Forum Class for July 18, 2004.
SHORT COMMENTARY ON EZRA
The First Return and Rebuilding under Zerubbabel (chaps. 1-6)
These chapters, besides telling the history of the period, must also have encouraged Ezra's original readers in their temple worship. As they read about the rebuilding process they would have been made aware of the great personal sacrifices the Jews had made in constructing the temple. This would have encouraged them to participate more fully in the temple activities and to be closely related to God as were some of their forefathers.
A. The proclamation of Cyrus (1:1-4)
1:1. Cyrus, the king of the extensive Persian realm (see the map "The Persian Empire"), drafted a proclamation that allowed the Israelites to return to their land and rebuild their temple. Cyrus made the proclamation in his first year (538 B.C.). This was the first year of his reign over Babylon, but he had been king over other territories for more than 20 years. He had been in power since 559 when he became the king of Anshan. Then he became king of Medo-Persia about 550 B.C. He conquered Babylon in October 539, and became the king of Babylon, a title of honor denoting the highest position in the civilized world.
As is evidenced from Cyrus' attitude concerning the God of Israel (whom he did not worship) he was not a true believer in Yahweh. Cyrus' concern was to establish strong buffer states around his empire which would be loyal to him. Also by having his subject peoples resettled in their own countries he hoped to have the gods in various parts of his empire praying for him to his gods Bel and Nebo. The famous Cyrus Cylinder (538 B.C.), which records his capture of Babylon and his program of repatriating his subject peoples in their homelands, includes this statement: "May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities daily ask Bel and Nebo for a long life for me."
The fulfilling of Jeremiah's words (Jer. 29:10; cf. Jer. 25:11-12) was totally God's doing. Seventy years of Jewish captivity in Babylon were about to end. The first deportation of Jews to Babylon was in 605 B.C. Cyrus' decree in 538 was 67 years later. By the time the people returned and built the altar in 536, 70 years were almost up.
The edict came about because the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus. The Hebrew words translated "moved the heart" (also trans. "stirred [up] the spirit") were a favorite expression of biblical writers in the post-exilic period (Ezra 1:5; 1 Chron. 5:26; 2 Chron. 21:16, "aroused"; 36:22; Jer. 51:11; Hag. 1:14). This shows the sovereign hand of God behind the events of history.
1:2-3. Cyrus said that Yahweh, the God of heaven, had appointed him to build a temple. . . at Jerusalem. Part of this decree is recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:23. Also the decree was filed in Ecbatana, where Darius I found it about 520-518 B.C. (Ezra 6:1-5). God had promised the Jewish remnant that He would raise up Cyrus as His servant to restore the fortunes of His people (Isa. 44:28; 45:1, 13). Under the Holy Spirit's guidance, the Prophet Isaiah referred to Cyrus by name about 150 years before the king made his decree. Josephus wrote that Cyrus was shown the prophecy in Isaiah 44:28 and wanted to fulfill it (The Antiquities of the Jews 11.1.1).
"The God of heaven" is a title of God used 9 times in Ezra (1:2; 5:11-12; 6:9-10; 7:12, 21. 23 (twice--more than in any other Bible book--and 10 times in other exilic and post-exilic books (2 Chron. 36:23; Neh. 1:4-5; 2:4, 20; Dan. 2:18-19, 28, 37. 44). Elsewhere in the Old Testament that phrase occurs only four times (Gen. 24:3. 7; Ps. 136:26; Jonah 1:9). It points to God's sovereignty. He is the One who made heaven (Gen. 14:19, 22; 2 Chron. 2:12; Ps. 115:15), who is in heaven (Deut. 4:39; 1 Kings 8:30, 39, 43, 49; Eccl. 5:2), and who reigns from His throne in heaven (lsa. 66:1). Though Cyrus was a monarch over an extensive empire, Yahweh is far greater for He rules from heaven.
The emphasis in Ezra 1:2-3 on the temple sets the tone for this and other post-exilic books. The temple was of utmost importance in the life of the people of Israel. Without the temple there could be no sacrificial system, which was the nation's lifeblood in its relationship to God. "The God of heaven" (v. 2) is also the God of Israel who Cyrus said was in Jerusalem.
1:4. Cyrus' edict also instructed the returnees' neighbors in Persia to give them the equivalent of money (silver and gold), material goods. . . livestock, and freewill offerings (cf. v. 6). The freewill offerings were for the temple and the other gifts were for the people themselves. This is reminiscent of the Exodus from Egypt when God miraculously took the nation out of bondage and had the Egyptians aid them with gifts of silver, gold, and clothing (Ex. 3:22; 11:2; 12:35). Now God was effecting a new "Exodus," again bringing His people who had been in bondage back into the land of promise, much as He had done under Moses and Joshua. The people had been in bondage to Babylon because of their failure to keep their covenantal obligations, which Moses had given them during the first Exodus. Once more God was miraculously working in the life of the nation.
B. The reaction of the Israelites (1:5-11)
1:5-11. The religious leaders (priests and Levites) along with the heads of the two tribes Judah and Benjamin) that had been taken into exile by the Babylonians spearheaded the return to Israel to rebuild the temple, the house of the LORD. The Jews who returned totaled 49,897 (2:64-65). The neighbors of the returnees obeyed the king's decree by contributing to the effort (1:6). Even Cyrus contributed to the return by giving back the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD. These were the dishes. . . pans. . . bowls, and other articles (vv. 9- 10) Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Jerusalem temple in 605 B.C. (Dan. 1 :2), in 597 B.C. (2 Kings 24: 13), and in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:14-15; Jer. 27:16; 52:18-19; cf. Ezra 5:14; 6:5; Dan. 5:2-3) and placed in a temple in Babylon, perhaps the Esagila temple built in honor of the god Marduk. Mithredath is a Persian name, and the word for treasurer (gizbar) is also Persian.
In Ezra 1:9-10 the articles total 2,499 but in verse 11 the total number of gold and silver items was 5,400. Why the difference? Surely Ezra would not be so foolish as to make a major mistake such as that when he so carefully wrote the rest of the book under the Holy Spirit's inspiration. Even if one were to assume (as do many critics) that a redactor brought together in verses 9-11 two variant traditions, it would seem likely that Ezra would try to reconcile them in some way. It seems better to suppose Ezra first listed some of the items, perhaps the bigger and more valuable ones (vv. 9-10), then referred to the total number of items both the larger and more valuable and the smaller and less significant (v. 11).
Another problem pertains to Sheshbazzar (v. 11), who was called the prince of Judah (v. 8). Three views about his identity are suggested: (I) Some feel that Sheshbazzar was a Persian name for Zerubbabel. Both are said to have laid the foundation of the temple (3:8-10; 5:16). Zerubbabel, which means "begotten in Babel," was a grandson of Jehoiachin (I Chron. 3:17-19), who had been deported to Babylon but had been released from confinement (2 Kings 25:27-30). Zerubbabel's relationship to Jehoiachin would explain the title "the prince of Judah." However, it would seem strange that Zerubbabel would have a second pagan name rather than having one name that reflected Yahweh worship (Sheshbazzar being a pagan deity). If Zerubbabel and Sheshbazzar were two names of the same person, it is strange that he was never again referred to by the name Sheshbazzar except in Ezra 5:15-16.
(2) A second view is that this man was a Jew who was appointed governor by Cyrus but who died shortly after arriving in Palestine and was replaced by Zerubbabel. Though plausible, no solid evidence exists for this view.
