Lord. Pass the word to your people, for we will pray as one.”
Word quickly spreads through the camp. Mothers are instructed to feed their children a good meal just prior to the beginning of the new day. The grown-ups would take in a little extra water this evening too. And in the middle of the camp the Levites set up a small tent to act as a sanctuary.
With the sunset the new day began. As one, the people turned to the center of the camp and began to offer prayers of thanksgiving and petitions for the Lord’s hand to protection. The priests offered their prayers also to the Lord.
As darkness settled over the camp the people completed their nightly rituals, minus any food or drink, and retired to their beds. When morning broke the people went about their daily tasks but with hearts focused on the Lord. All day petitions were offered to the Lord on behalf of the people by the priests and prayers were whispered in every corner of the camp.
Preparations continued for the journey. Ezra told the people they would leave at first light on the morrow. As the people readied for the morning their faith continued to build. Even as their bellies protested their fast, their spirits soared. They KNEW in their hearts that their God heard them. Any time they doubted all they need do is look around them and see His hand in bringing them out of captivity. It was God who moved on the heart of the king. It was God who provided for their needs. And it would be their God who would see them through safely. All they need do is trust Him and obey.
As the sun began to sink in the west, the priest offering prayers for the people at the time stiffened. He stood straight and proclaimed in a loud voice, “I, your God, have heard your prayers. And I will be with you as you go. I will put a hedge about you. I will be your Rear Guard as well as lead you in the way you should go. You shall walk in safety.”
The people were overjoyed at the confirmation from the Lord that He had indeed heard their prayers. Once the sun had set a feast was laid out for all to partake in. The fast was over and the people had the assurance that their God had indeed heard their prayers.
While the people feasted Ezra undertook the final task before leaving on this journey with the people.
(to be continued)
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I have personally only fasted for one reason; the sale of my house in Tennessee. I would fast once a week for this purpose. At the time I was also deep in the throes of my eating disorder. Fasting was probably not the wisest decision at the time. I don’t know if God called me to this fast or if I chose it to try and move Him. My house did sell but I had to bring money to closing for it to do so. But God provided that money exactly when it was needed. I was hoping to use it for a different purpose. I was going to say the fast didn’t have the intended result but by my telling you can see that it did. Its sale released a major burden from my shoulders. With my eating issues though I don’t know that it is something that God will use in my life. I’m not saying He will never call me to fast but His call had better be VERY clearly Him if He does.
Father God, thank You that You hear Your children when we call on You. You heard me, even though it wasn’t the exactly how I wanted You to answer. You did it the way YOU knew was best. I have no idea what would have been different in my life if the outcome would have lined up with my desires. This way my testimony is actually stronger though because You not only met the need but met the need I didn’t know existed before it actually appeared. You are AMAZING!
Thank You for always being my protection. Even now Your hand is on my life and You provide for me, better than I ever could have hoped for. Keep me walking in Your will and bring me back when I step outside of it. That is my place of safety, even when the storms come and ‘get my feet wet’.