Dr. Thomas L. Constable
The title in the English translations of this book comes from the main character in the second part of it (chapters 7—10). The Hebrew Bible has the same title: the name of this main character. In the Septuagint translation, this book bears the title Esdras, which is the Greek transliteration of the name Ezra. The Book of Ezra should not be confused with either 1 or 2 Esdras, which are two apocryphal books.
Correlation of Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Esdras Books
Esdras B (Beta)
Esdras C (Gamma)
Esdras A (Alpha)
Relation to Nehemiah
Early copyists probably placed Ezra together with Nehemiah in the Hebrew Bible because Nehemiah continues the history begun in Ezra. Another reason that they may have done this was to make the total number of canonical books agree with the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Another view is that Ezra and Nehemiah were written originally as one book and then divided later. Even today the Hebrew Bible links Ezra and Nehemiah, as did the Septuagint translators. However, the repetition of Ezra 2 in Nehemiah 7:6-70 suggests to some that these two books were not originally joined together. Evidently Origen (A.D. 185-253) was the first biblical scholar to divide Ezra-Nehemiah into two books, and the early church father Jerome followed this precedent in his fourth-century A.D. Latin translation, the Vulgate. Thus, the division of Ezra-Nehemiah appears to have come from the Christian tradition. The two books appear as one in all Hebrew manuscripts until the fifteenth century A.D.
Rhetorical studies of Ezra-Nehemiah have revealed a chiastic structure that supports the view that these two books were originally one:
"A. Zerubbabel's return and list of returnees (Ezra 1—2)
B. Building of the temple and opposition (Ezra 3—6)
C. Return of Ezra (Ezra 7—8)
D. Center: Purification of the people (Ezra 9—10)
C.' Return of Nehemiah (Neh. 1—2)
B.' Building of the walls and opposition (Neh. 3:1—7:3)
A.' Zerubbabel's return and list of returnees; final reforms (Neh. 7:4—13:31)"
Due to the ancient tradition that the same writer composed both parts of the Book of Ezra (chapters 1—6 and 7—10), many scholars believe that Ezra produced all of it. A passage in the Talmud credits Ezra with the authorship of Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles. Ezra speaks in the first person in Ezra 8—9. This may suggest that the writer drew from a source such as the so-called "Ezra Memoirs" that recorded Ezra's personal recollections in the first person. Ezra also speaks of himself in the third person in some passages (chs. 7 and 10), which some interpreters believe argues for a second writer. But there are other examples of the same writer mixing first and third person references to himself in other Bible books (e.g., Isa. 7:3; 8:1; Jer. 20:1-6, 7-18; 28:1, 5-7).
Another view is that the joint book was a compilation that an unknown "chronicler" made after the events recorded took place.
As a scribe (7:21), Ezra had the qualifications needed to write this book. He was also a general contemporary of Nehemiah (Neh. 8:1-9; 12:36). A reference in the Talmud claimed that Ezra was a disciple of Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe.
The last historical reference in the book is in 4:21-23. In view of other chronological references in the book, this event must have occurred about 446 B.C. Therefore Ezra could have written the book about 446 B.C. or shortly after that.
Though Ezra is basically a book of history designed to teach theology, there are a number of sub-genres (types of literature) within it. These include: letters, royal edicts, lists, and memoirs.
Distinctive Themes and Emphases
"Regardless of one's view of the authorship of Ezra-Nehemiah and its relationship to Chronicles, the theological viewpoint of the whole collection is essentially the same. The message is addressed to the postexilic community of Jews who wonder if there is any hope of political and religious restoration. Its central thrust is that there indeed is hope but that hope must be incarnated in the rebuilding of the Temple, the cultus [rituals of worship], and the priesthood. Only as the remnant people became the theocratic nation, founded on and faithful to the covenant Yahweh made with their fathers, could they revive the Davidic house and anticipate the resumption of their mediatorial role among the nations of the earth. Ezra and Nehemiah are therefore burdened to clarify (1) the Person and works of God, (2) Israel's own identity and function as a covenant people, and (3) the nature of that covenant in postexilic times."
Other major themes include: a shift from leaders to community, a relaxing of the place where holiness is restricted, the shift from oral to written authority, and an emphasis on walls. Ezra's wall separated the Israelites from the Gentiles, and Nehemiah's wall separated the Jews in Jerusalem from their enemies.
"Since the book's theme is the manner of rebuilding the house of God, and the 'house of God' is broadened to include the full restoration to spiritual vitality predicted by Jeremiah (Ezra 1:1), it is evident that the book's purpose is to expound a theology of spiritual revitalization. Ezra-Nehemiah describes the spiritual revitalization of post-exilic Judaism as an example of how the house of God can be rebuilt in any generation."