(3) A third view is that Sheshbazzar was the Shenazzar in 1 Chronicles 3:17, and therefore was Zerubbabel's uncle.
(4) A fourth view is that Sheshbazzar was a Persian official who was sent to oversee the use of the king's money and to make Sure the king's wishes were carried out. It has been suggested that because Sheshbazzar was a Persian official the returnees later referred to him (Ezra 5:15-16) to Support their claim of legitimacy for their building project. (See comments on 5:13-16.)
C. The list of people who returned (chap. 2)
I. THE LIST RECORDED (2:1-63)
2:1-63. The list is divided into several parts. All of the people of the province (i.e., of Judah) returned to their hometowns (v. 1). Ezra first recorded the 11 civil and religious leaders who were prominent (v. 2). Jeshua was the high priest (3:2); his name is spelled Joshua in the Books of Haggai and Zechariah. He was a grandson of Seraiah (cf. 1 Chron. 6:14 with Hag. 1:1), a priest whom Nebuchadnezzar killed at Riblah (2 Kings 25:18-21). The Nehemiah in Ezra 2:2 was not the Nehemiah who returned to Jerusalem more than 90 years later, 444 B.C. Nor was the Mordecai here Esther's cousin (Es. 2:5-7), who lived in Susa about 60 years after the Jews' first return. Nehemiah 7:7 records 12 names rather than 11 (cf. Ezra 2:2). (Three names have different spellings. In verse 2 Seraiah, Reelaiah, and Rehum are probably the same persons as Azariah, Raamiah, and Nehum, respectively, in Neh. 7:7.) Nahamani's name, not in Ezra's list, may have been dropped out by an early scribal error in the copying of the original manuscripts. It is likely that 12 men would have originally been listed as symbolic heads of the 12-tribe nation (cf. 12 male goats offered for the 12 tribes of Israel, Ezra 6:17).
Then Ezra listed people by their 18 families and clans, totaling 15,604 (2:3-20). Next came a listing of inhabitants (totaling 8,540) from 21 towns and villages (vv. 21-35). Then the priests (4,289 of them) were listed (vv. 36-39), followed by 341 Levites which included singers and gatekeepers (vv. 40-42). The temple servants (vv. 43-54) and descendants of the royal servants (vv. 55-58) totaled 392. The 652 returnees who could not clearly trace their ancestry (vv. 59-63) were listed last. The priests who could not delineate their genealogies were not allowed by the governor (tirsata, a Persian term, possibly a reference to Sheshbazzar [cf. comments on 1:8] or to Zerubbabel) to eat. . . the most sacred food till a priest was ministering with the Urim and Thummim. The Urim and Thummim were parts of the high priest's breastplate, probably two stones used in Some way in determining God's will (cf. Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8; Sam. 28:6; Neh. 7:65).
Though such a list of names and locations seems unnecessary to some modern readers, it would have been of great encouragement to the original readers as they saw their own families and towns represented.
2. THE TOTAL NUMBERS GIVEN (2:64-67)
2:64-67. When added together the numbers in verses 2-42, 58, and 60 which list the returnees come to 29,829 (including the 11 prominent men listed in v. 2). However, the total in verses 64-65--the whole company--is 49,897. The larger number may include women and children. It may also include Jews from the 10 Northern tribes who might have joined the remnant of the two Southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin (cf. 1:5). It may also have included the priests who could not delineate their genealogies (2:61-62).
Ezra's grand total of 49,897 is very close to Nehemiah's total of 49,942 (Neh. 7:66-67). Nehemiah's extra 45 people are in the singers (Ezra had 200 but Nehemiah referred to 245). This may have been a scribal error, an error not in the original manuscripts but in the numerous copyings of the text in its transmission. A scribe, in copying Nehemiah 7:67, may have inadvertently picked up the 245 in verse 68, in reference to mules, and inserted that number for the 200 singers. This kind of error may also account for several variations in the other numbers in these lists. (For further discussion see the comments on Neh. 7. Even the animals were counted--a total of 8,136, most of them donkeys, commonly used for riding (Ezra 2:66-67). The journey from Babylon to Israel was about 900 miles and took about four months (cf. 7:8-9), but Ezra did not state how long the return trip took. His focus was not on the people's hardships but on their task of rebuilding the temple.
3. THE RESTORATION BEGUN (2:68-70)
2:68-69. When the returnees arrived back in Palestine at the house of the LORD (i.e., at its location site) they gave of their possessions according to their ability. They gave large amounts of money and material to begin the temple building project. The list of precious metals and materials differs from the corresponding list in Nehemiah 7:70-72. Ezra's 61,000 drachmas (darics) of gold are 41,000 in Nehemiah. Ezra recorded 5,000 minas of silver while Nehemiah referred to 4,200. Ezra mentioned 100 priestly garments whereas Nehemiah recorded 597. These differences were probably early scribal errors. 2:70. The people then settled in their ancestors' towns and villages.
D. The rebuilding of the temple (3:1-6:15)
1. THE ALTAR AND THE FOUNDATION REBUILT (CHAP. 3)
3:1-2. The first task facing the people was the rebuilding of the altar of burnt offering, directly east of where the temple building itself would be located. This was essential for reestablishing the sacrificial system which set these people apart as a nation and which was used by God as a means for atoning for their sins. The seventh month may refer to the seventh month after the people left Babylon or to the seventh month after they arrived in Jerusalem. This was in September-October (see the chart "Calendar in Israel" near Ex. 12). In years past, the seventh month had been a great month religiously for Israel. Three religious festivals were held in the seventh month: the Feast of Trumpets on the 1st day (Lev. 23:23-25), the Day of Atonement on the 10th day (Lev. 23:26-32), and the Feast of Tabernacles on days 15-21 (Lev. 23:33-36, 39-43; Num. 29:12-39; cf. Ezra 3:4).
The words: The people assembled as one man, suggest they all agreed that the building project must begin. The men who headed up the constructing of the altar were Jeshua, the religious leader (a descendant of Aaron), and Zerubbabel, the civil leader (a descendant of David), along with fellow priests (other descendants of Aaron) and associates (other descendants of David). They built the altar so that they could offer sacrifices in accordance with what was written in the Law of Moses. It was imperative that the returnees would come back to the Mosaic Covenant. Because their forefathers had left the covenant, the nation had been driven into Captivity. The former exiles did not want to make that same mistake.
3:3-6. Even though the returnees had fear of the peoples around them, foreigners who had been deported by the Assyrian Empire into Palestine, they built the altar, and offered burnt offerings on it (cf. Lev. 1; 6:8-13), starting on the first day of the, . . month (Ezra 3:6). These were the first sacrifices made there in 50 years--since 586 B.C. when the temple was torn down. Other sacrifices were offered in connection with all the appointed feasts, including, for example, the Feast of Tabernacles on days 15-21 of that seventh month (cf. Lev. 23:33-36,39-43; Num. 29:12-39). The sacrifices showed that the people wanted to be responsive to the Law of God.
