the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Ez´ra (help). Ezra was a Jewish scribe and priest, who, about the year B.C. 458, led the second expedition of Jews back from the Babylonian exile in Palestine. This Ezra ought to be distinguished from the Ezra who went up as one of the chiefs of the priests and Levites under Zerubbabel (;; ). Ezra was a lineal descendant from Phineas, the son of Aaron. He is stated in Scripture to be the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah; which Seraiah was slain at Riblah by order of Nebuchadnezzar, having been brought thither a captive by Nebuzaradan. But, as 130 years elapsed between the death of Seraiah and the departure of Ezra from Babylon, and we read that a grandson of Seraiah was the high priest who accompanied Zerubbabel on the first return to Jerusalem, seventy years before Ezra returned thither, we may suppose that by the term son, here, as in some other places, the relationship of grandson, or of a still more remote direct descendant, is intended. In addition to the information given in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, that Ezra was a 'scribe,' a 'ready scribe of the law of Moses,' 'a scribe of the words of the Commandments of the Lord and of his statutes to Israel,' 'a scribe of the law of the God of Heaven,' and 'a priest,' we are told by Josephus that he was high-priest of the Jews who were left in Babylon; that he was particularly conversant with the laws of Moses, and was held in universal esteem on account of his righteousness and virtue.
The rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem, which had been decreed by Cyrus in the year B.C. 536, was, after much powerful and vexatious opposition, completed in the reign and by the permission of Darius Hystaspis, in the year B.C. 515.
In the year B.C. 457 Ezra was sent by 'Artaxerxes Longimanus and his counsellors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of his God which was in his hand; and to carry the silver and gold which the king and his counsellors freely offered unto the God of Israel.' Permission was also granted to him to take with him all the silver and the gold which he could find in all the province of Babylon, together with the free-will offerings which the people and priests offered for the house of God at Jerusalem. Of this treasure he was directed to employ as much as was requisite in the purchase of offerings according to the law of Moses, and the surplus he was to lay out according to his discretion for the maintenance of the externals of religion. Ezra was also charged to convey vessels for the house of God in Jerusalem; and, lest these gifts should be insufficient, he was empowered to take from the king's treasure-house as much as should be wanted to supply everything needful for the house of the Lord. At the same time that this commission was given to Ezra, Artaxerxes Longimanus issued a decree to the keepers of the king's treasure beyond the river, to assist Ezra in everything in which he needed help, and to supply him liberally with money, corn, wine, oil, and salt. It was further enacted that it should not be lawful to impose tribute upon any priest, Levite, or other person concerned in the ministration in the house of God. Ezra was commissioned to appoint 'according to the wisdom of God which was in his hand,' magistrates and judges to judge all the people beyond the river, that knew the laws of his God; and was enjoined to teach them to those who knew them not. The reason of the interest for the worship of God at this time evinced by Artaxerxes, appears to have been a fear of the divine displeasure, for we read in the conclusion of the decree to the treasurers beyond the river, 'Whatsoever is commanded by the God of Heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of Heaven; for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?' We are also told () that the king granted Ezra all his request; and Josephus informs us that Ezra, being desirous of going to Jerusalem, requested the king to grant him recommendatory letters to the governor of Syria. We may therefore suppose that the dread which Artaxerxes entertained of the divine judgments was the consequence of the exposition to him by Ezra of the history of the Jewish people. Ezra assembled the Jews who accompanied him on the banks of the river Ahava, where they halted three days in tents. Here Ezra proclaimed a fast, as an act of humiliation before God and a season of prayer for divine direction and safe conduct; for, on setting out, he 'was ashamed to require a band of soldiers and horsemen to help them against the enemy by the way,' because he had asserted to the king that the hand of his God is upon all them that seek Him for good. Ezra next committed the care of the treasures which he carried with him to twelve of the chief priests, assisted by ten of their brethren, appointing these to take charge of the treasures by the way, and deliver them safely in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem. On the twelfth day from their first setting out, Ezra and his companions left the river Ahava, and arrived safely at Jerusalem in the fifth month, having been delivered from the hand of the enemy and of such as lay in wait by the way. Three days after their arrival the treasures were weighed and delivered into the custody of some Levites. The returning exiles offered burnt-offerings to the Lord. They delivered also the king's commissions to the viceroys and governors, and gave needful help to the people and the ministers of the Temple. When Ezra had discharged the various trusts committed to him, the princes of the Jews came to him and complained that the Jewish people generally who had returned from the captivity, and also the priests and Levites, but especially the rulers and princes, had not kept themselves separate from the people of the land, but had done according to the abominations of the remnant of the nations whom their forefathers had driven out, and married their daughters, and allowed their children to intermarry with them. On hearing this Ezra was deeply afflicted; and, according to the Jewish custom, he rent his mantle and tore the hair of his head and beard. There gathered round him all those who still feared God, and dreaded His wrath for the transgression of those whom He had brought back from captivity. Having waited till the time of the evening sacrifice, Ezra rose up, and, having again rent his hair and his garments, made public prayer and confession of sin. The assembled people wept bitterly, and Shecaniah, one of the sons of Elam, came forward to propose a general covenant to put away the foreign wives and their children. Ezra then arose and administered an oath to the people that they would do accordingly. Proclamation was also made that all those who had returned from captivity should within three days gather themselves together unto Jerusalem, under pain of excommunication and forfeiture of their goods. The people assembled at the time appointed, trembling on account of their sin and of the heavy rain that fell. Ezra addressed them, declaring to them their sin, and exhorting them to amend their lives by dissolving their illegal connections. The people acknowledged the justice of his rebukes, and promised obedience. They then requested that, as the rain fell heavily, and the number of transgressors was great, he would appoint times at which they might severally come to be examined respecting this matter, accompanied by the judges and elders of every city. A commission was therefore formed, consisting of Ezra and some others, to investigate the extent of the evil. This investigation occupied three months.
In Nehemiah 8 we read that, on the occasion of the celebration of the feast of the seventh month, subsequently to Nehemiah's numbering the people, Ezra was requested to bring the book of the law of Moses; and that he read therein standing upon a pulpit of wood, which raised him above all the people.