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II. THE SECOND RETURN UNDER EZRA CHS. 7-10
A period of 58 years separates Ezra 6 from Ezra 7 (515-458 B.C.). During this time the events in the Book of Esther took place in Persia and, in particular, Susa, one of the Persian capitals.
Darius I (Hystaspes; 521-486 B.C.) became a very capable ruler who united the vast reaches of the Persian Empire under his control. He organized the empire effectively into 20 satrapies, each of which functioned under a satrap appointed by the king. The satraps, who were usually from the Persian noble families, were virtual kings over their satrapies. They levied taxes and provided troops for the emperor. [Note: Breneman, p. 25.] Darius also built a huge palace at Persepolis, a canal that connected the Nile River with the Red Sea, and a system of roads that greatly facilitated travel and communication within the empire. [Note: See Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., pp. 488-91.]
". . . under Darius, Persia reached her zenith." [Note: Bright, p. 357.]
Darius’ son, Xerxes I (486-464 B.C., known as Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6 and the Book of Esther), succeeded this great king. He was not as successful as his father militarily. He was, however, able to subdue rebellions in Egypt and Babylon, but lost a third of the Persian fleet to the Greeks, and eventually had to withdraw Persian troops from Europe. He died at the hand of an assassin.
The next Persian king was Artaxerxes I (Longimanus, lit. "long hand;" 464-424 B.C.), the younger son of Xerxes who killed his older brother to obtain the throne. During his reign the empire continued to decline in strength. The Greeks attacked Cyprus, Egypt rebelled, and parts of Asia Minor achieved independence.
The Persian province of Yehud (Judah) was part of the larger satrapy of Eber Nari (lit. "beyond [i.e., west of] the [Euphrates] river"). The larger satrapy included Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine to the border of Egypt, and Cyprus. Herodotus identified the satrapy "beyond the river" as Darius’ fifth satrapy. [Note: Brenemen, p. 25.]
In Judah, the Jews did not continue to fortify Jerusalem. They were content simply to worship at the temple. Their earlier zeal to return to the Mosaic ordinances that included separation from non-Jews waned. Over this 58-year period some of them intermarried with unbelieving Gentiles (Ezra 9:1-2). Evidently the Levites neglected the teaching of the law (Ezra 7:25; cf. Nehemiah 8:1-12), and temple worship became more formal than sincere (Ezra 7:23).
A. The Return to Jerusalem CHS. 7-8
In 458 B.C. God moved Ezra, a Jewish priest and scribe who was living in Babylon, to lead another group of exiles back to Judah. In Jerusalem, Ezra’s ministry consisted primarily of leading the people to return to observance of their Law. Since his time the Jews have regarded Ezra as a second Moses because he re-established Israel on the Mosaic Law.
"The emphasis in these chapters is on the character of Ezra, which sets the scene for chapters 9 and 10 where sin is uncovered in the postexilic community. Ezra is presented as a man who was strongly motivated by the Law of God." [Note: Martin, p. 665.]
1. The decree of Artaxerxes and its consequences ch. 7
After explaining Ezra’s background and his trip to Jeruselam, the writer documented Artaxerxes’ decree that permitted more Jews to return to the Promised Land. Then he related Ezra’s response of thanksgiving.
Ezra’s background 7:1-10
"These things" (Ezra 7:1) refers to the events of the first return that the writer described in chapters 1-6.
Ezra’s genealogy (Ezra 7:1-5) shows that he was a man of importance whom his fellow Jews would have respected. His name is a shortened form of "Azariah," meaning "Yahweh helps." He was a descendant of Aaron, the first high priest of Israel (Ezra 7:5). There are gaps in this genealogy (cf. 1 Chronicles 6:3-15). "Son of" occasionally means "descendant of," as elsewhere in the Old Testament. [Note: L. H. Brockington, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, p. 70; Fensham, The Books . . ., p. 79; et al.] The purpose of this linear genealogy was not to record all of Ezra’s ancestors but to trace his lineage from Aaron.
A "scribe" (Ezra 7:6) was a person who functioned as a copier, writer, and communicator. Scribes fulfilled various roles before the exile. These included military officer (Judges 5:14; 2 Kings 25:19), messenger of the king (2 Kings 18:18), secretary to the king (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25), clerk, and writer (Jeremiah 36:26; Jeremiah 36:32). In the Gospels we have many references to scribes. In Jesus’ day they were primarily students and teachers of the Law. In Ezra’s time this specialized function of the scribe was developing. Ezra himself, as a scribe and priest, was able to teach the Law (cf. Leviticus 10:11; Nehemiah 8:1-9; Nehemiah 8:13). He also enjoyed special divine protection and enablement (Ezra 7:6; cf. Ezra 7:9; cf. Ezra 7:28; Ezra 8:18; Ezra 8:22; Ezra 8:31). [Note: Judah J. Slotki, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, p. 150.]
"The wise scribe followed an honored profession in which he might take pride (Sirach 38:24-34). His was the highest privilege and virtue: to study the law, to meditate on it and apply it to life (cf. Psalms 1; Psalms 19:7-14; Psalms 119)." [Note: Bright, pp. 424-25.]
Ezra and his companions left Babylon in the spring of 458 B.C. The Jewish month of Nisan corresponds to our late March and early April.
"It is emphasized that the date of departure from Babylon was carefully calculated to take place on the first day of the first month, though in the event they could leave only on the twelfth day due to the need to recruit Levites (Ezra 8:31). While the point is not made explicitly, this arrangement implies that the Ezra caravan, like the Israelites of old, marked their departure with the celebration of Passover (cf Exodus 12:1; Numbers 33:3), and that therefore this second episode in the restoration of the commonwealth begins in the same way that the first ends." [Note: Joseph Blenkinsopp, "A Theological Reading of Ezra-Nehemiah." Proceedings of the Irish Biblical Association 12 (1989):29.]
Ezra and his fellow travelers completed their 900-mile journey exactly four months later (Ezra 7:8-9) because of God’s enablement (Ezra 7:9). [Note: J. Stafford Wright, The Date of Ezra’s Coming to Jerusalem, pp. 17-28. Cf. K. Koch, "Ezra and the Origins of Judaism," Journal of Semitic Studies 19:2 (1974):173-97; and Frank M. Cross, "A Reconstruction of the Judean Restoration," Interpretation 29:2 (1975):194.]
Ezra’s personal resolve provides an excellent example for every believer (Ezra 7:10). He first purposed to study (lit. seek) the law (Heb. torah) of God, then to apply that teaching to his own life, and then to teach others the revealed will of God. This was the key to Ezra’s impact. "Torah" means "instruction," and it describes the Law of Moses, the Book of Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch, and the whole Old Testament in various places in Scripture. Here it probably refers to all the revealed will of God that Ezra had, all the scrolls of the Old Testament sacred writings to which he had access.
"The order is very significant, for you cannot effectively practice what you have not thoroughly learned, and you cannot convincingly teach what you have not practically applied." [Note: Laney, p. 52.]
"One called by God to teach must also study and obey." [Note: Breneman, p. 130. Cf. McConville, p. 47; Steven J. Lawson, "The Pattern of Biblical Preaching: An Expository Study of Ezra 7:10 and Nehemiah 8:1-18," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:632 (October-December 2001):451-66.]
Artaxerxes’ decree 7:11-26
This decree appears in Aramaic, the official language of the Persian Empire, in the Hebrew Bible.
The king appointed Ezra as the person responsible to him for the affairs conducted in the Jewish community in Judah. He held a position in the Persian court equivalent to Secretary of State for Jewish Affairs. [Note: Whitcomb, p. 430; Bright, p. 370.] This decree encouraged any Jews in exile to return to their land (Ezra 7:12-13).
"The Persians had respect for the laws of other nations as long as they did not conflict with their own.
