Ezra 7

 

      SECOND RETURN OF THE ISRAELITES

    FROM CAPTIVITY UNDER EZRA (chps. 7-8)

 

 

1. DECREE OF ARTAXERXES, AND RETURN UNDER EZRA, WITH

THE NUMBERS OF THOSE WHO RETURNED, AND THE NAMES OF

THE CHIEF MEN.

 

Fifty-seven years after the completion of the temple and its dedication,

when the long and eventful rein of Darius was over, and his son Xerxes,

probably the Ahasuerus of Esther, had also lived and reigned and passed

away, and the grandson of Darius, known generally as Artaxerxes

Longimanus, occupied the Persian throne, a further return of Israelites

from Babylon, on a tolerably large scale, took place. Ezra, a member of the

high priest’s family, a descendant of Seraiah, the “chief priest” at the time

of the destruction of Jerusalem (II Kings 25:18), and probably a third

cousin of the existing high priest, Eliashib, having access to Artaxerxes,

and, apparently, a certain influence with him, asked (v. 6) and

obtained the royal permission to reinforce the colony in Judaea by a fresh

body of emigrants, and at the same time to convey to Jerusalem a sum of

money, which the Babylonian Jews had subscribed towards the temple

service (Ibid. v. 16). Artaxerxes appears to have had a high respect for

Ezra; he recognized in him one possessed of wisdom from on high (v. 25),

and readily granted him, not only the request that he had made, but an

important commission, which was mainly one of inquiry (v. 14), but

which made him for a time paramount civil ruler of the province, with

power of life and death over its inhabitants (v. 26); and also conferred

upon the Jewish people certain valuable gifts and privileges. The terms of

the decree are set forth in vs.12-26, where the Chaldee version of

the text, as published by Artaxerxes, is probably given verbatim et

literatim. After reciting it, Ezra breaks out into a brief but earnest burst of

thanksgiving and acknowledgment of God’s goodness, which concludes

ch. 7., occupying the last two verses. He then proceeds, in ch. 8., to give

an account of the number of the Jews who returned with him, with the

names of their leaders, whom he calls “chief of the fathers.” Having

completed his list in v. 14, he goes on (vs. 15-31) to describe the

circumstances of the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, which occupied

exactly four months, commencing on the first day of the first month and

terminating on the first day of the fifth month (v. 9). In conclusion,

he tells us how, after a rest of three days, he discharged himself of the most

pressing of the commissions entrusted to him, delivering over to the priests

in charge of the temple the gifts sent by Artaxerxes, and making known to

the various Persian officials of the district the terms of the royal decree so

far as they were affected by it (ch. 8:32-36). This section may be

subdivided into seven parts:

 

  • The genealogy of Ezra (vs.1-5);
  • The fact of his journey, with its dates (vs. 6-10);
  • The decree of Artaxerxes with respect to Ezra (vs. 11-26);
  • The thanksgiving of Ezra (vs. 27-28);
  • The numbers of those who accompanied him to Jerusalem, with

the names of the chiefs (ch. 8:1-14);

  • The circumstances of the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem

(vs. 15-31); and

  • The three days’ rest at Jerusalem and execution of the more

pressing commissions (vs. 32-36).

 

               

                             THE GENEALOGY OF EZRA (vs. 1-5)

 

It is plain that this genealogy is incomplete. It gives no more than sixteen

generations between Ezra and Aaron, whereas the number of generations

between Zerubbabel and Nashon, prince of Judah in Aaron’s time (Numbers

1:7; 2:3), was twenty-six (I Chronicles 2:10-15; 3:5-19), and that between

Aaron himself and Eliashib at least as many (Ibid. ch. 6:3-15; 9:11;

Nehemiah 12:10). Six names are omitted between the Azariah and

Meraioth of v. 3, which will be found in I Chronicles 6:7-10; and at

least three must be wanting between Ezra himself and Seraiah, who was

the great-great-grandfather of Eliashib, Ezra’s contemporary

(Nehemiah 3:1; 13:4). The curtailment of genealogies by the omission

of names was a common practice of the Jews. A notable instance is the

omission of three royal names in Matthew’s genealogy of our Lord

(Matthew 1:8).

 

 

1 “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 writer makes a marked division between his first and

second sections by means of the words, Now after these things, which

he uses in this place only. The actual interval seems to have been one of

between fifty-seven and fifty-eight years, the sixth year of Darius being B.C.

516, and the seventh of Artaxerxes Longimanus B.C. 458. Artaxerxes is in

the original “Artakhshatra,” which reproduces the Persian Artakhshatra

with the change of only one letter. That Longimanus, the grandson of

Darius, is meant seems to follow from the fact that Eliashib, the grandson

of Jeshua is high priest under him (Nehemiah 3:1).

 

Darius, correspond to Jeshua,

Xerxes correspond to Joiakim

Artaxerxes correspond to Eliashib

 

But for this it would be possible to regard the Artaxerxes of Ezra (ch. 7.)

and Nehemiah as Mnemon. Ezra the son of Seraiah. Probably the great,great-

grandson. In the language of the sacred writers, every descendant is a

son,” and every ancestor a “father.” Christ is “the son of David,” and

David “the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Joram “begat” Uzziah

(ibid. 8), his great-great-grandson. Jochebed was “the daughter of Levi

(Exodus 2:1). Ezra omits the names of his father, grandfather, and

great-grandfather, who were undistinguished, and claims descent from

Seraiah, the last high priest who had ministered in Solomon’s temple

(II Kings 25:18). Azariah, the father of Seraiah, does not occur in either

Kings or Chronicles; but Hilkiah, Azariah’s father, is no doubt the high

priest of Josiah’s time (II Kings 22:4-14; II Chronicles 34:14-22, etc.).

 

2  The son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub,

3 The son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth,

4 The son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki,

5 The son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the

son of Aaron the chief priest:”  This portion of the genealogy agrees

exactly with that of Jehozadak in I Chronicles 6:3-15, excepting in the

omission, which has been already noticed, of six names between Azariah

and Meraioth. We may gather from Ibid. ch.9:11 that a Meraioth is also

omitted between the Zadok and Ahitub of v. 2.

 

 

     EZRA’S JOURNEY FROM BABYLON TO JERUSALEM,

WITH DATES  (vs. 6-10).

 

In introducing himself, Ezra seems to regard it of primary importance to state

two things:

 

(1) who he was, and

(2) what place he had in a history of which the main object is to give an

      account of the return of Israel from captivity.

