Ezra was a priest of the LORD among the Jews in the Babylonian captivity. Although Cyrus the Persian, in the first year of his reign in Babylon, gave commandment that all those Jews who would, could go to Jerusalem, and build the temple unto the LORD, Ezra makes no mention of having taken any part in the first contingent of the Jews to go back to Jerusalem. In fact, he makes no mention of himself until in the reign of Artaxerxes, which was a few years later. Yet when he does come upon the scene, he plays a very active part in the remainder of the story.
(Verses 1 through 4)Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all His people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (He is the God,) Which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.
In verse 1 the prophecy of the coming and work of Cyrus king of Persia, is said to have been prophesied by Jeremiah the prophet, he is also mentioned by Isaiah in Chapters 44 and 45 of his prophecy. So it was well documented before Cyrus was even born, and therefore there can be no doubt that that the LORD brought the action of this text to pass according to His own purpose. Notice that Cyrus did not just make a proclamation, but also put it in writing that it might be a matter of record. He clearly acknowledged that his kingdom was given him of the LORD; and it was for this reason that he decreed that the Jews who wished should go back to Jerusalem, and build this house unto the LORD God of Israel. He also decreed that there be a great deal of help, in the way of silver, gold, goods, and beasts, be given those who would do this, in addition to whatever freewill offering might be made “for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”
(Verses 5 and 6) Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the Priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem. And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.
Evidently the LORD had worked with the Jews, so that some were ready to go to the work, and others were ready to contribute to the work with those things that were necessary. The priests, Levites, and chief fathers of the Jews were ready to lead the way in this project.
(Verses 7 through 11) Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods; even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. And this is the number of them thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives, thirty basins of gold, silver basins of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand. All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem.
King Cyrus took all the vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had brought from the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, and gave them back to Sheshbazzar to take back to the new temple in Jerusalem. So he must have been in earnest in wanting the temple built.
(Verses 1 and 2) Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city; which came with Zerubbabel: Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mizpar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel:
Thus the writer sets forth to tell us how many of the captives in Babylon went with Zerubbabel back to Judah and Jerusalem for the purpose of re-building the temple. He names those who were the most important of the leaders: and from this point through verse 60, he lists the names of leaders of lesser importance, and tells us how many were with each of them.
(Verses 61 through 63) And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name: these sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. And Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim.
Of course, in getting together all these who would go to build the temple, there was a great deal of checking the record of the genealogy of the applicants. And there was one group of the priests, descended from one named Koz. He had married a daughter of an old friend of David’s, Barzillai the Gileadite. But, from some oversight their genealogical records were not properly kept; and when they began to check the record, they could not be found therein. So they were put out of the priesthood until a priest should arise “with Urim and with Thummim.,” the set of stones that were attached to the breastplate of the high priest when he was making inquiry of God concerning some very important matter.
(Verses 64 through 67) The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore, beside their servants and their maids, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven: and there were among them two hundred singing men and singing women. Their horses were seven hundred thirty and six; their mules, two hundred forty and five; their camels, four hundred thirty and five, their asses six thousand seven hundred and twenty.
Thus he gives the total of the people of the congregation, and the numbers of their livestock.
(Verses 68 through 70) And some of the chief of the fathers, when they came to the house of the LORD which is at Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God to set it up in his place: they gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work threescore and one thousand drams of gold, and five pounds of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments. So the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.
All of these seem to be those who were in the first group who went up to Jerusalem to began the building. And they were somewhat before Ezra’s time. He came later, as we shall find as we continue this book. Everything herein seems to be clear enough except the Nethinims. They are mentioned several times in the scriptures; but nothing is given concerning who they were. It seems that, actually, this is a name given to the doorkeepers of the temple. At least, that is the rendering of it in some translations of the Bible.
(Verses 1 through 7) And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in their cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening. They kept also the Feast of Tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required; and afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the LORD. From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the LORD, but the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.
When the children of Israel who had been permitted to come back to Jerusalem to build the temple got back to the land, they were, apparently, more interested in getting back to their own cities than in starting the construction of the temple, as one will see from reading the book of Haggai the prophet. Nevertheless, when the time arrived for the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, which is in the seventh month, they gathered to Jerusalem as one man. to celebrate the feast. They observed all the ordinances of this feast, and also turned the money that had been raised for the construction of the temple over to the proper ones to began the purchase of the needed materials, and to pay the workmen. However, the foundation for the temple of the LORD was not even laid. They even had to repair the altar before they could offer their sacrifices. Ezra makes no mention of their slothfulness, but Haggai was much incensed because of it.
(Verses 8 through 13) Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son Of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD. Then stood Jeshua with his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites. And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set priests in their apparel with trumpets, and with Levites the sons Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy. So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
Finally, in the second year of their coming unto the house of the LORD, Zerubbabel and Jeshua got the people started to laying the foundation of the temple. And when the foundation was finished, they had a great celebration, and the people shouted with a great shout of Joy. There were among them some who were old enough to have seen the first temple. And this one, as the word of the LORD said to Haggai, “was as nothing” in their eyes, in comparison to the first. Because of this, these old men wept so loud that the shout of joy by the people was almost drowned out by the weeping of these. Yet the noise of the shout was heard afar off.
(Verses 1 through 6) Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief if the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
While the Jews who had returned from the captivity to build the temple dragged around about starting construction on the project, apparently, no one bothered them. But when they actually began to build, the people round about started trouble for them. The first thing they did was to come, and, whether sincerely, or just to start trouble, told them that they wanted to join in with them in the building. They said that they, since the Assyrians had brought them into the area to replace the Israelites whom they had removed from the country, had been seeking the God of Israel. (The name “Assur,” in verse 2 is just an alternate name for the Assyrians.) However Zerubbabel and the chief fathers of the children of the captivity, would not let them join in with them. Whereupon these who had asked to join them, immediately began making trouble for them. They hired counsellors to carry and write petitions to the court in Babylon to prevent any further activity of the Jews concerning the temple throughout the reign of Cyrus, and even until the reign of Darius the king of Persia. This, of course covered a time in which other kings also reigned in Babylon, for it was a duration of several years. These enemies, probably, wrote to every king in succession to try to keep the Jews from working on the temple. They wrote in the reign of Ahasuerus, setting up accusations against the Jews.
(Verses 7 through 10) And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue. Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort: then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dianites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites, and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, and at such a time.
This seems quite a number of different tribes: and I suppose they were. But it is to be remembered that when the Assyrians overran Israel, and took the people away as captives, they brought in people from other places to repopulate the area. And they brought them from many different tribes. All these joined together in an effort to stop the Jews from building the temple. However, as we shall see, the LORD may let such as this go on for a while, but He knows how, and is able, to bring about that which He purposes, regardless of who may try to hinder Him.
(Verses 11 through 16) This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river, and at such a time. Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come to Jerusalem, building the rebellious and bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations. Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings. Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, and it is not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king; that search may be made in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed. We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof be set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.
These are some very serious charges; and since they are testified by so many, the only thing that could be done was to investigate them. And, what is worse, they were, in a great measure true, at least concerning former actions. The result of the investigation would prove quite damaging to the progress of the builders of the temple.
(Verses 17 through 22) Then sent the king an answer to Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time. The letter which ye sent unto me hath been plainly read before me. And I have commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein. There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; toll, tribute, and custom was paid unto them. Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded until another commandment shall be given from me. Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?
The enemies of the Jews received exactly the answer they wanted from the king. The only loophole in the decree they wanted appears to be verse 21. Although he did not intend to send a different commandment, and, indeed, he did not, yet a king who followed him did give the commandment that completely reversed this one.
(Verses 23 and 24) Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them cease by force and power. Then ceased the work of the house of God which was at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of Darius king of Persia.
Thus the work on the temple was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius the king of Persia.
(Verses 1 through 5) Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which was at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them. At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and their companions, and said unto them, Who has commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall? Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building? But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter,
Two of the LORD’S prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, were among the Jews; and they began prophesying to them in the name of God, and encouraging them to continue with the building. At this point Zerubbabel and Jeshua began to build, and the prophets of the LORD helped them. Of course, the enemies of the Jews were disturbed by this, and they came to the Jews, and inquired of them, at whose command they were doing this building, and wanting the names of the men in charge of this project. However the LORD was on the side of the Jews, so they could not be stopped until this matter was brought before Darius the king. So this brought on some more letter writing.
(Verses 6 through 12) The copy of the letter that Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and his companions the Apharsachites, which were on this side the river, sent unto Darius the king: they sent a letter unto him, wherein was thus; Unto Darius the king, all peace. Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judah, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands. Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who commanded you to make up these walls? We asked their names also to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that were chief of them. And they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build this house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up. But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.
Although this letter was written by the enemies of the Jews. Nevertheless the LORD so directed the matter that in this letter is contained the confession of the Jews that the great calamity of the destruction of their city and their temple was brought upon them because of the sins of their fathers, and was the LORD’S chastisement upon them for their sins. They declared that it was because of their sins that the LORD delivered them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. All this confession comes before they even bring up the fact that Cyrus king of Persia had several years before issued the commandment that they should go back to Jerusalem, and build the temple. (It seems that “Apharsachites” is only an alternate spelling for “Apharsathchites,” as appears in chapter 4, verse 9.)
(Verses 13 through 17) But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God. And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered to one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; and said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place. Then came Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet is not finished. Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king’s treasures house, which is there in Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter.
This is the remainder of the letter that the Jews’ opponents sent to Darius the king. Inasmuch as it had been so long since the decree had been issued by Cyrus, it could well be that it had been forgotten by the people who were involved in the government at the time of the letter. But the contents of this letter seem to be as fair as could be written at the time. It reported to the king the claim made by the Jews, and requested that a search of the records be made to either validate it, or deny it. The writers also requested that the king notify them of what his decision was after making the search.
(Verses 1 through 5) Then Darius the king made a decree, and a search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon. And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written: In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid, the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof be threescore cubits; with three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expenses be given out of the king’s house: and also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth of the temple that is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God.
No doubt, it took quite a bit of looking and searching, but that search being made, there was found the record of the decree made by Cyrus king of Persia. It was very explicit, even giving the size of the building that was to be built, restoring all the vessels of gold and silver which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the original temple and brought to Babylon, and specifying that the expenses for this be “given out of the king’s house.” This shows that the LORD does not desert His own.
(Verses 6 through 10) Now therefore Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence: Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place. Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered. And that which they have need of, both of young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointments of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: that they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and his sons.
No doubt this commandment of the king was very unpleasant to Tatnai, Shetharboznai, and their companions. The very persons they had been so actively engaged in hindering, they are now ordered not only to cease from hindering, but even to help them with everything they might need. God had let the Jews come through some trials and tribulations, even as they did the very thing He had purposed. And He did it for reasons of His own. We might try to guess what those reasons were, but we would never know whether or not our guess was correct. Now He has turned their situation around so that even their enemies must help them. And, as we shall see, they are placed under penalty to do so.
(Verses 11 through 15) Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this. And the God that hath caused His name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed. Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to all that which Darius the king had sent, so did they speedily. And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded and finished it, according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
King Darius made a decree that got the immediate attention of those who had been hindering the Jews in their building. His decree was that anyone guilty of attempting to make any alterations in what he had told these men to do would suffer severe consequences. Someone might think that this showed that king Darius was taking a vital interest in the building of this temple of God: and it might. However, it was customary for a king, especially one who felt his importance as did the kings of Babylon, to decree very cruel punishment upon anyone who attempted to alter one of his decrees. He even included in that decree something that he could in no wise enforce. Certainly, he could pray that the LORD would “destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem.” But he included this in his decree, not in a prayer. Nevertheless he got the attention of those who had been hindering the progress of the building. And the building was finished on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
(Verses 16 through 22) And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy, and offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses. And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month. For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat, and kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD made them joyful and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
When this temple was completed, the children of the captivity held a great dedication celebration. That is, it was great when considered according to the number of the remnant of Israel. Certainly, it did not compare to the great dedication of the first temple, in Solomon’s day. But the Jews had been captives in Babylon for seventy years, and had, even after being allowed to come back to Jerusalem to build the temple, been hindered for many years. But now the temple was completed, and to them it must have been a wonderful feeling of joy that they could again make their offerings to the LORD as had once been the case. Then, at the appointed time for the Passover, they also celebrated it according to the proper order. In verse 22 we are told, that the LORD “turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” Now the king of Assyria had long before been overcome by the king of Babylon, and Assyria had not re-emerged as a country. So this must have reference to one the Persian kings had appointed as their governor of the province of Assyria. But he was not a king in his own right. Yet he might have been an appointed officer of the king of Babylon.
(Verses 1 through 10) Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest: 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. 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. And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 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. 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.
This book is called, “Ezra,” but we have already come through six chapters of it before any mention is made of Ezra. He was a priest, as is borne out by the testimony of his lineage given in the first four verses of this chapter. He was not with the first group of the children of the captivity to go up to Jerusalem to build the temple. In fact, he waited until it was completed before going at all. Then, since he was a priest and extremely well versed in the “law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given, he went up to Jerusalem “to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. So far the story concerning him is written in third person. But that will change later to first person.
(Verses 11 through 20) Now this is the copy of the letter that king Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of His statutes to Israel. 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. 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. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand; and to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, Whose habitation is in Jerusalem: 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 at Jerusalem: 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 at Jerusalem. 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 vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem. And whatsoever 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.
The LORD had made Artaxerxes extremely liberal to Ezra. He not only entrusted him with all the gold and silver that he and his counsellors had given, but also gave him leave to go out among the people and take up whatever he could to add to it. And we can be sure that since the king and his counsellors had been so generous, the people would be afraid to not be generous also. The king had also authorized Ezra to take whatever more he might find necessary out of the king’s treasure house. So he was well prepared for his work.
(Verses 21 through 26) 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, 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. 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? 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. 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 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.
Artaxerxes continued setting forth what he decreed that all the treasurers of that portion of his kingdom that was beyond the river must do for the house of God, and for Ezra, and those with him. Then having finished this, he gave to Ezra very broad powers of governing through the judges he was to appoint. He also told him to set these judges to judge according to the laws of God in all cases where the people knew these laws; and where they did not know them, he was to teach them. Thus all would have to come under these laws. Not only were these judges to pass sentence according to the laws of God, but they were to execute these sentences speedily, no matter what the sentence might be, from imprisonment or fine, to even death. There was nothing said about setting up any appeal system for anyone. This does, indeed, constitute very broad power. So, evidently Artaxerxes considered Ezra an extraordinarily reliable man.
(Verses 27 and 28) 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: 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.
Here we have Ezra’s prayer of thanksgiving to the LORD God of Israel for the favors that Artaxerxes had shown to him. Then he busied himself with gathering chief men out of Israel to go with him for this work.
The first fourteen verses of this chapter amount to only a listing of the genealogy of those who went up from Babylon to Jerusalem with Ezra, Their genealogy is of very little importance to us. But it was very important to Ezra, and to all the others of the captivity. The permission to go up to Jerusalem was given only to the children of Israel who were in bondage at Babylon. Someone else might want to be free from this captivity. (For there were many beside the Jews who had been taken captive by the Babylonians.) So, to both the Jews and the Babylonians the correct genealogy was important.
(Verses 15 through 20) And I gathered them together to the river that runneth in Ahava; and there abode we in tents three days; and I viewed the people, and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi. Then sent I for Eliezer, for Ariel, for Shemaiah, and for Elnathan, and for Jarib, and for Elnathan, and for Nathan, and for Zechariah, and for Meshullam, chief men; also for Joiarib, and for Elnathan, men of understanding. And I sent them with commandment unto Iddo the chief at the place Casiphia, and I told them what to say unto Iddo, and to his brethren the Nethinims, at the place Casiphia, that they should bring unto us ministers for the house of our God. And by the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel; and Sherebiah, with his sons and his brethren, eighteen; and Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, his brethren and his sons, twenty; also of the Nethinims , whom David and the princes had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinims: all of them expressed by name.
Ezra gathered his contingent together, and spent three days checking them over. As he did this, he found that he had no Levites in his group. So he sent word to some of the chief men among the Levites, and called upon them to send him ministers for the house of God. He gives the names of the men to whom he sent this message. The LORD blessed the necessary men with willingness to go to Jerusalem; so they also came to Ezra. So his requirements were met concerning the Levites.
(Verses 21 through 23) Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken to the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek Him: but His power and His wrath is against them that forsake Him. So we fasted and besought our God for this: and He was entreated of us.
Ezra had already told the king that the LORD was with, and would protect, those who in sincerity sought Him; and He would destroy those who forsake Him. So he was afraid to ask the king for an escort of soldiers, because that would show a lack of faith in the LORD. So he declared a fast among those who were preparing to go to Jerusalem, so that they might pray to the LORD for His help in the enterprise. And when they prayed, the LORD blessed them, and enabled them to arise to the occasion.
(Verses 24 through 30) Then I separated twelve of the chief of the priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them, and weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering of the house of God, which the king, and his counsellors, and his lords, and all Israel there present, had offered. I even weighed unto their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and silver vessels an hundred talents, and of gold an hundred talents; also twenty basins of gold, of a thousand drams; and two vessels of fine copper, precious as gold. And I said unto them, Ye are holy unto the LORD; the vessels are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering unto the LORD God of your fathers. Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chief of the priests and the Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem unto the house of God.
Before starting on the journey to Jerusalem, Ezra selected twelve of the priests who were with him, and delivered to them all the gold and silver, together with all the vessels made of the same, weighing each item very meticulously as it was delivered to them. Then he gave them a very solemn charge to watch over and keep all these things until they, in turn, weighed them and delivered them into the hands of the “chief of the priests and Levites, and chief of the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.” With this done, they were ready to start their journey.
(Verses 31 through 36) Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way. And we came to Jerusalem, and abode there three days. Now on the fourth day was the silver and the gold and the vessels weighed in at the house of our God by the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest; and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them was Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah the son of Binui, Levites; by number and by weight of every one: and all the weight was written at that time. Also the children of those that had been carried away, which were come out of the captivity, offered burnt offerings unto the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety and six rams, seventy and seven lambs, twelve he goats for a sin offering: all this was for a burnt offering unto the LORD. And they delivered the king’s commissions unto the king’s lieutenants, and to the governors on this side the river: and they furthered the people, and the house of God.
By the hand of the LORD protecting them, Ezra and his party made the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, and rested three days before delivering all the gold, the silver, and the vessels to the proper authorities at the house of God. On the fourth day after their arrival they did deliver all that wherewith they were charged to the proper men at the house of God. Everything was weighed, and the weights were all recorded at the time of the delivery. Then they all made a great sacrifice unto the LORD. After that, they delivered the orders of the king to the various authorities in the area. Then they encouraged the people, and busied themselves with the house of the LORD. The building had already been finished, according to Chapter 6, verse 15, but, as we shall see, there was much to be done concerning some of the business of the service of the LORD.
(Verses 1 through 4) Now when these things were done, the princes came to me saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass. And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and my beard, and sat down astonied. Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice.
Just as often happens to people today, when Ezra thought his worries might be over for a while, he is hit by the report that many of the men of Israel, even of the priests and the Levites, had broken the LORD’S commandment against intermarrying with the nations round about. Nothing is said as to whether this is something that had been going on before they had come back from the captivity, or had started since they had left Babylon, and returned to Jerusalem. As we shall see, it had been ongoing long enough that some of the men had children by their strange wives. But that could still have taken place after they had come to Jerusalem, for some of them had already been there for several years.. This news was a great blow to Ezra. When he heard it, he sat down completely confounded, and struck by such grief that he tore his clothes, and began pulling out his hair and his beard.. Then the others who felt as he did gathered with him, and they sat there dumbfounded until the time of the evening sacrifice.
(Verses 5 through 15) And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God, and said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day. And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in His holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. For we are bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken Thy commandments, which Thou hast commanded by Thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness. Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever. And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and our great trespass, seeing that Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; should we again break Thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? Wouldest not Thou be angry with us till Thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping? O LORD God of Israel, Thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as at this day: behold, we are before Thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before Thee because of this.
At the time of the evening sacrifice, Ezra arose, but instead of going anywhere, he fell down upon his knees before the LORD, in a prayer of repentance. His language in this prayer is so clear that it seems unnecessary to attempt to explain any of it. He was such a conscientious servant of God, that the sins of those who had broken the commandment of the LORD weighed upon him as if he had committed them. He sets up the magnitude of this great sin, when he confesses that it was because of their sins that the LORD gave them up to the Babylonian captivity, and even then He did not punish them as their sin deserved, and now that in His mercy God has given them a little respite from that captivity, they have added this great sin to that of which they were already guilty. And he declares that justice would demand that there should be “no remnant nor escaping.” He confesses that if this should be the case, God is still righteous; for they are still in their sins. When I look at the way our nation has gone in the past sixty years, or more, I wonder if this does not also fit our situation.
(Verses 1 through 5) Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, where assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore. And Shechaniah the son Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it. Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they should do according to this word. And they sware.
This seems to us of this day, and the customs after which we have long followed, a very severe way to resolve this situation. But it seems to be the only way of putting away this evil from among the children of Israel. No doubt, it caused much sorrow to the wives and children who were put away, and to the men who had to put them away. However, as we have several times pointed out, generally speaking, wives in that day were considered more as property than as we consider them today. And even children were not considered of as much importance as they are today. In fact, in many of the religions of that time and place, children were often offered by fire to their gods. And the Israelites had sometimes even turned away from the LORD, and taken part in those very rituals. So all Israel swore to solve the problem by putting away all these strange wives and the children that were born of them.
(Verses 6 through 8) Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Johanan the son of Eliashib: and when he came thither, he did eat no bread, nor drink water: for he mourned because of the transgression of them that had been carried away. And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; and that whosoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away.
After Ezra had put the people under oath to follow the plan that had been adopted, it did not take long before the proclamation was made for all the children of the captivity to come together at Jerusalem. And a heavy penalty was declared upon any who did not come within three days.
(Verses 9 through 14) Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together unto Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month; and all the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain. And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do His pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives. Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do. But the people are many, and it is time for much rain, and we are not able to stand without, neither is this a work of one day or two: for we are many that have transgressed in this thing. Let now our rulers of all the congregation stand, and let all them that have taken strange wives in our cities come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of our God for this matter be turned from us.
When the people all gathered at the house of God, there was a heavy rain in progress, and they all had to wait outside in the rain. Ezra told them of their trespass, and called upon them to make confession concerning their sin: and this they did. Then they made a request of Ezra, that since there were so many of them who had transgressed in this matter, and it would take such a long time to properly settle the whole matter, they not have to all come together at the same time and wait in the rain for their cases to be adjudicated, but that judges be set up, and appointments be made by the cities in which they lived. Then they could come in on the appointed day to let their case be judged. And this system was adopted.
(Verses 15 through 19) Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of Tikvah were employed about this matter: and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them. And the children of the captivity did so. And Ezra the priest, with certain chief of the fathers, after the house of their fathers, and all of them by their names, were separated, and sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter. And they made an end with all the men that had taken strange wives by the first day of the first month. And among the sons of the priests there were found that had taken strange wives: namely, of the sons of Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren; Maaseiah, and Eliezer, and Jarib, and Gedaliah. And they gave their hands that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass.
Thus was the machinery set in operation to handle this matter, And the work was successfully carried to completion. It began on the first day of the tenth month, and was completed by the first day of the first month. Then Ezra begins to tell us concerning who among them were guilty. And verses 20 through 43 are only a list of those who were guilty, which, of course is of little value to us of today. In verse 19 we are told of some who were guilty, and for their trespass they offered a ram from the flock. Since nothing further is said about the offerings, we would assume that this might be the pattern upon which all cases were ordered.
(Verse 44) All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children.
This seems to indicate that this practice had not gone on before the men came up from Babylon to Jerusalem, but was engaged in by them because there may not have been enough women of Israel that had come up with them for them to obtain wives without having to go back to Babylon to find them. However, this is only our surmise, since there is nothing said about the situation in the scriptures.