"Ezra-Nehemiah is a scriptural manual on revival. God's people wax and wane during their spiritual journey, and God has given in Ezra-Nehemiah a book to address this perennial issue. Pastors who see their congregations in need of spiritual renewal, or in need of preserving and continuing their spiritual vitality, would do well to preach through this book."
The earliest historical reference in Ezra is to the decree of Cyrus that he issued in his first year on the throne (1:1): 538 B.C. The latest historical reference was just prior to Nehemiah's first trip back to Jerusalem (4:21-23; cf. Neh. 1:1-3), in 446 B.C. Therefore this book spans a period of 92 years of history.
However, most of the events recorded took place in 538-515 B.C. (chapters 1—6) and 458 B.C. (chapters 7—10). Between these two separate series of events the Book of Ezra records nothing. The events in the Book of Esther transpired during those years (in 482-473 B.C.). The book of Ezra and then Nehemiah record the last events, chronologically, in the Old Testament.
"These books [Ezra and Nehemiah] are tightly packed with spiritual messages waiting to be extracted. They communicate a rich spirituality during times when things were not overwhelmingly positive for God's people. They are concerned with lists that show the unity of God's people, the importance of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, sacrificing, and reading of the Scriptures is exemplified throughout both books. There is much we can learn in them."
I. The first return under Sheshbazzar chs. 1—6
A. The return from Babylon chs. 1—2
1. The edict of Cyrus and its consequences ch. 1
2. The exiles who returned ch. 2
B. The rebuilding of the temple chs. 3—6
1. The beginning of construction ch. 3
2. The opposition to construction ch. 4
3. The challenge to construction ch. 5
4. The completion of construction ch. 6
II. The second return under Ezra chs. 7—10
A. The return to Jerusalem ch. 7—8
1. The decree of Artaxerxes and its consequences ch. 7
2. The journey itself ch. 8
B. The restoration of the people chs. 9—10
1. The problem of mixed marriages ch. 9
2. The solution to the problem ch. 10
The two main divisions of the book are remarkably parallel.
The first return under Sheshbazzar
The second return under Ezra
The decree of Cyrus (1:1-4)
The decree of Artaxerxes (7:1, 11-26)
The leaders: Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel (1:8; 2:2)
The leader: Ezra (7:1-10)
The names and number of the returnees (2:3-65)
The names and number of the returnees (8:1-20)
The sacred vessels and gifts (1:6-11; 2:68-70)
The sacred vessels and gifts (7:15-22; 8:24-35)
The coming to Jerusalem (3:1)
The coming to Jerusalem (8:32)
The prophetic ministries of Haggai and Zechariah (5:1—6:14)
The intercessory ministry of Ezra (9:1-15)
The outcome: built (6:15-22)
The outcome: separated (10:1-44)
Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther have much in common. Among other things, they all deal with God's dealings with Israel following the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews. Jeremiah had spoken of these years before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem (Jer. 25:11-14; 29:10-14). Now, 70 years had passed, Babylon had fallen, and Cyrus was on the throne of Medo-Persia. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther all reveal God overruling human failure. They show God remaking His vessel that had proven obstinate: Israel (cf. Jer. 18:1-6).
The Book of Ezra reveals four things about God's dealings with Israel that are of permanent value:
First, God's instruments are very diverse. In shaping Israel again as His instrument for blessing the world, God used other instruments, outside the nation as well as inside it.
His primary instruments outside were Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. Each of these men issued a decree that God had inspired as fully as any message by Isaiah or any of the other prophets of Israel (e.g., 1:1-4). God turned the hearts of these kings in the direction that He wanted them to go (cf. Prov. 21:1). God directed the marching of their armies, as well as the praying of the captives, to accomplish His will.
His primary instruments inside the nation of Israel were Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and Ezra. Zerubbabel was a descendant of King Jehoiachin, and Jeshua was a descendant of Aaron. Thus, God raised up a member of the kingly family and a member of the priestly family in order to resume His dealings with Israel as formerly. These men began to inspire other Israelites, and the movement to return to reestablish life in the Promised Land was under way. The third Israelite instrument was Ezra, who was a scribe. We begin here to read of the scribes, who are prominent in the Gospels. A scribe was a student, interpreter, teacher, and preacher of the Word of God. God uses both people who do not know Him and people who do know Him to carry out His plans.
Second, the Book of Ezra reveals that God's might is awesome. We see this not only in the way that God uses the two kinds of people just differentiated: Gentiles and Jews. We see it in the way He qualifies His workers to accomplish their tasks, as I have noted. We also see it in God gathering His people from all over the ancient world to bring them back into their land. Most of the exiles did not return. Ezra's revelation provided the original readers with hope for the future.
Third, God's people are changeable, another significant revelation in this book. God gathered people from all the tribes of Israel, not just Judah, back to the land (2:70; 6:16-17). In exile, the Israelites had renounced idolatry. They had returned to the worship of the one true God. Yahweh's severe punishment of them for idolatry, as well as their own observation of idolatry for 70 years, took away their appetite for it. God had purged out this dross and could now fashion the nation anew.
Fourth, God's work is proceeding, another important revelation. Note what God did to the nation. When the people returned to Canaan, they had lost their national influence. They could not demonstrate how glorious it is to live under God's government, as they had formerly. They also had lost their independence. However, they regained a place for themselves as a nation. Furthermore, God had saved them from racial extinction and religious absorption during their exile. The Pharisees (lit. Separated Ones) came into existence during the Captivity. They wanted to prevent the Jews from intermixing with others. That attitude was good then, but it became bad later: too much separation. In all these respects, we can see God's work of reshaping the nation of Israel.
The message of the book arises from these observations on its emphases, and I would state it this way: God does not discard what He has chosen, but He remakes it when it fails.
With most people, if someone fails a few times, that person is out. This is perhaps most clearly illustrated in baseball. You only get three strikes, and then you are out. With God, if a person fails, he gets many other opportunities, like in golf. This is how God dealt with Jonah. It is how He dealt with Israel. Moreover, it is how He deals with Christians. This is a great testimony to the eternal security of the believer. When the vessel is unyielding, God crushes it and begins to fashion it into a useful vessel again (cf. Ezek. 37). That is a greater evidence of God's sovereignty than if He discarded it as hopeless. God's reason for doing this is His loyal love, compassion, and pity.
This revelation brings hope to everyone who fails. It gives hope when our good causes fall to pieces. It gives hope when God's servants fail. It also gives hope when we make a mess. God is still on His throne (cf. Hag. 2:4-5). No matter how a Christian may have failed in the past, God will still use that individual in some way—if he or she renounces their sin, re-commits himself or herself to Him, and returns to His Word.
I. THE FIRST RETURN UNDER SHESHBAZZAR chs. 1—6
"This whole section (Ezra 1—6) emphasizes God's sovereignty and his providence; God works in history to fulfill his will."
A. The Return from Babylon chs. 1—2
The writer began his narrative by relating Cyrus' edict that allowed the Jews in exile in Persia to return to their land, and its consequences (ch. 1), and by recording the names of the exiles who returned initially (ch. 2).
1. The edict of Cyrus and its consequences ch. 1
God had warned His people Israel that disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant might result in exile from the Promised Land, if that disobedience was widespread and prolonged (cf. Lev. 26:14, 33; Deut. 28:36, 48, 63). This was what actually happened. The Assyrians under Shalmaneser V took over the Northern Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-6; cf. 15:29) and deported its people to Assyria (2 Kings 17:6) in 722 B.C. The Neo-Babylonian Empire replaced Assyria as the major political force in the ancient Near East in 605 B.C. following the battle of Carchemish. Later that same year, the Babylonian army under Nebuchadnezzar invaded the Southern Kingdom of Judah and took some of the Jews captive to Babylon (2 Kings 24:1-4). Two more invasions and deportations by Nebuchadnezzar followed in 597 and 586 B.C. (2 Kings 24:10-17; 25:1-7). However, God had also promised that if His people in exile repented and returned to Him, He would restore them to the Promised Land (Lev. 26:40-45; Deut. 30:1-5).
Over a century before the Babylonian Exile began, Isaiah not only prophesied that Israel would experience exile, but that she would eventually return to the land. Isaiah revealed that the name of the king who would allow Israel to return would be Cyrus (Isa. 44:28; 45:1). Cyrus inherited the throne of Anshan, a small state near the Persian Gulf, in 559 B.C. Due to his great leadership ability, he was able to unite the Persian people. He then attacked the neighboring Medes and captured their capital city, Ecbatana, without a battle. The Median soldiers abandoned their king to side with Cyrus. He then welded these two great peoples into the Medo-Persian Empire. He next conquered Lydia and Anatolia (in the western part of modern Turkey) in 547-546 B.C. The Babylonian Empire was then in a weakened condition. Cyrus invaded its capital, Babylon, by diverting the waters of the Euphrates River that ran through the city, and marching under the city wall on the riverbed (cf. Dan. 5:30-31). This took place in 539 B.C. This victory enabled Cyrus to establish Medo-Persia as the major political power in the ancient Near East. Though at first, Media was the prominent partner in the Medo-Persian alliance, Persia soon took and retained the leadership.
"From east to west, it [the Persian Empire] was as wide as the continental United States."
Cyrus adopted a policy toward conquered peoples within his empire that was opposite to that of his Assyrian and Babylonian predecessors. They had deported defeated people from their homelands in order to minimize the threat of revolution. Cyrus, on the other hand, decided to allow these people to return to their former homes, believing that this would please them and would discourage them from rebelling.
