PRAYER & FASTING is ‘ESSENTIAL’ for our TESTIMONY: Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, "The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him." So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer. (Ezra 8:21-23)
It is one thing to boldly proclaim what God can do. It is quite another to actually trust that God will do what He has promised. Ezra had been telling King Artaxerxes about the divine protection that God’s people could expect (Ezra 8:22). So when he was allowed to lead a group of exiles back to Palestine, Ezra determined that he needed to demonstrate his faith in God by declining an armed escort.
This decision of Ezra was risky since the 900-miles route from Babylon to Jerusalem that Ezra selected followed the northern border of the Arabian Desert, which was dangerous as robbers usually waited along the highway to ambush travelers and caravans. To travel without soldiers virtually invited disaster, especially given the precious cargo that the group was carrying (8:24–30).
So before they started on the journey they camped at the river of Ahava and there Ezra proclaimed a fast. This was to implore God for safety and prosperity on their journey. He had previously testified of God’s goodness and power to the king. To request a military escort now would be to deny his words by his actions. Instead he put his faith on the line, trusting in the God who delights to save those who call upon Him. He would not be disappointed for God answered their prayer and gave them His protection during their journey.
Ezra proclaimed a fast to humble himself before God, seek direction from God and get protection during their long journey (v. 21). God answered their prayers (v. 23b); the hand of the Lord was with him (v. 31b) and God delivered them from the enemy and the ambush on the road (v. 31b). God rewarded His people’s faith by giving them an uneventful journey. This fast demonstrates Ezra’s profound faith and dependence on God!
Fasting is an aspect of “humbling ourselves” for the purpose of requesting something from God and often appears in Scripture in relation to prayer (2 Chr. 20:3; Joel 1:14). God will always honor us when we turn away from ordinary pleasures in order to humble ourselves before Him. Ezra’s courage is a challenge to us today to follow through on our statements of faith, especially when unbelievers are watching the outcome. We need to act in a way that is consistent with the faith we proclaim. If it is necessary, we need to fast and pray in order to receive answers from God!
"Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." (Matt 6:16-18)