Jun 30, 2023
Then the exiles who had returned from captivity sacrificed burnt offerings to the God of Israel: twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven male lambs and, as a sin offering, twelve male goats. All this was a burnt offering to the Lord (Ezra 8:35).
Ezra 8 records a second group of exiles returning from Babylon to Jerusalem. On arrival, they have what appears to be an impromptu worship service, Old Testament Israelite style, that is. But, upon closer inspection a story is being told.
The group is led by Ezra who has spent his life studying the law of God. Ezra knows Moses well, very well. This journey from Babylon echoes Israel’s journey from Egypt under Moses. Ezra follows the pattern he had laid down.
The most significant is the gathering of the Levities. This tribe had stood for the Lord while Israel prostrated themselves to the golden calf (Exodus 32). In response, they were set apart for special work for the Lord. In his final prayer, Moses says about Levi: “he watched over your word and guarded your covenant. He teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel. He offers incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar” (Deuteronomy 33:9-10). Knowing this, Ezra will not leave Babylon without an escort of Levites.
Ezra doesn’t have the ark or tabernacle for the Levites to care for and carry. But he assigns the temple money and articles to the care of the priests and Levites, appointing twelve of each to this duty, echoing the original 12 tribes. He ensures proper stewardship of God’s holy belongings by scrupulously measuring and counting the items at both beginning and end of the journey.
The gathering for sacrifices is also a result of this careful attention to the law of Moses and echoes Israel’s original entrance to the land. This careful attention to the number and types of sacrifices indicates Israelites identify as God’s covenant people and desire to be faithful to God.
There is another layer in this story. One showing God’s provision. He brings them capable Levites (18). He gives them a safe journey (23, 31). All the donated items are accounted for in Jerusalem (34). The king’s orders result in assistance from the government officials.
As God redeemed Israel from Egypt, he is now redeeming them from Babylon. As God, through Moses, called Israel to be faithful, he now, through Ezra, calls for faithfulness. These sacrifices indicated Israel’s intention to leave behind the ways of Egypt and Babylon and embrace the ways of God.
Both these redemption stories point forward to the greater redemption story in Jesus Christ. Jesus is greater than both Moses and Ezra. He is the greatest and the final Levite. Not only does he teach us God’s way, He is God’s way. And he gives us His Spirit to lead us in the way of faithfulness.
He does not lead us in sacrifice, He is our sacrifice. He gave his own life that we may live. “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5,6).
Under Moses and Ezra, Israel needed to make the journey to the promised land, with lethal hazards along the way. Jesus makes it for us. By faith in him, we are already citizens of God’s kingdom. By faith in him, when we die, we will enter the glory of God’s presence. Until that day, we “who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). As Israel left behind Egypt and then Babylon to become God’s holy people, the Spirit leads us to leave behind the ways of world, to become God’s holy community.
As you journey on, go with the blessing of God:
“May God our Father himself infuse you with strength and purity, filling you with confidence when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers” (1 Thessalonians 3:13). “May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it” (5:23).