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UNDER ARTAXERXES I; EZRA RETURNS FROM BABYLON
"After these things in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia ..."
This verse establishes the chronology of this chapter which features Ezra's journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, but the problem centers in the question of just which one of the two kings of Persia named Artaxerxes is the one spoken of here.
Those kings were Artaxerxes I (Longimanus) who reigned 465-425 B.C., and Artaxerxes II (Mnemon) who ruled in 405(4) to 358 B.C. Depending upon which one of these monarchs was meant, there is a gap between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7 here of either 58 years or 117 years. There is a sharp disagreement among scholars on this. C. F. Keil, Merrill F. Unger, Henry H. Halley, John C. Whitcomb, Jr., F. C. Cook, and Stephen S. Short affirm that Artaxerxes I is the monarch mentioned; and Raymond A. Bowman and Emmett Willard Hamrick designate Artaxerxes II as the ruler spoken of here. H. G. M. Williamson in his award winning commentary (in 1985) made no choice between them writing that, "Assuming that this king is Artaxerxes I (465-425 B.C.), `after these things' covers some fifty-seven years (much more, of course, if Artaxerxes II is intended)." This writer's opinion is that the evidence strongly favors Artaxerxes I.
In the interval indicated by the words "after these things," Ahasuerus had ruled, during which the events centering around the names of Mordecai and Esther had occurred; and some scholars have supposed that Esther's influence might have been a factor in the favorable attitude of Artaxerxes I.
THE ABBREVIATED GENEALOGY OF EZRA
"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 Meraioth, 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 Jehovah, the God of Israel, had given; and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of Jehovah 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 Nethinim, 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 on 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 set his heart to seek the law of Jehovah, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances."
The events centered around the name of Ezra must be accounted among the most wonderful things that ever happened to God's people. The immense dimensions of Ezra's request of Artaxerxes stagger the imagination; and the authority given to Ezra by that monarch, making him, in fact, ruler of the entire province beyond the River, with the power of life and death to enforce his reforms appears to have been directly the result of Divine favor and intervention, as positively indicated by Ezra's thanksgiving at the end of the chapter. It seems quite unlikely that Ezra's `request' would have included all that the king gave, unless the request came following the king's decision to turn the government of the satrapy over to Ezra.
The purpose of this genealogy is to show the importance of Ezra as a direct descendant of the great High Priest Aaron. It is also significant that he had a copy of the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:14); and this, we may believe, was also true of many faithful descendants of Aaron through the long centuries between the Exodus and the return from Babylon, making it utterly impossible for any forged document such as the so-called P Code to have been fraudulently imposed upon Israel. That Ezra was in full possession of the Torah indicates the preservation of it through the ages.
"Priests, Levites, singers, porters, Nethinim, ..." (Ezra 7:6). Oesterley wrote that, "That all these various classifications of Israelites should have been available to return with Ezra witnesses a considerable communal organization among the Jews during their captivity."
"On the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the frst day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem" (Ezra 7:9). All of this journey occurred in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I; and Whitcomb gave the date of this journey as being, "From March 27 to July 24,457 B.C., a journey of exactly four months."
"The direct distance between Babylon and Jerusalem is about 520 miles; but the circuitous route usually followed by armies or other large groups was not direct, but went through Carchemish and the Orontes Valley, a distance of about 900 miles."
That Ezra and his company required 120 days to complete this journey, averaging only about eight miles a day was probably due to the dangers encountered and other difficulties associated with moving a large number of people.
THE LETTER OF ARTAXERXES COMMISSIONING EZRA (Ezra 7:11-16)
"Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even the scribe of the words of the commandments of Jehovah, and of his statutes to Israel: Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect, and so forth."
Beginning with Ezra 7:12, the letter of Artaxerxes is written in Aramaic, following which, in Ezra 7:27, Ezra again wrote in Hebrew.
"Artaxerxes, king of kings" (Ezra 7:12). As learned from the Behistun Inscription and other Babylonian inscriptions, the title `King of Kings' was assumed by Babylonian kings, and frequently used by them.
"Perfect, and so forth" (Ezra 7:12). The Aramaic word from which perfect comes is unknown; and the RSV omitted it.[12">Ezra 7:12.">
EZRA WAS COMMANDED TO GO TO JERUSALEM
"I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and their priests and the Levites, in my realm, that are minded of their own free will to go to Jerusalem, go with thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king and his seven counselors, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thy 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 shalt find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill-offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem; therefore thou shalt with all diligence buy with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meal-offerings and their drink-offerings, and shalt offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem."
"Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king and his seven counsellors" (Ezra 7:14). The first clause here may also be translated, "Forasmuch as thou art sent from before the king," indicating the possibility that Ezra was the holder of some high official position in the government of Artaxerxes. This is supported by the vast authority conveyed to Ezra by this commission, which was supported also by the seven counsellors of the king.
"The law of thy God which is in thy hand" (Ezra 7:14). This was a copy of the Torah, the law of Moses.
"Whose habitation is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 7:15). Rawlinson construed this remark as merely a reference to the temple in Jerusalem, stating that, "Artaxerxes did not believe that the God of Israel was merely a local deity." His reference to the God of Israel as the God of heaven in Ezra 7:21 indicates that this is true.
"And all the silver and gold that thou shalt find ... in all the province of Babylon" (Ezra 7:16). This refers to all of the freewill-offerings which Ezra might be able to receive in a widespread fund-raising campaign.
INSTRUCTIONS REGARDING THE MONEY
"And whatsoever shall seem good to thee and to thy brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do ye after the will of your God. And the vessels that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, deliver thee before the God of Jerusalem. And whatsover more may be needed for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king's treasure-house. And I, even I, Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers that 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 with all diligence, unto a hundred talents of silver, and to a hundred measures of wheat, and to a hundred baths of wine, and to a hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much."
"Whatsoever shall seem good to thee and to thy brethren" (Ezra 7:18). This commission to Ezra was about as near a blank check with unlimited authority as any king ever granted. It exhibits the utmost confidence and trust in Ezra by Artaxerxes. The only limit imposed here is that of the maximum withdrawals in Ezra 7:22. "The surplus was actually used in beautifying the temple, as indicated in Ezra 7:27."
"The king's treasure-house" (Ezra 7:20). This is a reference to the sub-treasury of the satrapy of Syria, which included all of the territory beyond the River, the resources of which were made available to Ezra up to the limits indicated in Ezra 7:22.
"A hundred talents of silver" (Ezra 7:22). Some critics have cited this as an exaggeration, based upon their claim that the whole revenue of the province beyond the River was only 350 talents of silver; and even Williamson stated that this amount, "seemed disproportionate." However, the amount seems reasonable to this writer. "A talent of silver weighed 75 pounds," and that is only seven pounds above the weight of one thousand silver dollars; and a hundred talents would therefore have amounted to only a little more than $100,000.00, which to this writer appears as a rather insignificant amount as it would have been considered in the treasury of a king.
A TAX EXEMPTION FOR ALL RELIGIOUS EMPLOYEES
"Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done exactly for the house of the God of heaven; for why should there be wrath against the king and his sons? Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, the singers, porters, Nethinim, or servants of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll, upon them."
"Why should there be wrath against the king and his sons" (Ezra 7:23)? This discloses the motive which prompted Persian kings to honor the gods of all the nations they conquered.
"It shall not be lawful to impose tribute ..." (Ezra 7:24). Regarding this blanket tax exemption provided for the entire religious community, according to Rawlinson, "This was absolutely permanent and probably continued in force till the close of the empire."
EZRA'S AUTHORITY EXTENDED TO INCLUDE ALL BEYOND THE RIVER
There was some quality of mind and character among a number of ancient Jewish leaders that earned for them the respect and honor of world rulers who observed them. Joseph under Pharaoh, Daniel under Nebuchadnezzar, and now Ezra under Artaxerxes I were all granted a status under their respective overlords that was little less than that of a deputy monarch. Note the following:
"And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God that is in thy hand, appoint magistrates and judges, who shall judge all the people who are beyond the River, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye him that knoweth them not. And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed upon him with all diligence, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment."
This concludes the letter of Artaxerxes I. It gave Ezra almost despotic power over the whole Persian province beyond the River. Also, of very great significance, it recognized the Law of Moses as the supreme law of the land, along with that of the king, which are here understood to be one and the same thing. From this we must recognize in Artaxerxes I an unusually brilliant mind, in that he recognized the utility of the Mosaic Law, including, of course, the Decalogue, as a fit charter of government for the whole kingdom. How strange it is that forty-seven of the forty-eight contiguous states of the U.S.A., in their various constitutions, have specifically listed the Ten Commandments as the basic law in every one of them. Clarence Manion, Dean of the College of Law at Notre Dame University, declared this to be a fact.
"Let judgment be executed upon him with all diligence" (Ezra 7:26). Here is another vital principle of just government that was commanded by Artaxerxes, namely, that punishment of violators of the law, should be executed immediately, promptly, with all diligence. Our own system of government in the U. S. A. today is tragically unjust and inefficient in their rejection of this vital principle. The average time between the conviction of some brutal and heartless murderer and his execution is measured in years, and sometimes reaches more than a decade. There is no wonder that criminals hold the law in utmost contempt. Half a millennium before Christ, a pagan Persian king, knew the futility and worthlessness of such a system as we in America have imposed upon ourselves.
AN ANALYSIS OF EZRA'S COMMISSION
We are indebted to Rawlinson for this summary of Ezra's commission.
A. The temporary provisions: (1) permission for all Israelites who desired to do so to go with Ezra to Jerusalem; (2) permission to carry the monetary gifts of the king and his counsellors to Jerusalem; (3) permission to draw upon the royal sub-treasury large grants up to the limits set in Ezra 7:22; (4) permission to convey to Jerusalem all of the money that Ezra might receive from an area-wide fund-raising effort; and (5) a royal mandate to "inquire" concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
B. Permanent provisions: (1) Ezra was endowed with the chief authority over all the great satrapy beyond the River, with power to appoint magistrates and judges, and to require their knowledge of the Mosaic Law. (2) He was empowered to enforce his decisions by penalties of fines, imprisonment, banishment, or even death. (3) A permanent status of tax exemption was granted for the entire religious community concerned with services in the temple.
Having recorded, without translating it, the important document in Aramaic by which Artaxerxes conveyed to Ezra his commission, "Ezra then resumed the use of the more sacred Hebrew language and employed it uninterruptedly to the end of the narrative."
GOD'S HAND IN THIS WAS ACKNOWLEDGED BY EZRA
"Blessed be Jehovah, the God of our fathers, who hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of Jehovah which is in Jerusalem; and hath extended lovingkindness unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king's mighty princes. And I was strengthened according to the hand of Jehovah my God upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me."
"To beautify the house of Jehovah ... in Jerusalem" (Ezra 7:27). This reveals the use which Ezra made of the surplus money available to Ezra, over and beyond what was needed to carry out the specific instructions of the king.
"Jehovah ... extended lovingkindness to me before the king" (Ezra 7:28). This could be interpreted as a reference to the favor God gave Ezra when he made request (Ezra 7:6) before the king for what he received; but the inclusion of the words, before the king's counselors, and before all his mighty princes, makes it more likely that Ezra held some kind of office under Artaxerxes which had placed him under the observation of all such high officers of the king, and that God had given Ezra favor in the hearts of all of them. Besides that, Ezra here credited God Himself with putting "such a thing" in the king's heart, with no reference at all to any request of Ezra.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezra 7". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/