3:7-9. There was a period of preparation for building the temple foundation for the work did not begin till the second month of the second year after their arrival (May-June 536. exactly 70 years after the. first deportation in 605). Why this delay of seven months after the altar was built? Because they had to get organized and secure the building materials. The wood (cedar logs) came from Lebanon. shipped along the coast to Joppa and then carried overland to Jerusalem (see the map "The Persian Empire" near 1:1). Lebanon was well known for its cedar forests and its fine woodworkers. For the first temple. 430 years earlier (in 966 B.C.), Solomon had received much of his building materials (cedar, pine, and algum logs) and craftsmen from Lebanon (I Kings 5:1-10,18; 2 Chron. 2:1-16). Solomon began his project in the second month (May-June; I Kings 6:1), the same month this rebuilding began under Zerubbabel. Since Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon were under the Persian Empire. Cyrus had to authorize this transaction (cf. Ezra 6:3-4), in which the logs, as in Solomon's time. were paid for by money. . . food. . . drink. and oil.
Zerubbabel appointed the Levites as supervisors of the construction project. Centuries earlier Levites were involved in the tabernacle construction (Ex. 38:21) and in caring for and transporting it (Num. 1:50-51; 3:21-37). Now they were involved in the temple construction. Three Levite groups of supervisors were mentioned (Ezra 3:9)--Jeshua and his family, Kadmiel (cf. 2:40) and his family, and the family of Henadad.
3:10-11. Nothing is mentioned about the actual process of laying the temple foundation or the length of time involved. This is because the focus was on the results of this project on that community of people who had braved the rugged conditions. They were following the command of Cyrus but, more importantly. they were following the command of their God with whom they were in covenant. As the foundation. . . was laid the people were careful to follow in the traditions of their forefathers who had been rightly related to God under the Mosaic Covenant. As the priests. . . and the Levites led the dedication service for the temple's foundations, they did the things that were prescribed by David. The order followed was the same as when David brought the ark to Jerusalem. At that time priests blew trumpets and Asaph sounded cymbals (I Chron. 16:5-6). Here the priests blew trumpets and sons (descendants) of Asaph played the cymbals. The order was also similar to the time when the ark was brought to the temple in Solomon's day (2 Chron. 5:12-13), when Asaph and others played cymbals, harps, and lyres; and the priests blew trumpets. In this rebuilding service the priests and Levites sang, He is good; His love to Israel endures forever, words almost identical to the song of praise in 2 Chronicles 5:13 (cf. Ps. 136:1). This song of praise is highly significant for by it the religious leaders were acknowledging that Yahweh had again established His loving protection over the nation. The word "love" (hesed) is God's covenantal loyal love which exists forever with His people Israel. Now that the temple worship was being reestablished, the people again recognized the commitment of God's unending covenantal love.
3:12-13. In contrast with the joy many people experienced on that occasion, a few of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple (destroyed 50 years earlier in 586 B.C.) were discouraged. Perhaps they contrasted the roughness of the current project with the grandeur of the Solomonic temple. Sixteen years later (in 520 B.C.) the same emotion of discouragement again hit the builders of the temple (Hag. 2:1-9). The two sounds, the joy and the weeping (from sadness), mingled together and were so loud that they were heard far away.
2. THE REBUILDING OPPOSED (4:1-6:12)
Ezra did not record all the events in those 21 years (from 536) till the temple was finished (in 515). That is because he was making a theological point that the temple of the Lord was completed despite opposition that might have stopped any other project. The temple was the basis for the post-exilic community's fellowship with God. Not till the temple was built could the people really live in accord with the covenant. Ezra's account of this interim period differs in tone from Haggai's account of opposition (from 520 to 518). Ezra did not dwell on the sinful condition of the people as they lived in the land as did Haggai (Hag. I). Ezra's account focused on external pressures from the surrounding peoples, whereas Haggai focused on the internal attitudes of the people who valued material possessions above spiritual things (Hag. 1:4. 6).
a. Attempts of enemies to stop the building (4:1-5)
4:1-2. The enemies used two methods of opposition to try to keep the temple from being built. First they offered to help in the construction process, thereby hoping to infiltrate the ranks and sidetrack the building project. When that did not work, they frightened the builders (perhaps with threats on their lives) and even hired counselors to frustrate them (vv. 4-5). The enemies of Judah and Benjamin refer to the people living in Palestine since the time of the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. The Assyrian Empire, which conquered the 10 Northern tribes, deported some of the people away to Assyria and brought in other peoples to intermarry (2 Kings 17:23-24). This tactic prevented strong nationalistic uprisings in the conquered lands.
The "enemies" (called "the peoples around them," Ezra 4:4) were the descendants of these mixed peoples and the forefathers of the New Testament Samaritans. These people in Ezra's day claimed that they worshiped the same God, that is, Yahweh, the God of Israel. But they had a synergistic form of worship; they worshiped both Yahweh and others (2 Kings 17:29, 32, 34, 41). Therefore their statement (Ezra 4:2) was not fully accurate and was apparently made to mislead the leadership of the returned band. Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, who brought us here, was the Assyrian mono arch who aggressively pursued the policy of partial deportation and to whose reign these enemies could trace their ancestry in Palestine. Esarhaddon, a son of Sennacherib, ruled from 681 to 669 B.C. Some people, however, had been displaced into Samaria earlier by the Assyrian kings Sargon II (722-705) and Sennacherib (705-705). Judah and Benjamin's enemies were also appealing on the basis of the fact that they, like the Jews, were a "displaced people," having been brought in from the outside. In a sense they were downplaying the nation of Israel's "roots" in the land.
4:3-5. The response by the govern. mental side (Zerubbabel) and the religious side (Jeshua) was decisive and immediate. They had two reasons for not wanting to be sidetracked by this offer of help. First, the temple was for the LORD the God of Israel, who was not the god these people worshiped. Second, they had been commissioned by King Cyrus himself to undertake the building project and therefore had every right to carry it out on their own. This rebuff brought on the second form of opposition. As already stated, the enemies tried to discourage the workers and make them afraid, This policy of harassment continued on till the reign of Darius, king of Persia, who ruled from 521 to 486. It was during his reign, in 515, that the temple was completed. The account of the building program under Darius is resumed in Ezra 4:24 after a parenthesis in verses 623.
b. Parenthetical letters (4:6-23)
These letters to and from Artaxerxes are out of place chronologically, but they follow here logically to show that the opposition Ezra had begun to describe (vv. 1-5) continued on for many years--to 485 B.C., the year Xerxes began to reign (v. 6) and on into the days of Artaxerxes (464-424). Artaxerxes was the king who was reigning during the events recorded in chapters 7-10. For the names and dates of the Persian kings in the post-exilic period, see the chart. Thus the letters may have been written at the time of Ezra's return (458 B.C.). Therefore the letters were written nearly 80 years later than the account into which they were placed. Ezra was not being deceptive by placing the letters here in his book since he clearly dated them by the ruler under which they were written. Anyone familiar with the history of that part of the world at that time (as were the inhabitants of Israel when the Book of Ezra was written) would have clearly seen what Ezra was logically doing.
4:6. Opposition continued during the time of Xerxes, Xerxes, also known as Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther, ruled from 485 to 465. Ezra recorded nothing of the nature or results of the accusation except that it apparently kept the Israelites from working on building projects. This verbal opposition in Xerxes' reign is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. This verse sets the stage for the following letter which was written in the reign of Persia's next king.
4:7. Opposition against the Jews was strong during the time of Artaxerxes. The focus of the narrative is on two letters written during his reign (464-424). Because the enemies' letter and the king's reply brought the work on the city walls and foundations to a halt, it seems logical that the letter was written before the return of Nehemiah, for under Nehemiah the building projects resumed and were completed. Though the letter was composed by people who spoke a northwest Semitic dialect (like Hebrew) it was written in the Aramaic language (the trade language of the day). It was in square Aramaic script rather than in the slanted Hebrew type of script or in cuneiform signs. Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26 are in Aramaic. Perhaps Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel were men from Samaria.
