Scripture: Ezra 8:24-35
By Kim Reindl
Opening questions: Can you think of an example of a public figure, past or present, whose words and actions are/were inconsistent? Are you more likely to pay attention to what someone says or what someone does?
We all have heard the expression “Actions speak louder than words.” We are taught that consistency between our proclaimed values/beliefs and our actual behavior is important. If what we say and what we do are inconsistent, people are much more likely to pay attention to what we do. When politicians, public figures, and religious leaders act in ways that contradict what they stand for, their credibility is undermined. The same is true for us. If we say one thing and do another, what we do will always overshadow what we say.
Ezra understood that consistency between his words and his actions was important. Ezra presented himself before King Artaxerxes as a representative of “the God of heaven” (Ezra 7:12, 21). With this Ezra made it clear that the hand of God is “gracious to all who seek him, but his power and his wrath are against all who forsake him” (8:22). The king apparently took these words to heart. In the king’s edict that we find in Ezra 7:2-26 he indicated, “whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal…or wrath will come on the king and his heirs” (7:23). The king placed great trust in Ezra and empowered him to do all that was necessary for the “house of the God of heaven” by supplying both political and financial support for Ezra’s mission. We are told that “the king granted all that [Ezra] asked” (Ezra 7:6). Furthermore, Artaxerxes and his counselors contributed to the offerings that were to be made to “the God of Israel” in Jerusalem (Ezra 7:15-16).
Today’s scripture passage indicates that as Ezra made plans for his return to Jerusalem he was faced with the challenge of living into the faith that he had proclaimed. The route that Ezra and the returnees would travel along the northern border of the Arabian Desert was a dangerous one. The journey, in itself, was long and arduous. Yet even greater danger lay in the fact that the contingent would be transporting great riches, making them prey to bandits who waited along the highway ready to ambush travelers.
Ezra’s decision to travel without a military escort was a demonstration of faith. How could Ezra tell Artaxerxes about God’s divine protection on one hand, and then, on the other hand, undermine that witness by placing his trust in human protection? Faced with such a dilemma, Ezra knew that he must place his trust in God alone (Ezra 8:22). After a period of fasting and prayer, Ezra took the offering for the Lord, all of the silver and the gold and the vessels, and divided it among the leading priests and Levites, who were entrusted with its safe delivery to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:24-27). Ezra reminded them that just as the offering to the Lord was holy, they also were holy; meaning that all, both objects and persons, belonged to God (Ezra 8:28). With this assurance the returnees were to trust in God for their safety, knowing that any assault on them would be an assault on God.
The faith of Ezra and those within the traveling party was honored by God. We are told that the entourage proclaimed, “the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes along the way” (Ezra 8:31). Upon arrival in Jerusalem, all of the riches were accounted for. In the end the journey stood as a testimony to human faith and God’s deliverance.
As Christians, how we live stands as our greatest witness to God’s character. It is true that words are important to explain and support what we believe, but our words alone will never be enough. When our words are not supported by our actions, the roar of our actions drowns out the sound of our words. As those known to be followers of Christ, our lives tell the world who God is. If we proclaim that God is love, yet act with hate toward our neighbor, our witness is to a hateful and not a loving God. If we proclaim that God is gracious and merciful, and yet we are unforgiving and resentful toward others, our witness is to an unforgiving and resentful God. We must ask ourselves, when others see our lives, what do they learn about God? Our hope is that we, like Ezra, act in ways that glorify God, knowing that our actions are the greatest testimony of all.
Questions for further reflection:
• Ezra was faced with the dilemma of supporting his proclaimed beliefs with his actions, even though it placed him in a difficult situation. Can you name a time in your own life when you were challenged to act in a way consistent with your faith? Explain.
• Silently Contemplate—When people see your life, what do you think that they learn about God? Do you find it difficult to keep your words and your actions consistent? If yes, why do you think this is so? Take time to write down your thoughts. Offer a personal prayer to God.
Kim Reindl chairs the Discipleship Ministry Team for the North Georgia Conference and is available to lead retreats, workshops, and seminars through Pomegranate Christian Education & Formation, www.pomegranatece.com. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.