On this day 2,506 years ago, a group from the Jewish diaspora, led by Ezra, set out from Babylon for their spiritual home in Jerusalem.
The second major group to return from the Jewish exile, Ezra travelled with some 5,000 returnees.(2) He had been given the blessing of King Artaxerxes, including provision of massive amounts of gold, silver and other valuable articles to be used in the house of God in Jerusalem.(3)
Ezra was a man of God on a mission from God. He meticulously and prayerfully prepared for the journey, assembling the return group of priests, temple servants, and others by the Ahava River (near the city of Babylon) to prepare for their journey:
“There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. Ezra 8:21 NIV
On April 19th they set out for Jerusalem (900 miles), arriving some four months later:
“On the twelfth day of the first month we set out from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way.” Ezra 8:31 NIV
Ezra’s return to Jerusalem was a significant moment in the history of the Jewish people. The situation in Judah was discouraging. Religious laxity was prevalent, the Law was widely disregarded, and public and private morality was at a low level. Ezra was a reformer who was instrumental in returning the Jewish community to the law of the Torah (read: God’s will for and covenant with his people). Ezra’s work did much to give Jewish religion the form that was to characterize it for centuries afterward. So important was his ministry that later tradition has sometimes referred to him as a second Moses.
The story of Ezra is one of hope and restoration. For the Christian whose life is scarred by sin and rebellion against God, there is the certain knowledge that ours is a God of forgiveness, a God who will not turn His back on us when we seek Him in repentance and brokenness (1 John 1:9). And, as with the rebuilding of the temple and the dispatching of Ezra to Jerusalem, God superintends the work of renovating and rededicating our lives to His purposes. Our role in God’s providence is to humble ourselves and set out on the journey.
1. There is some scholarly debate about whether the year was 458, 428 or 398. We lean to the earlier date.
2. The first group had made the journey some 80 years earlier. No doubt there had also been others who had returned in the intervening years.
3. The Babylonian King’s motivations included (in obvious order of importance): the movement of God, Ezra’s prowess as both a priest and a politician (another movement of God), the King’s desire to exert as much control as possible over the far reaches of his kingdom, and his hope that by appeasing the God of the Jews he might bring favor on his kingdom.