4:8-10, Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary were probably Persians who were persuaded to write the letter. In their introduction Rehum and Shimshai tried to point out to King Artaxerxes that the participants in this opposition were from various parts of the world. Their complaint was not merely from a single isolated group. Judges and officials from various parts of the Persian Empire and people who had been deported to Samaria under the reign of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal 200 years earlier were opposed to the work. Ashurbanipal (669-626) continued the deporting done by his father Esarhaddon (4:2).
4:11-16. The writers of the letter (cf. This is a copy of the letter, v. 23; 5:6; 7:11) identified with the Persian king by noting that they were his servants. The letter itself is recorded in 4:12-16. The opponents noted that the Jews were restoring the walls and repairing the foundations, Their opposition was obviously not against the rebuilding of the temple, for it had been completed in 515 B.C. The. opposition was against an attempt to begin rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem which the opponents called that rebellious and wicked city (cf. vv. 15, 19). The apparent reason for the complaint was that if the city was allowed to be fortified, then Jerusalem and the territory which Jerusalem would control would no longer pay taxes or tribute money to the crown. This would dishonor the king. Therefore the complainers felt it was their patriotic duty to tell the king what was happening so that he could search the records and see that Jerusalem was a rebellious city, which is why it was destroyed. The letter added that if the city of Jerusalem was fortified then the Jews would take back all the territory they had previously occupied and the Persian king would have no territory left in Trans-Euphrates. They claimed he would lose a huge portion of his empire.
4:17-23. In his reply the king actually strengthened the position of the Israelites by leaving open the possibility that their work might resume later by his permission. This, of course, did happen under the leadership of Nehemiah. The king did search the archives and found that Jerusalem had been powerful at one time. What an encouragement this must have been to Ezra's original readers to recall the years of David and Solomon and to know that even a pagan king acknowledged the sovereignty of their empire centered at Jerusalem. The king commanded that the building projects stop. . . until I so order, This was the same king who later (444 B.C.) changed this edict and allowed Nehemiah to return and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 2:1.9). However, the immediate result was a forced cessation of the building activity because the enemies used force to back up a legal document from the Persian king.
c. The result of the opposition (4:24)
4:24. The narrative now picks up where it left off after verse 5 (vv. 6-23 are a lengthy parenthesis). The result of the opposition during Cyrus' reign was that work on the temple was suspended until the second year of. . . Darius (520 B.C.), some 18 years after the people had returned to the 'and for the purpose of rebuilding the house of God.
d. The continuation of the work (5:1-6:12)
This section informs the readers of certain historical events under the reign of Darius. and also helps its readers understand that the temple rebuilding was sovereignly ordained by God and carried out through pagan rulers, this time Darius I (521-486).
5:1-2. The work on the temple had been stopped (4:1-5, 24), from 535 to 520 B.C. Now under the influence of two important prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, it was resumed. The preaching of these two men is recorded in the biblical books bearing their respective names. Haggai prophesied from August to December 520 B.C., and Zechariah prophesied for two years beginning in October-November 520. They were helping by exhorting and encouraging (cf. 6:14; Hag. 1:8; 2:4; Zech. 4:7-9). They were vitally concerned with the building of the temple because they realized that their nation could never fulfill the obligations of the Mosaic Covenant till the temple worship was reinstated. Both of these prophets placed the blame for the hard times the nation experienced during this period on the people's lack of obedience in not rebuilding the temple. However, Ezra did not deal with that question in his book. He stressed the outside opposition which was also a factor in slowing the work. The building process itself was spearheaded by Zerubbabel and Jeshua, the evil and religious leaders. respectively.
5:3-5. But as soon as the work was resumed, another effort (cf. 4:1-5) was made to stop it. Israel's leaders came into direct conflict with the duly established local authorities who were responsible to the Persian crown. In a Babylonian record dated 502 B.C. the name Tattenai and his office as governor of Trans-Euphrates are mentioned. Syria-Palestine was under him. an area including but much larger than Israel. Shethar-Bozenai was probably an assistant to Tattenai. It would have been Tattenai's responsibility, on hearing of this building activity in his territory, to investigate it. Major political unrest was seething at the beginning of Darius' reign. Possibly Tattenai thought the temple-building project in Jerusalem would grow into a full-scale rebellion against the empire.
God's promise/threat (Deut. 28) He said that the people would be taken into captivity if they did not live according to the covenant He instituted with them as they were ready to enter the land of promise. Not only was Nebuchadnezzar involved in the fall of Jerusalem; God Himself was responsible! Nebuchadnezzar was merely an agent of God's anger on His people (cf. "My servant Nebuchadnezzar" in Jer. 25:9; 27:6; 43:10)--an anger which was designed to purify the nation so that some would return to the land as a believing remnant. The Exile did not mean that Yahweh was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar's gods.
The group of officials asked Zerubbabel and Jeshua who authorized the project (the word structure is lit., "wooden structure"), and asked for the names of the people responsible for it (cf. 5:9-10). But despite this challenge, the work did not stop because the eye of their God was watching Over them (cf. "God. . . was over them," v. 1). Occurring frequently in Ezra and Nehemiah are the words "the hand of the LORD was on him" and similar expressions (Ezra 7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31; Neh. 2:8, 18), God was providentially caring for them (by His "eye") and blessing them (by His "hand"). Clearly God was at work in spite of this opposition because through it the project was eventually given help.
5:6-10. Ezra recorded the letter (cf. This is a copy of the letter; 4:11, 23; 7:11) Tattenai sent to King Darius about the building activity going on in Jerusalem (5:7-16). Tattenai began his letter by noting that work was being done on the temple of the great God in Jerusalem. This does not mean that Tattenai believed Yahweh of Israel was the supreme God. Most likely he meant that the God to whom the Jews were building the temple was the major God of the area. In the ancient Near East there was a highly developed belief in local deities. Tattenai noted that large stones and timbers (cf. 6:4; 1 Kings 6:36) were being used in the work and that the Jews were working with diligence and were making rapid progress, He added that he had asked who authorized the work (cf. Ezra 5:3) and that he had asked for the names of those who were leading the building program (cf. v. 4).
5:11-12. Tattenai's letter then included the Jews' answers to his questions (vv. 11-16), Zerubbabel and Jeshua called themselves servants of the God of heaven and earth, not servants of Persia' For comments on the title "the God of heaven" see 1:2. The true God, Yahweh, was superior to Darius' god, Ahura Mazda, whom Darius called "the god of heaven." Years earlier Israel had a great king, Solomon, and had had a beautiful temple. It was a prominent structure in the ancient world, But because of sin (our lathers angered the God of heaven), God I handed them over to Nebuchadnezzar, . The Jews knew why the temple was destroyed and the people deported.
5:13-17. In response to Tattenai Zerubbabel and Jeshua stated that Cyrus had allowed a remnant to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and even gave them articles which had been taken from Solomon's temple (cf. 1:2-4, 7-11). The letter-writers also recounted the fact that Cyrus gave Sheshbazzar the task of carrying out the king's command--to return the articles and to build another temple in the city. Sheshbazzar was mentioned to show Tattenai that the building program was legal. Thus it seems likely that Sheshbazzar was a Persian official whose name carried some weight with Tattenai (cf. comments on 1:8 on several views of Sheshbazzar's identity). Are Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel the same person? Many think so because Sheshbazzar laid the temple foundations, and so did Zerubbabel (3:8-10). However, this is not absolute proof that the two men were identical. Sheshbazzar could have been responsible, as the king's representative, to see that the work was begun, and Zerubbabel the Jewish leader who completed the task. Tattenai and the officials asked that the king research the records in Babylon (cf. 6:1-2) to find out if what the Jews had said about a decree from Cyrus was true. That such records were carefully kept is attested by archeology.
6:1.5. Tattenai had requested that Babylon's archives be searched for the document (5:17) but it was not found there. Instead the scroll (of papyrus or leather) was found in. . . Ecbatana (modern Hamadan), 300 miles northeast of Babylon and capital of Media (6: 1-2). The scroll was in Ecbatana, because that is where Cyrus had spent the summer of 538, when he issued the decree, This Ecbatana record was an official "minute" with three details that the verbal and written proclamation (1:1-4) apparently did not contain: (1) The temple was to be 90 feet high and 90 feet wide, with three courses of large stones and one of timbers (cf. 5:8; 1 Kings 6:36). (2) The project was to be financed by funds from the royal treasury, This shows the earnestness of Cyrus' repatriation program. (3) The returned gold and silver articles were to be put in their places in the temple.
6:6-12. King Darius then gave three instructions to Tattenai and his associates: (1) He told them to leave the Jews alone and not interfere with the building of the temple (vv. 6-7). The words stay away from there were a common Aramaic legal statement. This was to be in accord with the edict of the great King Cyrus. (2) Tax money was to be used to help finance the project and animals were to be supplied daily so that sacrifices could be made at the altar of the new temple along with food items for the offerings (vv. 8-10). Flour (from wheat), salt, and oil were to be used in the grain offerings (Lev. 2:1-2, 7, 13), and wine for drink offerings (Lev. 23:13) on feast days. (3) Anyone who disobeyed the edict was to suffer a horrible fate (Ezra 6:11-12). He was to be impaled on a beam taken from his own house, and his house was to be demolished. Execution by impaling was practiced in the Assyrian and Persian Empires. Darius wanted no disturbance in this part of his vast kingdom. The pagan king acknowledged that God had caused His name to dwell at Jerusalem. Darius probably thought of Yahweh as a local deity (cf. comments on 5:6-10), whereas Ezra, in recording that statement, knew of the covenantal significance in Yahweh's name dwelling in Jerusalem. So Tattenai's inquiry backfired. Instead of stopping the temple work, he had to let it proceed and even had to help pay for it out of his revenues! Darius' curse on anyone who would destroy the . temple was fulfilled in: (a) Antiochus . Epiphanes, who desecrated it in 167 B.C., and died insane three years later; (b) Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.), who added extensively to the temple to glorify himself. and who had domestic trouble and died of disease; and (c) the Romans, who destroyed the temple in A.D. 70, and later had their empire destroyed.
3. THE TEMPLE COMPLETED (6:13-15)
6:13-15, Tattenai, to his credit, carried. . . out the instructions of Darius, and did so with diligence (cf. "with diligence" in 5:8; 6:12; 7:21, 23). The work was done by the Jewish elders who were encouraged by the preaching of the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah (cf. 5:1). Ezra noted that the ultimate decree for the building of the temple was from God Himself. God worked through the commands of the pagan Persian kings, Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, Workers, prophets, kings, and God were all involved. Artaxerxes had nothing to do with building the temple; apparently his name was added to round out the account, for he had decreed the building of Jerusalem's walls (Neh. 2:1, 8). He also helped provide for sacrifices at the temple (Ezra 7:12-17). Some have suggested that Artaxerxes' name may have been added by an early scribe but there is no textual evidence of that. Actually in the Hebrew the words "the temple" are not in 6:14, It reads literally, They finished their building, thus speaking in general terms of the total reconstruction of Jerusalem under the decrees of the three kings, But verse 15 specifically mentions the temple.
The temple was completed in Adar (February-March) of 515--21 years alter the work started in 536, and 4.5 years after Haggai began his prophesying. This was 70.5, years alter the temple had been destroyed on August 12, 586.
E. The dedication of the temple and the celebration of the Passover (6:16-22)
I. THE TEMPLE DEDICATED (6:16-18)
6:16-18. After the temple was finished, it was then dedicated. The comparatively small number of animals sacrificed (100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 male lambs, and 12 male goats) contrasted sharply with the tremendous amount sacrificed by Solomon at the dedication of the first temple (22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats; 1 Kings 8:63). This points up the comparative poverty of the post-exilic community. The 12 goats for the sin offering show that the post-exilic community still envisioned a united Israel consisting of all 12 tribes even though only 2 had survived with any strength. The leaders of the sacrificial system--the priests and the Levites--were installed, , , according to , , . the Book of Moses, that is, according to that portion of the Law in which the legal system is described--in parts of Leviticus and Numbers (Lev. 8; Num. 3:5-10; 8:5-14). One of the motifs of Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles is that the post-exilic community was under the leadership 'of godly men who were steeped in the Scriptures and attempted to do everything according to the Law. This shows that they had learned from the Exile that God's people suffer if they do not live up to their covenantal obligations.
2. THE PASSOVER CELEBRATED (6:19-22)
6:19-21. Beginning with verse 19 the text is again in Hebrew (4:8-6:18 are in Aramaic). On the 14th day of the first month (April 515 B.C.) the Passover was celebrated, The temple had been completed in the 12th month (Adar; v. 15) and fittingly, in the very next month, the Passover was re-inaugurated. This was the first time in 70 years that the people partook of this feast which commemorated their forefathers' release from Egyptian bondage (cf. Ex. 12:1-14; Lev. 23:5).
The Israelite returnees ate the Passover with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors. This second group might have been: (a) Gentiles living in Judah (cf. Num. 9:14), or more likely (b) Jews who had remained in the land and had defiled themselves by practices that went against the Law, and then repented of those sins, thereby "separating" themselves.
6:22. The seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread was on days 15-21 of the first month, immediately after the Passover (cf. Lev. 23:6-8). The reference to Darius as the king of Assyria is not an anachronism (though the Assyrian Empire had ended in 609 B.C.) for the Persian Empire included what was once Assyria. Perhaps this title was a grim reminder that Assyria's harsh tactics were now ended, She was the first to deport Israelites from their land; but now a contingent of Jews was settled back in their land. This eight-day celebration (the Passover, Ezra 6:19, and the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, v. 22), 900 years after the first Passover, signaled the end of the Exile for a remnant of the nation was once again back in fellowship with Yahweh. Since the temple worship was restored, it was important for people who wanted to be in fellowship with God and live according to the covenantal obligations to be in the place where the sacrificial system was being practiced. The people had seen firsthand that God works through history, for He had caused pagan kings to issue decrees which let them return to the land of promise (much as He had caused Egypt's Pharaoh to release Israel). The original readers of Ezra's book would rejoice in that fact and would be encouraged to participate fully in the temple worship, which had been reestablished at such great cost.
II. The Second Return and Reform under Ezra (chaps. 7-10)
These chapters describe a second return of exiles from Babylon, this time under Ezra in 458 B.C. (7:7). Here Ezra often wrote in the first person ("I" and "we"): Ezra, a priest who knew the Scriptures, knew the importance of having the people back where the sacrificial system was being practiced.
A. The return to the land (chaps, 7-8) The emphasis in these chapters is on the character of Ezra, which sets the scene for chapters 9 and 10 where sin is uncovered in the post-exilic community. Ezra is presented as a man who was strongly motivated by the Law of God.
I. THE INTRODUCTION OF EZRA (7:1-10)
The events which transpire in this section of the narrative occurred during the reign of Artaxerxes who was introduced earlier in the book (4:8-23; 6:14). The return occurred in the king's seventh year, which was 458 B.C.
7:1-5. After these things points to a gap of 57 years since the events at the end of chapter 6. The temple was completed in 515 B.C. in the reign of Darius I. Alter Darius' death in 486 his Son Xerxes ruled for 20 years (485-465). Since Xerxes was the Ahasuerus mentioned in the Book of Esther, the events of that book occurred between Ezra 6 and 7. Then Xerxes' son Artaxerxes ruled from 464 to 424. From 515 to 458 (Artaxerxes' seventh year, 7:7) was 57 years.
Ezra's lineage is traced back to Aaron, the first priest. This list is abbreviated, for it does not name every generation. Between Azariah and Meraioth (v. 3) six names appear in the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 6:7-10 (cf. comments there). Since Seraiah was the high priest when Jerusalem fell in 586 (2 Kings 25:18), Ezra may have been his great-grandson. Because of his priestly ancestry, Ezra, like the priests, had authority to teach (cf. Lev. 10:11; Ezra 7:10).
7:6. Ezra. . . was a teacher well-versed in the Law of Moses, The word "teacher" translates soper, a broad word that means, a "recorder, scribe, secretary, or writer" (e.g.. 2 Sam. 8:17; Es. 3:12; 8:9; Ps. 45:1). The word also referred to a learned man who could read and write (e.g., Jehudi in Jer. 36:23) and a learned man who could teach what he read in God's Law. Ezra was called a "teacher" (soper) four times (Ezra 7:6, 1112,21; cf. v. 25). And he was called "Ezra the scribe" six times in Nehemiah (8:1, 4, 9, 13; 12:26, 36). "Well versed" translates mohir, which is rendered "skillful" in Psalm 45:1. Ezra had the blessing of the pagan King Artaxerxes as well as the blessing of the covenant God of Israel. A few years later Nehemiah had an official position before the king (Neh. 1:11), but Ezra held no such position. It is enough for the author to note that he was a teacher who was well versed in the Law. That was to be his major function in life. Because of the king's favor Ezra was promised that he could have whatever he wanted. Rather than ask for something personal. Ezra used the monarch's favor to advance the cause of God and His people. For the first of eight times in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, mention is made of God's hand being on Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31; Neh. 2:8, 18).
7:7-10. Not much is said here about the trip from Babylon to Jerusalem or the preparations for it. These few verses are a summary of the journey that is detailed in the rest of chapter 7 and in chapter 8. Returning with Ezra were groups of people corresponding to the groups in Zerubbabel's return (chap. 2). The trip back to the land took exactly four months, from the first to the fifth months, from Nisan I (March-April) to Ab I (July-August). The good hand of . . . God was on Ezra because he devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching it. "Devoted himself" is literally, "set his heart firmly" (cf. 2 Chron. 19:3; 30:19), which gives the idea that Ezra was inwardly determined. His determination was directed toward doing three things: studying God's Law, obeying it, and teaching it to others-an inviolable order for a successful ministry!
2. THE CIRCUMSTANCES PROMPTING THE RETURN (7:11-28)
7:11-12. Artaxerxes wrote a letter (cf. This is a copy of the letter; 4:11, 23; 5:6) to Ezra that allowed Ezra and others to return to Israel. (On Ezra as a teacher see comments on 7:6.) No reason for the decree was given. It can be surmised that Ezra had asked for permission to take a group back and that this decree was the official granting of his request. The decree was sent to Ezra personally.
7:13-26. Artaxerxes listed certain freedoms the people were
to have as they journeyed to and lived in Israel. He gave them
permission to go to Jerusalem (v. 13). He gave them silver and
gold to take with them and he allowed them to get more in Babylon
(vv. 15-16, 20). He said that they could offer sacrifices on the
altar at the temple (v. 17). They were also given freedom to make
their own decisions (v. 18). They could take back the utensils
of worship for the temple (vv. 19-20). (Apparently not all of
them had been carried back with Zerubbabel; cf. 1:7-11.) They
could have whatever else they needed for the temple up to a certain
limit (7:21-22). The wheat, oil, and salt were for use in the
grain offerings (cf. 6:9; Lev. 2:1-2, 7, 13), and the wine was
for drink offerings (cf. Ezra 6:9; Lev. 12:13). As noted in the
NIV margin, the amounts were enormous: 100 talents (3.5. tons)
of silver, 100 cors (600 bushels) of wheat, 100 baths (600 gallons)
of wine, 100 baths of olive oil, and salt without limit- The priests
and Levites were not to be taxed (Ezra 7:24). In return for granting
these privileges the king was to receive some benefits from the
expedition. He wanted to avoid uprisings or feelings of anger
against him (v. 23) and to have order in that part of his empire
(vv. 25-26). Ezra was responsible to administer justice to all
the people of the area, that is, to all who knew the laws of his
God--the Jewish people. Ezra also was to administer the judicial
system by handing out punishment to any who would not obey (v.
7:27-28. Ezra's response to the king's decree shows what kind of man he was. He praised the LORD for what was being done under him. By calling Yahweh the God of our fathers he linked himself with the godly line that had been concerned with proper sacrificial worship. He also noted that God had given this idea to the king (put it into the king's heart). Ezra added that the purpose of all this was to bring honor to the house of the LORD, The privileges granted by Artaxerxes were for God's glory, not Ezra's. Ezra also said that God's good favor was shown to him in front of all the king's pagan advisers and officials, "Good favor" translates hesed, God's covenantal love for His people. (That Heb. word is rendered "love" in 3:11, in each verse in Ps. 136, and elsewhere.) It refers to more than love; it means covenantal love, love borne out of loyalty to a Commitment. Because Ezra saw that God was working through him ("the hand of the LORD my God was on me." cf. Ezra 7:6, 9; 8:18, 22, 31), he began the task of selecting people to make the difficult trip. This probably was difficult and must have involved much personal contact and persuasion. But he was successful in enlisting leading men. . . to go with him.
3. THE LIST OF THE RETURNEES (8:-14)
8:1-14. This list consists of the major men (family heads) who returned as well as the numbers of those who accompanied them. Most of the people listed were related to the families who had returned previously under Zerubbabel (537 B.C.) 79 years earlier (chap. 2). Many of the family names in 8:3c-14 are mentioned in 2:3-15. Gershom was a descendant of Phinehas, son of Aaron's third son Eleazar (Ex. 6:25), and Daniel was descended from Ithamar, Aaron's fourth son (Ex. 6:23). The total number of men who returned was 1,514 including 18 heads of families and 1,496 other men.
With the 258 Levites assembled later (Ezra 8:15-20) the number came to 1,772. With women and children, the group may have totaled between 4,000 and 5,000. Even so, this group was much smaller than the near-50,000 on the first return (2:64-65).
4. THE DETAILS OF THE JOURNEY AND ARRIVAL (8:15-36)
a. Levites recruited for the journey (8:15-20)
8:15. Levites were to function as teachers of the Law (cf. Lev. 10:11; Deut. 33:10). Therefore they were to have an extremely important role in the reestablished community. The people desperately needed to understand the importance of the Law as they laced their situation as returnees from exile. The Levites would have a difficult time in the new land for they were to be involved in the disciplined ministry of temple service. Perhaps that is why none were present when Ezra and his group were ready to depart from the canal of Ahava (cf. Ezra 8:21. 31), whose location is unknown. This canal may have been a tributary of the Euphrates River. Even Zerubbabel had comparatively few Levites on his return (733 [2:40-58), less than 1.5% of the 49,897 [2:64-65]).
8:16-17. Therefore Ezra sent 9 leaders and 2 men of learning to secure some Levites and temple servants from the man Iddo. Ezra told the messengers what to say, which seems to indicate that this was a delicate task which needed to have some weight behind the message. The 11 messengers were sent to Casiphia, whose location is no longer known. 8:18-20. The men were able to secure 38 Levites from two families--18 from Sherebiah's family and 20 from Jeshaiah's relatives--as well as 220 . . . temple servants. Only then was Ezra ready to start on the important journey. Without the Levite teachers of the Law and people to serve at the temple all would be lost and the trip futile. b. Preparations made for the journey (8:21-30)
8:21-23. First, spiritual preparation was made for the journey. Ezra was concerned with matters pertaining to God's people. So Ezra proclaimed a fast in preparation for the journey. He wanted the assembled group thereby to humble themselves before . . . God in order to ask Him for a safe journey for themselves, their children, and their possessions. Being humble before God shows one's spiritual dependence, his acknowledgment that God is in total control. Ezra did not. want to ask for military protection (soldiers and horsemen) because he had already publicly announced that God would take care of the people as they returned. In contrast, Nehemiah readily accepted a military escort on his way back to the land (Neh. 2:9).
8:24-27. Next, physical preparation was made for the journey. Ezra divided the silver. . . gold, and articles among 24 of the key men in the group. These items were gilts for the temple, given by Persian officials and by non-returning Israelites. They included 25 tons of silver, silver articles weighing 3.75, tons, 3.75 tons of gold, 20 bowls of gold that weighed about 19 pounds, and two expensive bronze objects. All this would be valued at many millions of dollars today. No wonder Ezra was concerned about the people's safety (v. 21).
8:28-30. Ezra charged these key men with the responsibility of getting the precious metals and valuables back to Jerusalem safely. In his charge he said that these material possessions were Consecrated to the LORD and that the silver and gold were freely given by God's people. He emphasized the need for guarding the money and articles carefully by noting that they would all be weighed on arrival to be sure none had disappeared. The priests and Levites accepted the responsibility of taking the metals and utensils to Jerusalem.
c. The people journeyed and arrived (8:31-36)
8:31-34. Only a few statements were made about the journey and the arrival. The group left Babylon on the 1st day of the first month (7:9) and they left the Ahava Canal on the 12th of the same month. Since they were at the canal three days (8:15), the site of their canal encampment was about nine days' travel from Babylon, perhaps 100-130 miles away. The total journey was about 900 miles and must have been difficult for a group without a military escort. However, Ezra was content merely to relate that "the hand of Our God was on us" (cf. 7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 22) and that the Lord granted the returnees protection. On arriving in Jerusalem, after a three-day rest, everything was turned over to the priests and Levites and weighed (vv. 33-34). Several of these temple officials are also mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah: Meremoth (Neh. 3:4, 21), Jozabad (Neh. 11:16), and Binnui (Neh. 3:24). 8:35-36. Then the exiles offered sacrifices to God. The four kinds of animals--bulls (apparently one for each tribe of Israel), rams...lambs, and goats--were the same as those offered at the temple dedication (6:17), but now the number was smaller. A copy of the king's edict was given to the surrounding officials (royal satraps and governors), who were to carry out his wishes under Ezra's leadership. This caused the surrounding peoples to assist the Jewish post-exilic community. The section ends in an interesting climax--God's good hand was so evident on His people that even surrounding peoples helped them in the sacrificial system, the means of fellowship with God.
B. The reform in the land (chaps. 9-10) In contrast with the high point of God's blessing on the people at the end of the previous section (8:36), this section opens with a statement about the severe sin into which the people of the post-exilic community had fallen. The reason the people were back in the land was so that they would be able to worship God according to the ways of their forefathers under the Law. However, when the people returned to the land they still had a tendency to wander away from the words of God that had been written by Moses.
I. The People's Sin Of Intermarriage Reported (9:1-4)
9:1-2. Ezra's return had a profound effect on the people of Israel. The man who was devoted to the accurate teaching of the Law became the focal point of a major reform. This occurred less than five months after his arrival (cf. 7:9 with 10:9). The leaders came to me suggests that these were men who had previously returned to the land under Zerubbabel and had established themselves as leaders and had looked into the problem. Ezra's return may have pricked their consciences as they reflected on the Law of God. They realized that something had to be done about the situation if the nation was to enjoy fellowship with the Lord. Outward sacrifice was fine, but only if it was accompanied by an inward conformity to the Word of God (Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8).
The Jewish leaders reported to Ezra that Some Israelites had been involved with their pagan neighbors' detestable practices (cf. Ezra 9:11, 14) which meant they had married Gentiles. One of God's major prohibitions was that His people were not to marry outside the community of believers (Ex. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-4). This was not because of racial difference, for the peoples of the surrounding areas were of the same Semitic race. The reason was strictly religious. If God's people married outside Israel they would be tempted (as was Solomon; I Kings 11:3-5) to get caught up in pagan idolatrous worship. Intermarrying with people who did not worship Yahweh was symptomatic of the way the people forsook other aspects of God's Law. If they would break this aspect of the Law in the most intimate of human relationships then they would probably also break the Law in other less intimate human relationships. The peoples listed in Ezra 9:1 were many of those God had warned about centuries before (Deut. 7:1), as well as the surrounding nations of Ammon, Moab, and Egypt. Unfortunately some religious and civil leaders had been in the forefront of this evil practice.
9:3-4. Ezra's response was typical of the response of godly people in the Old Testament when they found out about sin. Tearing his tunic and cloak was a sign of mourning (cf. Num. 14:6; Josh. 7:6; Es. 4:1; Job 1:20), and pulling hair from his head and beard was a sign of unusual grief or of intense anger (Isa. 22:12). He was appalled because of the people's sin (Ezra 9:3; cf. v. 4). Ezra knew that it was for just this sort of sin that his nation had gone into captivity (cf. v. 7). Perhaps he was afraid they would go into captivity again (cf. v. 8).
2. EZRA'S PRAYER TO GOD (9:5-15) Ezra's prayer reveals much about him. He identified with the nation in their sin even though he himself was innocent of the offense (cf. Dan. 9:5-6, 8-11, 13, 15-16). Ezra understood that the nation stood together under the covenant and that this breach of responsibility, especially since it had been led by leaders of the nation, could jeopardize the entire nation before God.
9:5. The evening sacrifice was around 3 P.M. Ezra's physical position (on his knees with his hands spread out to the LORD) showed that he was throwing himself on the mercy of God. Ezra knew that the nation was guilty (vv. 6-7; cf. vv. 13, 15) so he assumed a position of begging before the Lord. There was no excuse for the people's actions. Ezra's prayer was made at the temple with weeping (10:1).
9:6-7. Ezra confessed the continuing problem of sin among the people of the nation. He reacted to the sin with embarrassment, using terms such as ashamed and disgraced. He felt embarrassed because it was for guilt like this that the nation had gone into captivity in the first place at the hand of foreign kings (viz., Sargon II and Nebuchadnezzar). The Captivity was to be a method of purifying the people and reestablishing a close relationship between them and God. Apparently the Exile had not accomplished its purpose because of the people's tendency to stray from their covenantal obligations. Like a flood their sins, Ezra said, had engulfed them for their sins were higher than their heads.
9:8-9. Ezra acknowledged the grace of God in allowing the people to return to the land. He reminded God and himself that it was the Lord's graciousness that allowed the kings of Persia to grant the Jews freedom to return to the land of promise to rebuild the temple. But now they were back in bondage--bondage to sin.
9:10-12. Ezra then confessed the men's present sin of intermarriage. Ezra asked, What can we say after this? By this question he was acknowledging that the nation had no excuse before God (cf. v. 6). No explanation was given for the leaders' disobedience. They had broken God's commands to remain pure before Him, and to separate from the corruption and detestable practices (cf. vv. 1, 14) in the land. They had directly disobeyed the clear Word of God. Foreign marriages contaminated Israel, fostered the foreigners' prosperity, weakened Israel spiritually, and decreased her opportunity to enjoy the land's crops.
9:13-14. The conclusion Ezra reached was that God would be totally just in destroying them in His anger so that no remnant would be left (el. "remnant' in vv. 8, 13, 15). They deserved even greater punishment than God was giving them (cf. v. 6). In a nutshell, Ezra was describing the position of all mankind before God. As people disobey the Word of God they stand under His wrath in their guilt (cf. "guilt" in vv. 6-7, 13, 15; cf. John 16:8; James 2:10).
9:15. Ezra's prayer included no specific request; he simply threw himself on God's mercy. By this he concluded his prayer in the same way he began. He acknowledged that no one in the entire community was worthy to stand before the righteous God. In his prayer Ezra affirmed several attributes of God: grace (v. 8), kindness (v. 9), anger (v. 14), and righteousness (v. 15). Ezra was asking God to be merciful on the basis of His loyal love for the nation.
3. THE PEOPLE'S CONFESSION OF SIN (CHAP. 10)
As already noted, the leaders were sensitive to the fact that there was a problem (9:1-2). Now other concerned Israelites joined Ezra in his grief.
a. The people acknowledged their sin (10:1-4)
10:1-4. Many people acknowledged that something had to be done about the situation. Apparently this sin had gone on and had been tolerated for some time. Children were born to some of those who had intermarried (vv. 3, 44). No doubt some devout Jews were grieved because of this sin in the community. Perhaps they were afraid to speak up or had tried and were rebuffed. In any case, now that some of the leaders were joining Ezra in bemoaning the sin, these righteous people joined in the mourning and began to demand that something be done. A large crowd of Israelites gathered with Ezra and wept bitterly. One man, Shecaniah, spoke for all the people who were weeping. He acknowledged the unfaithfulness of the nation but he felt that there was still hope for Israel. He suggested that the people covenant before. . . God to divorce the foreign women and send them away along with the children they had borne. This was to be done according to the Law. Shecaniah promised Ezra that the people would stand behind him in such a decision. Shecaniah was calling on the nation to do something distasteful and difficult, something that could cause bitter division between family members and friends. However, he appealed on the basis of the Law of God which was supposed to be the people's rule of life. The Law also was a safeguard for this situation, for an Israelite could marry a woman from outside the nation if she had become Jewish in faith. Perhaps that is why each marriage was investigated thoroughly (vv. 16-19)--to see if any women had become Jewish proselytes. Though divorce was not the norm, it may have been preferable in this situation because the mixed marriages, if continued, would lead the nation away from true worship of Yahweh. Eventually they would destroy the nation. On the other hand some Bible students believe this plan was not in accord with God's desires (cf. Mal. 2:16). Do two "wrongs" make one "right"? Perhaps Ezra wrongly followed Shecaniah's advice in requiring these divorces. However, no specific support for this view is indicated in Ezra 10.
b. The people took an oath (10:5-8)
10:5-8. The people's sincerity in their confession and repentance was shown by the fact that they took an oath before God. Taking an oath was not a light matter; it bound the oath-taker to do what he had promised. If he did not, he would be punished. Ezra withdrew to fast and mourn by himself. Jehohanan was the same as Johanan (Neh. 12:23). He was the grandson of Eliashab (Neh. 12:10-11), who was the high priest (Neh. 13:28). Hence, son of Eliashab (Ezra 10:6) means "grandson of Eliashab" ("son" in Heb. often means a grandson or even a later descendant). A proclamation was sent out to all the exiles to assemble in Jerusalem. Anyone who did not come would lose his property and would be expelled from the assembly of the exiles. In effect such a person would no longer have any legal rights. Ezra had this authority to send out a proclamation with threat of punishment, because of the edict of the king (cf. 7:26).
c. The people gathered at the temple (10:9-15)
10:9-11. The square to the east of the temple could accommodate thousands of people. The temple area was always the center of action in the Book of Ezra. On the appointed day (three days after the proclamation, in November-December 457) as the people were gathering, a rainstorm was in progress. This was the rainy season (v. 13). However, because of the oath (v. 5) and because of the threat of punishment the meeting went on as scheduled. The people were distressed out of fear of God's wrath and over concern about their families being separated. As Ezra addressed the group, he cited their sin of unfaithfulness, pronounced their guilt, and challenged them to acknowledge their sin and do something about it by becoming separate from their foreign wives.
10:12-15. The people responded that they agreed, but that the matter would take some time because of the large number of people involved and because of the rain. (In fact, it took three months, vv. 16-17.) Someone suggested that each man who had married a foreign woman should make an appointment with the elders and judges of his hometown so that the matter could be settled locally. This was a good suggestion because the elders and judges of each town would know the individuals involved. They would know whether the women involved were worshipers of the Lord or were still involved in pagan worship. Four leaders opposed the plan, though it is not clear why. Perhaps they wanted to take care of the matter right away; or perhaps they did not want to take care of it at all. At least one of them, Meshullam, was guilty (v. 29).
d. The marriages examined (10:16-17)
10:16-17. In just 11 days the examining' began (cf. vv. 9, 16). It took three . . months for all the marriages to be examined, from the first day of the 10th month (December-January 457) to the first day of the 1st month of the next year (March-April 456). Obviously the problem was widespread and could not be settled in a day (v. 13). Each case was judged individually so that justice would be done. By this action the community was not saying that divorce was good. It was a matter of following God's Law about the need for religious purity in the nation (Ex. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-4). Ezra wrote nothing about what happened to these foreign women or their children. Presumably they returned to their pagan countries.
e. The offenders listed (10:18-44)
10:18-44. Ezra concluded his account by listing the offenders in the foreign marriages. Involved in this serious sin were 17 priests (vv. 18-22) and 10 Levites including a singer and 3 gatekeepers (vv. 23-24), and 84 others from around the nation (vv. 25-43). As the leaders had said (9:1), some priests and Levites were guilty. The guilty priests each offered a ram. . . as a guilt offering in accord with Leviticus 5:14-15. The family names in Ezra 10:25-43 correspond closely to those in 2:3-20. Some of these had children by these marriages (10:44). This was a grievous separation from God's covenant. Unfortunately the people would again slip into the same kind of sin only one generation later (Neh. 13:23-28).
The narrative ends abruptly at this point. The message of the book is complete. In order for the people to be back in fellowship with the Lord it was absolutely necessary for them to have proper temple worship (Ezra 1-6) and to live according to God's Word (chaps. 7-10). (Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck)