I assembled them at the canal that flows toward Ahava, and we camped there three days. When I checked among the people and the priests, I found no Levites there. So I summoned Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, who were leaders, and Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of learning, and I ordered them to go to Iddo, the leader in Kasiphia. I told them what to say to Iddo and his fellow Levites, the temple servants in Kasiphia, so that they might bring attendants to us for the house of our God. Because the gracious hand of our God was on us, they brought us Sherebiah, a capable man, from the descendants of Mahli son of Levi, the son of Israel, and Sherebiah’s sons and brothers, 18 in all; and Hashabiah, together with Jeshaiah from the descendants of Merari, and his brothers and nephews, 20 in all. They also brought 220 of the temple servants—a body that David and the officials had established to assist the Levites. All were registered by name. There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. – Ezra 8:15-23
Ezra arrives in this passage along with many of the other leaders who are returning to Jerusalem to “run” the temple. They are gathering here at the Ahava canal. It is not clear where this canal is but I assume it is near Babylon. Canals are a human invention to convey water from one place to another. They reduce reliance on rain, rivers, springs, and other water sources. A canal is an apt metaphor for the spiritual condition of Babylon and its leaders. They are making their kingdom by their ingenuity and might. The Israelites in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem were choosing to trust in God to build their kingdom — God’s kingdom.
God’s kingdom is different. It is built on a reliance on God to provide the living water that we all need to live and thrive. God has tried to make this clear to the Israelites through the prophets and leaders like Moses and Aaron. God does not want us to build canals to get the living water. He offers it to us freely through His son Jesus. The rebuilding of the temple is connecting the Israelites to the Great Cistern once again. They planted themselves near the One River Who can provide them with a consistent supply of living water for their souls.
Ezra shows great faith, confidence, and humility as he stands by the Ahava Canal and proclaims “a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children”. He does not want to appear to doubt God before the Persian king who has arranged for his return to help run the temple. God uses the Persian King to accomplish His purpose of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem and His place in the hearts and souls of the Isrealites.
There is reassurance in Ezra’s confident statement that “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him” — God truly does carry us like a son or daughter. So what does it look like to “look to God”? In the case of Ezra and the leaders it meant fasting and approaching God with humility to ask for “safe journey for us and our children”. I think these are sound recommendations as we approach God. We should do so with humility and ask for “safe journey” for us and our children.
Prayer: God grant us safe journey for us and our children and help us to walk humbly with You.