21 I proclaimed a fast by the Ahava River, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey for us, our children, and all our possessions. 22 I did this because I was ashamed to ask the king for infantry and cavalry to protect us from enemies during the journey, since we had told him, “The hand of our God is gracious to all who seek Him, but His great anger is against all who abandon Him.” 23 So we fasted and pleaded with our God about this, and He granted our request. 24 I selected 12 of the leading priests, along with Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and 10 of their brothers. 25 I weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the articles—the contribution for the house of our God that the king, his counselors, his leaders, and all the Israelites who were present had offered. 26 I weighed out to them 24 tons of silver, silver articles weighing 7,500 pounds, 7,500 pounds of gold, 27 20 gold bowls worth 1, 000 gold coins, and two articles of fine gleaming bronze, as valuable as gold. 28 Then I said to them, “You are holy to the Lord, and the articles are holy. The silver and gold are a freewill offering to the Lord God of your fathers. 29 Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in the chambers of the Lord’s house before the leading priests, Levites, and heads of the Israelite families in Jerusalem.” 30 So the priests and Levites took charge of the silver, the gold, and the articles that had been weighed out, to bring them to the house of our God in Jerusalem.
31 We set out from the Ahava River on the twelfth day of the first month to go to Jerusalem. We were strengthened by our God, and He protected us from the power of the enemy and from ambush along the way. 32 So we arrived at Jerusalem and rested there for three days.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
It’s very easy to respond in a fleshly way to events in our life. Someone attacks us and we respond with a fleshly comment. Fear comes over us and we act in our flesh to find a way to eliminate the source.
Ezra is leading a large group of Hebrews out of exile and back to Israel. His flesh would be inclined to ask for an armed escort. Surely an army of the king could protect this band of wanderers. Then Ezra remembers a bold proclamation he made to the king: “My God is big enough to handle all of this and more.”
Big promises. So how would it look for the man who made such a proclamation to ask the king for back up? In a strange sort of way, the fast that Ezra commanded the people to participate in was as much for God’s reputation as it was for their deliverance. Ezra was praying, “God show us the way. Deliver us from our enemies and, by the way, protect your reputation.”
The fast that was done for deliverance is probably one of the most familiar in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. King Jehoshaphat commanded a fast in the face of his enemies (2 Chronicles 20:3-4), as did Ezra in today’s passage.
David wasn’t facing an army but a large group of pursuers when he fasted in Psalm 109. Queen Esther requested another kind of deliverance in chapter 4 of her story, knowing that the king could terminate her life if he wasn’t moved by God to do something else.
We all face times when we need stronger faith and a sure deliverance. But those are the moments when we want to rely on our own wisdom and strength. We may seek out friends and allies who can win the moment for us. However, God is asking us to trust Him, lean on Him, and ask for His deliverance.
Fasting places us at the feet of God with nothing in our hands to offer Him but our lives. We are truly at his mercy in these moments of fasting. We are relying on His grace. Instead of maneuvering our lives or manipulating our friends, we should empty ourselves through fasting and ask God for His deliverance in our time of need.
Guilty. I’m one of those fleshly types in these circumstances. I’m the one who wants a solution now. Typically, I live as if that all depends on me. I can surely construct my own salvation from the pressure or distress of what I am going through. You and I both know how that usually ends. Not very well.
I have to remind myself in those tense moments that I have a God who cares very deeply for me. To get there, I must come to the end of myself (fasting) and find His answers for my problems. Emptying me of me is not always easy in a world that encourages egocentricity. Fasting—for me—opens the door of my heart to hear what God wants to do for me and in me.
A regular practice of this discipline would teach you and me a lot about our standing before God. It would clarify the role of the Provider and the one who stays in need truly offering a clearer perspective on how we should live our lives.
Take a look at your calendar and your checkbook. They will tell you a great deal about what your priorities are. Quite often, it is a revelation of where we really look for answers to life’s problems. This is a great place to begin to re-center our lives.
Fasting is first and foremost a focus on God. Regularly practicing this discipline (once a week or once a month) will keep our lives centered on God for salvation and remind us of what’s truly important. Pick a time and place to give fasting a try. If you’ve fasted before, consider making it a more regular part of your life.