"Cyrus was one of the truly enlightened rulers of ancient times. Instead of crushing national sentiment by brutality and deportation as the Assyrians had, it was his aim to allow subject peoples as far as possible to enjoy cultural autonomy within the framework of the empire. Though he and his successors kept firm control through a complex bureaucracy—most of the high officials of which were Persians or Medes—through their army, and through an efficient system of communications, their rule was not harsh. Rather, they preferred to respect the customs of their subjects, to protect and foster their established cults and, where they could, to entrust responsibility to native princes."
Cyrus' edict 1:1-4
"It is not strange according to the Semitic style to start a book with a waw ["And" or "Now"], especially when the author intended to write a continuation of the history of his people. He connects the history which he wants to write with the already-written history of his people by using the conjunction 'and.'"
One of Cyrus' first official acts after capturing Babylon was to allow the Jews to return to their land. This took place in his "first year" (v. 1), that is, as king over all Medo-Persia including Babylonia (i.e., 538 B.C.). The writer of Ezra regarded 539 B.C. as the beginning of Cyrus' reign, probably because when Cyrus defeated Babylonia, he gained authority over Palestine that had until then been under Babylonian sovereignty.
Chronology of Ezra 1—6
Cyrus, through his general Gobryas (also known as Darius the Mede), conquered Babylon and took over the Babylonian Empire.
Cyrus' first year. He issued his decree (Ezra 1:1).
Sheshbazzar returned with almost 50,000 Jews (Ezra 2).
The returnees rebuilt the altar in Jerusalem, offered sacrifices, and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (Ezra 3:2).
The returnees laid the temple foundation (Ezra 3:8-10).
Reconstruction ceased due to opposition (Ezra 4:1-5, 24).
Cyrus died and Cambyses II, Cyrus' eldest son, began reigning.
Cambyses conquered Egypt.
Cambyses died and Darius I (Hystaspes) began reigning.
Haggai urged the people to resume temple construction, and they did so.
Darius I (Hystaspes) confirmed Cyrus' decree.
Zechariah began ministering.
The people completed temple construction and celebrated the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread (Ezra 6:15).
"The LORD [Yahweh] stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia" "in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah" (v. 1). More than 70 years earlier, Jeremiah had prophesied that the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years (Jer. 25:12; 29:10). Cyrus proclaimed his edict 67 years after the first Babylonian deportation from Judah (605 B.C.). However, Jeremiah also predicted that the exiles would return to the Promised Land and rebuild Jerusalem (Jer. 30:18; 1:38-40), reestablish their community (Jer. 30:19-20), and worship in the temple (Jer. 33:10-11). Ezra-Nehemiah records how these prophecies were fulfilled by the returning exiles. I believe that some of these prophecies have a yet future fulfillment in store, but they were all fulfilled, at least partially, by the returning exiles.
J. Vernon McGee regarded the phrase "the word of the LORD" as the theme of the book of Ezra, because there are 10 direct references to it in this book (1:1; 3:2; 6:14, 18; 7:6, 10, 14; 9:4; 10:3, 5).
"The place of the Word of God is seen in the total lives of these people: religious, social, business, and political."
Notice that the LORD took the initiative in stirring up Cyrus to make his proclamation; this was not just the decision of a king, but a divinely inspired decision. Cyrus not only made an oral proclamation, but he also put it in writing. Important matters were put in writing in the ancient Near East. Cyrus was himself, however, illiterate.
Verse 2 reads as though Cyrus was a believer in Yahweh. However, Isaiah presented him as an unbeliever (Isa. 45:4-5). Evidently he was a polytheist and worshipped several gods. On the Cyrus Cylinder, the clay cylinder on which Cyrus recorded his capture of Babylon, the king gave credit to Marduk for his success. He also recorded how he restored prisoners to their own lands, which Ezra 1 describes. He said he hoped that the people under his authority would pray for him to Bel and Nebo. Probably Cyrus gave lip service to all the gods that his people worshipped, but the evidence suggests that he did not believe that Yahweh was the only true God.
"However, the phrase God of heaven indicates that the Lord is not just another god, but that only He is God. The fact that Cyrus used this title for the Lord suggests that He was prompted by Jewish advisors."
Apparently Cyrus knew about Isaiah's prophecies concerning himself (v. 2; cf. Isa. 41:2; 44:28; 45:1, 4-5, 13). Josephus wrote:
He "… read this, and … an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written."
The "house in Jerusalem" (v. 2) was, of course, the house of Yahweh, the temple. Cyrus not only gave permission for the Jews to return to Jerusalem (v. 3), but he also encouraged them to rebuild the temple (v. 3). And he urged their neighbors to support this project financially (v. 4). The Egyptians gave gifts to the Israelites when they left Egypt in the Exodus (Exod. 12:35-36). Many students of Ezra-Nehemiah have seen in Cyrus' act a recurrence of the Exodus theme and refer to the return from Babylon as a second Exodus for Israel. Clearly Cyrus wanted the returnees to reestablish a community in Jerusalem and to worship at their temple.
"The terms hl' ('go up'), hnb ('build'), and tyb ('house') become leitmotifs, unifying Ezra 1—6 as the story of the people going up to build the house of God."
"The Holy City and the house of God are both prominent subjects in Ezra-Nehemiah. Jerusalem occurs eighty-six times, and the phrases 'temple,' 'house of the Lord,' and 'house of God' appear fifty-three times."
"The decree of favor for the Jews shown in this edict is remarkable, and causes one to wonder if it may not have been originally penned by Daniel himself. That Cyrus speaks highly of 'Yahweh, God of heaven' (Ezra 1:2) is not so surprising in itself, however, for he speaks similarly of Marduk; cf. A[ncient]N[ear]E[astern]T[exts], pp. 315-16. To speak this way of foreign deities was in keeping with his conciliatory policy."
"Although they are neither great literature nor important historical sources, the Murashu documents do provide a significant glimpse into the social and commercial life of a Babylonian city [i.e., Nippur] under Persian rule, and thus help to augment our knowledge of the onomastic practices, occupations and circumstances of the Diaspora. Like their contemporaries at Elephantine [in Egypt], by the fifth century B.C. the exiles at Nippur had become fully integrated into the economic life of their society, fulfilling the injunctions of Jeremiah 29:5ff. Perhaps even more thoroughly than the prophet had intended!"
"Onomastic" means relating to, connected with, or explaining names.
The people's response 1:5-6
Judah and Benjamin were the only tribes that the writer mentioned that responded to Cyrus' edict, because these were the tribes that made up the Southern Kingdom, which had suffered exile in Babylon. Those who gave to the reconstruction project evidently included Jews who decided to remain in Babylon, as well as Babylonian Gentiles. Many Jews chose not to return because they did not want to leave their possessions. This was contrary to the will of God (Isa. 48:20; Jer. 50:8; 51:6; cf. Jer. 29:10; Deut. 30:1-5). They should have returned if possible.
"Many that hear this joyful sound choose to sit still in Babylon, are in love with their sins and will not venture upon the difficulties of a holy life; but some there are that break through the discouragements, and resolve to build the house of God, to make heaven of their religion, whatever it cost them. Thus will the heavenly Canaan be replenished, though many perish in Babylon; and the gospel-offer will not be made in vain."
"Everyone whose spirit God had stirred" (v. 5) should be understood as referring to those whose spirit God had stirred and who did not resist that stirring but responded to it obediently.
Preparations for the return 1:7-11
Sometimes warring armies in the ancient Near East carried images of their gods into battle in order to help secure victory (cf. 2 Sam. 5:21; 1 Chron. 14:12). When one army defeated the other, the victors would take the images of their defeated foes captive, and lock them up, in order to testify to the impotence of those gods.
"To displace the authority of a city, it was normal practice for a conquering power to carry off the emblems of deity (cf. Jeremiah 48:7)."
Since the Israelites had no images of Yahweh, Nebuchadnezzar took the temple utensils in their place. Cyrus released these utensils so that the returning Jews could take them back to Jerusalem and use them in their temple worship (cf. Dan. 5:1-4).
"The return of the temple vessels (Ezra 1:7) reverses this and empowers Jerusalem once more in Persian eyes to become the city of Yahweh. Doubtless in this task Cyrus saw himself in typical Achaemenid fashion, as the representative and thus the 'servant' of Yahweh."
"Achaemenid" refers to the Persian Empire established by Cyrus, a descendant of Achaemenes, in the sixth century B.C.
There is no evidence that the Babylonians took the ark of the covenant to Babylon, or that the returning Jews brought it with them back to the Promised Land. Most scholars speculate that the Babylonians broke it up when they sacked the temple in 586 B.C. Josephus wrote that the ark was not in the holy of holies in the second temple. Edersheim wrote that the second temple was empty except for a rock, called the Foundation Stone, that, according to tradition, previously covered the mouth of the pit on which the world was founded.
Sheshbazzar was evidently the uncle of Zerubbabel (1 Chron. 3:17-19). Another less likely view is that Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel were the same individual (cf. 1:8; 3:8-10; 5:14). Some advocates of this view point out that the name Sheshbazzar occurs in passages related to official Persian actions (i.e., vv. 8-11 5:14-16), whereas the name Zerubbabel is used in passages that describe Jewish activity. It was common for Jews at this time to have two names (e.g., Daniel and his three friends, Esther, et al.).
However, Sheshbazzar seems to have been the leader and governor when the first group of captives returned. Shenazzar, evidently the fourth son of King Jehoiachin (1 Chron. 3:18), was probably a variation of the name Sheshbazzar. The writer named both Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel as having had a part in the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 5:16; Hag. 1:1, 12; Zech. 4:9). It seems most probable that Zerubbabel succeeded his uncle as the chief man in the restoration leadership, since Zerubbabel became the governor of Judah (Hag. 1:1, 14; 2:2, 21). These were, therefore, most likely not two names for the same man (cf. 1 Esdras 6:18).
"Though the zealots were grooming Zerubbabel for independent rule, in point of fact he was only a governor of a third rank. His immediate superior was Tattenai, governor of Across the River, who in turn was under the authority of Hystanes, satrap of Babylon and Across the River."
Sheshbazzar's title "prince" is unusual. Perhaps the writer used it since, throughout this chapter, the Exodus from Egypt seems to have been in the background of his thinking. There are frequent mentions of the leaders of the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings as princes of the people. Thus this title of Sheshbazzar may be in harmony with that comparison. Matthew Henry believed that the name Sheshbazzar meant "Joy in Tribulation," and Zerubbabel meant "A Stranger in Babylon."
"The gods of Susa [the former capital of Elam] were returned to Elam, those of Ashur [the former capital of Assyria] to the ancient capital; others from the old debatable land between Assyria and Babylonia equally profited. The inhabitants of these cities were also collected and restored to their homes. Jewish prophets had welcomed Cyrus as the monarch who would return them to Zion; since they no longer possessed divine images, it was logical that they should bring back to Jerusalem the temple utensils looted by Nebuchadnezzar."
The inventory of temple articles here (vv. 9-11) poses a problem. Verses 9 and 10 give the following quantities: 30 gold dishes, 1,000 silver dishes, 29 other dishes, 30 gold bowls, 410 silver bowls, 1,000 other articles, for a total of 2,499 articles.
However, verse 11 says the total was 5,400. Perhaps the writer counted only the larger and/or most important vessels, and the 5,400 figure represents the grand total, including many lesser vessels. Another explanation is that there are errors due to the copying of the numbers.
"The closing words of the chapter, from Babylon to Jerusalem, mark one of the turning points of history."
"Throughout chap. 1 the author's purpose was clearly to show the small postexilic Jewish community their legitimate continuity with the preexilic community and with God's plan of redemption. Therefore he used motifs from the exodus; he emphasized God's providence; he mentioned Judah, Benjamin, priests, and Levites; and he explained that even the former articles from the temple had been returned."
2. The exiles who returned ch. 2
This chapter contains a record of the people, and the towns from which some of them came, who responded to Cyrus' decree and returned to the Promised Land. It is a list of families rather than individuals, and the towns in Babylon from which they came. Almost all of these people could demonstrate their Jewish ancestry (vv. 59-60). Nehemiah 7 contains a very similar list. Probably both lists had a common source.
"The genealogies are a guarantee that Israel is not adrift in a vacuum of this present generation but has security and credentials. And as long as Israel can name names, utter their precious sounds, it has a belonging place which no hostile empire can deny."
The leaders 2:1-2
"They are called the people of Israel, not the people of Judah, because those who returned represented the entire covenant people."
Zerubbabel was the grandson of King Jehoiachin and the nephew of Sheshbazzar, the leader of this return (1 Chron. 3:17-19). Zerubbabel assumed leadership later in Judah. Evidently Sheshbazzar was the official Persian governor, and Zerubbabel was the popular leader (cf. 3:8-11). Sheshbazzar may have been about 55 to 60 years old at this time and Zerubbabel about 40. Jeshua was the high priest (Zech. 3:1) who later led in the re-establishment of temple worship. He was the grandson of the last officiating high priest before the exile (2 Kings 25:18; 1 Chron. 6:14-15).
"Archaeological light has been found on the names borne by these two leaders of the Jews who spent their early ears in Babylonia; for it is now known from discoveries in this area that the names of Zerubbabel and his uncle, Sheshbazzar, were good Babylonian names (Zer-Babel and Shin-ab-usur) …"
The Nehemiah referred to in verse 2 must have been a different person from the Nehemiah in the book that bears that name. The second Nehemiah did not return to Judah until almost 100 years later, in 444 B.C. (Neh. 2:9). Likewise, the Mordecai mentioned here was not Esther's cousin (Esth. 2:5), since the latter Mordecai remained in Susa, one of the capitals of the Persian Empire, and lived about 50 years later than this Mordecai.
