“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him. …’ So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty” (Ezra 8:21-23).
Ezra was a priest who led a band of Israelites from Persia back to Israel in 458 B.C., during the days of King Artaxerxes, to finish the stalled temple rebuilding project Zerubbabel had begun in 538 B.C. In the passage above we find a challenging situation: Ezra has evidently boasted about God to the heathen monarch of Persia. He has told Artaxerxes that the God of Israel can do anything. Perhaps he has shared the stories of the Exodus and other miracles. Perhaps he has even quoted the Psalms of David:
“For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; the offspring of his servants shall inherit it. …”
Now Ezra is in a pickle. He is about to bring a host of volunteering men, women, and children through a bandit-infested pass between Persia and Israel, and he remembers how he has told the King that God is his sufficient protector. Under the circumstances, it would be shameful to come to that king and say, “Um, do you think I could have a company of soldiers to keep us safe on our journey?” It would look bad. It would be a poor witness.
So Ezra decides to forgo asking Artaxerxes for help, and instead calls for an emergency time of prayer and fasting, to ask God for protection. God is evidently pleased with the priest’s handling of the matter and gives them safe passage, without the customary prudential precautions.
The story is interesting because there are other places in Scripture where God tells us to take prudential precautions. Indeed, I note that even Jesus, the Son of God, sometimes made practical contingency plans:
“And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him.”
As I considered this, and how we can know when it is right to make human preparations and when it is right to forgo them and simply trust God, I realized that in the Christian life not every possible case we encounter is covered in the Bible. Therefore, it is clear we must rely on the Spirit to teach us the best application of God’s Word. After all, God commands us to “Be led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18).
Getting a military escort might be the right thing to do under one set of circumstances and the wrong thing to do under another set of circumstances. And the difference between the two occasions may be subtle. Let us pray for more discernment (Philippians 1:9) in all circumstances, and a more sensitive leading by the Spirit who indwells us.