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
high priest’s family, a descendant of Seraiah, the “chief priest” at the time
the destruction of
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
body of emigrants, and at the same time to convey to
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
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 names of the chiefs (ch. 8:1-14);
(vs. 15-31); and
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
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
1 “Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of
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
WITH DATES (vs. 6-10).
In introducing himself, Ezra seems to regard it of primary importance to state
(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
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
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
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
law of Moses, which
the LORD God of
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
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
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
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
seventh year of the
king.” And he came to
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
younger Cyrus conducted an army from
in ninety- three marching days (Xen, ‘Anab’ 2 1, § 6) — the distance in
either case being considerably more than that from
even supposing the route followed to have been by Balis
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
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
the “God of
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”! “
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.
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
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
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
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. —
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.
of those in
those then in
itself for the good of earth (Luke 19:10; John 3:16; I Timothy 1:15).
by Ezra at
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
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
Ezra received a commission from the king. In the text:
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
Ø He evinces his moral qualifications. “He was a ready scribe,” etc.
This law is
distinguished as that “which the Lord God of
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:
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
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.
Ø In the muster.
He had “some
of the children of
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
pilgrim on this earth, etc.
o If incidents are not particularly given, the success of the enterprise
is, most emphatically. They “went up from
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.
taught it to
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
Ezra and His
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
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
the debasement of the settlers in
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
permission to go up to
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
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
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
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
errand. His own object was to teach the people “the words of the
commandment of the Lord, and of his statutes to
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
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
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
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
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
2. the commission to Ezra to convey to
by the king and his chief courtiers to the God of Israel (vs. 15, 19);
3. the permission given him to convey to
Jews and others resident in
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
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
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,
13 “I make a decree, that all they of the people of
priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own
freewill to go up to
proclamation of Cyrus (ch.1:3), and gives permission not to the Jews only,
to all Israelites of whatever tribe, to accompany
That Israelites of all the tribes actually went up to
occasion seems indicated by the “twelve
bullocks for all
those who returned with Ezra offered on their arrival to
(see ch. 8:35).
14 “Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven
counselors, to enquire
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
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
15 “And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his
counselors have freely
offered unto the God of
habitation is in
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
Roman times by an escort of above 20,000 men (see Joseph., ‘Ant. Jud.,’
18:9, § 1). The
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
priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in
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
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
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
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
of Judaea or
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
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
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
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
B.C. 459, to force
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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:
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
as the “God of
o So in reference to the gospel covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31-34;
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;
Ø The promise of the Christ was the establishment of the covenant with
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.
In the family of Jacob
the restriction was to
In the family of
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).
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
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”
Ø To this extension of the mercy of the God of the covenant to Him he
attributes his influence.
The king of
felt the influence of his integrity and ingenuity. The people
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!
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
“beautified” was 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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