 

In connection with the former point, he gives, first of all, his genealogy; and,

secondly, the account of himself contained in vs. 6 and 10. He describes

himself as “a ready scribe” — one who “had prepared his heart to seek the

law of the Lord, and to do it,” and also “to teach in Israel statutes and

judgments.” In connection with the latter, he is careful to put before us at

once the fact that he too, like Zerubbabel, “went up from Babylon to

Jerusalem by the permission of the Persian king, and, like Zerubbabel, was

accompanied by priests, Levites, both singers and porters, Nethinim, and

a number of the people (v. 7). He adds an exact statement as to the date

of both his departure and arrival, very natural in one who is his own

biographer, and very interesting to the general historian. He also, without

any parade of religious sentiment, acknowledges the hand of God as directing,

helping, and sustaining him in all his proceedings, ascribing to the Divine favor,

especially, Artaxerxes allowance of his journey, and his safe accomplishment

of it within a moderate space of time (vs. 6, 9).

 

 

 

6 “This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the

law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the

king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the

LORD his God upon him.”  This Ezra went up. See comment on ch.2:1,

where the same expression -“went up” — is used. He was a ready scribe in the law

of Moses which the Lord God of Israel had given. It is characteristic of Ezra’s

piety never to forget that the law was not a mere human code given by an earthly

lawgiver, not even a national treasure, the accumulation of centuries, but a

direct Divine gift “the law of the Lord” (v. 10), “the words of the

commandments of the Lord, and of His statutes to Israel (v. 11), “the

law which the Lord had commanded by Moses” (Nehemiah 8:14).

According to the hand of the Lord his God upon him. i.e. “by reason of

God’s favor to him.” God, by reason of His favor to Ezra, inclined the

heart of Artaxerxes towards him, so that he granted all his request. The

nature of the “request” is not directly stated, but may be gathered from the

letter of Artaxerxes,” especially vs. 13-14, 16.

 

7 “And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the

priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the

Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the

king.”  The same six classes are here mentioned as furnishing colonists

under Ezra which, according to the earlier narrative (ch. 2:70), had

accompanied Zerubbabel. The order in which the classes are mentioned is

nearly, but not quite, the same. In the seventh year of Artaxerxes. This is

the emphatic clause of the verse; Ezra’s main object in the section being to

give the exact date of his journey. As Artaxerxes began to reign in B.C. 464

(Clinton, F. H., vol. 2. p. 380, note b), his seventh year would be B.C. 458.

 

8 “And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the

seventh year of the king.”  And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month. From

the ninth verse it appears that the first day of the first month — the opening day

of the year — was selected for the commencement of the journey. This was

no doubt viewed as an auspicious day for beginning an important

undertaking. The time occupied on the way was exactly four months,

which is longer than might have been supposed to be necessary. Herodotus

reckoned it a three months journey from Sardis to Susa (v. 53), and the

younger Cyrus conducted an army from Ephesus to Cunaxa, near Babylon,

in ninety- three marching days (Xen, ‘Anab’ 2 1, § 6) — the distance in

either case being considerably more than that from Babylon to Jerusalem,

even supposing the route followed to have been by Balis and Aleppo. But a

caravan, like an army, requires rests; and we hear of one such rest at Ahava

(ch. 8:15). Cyrus gave his troops more days of rest than of

movement, and took half the year to reach Cunaxa from Ephesus. We need

not be surprised, therefore, that Ezra’s journey occupied four months.

Some delay must almost certainly have been caused by the perils of the

route (see Ibid. v.31).

 

9 “For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from

Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to

Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.”

According to the good hand of his God. For the meaning of

this phrase, see comment on v. 6. The special favor of God here

intended would seem to be deliverance from certain enemies who designed

to attack the caravan on the way (see ch. 8:21-23, 31).

 

10 “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and

to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.”  For Ezra had

prepared his heart, etc. God’s favor towards Ezra, and the prosperous issue

of his journey, were the consequences of his having set his heart on learning

God’s will, and doing it, and teaching it to others. To seek the law is to aim at

obtaining a complete knowledge of it.  To teach statutes and judgments is to

inculcate both the ceremonial and the moral precepts. Ezra appears as a teacher

of righteousness in ch.10:10-11, and again in Nehemiah 8:2-18

 

 

The Reformer (vs. 1-10)

 

“After these things” — nearly sixty years “after,” as usually understood —

certain other things came to pass. Things so far similar that they may be

recorded in the same connection; things so far different as to open out to

us quite a new part of this book. There is this similarity, for example —

that we have the story here of another and supplementary pilgrimage of

captive Israelites from Babylon to Jerusalem. On the other hand, there are

these points of difference — that the new pilgrimage is on a much smaller

scale; and that the story itself is rather biographical than historical, as

before — all of it, in fact, centering closely round the doings of one man.

Accordingly, it is with the portrait of this one man, Ezra, that this new

portion begins. We can see at once, on looking at the portrait, that he is a

zealous ecclesiastical reformer; and we can easily understand there being a

great necessity at Jerusalem for such a man at that time. Of this, however,

and of what he did there, we shall read by and by. At present we see chiefly

his fitness for this difficult role; and that in connection:

 

  • EZRA’S ANCESTRY. This, given us in vs. 1-5, would be such as to

fit him for the work of Church reformation in several ways.

 

Ø      As to office. By lineage we see that he was a priest; and therefore an

authorized preacher (Leviticus 10:11; II Chronicles 15:3;

Malachi 2:5-7); and therefore a person who would have special

facilities in reforming or setting things right, because such endeavors

would, in his case, be only expected. How can any man teach truth

and right without correcting error and wrong?

 

Ø      As to tradition. It may at least be noticed that, according to this lineage,

very many of the traditions of his peculiar priestly ancestry would be

specially in favor of reforming work. He belonged, e.g., to the better of

the two principal priestly lines, viz., that of Eleazar as compared with

Ithamar, to which Eli and his sons (II Chronicles 24:3-4) belonged.

Also, even in this very abridged form of his genealogy, how conspicuous

are the individual names of Phinehas (Numbers 25.; Joshua 22.; Psalm

106:30) and Hilkiah (II Kings 22.; II Chronicles 34.) in regard to this

point!  It could never, therefore, be said of him, in attempting similar

work, as in I Samuel 10:12.