"We know from the Elephantine papyri that a whole colony of Jews lived in the south of Egypt. The greatest concentration of Jews, however, was in Babylon and vicinity." [Note: Fensham, The Books . . ., pp. 104-5.]
Elephantine stood on an island in the Nile River on the southern frontier of Egypt near modern Aswan. Artaxerxes’ decree promised provisions for the temple worship (Ezra 7:14-20), authorized Ezra to withdraw funds from the provincial treasury (Ezra 7:21-23; cf. Ezra 4:12), and permitted him to establish judicial and educational systems in Judah (Ezra 7:24-26). The reason Artaxerxes permitted all this was evidently so there would be peace and good will among his Jewish subjects, and so he might appease Yahweh’s wrath (Ezra 7:23).
"In 460 B.C. the confederation of Greek cities under Athenian leadership known as the Attic-Delic League sent a fleet of 200 war galleys against Persia in the Cypriot seas. This fleet sailed to Egypt, gained a great victory over the Persian army there and captured Memphis in the autumn of 459. This placed the coast of Palestine and Phoenicia into Greek hands as the only possible route from Ionia to Egypt.
"It was in 458, immediately after the fall of Memphis to the Greeks, that Ezra the Judean courtier was sent to Judea ’to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem’ (7, 14) and to reorganize and strengthen this traditional enemy of the Philistines. From the point of view of the Persian king a strong pro-Persian Judea was a major threat to the Greek coastal lifeline, and as long as the Greeks dominated the coast and Egypt he supported a strong Judean province headed by a Judean-Persian official and peopled by a pro-Persian population, most of whose families were hostages in Babylon and Persia. The war in Phoenicia continued with battles in Cyprus and Egypt until the peace of Callias in 448 B.C. which put an end to the war between Persia and Greece." [Note: Othniel Margalith, "The Political Role of Ezra as Persian Governor," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 98:1 (1986):111.]
The "utensils" (Ezra 7:19) for the temple may have been some that Cyrus had overlooked (Ezra 6:5), or perhaps they were gifts from Artaxerxes. Probably Artaxerxes granted provisions for the exiles on their return to Jerusalem, not only for them after they had returned (Ezra 7:21-22). [Note: Fensham, The Books . . ., p. 106.] Jewish temple employees received special tax exemption (Ezra 7:24; cf. Ezra 2:43). Ezra was officially responsible to teach the Jews God’s Law (Ezra 7:25), and the king paid him to do so.
"Thus Ezra comes to Jerusalem as the real implementation of the Cyrus decree and his function is to establish an acceptable means of worship whereby Yahweh’s lordship over Judah and the whole world (in terms of the extravagance of the Cyrus decree) may be realized and the kingship of God reasserted." [Note: Dumbrell, p. 68.]
"Ezra’s interest and assigned task was thus not to build the country materially, as it had been with the first return [in 538 B.C.; Ezra 1:1] and would be again with the third [in 444 B.C.; Nehemiah 2:1], but to build the people socially and spiritually." [Note: Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, p. 396.]
Ezra’s thanksgiving 7:27-28
Ezra recognized and acknowledged that God had moved Artaxerxes to do what he had done (cf. Proverbs 21:1). "Lovingkindness" (Ezra 7:28) is more precisely "loyal love" (Heb. hesed). This Hebrew word has linguistic connections to the word translated "stork," a bird known for its affectionate devotion to its young. Yahweh was proving faithful to His promises to care for His chosen people. Again Ezra acknowledged God’s enabling grace in his life (Ezra 7:28).
"What makes the Jews’ restoration so remarkable is not simply that they should return, but that kings should supply their needs in relation to worship (cf. Ezra 7:27). It is this that makes the ’new exodus’ so evidently an act of God’s salvation." [Note: McConville, p. 59.]
Compare the gifts that the Egyptians gave the Israelites at the first Exodus (Exodus 12:36).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezra 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension