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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ezra 8

Verses 1-14

The List Of The Names Of Those Who Gathered In Order To Go With Ezra From Babylon ( Ezra 7:28 to Ezra 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 1:0 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 2:0 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).

Ezra 7:28

‘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).

Ezra 8:1

‘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.

The Priests.

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).

Ezra 8:2

‘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.

Ezra 8:2

‘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.

Ezra 8:2

-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.

Ezra 8:3

‘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.

Ezra 8:4

‘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.

Ezra 8:5

‘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 1Es 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 ( 1EEsther 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.

Ezra 8:6

‘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.

Ezra 8:7

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,

Ezra 8:8

‘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 2:0 confirming that one list has not just been built up from the other.

Ezra 8:9

‘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.

Ezra 8:10

‘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 1Es 8:36 , although the latter has Banias, whilst 1EEsther 5:14 has Bani. 1 Esdras would appear to be trying to achieve conformity. The same stricture applies as in Ezra 7:5.

Ezra 8:11

‘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.

Ezra 8:12

‘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..

Ezra 8:13

‘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.

Ezra 8:14

‘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’.

Verses 15-20

Ezra Discovers That No Levites Have Joined The Returnees And Makes Arrangements For Some To Join The Party (Ezra 8:15-20 ).

Gathering his party together at the Canal which runs to Ahava, which was probably an important caravan junction (possibly Strabo’s ‘Scenae’), Ezra reviewed those who were present, both of priests and of people, and discovered no Levites among them. Possibly in view of the already small number of Levites who had previously returned (Ezra 2:40), possibly in order to make the caravan a mirror image of the Exodus (although he could hardly have used this as an argument in order to persuade the Levites to go with him from their comfortable lives in Babylonia), and probably because they would be needed to carry the Temple vessels, he then proceeded to take measures in order to add some to his party.

Ezra 8:15

‘And I gathered them together to the river or canal) which runs 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.’

Babylon itself was surrounded by rivers and canals, and this was probably a recognised assembly spot for caravans. Some identify it with Strabo’s ‘Scenae’, an important caravan junction near Babylon. Whilst they were encamped there ‘for three days’ (i.e. a few days) Ezra, as caravan leader, reviewed the people and the priests who were with him. Note the usual distinction between ‘people’ and ‘priests’. ‘Levites’ are notably missing as soon became obvious to Ezra.

Ezra 8:16

‘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, (these were) chief men. And for Joiarib, and for Elnathan, who were ‘men of discretion.’

Noting the absence of Levites Ezra chose out some important men whom he could send to remedy the need, for Levites would be required in order to carry the sacred Temple vessels. It was to Levites that God had given that privilege in the Law of Moses. Nine of these were ‘chief men’, and therefore men of influence, and two were ‘men of discretion’. This last phrase may have been used to describe men who had a special gift of friendly persuasion. If the idea was to see them as priests why did he not follow his usual method of distinguishing people and priests? (In Ezra 8:18 a, a Levite is a ‘man of discretion’). The importance of those in the delegation would be in order to impress those to whom they were going. The necessity for ‘persuaders’ indicated the sensitivity of the task in hand. It is possible that the ‘men of discretion’ were in fact the Jarib (Joiarib is an alternative rendering of Jarib) and Elnathan already mentioned but now defined. Note that there are two (or three) Elnathans and one Nathan. Nathan means ‘given’, Elnathan ‘given by God’. It was probably a popular name among the Exiles as indicating that even in their Exile God had not forgotten them but had ‘given’ them heirs.

Of the nine men here designated as ‘chief men’, the names of Eliezer, Shemaiah, Jarib, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam occur again in Ezra 10:15; Ezra 10:18-31, where they are connected with the taking of ‘foreign wives’, although we cannot necessarily assume that they are the same men.

Ezra 8:17

‘And I sent them forth to Iddo the chief man at the place Casiphia, and I told them what they should say to Iddo, his brothers, the Nethinim, at the place Casiphia, that they should bring unto us servants for the house of our God.’