 

Ø      As to position. Being himself descended from Seraiah, the grandfather

or great (or great-great) grandfather of the high priest of that time (I

Chronicles 6:14; Ezra 3:2; Nehemiah 3:1; 12:10), he would be not

only a priest, but a priest with peculiar family advantages for exerting an

influence for good, something as is the case with a “prince of the blood”

among us. On the whole, while all these things by themselves would not

necessarily dispose him to become a reformer, they would all help him,

if so disposed.

 

  • EZRA’S SPECIAL ATTAINMENTS. These would also qualify him

for such labors. For we find that he had learned:

 

Ø      How to listen to God. The man who would reform others must begin by

reforming himself; and this he can only do effectually by means of an

accurate knowledge of God’s will, that one standard of perfect right

(see Psalm 111:10, and end of Luke 11:2). This point secured in the

present instance

 

o       by Ezra’s discrimination. He knew where to look for God’s

word, viz., in the “Scriptures” of truth, recognizing clearly

their double aspect, as at once human (the “law of Moses”),

and also Divine (which “God had given”). Compare I

Thessalonians 2:13 — “the word of God which ye

heard of us.” He recognized also their peculiar value (which

theGod of Israel had given”), as God’s special gift to His

own people (Romans 3:1-2).

 

o       by Ezra’s diligence. Being thus valuable, he treated them

accordingly.  How much is implied in that expression, a

ready scribe”! Reading,” to know the letter. “Marking,”

to know the meaning. “Inwardly learning and

digesting,” to know the power. And all together, to acquire

the right use — to be “ready” with them whenever called for.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts:  and be ready

always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a

reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”

(I Peter 3:15)  A man thus familiar with the “sword of the

Spirit  (Ephesians 6:17) might naturally be expected to

further the Spirit’s work.

 

Ø      How to speak to men. Many book-learned men are too bookish for

this; and, therefore, not fit for reforming efforts. They can describe

their weapons, but not employ them. Ezra, we find, on the contrary,

was a man able to persuade men of all ranks and conditions, whether

superiors, from whom he asked permission to go (end of vs. 6 and 28),

or equals and inferiors, both lay and clerical (v. 7), whom he persuaded

to go with him.  Note, however, that this second qualification or

attainment was the result of the first, as implied in end of v. 6, and in

what we afterwards read in ch.8:17-18.

 

  • EZRA’S SPECIAL AMBITION. Unless a man desires an end,

unless he strongly desires it, if difficult of attainment, he is never likely to

reach it. However favored by circumstances, however qualified in itself,

the locomotive will never go forward without the requisite moving power.

This supplied here by Ezra’s special ambition. We notice:

 

Ø      Its patience. What is said here (in v. 9) of the length of his journey

from Babylon may help to illustrate this. Also what we read

afterwards in the detailed account of that journey, his waiting for

the Levites, in ch.8:15-20, and subsequent delay for fasting (ibid.

vs. 21-23). What is worth obtaining is worth waiting for. Perhaps

this conviction is, of all necessities, the most necessary for success

(James 5:7).

 

Ø      Its depth. “Ezra prepared his heart.” He was deeply earnest as well as

patient; could strike as well as endure; and not only bide his time, but

use it too. This a rare combination, but most important, in doing good

(see Galatians 6:9; also examples of Jacob, Moses, and Jehoiada, the

high priest, in II Chronicles 22:12; 23:1-15).

 

Ø      Its direction. Those qualifying attainments we have spoken of were his

because he had sought them — sought them not only as an end, but as a

means also to other ends. How definite and complete the description.

“Ezra had prepared his heart, to seek — to do — and to teach.” “To

teach in Israel statutes and judgments:” there was the summit of his

ambition. First to know and “do” it himself: there was the path, in his

judgment, that led to that summit (compare I Timothy 4:12, 16;

Titus 2:7). As the Oliver Goldsmith has written:

 

Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way.

 

Such is the opening portrait of the man whom God had called then to this

special calling. We may gather from it some general considerations as to

God’s preparatory work in such cases. We see, e.g.

 

  • How far back such work may begin. In this case of Ezra, e.g., as far

back (shall we say?) as Aaron. Certainly before his own birth (compare

Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15); and thenceforward, continually, in all

his early training and studies, and in all the various hereditary and

circumstantial influences that made him finally the man that he was. This

especially illustrated in the case of the greatest of all these “sent forth”

(Hebrews 3:1). As far back, at least, as the birth of Seth, God was

preparing for that of Christ.

 

  • How far off such work may begin. Here, e.g., in Babylon for the benefit

of those in Jerusalem. So afterwards at Joppa for Cornelius in Caesarea. So

in Egypt in Pharaoh’s bed-chamber (Genesis 41.) for the preservation of

those then in Canaan. So in Troas for the benefit of Macedonia (Acts 16:8-9);

and in Philippi for that of Thyatira (ibid. v. 14; Revelation 2:18); and in

Palestine for the salvation of Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-39); and, finally, in heaven

itself for the good of earth (Luke 19:10; John 3:16; I Timothy 1:15).

 

  • How far in both ways it extends. Here the good work afterwards done

by Ezra at Jerusalem helped to preserve by purifying the nucleus of the

whole Jewish dispersion then residing there; and so, afterwards still, the

whole dispersion. The dispersion, thus preserved, prepared the way, as we

saw before, for the preaching of the gospel to all nations in all parts of the

world; which, again, is to prepare for the restoration of Israel to God’s

favor, and the consequent fullness of blessing to all mankind (Romans

11:12, 15). What an extraordinary power and depth and stretch of

influence for good is implied in these words — “Beloved for the fathers’

sakes.”!   (Romans 11:28)  And how constantly we see similar influence

telling on strange peoples and future generations in the history of the world!

 

 

 

The Exodus under Ezra (vs. 1-10)

 

“After these things,” viz., the events which culminated in the dedication of

the temple, and consequent ordering of the service of God. “In the reign of

Artaxerxes king of Persia,” after an interval of nearly sixty years, during

which the house of the Lord had so fallen into disrepair as to need

beautifying,” and the civil state of the children of the restoration had

become disordered, and needed readjustment. With these purposes, and

with a view to leading back to Judaea another detachment of Israelites,

Ezra received a commission from the king. In the text:

 

  • HE AUTHENTICATES HIMSELF AS THE LEADER OF THIS

EXODUS.

 

Ø      He evinces his social qualification.

 

o       He announces himself as “the son of Seraiah.” This was

the high priest who was killed by Nebuchadnezzar (II Kings

25:18, 21). Ezra was not immediately his son, for even

supposing him to have been born the year of Seraiah’s death,

that would make him now 122 years of age! The immediate son

of Seraiah who went into captivity was Jehozadak (I Chronicles

6:14-15). Ezra, therefore, was probably the grandson or great

grandson of Jehozadak, and nephew or grand-nephew to Jeshua,

the high priest who accompanied Zerubbabel. By calling himself

the son of Seraiah he seems to have claimed now to be in some

sort his representative. Jeshua was probably deceased. This

stepping over intermediate generations has other examples in

this list (vs. 1-5), for it only reckons sixteen from Seraiah to

Aaron, whereas, according to I Chronicles 6., there are twenty-two.

 

o       Lineage is not without religious as well as civil advantages.

Sons of Aaron only could officiate as priests. It was of

substantial advantage to have descent from Abraham when

temporal blessings of the covenant were limited to his seed,

for these were not without their relation to the spiritual,

though these are limited to the children of his faith. Children

of godly persons are generally those who keep up the succession

of the Church both in its membership and ministry (see Isaiah

65:23).

 

Ø      He evinces his moral qualifications. “He was a ready scribe,” etc.

 

o       This law is distinguished as that “which the Lord God of Israel

had given.” The solemnities of Sinai and the miracles of the first

exodus are here called to mind. Such a glorious authentication

can be pleaded in favor of no other system of religion:

 

§         Buddhism?

§         Hinduism?

§         Confucianism?

§         Mahommedanism?

§          

o       This is the law, therefore, to be studied. Its author, God.

Its matter, truth the most sublime. Its spirit, holiness.

Its end, heaven.

 

o       A ready scribe (not a skilful penman only, but an able

expounder also) of such a law has the noblest qualifications

to be a leader of men.

 

Ø      He evinces his political qualification.

 

o       He had the commission of the king. “The king granted him

all his request.” There was great advantage in this, viz., to

influence the Jews to muster, to influence the heathen to aid

them.

 

o       This he had “according to the good hand of the Lord his God

upon him.” By God’s blessing he had wisdom to influence

the king. That blessing also disposed the king to listen (ch.6:22).

 

Note — God is in everything good; it is our duty to discern this.

 

  • HE RELATES THE SUCCESS OF HIS UNDERTAKING.

 

Ø      In the muster.

 

o       He had “some of the children of Israel.” Those who came to his

standard were volunteers (see v. 13). They numbered 1773 adult

males, which with a proportionate number of women and

children would make 9000 persons.

 

o       Amongst these were persons of influence. There were “priests

and Levites.” Of these last some were of the families of the

singers and of the “porters.”

 

o       There were also Nethinims, descendants of those “whom David

and the princes had appointed for the service of the Levites”

(ch. 8:20). The limitation of particular functions to families tends

to perfect efficiency. The service of God in all its departments

should be the most efficient.

 

Ø      In the journey.

 

o       Incidents are scantily given. The time occupied was four months

(v. 9). It appears to have been, at least for the able-bodied, a

march; for whence could carriages be procured for the transport

of 9000 persons?  Amongst the requisites they were provided

with they had tents for their encampment (ch.8:15). During

their pilgrimage their hearts would be in Zion. So the Christian

pilgrim on this earth, etc.

 

o       If incidents are not particularly given, the success of the enterprise

is, most emphatically. They went up from Babylonand “came

to Jerusalem(vs. 6, 8-9). Far better go up from the mystic

Babylon to the mystic Jerusalem than reverse the journey,

as too many do. Ezra had not only the skill to plan an exodus,

but also the energy to carry it out. Many a good thought perishes

for lack of executive ability. Happy is the coincidence of

noble thoughts and noble deeds.

 

Ø      In the blessing of God.

 

o       Ezra “sought the law of the Lord.” No study:

§         more remunerative

§         more ennobling or

§         more pleasing to God.

 

o       He sought it in earnest. “Prepared his heart,” viz., by raising it

above impure prejudices; by seeking the light of the great

Inspirer in prayer.

 

o       He reduced it to practice. He prepared his heart “to do it.”

Glorious example. His life was therefore righteous, and his

influence consequently great:

§         with God.

§         with the king.

§         with the people.

 

o       And “he taught it to Israel.” He taught Israel the “statutes,”

viz., precepts and “judgments,” viz., sanctions (I Kings 6:12;

Ezekiel 11:12). What a degenerate succession from the noble

Ezra were the scribes of our Lord’s day! Let us emulate his

qualities.

 

 

 

Ezra and His Mission  (vs. 9-10)

 

Two generations had elapsed between the close of Ezra 6. and the events

with which the final chapters of the book are concerned. The prophetic

voice was silent; Haggai and Zechariah had long since passed away.

Zerubbabel, the last representative of the house of David, in whose person

some had looked for a restoration of the Jewish kingdom, was dead. The

high priesthood, which had been filled by the saintly Jeshua, was occupied

by Eliashib, who became connected by marriage with two conspicuous

enemies of the faith of Israel. His grandson married a daughter of Sanballat

the Horonite; he himself “was allied unto Tobiab,” to whom he gave a

residence “in the courts of the house of God” (Nehemiah 13:4-7, 28).

Darius had been succeeded by Xerxes, the story of whose pride,

lasciviousness, passion, and feebleness is one of the most ignoble of the

records of classic history. He was the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. We

may judge from the book of Esther how unfavorable the times were for

carrying on the national and spiritual restoration of Israel. The full extent

of the debasement of the settlers in Palestine was not known in Babylon; it

broke on both Ezra and Nehemiah with painful surprise (Ezra 9.; Nehemiah

13.). But enough was known to awaken concern; he desired “to teach in

Israel statutes and judgments.” Filled with this pious desire, he obtained

permission to go up to Jerusalem.

 

  • THE CHARACTER OF EZRA. He was a priest, but he was still more a

scribe; tradition assigns to him a leading part in the formation of the canon

of Jewish Scriptures. The beginning of the study of Hebrew literature

belongs to this period; the dignity of the pursuit invested the name “scribe”

with honor, changed the mere registrar of documents and chronicler of

events into the scholar and teacher. The change of language consequent on

the deportation of the Hebrews into Babylon rendered it necessary that

some should draw the inspiring record of the past from the obscurity of a

dead or dying language, and make the people acquainted with their

DIVINE MISSION and the duties that mission imposed upon them.