The general population 2:3-35
The designations "sons of" and "men of" in these verses point out the two ways whereby the exiles demonstrated their Jewish ancestry: by clan or family genealogy, and by residence in Palestine. The clan or family names appear in verses 3 through 19, and 30 through 32; the town names appear in verses 20 through 29, and 33 through 35. Few of the returning exiles had personally lived in the Promised Land, but many could give evidence that their ancestors had lived in a particular town and/or had owned property there.
"It was not considered a compromise of one's Jewish identity to give a child a name which was not Yahwistic, nor even of Hebrew or Aramaic stock."
"Here are two families that are called the children of Elam (one v. 7, another v. 31), and, which is strange, the number of both is the same, 1,254. The children of Bethlehem (v. 21) were but 123, though it was David's city … Anathoth had been a famous place in the tribe of Benjamin and yet here it numbered but 128 (v. 23), which is to be imputed to the divine curse which the men of Anathoth brought upon themselves by persecuting Jeremiah, who was of their city. Jer. xi. 21, 23."
Scholars have explained the many differences in numbers in this list, compared with the one in Nehemiah 7:7-66, several ways. Hebrew writers represented numbers by using certain words that had other meanings. This has resulted in some confusion in interpretation. Perhaps the translators misunderstood the numbers that the writer intended. Another explanation is that this list contains rough estimates and the later list in Nehemiah has the true figures.
The priests 2:36-39
Only four of the 24 priestly families that David organized (1 Chron. 24:7-18) had representatives among the returning exiles. Nevertheless, these would have been sufficient to serve the worship needs of the other Israelites who returned. The priests comprised about 8.6 percent of the total returnee population at this time (cf. vv. 64-65). The list of priests in Nehemiah 2 is identical, both in names and in numbers.
The Levites 2:40-42
Few Levites, only 341, chose to leave the comforts of life in Babylon. They assisted the priests. The Levites included singers and gatekeepers. There were fewer Levites than priests, about one Levite for every 10 priests, the opposite of the situation that existed before the exile (cf. Neh. 7:43-60).
The temple servants 2:43-54
The temple servants were an order of Israelites that David had established to assist the Levites (8:20). The biblical writers sometimes called them the nethinim (lit. those given, i.e., dedicated, to God). They may have been the descendants of the Gibeonites whom Joshua had subjugated (Josh. 9:27), and/or the descendants of other war captives.
The descendants of Solomon's servants 2:55-58
These people seem to have been those who descended from the servants that Solomon had appointed to serve in his temple during his administration. Other views are that they were the descendants of the Canaanites whom Solomon enslaved, or the descendants of the royal officers who were merchants in Solomon's service, or the descendants of those who lived in Solomon's palace. Since the grand total in verse 58 includes both the temple servants and this group, it appears that they cooperated closely in their work.
Israelites of doubtful origin 2:59-60
"We may infer from this pericope [section of text] as it is clearly stated in 1 Chr. 5:17 and Neh. 7:5 that Jewish families kept genealogies to prove their Jewish descent, and to ascertain that mixture with foreign groups was somehow excluded."
Even though these people could not establish their Jewish ancestry beyond doubt, the leaders of the restoration permitted them to return with those who could. It is understandable that some of the Jews who were born in Babylon, perhaps of mixed parentage, would have had trouble tracing their genealogies.
"Dr. Nelson Glueck, in commenting on the phenomenon of historical memory as evidenced in the Old Testament, relates an experience which Mr. A. S. Kirkbride had while serving with 'Lawrence of Arabia' in 1917. 'He told me,' writes Glueck, 'that on one occasion, while he was in an Arab encampment, an Arab got up and related the history of his forbearers back to forty generations, and that there were others in the assembly who obviously could have done the same, telling who married and who begat whom, and where they lived, and frequently what they had done, and where they wandered. Kirkbride said it sounded exactly like a chapter of genealogy out of the Bible' (Newsletter of Nelson Glueck, Aug. 22, 1942)."
Priests of doubtful origin 2:61-63
These men returned but could not serve as priests until the high priest could determine that they were indeed descendants of Aaron (cf. Num. 16:40; 18:9-10). Evidently the high priest did this using the Urim and Thummim, if these were still in existence (Exod. 28:15-30; cf. 1 Sam. 23:9-12). Perhaps other records were available to him. Marriage with non-Israelites had led to idolatry and the exile, so the leaders of the restoration wanted to make sure that the priests had pure bloodlines.
The totals 2:64-67
There is a discrepancy between the total number of exiles that the writer gave here (49,897) and the sum of the various groups that he just mentioned (29,818). Perhaps the women and children made up the difference, though if this was the case, there were many more men than women and children. This may have been the case in view of the rigors that the people would have had to experience moving from Babylon to Jerusalem. (Josephus recorded that 42,462 people came out of captivity at this time.)
