Truth in the Pastoral Epistles (12): Its Preservation (3)

Ezra 8:33-34 records a solemn day in the experience of 12 of the chiefs of the priests who had returned with Ezra from Babylon. At their encampment by the river of Ahava, prior to the commencement of their journey to Jerusalem, a heavy responsibility had been placed upon them. Ezra had weighed out for each a portion of “the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering of the house of our God, which the king, and his counsellors, and his lords, and all Israel there present, had offered” (v25, KJV). Having dispensed to each his burden, Ezra, in no uncertain terms, outlined to them the nature of their responsibility: “Ye are holy unto the Lord; the vessels are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering unto the Lord God of your fathers. Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chief of the priests and the Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the Lord” (vv28-29, KJV). Now, the journey was over and the day of reckoning had come. One by one, they made their way to the Temple, and delivered their burden to be weighed by Meremoth, under the watchful gaze of Eleazar, Jozabad, and Noadiah, and to have the resulting weight – the index of their faithful stewardship – recorded in writing.

But the numbers listed by Eleazar were more than an index of human faithfulness. They were also a testimony to the faithfulness of God Whose hand had preserved the returning Jews and their precious cargo on the long road back to Jerusalem. With a delightful and altogether comprehensible candor, Ezra acknowledges his concerns about the journey, and his sense of dependence upon Divine preservation: “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him” (vv21-22, KJV). God’s hand had not failed, and through the encircling enemies the Israelites had come with their burdens intact.

This solemn scene resonates with our experience in many ways. As believers, some very valuable burdens have been entrusted to us. God has allocated us all time, talents, and spiritual gifts, and one day our stewardship of each of these precious commodities will be searchingly reviewed, to our eternal gain or loss. But the incidents recorded for our learning in this chapter of Ezra seem to echo very particularly the exhortation of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:12-14: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us” (KJV).

It is not immediately obvious to every expositor that all of these verses belong in an article about the preservation of Divine Truth. Not a few have seen in verse 12 a reference to Paul’s life of service, entrusted to God, and preserved by Him for review and reward in “that day.” In the context, however, a reference to the teaching of the apostle is more likely, and this becomes clearer when we appreciate that the phrase “that which I have committed unto Him” translates the single Greek word paratheke (a deposit). Paul uses a related verb to speak of Divine revelation in 1 Timothy 6:20 (“keep that which is committed to thy trust”); 2 Timothy 1:14 (“that good thing which was committed unto thee”); and 2 Timothy 2:2 (“the same commit thou”). Having established this usage, it seems improbable that Paul would now apply the same term to his life and service, especially when the context tends to favor a reference to revelation. For this reason, some expositors interpret “my deposit” as a reference to the revelation deposited with Paul by God.

This interpretation is not, however, without difficulty. Paul speaks of “my deposit,” which seems a somewhat odd expression to describe something that God has entrusted to him – that would be God’s deposit, not Paul’s, just as the money in my savings account is my deposit, not the bank’s. This difficulty evaporates, however, when we understand that Paul is speaking about revelation, but more specifically, he is speaking of the deposit of Divine Truth that he, Paul, has entrusted to Timothy for his safekeeping. Paul, in these verses, places Timothy in a similar position to that in which Ezra placed Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and their brethren. He is entrusting to him a deposit of more value than all the wealth of Babylon, and laying upon Timothy’s shoulders an awesome (in the truest sense) responsibility. Timothy is to “hold fast” (v13, KJV), to “guard (‘keep’ KJV, ‘protect’ NET) the good deposit entrusted” to him (v14, ESV).

And this is not just a responsibility for Timothy. Each of us is responsible to hold fast the Truth of God’s Word and to protect it from the attacks of the enemy in the way. And, because it is our responsibility, it behoves us to understand what is involved in the guarding of the precious deposit that has been placed in our hands. We must first understand its value. The priests of Ezra 8 understood that they were transporting no ordinary load. They carried vessels of precious metal with significant material value. More importantly, they were carrying vessels for God’s service. Carrying such a valuable cargo required care and concentration. It could not be treated as just another load. We would do well to grasp the value of the deposit that we carry. It is not just a bundle of opinion, a bag of tradition, or a sack of religious teaching. It is the Truth of God, revealed in the Word of God, and we should never become casual or cavalier in our handling of it.

Understanding the value of the deposit is necessary for the guarding of the Truth; however, understanding alone is not sufficient. Sherebiah and his colleagues could have sat all day contemplating the value of their portions, but they could never have discharged their responsibility without taking hold of it. For us, grasping the Word of God is an essential preliminary to guarding the Word of God. We cannot defend what we do not hold. So, we have a responsibility to get to know the Bible and to understand the truth for ourselves. Merely parroting the teaching of others is not sufficient; we must be like Timothy who had both “learned” and “been assured” of the Truth (2Tim 3:14).

But perhaps the most important aspect of guarding the Truth is dependence upon God. Ezra was conscious of this and, though fearfully, eschewed a military escort in favor of the protecting hand of God. Paul’s confidence was in the same God. Though he esteemed Timothy highly and had confidence in his knowledge of the Truth, he was not relying on Timothy alone. He knew Whom he had believed and was fully convinced of His ability to preserve his deposit right to the end, until the dawning of “that day.” Timothy was to keep the deposit, not by his own ability, but by “the Holy Spirit who lives within us” (v14, NET).

We are still in hostile territory; there are still enemies in the way. We are carrying a load of inestimable worth. Let us, by the help of God and the power of His Holy Spirit, bear it, so that what we pass to a succeeding generation may be “the same” as what we received (2Tim 2:2), and so that, in “that day,” as we stand in the presence of God, the Divine scales will reveal that not an ounce has been lost.