Above all, the law of the Lord was the object of Ezra’s reverence; he

was “a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel

had given;” he “had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord,

and to do and teach it.” The character of Ezra was intimately associated

with his vocation: his were the habits of the student; his virtues were

not those of the statesman, the warrior, or the priest, but the virtues of

the scholar; it was his not to give, but to interpret, laws.

 

Ø      The profound piety of the man first strikes us. The precepts of the

law were to him “the words of God;” behind the writings he saw

the august personal authority of the ever-living Ruler of his people.

He lived in awe of His will; he had a deep conviction of the evil of

sin against Him, so deep that it impressed itself on others; they who

sympathized with His purpose were those who “trembled at the

words of the God of Israel (ch. 9:4; 10:3). He had a vivid

consciousness of his mission, and the nearness of God to him in

its fulfilment; again and again he refers his success to “the

good hand of his God upon him.”

 

Ø      Ezra had courage, but it was the courage of the student; not impulsive,

but meditative. He knew and feared the dangers of the way; but he

knew how to conquer fear (ch.8:21-23). He needed to be aroused to

effort, and when he was called to action he prepared himself for it

by consecration (ch.10:4-5). There is a physical, and there is also a

moral, courage; that is the most enduring bravery which knowing of

dangers, faces them, trembles but advances, which supplies the lack of

impulse by resolve. The “fear of the Lord” casts out all other fear.

 

Ø      The sensitive conscience and tender sympathy of the recluse are also

his.  Contrast his manifestation of feeling with that of Nehemiah when

confronted with glaring impiety (ch. 9.; Nehemiah 13.). Nehemiah is

indignant, Ezra is overwhelmed. Nehemiah “contends,” Ezra weeps.

Nehemiah curses the transgressors, and smites them, and plucks off

their hair, and “makes them” amend; Ezra is prostrate from morning

until evening, solemnly intercedes with God on their behalf, and

wins the people to concern and repentance. This is the sacrificial spirit,

feeling and confessing the sins of others as our own, bearing their

transgressions, and recovering them by suffering; it is the lesson of

the cross, the Christian spirit.

 

Ø      The firmness, even ruthlessness, with which he commands the separation

of the husbands from their wives and children also bespeak the man of

the study. None have shown themselves more able to rise above family

ties, none have more imperiously demanded this sacrifice from others,

than those whose lofty ideal, cherished in the cell, has known none of

the abatement which we learn to make in social interaction. There is

room for such men in history, and a work sometimes which none can

do so well as they. Here are, unquestionably, the elements of a noble

character. Not the only noble type, nor need we inquire if the noblest;

enough that his was the character required for the reforms he

inaugurated. Nehemiah was not called to do over again the work

Ezra did. The style of Nehemiah’s record (Nehemiah 13:23-28)

indicates a very different state of things from that which Ezra found.

This is the true test of the value of a man’s character, that he is fit

for the work he has to do; the test of his worth is that he does

it effectually.

 

  • THE REFORMATION EZRA WROUGHT. He went up on a twofold

errand. His own object was to teach the people “the words of the

commandment of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel.” Disobedience of

these had always been the crying sin of the nation, and had entailed on it its

woes (ch. 9:7); the new favor God had extended to them would be

forfeited if they disregarded His laws (Ibid. v.14). And the disobedience

that would provoke God might be through ignorance as well as throughk

presumption. A nation perishes through ignorance; the violation of the

Divine order brings SOCIAL DISORGANIZATION AND RUIN,

 it needs not that the violation be wilful. In the sacrifice offered on his arrival,

together with the renewal of consecration — the burnt offering, and the feast

of thanksgiving — the peace-offering, there occurs again the touching sin

offering, twelve he-goats are sacrificed to acknowledge and ask pardon for

sins of ignorance. In the disordered state of the times it was certain there

must have been many defects in the people’s service, many errors, many

transgressions of which they were not conscious, and THESE MUST BE

CONFESSED!   Then he was charged with a double mission from

Artaxerxes, the gentle prince at that time reigning over Persia. The furnishing

of the temple was to be proceeded with; he was laden with gifts for this

purpose (ch. 8:25-27); he was charged to attend to its service, and

empowered to draw from the royal revenues what was needed for a

stately ritual (ch.7:16-17, 22). He was also commissioned to set magistrates

and judges over the people charged with the administration of Jewish law,

and he was empowered to execute it (Ibid. vs. 25-26). Artaxerxes knew

that the law of the Lord was more than a mere ritual, that it prescribed

social customs and regulated the life of the people, and he sympathized

with Nehemiah’s desire to re-establish its rule. One great reform, however,

overshadows all other works of Ezra; when this is recorded the book

abruptly closes, as if Ezra’s work was done. The story of Ezra’s dismay at

hearing of the marriages of the Jews with the heathen, and his prompt

dissolution of the marriages, is so far removed from the tolerant spirit of

modern Christendom that it needs some special observations.

 

Ø      These were idolatrous heathen, not monotheistic heathen like the

Persians; they were the heathen of Syria, whose worship was fouled

with lust and blood. The term “abominations,” as applied to their

customs, is no mere outburst of Jewish arrogance; the tolerant modern

spirit is revolted by the record. Intermarriage with them meant sharing

in their festivals, and exposed the Jews to the utmost peril (compare

Nehemiah 13:26). The past sufferings of the people should have warned

them against this new folly; it seemed like provoking God, so soon to

forget the past (ch.9:6-15). The intermarriage of the people, and especially

of the priests, with idolatrous women was unfaithfulness to the purpose

for which they had been restored from Babylon; a betrayal of the

confidence reposed in them by Cyrus and his successors; a denial of

the testimony of Zerubbabel and Jeshua (ch.4:3); it argued

indifference to their national position, contempt of their Divine calling.

 

Ø      The demand for divorce seems inconsistent with Paul’s counsel

(I Corinthians 7:14), and the hopeful charity on which it is based;

with many of Christ’s words, and the spirit of Christ’s life; it seems to

argue the terror of the separatist rather than the confidence of the

strong believer. We must not, however, argue the question from a

Christian, but from a Jewish, standpoint; it is as foolish to look into

the Old Testament for modern ethics as for modern science. The immense

moral force of the gospel renders possible a genial and tolerant spirit

which was not possible to an earnest Jew. As a matter of fact, the

seductions of idolatry had always proved stronger than the attraction

of Judaism; the heathen corrupted the Hebrew, the Hebrew did not

convert the heathen. (It seems the same today with the world seemingly

having more of an influence on the Church than the Church on the world?

CY – 2014)  Judaism, with all its signal merits, was not a missionary faith;

its office was protest, not evangelization; the spiritual power of the gospel

was not in it — the cross, and resurrection, and the gift of the

Holy Spirit.  The presence of these forces in Christianity is the reason of

its tolerant spirit; it moves freely in a world which it has power to

change and sanctify (Mr. Spurgeon said it was the purpose of Christianity

to sanctify the secular!  - CY – 2014);  its work is not to protest,

but to reclaim; the Son of man came not to judge the world, but to

save the world.

 

  THE DECREE OF ARTAXERXES WITH RESPECT TO EZRA

                                            (vs. 11-26).

 

The present decree was of the nature of a firman granted to an

individual. It embodied, in the first place, a certain number of provisions

which were temporary. Of this character were:

 

1. the permission accorded to all Persian subjects of Israelite descent to

accompany Ezra to Jerusalem (v. 13);

2. the commission to Ezra to convey to Jerusalem certain offerings made

by the king and his chief courtiers to the God of Israel (vs. 15, 19);

3. the permission given him to convey to Jerusalem the free-will offerings

of Jews and others resident in Babylonia (v. 16);

4. permission to Ezra to draw on the royal treasury to the amount of a

hundred talents of silver, a hundred measures of wheat, a hundred “baths

of wine, a hundred “baths” of oil, and salt to any amount (v. 22); and,

5. an indefinite commission to “inquire” (v. 14).

 

Besides these temporary enactments, the decree contained certain

provisions of a more permanent nature.

 

1. Ezra was invested with the chief authority over the whole district

beyond the river,” and was commissioned to appoint all the subordinate

magistrates and judges” (v. 25).

2. He was authorized to enforce his decisions by the penalties of

imprisonment, confiscation of goods, banishment, and even death itself

(v. 26).

3. An exemption from taxation of every kind was granted to all grades of

the sacerdotal order — to the priests, the Levites, the singers, the porters,

the Nethinim, and the lowest grade of “ministers” — to all, in fact, who

were engaged in the performance of any sacred function connected with

the temple (v. 24). This last provision was absolutely permanent, and

probably continued in force down to the close of the empire.

 

11 Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes 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.”

The copy of the letter that the king… gave to Ezra. This

decree, as already observed, was a private firman, one copy of which only

was made, which was presented to Ezra, and was his authority for doing

certain things himself, and for requiring certain acts of others. The priest.

This is implied in the genealogy (vs. 1-5), but not directly stated

elsewhere by Ezra himself. Nehemiah, however, designates him similarly

(Nehemiah 8:2, 9). His most usual title is the “scribe.” A scribe of the

words of the commandments of the Lord. Not so much a writer as an

expounder (see above, v. 10).

 

12 “Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law

of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time.”

Artaxerxes, king of kings. “King of kings, kkshayathiya

khshaya-thiyanam,” an equivalent of the modern shahinshah, was a

recognised title of the Persian monarchs, and is found in every Persian

inscription of any considerable length (Rawlinson, ‘Cuneiform Inscriptions

of Persis,’ vol. 1 pp. 195, 271, 279, 287, 292, etc.). It was a title that had

been used occasionally, though not at all frequently, by the Assyrian

monarchs (‘Records of the Past,’ vol. 3. p. 41; vol. 5. p. 8), and naturally

expressed the fact that those monarchs for the most part maintained the

native princes on the thrones of the countries which they conquered (see

Isaiah 10:8). It was less appropriate to the Persians, whose empire was

in the main satrapial, but still had a basis of truth to rest upon, since the

Persian monarch had always a certain number of tributary kings under him

( cf. ‘Herod.,’ 5:104, 118; 8:142; Xen., ‘Anab.,’ 1:2, §12; ‘Hellen.,’ 4:1,§§

3,4,etc.). The Parthian kings took the title from the time of Mithridates I.;

and from them it passed to the Sassanians, who style themselves malkan

malka, from first to last, upon their coins. The God of heaven. On this

favorite Persian expression see comment on ch. 1:2. Perfect peace.

There is nothing in the Chaldee original in any way corresponding to

peace;” and the participle passage being translated as in the margin of the

Authorized Version — “to Ezra the priest, a perfect scribe of the law of the

God of heaven.” And at such a time. Rather, “and so forth,” as in ch.4:10,

11, 17.

 

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

freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee.”  All they of the people

of Israel. The decree of Artaxerxes is as wide in its terms as the

proclamation of Cyrus (ch.1:3), and gives permission not to the Jews only,

but to all Israelites of whatever tribe, to accompany Ezra to Jerusalem.

That Israelites of all the tribes actually went up to Jerusalem on the

occasion seems indicated by the “twelve bullocks for all Israel,” which

those who returned with Ezra offered on their arrival to the “God of Israel

(see ch. 8:35).

 

14 “Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven

counselors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according

to the law of thy God which is in thine hand;”

Ezra received his commission from the king, and from his

seven counsellors, who thus seem to occupy an important position in the

Persian state. They are commonly identified with the “seven princes of

Persia and Media,” mentioned in Esther (Esther 1:14), “which saw the

king’s face,” and “sat  first in the kingdom.” A conjecture, which, though

not unreasonable, cannot be said to be substantiated, connects the “seven

counselors with the seven great Persian septs, or families, which had

privileges beyond the rest, and among them the right of unrestricted access

to the royal presence (‘Herod.,’ 3:84). The commission which Ezra

received is described in this verse as one to inquire concerning Judah

and Jerusalem; but the subject-matter of the inquiry is not mentioned. He

can scarcely have been sent to make inquiry whether the law of Moses was

observed or no, since that was certainly not a matter with which the

Persian government would concern itself. Probably he was to inquire

generally into the material prosperity of the province, and to report

thereon.

 

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,”  Large sums in specie had in ancient times

to be remitted from one country to another under escort. The roads were

never safe from robbers; and the more considerable the remittance, the

greater the danger of its being intercepted. We hear of its being usual to

protect the treasure annually remitted to Jerusalem from Babylon in

Roman times by an escort of above 20,000 men (see Joseph., ‘Ant. Jud.,’

18:9, § 1). The God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem. No

more seems to be meant by “habitation” here than by “house” in

ch. 1:2-3.  Artaxerxes does not regard Jehovah as a local God.

 

16 “And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province

of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the

priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in

Jerusalem:  All the silver and gold that thou canst find. Rather, “that

thou canst obtain” all that thou canst get my other subjects to give

thee.” Compare the proclamation of Cyrus (ch.1:4, 6).

 

17 “That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams,

lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer

them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in

Jerusalem.  18 And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy

brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do

after the will of your God.”  The primary application of the money sent

by Ezra was to be the maintenance of the Jewish ritual in its full splendor

(compare the decree of Darius, ch. 6:9-10). The residue was, however,

to be employed in any way that Ezra, acting under Divine guidance,

might direct.  Apparently, this residue was actually employed on

beautifying the temple (see v. 27).

 

19 “The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of

thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem.”

The vessels also. It does not appear that these were sacred

vessels belonging to the temple, like those which Cyrus had entrusted to

Zerubbabel for restoration to the house of God. Rather, it would seem,

they were a part of the voluntary “offering” mentioned in v. 15, in which

they are distinctly included (ch. 8:25-28). We may perhaps conclude that

the vessels sent with Zerubbabel had proved insufficient in number for the

great festivals.

 

20 “And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God,

which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the

king’s treasure house.   21 And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make

a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that

whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven,

shall require of you, it be done speedily,”  Whatever more shall be needful.

Here the terms of the firman are very wide indeed, and authorize apparently

an unlimited application of the royal revenue, or, at any rate, of the revenue

of the province, to any purpose in any way connected with the temple.

Probably it was expected that Ezra’s own discretion would act as a restraint.

If this failed, the royal treasurers would see that the amounts specified in

v. 22 were not exceeded. The king’s treasure-house is not the royal treasury

at Susa, to which the tribute went up from the various provinces, but the

local treasury of Judaea or Syria, to which the Jews made their remittances,

and on which Ezra was now authorized to draw. Such local treasuries existed

of necessity under a satrapial system.

 

22 “Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of

wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of

oil, and salt without prescribing how much.”  Unto a hundred talents

of silver. At the lowest estimate of the Jewish silver talent, this would be

a permission to draw on the royal treasury to the amount of £24,000

sterling. If we adopt the views of Mr. R.S. Peele (‘Dict. of the Bible,

Articles, MONEY and WEIGHTS AND MEASURES), it would

authorize drawing to the amount of £40,000. A hundred measures

of wheat. Literally, “a hundred cors of wheat,” as given in the margin.

The cor is variously estimated, at 44.25 gallons and at 86.67 gallons.

It contained ten baths. Orders on the treasury for so much

wheat, wine, oil, and salt sound strangely in modern ears; but were natural

enough in the Persian system, where taxation was partly in kind, and every

province had to remit to the court the choicest portion of its produce.

Wine, corn, oil, and salt were all of them produced abundantly in Palestine,

which was “a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land

of oil olive, and of honey” (II Kings 18:32), and which, in the region

about the Dead Sea, abounded with salt.

 

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?”

Why should there be wrath against the realm? In the

seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanns there was “wrath against the

realm” of Persia in a very dangerous quarter, viz., Egypt. Egypt had

revolted from the Persians in B.C. 460, and in the following year, with the

assistance of the Athenians, had driven the last Persian out of the country.

A vain attempt was made by an embassy to Sparta, towards the close of

B.C. 459, to force Athens to recall her troops. In B.C. 458, Artaxerxes’

seventh year, it was resolved that a Persian force should attempt the

recovery of the revolted country. Artaxerxes gives his firman to Ezra when

this expedition is preparing to start, and partly alludes to the past “wrath,”

shown in the success of the rebels, partly deprecates any further visitation.

Without pretending to penetrate the Divine counsels, it may be noticed that

from the year B.C. 458 things went well for the Persians in Egypt. Memphis

was recovered in that year or the next; and in B.C. 455 the Athenians were

finally defeated, and the province recovered. The king and his sons. This

mention of the “sons” of Artaxerxes has been regarded as a proof that the

Artaxerxes of Esther was Mnemon, and not Longimanus. But it is

quite a gratuitous supposition that Longimanus, who had attained to

manhood before he ascended the throne, had no sons in the seventh year

of his reign. Ultimately he left behind him eighteen sons (Ctesias, ‘Exc.

Pers.,’ § 44).

 

24 “Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites,

singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it

shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them.”

We certify you. The use of the plural is curious. Hitherto the

king has made every permission and command to rest on his own sole

authority (see vers. 12, 13, 21). Now that he reaches the most important

point in the whole of his decree — the permanent exemption of a large part

of the people from liability to taxation of any kind, his style changes, and

he says, “We certify you.” Perhaps he speaks in the name of himself and his

successors; or possibly he means to say that in this matter he has asked and

obtained the assent and consent of his council (compare ver. 28). Or

ministers. Rather, “and ministers.” It is generally allowed that the word

here translated “ministers” is not applied to the Nethinim, but to that still

lower grade of attendants in the sanctuary called “Solomon’s servants” in

<150255>Ezra 2:55-58, and <160757>Nehemiah 7:57-60. It shall not be lawful to

impose toll, tribute, or custom upon them It may be suspected from this

proviso that the Persians exempted from taxation their own (Magian)

priests, though of this there is no other evidence. But they would scarcely

have placed a foreign priesthood on a higher level of favour than their own.

 

25 “And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand,

set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are

beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach

ye them that know them not.”  And thou, Ezra. This conclusion would

be by itself sufficient to remove the document out of the ordinary category

of “decrees” or “edicts,” and to render it, what it is called in v. 11, nish-tevan,

a letter.”  After the wisdom of thy God, that is in thy hand. i.e. “that is in

Thy possession.” Set magistrates and judges. Both the words used are

derived from roots signifying “to judge,” and it is difficult to draw any

distinction between them. The one translated “magistrates” is that which

gives its title to the Book of “Judges.” Which may judge all the people

that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God. The

latter clause is probably intended to be limitative of the former, and to

consign to Ezra’s government only the Jewish portion of the population, in

which, however, are to be reckoned the proselytes (see comment on ch.6:21).

And teach ye them that know them not. As the other inhabitants of Syria

were not Zoroastrians, but idolaters, Ezra was given free permission to

spread his religion among them.

 

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.”  Finally, to Ezra is entrusted distinctly the civil

government of the Jewish people, with power to fine, imprison, banish,

or put to death offenders, as he may think right. These powers were

always entrusted by the Persians to the civil administrators of provinces,

who were autocrats within their respective territories, and responsible to

the king alone for the exercise of their authority.

 

 

EZRA’S THANKSGIVING

        ON RECEIPT OF ARTAXERXES’ LETTER (vs. 27-28).

 

With an abruptness that may appear strange, but which has many parallels

in the works of Oriental writers, Ezra passes without a word of explanation

from Artaxerxes’ letter to his own thanksgiving upon the receipt of it.

Compare the interjectional prayers of  Nehemiah (Nehemiah 4:4; 5:19; 6:9,14).

 

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 Jerusalem:”  Having concluded the important document,

which he has transcribed, and not translated, and which is consequently

in the Chaldee dialect, Ezra now resumes the use of the more sacred

Hebrew, and henceforth employs it uninterruptedly to the close of his

narrative. The form of his thanksgiving a little resembles that of David

in I Chronicles 29:10. The Lord God of our fathers is an unusual phrase,

only elsewhere employed by David (Ibid. v.18) and Jehoshaphat (II

Chronicles 20:6). God of our fathers” is more common, being found in

Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 26:7) and Acts (Acts 3:13; 5:30), as

well as in Chronicles frequently. Which hath put such a thought as this

in the king’s heart. Compare 1:1. and 6:22. All thoughts favorable to the

Jews are regarded by Ezra as impressed upon the hearts of heathen kings

by the direct action of God. To beautify. Or “adorn.” Ezra gathers from the

general tenor of the king’s letter that the adornment of the temple is his

main object (see comment on v. 17).

 

28 And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his

counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes. And I was

strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I

gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.”

Hath extended mercy unto me before the king. i.e. “hath given me

favor in the king’s sight” — “hath made him graciously disposed

towards me” (see v. 6). And his counsellors and… princes. Compare

the comment on v. 14. The “counsellors” and “princes” are the same

persons.

 

 

The Extension of the Mercy of the Covenant (vs. 27-28)

 

After recounting the wonderful success of his enterprise, Ezra breaks out

into a rapture of gratitude to God. “Blessed be the Lord God,” etc. Here:

 

  • HE ACKNOWLEDGES GOD IN HIS COVENANT CAPACITY.

 

Ø      This is expressed in the terms God of.

 

o       This is shown in the record of the Sinai covenant (see

Deuteronomy 29:10-13). Thenceforward Jehovah speaks of

Himself as the “God of Israel.”

 

o       So in reference to the gospel covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31-34;

Hebrews 8:8).

 

o       So likewise when all blessings culminate in the bliss of heaven,

and the mercy of the covenant is fulfilled (see Revelation 21:7).

 

Ø      Covenant relationship subsists in Christ.

 

o       There is no covenant relationship with God apart from Him.

He is the impersonation of promise. He is the depositary of

the promises (see Romans 15:8-9; II Corinthians 1:20).

o       Hence he is distinguished as the covenant (see Isaiah 42:6; 49:8;

Zechariah 9:11).

 

Ø      The promise of the Christ was the establishment of the covenant with

the fathers.

 

o       Hence the covenant in the family of Noah was limited to Shem,

who was elected to be the progenitor of the promised seed

(see Genesis 9:26).

o       In the family of Shem it was afterwards limited to Abraham

for the same reason (Ibid. ch. 17:7-8).

o       In the family of Abraham Ishmael was excluded and Isaac

chosen (Ibid. ch. 26:24).

o       In the family of Isaac the limitation was to Jacob (Ibid.

ch.30:13-15).

o       In the family of Jacob the restriction was to Judah (Ibid.

ch.49:8-10).

o       In the family of Judah the covenant was established with

David (Psalm 89:3-4; Jeremiah 33:19-26).

o       In the line of David the promise was fulfilled with the

Virgin Mary (see Luke 1:67-79).

 

  • HE ASCRIBES HIS SUCCESS TO THE EXTENSION TO HIM OF

THE MERCY OF THE COVENANT.

 

Ø      The covenant was not established with Ezra.

 

o       He was of the tribe of Levi (see vs.1-5). Levi was shut out

when Judah was chosen.

o       Why then does Ezra speak of the Lord as his God? This

expression may have reference to the temporal blessings of

the covenant which were made over to all the tribes, and

embodied in the Law. Thus, as he expresses it :

 

Ø      The mercy of the God of his fathers was extended to him.

 

o       Temporal blessings are extended to all who have connection with

the favored line. Thus Esau was blessed because he was the seed

of Isaac, who had the promise of the holy seed (Genesis 27:39-40).

In like manner Ishmael had temporal blessings because he was the

seed of Abraham (Ibid. ch.17:20).

o       But the farther back the connection is, the farther off is the

person concerned. Hence the Israelites, in general, are spoken

of as “nigh;” while the Gentiles, some of whom would have

to go back as far as Noah before they touched a patriarch with

whom the covenant was established, are spoken of as “afar off”

(Ephesians 2:17).

 

Ø      To this extension of the mercy of the God of the covenant to Him he

attributes his influence.

 

o       The king of Persia, the counselors, and the mighty princes all

felt the influence of his integrity and ingenuity. The people

of Israel also felt these influences. So did the “chief men”

who gathered around him and acted as his lieutenants.

o       But all this influence he traces to God’s mercy extended to him.

What a rebuke is here to those who plume themselves upon their

influence or abilities!

 

  • HE RECOGNIZES THE INTERESTS OF THE COVENANT AS

THE TRUE REASON FOR THE PERSIAN FAVOR.

 

Ø      The covenant God put it into the heart of the king.

 

o       God does put things into men’s hearts. We should see His

hand in all the good that is done by rulers and magistrates.

o       In so doing He serves the purposes of His covenant. The

measures to which Artaxerxes was prompted were important

links in the chain of events which issued in THE ADVENT

OF THE MESSIAH!  The very “temple” which the king

beautifiedwas to become the scene of some of the grandest

predicted events (Haggai 2:5-9; Malachi 3:1). Consider:

 

Ø      How the covenant has molded history.

 

o       Ancient history is preserved to us only in so far as it stood

related to the people of the covenant. Persian history is

especially interesting in this view.

o       Modern history is no less intimately connected with the

people of God.  Those nations who have the purest truth of

the gospel are the most influential in molding the politics of

the world. No matter how “far off” he may be, no man is

so remote from the covenant as not to feel its influence

in temporal blessing. Whereas every limitation of the covenant

down to the advent of Messiah tended to remove collateral

lines further off, now since His coming this tendency is

reversed, and He is “lifted up” that He may draw all men

unto Him” (John 12:32; see Ephesians 2:13-22).

 

 

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