Moving on through the book of Ezra in our Blogging Through The Bible series, we’ll find out some interesting things in these two chapters. First, we’ll find out a bit about Ezra himself. And then we’ll learn more about the situation in which he found himself. If you have enjoyed our Blogging Through The Bible series so far, read along!
In Case You Missed It…
You can find my last BTTB post HERE, covering 2 Chronicles 35 & 36.
Angela covered the next two chapters, in the book of Ezra, with Ezra 1 & 2. You can find those HERE.
Tammy went on through Ezra 3 & 4, HERE.
Tatiana covered Ezra 5 & 6, HERE.
Now After These Things…Chapter 7
Ezra starts off with the phrase, “Now after these things”. That is meant to reflect the roughly 60-year time frame that passed between Ezra chapter 6 and Ezra chapter 7. Persia’s ruler is now Artaxerxes, who came after Xerxes, who was the king who was married to Esther. In fact, the entire book of Esther happened between the 6th and 7th chapters of Ezra.
We get to see some of Ezra’s genealogy, even though some of them are missing. We still get to see that Ezra descended from Aaron, as well as from Seraiah, who just happened to hold the position as the very last High Priest right before the captivity took place.
The Great Scribe, Ezra
There was a mighty return of those in captivity, as seen in Ezra 1 & 2, that was noted as the “first” return. But there were many, like Ezra himself, who didn’t make it back until years later. He was considered not only a “skilled scribe in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6), but according to Jewish tradition, he was considered a kind of “second Moses” because of his work in bringing Israel back to the Book.
In Ezra’s own day, and according to some of the highest Jewish culture in that day and age, to say that Ezra was a “skilled scribe” was to equate him with an EXPERT in Moses’ Law. This person was well-known, in a sense, as a lawyer of God’s Word. Furthermore, a scribe was not only very important, but they had three particular jobs to which they had to adhere:
- To make sure they preserved the Word of God.
- Teaching the Word of God
- And administrating the Word of God. In other words, helping people interpret and apply the Word to their own lives.
Ezra, First After the Prophets
It’s true that Scribes actually took the place of prophets, and Ezra was the first to do this. It was a new order of messengers of God that explained the old revelations, along with their application, instead of revealing new things.
Ezra Arrives in Jerusalem
The Jewish people had repopulated Jerusalem some twenty years before Ezra made it back. In fact, it took Ezra and his company of fellow-travelers about four months to travel the nine hundred miles along the Northwest side of the Euphrates River to reach the homeland.
Ezra gave God all the glory to God for the good journey they had taken, and the blessings they had received along the way. But you also have to wonder about the initial decision, the delays that could have happened, the fasting and prayer that surely took place before and during this arduous journey.
What Ezra Came To Do
The 10th verse of chapter seven here says a lot more than we might pick up at first glance:
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.Ezra 7:10
If you’ll look closely, you’ll see the three things that Ezra intended to do… what he had prepared his heart for, in fact. First, he would SEEK the Law of the LORD. Second, he would DO it. And finally, he would TEACH it.
Breaking Down the 3-Fold Intent
Just as an instrument must first be tuned before it can be played, so the heart must be prepared before any real “work of God” can be accomplished.
The first thing a person must do if they really want to make an impact in Kingdom Work is to seek God’s Law. This requires diligent seeking, communion and fellowship, prayer, and a desire to be fully impacted by what we find there.
The second part seems a bit harder… or should I say, many people MAKE it harder than it should be. DOING the Word is exactly what James meant in the 22nd verse of his first chapter when he said, But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. It’s quite possible here, that he could have been referring back to Ezra himself, or to some other noble scribe in Jewish history.
Many people try to jump over parts one and two, diving right into the third thing which is “to TEACH” the Word. With the massive libraries of sermons that have already been revealed and written, it’s easy for someone to assume to “teach” when really they are simply revealing an already revealed revelation! If teaching is the intent, the fellowship, seeking, prayer, fasting, and doing absolutely MUST come first.
The King Equips Ezra
In the 11th verse, we find again where Ezra’s expertise in the Word of God is noted, right there in the text of the king’s letter. In that letter, King Artaxerxes made sure Ezra had helpers, gifts for the temple, and a copy of the Law to take with him on his journey back to Jerusalem. The letter also makes it known that Ezra didn’t just GO back to Jerusalem, but the King actually sent him back on an information-gathering expedition.
The King was hopeful that, with the right volunteers going along with him, there would be a sure success of the party, and that Judah would be strengthened by it. To show his support, he also sent plenty of silver, gold, and extra offerings.
Artaxerxes had sent a good sum of money with the intent purpose of purchasing sacrificial animals for the newly rebuilt temple. The kind made the express comment to “be careful” with the money, but he also advised doing whatever “seemed good” to Ezra as well. This showed that the king trusted him to make some good decisions about how all the money was spent.
Furthermore, Artaxerxes went even further with his generosity by saying that whatever else Ezra might need, to go ahead and use this government money for it.
Why Did Artaxerxes Care?
It was obvious by the contents of his letter that this king was ready to go to whatever lengths necessary to promote temple operations. But why?
It wasn’t that Artaxerxes himself was intent on honoring the One True God of Israel. He was simply doing what all kings did in that time when they had conquered a specific territory. He paid homage to the “gods” of the people in the geographic locations in hopes that it would placate them, providing continued safety and security for his Kingdom.
We should pray that our OWN intentions are not motivated by such a hard and stony heart. The act itself looks good on the outside, but if we only DO things in hopes of gaining something from God – whether now or in times to come – we are on a very frightening path that might just lead to that wide gate on that great and final day!
While that didn’t mean much for the SO-CALLED gods of that time, giving Ezra the legal and provincial power to enforce the Law of God Almighty was a massive turning point.
Ezra’s Legal Authority
According to the letter Artaxerxes sent, Ezra had quite a bit of legal authority, especially with regard to enforcing God’s Laws. (OH that we had someone brave enough to do this in our own day and age!!)
All the workers who were building or working on the temple were not to be taxed. King Darius had once done the same thing for those who served the Cult led by Apollo.
Ezra could also appoint judges and magistrates, according to the wisdom God gave him. Then he gave him authority to teach all returning exiles who might not know about God’s law, along with the ability to harshly punish anyone who did not then observe the Laws of God which they had been taught.
We find out later that Ezra showed much less inclination to the role of administrator, as he was more concerned with fulfilling the duties of priest and scholar.
And the chapter closes with Ezra praising God for the extensive encouragement he had been given.
Those Who Accompanied Ezra… Chapter 8
There was a long list of those who accompanied Ezra to Jerusalem and that’s what the first fourteen verses are about. If you add up all the counts of males, you should get at least 1,496 men. Some commentators have concluded that, if you estimate a particular number of women and children, there were roughly 6,000 to 7,000 people that accompanied Ezra.
In chapter 15, we see a couple of interesting things. First of all, we see proof that Ezra is more than just a spiritual leader. For him to say that he had gathered them by the river, we can assume that he was the expedition leader as well.
The other interesting thing is that there were no Levites there. Ezra now had all the money, and all the authority he needed, but he lacked the men. So he used some of that authority to command a team to go BACK to Babylonia with the intent of bringing Levites back to work in the temple in Jerusalem.
It was imperative that it be Levites that did the work, as they were descendants of Aaron, and therefore rightfully the heirs and priests as God commanded.
Going Back for the Levites
Ezra chose nine specific leaders and two “men of understanding” in order to get the most out of his appeal. Then he carefully explained what they should say in their efforts. After that, he proclaimed a fast at the river Ahava.
Ezra understood the power of fasting. Not a fasting that was empty, just another ritual, but real, repentance-laden fasting. He was seeking a literal straightway with no sign of obstacles.
The Need For Protection
If ever there was a need for real protection, it was on this expedition. Robbers, bandits, and other constant threats were very real and possible along their way. However, they knew that they had great confidence in God and refused to ask for an escort. They were even ashamed to do so because they had already made their confidence in God known to all.
But, through prayer and fasting, God did protect them. After all, Ezra thought it worthy of shame to ask for what he had already declared God able to do. This is very different from the way Nehemiah felt about his own military escort. On the contrary, he thought it a part of God’s bounty after all.
Moreover I said unto the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me. Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsement with me.Nehemiah 2:7-9
Distributing Certain Articles
Ezra separated twelve leaders, and then weighed out and divided the valuables among those twelve. Each was responsible for their own portion until such time that they could deliver them to the priests and Levites. And these weren’t trivial amounts. The King of Persia had sent great amounts of treasure towards the support of the temple work.
Additionally, there had to be a certain amount of faith going on in this endeavor. Holding on to what would be like millions of dollars to us today made them targets for robbers and the violence that came with it. So they not only received the money, the silver and the gold, but the responsibility that came with it.
Once they arrived in Jerusalem, there had to be a careful account of everything that had been sent. In fact, it was Babylonian tradition that everything from sales to marriage records had to be written down for a record.
Sacrifices to God
Those who had been taken captive, but that had returned from the captivity, then offered burnt offerings to God. They offered twelve bulls, one for each tribe of Israel. There were only two that were actually present – Benjamin and Judah. But they offered one for every tribe anyway. There were likely some in the expanse of the people who were from those tribes anyway.
They also offered lambs, rams, and goats, for sin offerings, everything burnt before God. They went on to deliver the king’s commissions, or rather, his orders, and returned his governors and lieutenants, and the house of God was furthered.
Is there any one aspect of these two chapters that stood out to you particularly? For me, I thought it was interesting to study the background of a scribe. Especially since Ezra was considered such an impressive one. It was also very interesting to me that the king, even though he did not know God personally, went far and above out of his way to do everything he could for Ezra, and for the temple work.
Dear Lord, help us to continually strive to be a true scribe and a studier of the Word. Help us to rightly divide the Word of Truth as you see fit to give us understanding. But most of all, help us to pray for those in authority, that they might help the people of God, even though they might not be believers themselves. We ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.