Ezra 7 – Ezra’s Return from Babylon
“At Jerusalem, Malachi may well have prophesied shortly before the coming of Ezra, giving us, if so, a sharp taste of the mood and temper of the times which occupy our chapters 7-10.” (Derek Kidner)
A. An overview of Ezra’s return.
1. (1-5) The genealogy of Ezra the Scribe.
Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest;
a. Now after these things: Some 60 largely uneventful years passed between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7. The ruler of Persia at the end of that period was Artaxerxes, who is also known to history as Artaxerxes Longimanus, the successor to Xerxes, the king who married Esther. The events of the book of Esther took place between Ezra 6-7.
i. “There can be no reasonable doubt that his reference is to the son and successor of Xerxes – known by the Greeks as ‘Macrocheir,’ and by the Romans as ‘Longimanus’ – Artaxerxes ‘of the long hand,’ for this Artaxerxes alone enjoyed a sufficiently extended reign to include both the commencement of Ezra’s public work and the later scenes in the life of Nehemiah which the chronicler associates with the same king.” (Adeney)
ii. “If this was Artaxerxes I as the traditional view maintains, which we believe is correct, Ezra arrived in Palestine in 458 (457)…. The traditional view assumes a gap of almost sixty years between the events of chapter 6 and chapter 7.” (Yamauchi)
b. Son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah…the son of Zadok… the son of Aaron the chief priest: This list is not all-inclusive (there are some generations left out). Nevertheless, it shows that Ezra was a descendant both of Aaron and also of Seraiah, who was the last High Priest before the captivity.
i. The son of Zadok: “‘Zadok’ was a priest under David whom Solomon appointed chief priest in place of Abiathar, who supported the rebel Adonijah (1 Kings 1:7-8; 2:35). Ezekiel regarded the Zadokites as free from idolatry (Ezekiel 44:15-16). Zadokites held the office of high priest till 171 B.C. The Sadducees were named after Zadok, and the Qumran community looked for the restoration of the Zadokite priesthood.” (Yamauchi)
2. (6) Ezra, a skilled scribe.
This Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given. The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.
a. This Ezra came up from Babylon: Ezra was one of the later Jews who returned from the captivity to Judea and Jerusalem. Though there was a first great return (described in Ezra 1-2), there were also many others who returned in the years following.
i. “His name stands very high in Jewish tradition, where he came to be regarded as a second Moses, and indeed it was he, more than any other man, who stamped Israel with its lasting character as the people of a book.” (Kidner)
b. A skilled scribe in the Law of Moses: To us a scribe sounds like a glorified secretary, someone who simply writes. That is not the idea of this description of Ezra. For the Jewish culture of that day, a skilled scribe was an expert in the Law of Moses, someone who was like a highly trained lawyer in the word of God.
i. “In his case it is emphasised by the word skilled, or literally ‘rapid’ (cf. Psalm 45:1) – suggesting a quickness of grasp and ease of movement amid this complex material which was the fruit of the devoted study described in Ezra 7:10.” (Kidner)
ii. Scribes were important and influential, and one might say that they had three main duties: to preserve the word of God, to teach the word of God, and to administer the word of God (in the sense of interpreting and applying it).
iii. By the time of Jesus there were many scribes and they were respected as experts of the law of God among most of the Jews of that time. However, they had degenerated greatly from the ideal originally established by Ezra, so much so that they were active opponents of Jesus and His ministry, and were the targets of His rebukes (Matthew 7:29; Matthew 23).
iv. “As messengers of the will of God, they took the place of the prophets, with this difference: instead of receiving new revelations, they explained and applied the old. Of this new order, Ezra was at once the founder and type.” (Morgan)
v. With critical theories in fashion since the enlightenment it became popular to say that Ezra, or others in his day, actually first compiled the Pentateuch (or more) from various written and oral traditions they gathered. Yet this verse alone (which the LORD God of Israel had given) shows this is wrong. As Derek Kidner observed, “Incidentally the present verse shares none of the doubts of some modern criticism over the antiquity (Moses) or the authority (the Lord) of the law, nor does it see Ezra as a reviser or compiler. He is concerned with it as something given.”
c. The king granted him all his request: The favor of God towards Jerusalem and the Jewish people is again evident. The great generosity of the king was because the hand of the LORD his God was upon him.
