For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way…
It is a glimpse into a spiritual history which our text here presents to us. Of Ezra himself we have but a vague and shadowy idea; he has long since passed to the realm where storms and struggles are ended, and the mystery of life gives place to the clear sunlight of God's love. But within that strong, devout soul a great struggle was once fought out. The anxious questioning of his troubled and perplexed spirit was real enough then. And while it is possible to miss the true lesson and to push the teaching to a dangerous extreme, it will, if we penetrate to the spirit of the story, supply an answer to a modern problem and a truth fruitful for our modern lives. Ezra sought to satisfy the old equation between the Divine power and the human agency. He put to himself the familiar question — Is the use of means any the less a trusting in God? may not the means fall within the compass of God's plan of deliverance? And the issue of the struggle was this: at every hazard he must stand right with God and with his own heart, and therefore he refused to resort to an arm of flesh at all. We appear to have here a plain and blank refusal to use means. Some would have said — "Surely we may trust in the good hand of God, and the soldiers of the king." But to Ezra's scrupulous faith it presented an alternative. One or the other but not both. One or the other he must elect to have. He refused, not only because of the nature of the instrument, but also because it was an instrument. He said in effect, "Both we and our enemies are in the hands of God; it is His work, therefore, and not ours, to secure our safety and our welfare." Let us not suppose that we have here a unique instance of complete trust in God. It was when Jacob saw no human way of escape, and God had showed him his utter helplessness, that he went forth with a calm face and a brave heart to meet his brother Esau. It was when the horsemen were hard upon the children of Israel that the Lord began to trouble the Egyptians. There is nothing grander in this Book than the calm tramp of Moses on through the wilderness, with no attempt at self-defence, only the simple assurance, "The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace." Let me remind you of the boy who went to meet the mightiest of living warriors with a sling and a stone. Perhaps there were some who said, "Surely you can trust in God and put on the armour of Saul as well." But David felt that the armour was unnecessary if he had the shield of God's power. In all these examples we find a faith which rested in God and not in means of deliverance. We may find it hard to understand Ezra, because our Christian character is often composed of one part of faith and ninety-nine parts of common sense, while his contained ninety-nine parts of faith and one part common sense. We trust in God, but feel safer if the mail-clad warriors are at our side; we know the twelve legions of angels are around us, but we are glad to feel the two swords concealed beneath our cloaks; we believe that the manna will fall day by day, yet we like to take bread with us lest it should fail to come. At the same time it is important to observe that it is the spirit of this incident we are to copy and not the form. As an instance of the rejection of means it is not an instance for all times and for all circumstances. Our Lord Himself taught us not to trust in God to do that which we may do for ourselves. The jars of water at Cane, the net cast into the sea, and the stone rolled away from the sepulchre, teach us that God will work through earthly instruments. But we maintain that failure oftener results from trusting in the means more than in God than from trusting in God and not in means. It i"" the deepest truth for the Christian worker that our churches, our ministrations, our methods, are but channels for the grace of God. We want not so much the eloquent tongue as the bended knee; not so much the crowded church as the crowded prayer meeting; not so much the beautiful temple as the glory of the Lord within. The great need now is not for better and more perfect machinery, but for a more consecrated spiritual life, and for a profounder trust in God, who can work with or without our machinery. It is, moreover, the secret of peace for the Christian life. But further, not only had Ezra the earnest longing to be right with God, but also to seem right. He was unwilling to put any stumbling-block in the way of the king. Though Artaxerxes might grant the request, might it not lessen his conception of the goodness and power of God? This age, which more than any other demands reality in its religion, demands the most careful seeming also. Tell men that we are pilgrims, and then let them see us making our habitations here; tell them that we are laying up the incorruptible riches, and then let them see us intent on the corruptible gain; tell them our confidence is in God, and then let them see us as hard in sorrow, as cynical in disappointment, as unbelieving in distress as themselves; tell them that we live for the unseen and the eternal, and then let them mark us caring for nothing we cannot see and clutch with our fingers; tell them that we confess a higher allegiance, and bow before a higher will, and then let them see us conforming our lives to their cold, worldly maxims, and we may say what we will, but they will treasure up our words as among the hollow falsities of a false creed. Let us be on our guard not to offend a watching world by the broad gulf between the spoken word and the visible life.
(J. H. Shakespeare, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.
WEB: For I was ashamed to ask of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way, because we had spoken to the king, saying, "The hand of our God is on all those who seek him, for good; but his power and his wrath is against all those who forsake him."