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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Ezra 1

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Verses 1-4


The book of Ezra is the continuation of the second book of Chronicles, although there are seventy years in between. This is shown by the fact that the first three verses of Ezra are almost identical to the last verses of 2 Chronicles (Ezra 1:1-Leviticus :; 2 Chronicles 36:22-Isaiah :). However, the intervening period of seventy years is skipped because Israel is in exile outside the promised land at that time. With the transportation into exile “the times of the Gentiles” have begun (Luke 21:24). For Israel, since that time, the people are “Lo-Ammi”, which means “not My people” (Hosea 1:9). Since that time, God has handed over the throne of the earth to the nations (Daniel 2:37).

In the history of God with His people and the earth we see a new point of view in Ezra. There we see the intervention of grace for a remnant that God brings back from captivity to the land. The return from Babylon is not accompanied by signs and miracles, as was the case with the exodus from Egypt. We see no staff to perform miracles, no cloud guide, no mediator, no provisions from the storehouses of heaven from which the manna is raining.

In the book of Ezra, God does not act visibly, but in providence, behind the scenes. He acknowledges the new state of affairs and uses heathen rulers to carry out His plans. The remnant does not go to work in view of God’s dominion over the earth. That is still the future. What is there is the power of faith. What they do, they do in faith, in trust in God, whatever the circumstances.

That is why this book is full of instruction for us who live in circumstances that are in many ways similar to those of the remnant then. They use what they have and they do what they can, but they don’t moderate what they don’t have and can’t do. They have the Word and they use it. They have the genealogies and they use them. They do not do what only the use of Urim and Thummim enables them to do (Numbers 27:21), because they do not have them. They don’t refuse to do what they can because they can’t do everything they want. They wait for others who have what they don’t have.

That Ezra is the continuation of the second book of Chronicles is also shown in the main subject of the book. It is about the house of God in this Bible book, just like in 2 Chronicles. God desires to dwell with a redeemed people. This is already evident at the exodus from Egypt, when He gives the tabernacle. This also becomes clear when the people enter the land, when He gives the temple. His desire has not changed now that the people have forfeited everything. When He works a return to His land, it is to dwell in the midst of His people again and that His people come to Him with sacrifices.

This is still true in the time in which we live. The house of God is now “the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). God still works the desire to come to the place where He dwells. He now dwells among believers, even if only two or three come together in the Name of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 18:20).

Division of the book

1. The story of the return of the exiles, the foundation of the altar and the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1-6).
2. The return of Ezra himself and his service among the people (Ezra 7-10).

Between the two parts there are about sixty years. It is during this period that the events of the book of Esther take place. The first part of Ezra also includes the performance of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1), while we can place the prophet Malachi in the time of Nehemiah.


What happens in this chapter shows a real work of God. It is not a work of man with preparatory meetings and discussions. The hearts of all are controlled by Him.

God’s People May Return to Jerusalem

Seventy years after the Babylonians led the people into exile, God is going to work to fulfill His word through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:10; Jeremiah 24:6-Judges :Jeremiah 25:11-2 Kings :; Jeremiah 27:22). That word means that after seventy years the exile comes to an end and the people may return to the land of God. The beginning of the return comes from a work of the LORD in the spirit of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1).

God also acts on the basis of the prayers of His servants, which have been introduced into His plans through diligent study of His Word (Daniel 9:2-Leviticus :). He brings back a remnant so that the temple can be rebuilt in its place and so that the true King, the Lord Jesus, can be introduced to them. This act of God is therefore in accordance with the promises given by the mouth of Jeremiah and the prayer of His servant Daniel.

Whatever the external circumstances, God has in His hand the hearts of all men, also the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1). The instrument, Cyrus, was announced two hundred years earlier by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 44:28Isaiah 45:1-Deuteronomy :). As soon as he is in power, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. God does not waste any time. He uses Cyrus, the king of Persia, to give the opportunity to return to Judah. This also means that He does not give Babylon, who led His people into exile, the honor of allowing His people to return.

God is using the world powers here to carry out His plan (Ezra 1:2). Cyrus calls Him “the God of heaven” because God has removed His throne from the earth and handed His people over into the hands of the nations. Cyrus does not command anyone to return to Jerusalem. Names are not mentioned, room is given for everyone (Ezra 1:3). In this way only God-fearing people will answer the call. The hearts of these people go out to the glory of God and to the place of His Name.

This pagan ruler Cyrus announces that the way to Jerusalem is open. Not only does he not prevent the people from going, but he encourages them to go. He instructs all nations to do the same (Ezra 1:4), while he himself gives what Nebuchadnezzar has robbed from the temple.

There is nothing legal in this movement. It must be the result of grace that works in the heart. If it is legal, all freshness and strength will be lost. It is not wise to try to force people to take a position where grace has not brought them. To insist on abandoning human systems and putting that on people’s conscience as a matter of duty is not good. As a result, many people, while outwardly occupying a place of separation, are not really attracted by Christ.

For the flesh it is not very attractive to go to Jerusalem. The city is a ruin. Yet Jerusalem is the place of “the Name” for faith. For the believers now, the place of worship is not a geographical place – “neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (John 4:21) – but a spiritual place. It is the place of which the Lord Jesus says: “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). We find that place wherever He is acknowledged to be the only Head and Lord and where His own are gathered around Him in that awareness. That is what corresponds to the place He chose in the Old Testament to make His Name dwell there: the temple in Jerusalem.

Verses 5-6

Who Want to Go

“The heads of fathers’ [households]” (Ezra 1:5) represent believers who are willing to take responsibility. In a revival, it is also necessary that there are people who take on the leadership. They take the lead on the path of faith and others may follow on the path they take. In the local church it is they who show the believers the way to realize that the Lord Jesus is in the midst. They teach about it and they show it in their lives. It is good to seek their company and to go along with them.

There are also “the priests and the Levites”. These are the ones who have the service to God in mind. They have not been able to serve in Babylon, because there is no temple there. It stood in Jerusalem and was destroyed and they were deported. Now they are ordered to rebuild the temple. This will make it possible for them to do their service again.

With every revival it is necessary that these two elements are present. Priestly service today is the privilege of every child of God and is not limited, as in Israel, to a special class. The same applies to Levite service. Every believer has a task, a function, in the church.

Every believer is a priest. There is no distinction in this. Every believer is also Levite. In this there is distinction, because every believer has a different task. Herein not one is above the other, but each believer is a complement to the other.

That the heads of fathers’ households and the priests and the Levites go to Jerusalem to build the house of the LORD is not self-determined action. Just as the LORD raised up the spirit of Cyrus to call for a return to Jerusalem for the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1:1), so the going up of the three groups mentioned above is also the consequence of His work. A revival is the work of God, not the result of deliberations and agreements of men.

Although there have been people from other tribes as well, they are mainly people from the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Christ is presented to them at His first coming on earth, with the result that He is rejected by them. The fact that it mainly concerns the two tribes also shows that this is not a national restoration. The restoration of the ten tribes only happens when Christ appears for the second time (Ezekiel 20:33-Acts :; Jeremiah 31:6-2 Chronicles :).

There is no spirit of judgment or enmity or jealousy between those who go and those who stay (Ezra 1:6). Those who stay behind give everything to those who leave. Although the circumstances are very different, what is happening here is reminiscent of the exodus of the people from the Egyptian slave house. Then the Egyptians also give the departing people all kinds of objects (Exodus 12:35-Zephaniah :).

Verses 7-11

Articles of the House of the LORD

Cyrus treats the articles of the house of the LORD with respect, in contrast with the last king of Babylon, Belshazzar (Daniel 5:1-Numbers :). These articles were robbed at the various deportations (Ezra 1:7; 2 Chronicles 36:7; 2 Chronicles 36:102 Chronicles 36:18; Daniel 1:2). The first deportation takes place at the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim. The second takes place during Jehoiakim’s reign and the third in the eleventh year of Zedekiah. The seventy-year exile is to be counted from the first deportation.

In the spiritual application the objects for the service represent persons. We may see ourselves as silver and gold vessels, in which we see the value we have for God (2 Timothy 2:19-Ecclesiastes :). The separation of the articles belonging to the LORD from the articles belonging to the idol temples of Babylon is necessary. What is of God must be cleansed from what is not of Him.

The articles are given “Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah” (Ezra 1:8). Sheshbazzar is the Babylonian name for Zerubbabel. He descends from David and is his heir. His name is also in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 1:13). He does not boast of his ancestry, but takes the place of someone whose faith can be imitated. The time of the great things is over. That the articles come under the supervision of Sheshbazzar suggests to us that the Lord Jesus has us at His disposal.

Various articles and their numbers are mentioned (Ezra 1:9-1 Kings :). Among them are also twenty-nine knives [Darby Translation]. Here we see that God does not consider anything small (Job 36:5; Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7). He who counts the stars and has named them all (Psalms 147:4) also takes note of the knives brought back from exile and knows their number.

They are knives that belong to the temple utensils and were taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 52:17-Isaiah :). These knives are used by the priests to divide the sacrificial animals into pieces. After being taken into exile, there is no more sacrificial service. After the return, however, it can take place again when the altar is erected. Then the knives are also needed.

We can make an application for those who in a Christianity full of confusion have gone in search for ‘the altar’, the Table of the Lord, and have found it. That is where the knives have their place. The knives are used to skin the sacrificial animal and divide it into pieces to lay on the altar, that it may be a soothing aroma to the LORD. We can say that we use these knives when we are concerned with the inner feelings of the Lord Jesus and tell God what we have discovered. Using the knives allows us to penetrate deeper into the feelings of the Lord Jesus. We don’t stop at a superficial contemplation of His Person and work.

A knife also serves to cut in a straight line the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15, Darby Translation). We must do justice to the whole Word of God, i.e. give each part of it its proper meaning and effect.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ezra 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/ezra-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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