Integrity and Accountability
Integrity in leaders is not something that makes safeguards unnecessary. Integrity in leaders is manifested in the first place by their insistence on safeguards. This desire for manifest integrity and accountability is seen clearly in how Ezra behaves in this chapter. The people of Israel are under the law of God, all of them.
These are now the chief of their fathers, and this is the genealogy of them that went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king. . . (Ezra 8:1-36).
The first part of this chapter consists of the genealogy of those who went up from Babylon with Ezra (vv. 1-14). The fact that there were any at all was tribute to the fact that the hand of the Lord was indeed with Ezra. They assembled at the river Ahava, and Ezra found out that no Levites had come. The mission would be senseless without them, so he sent for men of understanding (vv. 15-20). When they were assembled, Ezra proclaimed a fast, and the people sought God’s protection on their trip (vv. 21-23). This done, Ezra then specifically entrusted the gold and silver to the priests and Levites (vv. 24-30). When they arrived in Jerusalem, they weighed all the gold and silver again (for purposes of accountability), offered up ascension sacrifices to God, and delivered their commission (vv. 31-36).
Missing In Action:
When they gathered at the river Ahava, Ezra mustered everyone over the course of three days. One of the benefits of the genealogy is that they were able to discover that they were short of Levites. As a result Ezra sent for particular men that he knew, men of understanding (v. 16). And he sent them to recruit ministers for the house of God (v. 17). And by the good hand of God upon them (how often this is said!), they were able to recruit some Levites, also men of good understanding.
At the same time, it is interesting that the people of God mustered here appear to have been more willing to be led than the leaders were willing to lead. The footsoldiers are often more prepared for battle than the officers are. And so it is in our day.
Another point of application is that Ezra sent men of understanding to find men of understanding. But remember that, in the very nature of the case, everybody thinks that he is a man of understanding. This is something that does not depend, therefore, on subjective perception only.
Seeking the Lord:
When they were ready to go, Ezra proclaimed a fast, the purpose of which was to seek the Lord’s protection on their journey. They fasted, afflicting themselves, with three requests in mind. They wanted the “right way” to go, they wanted protection for the little ones, and for their wealth to be secured. The reason for the fast was that Ezra was ashamed to seek military protection from the king because of the way that Ezra had previously spoken to the king. Ezra knew that receiving a guard from the king would damage their testimony and reputation in a way that receiving the offering from him would not. These sorts of things are not to be treated as algebra problems, nice and tidy on paper. If the king had volunteered an escort, Ezra might have accepted it. The problem appears to be that Ezra did not want to appear worried to the king.
Now that he had his Levites, Ezra entrusted them with a great responsibility. They were the ones who were given charge of the gold and silver wagons. Note that the responsibility was great (a lot of gold and silver), and that the responsibility was specific. The gold and silver was weighed out to them; they knew exactly what they were responsible for—to have the same weight arrive in Jerusalem as had departed from Babylon.
Accountability for those Responsible:
When they arrived in Jerusalem, all the gold and silver was weighed again. This is the equivalent of an audit. Outside accountability was provided as a protection for everyone involved. It was obviously a protection for the ministry—the silver and gold. It was also a protection for those entrusted with the responsibility. This kind of measured accountability prevents accusers of slander on a whim. “I’ll bet somebody has their fingers in the offering.” This principle is why, for example, our elders have established an annual outside financial review of our books, and why our deacons have a set of institutional protections in place on the collection of the offering (two deacons involved, etc.). This is not because we are suspicious of anybody, or are accusing anybody, but rather to behave in a way that is above reproach — to prevent accusation.
In Decency and Order:
Three things happened when they arrived in Jerusalem. As mentioned above, all the gold and silver was weighed again. Secondly, an ascension offering was presented (v. 35). God was given the glory for what had happened. And third, their authorization for what they were doing was presented to the appropriate authorities (v. 36). “Procedure” can become an idol, and it can get in the way of righteousness. But this doesn’t really warn us rightly, because “lack of procedure” can become an idol just as readily.
New Covenant Accountability:
These same principles are found in the New Testament as well. The ministry has always attracted those who would sacrifice anything to spread the gospel (Phil. 4:12-13; 1 Cor. 9:12), as well as those who come to the ministry with one eye on the main chance (2 Cor. 2:17). And of course, there are those who sacrifice everything for the sake of a reputation as one who has done so (1 Cor. 13: 3).
But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you. And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, upon the great confidence which I have in you” (2 Cor. 8: 16-22).
For we are not as many, which corrupt [retail] the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (2 Cor. 2: 17).