EZRA CHAPTER 7.
The Return of Ezra.
THE JOURNEY OF EZRA AND HIS COMPANY. — V.1. Now, after these things, almost sixty years after the events last related, in the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, the Artaxerxes Longimanus of secular history, Ezra, the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, v. 2. the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, v. 3. the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, v. 4. the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, v. 5. the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the chief priest, Ezra himself being very careful to note his priestly descent, although he does not give every link in the genealogical chain, v. 6. this Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the Law of Moses, a learned rabbi, or doctor, in the Mosaic Law and its interpretation, which the Lord God of Israel had given. And the king granted him all his request, entrusting him, at his own suggestion, with an important commission to the Jews, according to the hand of the Lord, his God, upon him. It was due to the goodness, providence, and grace of God which ruled over him that Ezra was granted this favor by the king. V. 7. And there went up, subsequently, some of the children of Israel, and of the priests and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinim, the lower servants of the Temple, to whom the more menial tasks were entrusted, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king. V. 8. And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, after a journey of four months, which was in the seventh year of the king. V. 9. For upon the first day of the first month, the new moon of the ecclesiastical year, began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to 3erusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him, who directed also this affair to the blessing of all His children concerned. V. 10. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, in studying the Law of God, its principles, institutions, privileges, and requirements, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments, the knowledge of which, at this time, had been considerably reduced, so far as the people as a whole were concerned. Where God is served with serious devotion, where his Word and worship are upheld with all zeal, there others are gained for the Lord. The more strictly the Church will follow the precepts of the Word of God, also in uncompromising opposition to all unionism, the better will it be able to do mission-work.
THE LETTER OF ARTAXERXES. — V. 11. Now, this is the copy of the letter that the King Artazerxes gave unto Ezra, the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord and of His statutes to Israel, learned not only in the general Moral Law as it pertained to all men, but also in those particular precepts which concerned the children of Israel alone during the time of preparation in the Old Testament. V. 12. Artaxerxes, king of kings, a title assumed with the usual Oriental vanity, unto Ezra, the priest, a scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, a most learned doctor, perfect peace, and at such a time, that is, and so forth, the customary complimentary remarks of the introduction being omitted. V. 13. I make a decree that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites in my realm, which are minded of their own free will to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. Just what brought about this favorable attitude of the king is not noted. Some scholars ascribe it to the influence of Esther, who may, at just about this time, have become queen; others think that Ezra or other leading Jews themselves suggested to Artaxerxes the need of a commission to study the situation in Judea at first hand. V. 14. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counselors, the supreme tribunals of the Persian kings, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, to investigate the situation thoroughly and from every angle, according to the Law of thy God which is in thine hand, of which Ezra had made such a thorough study that he was familiar with all its provisions, v. 15. and to carry the silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem, chap. 8, 25, v. 16. and all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, in the form of free-will offerings on the part of the inhabitants, with the freewill offering of the people, that is, of the Jews still living there, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem, so far as they would contribute voluntarily, v. 17. that thou mayest buy speedily with this money, namely, in view of the fact that his mission was approved by the king in order to encourage the Jewish congregation and their worship, bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat-offerings, such as were prepared from the finest flour, Num. 15, 4-13, and their drink-offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. It seems that the sacrificial worship needed to be stimulated anew after the death of the old leaders, who had brought up the first company of returning exiles to Jerusalem. V. 18. And whatsoever shall seem good to thee and to thy brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, whatever the situation might seem to demand, that do after the will of your God. Ezra was given free hand to act, to institute such measures as he thought best for the interest of the Jewish religion in Judea. V. 19. The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, apparently such as were intended to replace those that were worn out, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem. V. 20. And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, in making needed improvements, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king’s treasure-house, the royal local treasury, where all the taxes from the entire satrapy were collected before being sent to the Persian capital. V. 21. And I, even I, Artaxerxes, the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, those in the larger satrapy, to which the province of Judea belonged, that whatsoever Ezra, the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, v. 22. unto an hundred talents of silver (almost $200,000), and to an hundred measures of wheat (a cor, at that time, being estimated at nearly two or nearly six bushels), and to an hundred baths of wine (a bath being approximately five gallons, at that time), and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. Within this limit Ezra had free rein to act as he saw fit and thought best, surely an almost unexampled kindness on the part of a heathen king. V. 23. Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven; for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? Artaxerxies believed that, by favoring the religion of the Jews in this manner, he would in turn gain the favor of their God and establish his empire more firmly. V. 24. Also we certify you, making it known to the treasurers of the king’s taxes, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinim, or ministers of this house of God, the servants who were even below the Nethinim, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom upon them, they were exempt from all taxes. V. 25. And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, in accordance with his understanding of the Lord’s precepts and all the demands of the Jewish religious worship, set magistrates and judges which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God, all those who belonged to the Jewish Church; and teach ye them that know them not, those who professed to be members of the congregation and yet were unfamiliar with the fundamental laws of God. V. 26. And whosoever will not do the Law of thy God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment. “Since the civil and social life of Israel was so closely connected with their religion by the Law, they could not well prosper under judges who had neither appreciation nor understanding of their religion.” (Lange.) Thus the entire organization of the civil and social and religious life of the Jews was entrusted to Ezra by a royal decree, giving to the Jews practically the same rights and liberties which they had enjoyed under the ancient form of the direct theocracy. Ezra now adds a closing doxology in appreciation of the Lord’s kindness in shaping events in favor of the Jews. V. 27. Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart to beautify the house of the Lord which is in 3erusalem, for this assistance aided materially in bringing greater glory to the Temple and in making people regard the Jewish religion with a higher regard, v. 28. and hath extended mercy unto me before the king and his counselors v. 14. and before all the king’s mighty princes. Thus gratefully Ezra acknowledged the kindness and goodness of God. And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord, my God, was upon me, for so he considered this fortunate turn of events, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me, heads of households and perhaps also of father-houses, with whom their entire division would probably emigrate. Christians will at all times recognize the guiding and blessing hand of God in the affairs of their lives and will gratefully and publicly praise Him for His goodness.