Ezra Comes To Jerusalem (Ezra 7:1-10).
Almost sixty years after the completion of the Temple, Ezra arrived in Jerusalem as an Expert in the Law of Moses, eager to teach it to the worshippers of YHWH, and accompanied by many Israelite exiles who had been given permission to return. It will be noted that Ezra 7:1-26 are written in the third person (‘he’). It is clear why from the introduction. Ezra is presenting his report to the king with due formality. There was no better way for a Jew to reveal his status than by outlining his genealogy. Without excessive boasting it revealed his pedigree and would impress those who heard because it connected him with the ancients. Thus the following narrative continued the note of formality, leading up to the king’s commission. The change to the first person is initiated by Ezra’s cry of praise and gratitude to God, and that continues until he comes to the end of his report in chapter 10 when he demonstrates how he and the people have fulfilled the king’s commission..
‘ Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, 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,’
‘After these things’ is a loose way of indicating that what is described comes chronologically after what has previously been described. It gives no indication of what the time gap between them might be, and in fact what has been described in the previous narrative had dealt with matters up to the reign of Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:11; Ezra 4:23).
Note how Ezra’s pedigree is listed in detail, drawing attention to his direct descent from Eleazar, the son of Aaron. Apart from the omission of a few names, which was common practise in ancient genealogies, it coincides with that in 1 Chronicles 6:1-15. Whether Seraiah was his actual father or grandfather, named after the Seraiah from whom he was descended (1 Chronicles 6:14), or whether he was simply that well known ancestor, it is impossible at this stage to determine. Probably the former is true. The aim of the genealogy was, of course, in order to establish Ezra’s credentials as a son of Zadok (the High Priest in David’s day whose descendants were approved by Ezekiel 43:19; Ezekiel 44:15), who was the son of Eleazar (the High Priest in Joshua’s day), the son of the first Priest, Aaron, here called ‘the chief priest’.
It has been argued that Zadok was not the son of Ahitub, as it was Ahimelech who was the son of Ahitub (1 Samuel 22:9). But it is noteworthy that the same phrase is used of Zadok in 2 Samuel 8:17. There is no reason at all why Zadok’s father should not have been called Ahitub. This book itself is a witness to how often the same name appears with reference to different people.
‘This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which YHWH, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of YHWH his God upon him.’
Ezra is described as ‘a ready (skilled and capable) Scribe in the Law of Moses, which YHWH the God of Israel had given’. He is thus seen as being an expert in the Law of Moses given at Sinai.
‘The king granted him all his request.’ The idea behind this statement is that he was fully approved of by Artaxerxes who was willing to give him anything that he required for the fulfilment of his task. A comparison may be intended here with the Pharaoh of the Exodus who also granted to Moses, albeit reluctantly, all that he had requested (Exodus 12:31-32). Ezra may be being seen as the new Moses, swaying the king and leading his people into the promised land, bearing the Law of Moses, and having received the gifts from the people who were remaining behind (compare Ezra 1:4; Ezra 7:15-16). While we are nowhere told of things which Ezra did ask for, chief among them would be the king’s authority to act in matters to do with the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:25), something which was very dear to Ezra’s heart (Ezra 7:10). And it may also have included the treasures for God’s house and the right to require from the officials in Beyond the River anything that he required for his task (Ezra 7:21). Much may also well have been provided in the way of beasts of burden in order to ensure the comfort of his journey. And the reason for the king’s favour was because ‘the hand of YHWH his God was upon him’ (Ezra 7:6)
‘And there went up (with him) some from the children of Israel, and from the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the gate-keepers, and the Nethinim, to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king.’
‘Some from the children of Israel’ probably reflects the fact of the presence of the children of Israel already in the land from the previous return (compare Ezra 3:1). It is less likely that ‘some of’ is in contrast with those left in exile by their own choice. To the writer it was those who were in the land who were the new Israel (Ezra 2:2; Ezra 3:1; Ezra 6:16) Compare with this verse ‘the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people and the singers, and the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim’ in 1:70) of the first returnees. The two groups would soon be combining. For information on these different classes see chapter 2, where it will be noted we have the same order, children of Israel, priests, Levites, singers, gate-keepers, and Nethinim (together with Solomon’s servants). We should note that the reason why Ezra is not mentioned here is because his ‘going up’ has already been mentioned in Ezra 7:6. ‘With him’ is to be understood.
The journey of Ezra and his fellow-travellers took place in the seventh year of Artaxerxes. There may well be intended in the mention of the fact that it was theseventhyear (the year of divine perfection) the thought of God’s perfect timing. We can compare how the seventh year was always a year of rest for the land (Exodus 23:11) and release from debt (Deuteronomy 15:1-3) when they were in the land. It was also the year of release for the Habiru slave (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12).
‘And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.’
They arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month (the number of covenant) of the seventh year (the number of divine perfection) of Artaxerxes. That was in 458 BC. The journey took nearly four months, although with women and children in the caravan they would have to move at a slow pace. The use of the singular ‘he’ refers back to the mention of Ezra in Ezra 7:6. Ezra 7:7 is an explanatory sentence which we would have possibly put in parenthesis. The use of the singular continues in Ezra 7:9.
‘For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.’
The first day of the first month is the day of new beginning, the commencement of the religious calendar. It was on that date that ‘he began to go up --.’ It was then that he gathered the people at the River of Ahava ready for the journey (Ezra 5:15), where there was a three day inspection. But the fact that he then discovered that no Levites had responded to his call (Ezra 8:15) meant that he had to persuade Levites and Nethinim to join him, and this delayed the start of the actual journey, which did not recommence until the twelfth day (Ezra 8:31). But because the good hand of God was upon him there were no further delays on the journey so that they made good time.
‘For Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of YHWH, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances.’
The reason why the good hand of God was upon him was that he had set his heart to look into the Law of YHWH so that it had entered into his heart, and then to actually ‘do it’, living it out in his daily life. Finally he had set himself to teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel that others might benefit by it too. He was dedicated to a teaching ministry based on the Law of God. ‘Look into -- do -- teach, are the perfect combination for such a person. He meditated, then did, and then taught. It is what the Christian should do with the word of God. It is the man whodoesthese things who will live by them (Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 12:1). To be a teacher without doing is to be deserving of heavy punishment (James 3:1).
This was where the later Scribes condemned by Jesus in Matthew 23; Mark 7 went astray. Instead of studying the Law as it was in itself, they studied what the elders had said about the Law. They thus failed to observe the true meaning of the Law. They found ways round it. And in consequence when they taught converts they made them ‘twofold more a son of Hell than themselves’ (Matthew 23:13).
Almost Sixty Years After The Building Of The Temple Ezra, An Expert In The Law, Comes To Jerusalem Bringing With Him A Group Of Fellow-Jews And Much Treasure For The House Of God, Being Authorised By King Artaxerxes To Teach The Law Of God And Enforce It Among Those Who Had Come There Out Of The Captivity (Ezra 7:1-28).
In 458 BC Ezra, a Priest and Expert in The Law Of Moses, came to Jerusalem having been commissioned by King Artaxerxes to teach and enforce that Law among those who claimed to be loyal servants of YHWH, namely the previous returnees from Babylon and those who had united with them in the true worship of YHWH. We are not told what occasioned this commission but it is reasonable to assume that leading Jews among his officials (one of whom was Nehemiah) had drawn his attention to the state of affairs existing among those who had been commissioned by Cyrus to build a Temple in Jerusalem and offer prayers for the Kings of Persia. It was Persian policy to ensure that local religions prospered, and that prayers were offered to the gods of the nations on behalf of the kings of Persia. (Even the Assyrians had sent a priest to teach the ways of YHWH, ‘the God of the land’, to those who had been settled in the country of Samaria - 2 Kings 17:27-28).
Ezra’s Commission From The Persian King Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:11-26).
We are now provided with a copy of Artaxerxes’ decree to Ezra, recorded in its original Imperial Aramaic. We must remember that this was the same king as the one who would order the work on the walls of Jerusalem to cease (Ezra 4:7-24), something which probably took place a few years later. On the other hand we must remember that he was a busy king with many preoccupations. One of those was with regard to the religious welfare of his people, and a desire to keep the gods on his side, another was with the need to keep the realm safe from rebellion. And for both he was dependent on advisers. Just as there were enemies who would seek to present them to the king in the worst light, so there were Jews in high places who would see it as their responsibility to keep the welfare of their fellow-Jews before him (consider Nehemiah later), and it was no doubt they who had impressed on the king the need for the Jews in Judah and the surrounding area to be properly taught the Law of God so that God might feel benevolently disposed towards the empire, and had brought home the need for a people mainly living in relative poverty to have financial assistance in order to maintain the complicated requirements of Temple worship.
We must presume that the king had had consultations with Ezra prior to the decree, and no doubt Ezra had made his own views known in the form of guidance to the king subject to his approval (compare Tattenai in Ezra 5:17), so that much that is in the decree might have resulted from this advice. Alternatively the advice might have come from Jews in high places. We do not know whether Ezra was already a minister of state as ‘the Scribe of the Law of the God of Heaven’, or whether this was a title given to him at this time so as to indicate to all that he was acting on the king’s authority.
The authenticity of the letter is confirmed by the use of Imperial Aramaic, the way the letter is constructed, the use of Persian loan-words, and the agreement of its contents with Persian imperial policy. It indicates Persian authorship influenced by Jewish ideas, which is what we would expect in such a document.
Note the careful pattern of the letter. The opening commission is to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem in accordance with the Law (Ezra 7:14), and the closing commission is to appoint judges over those who know the Law, so as to ensure its fulfilment, while at the same time teaching that Law to those ignorant of it (Ezra 7:25-26). In between come the provisions for financing worship that will be pleasing to God so that He might bless the king, and the decree issued to the treasurers in Beyond the River ensuring continual provision.
‘Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, even the scribe of the words of the commandments of YHWH, and of his statutes to Israel:’
This introduction may have been part of the official introduction heading the letter, depicting the official responsibility given to him. It specifically defines what his responsibilities were to be. He was to have responsibility for ‘the words of the commandments of YHWH and of His statutes for Israel’, in other words he was to teach them to, and if necessary enforce them on, the people who worshipped YHWH (Ezra 7:25). The words are very reminiscent of the Law of Moses which often speaks of the ‘commandments and statutes’ of YHWH, often accompanied by the promise that if they observed them it would go well with them, which was Artaxerxes concern (e.g. Exodus 15:26; Leviticus 26:2-3; Deuteronomy 4:39-40; Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 10:13; Deuteronomy 27:10; Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:45; Deuteronomy 30:10). There may be an echo in the wording (but not the idea) of 2 Kings 17:19 ‘the commandments of YHWH -- the statutes of Israel’. This indicates the influence of Jewish advisers, or even of Ezra himself.
We now come to the main contents of the letter, which is written in Aramaic, and follows the typical pattern of letters sent by Persian kings, found both here in Ezra and in papyri.
‘Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect.’
The addresser is Artaxerxes ‘king of kings’. This was one title in regular use by Persian kings (but not by Greek kings later) illustrating their authority over many kings. The addressee, Ezra, is entitled ‘the scribe of the law of the God of Heaven’ (compare Ezra 7:21), which was clearly his official title. This may have been a new title conferred on him in view of the task ahead, or may have denoted his official position as a Jewish adviser to the king, which would explain why he was chosen for the task. In view of the large numbers of Jews scattered throughout the Persian empire (see e.g. Esther 3:8; Esther 8-9) such an adviser would be useful. Compare Nehemiah 11:24.
‘Perfect.’ Compare the use of ‘peace’ and ‘all peace’ in Ezra 4:17; Ezra 5:7. This may well have been a recognised technical abbreviation used as a greeting, indicating something like ‘perfect peace’, or ‘may everything be perfect’. Some see it as adverbial and meaning ‘perfectly’, referring to Ezra as ‘a perfect or complete priest’.
That Ezra was given considerable authority by the king comes out in the body of the letter which follows:
· He was authorised to take with him all of ‘the people of Israel’ who wished voluntarily to return with him (Ezra 7:12-13). Depicted as fulfilled in chapter 8, with full names given.
· He was sent by the king and his seven chief counsellors to enquire into the religious situation in Judah and Jerusalem, concerning which there was clearly concern (Ezra 7:14). Depicted as fulfilled in chapters 9-10.
· He was taking to Jerusalem the gifts of the king and his counsellors, together with the freewill offerings of others, in order to make satisfactory offerings to the God of Heaven, and with authority to do whatever he felt best with what remained, ‘in accordance with the will of God’ (Ezra 7:15-18). Demonstrated as fulfilled in Ezra 8:24-30; Ezra 8:33-35.
· He was to deliver to the house of God in Jerusalem valuable vessels for use in that house (Ezra 7:19). Demonstrates as fulfilled in Ezra 8:33-34.
· He was given the king’s authority to call on the king’s treasury for whatever should be needful for the house of God up to certain prescribed limits (Ezra 7:20-22) so that God’s requirements be satisfied (Ezra 7:23). Depicted as fulfilled in Ezra 8:36.
· He was to announce freedom from all taxes for Temple personnel, presumably having the authority to ensure that the order was carried out (Ezra 7:24).
· He was to appoint magistrates and judges to ensure that the laws of God were carried out satisfactorily by ‘all the people in Beyond the River’ (presumably all who were recognised as subscribing to them), and to teach all those who did not know them (Ezra 7:25), with authority to punish as he decided right, even up to the Death penalty (Ezra 7:26). Demonstrated as fulfilled in chapter 10. 6 ff. with full names of transgressors given.
It is quite clear from this that he had powerful authority specifically granted to him by the king, an authority which was to be recognised by Persian officials.
‘And so I make a decree, that all those of the people of Israel, and their priests and the Levites, in my realm, who are minded of their own free will to go to Jerusalem, go with you.’
This is the second decree of which we know (compare Ezra 1:3) by which Israelites informed that they were officially allowed to return to their homeland. It includes any of ‘the people of Israel, and their priests and the Levites’ a phrase which parallels the main divisions in chapter 2. For ‘the people of Israel’ compare Ezra 2:2; Ezra 9:1; Nehemiah 7:7. See also Ezra 2:70. In contrast ‘the children of Israel’ unqualified always means the whole of the returnees, including priests and Levites (Ezra 3:11; Ezra 6:16, Ezra 6:21; Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 7:73; Nehemiah 9:1), or the whole of Israel (Nehemiah 8:14; Nehemiah 8:17; Nehemiah 13:2), except in the one case where it is qualified by ‘some’ (Ezra 7:7). There is one exception in Nehemiah 10:39 where the children of Israel are paralleled with the children of Levi in bringing the priests’ heave offering to the Temple, but that was necessary in consequence of the telescoping of the passage. The children of Israel brought the tithes to the Levites in their cities, but brought their heave offerings to the priests when they offered sacrifices. It was the Levites who then brought their tithe of the tithes to the priests as a heave offering (Numbers 18:24). It is striking that in Artaxerxes’ letter we should find the phrase ‘the people of Israel’ used as indicating one of the three groups, as distinguished from the priest and the Levites, something which suggests that Ezra had a hand in what the letter contained.
But for any who returned it was to be totally of their own freewill. There was to be no enforced repatriation, although the decision would be in the hands of the adult men.
‘Forasmuch as you are sent by the king and his seven counsellors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of your God which is in your hand,’
The king emphasises that Ezra has been sent ‘by the king and his seven counsellors’, that is, his inner court. Compare Esther 1:14 where the seven ‘saw the king’s face and sat first in the kingdom’. They are also spoken of by Herodotus and Xenophon. There could be no greater authority.
Ezra was commissioned by this inner counsel of the king of Persia, to investigate the situation in Judah and Jerusalem in order to ensure that they were conforming to ‘the Law of God which is in your hand’. This makes clear that he had received disturbing reports from somewhere which suggested that all was not well with the worship of Judah and Jerusalem, which might well, in his view, have invalidated or weakened their prayers for the life of the king. It explains why Ezra dealt so severely with the matter of foreign wives, for the point was not that they were foreign, but that they were encouraging the worship of foreign gods (Ezra 9:1). The very purpose that Persia had in ensuring the rebuilding of the Temple on its sacred site was in order to please the God of Heaven (Ezra 6:3-10). They did not want this to be rendered ineffective by wrong ritual behaviour.
‘The Law of God which is in your hand.’ This probably simply signifies that as a priest and son of Aaron he was seen as being versed in the Law of God, because every legitimate priest had ‘the Law of God in his hand’. This was now the priest’s purpose in Exile. To teach the Law of God. This may indeed have been the significance, at least as seen by the priests of Ezra’s day, of the enigmatic phrase ‘to fill the hand’. The phrase is connected in the Law of God with the consecration of the Levitical priests. In Exodus 28:41, God instructs Moses: “you shall anoint [Aaron and his sons], and fill their hand, and consecrate them, and they shall function as priests for me.” See also Exodus 29:9; Exodus 29:33; Exodus 29:35; Leviticus 8:33; Leviticus 16:32; Leviticus 21:10; Numbers 3:3. This was no longer possible among the Dispersion in Ezra’s day. Whatever was signified may well therefore have been replaced by the Law of God.
‘And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwellingplace is in Jerusalem, and all the silver and gold that you will 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,’
Ezra’s next responsibility was to carry to Jerusalem the gifts which the king and his counsellors were freely offering to the God of Israel who dwelt there. This can be compared with Ezra 6:8-10. It was a sincere offering to ‘the God of Israel’ (a name which again hints at Jewish influence on the contents of the letter), although clearly with a view to obtaining his favour. While the counsellors were to be seen as ‘freely offering’ it is doubtful if they could have done much else. To have refused would have been seen as wishing ill on the king.
The king also envisages them receiving gifts throughout all the province of Babylon. This would include contributions from various of the aristocracy (‘the princes’ - Ezra 8:25), and members of the Jewish population. Furthermore there would be a receiving of gold and silver as a freewill offering, both from the ordinary people and from the priests, as gifts for the house of their God in Jerusalem. ‘Their God’ makes clear that it was mainly Jews who were in mind. Some, however, see ‘all the silver and the gold that you will find in all the province of Babylon’ as referring to gifts from non-Jews, but, apart from the aristocracy under pressure from the king (Ezra 8:25), it does not say so, although some may well have been willing to give in hope of benefiting from the blessing of the God of Heaven.
‘Therefore you shall with all diligence buy with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meal-offerings and their drink-offerings, and shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem.’
The first use of these riches will be to buy bullocks, rams, lambs, grain and wine so that with all due diligence they might make offerings on the altar in the house of their God at Jerusalem.
‘And whatever shall seem good to you and to your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do you after the will of your God.’
But it was recognised that the riches provided were to be far more than could be spent sensibly on the daily offerings, and the remainder was therefore at the disposal of Ezra and his brother priests for them to do with it what seemed good to them in accordance with the will of God. They would know best what was required by their God. There may be in mind, among other things, the adorning of the Temple itself (which would explain the reference to Artaxerxes in Ezra 6:14), and possibly special festivities for celebrating their arrival in Jerusalem.
‘And the vessels which are given you for the service of the house of your God, do you deliver before the God of Jerusalem.’
These vessels were probably the gift of Artaxerxes, given by him so at to earn the approbation of ‘the God of Jerusalem’. They were intended for service in the house of Ezra’s God, and he was to deliver them before God on his behalf. The next verse may suggest that Artaxerxes had learned from his Jewish advisers that there was a shortage of vessels in the Temple, possibly due to the fact that not all the Temple vessels and been preserved, and thus given back.
‘And whatever more shall be needful for the house of your God, which you shall have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king’s treasure-house.’
Furthermore if there was anything else needed in the house of God which Ezra felt that it was necessary in some way to obtain so that he could bestow it on the Temple, he was, within broad limits, to bestow it on the Temple from the king’s treasury. And to this end he included in his letter a copy of a letter addressed to the king’s treasurers in Beyond the River, the details of which are now provided in Ezra 7:21-22. The inclusion of one letter within another in this way has been evidenced in external sources.
The Letter To The Treasurers In Beyond The River A Copy Of Which Is Included in Artaxerxes Letter (Ezra 7:21-24).
It will be noted that there is in these verses an opening address, followed by the detail of what is required. All that is missing is Darius’ final signing off. The treasurers would need to be informed about the decreed freedom from taxation of the Temple staff. It will be noted that Ezra the Priest is given his official title, ‘the Scribe of the Law of the God of Heaven’.
‘And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers who are in Beyond the River, that whatever 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.’
In this letter Artaxerxes informs his treasurers in Beyond The River of the decrees that he has made. The first is that they will fulfil all Ezra the Priest’s requirements as Scribe of the Law of the God of Heaven, both with regard to money, and with regard to wheat (for grain offerings), wine (for drink offerings), oil (to supplement offerings and to maintain the Temple lamps) and salt (for adding to offerings), up to the limits stated. In the case of the provisions it has been calculated that they would provide sufficient supplies for the Temple for two years, at which point it would be up to Ezra to apply for an extension.
In the case of the silver, which is a comparatively huge amount, it would provide more than ample to meet all Ezra’s needs. It should, however, be noted that this is a cap or limit, not a statement of amounts to be paid over. (Compare how your credit card limit might be £10,000. That does not mean that you expect to spend £10,000 every month, and indeed you may never spend that amount in a month). Thus in the case of the silver the idea is not that Ezra should spend so much, but that if he needed it, it would be available. Ezra would still have to give account for what he did spend. The intention is to make available a comparatively unlimited supply of silver to meet his requirements and telling the treasurers not to put any limit on what he could demand up to this theoretical limit. The silver would be for the purchase of sacrificial animals, and in order to cover any special requirements that the Temple might have, ‘to beautify the house of YHWH’ (Ezra 7:27), where these could not be met out of the gifts described above in Ezra 7:15-16.
‘A hundred talents of silver.’ If Herodotus is correct the total tax levied on the whole of Beyond the River for a year was three hundred and fifty talents, although of course revenues would also be obtained in other ways (see in Ezra 7:23 ‘tribute, customs duty and rent’). Thus accepting the two years mentioned above, after which Ezra could apply for an extension, one seventh of a two year levy was to be available to Ezra if it was required (the assumption being that much of it would not be). A ‘measure’ (cor) was roughly 220 litres, a bath roughly 22 litres. Only a small amount of salt was required for each sacrifice (the salt of the covenant) and thus no limit was put on it.
‘Whatever 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 realm of the king and his sons?’
Artaxerxes was concerned that the God of Heaven should be pleased with the offerings offered to Him. Thus whatever He commanded concerning His house was to be done. And his purpose was to avoid His wrath, whether through invading armies or natural disaster. As Tattenai had pointed out to Darius, the God of Heaven was prone to exercise His wrath through invading armies (Ezra 5:12). Thus He had a reputation among the Persians.
‘We also certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, the singers, gate-keepers, Nethinim, or servants of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, customs duty, or rent, on them.’
All who served in the Temple were to be exempt from all tribute, customs duty and rent. The exemption from tribute would, however, have to be made up by other members of the community for, as we have seen above, the province was required to pay a fixed total amount. Such an exemption is paralleled elsewhere. We can compare how Darius wrote to a certain Gadatas condemning him for having ‘exacted tribute from the sacred cultivators of Apollo’ at Magnesia.
The details concerning those who served in the Temple would have been provided by Jewish advisers or by Ezra himself. The reference to ‘servants’ presumably has in mind the ‘servants of Solomon’ (Ezra 2:55). We can understand why a Persian scribe would not see ‘of Solomon’ as being relevant.
The Appointment Of Judges And The Levels Of Punishment Permitted (Ezra 7:25-26).
‘And you, Ezra, after the wisdom of your God which is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges, who may judge all the people who are in Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God, and teach you him who does not know them.’
Ezra was also to appoint magistrates and judges who were to judge ‘all such as know the laws of your God’ in Beyond The River, that is, those who saw themselves as members of the covenant with YHWH. There may have been complaints from the returnees and those who had united with them in the pure worship of YHWH that the judges appointed in the area of Beyond the River so little understood the Law of God that they were unable to judge on important matters, and were indeed unable to judge them fairly. This would very much explain why Ezra was being sent to establish a new group of magistrates and judges who both knew the Law of God and knew the law of the king. They would then be able to judge on all matters related to the community.
It may also be that Artaxerxes had also learned of serious disquiet among the community of returnees concerning certain things which needed to be remedied if their prayers in the Temple were to be effective. This comes out later with regard to the issue of foreign wives who were introducing idolatry among the returnees, thus bringing great displeasure to the God of Heaven, something no doubt drawn to Artaxerxes attention by his Jewish advisers. They may well have stressed that God would not hear their prayers for the king while such things were going on.
But a number of people had joined the community additionally to the returnees (Ezra 6:21), and where some of these among the community might be ignorant of the laws of God, Ezra was to teach them accordingly. Law and order was difficult if people did not know what was required of them. Thus Ezra was to be both a teacher and a judge in the community, setting up a panel of magistrates and judges to oversee the judicial needs of the community.
The area described as Beyond the River was widespread. It included people of many nations, many of whom would have had no knowledge of YHWH. It is inconceivable that the kings of Persia, who so favoured people looking to their ancient gods, would have sought to turn them to Yahwism. So it is quite clear that Artaxerxes’ statements have to be interpreted of those who did see themselves as committed to the Law of God.
‘After the wisdom of God which is in your hand.’ In Ezra 7:14 it was ‘the Law of God which was in his hand’. This appears to confirm that by ‘the wisdom of God’ Artaxerxes means His Law, indicating the great respect that he had for it.
‘And whoever will not do the law of your God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed on him with all diligence, whether it be to death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.’
Ezra was made responsible, not only to ensure that the law of God was obeyed, but also the law of the king. He thus had religious and civil responsibility, a combination that Jews of course constantly had to face up to when they were living outside the land. The severer of the punishments then listed were possibly in respect of the law of the king, although the Law of God certainly demanded the death penalty for certain gross sins such as murder and adultery. He and his judges were given quite awesome powers. These included the right to pass the death penalty, the right to order banishment, the right to confiscate goods, and the right to imprison. The actual carrying out of the punishment would no doubt be by the Persian authorities.
This putting of local religious law on a par with the law of the king appears to have been a Persian policy. In 519 BC Darius instructed the Egyptian satrap to gather ‘wise men’ among ‘the warriors, priests and scribes of Egypt’ so that they may ‘set down in writing the ancient laws of Egypt’. This could only have been in order for these laws to be in some way incorporated into the legal system in Egypt.
(End of Aramaic section).
Ezra Expresses His Appreciation To YHWH (Ezra 7:27-28).
From this point on we have a passage (Ezra 7:27 to Ezra 9:15) where Ezra uses the first person singular in what are often called ‘The Ezra Memoirs’. But it is quite clear that Ezra 7:27-28 connect back with what has gone before from Ezra 7:1. This has caused many to see that Ezra 7:1-11 must also have mainly been based on Ezra’s memoirs, if indeed they were not the work of Ezra himself. Certainly the inclusion of the decree of Artaxerxes in Aramaic must be seen as the work of Ezra, for Ezra 7:27-28 assume it. It can therefore be reasonably argued that the writer’s faithfulness to his sources points to Ezra’s authorship from Ezra 7:1 onwards in spite of the use of the third person (which regularly occurs in Scripture as used by writers when referring to themselves). And this being so there is good reason for arguing that the accumulation of all that has gone before, and the faithful use of sources, including the citing in Aramaic of the various decrees, is also the work of Ezra.
‘Blessed be YHWH, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of YHWH which is in Jerusalem,’
Ezra gives praise to YHWH for having put it into the king’s heart to beautify the house of YHWH in Jerusalem. He thus sees this as one of the main emphases of the decree. As he was given permission to use surplus monies in any way that he felt suitable (Ezra 7:18) it indicates that this is one of the things that he would have majored on. This would explain why he saw Artaxerxes as one of those involved with enabling the completion of the Temple (Ezra 6:14).
‘And has extended covenant love to me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes.’
He also sees YHWH as having extended ‘covenant love’ towards him before the king, his chief advisers, and all his mighty princes. He recognised that it was YHWH Who had put it into their hearts in order to give him the authority to do all these things.
The List Of The Names Of Those Who Gathered In Order To Go With Ezra From Babylon (Ezra 7:28 to Ezr_8:14).
Having been given permission by Artaxerxes to take with him on his mission all Israelites who freely and voluntarily wanted to return to their own land, Ezra gathered together to go with him ‘chief men out of Israel’ who fitted into that category. This time the situation was a little different from the time of Cyrus, for now there was a settled community which would receive them, and there was a functioning Temple in Jerusalem. Along with these chief men were many who were related to them, being of the same clan. The details of those who were going is listed, and once again it is only the adult males who are numbered. Significantly the priests and the Davidides (who were intercessory priests (Psalms 110:4; 2 Samuel 8:18) and had a special place in Temple worship in Ezekiel) are not numbered. The same applied to the Levites in Numbers 1:47. This points to this list having been prepared by a priest, and therefore probably Ezra. Such a list would necessarily have been made by Ezra once they had all gathered at the river (or canal) of Ahava (Ezra 7:15) in preparation for the journey.
The numbering from which the Levites (and therefore the priests) were excluded in Numbers 1 was the list of those available for military service. Ezra may well have seen the planned journey as a military operation, with the adult males required to defend the caravan. From this priests would be excluded.
This list differs from that in Ezra 2 in that it commences with priestly representatives, followed by a Davidide, followed by the names of twelve families of which the names of their chief men are given (although there are more than twelve chief men. See Ezra 7:13-14). It has been suggested that twelve groups were chosen in order to represent them as paralleling the twelve tribes of Israel returning to their land as at the Exodus (compare Numbers 1:5-43). See the note below on Ezra 7:28 b for the Exodus motif. We can compare this with the twelve chief men in Ezra 2:2 (if we include Sheshbazzar as suggested).
‘And I was strengthened according to the hand of YHWH my God upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.’
We note that Ezra saw himself as strengthened by the hand of YHWH his God upon him. He may well have seen himself as paralleling Moses for whom YHWH would put forth His hand (Exodus 3:20) and who was very much strengthened by the hand of YHWH (Exodus 4:1-17; Exodus 13:3; Exodus 13:14), and who numbered the adult males of the people in readiness to go forward (Numbers 1:1-4), and also Joshua who was entering a new country with the Law of God in his hand and knew himself to be strengthened by YHWH (Joshua 1:1-9). And the consequence was that Ezra gathered together the chief men of Israel to go with him, as Moses had so long before (Exodus 4:29; Numbers 1:5-17).
‘Now these are the heads of their fathers’ (houses), and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king:’
Notice the ‘me’. Ezra is here speaking in the first person, of those who went with him from Babylon. For ‘the heads of their fathers’ compare Ezra 1:5 where it spoke of those who took part in the initial return. Note that in this case their genealogy is specifically said to be given. ‘In the reign of Artaxerxes the king’ underlines the name of his royal benefactor.
Two branches of priests are described, representing the two sons of Aaron who were left after his first two sons were slain for offering false incense (Leviticus 10:1-2).
‘Of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom.’
Phinehas was the son of Eliezer, who was the third son of Aaron (Numbers 25:11; 1 Chronicles 6:50). Gershom was the name of one of the sons of Moses (Exodus 2:22), and of one of the sons of Levi (1 Chronicles 6:10). It had now been taken by the current head of the house of Phinehas. He had probably died by the time Nehemiah’s covenant was sealed as he was not a sealant. He was presumably a head of his father’s house (Ezra 7:1). Note that the priests are not numbered (see Numbers 1:47). That there were a number of them comes out in Ezra 8:24 where twelve are chosen to watch over the money and vessels destined for the Temple. The reason for not numbering them is that they were sacred to YHWH and not seen as part of those available to fight, the latter being more dispensable.
‘Of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel.’
Ithamar was the fourth son of Aaron (Exodus 6:23; 1 Corinthians 6:3). Daniel was the chief man of the house descended from him. He was one of those who sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:6). There was also a Daniel who was one of David’s sons (1 Chronicles 3:1), and of course there was the famous prophet who traditionally wrote the book of Daniel was named Daniel. It was thus a popular name. Again the priests are not numbered.
The House Of David.
-3a ‘Of the sons of David, Hattush, of the sons of Shecaniah.’
David was, of course, the king of Israel of that name. Hattush was his descendant and may well be the Hattush mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:22, who was there described as ‘of the sons of Shecaniah’. This Hattush was probably the one who sealed the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:6), although there was an Hattush who was a priest who went up to Judah with Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:2). The importance of the mention of this name is that it indicates that there was a Davidide among the later returnees. Amongst the earlier ones, of course, was Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2). There may have been others among the sons of Bethlehem (Ezra 2:21). The moving of ‘from the sons of Shecaniah’ to follow Hattush does not alter the original text, it fits the pattern that follows and it ties in with 1 Chronicles 3:22. As with the priests, his family are not numbered. This may be because they were seen as intercessory ‘priests after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalms 110:4; compare 2 Samuel 8:18).
The Chief Men.
‘Of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah, and with him were reckoned by genealogy of the males a hundred and fifty.’
The sons of Parosh are the ones mentioned first of ‘the males of the people of Israel’ (Ezra 2:3). A further one hundred and fifty will now join them. Zechariah was chief man among them. Unusually his father is not named, but compare Ezra 7:13-14. The fact that in the next few verses the numbers end in nought suggests that the numbers are round numbers.
‘Of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah, and with him two hundred males.’
Sons of Pahath-moab are mentioned in Ezra 2:6 as having returned with Zerubbabel. These will therefore join them in the community. Eliehoenai was the chief man among the new arrivals, and he brought with him two hundred males.
‘Of the sons of Shecaniah, Ben-Jahaziel, and with him three hundred males.’
No sons of Shecaniah are mentioned as having returned with Zerubbabel, but it is possible that there were some with him who were named under the name of their city, or it may be that none had then chosen to return. The name of their chief man may therefore have been Ben-Jahaziel (compare Bar-timaeus - Mark 10:46), in which case there would be no need to name his father who was, of course, Jahaziel.
Alternately it may be that a name has been accidentally omitted. On this basis some have suggested emendation to ‘of the sons of Zattu, Shecaniah the son of Jahaziel’ (Zattu having dropped out) which would find partial support in the apocryphal 1 Esdras 8:32. But that in itself might have been an attempt to solve what it saw as a problem, something which the writer of 1 Esdras tended to do. Even then 1 Esdras has Zathoes, which does not agree with its own rendering of Zattu as Zathui (1 Esdras 5:12).
Shecaniah was a very popular name. It is the name of priest who returned with Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:3) It is the name of the chief of the tenth course of priests under David (1 Chronicles 24:11). It is the name of a priest during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 31:15). It is the name of one of the sons of Elam who supported Ezra in dealing with the problem of marrying foreign wives (Ezra 10:2). A Shecaniah is the father of Shemaiah, the keeper of the East Gate, in Nehemiah 3:29. Another was the father-in-law of Tobiah the Ammonite (Nehemiah 6:18). And we have already seen a Shecaniah mentioned above in Ezra 7:3.
‘And of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him fifty males.’
Sons of Adin had arrived with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:15). They were now being joined by other members of their family under the headship of Ebed, the son of Jonathan, who brought with him fifty males.
And of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him seventy males.’
Sons of Elam had arrived with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:7) and they were now being joined by more members of the family under the headship of Jeshaiah, the son of Athaliah,
‘And of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him eighty males.’
Sons of Shephatiah had arrived with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:4). They were now being joined by other members of their family under the headship of Zebediah, the son of Michael. The sons of both Adin and Shephatiah are in a different order from Ezra 2 confirming that one list has not just been built up from the other.
‘Of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him two hundred and eighteen males.’
Sons of Joab, a son of Pahath-moab, had arrived with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:6). They would now be joined by two hundred and eighteen males and their families, under the headship of Obadiah, the son of Jehiel. The reason for their distinctive mention here may be because for some reason they had achieved more importance and therefore now liked to see themselves as separate from the other sons of Pahath-moab.
‘And of the sons of Shelomith, Ben-Josiphiah, and with him a hundred and sixty males.’
There were no sons of Shelomith mentioned among the arrivals under Zerubbabel, but they may well have been named under the name of their town. They arrived under the headship of Ben-josiphiah. Compare comments on Ezra 7:5.
Shelomith was a popular name with both men and women. It was the name of the mother of a man who was stoned for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:11), and of a daughter of Zerubbabel (1 Chronicles 3:19). It was the name of one of the sons of the priest Izhar (1 Chronicles 23:18).
An emendation has been suggested here to ‘of the sons of Bani, Shelomith, the son of (ben) Josiphiah’, on the basis of 1 Esdras 8:36, although the latter has Banias, whilst 1 Esdras 5:14 has Bani. 1 Esdras would appear to be trying to achieve conformity. The same stricture applies as in Ezra 7:5.
‘And of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai; and with him twenty eight males.’
Sons of Bebai had arrived under Zerubbabel in Ezra 2:11. They were now joined by other members of their family under the headship of Zechariah, the son of Bebai. They share with the sons of Joab (Ezra 7:9) the distinction of not being a round number. This latter Bebai was a different Bebai, carrying on the family name.
‘And of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him a hundred and ten males.’
Sons of Azgad had arrived in two different groups on the first return (see on Ezra 2:12). Their number is now further increased here under the headship of Johanan, the son of Hakkatan. Johanan was a popular Jewish name..
‘And of the sons of Adonikam, the last, and these are their names: Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, and with them sixty males.’
Sons of Adonikam had returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:13). The reference here to them as the last’ may indicate that now all the sons of Adonikam had returned. Three chief men are named and the names of their fathers are omitted. This must be seen as surprising in itself (although compare Ezra 7:3 b), but interestingly 1 Esdras concurs. In view of the changes by the writer of 1 Esdras elsewhere one may feel that the author could think of no explanation. This must throw doubt on his other changes. The reference to ‘with them’ confirms the plurality of chief men.
‘And of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud, and with them (literally ‘him’) seventy males.’
Sons of Bigvai had arrived with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:14). These will now add to them. There were two chief men over them, Uthai and Zabbud. Again their fathers’ names are not given. In view of the ‘with him’ (in contrast to ‘with them’ in Ezra 7:13) it has been suggested that ‘ben’ (son) has dropped out and been replaced by waw (‘and’), but there is no other evidence to support this. We would then read ‘Uthai the son of Zabbud’. But against this it can be claimed:
1) That the families in Ezra 7:13-14 came last in the list precisely because they had multiple chief men.
2) That while 1 Esdras, characteristically of the writer’s methods, reduces the chief men to one, it gives a very different name for the father (‘Uthi the son of Istalcarus’).
3) That we could argue that ‘with him’ indicates that Zabbud was the most important of the two sons, the ‘with him’ simply referring to Zabbud.
4) That ‘with him’ simply sees the two men as a unit, possibly because they were twins. Even if they were not, the writer may well have thought that he could reasonably present two chief men as a unit, while feeling it unsuitable when there were three.
5) Some Hebrew MSS and versions do have ‘with them’ (it would, however, be an obvious correction).
So those gathered with Ezra included two priests, one from each of the surviving branches of Aaron’s sons (a large proportion of priests had already gone back), a Davidide, and twelve representative family groups, possibly numerically representing the twelve tribes of Israel, thus covering every aspect of Israel’s life. That other priests accompanied the two mentioned is apparent from Ezra 7:24. But, as became priests, they were not ‘numbered’.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezra 7". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany