03 Ezra 7-8 Ezra Arrives to Teach God’s LawEzra, Nehemiah, & Esther: Restore, Rebuild, & Redeem
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Once again, I have extensively used and copied from the Truth for Today Commentary on Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, written by my friend and former colleague at Heritage Christian University, Coy D. Roper, Ph.D. I highly recommend it!
Ezra 7-8 Ezra Arrives to Teach God’s Law
Between the events of chapter 6 and those of chapters 7 through 10, almost sixty years passed without notice. Surely, events occurred in Judah which were important to those affected. The events of the Book of Esther took place during this period. However, it was not necessary for the inspired historian to mention them to achieve his purposes. Therefore, Ezra began the second section of his book with the account of his return to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. and the reforms he instituted.
This section of Ezra’s story in 7:1—8:36 is told in three parts: (1) the third-person narration of Ezra’s being permitted by the king to go to Jerusalem and his arrival there (7:1–10; 8:35, 36), (2) the king’s letter allowing Ezra to go (7:11–26), and (3) the first-person account by Ezra of his trip to Jerusalem (7:27—8:34).
Ezra 7:1-10 – Ezra’s Journey to Jerusalem
“After these things:” Since Ezra returned in “the seventh year of King Artaxerxes” (7:7), and since Artaxerxes I reigned from about 465 to 424 B.C., the year was about 458 B.C., almost sixty years after the temple’s completion in 516 B.C.
Ezra is first identified by his family relationships, traced through sixteen generations, and going all the way back to Aaron, the brother of Moses. Some of his ancestors are not named here. “Son of” can mean “descendant of.” However, the fact that sixteen are named shows the importance of Ezra and his role in restoring Israel’s worship. His connection to Aaron shows him as qualified to be a priest as well as a scribe.
This genealogy serves to portray Ezra’s priestly work as a continuation of the Aaronic priesthood established at Mount Sinai. That suggests that the return from Babylon is a second exodus and that, through this descendant of Aaron, Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh may be renewed.
As a scribe, Ezra would have had a rather rare skill in literacy, reading, and writing. Perhaps he had some official role in Persia, as a kind of secretary working closely with Artaxerxes. This would explain why he had to ask the king’s permission to go and why the king would be so supportive. It’s at least certain that the king knew Ezra well enough and respected him deeply enough to hear and to grant his request.
“Skilled in the law of Moses” makes it clear once again that the law of Moses was already completed in written form before these events. The text will not allow any suggestion that Ezra himself and/or other later scribes produced the law of Moses.
Why would Ezra ask to leave his life and position in Persia to go to Jerusalem? Like other great servants of God, there was a genuine inward desire rather than an outward obligation. It was “I want to” more than “I have to.” Given Ezra’s priestly ancestry and his skill and knowledge in handling the Word of God, it’s no surprise that he was moved to action.
As we’ve seen before with Cyrus and others, here the providence of God is quite evident. Ezra 7:6 notes that “… the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the LORD his God was upon him.” Ezra 7:9 adds that he succeeded in his journey to Jerusalem “because the good hand of his God was upon him.” In a similar way, Nehemiah would declare in Neh 2:8 that this same Artaxerxes granted his request “because the good hand of my God was on me.”
Notice who accompanied Ezra: “Some of the sons of Israel and some of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers and the temple servants …” The group consisted of spiritually-minded people, each with a role and a sense of purpose.
Verses 8-9 indicate that the journey took four months, from the first month of the king’s seventh year until the fifth month. They could not have traveled directly, because that would have required crossing the Arabian desert. Instead, they would have gone northwest along the Euphrates River and then south to Jerusalem. That was a distance of about 900 miles!
Ezra 7:10 points out the reasons what Yahweh’s hand was upon Ezra. It was Ezra’s having “set his heart”  to study the law of the LORD and  to practice it, and  to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. As with Ezra so with us. As we study the Word, we want more and more to do what it prescribes. As we practice it, we develop the desire and skill necessary to teach it to others.
Ezra 7:11-26 – Artaxerxes’ Decree to Ezra
7:11-13 The King’s Permission
Verse 11 (in Hebrew) introduces the decree, while verses 12-26 (in Aramaic) contain the words of the document itself.
Though King Artaxerxes speaks of the law of Moses as “the law of the God of heaven,” he most likely does so out of respect for Ezra rather than a decision to abandon his pagan ways and serve Yahweh alone. Remember Cyrus’ words recorded in Ezra 1:2-4 that were along similar lines.
The king, again likely due to Ezra’s influence, released all the Israelites that were willing to go, along with the priests and Levites.
7:14-20 Ezra’s Mission
The king’s “seven counselors” may have been his cabinet of most-trusted advisers.
Ezra’s first task was not to do anything or to plan anything, but just to inquire. Were the people of Judah and Jerusalem following God’s written law?
Once that was done, Ezra was to …
 Take offerings for the temple from Babylon to Jerusalem. These included silver and gold donated by the king and his counselors, silver and gold from the whole province of Babylon, and a freewill offering from the people and the priests in Babylon.
 Use that money to purchase animals, grain offerings, and drink offerings.
 Render those offerings on the altar in Jerusalem.
 Use the remaining money as it seemed best.
 Deliver in full the items provided for the temple.
 Obtain money from the royal treasury to cover any additional expenses.
7:21-24 The Mission’s Funding
The treasurers in all the provinces beyond the River were authorized to subsidize whatever Ezra needed, up to some very generous limits. The 100 talents of silver may have amounted to 3-3/4 tons. The other items were equal to 650 bushels of wheat, 600 gallons of wine, and 600 gallons of oil.
According to one estimate, these amounts would supply the temple for about two years. The wine would be used for drink offerings and the oil would be mixed with fine flour for grain offerings (Ex 29:40). Salt was also used with grain offerings (Lev 2:13).
Why were the king’s allowances so lavish? According to verse 23, he wanted to avoid wrath against his kingdom and his son. You might say he was buying “fire insurance,” as if could appease God and protect himself from judgment!
7:25-26 Ezra’s Enforcement
It seems that Ezra was granted a high degree of civil authority as well as religious authority, so that he could appoint magistrates and judges throughout the region. These appointees would judge the Jews, who knew the laws of “your God.” Ezra could teach the Gentiles and those who were ignorant of them. He was also to enforce the law of the king. Judgment, even capital punishment, was to be carried out.
Regardless of this authorization in civil affairs, the book of Ezra shows him serving as a religious reformer, not as a civil governor or legislator. He grieved over the sinful intermarriages of Jews to Gentiles by tearing his garments, sitting appalled, offering confession, and praying. He did not execute his fellow Jews, but he rather called upon them to repent.
Ezra 7:27-28 Ezra’s Praise
Lest we think that worship in the Old Testament was simply a set of external, forced requirements and rituals, notice here the freewill offering of praise from a grateful heart. Ezra credited Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the one who initiated and provided the adornment of the Jerusalem temple. He also honored God for his “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love,” his faithfulness to keep his covenant promises.
Ezra’s sense that God’s hand was upon him gave him strength. In that strength he drew other men of influence to assist him.
Takeaways from Ezra 7
Family of Origin – Ezra came from a long, distinguished line going back to Aaron. One’s ancestry and the home in which one is raised can influence one’s life in multiple ways. We can learn from the good and bad. We cannot choose the tree from the past from which we came, but we can choose the tree that we plant for the present and future.
The Power of Character – Ezra’s integrity, faithfulness, honesty, and accountability must have played a tremendous role in his leadership and influence. King Artaxerxes granted his request and made sure that it was fully funded and supported. How can Christians today impact our associates and families by living as Ezra did?
The Hand of God – Note the phrase in Ezra 7:6, 9, and 28. God had a purpose for Ezra, and he has a purpose for each of us. His providential involvement in the life of each of his children will assist in accomplishing that purpose. The command and promise of Prov 3:5-6 still stand today. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”
The Man of God – We don’t know what Ezra looked like, what kind of clothes he wore, or what sort of home he had. Does any of that matter in the long run? Three things on which he focused his attention, noted in Ezra 7:10, developed him into the man he became. He set his heart  to study the law of the Lord and  to practice it, and  to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.
The Glory of God – Ezra knew who deserved the praise. In Ezra 7:27-28 he blessed Yahweh for stirring Artaxerxes’ heart, for extending his steadfast love to Ezra, and for strengthening Ezra by his mighty hand. Why is it so important that we regularly pause to give the Lord all the credit for all the good that is accomplished?
8:1-14 Ezra’s Appointed Leaders
Ezra first names the leaders that were noted in 7:28, the “heads of their fathers’ households.” Ezra could count on their families to follow these men of influence.
 “Gershom” descended from Aaron’s third son, Eleazar, and his grandson Phinehas. Ezra also came from this lineage (7:1–5).  “Daniel” descended from Aaron’s fourth son, Ithamar.  “Hattush” represented the royal line of David.
The men named in the rest of the list descended from twelve different men and were therefore part of twelve different families. The total number of males returning with Ezra was 1500, not including women, children, Levites, and temple servants. Altogether, there may have been 5,000 to 9,000 people in the group.
8:15-20 The Levites’ Summons
Ahava, though its exact location is unknown, was the place near Babylon where Ezra assembled and organized the returnees for three days before leaving for Jerusalem.
Ezra may not have known that there were already Levites in Jerusalem, who had returned many years earlier with Zerubbabel. In any case, he saw the need for Levites to make this journey. When he counted the people and found no Levites in the group, he summoned leading men and teachers to go to a settlement of Levites at Casiphia (location unknown). Their purpose was to “bring ministers to us for the house of our God.”
By the providence (“good hand”) of God once again, 38 Levites agreed to come. In addition, there were 220 temple servants, in keeping with King David’s plans to provide help for the Levites. All this resulted in a total of 1,758 males, not counting women and children.
8:21-23 The People’s Petition
What could be more important than getting on the road, especially when the journey would take four months and cover 900 miles? To Ezra, fasting, humility, and seeking the Lord were of a higher priority than a quick departure.
Fasting would remove the returnees that man does not live by bread alone and that God’s presence means more than food. Fasting would give them time to reflect and to humble themselves under God’s mighty hand. It would free them to seek God concerning the specific matters at hand.
Ezra anticipated that there would be enemies along the way. The king would surely have provided troops and horsemen for protection. Yet Ezra had declared his confidence in God’s protection, and so he was ashamed to ask for such assistance. He lived by faith, and God listened.
However, Nehemiah would later accept a military escort on his journey (Neh 2:7-9). That acceptance was not a lack of faith on his part; it was a recognition that God provided such protection, which he accepted by faith. In the same way, our faith in God today does not require that we leave our homes and cars unlocked! Rather, as stewards of God’s blessings, we care for them with the tools that are available. Christians who trust God may still buy insurance, install a security system, or have a gun or other means of defense ready.
8:24-30 The Appointees’ Stewardship
There may be a total of 24 indicated here. In addition to the 12 leading priests, there were Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and 10 others. Sherebiah and Hashabiah are listed as Levites (and not priests) in 8:18, 19, as well as in Neh 8:7, 9; 9:4, 5; 10:9–12; 12:8, 24.
These are enormous amounts. It is estimated that ‘650 talents’ equals 49,000 pounds or close to 25 tons of silver, and that ‘100 talents’ equals 7,500 pounds. Such vast quantities, worth millions of dollars, may seem implausible. However, many Israelites had become wealthy in Babylon. Also, remember that Artaxerxes was extremely eager to avert the “wrath” of “the God of heaven” (7:23). Fear is a powerful motivator.
8:31-36 The Returnees’ Arrival
Ezra’s first-person account continues. Though they had left Babylon for Ahava on the first day of the first month (Ezra 7:9), now eleven more days had passed. During this time they had prepared for the journey, recruited the Levites, and fasted, humbled themselves, and prayed.
Since Ezra 7:9 puts their arrival “on the first [day] of the fifth month,” the journey took about four months (120 days). Without our deducting the time at Ahava, we see that they made the journey of about 900 miles at an average rate of 7-1/2 miles per day.
We’re not told why they waited three days after their arrival to get to work. Perhaps they were tired from their journey, or they were getting settled, or they were observing a Sabbath day during this time. It’s significant, though, that Ezra and other biblical writers were so careful to get the details right.
Likewise, Ezra and the others were very concerned with strict accountability and recordkeeping. The silver and the gold and the utensils were carefully weighed out (8:33). Everything was numbered and weighed, and all the weight was recorded at that time (8:34). Perhaps a written record was sent back to the king for verification.
Ezra and the other returnees were to offer sacrifices to God, who had brought them safely through the dangers of the trip. These sacrifices included both burnt offerings and a sin offering. Homage and dedication were the keynotes of the burnt offering, and atonement was the emphasis of the sin offering.” This scene is reminiscent of earlier celebrations in the book (3:3, 4, 10, 11; 6:16, 17).
Ezra’s company then delivered the king’s edicts to the government officials throughout the provinces beyond the River. The result of those decrees was that (at least at this time) the Jews’ neighbors supported the people and the house of God. The officials showed their support by providing needed funds from the royal treasury (see 7:20) so the Jews could carry out the sacrifices at the temple, just as King Artaxerxes had commanded.
Takeaways from Ezra 8
Team Leadership – Ezra said in Ezra 7:28 that he “gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.” Then in Ezra 8 he listed those men. One mark of an effective leader is that he finds, trains, and equips other leaders. The church today as always faces a desperate need for godly, mature, Christ-like, sound leaders. What steps can we take to develop faithful shepherds, deacons, preachers, ministers, and teachers?
Faith Leadership – While the church today does not have Levites or a similar “clergy” class, and we are all “priests” (1 Pet 2:5, 9), we appreciate those who commit their lives to specific areas of ministry. In Old Testament times, Levites were born into their religious assignments and responsibilities. In the Christian era, Jesus’ disciples voluntarily choose to serve and to lead others in the faith.
“Fast” Dependence – Ezra proclaimed a group fast for the purpose of humility and seeking a safe journey (literally, a “straight way”) from God. Are Christians to fast, or was this just an Old Testament practice? Jesus both taught (Matt 6:16-17) and practiced (Matt 4:1-11) fasting. New Testament Christians fasted (Acts 13:1-3). Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in first-century churches with prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23). Fasting and prayer remind us that man does not live by bread alone and that spiritual nourishment feeds the soul. Freed from the time, effort, and even expense of preparing, eating, and cleaning up after even just one meal, the child of God can focus on prayer, humility, personal reflection, and the development of Christ-like goals.