These chief men were sent to ‘Iddo, the chief man at the place (maqowm) Casiphia’. Casiphia was clearly a place where Ezra knew that many Levites would be found. The word maqowm is regularly connected with sacred sanctuaries (see our commentary on Deuteronomy 12:0), and here it is clear that it is a place where the Levites were to be found in numbers, but seemingly not priests (otherwise they would surely have been approached). It may suggest, not so much that Casiphia contained a specific sanctuary (otherwise priests would have been there), but that the Levites had made it a Levitical city so that it was seen as a place for gathering for worship and religious guidance (note how the Levites participate in teaching and prayer in Nehemiah 8:7-8; Nehemiah 9:4 ff.; etc.), especially now that so few priests remained (note the number who had gone with Zerubbabel in chapter 2). Some relate the name to ‘ceseph’ = silver, money, and 1Es 8:45 has ‘the place of the treasury’. LXX has literally ‘the rulers of the money of the place’ which indicates the same idea. Thus it may also have been a place where tithes and/or freewill offerings were gathered by the Levites in order to assist the poor and needy among the exiles (see Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

‘To Iddo, his brothers, the Nethinim’. In other words to Iddo, to his brothers the Levites, and to the Temple servants, over all of whom Iddo was head. ‘Brother’ is singular but must clearly be seen as a compound singular indicating his family of brothers, or be repointed as a plural using the same consonantal text.

‘That they should bring unto us servants for the house of our God.’ That it says ‘they’ and not ‘he’ demonstrates that it was calling for voluntary response from the Levites. It was an honoured service to which they were being called. They were to be YHWH’s servants, His inheritance. And they would be needed in order to bear the sacred Temple vessels. But we can understand why men who were free to live life as they liked, balked at the idea of becoming restricted to lowly service in the Temple. Exile would have given them a new perspective. This was no doubt why not one of them had responded to Ezra’s original call.

‘Our God.’ The continual repetition of these words (see Ezra 8:18; Ezra 8:21-23; Ezra 8:25; Ezra 8:30-31; Ezra 8:33) may suggest that Ezra was writing a report for the eyes of king Artaxerxes, or his underlings, ‘our God’ being used in order to make clear that it was the God of Israel to Whom they had been responsible, and on behalf of Whom they had acted.

Ezra 8:18

‘And according to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of discretion, from the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel,’

‘They brought us a man of discretion.’ Presumably the Levites and Nethinim came together in order to discuss who should respond to the call of God, for it was ‘they’ who, as a result of ‘the good hand of our God upon us’, brought to his representatives a number of Levites and Nethinim who were willing to respond to his call. These were headed by a worthy man of ‘the sons of Mahli, who was the son of Levi, who was the son of Israel’. The ‘son of Israel’ may simply signify ‘a true Israelite’. Alternatively it might be seen as stressing his descent from the man who was transformed as a result of meeting God at the Brook Jabbok as he journeyed to the land of promise, (in the same way as they were proposing to do) when Jacob became Israel (Genesis 32:28). Mahli was in fact a son of Merari, and grandson to Levi (Exodus 6:19; Numbers 3:20).

Ezra 8:18

‘Namely Sherebiah, with his sons and his brothers, eighteen,’

‘The man of discretion was unnamed, and as that is unlikely it presumably referred to Sherebiah, the first named, who came with his sons and his kinsmen, numbering eighteen in all. The name Sherebiah occurs regularly in Ezra/ Nehemiah. See Ezra 8:24 where it refers to him as one of those to whom the treasures were entrusted for the journey. Furthermore in Nehemiah 8:7 a Sherebiah is one of the Levites who taught the Law; in Nehemiah 9:4-5 he participated in prayer and worship; and in Nehemiah 10:12 he was one of those who sealed Nehemiah’s covenant, indicating his important status. These references probably refer to this man. In Nehemiah 12:8 there is a Sherebiah who was a chief of the Levites, who accompanied Zerubbabel, possibly his grandfather.

