- An outline of Ezra:
- The Return of the Exiles - 1:1-2:70
- The Decree of Cyrus - 1:1-4
- Preparations for the Return and Rebuilding the Temple - 1:5-11
- Census of the People and Priests Who Returned - 2:1-70
- The Rebuilding of the Temple - 3:1-6:22
- Offerings Resumed on the Temple Site - 3:1-7
- Foundation of the Temple Restored - 3:8-13
- Work on Temple Halted - 4:1-24
- Opposition of Local Population during Reigns of Darius and Xerxes - 4:1-7
- Letter of Opponents to Artaxerxes I - 4:8-16
- Artaxerxes Replies and Halts Rebuilding - 4:17-24
- Work on Temple Resumed Despite Opposition - 5:1-17
- Prophets Convince Prince and Priest to Resume Building - 5:1-5
- Local Opponents Write to Darius - 5:6-17
- Temple Rebuilding Allowed, Completed - 6:1-22
- Darius's Decree That Temple Be Rebuilt - 6:1-12
- The Temple Completed and Dedicated - 6:13-18
- The Passover Celebrated and People Rejoice - 6:19-22
- The Return and Reforms of Ezra - 7:1-10:44
- Ezra's Return and Artaxerxes' Decree - 7:1-28
- Ezra Travels to Jerusalem to Teach Israel the Law - 7:1-10
- The Decree of Artaxerxes Giving Ezra Authority to Teach and Judge Israel - 7:11-26
- Ezra's Thanksgiving - 7:27-28
- The Work of Reformation - 8:1-10:44
- The People Who Accompanied Ezra to Jerusalem - 8:1-20
- The Protection of God and the Stewardship of Treasure - 8:21-32
- Treasure Delivered, Offerings Made, Decree Relayed - 8:33-36
- Mixed Marriages Revealed - 9:1-4
- Ezra's Prayer of Confession and Intercession - 9:5-15
- The People Respond and Ezra Appoints a Meeting - 10:1-8
- The People Assemble to Investigate and Rectify - 10:9-17
- Those Who Had Offended - 10:18-4
- Chronology of Ezra
- 606 BC - Conquest of Judah by the Assyrians (First deportation: Daniel)
- 597 BC - Second invasion and deportation
- 586 BC - Destruction of Jerusalem and Beginning of the Exile
- 536 BC - Return of Exiles, Temple Rebuilding Begun (70 yrs. of Captivity concluded)
- 534 BC - Temple Rebuilding Halted
- 516 BC - Temple Rebuilding Resumed, Completed
- 457 BC - Ezra Comes to Jerusalem to Teach and Enforce the Law
- 444 BC - Nehemiah Comes to Rebuild Jerusalem
- Hebrew - 1:1-4:7
- Chaldee - 4:8-6:18
- Hebrew - 6:19-7:11
- Chaldee - 7:12-26
- Hebrew - 7:27-10:44
- The purpose of the book of Ezra is to show how God fulfilled His promise to:
- Return the people of Israel to the Promised Land from their exile in Babylon,
- Rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the Babylonians
- Restore faithfulness to the Covenant by the remnant of Israel who returned to the Land. It is in the fulfillment of this final promise that Ezra himself plays a pivotal role which is here recorded.
There is a final promise in whose fulfillment Nehemiah played an instrumental role, that is, in the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. That is the subject of the book of Nehemiah. Both of these promises to spiritually "restore" and then to physically "rebuildJerusalem" figure in that wonderful prophecy of Daniel who was among the first of Israel to be exiled to Babylon (in 606 BC) and who lived to see then end of the Babylonian Empire and the beginning of the Persian (9:24-27) We shall examine that prophecy in more detail when we comment upon Ezra 7.
I The Return of the Exiles - 1:1-2:70
A. THE DECREE OF CYRUS - 1:1-4
1. Ezra begins his narrative with the first full year that Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians reigned as king over Babylon, that is, in 536 BC. In that same year, as he tells us, Cyrus fulfilled the "word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah" when he issued a decree that the Jews could return to their ancestral lands and rebuild their temple. What was this prophecy of Jeremiah? It is truly one of the most remarkable prophecies in the Bible and shows why the people of Israel preserved the prophetic writings through the centuries after prophecy ceased among them.