3. (7-10) Ezra’s arrival at Jerusalem and his mission.
Some of the children of Israel, the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. On the first day of the first month he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.
a. And Ezra came to Jerusalem: Ezra came to a city that had been repopulated by the Jewish people from their exile for about 60 years.
i. “Though the direct distance between Babylon and Jerusalem is about five hundred miles, the travelers would have had to traverse nine hundred miles, going northwest along the Euphrates River and then south.” (Yamauchi)
ii. Some of the children of Israel: “And but some; for many chose rather to continue in the land of their captivity, though God by his prophets, and the king by his proclamation, had cried out, ‘Ho, ho, come forth’ [and so forth]. ‘Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon,’ Zechariah 2:6-7.” (Trapp)
b. According to the good hand of his God upon him: Ezra credited his successful journey (lasting four months) to God’s good hand of blessing on him.
i. “This little summary of the expedition gives no hint of the initial disappointment and delay, the fasting and prayer, and the dangers of such a journey, which will emerge in the full account.” (Kidner)
c. Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach: We see here a threefold intention in Ezra. He came to seek, to do, and to teach God’s word.
i. Had prepared his heart: “An instrument must be tuned ere it can be played upon; sour wines need good sweetening.” (Trapp)
ii. We may say that this threefold intention is essential in anyone who wants to make an impact on others with the word of God.
· First, to seek the Law of the LORD. This means that the full impact of God’s word is made by those who diligently seek after His word and fellowship with God in His word.
· Second, to do it. This means that the full impact of God’s word is made by those who are not only hearers of the word, but actual doers of the word. It has to be lived, not only known.
· Third, to teach. This means that the full impact of God’s word is made by those who actually teach it to others. What has been learned in the seeking and the doing must be put into effect through the teaching of God’s word.
iii. “Here is a fine character of a minister of God: He prepares, he fixes, purposes, and determines, with his heart – with all his powers and affections, to seek the law of God, and to do it himself, that he may be properly qualified to teach its statutes and judgments to Israel.” (Clarke)
iv. The Living Bible translates Ezra 7:10 as so: This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the laws of the Lord and to become a Bible teacher, teaching those laws to the people of Israel.
B. The letter of Artaxerxes.
1. (11-16) The king commissions helpers, a copy of the Law, and gifts for the temple to go with Ezra upon his return to Jerusalem.
This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave Ezra the priest, the scribe, expert in the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of His statutes to Israel:
Artaxerxes, king of kings,
To Ezra the priest, a scribe of the Law of the God of heaven:
Perfect peace, and so forth.
I issue a decree that all those of the people of Israel and the priests and Levites in my realm, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem, may go with you. And whereas you are being sent by the king and his seven counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, with regard to the Law of your God which is in your hand; and whereas you are to carry the silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem; and whereas all the silver and gold that you may find in all the province of Babylon, along with the freewill offering of the people and the priests, are to be freely offered for the house of their God in Jerusalem—
a. Ezra the priest, the scribe, the expert in the words of the commandments of the LORD: Ezra was indeed more than a glorified secretary or copyist. He was a well-trained expert in the word of God.
b. Whereas you are being sent by the king and his seven counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem: This tells us that not only did Ezra go to Jerusalem, he was actually sent by Artaxerxes to gather information for the king and his seven counselors.
c. Who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem: With this, Artaxerxes hoped to encourage others to go with Ezra to increase the chance of his success and to strengthen the province of Judah.
d. You are to carry the silver and gold: Artaxerxes also authorized the giving of many silver and gold gifts to the temple, along with the freewill offering of the people and the priests.
i. “The vessels may have been some which had been overlooked when the captured vessels were restored by Cyrus (Ezra 1:7ff), but it is just as likely that they were a goodwill gift, newly presented.” (Kidner)
2. (17-22) Providing for the temple and sacrificial expenses.
Now therefore, be careful to buy with this money bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them on the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem.
And whatever seems good to you and your brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, do it according to the will of your God. Also the articles that are given to you for the service of the house of your God, deliver in full before the God of Jerusalem. And whatever more may be needed for the house of your God, which you may have occasion to provide, pay for it from the king’s treasury.
And I, even I, Artaxerxes the king, issue a decree to all the treasurers who are in the region beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, may require of you, let it be done diligently, up to one hundred talents of silver, one hundred kors of wheat, one hundred baths of wine, one hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribed limit.
a. Be careful to buy with this money: Ezra carried with him government money that was meant to advance the interests of Artaxerxes. This money was to be spent on sacrificial animals and the promotion of temple worship at the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.
b. Whatever seems good to you: Ezra was commanded to be careful, but also given latitude to make his own decisions about how to best spend the money he came with.
c. Whatever more may be needed for the house of your God…pay for it from the king’s treasury: Artaxerxes was very generous to Ezra and the work in Jerusalem, allowing him to draw on the king’s treasury for whatever he needed.
i. “A ‘talent’ in the Babylonian sexagesimal system was 60 minas, with a mina being 60 shekels. A talent weighed about 75 pounds. A hundred talents was an enormous sum, about 3¾ tons of silver. This amount, together with a talent of gold, was the tribute that Pharaoh Neco imposed on Judah (2 Kings 23:33).” (Yamauchi)
3. (23) The motive of Artaxerxes.
Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it diligently be done for the house of the God of heaven. For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?
a. Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it diligently be done: In all this, we see that Artaxerxes went to great lengths to promote the operations of the temple in Jerusalem.
i. “Without shucking and hucking, without delays and consults.” (Trapp)
b. For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? This shows the motive of Artaxerxes. Like other monarchs of the Persian Empire, he wanted to placate the gods of the people and the territory that they had conquered. He believed it was a good and safe policy for his kingdom to do this.
4. (24-26) Ezra is given legal power to enforce God’s Law.
Also we inform you that it shall not be lawful to impose tax, tribute, or custom on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, Nethinim, or servants of this house of God. And you, Ezra, according to your God-given wisdom, set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people who are in the region beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and teach those who do not know them. Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily on him, whether it be death, or banishment, or confiscation of goods, or imprisonment.
a. It shall not be lawful to impose tax: To promote the work of the temple in Jerusalem, Artaxerxes commanded that priests and other workers at the temple be given tax-exempt status.
i. “Darius had ordered a similar exemption for cult-servants of Apollo.” (Kidner)
b. Set magistrates and judges: Artaxerxes gave Ezra significant authority in the civil administration of the province (the region beyond the River).
i. According to your God-given wisdom: “The wisdom of thy God that is in thine hand, i.e. which God hath put into thy heart, and which appears in the works of thy hand. Wisdom is sometimes ascribed to the hands, as Psalm 78:72.” (Poole)
c. Teach those who do not know: Artaxerxes gave Ezra authority to teach this generation of returned exiles. Yet he also gave authority – perhaps too much authority – to punish those who did not observe the law of your God and the law of the king.
i. “Later passages show that Ezra was primarily a priest and scholar rather than an administrator. Yet the assurance that God had called him and had opened the doors gave Ezra the courage and strength to undertake this great task.” (Yamauchi)
5. (27-28) Ezra gives thanks.
Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, and has extended mercy to me before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty princes.
So I was encouraged, as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me; and I gathered leading men of Israel to go up with me.
a. Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers: Ezra knew that such generous and broad support and authority could only be granted by God who put such a thing as this in the king’s heart.
i. As God had moved the heart of Darius (Ezra 6:1-12), we see that God also moved the heart of Artaxerxes. Truly, The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes (Proverbs 21:1).
b. So I was encouraged, as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me: Ezra was certainly encouraged; not only by the king’s support but more so because it was all clear evidence of God’s support and blessing. Ezra found great encouragement in knowing that the hand of the LORD was upon him.