John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
‘The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore’, Ezra 2. 64.
In reading through such chapters as this it is striking to notice God’s attention to detail. In a company of such magnitude would we be interested in one or two? We would be happy with a round figure approximation to work with, but not God. Every family is listed. The number in each family is counted and recorded. When we think of the God who created and who sustains the universe in all its vastness, it is amazing that He should be interested in the individual and even the minutiae of our lives. How awesome is our God!
As many assemblies decline numerically and as, in many cases, their age profile increases, let us be encouraged to know that we serve a God who is interested in numbers, however small. As we read through Ezra chapter 2 we can see the families counted in their thousands and their hundreds. Nevertheless, those families that numbered only forty-two or fifty-two are not forgotten. If we are committed to a small work and feel the fewness of numbers, let us take courage that our God knows and records what is done by His people for Him.
Equally, if any remembered a once mighty nation reduced to the few that were prepared to return to the land from exile, it would have been a most discouraging spectacle. So many preferred to remain in Babylon rather than return to the land of Israel. The seeming spiritual apathy of some should always bring us to our knees in prayer but it should not deflect us from what He still has for us to do, however difficult it may be to do it.
Yet, even with such a relatively small congregation and with some families so poorly represented, there was also the situation of some who could not trace their genealogy and were put from the priesthood. We might have been tempted to ask whether, in the light of the smallness of the company, these things were really important. However, the God of numerical detail is also the God of spiritual detail. To Him these things are vital! But how important is the lesson that those who were put from the priesthood accepted their plight and left the matter with God to resolve. In a society that is so quick to defend the rights of the individual, we can often forget that it is God’s ‘rights’ that need to be defended.
I wonder what this company must have felt like as they entered the city of Jerusalem upon their return. As they surveyed the plight of the city and the temple, what must they have thought? Where do we begin? The answer was remarkably simple, ‘They gave after their ability’, v. 69. God requires no more and no less than what we are able to give. What should distinguish our contribution to the work of the Lord is that we are both willing and cheerful givers because we give ‘unto the Lord’.
As I come to the last of the four issues that have formed my first year as ministry articles editor, I want to thank all who continue to support this work both prayerfully as well as practically. To those who give of their limited time to write, we owe a considerable debt. Without such willing writers, the work of this magazine would not be possible. This issue sees the continuation of our two new series and material which will inform and challenge us all. May the Lord be pleased to bless this issue to the encouragement of His people!