2. Jeremiah, in about 603 BC, prophesied that the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, would descend upon the kingdom of Judah with a great army from "all the families of the north" and would lay waste to the land and all the surrounding kingdoms and that the people of Judah would be sent into exile to Babylon. But God added some good news. The domination of the Babylonians would end after seventy years and they would be permitted to return to their land. (25:11; 29:10) All of this came to pass just as God had promised through Jeremiah the prophet, when Cyrus, who had just conquered the Babylonians, decreed that the Jews could return to their land and rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.
3. The decree of Cyrus is written in Chaldean, the language of the Babylonians, for that language had become the lingua franca of the Middle East. Cyrus commanded that the Jews should return to Judah and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and that the people where the Jews lived should help them with silver, gold, goods and cattle, along with an offering for the Temple. What moved him to do that? Ezra says "the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia". One thing that may have stirred him up was the following prophecy of Isaiah, penned nearly two hundred years before he was born: "It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundations will be laid.' Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 'I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these." (44:28-45:7) With such an amazing prophecy before him, Cyrus would have been deeply impressed and moved to fulfill it. As we know, the Jewish prophet Daniel not only served in the administrations of the Babylonian kings but also in the early years of the Persian empire and it is very reasonable to suppose that he might have acquainted Cyrus with these and other prophecies concerning the defeat of the Babylonians and the return of the Jews to their land.
B. Preparations for the Return and Rebuilding the Temple - 1:5-11
1. Many from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites responded to the call of Cyrus. There may have also been some of the northern tribes who eventually responded. We know they still remained in the lands to which the Assyrians had exiled them in 722 BC. Also, among those who were in exile with Judah were some from the northern tribes who had migrated to Judah during the divided kingdom period and after the leading citizens of the northern tribes were exiled by the Assyrians. Remember that Anna, the prophetess who welcomed the new-born Messiah when He was brought to be dedicated in the Temple was a member of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36-38).
2. Cyrus delivered over to the Jews 5,400 articles of silver and gold that were once used in the Temple but had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar and used in the temple of his gods. These were to be returned to Jerusalem and used in the temple when it was built again. The person named "Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah" is Zerubbabel, descendent of David (2:2; 3:8; 4:3; 5:2). This is proven by comparing 5:16 where Sheshbazzar is said to have laid the foundation of the Temple with 5:2 and 3:8 where it is said that Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation. Sheshbazzar was his Babylonian name and Zerubbabel his Hebrew name. He does not become king of the Jews but he serves as their governor (Ezra 5:14, 16) and it is into his hands that Cyrus places the temple articles.
C. Census of the People and Priests Who Returned - 2:1-7
1. This chapter is apparently based on historical documentation available both to Ezra and to Nehemiah (7:6-73). The names of the families (clans, really) are given with the numbers of the men of each family and then totaled. Curiously, the sum of the individual totals does not agree with final sum given in verse 64. This may be due to later scribal error though there were no such errors in the inspired original autograph of Ezra. Another possibility is that the total sum includes people not from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin but from the other tribes of Israel whose family names and numbers are not given. The census indicates that it is not just of those descended from Judah or Benjamin, the southern tribes, but from "all Israel" (2: 70). Many from the northern tribes had resettled in the lands of Judah and Benjamin prior to the Babylonian exile and were now returning to their homes with those descended from Judah, Benjamin and Levi. (The Levites had town holdings among all the tribes of Israel but some of those among the northern tribes resettled in the south, especially those descended from Aaron, as their priesthood had been supplanted in the north by the false priests of Jeroboam and the priests of Baal.)
2. A take-away point of this census, as well as the other lists of names in this book and others in the Old Testament Scriptures, as in 1 Chronicles andNumbers, is that the Scriptures are based on historical evidence and eye-witness accounts. They are not stories told 'round the campfire that grew more fanciful over centuries of re-telling. They are sober accounts drawn up by persons who wanted to preserve the history of what really happened. Ezra, the author of this book, was a "scribe skilled in the Law of Moses" (7:6) who had access to all the books of Holy Scripture already written, along with other historical records kept by the prophets, seers and secretaries of the Israelite nation. Ezra, along with Nehemiah and others of the Scripture writers of this period also had access to the official accounts and correspondence of the Babylonian and Persian Empires. On top of all this, the Scripture writers were also eye-witnesses of some of the events they relate. The last three chapters ofEzra are largely based upon his own recollection.
3. Another probable reason the Spirit included this census in the account of Ezra is that it serves to underscore the importance of physical descent from the sons of Jacob, for these alone enjoyed the privileges and responsibilities of the covenant God made with their fathers. We see that some were not able to "give evidence of their fathers' households and their descendents, whether they were of Israel." (2:59) The same was true for some who claimed the priesthood (2:61-63). These latter were excluded from the priesthood and considered ceremonially "unclean" until such time as there arose a priest who could enquire of God by use of the "Urim and Thummim". These had been worn by the high priest since the days of Aaron but were now lost. They were worn on the breastplate of the high priest and somehow gave to him illumination as to God's will. Since the Urim and Thummim were never recovered, those who had lost their genealogical records were without any recourse. This is especially true concerning the descendents of David since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus, the Roman general. For this reason, if the Messiah did not come before that event, then he will never come because he has to be able to show that he is the descendent of David. For Jesus, we have abundant genealogical evidence of his descent from David, both legally on his step-father's side (Matthew 1:1-17) and physically, on his mother's side (Luke 3:23-38).
II The Rebuilding of the Temple - 3:1-6:22
A. Offerings Resumed on the Temple Site - 3:1-7
1. In the seventh month of the year the Israelites returned to Judea and Jerusalem, they rebuilt the altar of the Lord on its original site and began offering sacrifices according to the Law of Moses. And since it was the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, they celebrated the Feast of Booths, one of the three annual festivals in which all the males of Israel were supposed to assemble before the Lord in Jerusalem. From then on, the sacrifices prescribed in the Law were carried out.
2. They also began to gather materials and artisans to work on the rebuilding of the Temple. For this, they had the express permission of Cyrus but, unfortunately, Cyrus died soon afterward, with eventual disastrous consequences to the progress of this work.
B. Foundation of the Temple Restored - 3:8-13
1. The work on the rebuilding of the Temple commenced in the second month of the second year after their coming to Jerusalem. The male Levites, twenty years old and upward were put to this task by Zerubbabel the governor (and heir to throne of David) and Jeshua (Joshua), the high priest.
2. When the foundation was finished, and all the people assembled for the dedication celebration, those who had never seen the original temple rejoiced with loud voices but those who were old enough to have known it loudly wept, for it was but a shadow of the former glory of what Solomon had built. No doubt one of the things that also prompted their weeping was the knowledge that though the bronze, silver and gold utensils had been returned by Cyrus and brought by them to be placed in this new temple, they had lost forever the Ark of the Covenant containing the original Ten Commandments. Jeremiah prophesied this: "'It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land', declares the LORD, 'they will no longer say, "The ark of the covenant of the LORD." And it will not come to their mind, nor will they remember it nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again.'" (3:16) The younger people did not miss it because they had never known it, but these older ones realized that it meant this new Temple was lacking something that really made it sacred for them. This was a hint from God to them that the Old Covenant was on its last legs and was about to pass away.
3. We must remember that the Tabernacle and the Temple that succeeded it are absolutely central and essential to the covenant God made with the people of Israel at Sinai. Its destruction in 586 BC meant that God was suspending that covenant, at least in reference to its blessings. But God also promised that when the seventy years since they had come under the rule of Babylon were ended, they would return to the Land and rebuild the Temple. This meant that this temporary suspension of the covenant would be ended. However, God also foretold, through the prophet, Daniel, that this second temple would be destroyed and never rebuilt. (9:26-27) Many Christians today believe that the Temple will be rebuilt by the Jews and that the Anti-Christ will enter into it. This is absolutely untenable in Scripture. Jesus ended the Old Covenant in principlewhen He died on the cross. This was betokened by the tearing of the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (Matthew 27:50-51). This is what Daniel 9:27 means when it says that the Messiah will "put an end to sacrifice and grain offering…" in the middle of the last seven years of the 490 years that will elapse after a decree is made (in 457 BC) to "restore and rebuild Jerusalem". This would be in the spring of AD 30 when Jesus was crucified. But the Old Covenant ends in practice when "the people of the Prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary." The people of the Prince who is to come are the Jews, the people of the Messiah, Jesus. They, by rebelling against Rome, fighting against each other and desecrating the Temple, bring about its desolation and destruction. This event is not placed within the 490 years of Daniel 9:24 but is presented as the consequence of the predicted events falling within that period. As it turned out, it was a Biblical generation, forty years, from the year the Messiah was crucified and rose again. While the destruction of the First Temple meant that the Mosaic covenant was temporarily suspended, the destruction of the Second Temple meant that it was forever laid aside but not before a "better covenant… enacted on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6) had been ratified by Jesus through His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. This is the "new covenant" prophesied byJeremiah (31:31-34) and pictured in the Passover, as Jesus pointed out at His last supper (Luke 22:20; see also 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6, 14; Hebrews 8:8, 13; 9:15) This Second Temple, the foundation of which the people of Israel celebrated shortly after they returned from exile, was destroyed and has not been rebuilt for over twenty centuries. In the 60's AD, the author of the letter to the Hebrews points out that the "way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing", which it was in his day but was shortly to be destroyed. He had already established that "whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." (8:13) The existence of the temple was absolutely vital to the worship commanded under the Old Covenant: "Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience since they relate only to food and drink and various washings (literally: baptisms), regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation." Those in Israel who continued to believe that the Old Covenant was in force even though the essential element of temple worship was no longer possible after the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, can be excused at least on the ground that they could still hope that it might be rebuilt. In fact, the second revolt of the Jews under the messianic pretender, Bar Kochba, had this very hope in mind, but miserably failed to achieve it. Later, under Julian the Apostate, emperor of the now Christian Roman Empire, the hope of the Jews that their temple would be rebuilt had a moment of revival as Julian, who reverted to the old Roman gods, thought that he could discredit Christianity by allowing the Jews that opportunity. But after more than twenty centuries, how can the continued validity of the Old Covenant be maintained when God has withheld the means necessary to fulfill it? Jews who do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah (at this time still the overwhelming majority) allege that since God has made it impossible for them to keep the laws concerning sacrifices and offerings that they are still obliged, for instance, to keep the laws concerning ritual purity, such as the kosher dietary laws. But as the author of the book of Hebrews points out (9:9-10), those laws of ritual purity were required in order to make someone fit to offer sacrifices to God in the Temple or to receive the benefits of the covenant secured through the priestly ministrations in that temple! God has gone to great lengths to keep the temple from being rebuilt. By His providence the third holiest place on earth to a billion and a half Muslims now sits dead center upon the temple site. The Jews cannot build it now without tangling with all those Muslims! What a proof this is that Jesus is the Messiah and that with His coming the promised New Covenant has replaced the Old! The desire of many Christians that this temple be rebuilt is very sad. They have been misled by a brand of teaching that arose in the late 19th century and became popular by the mid twentieth. May it die away before long! Its prediction that Jesus would come within a generation from the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 or the capture of Jerusalem by the Jews in 1967 (a biblical generation is forty years - Numbers 32:13) have both failed, so let us hope that people will grow suspicious of the rest of the features of this relatively new and thoroughly unbiblical doctrine.
C. Work on Temple Halted - 4:1-24
1. The people who approached Zerubbabel and the leaders of Israel, asking to be included in the work of rebuilding the Temple were the people whom the king of Assyria had transplanted to the lands of Ephraim and Manasseh (Samaria) when he had exiled the leading portions of those tribes beyond the Euphrates. These foreigners had adopted some of the customs of worship practiced by the Israelites but had continued also to worship false gods. They were what we would call "syncretists": people who combine the beliefs and practices of more than one religion. They were anxious to prove their legitimacy as co-religionists with the returned exiles but Zerubbabel, Joshua and the leaders of Israel all flatly refused to allow them to help with rebuilding the temple for, "You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God…" (4:3)
2. Naturally, this turned the local population against the Jews and the opposition proved so formidable that the Jews stopped rebuilding until the reign of Darius. In verses 6-23, however, we have a parenthetical insertion by Ezra concerning the later opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem which actually explains why the city walls and many of its buildings were not restored until Nehemiah came with fresh orders from king Artaxerxes. Ezra seems to have inserted this here to show how extensive and successful (though temporarily) were the attempts of the local population to frustrate the Jews in realizing the fulfillment of the promises God made to them that not only would they return but also rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Just keep verses 6-23 in your pocket, so to speak, and connect verse 6 to verse 24.
D. Work on Temple Resumed Despite Opposition - 5:1-17
1. Prophets Convince Prince and Priest to Resume Building - 5:1-5
a. Around fourteen years had passed since work on the temple was halted and God was not pleased with His people because of their cowardice. After all, they had the law on their side with the decree of Cyrus. It is like us Christians today in America who neglect to share the gospel with others because we fear their displeasure, despite the great freedom we have to share our faith under the Constitution and the strong legacy of religious liberty in our country.
b. God raised up two great prophets to get the prince, Zerubbabel and the high priest, Joshua, to take the leadership in resuming the work of building the Temple. Those prophets were Haggai and Zechariah. Read the books bearing their names and you will see what God had to say to the leaders and people of Israel about their fear of the surrounding peoples and their consequent reluctance to rebuild the Temple. For instance, God asks, "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?" (Haggai 1:4) This is to prick their consciences but later, on a more encouraging note, He says, "'But now take courage, Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD, 'take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,' declares the LORD, 'and work; for I am with you,' declares the LORD of hosts. 'As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!'" (2:4-5)
2. Local Opponents Write to Darius - 5:6-17
a. Now here we have the letter that was sent on this occasion to the king of Persia, Darius, concerning the rebuilding of the Temple. As I pointed out before, the comments and letter of 4:6-23 are parenthetical and refer to the period after the temple was rebuilt when the Jews thought they would go on to resurrect the city of Jerusalem from its ruinous condition. This was beyond the express wording of Cyrus's decree and so their opponents could appeal to Artaxerxes to put a stop to it. He replies, "So, now issue a decree to make these men stop work, that this city may not be rebuilt until a decree is issued by me." (4:21) Later, Artaxerxes sends Ezra to convey offerings for the temple and to teach and enforce the Law of Moses among the Jews. This prepares him to take the further step, thirteen years later, of sending Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem, including its walls. So, in the end, the same king who forbade the rebuilding of Jerusalem later issues a decree that led to the spiritual restoration of Jerusalem under Ezra and later, the physical rebuilding of Jerusalem under Nehemiah (with Ezra helping).
b. The letter of the opponents of the Jews shows that they expected that king Darius would not back up the claim by the Jews that they were authorized to rebuild their temple.
E. Temple Rebuilding Allowed, Completed - 6:1-22
1. Darius's Decree That the Temple Be Rebuilt - 6:1-12
a. Here, we have the letter of Darius I in which he fully authorizes the rebuilding of the temple, having searched the archives and found the original order of Cyrus. Thus was God's promise fulfilled as people set to work.
b. Notice that the fulfillment of God's promises in each of these cases included:
1) the things only God could do, such as the decree of Cyrus that the Jews return to their land and the decree of Darius that the Jews be allowed to rebuild the Temple and
2) the things God's people had to do, such as return to the Land and rebuild the Temple. So we see that God's promises include what He will do and what we must do in response or the promise will not be fulfilled. For instance, if you ask Him for a job, don't sit around waiting for it to fall into your lap - do all you can do to find the job God wants you to have. God has promised to provide us with all things needful but we must do our part. This varies depending upon the thing needed by us or promised by God but usually there is something we must also do.
2. The Temple Completed and Dedicated - 6:13-18
a. Now, finally, eighteen years since they had halted work on the temple and four years since they had resumed work on it, the Temple was completed. This was in 516 BC and in the sixth year of the reign of Darius, king of Persia. The opposition, following the stern and terrifying reply of Darius (6:11) turned to enthusiastically supporting the work by providing all the supplies needed to complete it.
b. Again, anticipating the future decree of Artaxerxes supporting the service of the Temple, Ezra inserts his name here along with those of Cyrus and Darius (6:14).
3. The Passover Celebrated and People Rejoice - 6:19-22
a. The month of Adar was the last month of the sacred calendar of the Jews, so after they had celebrated the dedication of the completed Temple in the last month of the year they lingered or soon returned to celebrate the Passover beginning on the 14th of Nisan, the first month of the year. This was followed by the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread.
b. What rejoicing they had during the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened bread! God had fulfilled His promises to them! Notice that the priests had cleansed themselves of all ceremonial defilements, and so also the people (20-21). They were ready to worship! O that we were so diligent to prepare ourselves for the worship of God! This is as true for New Testament as for Old Testament worshipers: "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you." (James 4:7-10) Modern worshipers have little of that sense of awe and reverence that the Bible says should precede and accompany our acts of worship. How often do you prepare your heart, whether for private or public worship by confessing your sins to God and heartily repenting of them? If we did that we would know far more of the joy of worship than what we now experience under the stimulus of mere social interaction, upbeat music and snappy sermons. Then we would know the wonder and joy of receiving God's grace of forgiveness, restoration and empowerment to live a holy life!
III The Return and Reforms of Ezra - 7:1-10:44
A. Ezra's Return and Artaxerxes' Decree - 7:1-28
1. Ezra Travels to Jerusalem to Teach Israel the Law - 7:1-10
a. In the 7th year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Ezra was moved of the Lord to undertake a journey from Babylon to the land of Israel. This was not a tourist jaunt! He was going with a high and God-given purpose. He was "a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given…" (verse 6) He was a man of great literary and legal accomplishments. The Jews have credited him with copying and preserving not only the Torah but also the other books of the prophets written to that time. He may have been the one who wrote the books of Chronicles. Apparently he also served in the court of the king of Persia and so was strategically placed by God to overcome the prejudices that had been introduced into Artaxerxes' mind after receiving the letter of Rehum and Shimshai (4:8-16) concerning the efforts of the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem after they had completed the rebuilding of the Temple.
b. Ezra's great ambition in going to Israel was that he might "study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. (7:10) This is such a wonderful summary of what all preachers of the gospel, all teachers of the word and all disciples of Jesus should do. We ought to study the Scriptures, practice what we learn therein and then teach them to others, in that order. All too often we reverse this. We teach the word of God before we have either studied or practiced it ourselves!
2. The Decree of Artaxerxes Giving Ezra Authority to Teach and Judge Israel - 7:11-26
a. The decree of Artaxerxes authorizes or commands the following:
1) that any of the people, Levites or priests of Israel who wish may return with Ezra to Jerusalem, (Please note the emphasis upon Jerusalem.)
2) that they are to enquire for the king concerning Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of God, (in other words enquire as to whether the people are abiding by God's law)
3) that Ezra and his company convey to Jerusalem an offering of silver and gold by the king and his counselors, along with the freewill offerings of the Israelites,
4) that this money shall be used to purchase offerings for the Temple
5) that what is left over be used for any other purpose on behalf of the Temple,
6) that a certain amount be taken from the royal treasuries in the region adjoining Jerusalem and Judah for the support of the Temple,
7) that neither tax, toll or tribute shall be levied from the Levites, priests and other assistants to the worship of the house of God,
8) that Ezra shall appoint magistrates to judge the people of Israel in Judea according to the law of God,
9) that Ezra should teach the law of God to any who are ignorant of it and
10) that Ezra shall see to it that the law of God is enforced among the Israelites.
b. This is the "decree" that was prophesied by Daniel (9:24-27) from which the sixty-nine sevens of years were to be counted off until the appearance of the Messiah to Israel. Some people say it should be counted from the year that Nehemiah received permission from Artaxerxes, thirteen years later, to return to Jerusalem to rebuild it. But notice that the prophecy of Daniel 9calls it a "decree" whereas there is no mention of a decree in Artaxerxes' words to Nehemiah. In fact the decree given to Ezra in 457 BC is consummated in the job given to Nehemiah in 444 BC by the very same king. The prophecy of Daniel says that from the going forth of a decree to "restore and rebuild Jerusalem" until the coming of the Messiah, the Prince shall be 7 weeks of years plus 62 weeks of years (483 years). 483 years from 457 BC lands on 26 AD, the very year that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John, in the autumn of that year to be more precise. Then the prophecy of Daniel says that "after the sixty-two weeks" (plus the 7 weeks of years prior to that during which the city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt "in times of distress") "the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing…" This will happen during the final week of years, specifically at the midpoint of that last week for "in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering…" by fulfilling the meaning of those sacrifices and offerings through the offering up of His own body on the cross.
c. To return to the issue of which date to start from for the "decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" the two words denote two phases in the fulfillment of God's promises to the children of Israel. Jerusalem would berestored only by the return of the people to whole-hearted fulfillment of God's law. This was the necessary precursor or condition upon which God could release the necessary support and provision by the king of Persia for the physical rebuilding of the city. First comes spiritual restoration and then physical rebuilding. This has the following applications:
1) Messianic - the return of the Israelites to the Promised Land was necessary so that the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah might be fulfilled. But mere return was not enough. The people must be purified from the things that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and exile in Babylon. They need a spiritual restoration. This is what Ezra was perfectly equipped to provide under the blessing and direction of God. Yes, Jerusalem must be physically rebuilt for it is there that the Messiah will appear to Israel and there that He will accomplish redemption. But if Israel had not preserved the prophecies of His coming or were not faithfully carrying out the ceremonial requirements that prefigured His coming, there would have been no witness and hence no reason for the world to believe in Him.
2) Personal - Your life needs spiritual much more than it needs material betterment. In fact, your "practical life" will be meaningless without spiritual restoration. Many try to "reform" their lives in order to attain some worldly goal but because they do not do it in the framework and context of God's word they are wasting their time. Ezra was a teacher of the word of God. We need to know God's point of view before we can even begin to establish what we are supposed to be doing down here on earth. In fact, we need to be constantly reoriented to the compass of God's truth, just as sailors once had to take daily compass readings to stay on course.
3) Church - the Church needs spiritual restoration far more than it needs physical or social accomplishments. So much of "church growth" strategizing, organizing and programming is a total waste of time so far as God's kingdom goes. Why is this? It is because it ignores the first need of the Church and that is to hear and do the will of God. The Church is meant to be a fellowship of disciples, not an audience of consumers. Yes, we can use buildings, paid personnel and programs but if we lack the fire of God and the leadership of His Spirit, we will go nowhere. Just as God sent Ezra before He sent Nehemiah, so the Lord today will cause the Church to truly grow through spiritual renewal and then He will send the material and social resources such a renewed body of believers need to reach the world.
4) Social - of course we should be making a difference in society, helping to reform it and make it more clearly reflect the priorities of the kingdom but so many efforts for good are fruitless or result in the ruin of those who attempt them because they are not done in accordance with God's word and with the resources of His Spirit. Thomas Kelly, the Quaker spiritual writer, was led into a much deeper walk with God after he felt and observed in his fellow Quakers an unendurable amount of stress, strain and frustration in their efforts to reform the world. Yes, we need the ministry of Ezra before we can do the work of Nehemiah.
3. Ezra's Thanksgiving - 7:27-28
a. The thanksgiving Ezra offers here is for God's intervention in the heart of a pagan king so that God's gracious promises might be fulfilled. How wonderful to see the hand of Providence in our circumstances rather than what appear to be the capricious and unreasonable results of chance. This is what dwelling on God's word provides for us.
b. Ezra gathered the leading men to himself. All good leaders recruit and attract other leaders. The leader that wants to be the sole leader is no leader.
B. The Work of Reformation - 8:1-10:44
1. The People Who Accompanied Ezra to Jerusalem - 8:1-20
a. If we total up all the persons who went with Ezra to Jerusalem it would be over 1,500 males. This is a large body of returnees! They included lay people as well as the priests and Levites.
b. "According to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of insight…" (8:17) Such people are much needed in the Church and in society! Let us pray that God would make us such people and bring forth such people to serve Him in our day!
2. The Protection of God and the Stewardship of Treasure - 8:21-32
a. Ezra made it a point that they would not depend upon the protection of the king of
Persia. They were a large, slow-moving body bearing much wealth for the service of the temple, a tempting target for bandits or local war lords. He had bragged about God's protection to the king and so he made a point to provide God an opportunity to demonstrate it. God likes that sort of thing - people who put their faith into practice and show an unbelieving world that God is real. Ezra's company did face real dangers but they escaped them all (8:31).
b. Ezra takes great pains to see that the treasure entrusted to them is counted and entrusted to worthy people. Spirituality must not be an excuse to be care-free with the resources of this world.
3. Treasure Delivered, Offerings Made, Decree Relayed - 8:33-36
a. Here we can summarize by saying, "Mission Accomplished", at least the initial phase of it. Ahead lay much work but the relief of finally arriving in Jerusalem and being able to deliver their supplies and messages must have been great.
b. The most important thing that Ezra did initially, however, was to deliver the king's edicts to the leaders of the surrounding nations so that they would not interfere but cooperate in carrying them out.
4. Mixed Marriages Revealed - 9:1-4
a. Now for the heavy lifting! No sooner than he had cleared his calendar than a report was brought to him that something dreadful had been going on for some time among God's people. They had been marrying the daughters of idolaters in that region. Why was this a problem? God had forbidden them to do this. By why had He forbidden them? It was essential that Israel, as God's witness to the world and the people from whom would come the Messiah, the Savior of the world, should not be enticed into idolatry and into the wicked practices of the idolaters.
b. Ezra was deeply shocked, mortified and distressed. He tore his clothing, pulled out his hair and "sat appalled until the evening offering." Many gathered around him who, like him, "trembled at the words of the God of Israel". Do we tremble at God's word today? Not very much, if ever. We Quakers got our name because we quaked or trembled before the Lord because of His awesome glory and majesty and because we saw how all our righteous deeds were as filthy rags as compared with His infinite purity. Like Isaiah we should cry out, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5)
5. Ezra's Prayer of Confession and Intercession - 9:5-15
a. Here we find one of the most impressive prayers of the entire Bible. It is filled both with deep feeling and with profound insight. He is "ashamed and embarrassed", unable even to lift up his face to God. And yet he is filled with agonizing concern for the glory of God and good of His people.
b. The sharp point of Ezra's prayer comes from two terrible ironies:
1) That the people had reverted to the very thing that was the beginning of all Israel's troubles: bringing idolaters into the community of God's people.
2) And this in the face of all God's gracious goodness to them in granting them favor in the sight of the kings of Persia and a return to their land and the rebuilding of their Temple. Paul's question comes to mind here, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?" His answer is loud and clear: "May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:1-2)
c. Is this question of intermarriage still relevant today? Yes, it is, in that New Testament believers are told not to be "bound together with unbelievers." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) Friends used to be very strong on this, going so far as to "disown" those who "married out of meeting" - even to other Christians who did not share the specific "testimonies" of Friends. That may have been going too far but it was done to keep their community from gradually falling back from the high ground the Lord had enabled them to attain in the early days of their movement. But one thing should be kept in mind. New Testament believers, while they should not marry or become bound with unbelievers in a way that would lead to compromise or corruption are nevertheless called to salt for a corrupt earth and light for a darkened world. Friends eventually became so concerned to remain pure and unstained by the world that they ceased, for a time, to do much good for the world. We must be in the world but not of it. Do we have friendships with unbelievers? Good and fine, but let them be redemptive or else cease to call them friendships. Friends don't let friends go to hell! Jesus became "infamous" as a "friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34) but His friendship with them was in order to bring them to salvation.
6. The People Respond and Ezra Appoints a Meeting - 10:1-8
a. Ezra's work of restoring the people of Israel to the foundation of God's word had begun with his own response to their abject failure. Now it required action. The putting away of these wives and their children was not to be done in a cavalier or careless manner. They would not be sent away empty. Dowries would be returned to the wives and provision would be made for the children. A certificate of divorce would make it possible for them to be remarried (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). This matter had to be accomplished according to the law of God. That is why it had to be done in an official setting and also why it took so long.
b. The Bible is very clear on the evils of divorce but here the priority of Israel's protection from spiritual and moral corruption took first priority. In a sense, these marriages were null and void so far as the Mosaic covenant was concerned. This led the Christians in Paul's day to wonder if they should do likewise and divorce their unbelieving wives or husbands. To this Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, responding with an unequivocal "No!" The unbeliever might divorce or desert them, it is true, but they must not divorce the unbeliever. (1 Corinthians 7:10-16; An exception in the case of fornication or adultery is recognized by many Scripture scholars, based on Matthew 5:31-32; 19:9.) After all, in the case of the Corinthians Christians, it wasn't that they had gone out and married unbelievers. Rather, it was they who had been unbelievers and then were converted to Christ. That is how they came to be married to unbelievers.
7. The People Assemble to Investigate and Rectify - 10:9-17
a. Strong medicine was needed and dispensed. On penalty of loss of all their possessions even those otherwise unwilling were forced to attend to this matter. No such force is to be used in the Church today for we are under a covenant of grace, not law, of spirit and not the letter. Nevertheless, church discipline remains and those who continue to flout the standard of teaching and behavior they had pledged themselves to pursue should be, after every effort to reclaim them has been made, declared to be no longer a member of the church until such time as they may repent. b. This would not preclude them from attending meetings for worship but would exclude them from some ministries in the church and from having the right to deliberate in the meetings for business.
8. The Names of Those Who Had Offended - 10:18-4
a. Ezra's book concludes with a list of the names of those who had offended in the matter of marriage to idolaters. We have seen several other lists in this book, lists that we would be proud to be on - people who boldly stepped forward to serve the Lord despite great risk and hardship. But here we see a list of shame. Nevertheless all the redeemed will appear on both kinds of lists, for we are sinners saved by grace. Those on the list of shame presumably were repentant and wished to make things right.
b. This reminds us that there is a list we all should want to be on - that list appearing in "the book of life" (Revelation 3:5; 20:12, 15) You may make sure that you are on that list by surrendering your life to Christ today, gratefully acknowledging all that God has already done for you through His Son on the cross and by His Spirit in your heart and eagerly embracing all that God wants to do for you and through you for the rest of your life. Such repentant and surrendered souls God delights to receive. Come to Him this day, this very moment!