Read the Passage: Ezra 7-8
Arrival of Ezra (7:1–10)
As we discussed earlier in our study, just as there were three separate deportations of Jews to Babylon, so there were three different returns of God’s people to Israel. Ezra 7–10 describes the second of these returns, which was led by Ezra, around 458 BC. Observe that this was roughly 80 years after the first return under Zerubbabel in 538 BC, and 58 years after the completion of the temple in 516 BC. In the chronology of the book of Ezra, this 58-year gap occurs between chapters 6 and 7, which is also where the entirety of the book of Esther transpires in the biblical record. Ezra 7:1 notes that the Persian king during this time-frame was Artaxerxes, who reigned from 464–423 BC. Next, after tracing his genealogy back to Aaron (cf. Ezra 7:2–5), Ezra wrote about himself in the third person, noting “the hand of the Lord his God [was] upon him” (Ezra 7:6; cf. Ezra 7:9, 28; 8:22, 31; Neh. 2:18).
Ezra 7:7 gives a brief summary of Ezra’s return to Jerusalem, as it notes that the returnees included priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and Nethinim. Note that that the Nethinim were temple servants who were likely proselyte descendants of the Gibeonites (cf. Josh. 9:27). Here the text notes that Ezra’s return occurred in the seventh year of Artaxerxes’ reign, which would have been 458 BC. In Ezra 7:8–9 it is recorded that the pilgrimage from Babylon to Jerusalem took 4 months, which is a reasonable time-frame given the 1,000-mile journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. Observe that for the second time in four verses Ezra writes that “the good hand of his God [was] upon him” (Ezra 7:9). Ezra 7:10 reports three reasons for Ezra’s successful ministry—that is, Ezra prepared his heart: (1) to study God’s Law, (2) to obey the Law of the Lord, and (3) to teach God’s Law to His covenant people.
Letter of Artaxerxes (7:11–28)
Just as was the case with the five letters and decrees cited earlier in Ezra 1:2–4; 4:9–16, 17–22; 5:6–17; 6:3–12, so Ezra 7:12–26 is a copy of a letter relating to the Jews’ return to Jerusalem. This letter was given by King Artaxerxes to Ezra to afford him safe passage from Babylon to Jerusalem, as well as to instruct the royal authorities throughout the realm on how to aid Ezra in his travels. There are four main sections to this letter: first, permission from the king (cf. Ezra 7:12–14); second, warning about treasures (cf. Ezra 7:15–20); third, instructions concerning provisions (cf. Ezra 7:21–23); and fourth, declaration regarding taxation (cf. Ezra 7:24–26). Observe that Ezra 7:27–28 is a personal reflection from Ezra in which he declares, “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart . . . . I was encouraged, as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me.”
List of Returnees (8:1–36)
While Ezra 7:9 gave a brief one-verse summary about the return to Jerusalem, Ezra 8 gives information about preparation for the trip, as well as details concerning the return itself. In sum, Ezra 8:1–14 lists the heads of families who returned to Jerusalem, and Ezra 8:15–20 lists the priests and Levites who returned with the group. From these lists it can be deduced that between 7,000–8,000 people traveled with Ezra to Jerusalem. Ezra notes that when this group initially gathered, while there were priests present, there were no Levites (cf. Ezra 8:15). Since all priests were Levites, Ezra’s reference here is to Levites who served in the temple in non-priestly roles (e.g., helpers, assistants, and the like). Said differently, while all priests are Levites, not all Levites are priests. After a three-day delay, Ezra writes that God sent him “a man [or men] of understanding” (Ezra 8:18; cf. Ezra 8:16). This phrase is only used here in the Bible.
Ezra 8:21–36 gives additional information about Ezra’s return to Jerusalem. Ezra 8:21–23 reports that before beginning the trip in earnest, the returnees fasted and prayed for safety on the trip. This was necessary, as the returnees declined to ask for an armed escort from the king. Ezra was concerned that such a request would have implied that God was not able to protect His people. Ezra 8:24–30 notes that the traveling party was an attractive target for highway bandits, as they were transporting many temple treasures. Indeed, Ezra 8:26 records that the returnees were carrying 25 tons of silver and 4 tons of gold. Ezra 8:31–36 reports that, in God’s kindness, the traveling party eventually arrived safely in Jerusalem. Finally, on the fourth day after their arrival, and in fulfillment of Artaxerxes’ instructions at Ezra 7:15–17, Ezra delivered the treasures to the temple and offered sacrifices for the people.
- Why do you believe the return to Jerusalem occurred in three waves—that is, under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah?
- What does Ezra mean in declaring that the hand of God was upon him? Do you believe that God’s hand is upon you?
- In the Christian life, how important is it to prepare one’s heart to study, to obey, and to teach God’s moral law?
- What does it mean to be “a man of understanding [or discretion]” (Ezra 8:18)? Have you ever met such a man?
- Was Ezra’s declining to request a military escort from Babylon to Jerusalem a sign of faith or an indication of foolishness?