Safe travel

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.

A twist of fate

Haman the Agagite’s plan to have all the Jews in the Persian Empire killed was driven by his hatred for Esther’s uncle, Mordecai. After being personally invited to dine with the king and queen, Haman boasted to all of his friends and wife about what an important man he was becoming. It says in Esther 5:12-13. “Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she prepared but myself; and to morrow am I invited unto her also with the king. Yet it availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” Haman’s wife and friends suggested that he get rid of Mordecai before the banquet so that he could have a good time and not be troubled by the reminder of his disrespectful behavior (Esther 5:14). Haman liked the idea and had a gallows made that night so he could have Mordecai hanged on it the next day.

That night, while the gallows was being prepared, the king was unable to sleep, so he requested to have some of his kingdom record books read to him (Esther 6:1). In a surprising twist of fate, it just so happened that one of the records that was read that night happened to contain an event that had occurred five years earlier in which Mordecai saved the king’s life. It says in Esther 6:3-4, “And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing done for him. And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king’s house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him.” The timing of Haman’s visit was such that he ended up being selected by the king to show honour to Mordecai. Rather than obtaining permission to have Mordecai hanged, he was instructed to put the king’s robe on Mordecai and lead him through the city riding on the king’s horse while Haman shouted out “Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (Esther 6:11).

Haman’s humiliation was more than he could bare. He went home with his head covered so no one could see the distressed look on his face (Esther 6:12). Haman knew his plan had backfired and he would not be able to get rid of Mordecai, but what he didn’t know yet was that Mordecai was Esther’s uncle and the reason he had been invited to Esther’s banquet was so that she could tell the king it was her people Haman planned to have killed. Haman’s plot to have the Jews exterminated was the cause of not only his downfall, but ultimately his death. After King Ahasuerus was informed of Esther’s true identity and her relationship to Mordecai, Haman was condemned to be hanged on the gallows that he had built the previous night (Esther 7:10).

Preferential treatment

Daniel was an extraordinary man for many reasons. His ability to interpret dreams and endurance over time in a kingdom that was hostile toward Jews made him not only unique, but also a living testimony to God’s preferential treatment of his people while they were in exile. Daniel was a part of a select group referred to by God as the remnant. Isaiah said of the remnant, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, The Holy One of Israel in truth. The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God” (Isaiah 10:20-21). According to Isaiah, the remnant would survive when God’s people were subjected to punishment and would bring hope for their expected return to the Promised Land (7605).

After Darius conquered Babylon, Daniel was made the first or head of three presidents that presided over the Persian empire. It says in Daniel 6:3, “Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.” The Aramaic term yattiyr, which is translated excellent, is related to the Hebrew word for remnant (3493). To remain or be left meant that those who were members of the remnant would not or could not be killed by Israel’s enemies. The Aramaic term netsach, translated preferred, corresponds to the Hebrew word natsach, which means to glitter from afar (5329) or “the bright object at a distance travelled toward (5331). Daniel had an irresistible quality that caused Darius to be drawn toward him as a leader. Even though Daniel was advanced in age, more than 80 years old, he was highly respected and given significant responsibility considering he was a prisoner of war.

Due to Daniel’s popularity with the king, a conspiracy was formed against him to have him killed. The entire governing body decided to implement a law that would ensure Daniel would be found guilty of treason. They told king Darius, “All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellers, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:7). Later, when it was discovered that Daniel had broken the law, it says in Daniel 6:16, “Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.” Darius believed Daniel would be saved from punishment because of his faith in God. After spending the night in the lion’s den, its says of Daniel, “no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God” (Daniel 6:23).

We are not alone

Life can be challenging at times, especially when we try to server the LORD. Everyone has enemies, but I think the worst enemy of all is the one that attacks Christians who are in the ministry. Whether you think of him as Satan, the devil, or the ruler of darkness, the enemy of our souls does everything he can to stop Christians from doing God’s will.

The apostle Peter, speaking of the Christian life said, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). I believe Peter used the image of a roaring lion in order to convey the idea of intimidation. Lions are powerful and dangerous, but they can be tamed. When Daniel was thrown into the lions den, he was able to escape unharmed (Daniel 6:22).

David said, “blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight” (Psalm 144:1). David may have been referring to spiritual warfare because the word he used for war is related to man’s entrance into the presence of the living God (7126). If so, using his hands could mean prayer and his fingers to fight, playing the harp to worship God.

Prayer and worship enable us to enter into the presence of God, but they also cause God to draw near to us. It says in James 4:8, “draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” David referred to the LORD as, “my goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust” (Psalm 144:2).

God’s greatness is far superior to man’s and all of his creation is subject to him. David said, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). The two Hebrew words that put together translate into the word unsearchable have the connotation of being undiscoverable or in another sense invisible. I believe one of the characteristics of God is that he can make himself invisible. We typically think of God as being invisible, but I don’t think he is invisible. I think God is hidden from our view and he is able to hide other things as well. David said to the LORD in Psalm 17:8, “hide me under the shadow of your wings.”

Satan’s effort to seek someone whom he may devour is thwarted when God hides his children under the shadow of his wings. In other words, we can become invisible to our enemy. David prayed, “Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me. Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God” (Psalm 143:9-10). David was eager to do God’s will because he knew the LORD had him covered.

A cry of distress

God, the creator of the universe, has made it possible for everyone to know him and to have access to his strength. All that one has to do is call upon his name and the LORD answers. Even babies with very little intellectual capability are able to access God’s power and defeat their enemies.

David said, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightiest still the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2). The word translated still, shabâth (shaw – bath´) means to repose or desist from exertion (7673). In other words, stillness is the opposite of work, the effort to accomplish a task.

It may be hard to imagine that a baby has enemies, but from the day a person is born, there is a battle going on in the spiritual realm for the soul of that person. In the most basic form of communication, a baby is able to call on the name of the LORD and receive God’s protection. The baby that cries out in distress is not only heard by her mother, but by her heavenly father, the one who created her.