“I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him. So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.” (Ezra 8: 22-23)
Ezra and a remnant of the Israelites had been released from captivity by Ataxerxes, the King of Persia, to go and worship the Lord in the temple that had been rebuilt during the reign of Darius. Before they set out on their perilous journey, Ezra had gathered them at the river to fast and pray. However they weren’t going empty-handed: in the care of the priests and Levites was “six hundred and fifty talents of silver, silver articles weighing one hundred talents, one hundred talents of gold, twenty gold basins worth a thousand drachmas, and two vessels of fine polished bronze, precious as gold.” One talent weighed roughly 50kg; about the weight of one adult. So along with the men, women and children were another 100 people in solid gold, and 750 more people in solid silver, plus the other precious objects, presumably transported by donkey or ox-cart, all on a journey of around 2000 kilometres.
Ezra was a priest and a scribe. He knew the word of God. And not only did he know the Word, but he believed it without compromise, trusting God and not the armies of men for protection for all those people in his care, and all the wealth that they were carrying on this long and perilous journey. He believed what he declared, and walked in it. But also he didn’t walk in presumption, but under his leadership they prayed earnestly, they humbled themselves, and they fasted; and “the gracious hand of God was upon them” to deliver them safely to Jerusalem.
For us, as we journey on the road towards Jerusalem – the New One – how much of the word of God do we believe and walk in? At the time of writing we live in a climate of virus-induced fear, exaggerated by the negative words of headline-hunting media, reinforced by the sinister image of the face mask that robs the wearer of his or her smile, and by the deprivation of warm human contact through social distancing measures. As believers we are certain that God is at work through all this, because Romans 8: 28 tells us that “all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” However the fact remains that the virus and its ravages are the work of “the enemy on the road.” Yes, we have to comply with the law and its anti-virus measures, because the Bible tells us that as well. But do we give into the enemy of fear when we put the mask over our smile or imprison ourselves in our “social bubbles,” or do we believe that “God is my protection” and “No plague shall come near my dwelling?”
Our response to the enemy of fear in the context of coronavirus is just one aspect of many ways in which we can be selective in our faith. For example, the Bible is clear in both the old and new testaments that God detests same-sex relationships (For example. Leviticus 18:22, and 20:13; Romans : 24-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.) Do we ignore that part of the word because it’s uncomfortable and hard to swallow, like a chewy bit of gristle that we leave on the side of the plate? There are no details given, but it isn’t hard to guess what some of the “detestable practices” of the surrounding pagan nations were that the Israelites, and many of their kings, found so attractive and which led to their downfall. A liberal gospel is not the gospel of Salvation. The narrow gate is like the restrictors found now at the top of airport and underground escalators: we can’t take all our baggage through, no matter how much we might want it with us.
Healing, deliverance, the critical importance of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, God’s promises of provision in times of hardship – how often is this food left on the side of the plate? Demons are another bit of gristle. They are a very real part of the unseen realm, but it is so easy leave them to carry on their activities instead of learning how to deal with them effectively. And what does the Word tell us about division, backbiting and criticism, for example – what we might call the sins of the tongue rather than the sins of the flesh. Do we leave that as well? Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He gave Himself totally for our salvation. He is also the Living Word, and He is alive in us. If we want all that He has to give us, we need all of Him, not just the tasty bits, and we need to give ourselves totally to Him. We need the faith of Ezra in every aspect of our lives.