Ezra the priest came to town from Babylon, and he came to Jerusalem with the blessing of King Artaxerxes, who provided abundant resources and who instructed his treasurers to give whatever was required. Part of the letter Artaxerxes sent along with Ezra: “Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons” (7:23). Amazing! God turned the heart of a foreign king in order to heap blessing upon blessing upon his people. Not the first time, not the last.
Ezra writes: “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 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 who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty” (8:21,23).
Of course, there were lots of challenges, particularly the problem of inter-marrying with other nations (chs. 9,10) and other problems that crop up in the story as it continues in Nehemiah. But, for now, it’s wonderful to reflect on the goodness and faithfulness and trustworthiness of God.
God of the ages, whose almighty hand
leads forth in beauty all the starry band
of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,
our grateful songs before thy throne arise.
Refresh thy people on their toilsome way;
lead us from night to never-ending day;
fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
and glory, laud, and praise be ever thine. -- Daniel C. Roberts (1876)