Ezra 8:19

‘And Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, his brothers and their sons, twenty,’

Along with Sherebiah came Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah, a Merarite, along with his kinsmen and their sons. Hashabiah, like Sherebiah, was also the name of one of those to whom gold was entrusted for the journey (Ezra 8:24). In Nehemiah 3:17 a Hashabiah, who was a Levite, and was ruler over half of Keilah, worked on the wall being built by Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 12:24 Hashabiah, a chief of the Levites, along with Sherebiah and Jeshua, was of those who offered praise and thanksgiving. These may all have been the same Heshabiah. But that Hashabiah was a popular name comes out in its mention in 1 Chronicles 6:45; 1Ch 9:14 ; 1 Chronicles 25:3; 1 Chronicles 27:17; 2 Chronicles 35:9; Nehemiah 11:15; Nehemiah 11:22; Nehemiah 12:21.

This Jeshaiah and his kinsmen were ‘sons of Merari’ who was a son of Levi. The name Jeshaiah is also found as the ‘son’ of Hananiah, who was the son of Zerubbabel (1 Chronicles 3:21; as a "son" of Jeduthun, and like him a temple musician (1 Chronicles 25:3; 1 Chronicles 25:15); as a Levite, ancestor of Shelemoth, one of David's treasurers (1 Chronicles 26:25); as a descendant of Elam; who went with Ezra from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:7); and as a Benjamite who was the ancestor of Sallu in Nehemiah 11:7.

So thirty eight Levites demonstrated their willingness to accompany Ezra which, considering the short time being allowed, would have been very encouraging. (There were apparently only nine days, that is from the first of the month to the twelfth of the month, after taking into account the three days of review - Ezra 7:9; Ezra 8:15; Ezra 8:21). They would be later be joining the Levites who had come up with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:40).

Ezra 8:20

‘And of the Nethinim, whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim.’

Of the Nethinim, who had been gifts of the Davidic house (‘David’ often indicates the Davidic house) for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty volunteered to go with Ezra. The large number may suggest that they felt that they had little to lose, and they would be required to watch over the bearing of the treasures as assistants to the Levites.

Ezra 8:20

‘All of them were mentioned by name.’

This probably indicates that the names of the volunteering Levites and Nethinim were listed, although it might have been by a public roll-call. To be mentioned by name regularly indicated praise and approval. This mentioning by name explains how we know their numbers, for as the priests had not been numbered we would expect the same of the Levites. But that numbering was of those who, among other factors, were available to guard the caravan. The naming and numbering here had nothing to do with that. It was in respect of who was volunteering to go with Ezra to Jerusalem. It will be noted that in Numbers 1-4, whilst the Levites were excluded from the numbering of the adult males for the purpose of being available to fight, they are later numbered with regard to their service. So the same thing happens here.

Verses 21-23

Ezra Gathers The Returnees In Order To Pray For Their Safety On The Journey (Ezra 8:21-23 ).

The people who were returning with Ezra having all gathered (although it may have commenced before the Levites and Nethinim arrived) Ezra proclaimed a fast so that they could effectively pray for a safe journey.

Ezra 8:21

‘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.’

The people who had gathered for the journey had had about twelve days to get themselves organised for it, and towards the end of that period Ezra proclaimed a fast where they were at the river Ahava so that they could humble themselves before God, praying for their journey to be a safe one and to be relatively unhindered. Fasting had always been a way of expressing humility and recognition of unworthiness at difficult and dangerous times, and no more so than at this period (compare Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; Isaiah 58:3; Joel 1:8; Joel 1:14; Joel 2:12-17; Nehemiah 9:1; Esther 4:3; Esther 4:16). This is the first mention that we have of ‘little ones’ but it is a reminder that that all those who returned who were married would have with them families and little ones. He was also concerned because he knew that they were taking large amounts of gold and silver with them, to say nothing of their own possessions. It was going to be a large caravan. Such a trip always produced its own difficulties, and it was going to be a great temptation to large bands of brigands, who tended to watch the trade routes. This may have been one reason why the men of Israel had been ‘numbered’.

Ezra 8:22

‘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 to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is on all those who seek him, for good; but his power and his wrath is against all those who forsake him.’

