A. The people who came with Ezra to Jerusalem.
1. (1-14) A list of the families.
These are the heads of their fathers’ houses, and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of King Artaxerxes: of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom; of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel; of the sons of David, Hattush; of the sons of Shecaniah, of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah; and registered with him were one hundred and fifty males; of the sons of Pahath-Moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah, and with him two hundred males; of the sons of Shechaniah, Ben-Jahaziel, and with him three hundred males; of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him fifty males; of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him seventy males; of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him eighty males; of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him two hundred and eighteen males; of the sons of Shelomith, Ben-Josiphiah, and with him one hundred and sixty males; of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai, and with him twenty-eight males; of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him one hundred and ten males; of the last sons of Adonikam, whose names are these—Eliphelet, Jeiel, and Shemaiah—and with them sixty males; also of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud, and with them seventy males.
a. These are the heads of their father’s houses: This list includes those who went up with Ezra from Babylon. Here Ezra begins to re-tell the account that was summarized in Ezra 7:1-10.
i. “There was little at Jerusalem to attract a new expedition; for the glamour which had surrounded the first return, with a son of David at its head, had faded in grievous disappointments; and the second series of pilgrims had to carry with them the torch with which to rekindle the flames of devotion.” (Adeney)
b. Of the sons of Phinehas, Gerhsom…Ithamar, Daniel…David, Hattush: These seem to be prominent members of the entourage, coming from prominent families.
i. “The interest of this forbidding list of names and numbers lies in the fact that in every case but one these groups are joining, at long last, the descendants of the pioneers from Babylon eighty years before.” (Kidner)
ii. Shechaniah: “There were three of this name; the second is mentioned in Ezra 8:5, and the third Ezra 10:2. They were all different persons, as may be seen from their fathers’ houses.” (Clarke)
c. And with him two hundred males…three hundred males: Adding the counts of the male members of the group together, there was a total count of at least 1,496 men in the group. Adding an estimated number of women and children (Ezra 8:21), we can surmise that the total number of the party coming with Ezra in the days of King Artaxerxes was something like between 6,000 to 7,000 people.
i. “The whole company consisted of one thousand four hundred ninety and six males: a good addition to those that went up before with Zerubbabel; yet nothing so many as might have been, but that they wanted hearts.” (Trapp)
2. (15) The lack of Levites in the group.
Now I gathered them by the river that flows to Ahava, and we camped there three days. And I looked among the people and the priests, and found none of the sons of Levi there.
a. Now I gathered them by the river: Ezra was definitely the leader of this group, and in more than a spiritual sense. He led the expedition.
b. And found none of the sons of Levi there: The Levites were different from the priests. The priests came from one family among the entire tribe of Levi (the descendants of Aaron). These were the essential workers for the system of temple worship that Ezra was to promote.
i. Perhaps the Levites were generally too comfortable with their lives in Babylon to go back to Jerusalem. Perhaps they were not willing to go back to their ancestral temple duties that put them under the authority of the priests. Whatever the reason was, Ezra had the money and the authority he needed, but not the men.
ii. “A rabbinic midrash on Psalm 137 relates the legend that there were Levites in the caravan but that they were not qualified to officiate because when Nebuchadnezzar had ordered them to sing for him the songs of Zion, ‘they refused and bit off the ends of their fingers, so that they could not play on the harps.’” (Yamauchi)
3. (16-20) Ezra addresses the problem of a lack of Levites.
Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leaders; also for Joiarib and Elnathan, men of understanding. And I gave them a command for Iddo the chief man at the place Casiphia, and I told them what they should say to Iddo and his brethren the Nethinim at the place Casiphia—that they should bring us servants for the house of our God. Then, by the good hand of our God upon us, they brought us a man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, with his sons and brothers, eighteen men; and Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, his brothers and their sons, twenty men; also of the Nethinim, whom David and the leaders had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim. All of them were designated by name.
a. I gave them a command…that they should bring us servants for the house of our God: With this, Ezra sent back to Babylon for Levites to come and join the work in Jerusalem. He didn’t accept the initial failure of the Levites to join the group but kept appealing for help.
i. Ezra planned carefully in the Levite recruitment effort. He specifically chose the recruiters – nine leaders, and two men of understanding to make the appeal as persuasive as possible. Then he carefully instructed the recruiters as to what they should say and directed them specifically as to whom to make the appeal (Iddo and his brethren). Indeed, the good hand of our God was upon the recruitment effort, but it was also upon the planning of it.
ii. “Iddo the chief; the head of the rest, either by ecclesiastical order or government, which the Persian kings allowed to the Jews; or by some grant or commission from the king.” (Poole)
b. They brought us a man of understanding…namely Sherebiah: This man responded to the call and led a delegation of Levites.
B. On the journey.
1. (21-23) A prayer of protection.
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.
a. I proclaimed a fast…that we might humble ourselves before our God: Ezra understood the spiritual power of fasting, as a demonstration of our single-minded devotion to God and His cause. Therefore, he called a fast, and saw that He answered our prayer.
i. As with any spiritual discipline or duty, it is possible to fast without the right heart and to trust it as an empty ritual, apart from its true spiritual reality. Real fasting – fasting that is partnered with real repentance and isn’t only about image – has great power before God (Matthew 17:21).
ii. To seek from Him the right way: “Literally ‘a straight way’ unimpeded by obstacles and dangers.” (Yamauchi)
b. For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort: Ezra had previously expressed great confidence in the hand of God upon him and his expedition. He did not want to contradict these prior words with later actions, in asking the king for an escort of soldiers and horsemen.
i. They needed protection because the danger was real. There was a constant threat of robbers and bandits, especially because they were transporting so many valuables. Yet because of their dependence on God (expressed through prayer and fasting), God protected them.
ii. “The voluntary gifts of the king were welcome. They were expressions of the king’s sense of the greatness of his God. These Ezra accepted with gratitude. It would have been quite another matter if he had asked the king to help him do what he had declared God was able to do for him.” (Morgan)
iii. “Thus we see that this good man had more anxiety for the glory of God than for his own personal safety.” (Clarke)
iv. “There is an added interest in the fact that Nehemiah, in his day, would see the matter quite differently, accepting a military escort as part of God’s bounty (Nehemiah 2:7-9).” (Kidner)
c. So we fasted: “They put their holy resolution into execution: purpose without practice is like Rachel, beautiful but barren.” (Trapp)
2. (24-30) Distribution of articles to be offered among the tribal representatives.
And I separated twelve of the leaders of the priests; Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them—and weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the articles, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes, and all Israel who were present, had offered. I weighed into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, silver articles weighing one hundred talents, one hundred talents of gold, twenty gold basins worth a thousand drachmas, and two vessels of fine polished bronze, precious as gold. And I said to them, “You are holy to the LORD; the articles are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD God of your fathers. Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leaders of the priests and the Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel in Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.” So the priests and the Levites received the silver and the gold and the articles by weight, to bring them to Jerusalem to the house of our God.
a. Weighed out to them: Ezra divided the valuables among the leaders of the priests, making each of them responsible for their portion. They were responsible then to watch and keep them until they arrived in Jerusalem and delivered them to the leaders of the priests and Levites there.
i. “These are enormous sums, worth millions of dollars.” (Yamauchi) The king of Persia sent great treasure to support the ongoing work of the temple.
ii. “If the God of the Jews were no more than a name (he might have argued), the whole exercise was pointless; but if He existed, He would expect tangible courtesies from a king – and the scale of them should reflect the donor’s power and majesty.” (Kidner)
b. So the priests and the Levites received the silver and the gold: This took some measure of faith because holding this wealth made them targets for violence by robbers or bandits. They received this responsibility and stewardship.
3. (31-32) Summary of their departure, and arrival in Jerusalem.
Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road. So we came to Jerusalem, and stayed there three days.
a. And the hand of our God was upon us: Ezra here repeated what is now a familiar phrase. God’s hand was indeed upon them to protect, guide, and bless them.
i. “God never fails those who act in full dependence on Himself, and so in complete independence of all others.” (Morgan)
b. So we came to Jerusalem: This ended the four-month journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. Ezra – together with the entire group – was now in the Promised Land and in the land promised to their ancestors.
C. Arrival in Jerusalem.
1. (33-34) Precious articles offered to the LORD.
Now on the fourth day the silver and the gold and the articles were weighed in the house of our God by the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui, with the number and weight of everything. All the weight was written down at that time.
a. The silver and the gold and the articles were weighed: Those in Jerusalem expected a proper accounting for what had been sent from Babylon. We may say that this was more to prove the integrity of the men in Ezra’s expedition than to disprove it.
b. All the weight was written down at that time: They did it all with a careful accounting, as is fitting for good stewardship and precious things.
i. “According to Babylonian tradition, almost every transaction, including sales and marriages, had to be recorded in writing. Ezra may have had to send back a signed certification of the delivery of the treasures.” (Yamauchi)
2. (35) Sacrificial offerings made to the LORD.
The children of those who had been carried away captive, who had come from the captivity, offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel: twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and twelve male goats as a sin offering. All this was a burnt offering to the LORD.
a. Offered burnt offerings: These burnt offerings were to propitiate for general sin and to show dedication to the LORD. The entire animal was burnt as a sacrifice to God.
i. Twelve bulls for all Israel: “Though of tribes there were only Judah and Benjamin, yet they offered a bullock for every tribe, as if present. There can be little doubt that there were individuals there from all the twelve tribes, possibly some families of each.” (Clarke)
ii. “The reason for offering seventy-seven lambs is not so obvious, whatever conjectures about the perfect number it may seem to invite.” (Kidner)
b. As a sin offering: The sin offering was made mostly with the idea of purification, especially for specific acts of transgression. Taking both sacrifices together (burnt and sin offerings), we can see that they addressed both the problem of sin (addressing the general sin problem) and sins (addressing the problem of specific sins).
3. (36) The orders from Artaxerxes are related.
And they delivered the king’s orders to the king’s satraps and the governors in the region beyond the River. So they gave support to the people and the house of God.
a. And they delivered the king’s orders: This would especially have been the commands giving special authority to Ezra (Ezra 7:25).
i. The king’s orders: “Presumably the documents that accredited Ezra as one who was authorised to administer the Jewish law among his fellow-countrymen in the various regions of the province.” (Kidner)
b. So they gave support to the people and the house of God: This reminds us of the great purpose of Ezra’s expedition. In the final two chapters, we will see Ezra administering strict correction as a reformer but he did not come primarily as a disciplinarian. He came to give support to the people and the house of God, and only dealt with the problems of sin and compromise as necessary in the course of this greater goal.