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Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Ezra 8

Verse 1

FURTHER DETAILS OF EZRA'S JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM;

THE LIST OF FAMILIES; CHIEF MEN; WITH THE NUMBERS OF RETURNEES

"Now these are the heads of their fathers' houses, and this is the genealogy of them that went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king: of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom. Of the sons of lthamar, Daniel, Of the sons of David, Hattush. Of the sons of Shecaniah, of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah; and with him were reckoned by genealogy of the males a hundred and fifty. Of the sons of Pahath-moab, EUe. hoenai the son of Zerahiah; and with him two hundred males. Of the sons of Shecaniah, the son of Jahaziel; and with him three hundred males. And of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan; and with him fifty males. And of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah; and with him seventy males. And of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael; and with him fourscore males. Of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel; and with him two hundred and eighteen males. And of the sons of Shelomith, the son of Josiphiah; and with him a hundred and threescore males. And of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai; and with him twenty and eight males. And of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan; and with him a hundred and ten males. And of the sons of Adonikam, that were the last: and these are their names: Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah; and with them threescore males. And of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud; and with them seventy males."

This list is parallel with that of Ezra 3:3-19, and there are many similarities. Generally, the same family names appear in both lists, although not in the same order. "The numbers here are much smaller, never reaching even a third of the totals in the other list, and sometimes falling below one twelfth."[1] Only in Ezra 8:5 (Shecaniah), Ezra 8:9 (Joab) and Ezra 8:10 (Shelomith) do we find new families mentioned; and two of these are disputed.

The authenticity of his list has been challenged; but Bowman mentioned that, "It has also been defended, and that it fits."[2] "The reliability of this list is also supported by its appearance with only slight variations in 1 Esdras 8:28-40."[3]

The whole number of those accompanying Ezra on this journey, including the Levites and Nethinim finally recruited by Ezra, was placed at 1,773 males. Rawlinson placed the total number, including women and children, at about 9,000, estimating five per family.[4] Wlliamson, however, estimated the total number as "some 5,000."[5]

The most remarkable name in the whole list is that of Hattush the son of Schechaniah. "Beyond any reasonable doubt, he was the descendant of David (1 Chronicles 3:22), through Shemaiah; and he was Zerubbabel's great-great-grandson."[6]

Verse 15

A SECOND BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY AT AHAVA

"And I gathered them together at the river that runneth to Ahava; and there we encamped 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, who were teachers. And I sent them forth unto Iddo the chief of the place Casiphia; and I told them what they should say unto Iddo, and his brethren the Nethinim, at the place Casiphia, that they should bring unto us ministers for the house of God. And according to the good hand of our God upon us, they brought us a man of discretion, 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 their sons, twenty; and of the Nethinim, whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim: all of them were mentioned by name."

"I gathered them together to the river than runneth to Ahava" (Ezra 8:15). Ezra's company had already left Babylon on the first day of the month; and they were delayed here until the twelfth day when the journey was resumed. Some time had elapsed in their journey to this station, and there was more delay while Ezra recruited the Levites and the Nethinim.

"The river that runneth to Ahava" (Ezra 8:15) Several current scholars insist that this place is unknown; but Rawlinson wrote that, "It is now generally identified with the place IS in Herodotus (i. 179), a small stream flowing into the Euphrates from the east, some eight days' journey from Babylon. This place is mentioned under the slightly variant names of Ava and Ivah in 2 Kings 17:24; 19:13, and in the Septuagint (LXX) under the name Aba ... the modern name is Hit.[7] This information fully explains why the departure from Ahava was on the twelfth day of the month. Eight days had been required for their journey to that place, and the other four days were for recruiting the Levites.

Casiphia, also unknown, was evidently quite near this first way-station, otherwise, more time would have been required for enlisting the Levites. "Ezra knew of a settlement of Levites nearby at a place called Casiphia (the location of which is unknown to us)."[8]

"I found there none of the sons of Levi" (Ezra 8:15). The difficulty in recruiting Levites was probably due to the reduction of their status by the encroaching activities of the post-exilic priesthood, whose criminal activity was so dramatically exposed in the Book of Malachi, so terrible, in fact, that God even cursed them (Malachi 2:1-2). The disaffection of the Levites is demonstrated by the fact that, "Only 341 returned with Zerubbabel, compared with 4,289 priests."[9]

Regarding Ezra's determination to include Levites in his migration, Williamson pointed out that, "Ezra regarded his company as `an ideal Israel,"[10] which of course required the presence of Levites. "And as presented in the Book of Ezra, it was a second exodus."[11]

"And of the Nethinim ... two hundred twenty" (Ezra 8:20). The original Nethinim were the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:23).

Verse 21

EZRA PROCLAIMS A FAST FOR THREE DAYS

"Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek of him a straight way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to ask of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way, because we had spoken unto the king saying, The hand of our God is upon all them that seek him for good; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was entreated of us."

"I proclaimed a fast there at the river Ahava" (Ezra 8:21). Ezra had good reason behind this proclamation. Due to his previous remarks to the king, he was ashamed to request a military escort to Jerusalem; and, since he was transporting a vast sum of money, and as the way was always a dangerous one, he felt a special need of God's protection.

Fasting, as a means of seeking God's favor, was a common practice in Israel; and even in the New Testament, Jesus prophesied that his followers would fast (Matthew 6:15; 8:14).

There was a long tradition in Israel that the rulers had the authority to proclaim a fast; and one was even called by Jezebel (1 Kings 21:12).

"And he was entreated of us" (Ezra 8:23). Ezra wrote this after his safe arrival in Jerusalem; but here he included this word that God had indeed answered their prayers. As a consequence of their prayers, "The journey was successfully accomplished, God's gracious protection delivering them from the bands of enemies and marauders."[12]

Verse 24

THE PRIESTS AND LEVITES WERE ENTRUSTED WITH THE TREASURES

"Then I set apart twelve of the chiefs of the priests, even Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them, and weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering for the house of our God, which the king, and his counsellors, and his princes, and all Israel there present, had offered: I weighed into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and silver vessels a hundred talents; of gold a hundred talents; and twenty bowls of gold, of a thousand darics; and two vessels of fine bright brass, precious as gold. And I said unto them, Ye are holy unto Jehovah, and the vessels are holy; and the silver and the gold are a freewill-offering unto Jehovah, the God of your fathers. Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chiefs of the priests and the Levites, and the princes of the fathers' houses of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of Jehovah. So the priests and the Levites received the weight of the silver and the gold, and the vessels, to bring them to Jerusalem unto the house of our God."

"The value of these gifts was well over a million pounds; but this is by no means inconceivable in view of the immense wealth of the Perisan kings."[13]

Responsibility for transporting this vast sum of money, "Was vested in twelve priests and twelve Levites especially chosen for the task. This was in accordance with the Pentateuchal care and movement of the tabernacle furnishings (Numbers 3; Numbers 4)."[14]

"Ye are holy ... the vessels are holy" (Ezra 8:28). Ezra here heeded the prophecy of Isaiah who had prophesied the return of Israel from captivity, saying, "Cleanse yourselves, ye that bear the vessels of Jehovah." (Isaiah 52:11). As Matthew Henry stated it, "We have here an account of the particular care which Ezra took,'"[15] in the handling of the treasures entrusted to him. It is always of the greatest importance that God's servants should take the greatest precautions in handling sacred contributions that their actions should exhibit to all men the utmost honesty and integrity.

Verse 31

THE JOURNEY COMPLETED AND THE TREASURES WERE WEIGHED BEFORE THE TEMPLE CUSTODIANS

"Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the lier-in-wait by the way. And we came to Jerusalem, and abode there three days. And on the fourth day the silver and the gold and the vessels were weighed in the house of our God into the hand of Merimoth 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 Bennuni, the Levites) - the whole by number and by weight: and all the weight was written at that time."

"After four months of traveling (Ezra 7:9), they came to Jerusalem; the fact of their having been unmolested on the way (Ezra 7:31) vindicated their faith in God's protection; and the treasures were weighed in with the proper temple authorities, indicating that none had been misappropriated."[16]

"We departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the month" (Ezra 8:31). Williamson seemed perplexed by the fact that, "Whereas in Ezra 7:9 the departure date was the first day of the month; here the actual date is, given as the twelfth day of the month (so stated as to leave the impression that these dates are in some manner contradictory)."[17] Once more we find that a careful reading of the Bible completely clears up what some critics view as a contradiction. Read the text:

On the first day of the first month began (Ezra) to go up from Babylon (Ezra 7:9).

"Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month" (Ezra 8:31).

It does not take a genius to understand that on the first day of the month they left Babylon, and on the twelfth day of the month they left the river Ahava. Some of the scholars are mixed up on this because they have erroneously interpreted "the river Ahava" as being one of the canals in Babylon. (See the comment of Herodotus on this as given in my comment on Ezra 8:15, above.)

"And we ... abode there three days" (Ezra 8:32). This is a reference to the three-days' rest which they enjoyed after their arrival in Jerusalem. No doubt they needed it, because the journey had hasted four months and was attended by many dangers and anxieties. "Like Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:11), Ezra was content with a three days' rest, before getting on with the business at hand."[18]

Verse 35

SACRIFICES WERE OFFERED FOR THE TWELVE TRIBES OF ISRAEL

"The children of the captivity, that were come out of exile, 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 a burnt-offering unto Jehovah. And they delivered the king's commissions unto the king's satraps, and to the governors beyond the River: and they furthered the people and the house of God."

"Twelve bullocks for all Israel, ..." (Ezra 8:35). All except one of the sacrifices mentioned here were either twelve or multiples of that number, indicating that, "Ezra believed that the restored community represented all twelve of the tribes of Israel."[19]

Matthew Henry believed that these offerings "for all Israel" indicated that, "The union of the two Israels was then accomplished, as prophesied by Ezekiel 37:22."[20]

Keil pointed out that, "The sin-offering had served as an atonement for Israel; and that the burnt-offering typified the surrender of the entire nation of Israel to the service of the Lord, and was a declaration that those who had returned were henceforth resolved, together with all Israel, to dedicate themselves to the service of the Lord their God."[21]

"They delivered the king's commissions to the ... satraps" (Ezra 8:36). These were the Persian lieutenants and governors under Artaxerxes the king who were in charge of all that vast territory west of the Euphrates River. "These satraps were the military chiefs in charge of the provinces, and they were also endowed with the authority as well."[22] As a result of this royal directive, "They furthered the people and the house of God as Artaxerxes had commanded."[23]

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezra 8". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/ezra-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.