He could, of course, have asked the king for an escort (the king had promised him every assistance). But he was ashamed to do so because of the way in which he had boasted to the king of how the hand of God would be with them. In the face of that asking for military help would have seemed to him as a betrayal that would cast doubt on the faithfulness of God. The narrative demonstrates what often happens when men cast themselves on God and take a step of faith. They can go through periods of apprehension and wondering why they had done it. Not all have such faith that they never have a moment of doubt. It is an encouragement to us that Ezra, the great man of faith, should also have experienced doubts. But even without the escort they had over 1500 men of fighting age and over, who were available to act as guards, and a good number of older teenagers who would also be able to carry weapons, no doubt all showing themselves on the edges of the caravan. We are not told what animals were available but it is probably safe to assume that Ezra was not averse to asking for horses for his guards, in which case they would at least appear to be a formidable fighting force. A further factor that would have given him some assurance was that the network of roads maintained by the Persian authorities were regularly watched over by protective patrols.

His boast to the king had been that Israel’s God had His hand on all who sought Him, for good, whilst His power and wrath were revealed against all evildoers. If it were true then it should ensure that the godly caravan was protected, whilst any adversaries would be routed. To have asked for an escort would have belittled God. Note how he sees all evildoers as forsaking God, although he may well have had in mind regular prayers for protection found in the Psalms. But he was still clearly apprehensive of the possibility of ‘liers-in-wait’ (Ezra 8:31).

In contrast to Ezra, Nehemiah was delighted to have an escort provided by the king (Nehemiah 2:9). This is to see the distinction between two godly men, one of whom was a priest and the other a believing politician. In neither case is blame attached to the decision. It is a reminder that God works with His own in multiple ways, while not despising practical common sense. Ezra’s faith proved justified. Nehemiah’s was equally justified. Of course Nehemiah was going to Jerusalem as Governor, and was probably accompanied by Persian officials. The king would have looked askance on him if he had chosen the same route as Ezra with regard to an escort.

Ezra 8:23

‘So we fasted and besought our God for this, and he was entreated of us.’

So they fasted and prayed earnestly, and came to a place where they were confident that God had heard them, and the future would prove them right.

Verses 24-30

Ezra Entrusts The Gifts For The House Of YHWH Into The Hands Of Twelve Chief Priests For Them To Guard On The Journey (Ezra 8:24-30 ).

It is never right to use faith as an excuse for foolishness. So having committed everything to God, and having obtained assurance of His protection, he now took wise steps to safeguard the treasure. He divided the treasure up among a number of trustworthy men, so that each could protect what was entrusted to him. They would have to watch against both internal thieves, and any attempts made by brigands on the caravan.

Ezra 8:24

‘Then I set apart twelve of the chiefs of the priests, for Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brothers with them,’

As became the responsibility of Levites, to Sherebiah and Hashabiah (compare Ezra 8:19) and ten of their brothers was granted the privilege of overseeing the bearing of the treasures. These were of course the chiefs among the Levites. They would oversee the actual bearing of the treasures by their brothers. But in order to safeguard them from any charges of failure in their duties, and in order to keep overall watch over the treasures, twelve chiefs of priest were set over them to take overall responsibility for the treasure. As the treasures were mainly intended for the Temple it would have been an insult to the priests if they had not had such overall responsibility. The number twelve indicated that they were acting on behalf of all Israel.

Ezra 8:25

‘And weighed to 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.’

The silver, gold and vessels were weighed and technically handed over to the chiefs of the priests, who would be called upon to sign for them, but they would immediately have called on the Levites to bear them. They would not bend their backs to such matters. These were the offerings for the house of God which had been received from the king, his chief counsellors, his princes and all of Israel in the locality who had willingly offered. Here we learn that additionally to the counsellors, the aristocracy had been called on by the king to contribute.

Ezra 8:26-27

‘I weighed into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and a hundred silver vessels in talents (or by repointing ‘of two talents each’), and a hundred talents of gold, and twenty bowls of gold, of a thousand darics, and two vessels of beautifully glittering bronze, precious as gold.’

The riches that had been gathered were now put into the hands of those appointed. Six hundred talents of silver was a huge amount. But it was tiny as compared with the riches of the Persian empire. The hundred silver vessels were apparently one talent each, although it could be repointed as dual, and therefore as two talents. A hundred talents of gold was again a very large amount. But the richest men throughout Babylonia had contributed, and wanted the king to see how much they cared about his life and the life of his sons. Twenty bowls of gold worth 1,000 darics each were for the Temple of the God of Heaven (whom they may well have associated with their own god, Ahura-mazda). The two vessels of beautifully glittering bronze were clearly seen as very special. They were ‘precious as gold’. That may have been because some metal-worker had had his own secret formula which had achieved unique and spectacular results (he may even have discovered how to produce true brass, but if so his secret died with him), or it may be because the material used came from a distant country and was rare (orichale has been suggested).

What had to be carried if these figures are correct was considerable, in weight as well as in value. There were at least 850 talents and 1,000 darics. If we take a talent as representing approximately 30 kilograms (66 pounds), the talents would come to over 25,000 kilograms (56,000 pounds). Divided among 258 Levites and their assistants that would mean each carried about 100 kilograms (or 225 pounds), although of course they would be able to call on asses and camels for the most part. (The holy vessels may have had to be carried by hand). It is not therefore impossible.

Remembering that Solomon would not even deign to use silver, ‘silver was not accounted of in the day of Solomon’ (1 Kings 10:21), and that the Persian kings were richer far, we should not be surprised at the huge amount of silver involved (compare on Ezra 1:9; Ezra 7:22). When we consider that the king and his wealthy counsellors would be vying with each other to be accounted generous, and that on top of these were the further contributions required from the wealthy aristocracy, these figures are not inconceivable. In the king’s eyes, nothing would have been too good for the God of Heaven, and he had probably heard how fabulously richly inlaid the Temple had once been. He would not want to suffer by comparison in the eyes of the God of Heaven. We see these figures as enormous. American multi-billionaires, like Persian kings, would see them as reasonable.

Ezra 8:28

‘And I said to them, “You are holy unto YHWH, and the vessels are holy; and the silver and the gold are a freewill-offering to YHWH, the God of your fathers.”

Ezra then reminded the priests and Levites that they were ‘holy unto YHWH’, as were the sacred vessels, which he may well have consecrated. It is probable that these vessels would have to be carried by the Levites themselves because of their holiness, which would be why the presence of Levites would be so necessary. But while the silver and gold were a freewill offering to YHWH, and therefore to be seen as sacred in a secondary way, they would eventually be melted down and used for the benefit of the Temple. Thus they were not ‘most holy’, and could no doubt be borne by asses and camels. Notice the reference to ‘YHWH the God of your fathers’, only found here and in Ezra 8:28. It is also found in Exodus 3:13-16 when Moses is called to deliver Israel; in Deuteronomy 1:11; Deuteronomy 4:1 where they are to go in and possess the land and multiply; and in Joshua 18:3 where the taking of the land which God had given them is spoken of. It was therefore very apt. It is also used three times in 2 Chronicles. It may well be that Ezra wanted us to see them as ‘going forward in order to take the land’ for the Law of God.

Ezra 8:29

“Watch you, and keep them, until you 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 YHWH.”

The priests and Levites in question were to keep watch over the sacred vessels and the treasure, and guard them until they were able to weigh them before the chiefs of the priests and the Levites, and the princes of the fathers’ (houses), as they handed them over in the side rooms of the house of YHWH.

Ezra 8:30

‘So the priests and the Levites received the weight of the silver and the gold, and the vessels, to bring them to Jerusalem to the house of our God.’

And thus did the priests and Levites receive the weight of the silver and gold and the vessels in order to bring them to the house of God in Jerusalem.

Ezra And The Returnees Are Kept Safe On The Journey, Hand Over The Treasures To The House Of God, Offer Offering And Sacrifices To YHWH, And Deliver The King’s Commission To The Authorities (Ezra 8:31-36).

The journey had begun on the first day of the month (Ezra 7:9), but due to the delay caused by the necessity of obtaining Levites to bear the sacred vessels, the caravan could not set off from the river Ahava until the twelfth day of the month. However, once they had started off the journey went well, and as soon as they reached Jerusalem they rested for three days and then handed over the treasures to the priests and Levites in the Temple, after which offerings, and sacrifices for sin, were made to YHWH. Finally the king’s commissions were handed over to the kings satraps, and the governors of Beyond the River, who, along with the Israelite leadership, faithfully carried out their requirements.

Verse 31

Ezra 8:31

‘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 on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and those who lie-in-wait by the way.’

They left the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the month. The intention to leave earlier was possibly because of the approaching Passover, which they would celebrate as a family festival en route. The first month may well have been chosen in order to parallel the flight from Egypt. And during their journey, which would be almost a thousand miles, they were aware that the hand of God was upon them. Given that their journey took around four months, they would have had to travel at about nine miles a day which was good going for such a mixed caravan. But the Persian network of roads made it quite feasible.

‘The hand of our God was on us.’ In Ezra 8:22 Ezra had informed the king that ‘the hand of Israel’s God was upon all who those who seek Him’. In Ezra 8:17 he had declared that they had obtained a response from the Levites as a result of the fact that ‘the hand of Israel’s God was upon them’. Now he reveals that they had a safe journey because ‘the hand of Israel’s God was upon them’. This would again tie in with the idea that this passage was written as a report to the king.

‘He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and those who lie-in-wait by the way.’ We do not know whether the deliverance came as a result of beating off attacks, or by way of no attacks. But either way God was triumphant. For ‘the enemy’ compare ‘the enemy in the way’ (Ezra 8:22). We have here a reminder of the dangers of travel in those days. There were those who lay in wait, ever ready to take advantage of a weak moment, and as we know the caravan was a rich prize.

Verse 32

Ezra 8:32

‘And we came to Jerusalem, and stayed there three days.’

Arriving in Jerusalem they rested for ‘three days’. This period would enable them to recover from the rigours of the journey and sort themselves out. The leaders’ attention would initially be required in order to keep things organised, for they had to be settled in. Including women and children there would probably have been over five thousand people to cater for. But the Jews already there would no doubt have made them welcome. We can be sure that news would have gone ahead of the caravan

Verse 33

Ezra 8:33

‘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 Meremoth 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 Binnui, the Levite.’

Then on the fourth day they had reported at the Temple taking with them the gold and the silver and the sacred vessels, which were weighed and handed over to the Temple authorities. These Temple authorities consisted of Meremoth, the son of Uriah the priest and Eleazar, the ‘son’ of Phinehas, who would therefore also have been a priest. And together with them were two Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah, the son of Binnui. The priests would probably be responsible for the weighing and recording, while the Levites did the carrying.

Two priests would be required so as to establish the receipt of the treasures on a twofold witness. It would be the minimum required. The number of Levites would match that of the priests. In Nehemiah 13:13 Nehemiah assumes the same pattern which was probably a long established one.

Meremoth, the son of Uriah the priest, was presumably one of the Temple treasurers (compare Nehemiah 13:13 where two others are named as appointed by Nehemiah, which may suggest that at that stage he was demoted, although he may have died meanwhile). ‘Uriah the priest’ indicates a priest of some importance. Ezra was also regularly called ‘Ezra the priest’, and ‘Shelemoth the priest’ was appointed as a Temple treasurer (Nehemiah 13:13). The title does not therefore mean High Priest, but indicates a leading priest. Meremoth thus came from an important priestly family.

It must be seen as unlikely that Meremoth, son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz who was a prominent wall builder under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:4; Nehemiah 3:21) was the same one. He is not there directly related to the priesthood, and the names were popular ones. Indeed Nehemiah 3:17 may suggest that this latter was a Levite. The sons of Hakkoz had not been accepted as priests because they could not prove their genealogy (Ezra 2:62), although it may be that by this time that had been remedied. In Nehemiah 10:6 a Meremoth is listed as eleventh among the priests, but seen as important enough to be called on as a sealant of the covenant of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 12:3 a Meremoth, (clearly not the same one), was one of the chiefs of the priests who had come up with Zerubbabel. Meremoth the son of Uriah may have been his grandson.

Eleazar the son of Phinehas may be the Eleazar mentioned in Ezra 10:18 as having taken a foreign wife, but the name was a common one (see Ezra 10:23; Ezra 10:31) and identity is by no means certain. He is clearly different from the Eleazar in Ezra 8:16 who had arrived with Ezra, for he was already a high level priest in the Temple.

‘Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah, the son of Binnui.’ A Jozabad, who may well be the same one, is named as living in Jerusalem and as being a chief Levite who had oversight of the work on the outside of the Temple (Nehemiah 11:16). He may also have been one of those who had married foreign wives (Ezra 10:23), although that might have been a different Jozabad. Nothing further is known about Noadiah.

But Jozabad and Noadiah were the ‘sons’ of two prominent men, Jeshua and Binnui. These were both sealants of the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:9) although it is possible that Jeshua and Binnui were ancestors and that others signed in the family name. Alternately they might have taken the name of their ancestors as the signal of a new beginning. Compare how a Jeshua and Binnui also came back to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel over 80 years earlier (Nehemiah 12:8), as did ‘sons of Jeshua’ (Nehemiah 7:43 compare Ezra 2:40). There was much duplication of names among the returnees, and possibly a taking of family names in honour of the new beginning.

Verse 34

Ezra 8:34

‘The whole by number and by weight, and all the weight was written at that time.’

Full records were kept of both the vessels and ingots by number, and also by weight, and everything that was brought and handed over was recorded by weight. It is probable that Ezra knew that he would have to report back details of the handing over, and written proof that he had done so. Indeed these two chapters may heave been written up from that report.

Verse 35

Ezra 8:35

‘The children of the captivity, who were come out of exile, offered burnt-offerings to the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety six rams, seventy seven lambs, twelve he-goats for a sin-offering, all this was a burnt-offering to YHWH.’

The personal pronouns here change from ‘we’ to ‘they’. This was necessary because here it was all the children of the captivity who participated, not just those who had come with Ezra. It was ‘the children of the captivity who had come out of exile’ regardless of when they had come, and this is confirmed by the mention of the offerings being for ‘all Israel’. Clearly the High Priest and the incumbent priests would be equally involved. Thus Ezra’s returnees were welcomed by the previous returnees, and all together offered offerings and sacrifices.

There were twelve bullocks for all Israel, one per tribe; and ninety six rams, possibly, but not necessarily, seen as eight per tribe (but note the number of lambs), and seventy-seven lambs. To the people of that day seventy seven would indicate intensified divine perfection. They tended to read into numbers ideas rather than quantity. And these were all offered as whole burnt offerings, that is as offerings of homage and dedication to YHWH which were wholly burnt up. Additional to these were the twelve he-goats sacrificed as a sin-offering, one for each of the tribes of Israel, necessary in order to deal with the sin of Israel so that Israel could be dedicated to God and approach Him in worship. The ‘twelve tribes’, would be seen as including the priests and the Levites. All these offerings and sacrifices were seen as ‘a burnt offering to YHWH’, symbolic of atonement, dedication and worship.

Verse 36

Ezra 8:36

‘And they delivered the king’s commissions to the king’s satraps, and to the governors of Beyond the River, and they furthered the people and the house of God.’

The community leaders (they), then ensured the delivering of the king’s commissions, as contained in his decrees, to the Persian authorities, that is to the king’s satraps and to the governors of the administrative districts in Beyond the River. The plural satraps may suggest that there was at this time a satrap over Beyond the River as well as an overall satrap over the satrapy of Babylon (which initially at least included the province of Beyond the River), and that both made themselves available in order to receive the king’s commissions, possibly having been advised about them beforehand by the king. In view of the importance of a decree from the king both may well have seen it as necessary to be present at the negotiations with Israel’s representatives as they worked out together how they should be fulfilled. Alternately one of them might have been a visiting satrap from another satrapy who took part in the official ceremony, even possibly as a twofold witness (we can compare how, in Acts, when King Agrippa was visiting Festus he took part in the trial of Paul - Acts 25:0). But the two are mentioned because that is the number of satraps that Israel’s representatives saw, not necessarily because there were two official satraps of Beyond the River.

‘And they furthered the people and the house of God.’ This may refer to the satraps, and the governors of administrative districts within the satrapy, in that they expeditiously fulfilled the requirements of the decree. Or it may refer to the leading men of Israel as they carried out their part in the fulfilling of the decree. Indeed it may refer to both. Whichever way it is the point being made is that the Persian rulers did what was right by God’s people, in enhancing the Temple, and ensuring that it fully fulfilled its purpose in encouraging the worship of God, whilst the leaders of Israel played their part in ensuring the same.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezra 8". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/ezra-8.html. 2013.