Here are some tools to help you with the devotionals:
8:15–20 […] Reporting his review of those assembled, Ezra notes, but does not explain, the initial absence of the Levites (about which one may thus only speculate), but his immediate action to remedy the situation provides advance notice of their importance for his mission. The list of those sent to recruit Levites seems to include a suspicious number of “(El)nathans,” but the importance of the embassy is underlined by Ezra’s sending of those who are “leaders” (8:16) and “those who are wise” (or perhaps “those skilled in instruction”). Nothing is known of Casiphia, nor its leader, Iddo and his brethren, but the nature of the request, “send us ministers for the house of our God” (8:17), and the speedy compliance (8:18) suggest that Casiphia may have been a spiritual center for the exilic community (or at least some Levites), though one may only speculate regarding what worship facilities it may have offered. […]
In keeping with the reduced enrollment generally in the second return, significantly fewer Levites (38) volunteer than in Zerubbabel’s time but their descent from Merari (entrusted with the transport of sacred things; Exod 6:16; Num 3:17) may be relevant given the role that some of them will be asked to fulfill (8:24–30). The temple servants who will return (220) are also reduced in number in comparison with earlier times but are apparently still too numerous to mention by name in the context of Ezra’s memoir (8:20). Whether it is the provision of all of these or Sherebiah alone that is understood to betoken God’s favor, Ezra voices his conviction that the Levitical addition to the traveling party is a sign that the specifically “good hand of God” (7:9; cf. 7:6, 28: “hand of God” simpliciter) is now resting not on him alone, but also “us.”
8:21–36 […] As elsewhere in Jewish literature and practice of the postexilic period (10:6; Neh 9:1; Esth 4:3, 16), the offering of prayer is enhanced by fasting (Ezra 8:21, 23)—a tangible expression of the community’s humble hope for the “straight/smooth road” through the wilderness envisioned in Isa 40:3. Having proclaimed the fast (Ezra 8:21), Ezra then reports not only the community’s prayer, but the divine protection afforded—visible of course only from the vantage point of the journey’s end (8:31–32), but reported here to emphasize the efficacy of the community’s petitionary faith.
Ezra’s setting apart of twelve priests (8:24; cf. 2:2; 6:17; 8:3–13) is not likely to be accidental (though here all are members of a single tribe), nor is his listing of the donors and the careful accounting of their contributions (8:25–27); by doing these things Ezra celebrates yet again the support of the crown and the community for the worship of YHWH. In emphasizing that both the Levites and their freight are “holy” (8:28), Ezra acknowledges the appropriateness of the descendants of Merari for the transportation of the sacred vessels. It is precisely because these and “the silver and gold” are for “YHWH, the God of your fathers” (8:28) that Ezra provides clear instructions to ensure that they arrive safely, not merely in Jerusalem, but “within the rooms of the house of YHWH” (8:29; cf. Neh 10:37–39; 13:4–9). Ezra’s issuing of orders to “guard” and to “weigh” the treasure out on arrival will have been intended to protect both the precious goods against thievery and the porters (and Ezra himself) against any suggestion of personal profit or mismanagement.
[…] In the record of the burnt offerings made on their arrival, the recurring appearance of twelve (“bulls for all Israel” and “male goats” as a sin offering) and its multiple (ninety-six rams) strikes that same chord of continuity with the distant past (Num 7) as was struck more recently in connection with the restoration of the temple (Ezra 6:17). 
 Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 24-25.
1 These are the heads of their fathers’ houses, and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylonia, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king: 2 Of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom. Of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel. Of the sons of David, Hattush. 3 Of the sons of Shecaniah, who was of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah, with whom were registered 150 men. 4 Of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah, and with him 200 men. 5 Of the sons of Zattu, Shecaniah the son of Jahaziel, and with him 300 men. 6 Of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him 50 men. 7 Of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him 70 men. 8 Of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him 80 men. 9 Of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him 218 men. 10 Of the sons of Bani, Shelomith the son of Josiphiah, and with him 160 men. 11 Of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah, the son of Bebai, and with him 28 men. 12 Of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him 110 men. 13 Of the sons of Adonikam, those who came later, their names being Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, and with them 60 men. 14 Of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zaccur, and with them 70 men.
15 I gathered them to the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the sons of Levi. 16 Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of insight, 17 and sent them to Iddo, the leading man at the place Casiphia, telling them what to say to Iddo and his brothers and the temple servants at the place Casiphia, namely, to send us ministers for the house of our God. 18 And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion, of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi, son of Israel, namely Sherebiah with his sons and kinsmen, 18; 19 also Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, with his kinsmen and their sons, 20; 20 besides 220 of the temple servants, whom David and his officials had set apart to attend the Levites. These were all mentioned by name.
Questions to help us go deeper
- In light of King Artaxerxes’s decree (ch. 7), why would it be a sad picture to have a lack of Levites among those who had assembled to return?
- Consider what the conversation must have been like between Ezra’s representatives and Iddo, and between Iddo and Sherebiah, and the others. What were the issues and stakes involved, and why is Sherebiah’s (and the others’) decision so beautiful?
- Recount a time when I placed the call of duty higher than my own needs, comfort and plans.