Let’s talk about Ezra’s specific journey for just a moment. I want you to see how big a deal this was. First, this journey was long. This was not a short trip. The total distanced covered would be 900 miles because they had to go north along the river to secure a water supply. They could not take the shortest route. Second, this route was dangerous. There were many robbers and looters along the route who would seek to attack them. Ezra and his people would bring a considerable amount of gold and silver with them for the temple. We read this in Ezra chapter 8 verse 26:
I weighed out into their hand 650 talents of silver, and silver vessels worth 200 talents, and 100 talents of gold,
(Ezra 8:26, ESV)
This is just one verse, there was more! To put this in perspective, one talent was equal to 66 pounds. So, in this one verse we are told they are carrying 6,600 pounds of gold with them on this journey. I’m no financial expert but that seems like a lot of gold, and just as much silver. Now, if you were carrying that much precious metal, wouldn’t it be nice to have an armed escort from the king? After all, he seems to be granting all your requests. Given the circumstances, Ezra’s choice seems very odd. After counting the costs and praying for a safe journey, Ezra says this:
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.”
(Ezra 8:22, ESV)
Wow. Just to summarize, Ezra is leading 5,000 people (men, women and children) on a dangerous 900 mile trip on foot! And they will be carrying with them thousands of pounds of silver and gold under threat of ambush. Ezra says, “I was ashamed to ask the king for help because I told him God would protect him.”
This passage raises an important question, how do you balance faith and discernment? Right? This question and scene expose some personality types. Some of us, we are big faith people! You might say, “Ezra has it right! Just have faith that God will protect us! All you people who over prep and plan, where is your faith?”
Others of us think Ezra is crazy. “Just ask for the escort and swallow your pride! You are being foolish!” Now, what’s interesting is that if you skip head to Nehemiah 2, he asks for asks for an escort! All my preppers and planners say, “that’s right, Nehemiah is the wise, spiritual leader!”
My point is, how do you balance faith and discernment? How do you trust the hand of God? Was Ezra wrong? Was Nehemiah wrong?
This question gets at the heart of God’s providential work in the world. I believe God works providentially in different ways. Was Ezra wrong? No. He was trusting in God’s supernatural providence. Sometimes, God may be calling us to trust him and it makes no sense to anyone else.
I’ll offer an illustration. I had a friend who used to take mission trips to China and smuggle in Bibles. If they were caught, they would be sent right back to the United States. While they made some preparations, they had to trust, at some level, that God would supernaturally allow them to pass. And he had several stories of God allowing them through. Have you ever had a moment where God providential guided you around danger?
Sometimes God is simply calling you to step out in faith, and trust that he will protect. Was Nehemiah wrong? No. I think he was also trusting God. He was trusting in the mundane providence of God. God supplied protection to Nehemiah because he had an escort from the king. Both can be true and both can be the hand of God. What is true in your situation? Do you Trust the hand of God?