After Ezra was designated to lead a caravan of Jews back to Jerusalem, he had to figure out how to get them there safely. It took Ezra about four months to complete the trip of approximately 900 miles (Ezra 7:9). A significant issue that Ezra had to deal with was the freewill offering of precious metals that had been given to him by Artaxerxes and his counsellers. The value of the gold and silver in today’s prices would be around a half a billion dollars. “The vast treasures they were carrying with them offered a tempting bait for robbers” (note on Ezra 8:21). Ezra’s dilemma was that he had told Artaxerxes, the king of Persia that the hand of the LORD was upon him, meaning God had given Ezra supernatural power in order to complete his task. Although he may have been endowed with godly strength and a type of divine courage, Ezra was doubtful he and his men could fight off a band of robbers. Therefore, it says in Ezra 8:21, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”
The Hebrew word translated afflict in Ezra 8:21, anah means to humble oneself or to ask for help (6031). Ezra could have assumed that he would be protected because he was doing God’s will, but instead, he stopped what he was doing and directed the people to seek “a right way.” This phrase literally meant they were asking for a straight path to their destination, no obstacles or dangers along the way as they traveled. Ezra admitted that he was too ashamed to ask Artaxerxes for a military escort. He explained, “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” (Ezra 8:22). Ezra was probably more concerned about losing the fortune that Artaxerxes had given him than he was about the safety of God’s people. The vast wealth that was entrusted to him was not only a gift to God, but a sacrifice that Artaxerxes expected Ezra to deliver safely to God’s temple in Jerusalem. If he failed, Ezra would bring shame on God because he had boasted that the LORD’s hand was upon him.