"More likely is the suggestion that since this is a composite list, some families simply were omitted; but the overall total remains correct."
Another explanation follows:
"There is general agreement that the divergences are copying errors, arising from the special difficulty of understanding or reproducing numerical lists."
Some of the Jews took their servants back to Judah with them (v. 65). The ratio was about one servant to every six Jews, which confirms the wealth of the Jews at that time (cf. v. 69). Twenty years later most of the Jews in Canaan were poor (cf. Hag. 1:6, 9; 2:17). The singers (v. 65) may have been entertainers, since they are distinct from the temple singers (v. 41). If they were, their presence would illustrate further the returning exiles' prosperity.
"The [one-humped Arabian] camel [v. 67] can carry its rider and about four hundred pounds and can travel three or four days without drinking."
Arrival in Jerusalem and settlement throughout Israel 2:68-70
The Israelites contributed to the rebuilding of the second temple as they had toward the construction of the Mosaic tabernacle (Exod. 25:3-7; 35:2-9). Probably the Greek gold drachma and the Babylonian silver mina are in view here (v. 69). If this is so, one Greek drachma was equivalent to one Roman denarius. In the ancient world, this was one day's wage for a working man (cf. Matt. 20:1-16). Obviously the exiles made a substantial contribution to the rebuilding of the temple that supplemented what Cyrus and the friends of the returnees had previously donated (1:4, 6-11; cf. Exod. 25:4-7; 35:2-9; 2 Cor. 8:3; 9:7).
When this group of Jews returned to the Promised Land in 537 B.C., they went first to Jerusalem (v. 68). Later they settled in the towns where their ancestors had lived and where some of them had property rights (v. 70; cf. vv. 21-35).
Nehemiah also recorded the amount of gold, silver, and garments that were given for the rebuilding of the temple (v. 69; cf. Neh. 7:70-72), but the two sets of figures do not match. Perhaps Ezra's list rounds off the figures, and Nehemiah's list gives more precise figures. Another explanation is that the two lists give totals from two different times of collection—perhaps in Babylon and in Jerusalem.
The record of those who returned, that God preserved in this chapter, shows His faithfulness in bringing a remnant of His people back to Canaan as He had promised.
"One of the chief objectives of Ezra-Nehemiah was to show the Jews that they constituted the continuation of the preexilic Jewish community, the Israelite community that God had chosen."
B. The Rebuilding of the Temple chs. 3—6
Construction of the temple began soon after the exiles returned to Jerusalem. However, problems threatened the completion of the project: First, the immigrants contemplated abandoning their religious distinctives to get along with their neighbors (ch. 4). Then, opposition from their enemies threatened to terminate construction.
"The temple was the basis for the postexilic community's fellowship with God."
"In a sense the standing of the furnished Temple of God symbolizes the existence of his covenant with his people. This is why the rebuilding of the Temple occupies so central a place in the Book of Ezra."
"Let worldly business be postponed to the business of religion and it [worldly business] will prosper the better."
1. The beginning of construction ch. 3
In view of the temple's importance, the writer devoted quite a bit of space to narrating the events that accompanied its construction. His story parallels in many ways the story of the building of Solomon's temple.
The erection of the altar 3:1-6
The text does not record exactly when the exiles arrived in Jerusalem, but it was probably sometime in 537 B.C., since Cyrus issued his decree in 538 B.C. The seventh month (v. 1) of the Jew's sacred calendar was Tishri, which fell in late September through early October. The people assembled in Jerusalem at that time in order to erect the altar of burnt offerings, the centerpiece of their worship (cf. Gen. 12:7). They "gathered together as one person" (v. 1) probably means unanimously, not entirely. The seventh month was especially important on the Jewish sacred calendar because in it the Jews celebrated three of their annual festivals. These were the Blowing of Trumpets on Tishri 1, the Day of Atonement on Tishri 10, and the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) on Tishri 15-22 (Lev. 23:24-25; 27:27-32, 34-44). Tishri was the first month of the Jewish civil calendar, and the Blowing of Trumpets was a kind of New Year celebration. It was on this day that the returned exiles began to offer sacrifices on their altar (v. 6).
In presenting burnt offerings to God even before the foundation of the temple was in place, the Jews showed their earnest desire to be living sacrifices to Him. That is what those sacrifices symbolized (Lev. 1; cf. Rom. 12:1). In re-establishing their ancient worship, these Jews, under the leadership of Jeshua and Zerubbabel, were careful to follow the Law of Moses (v. 2; cf. Exod. 27:1-8; 38:1-7; Deut. 12:4-14). The absence of reference to Sheshbazzar suggests that he may have died. In any case, he is not mentioned again in Ezra.
In verse 2, Zerubbabel is called the son of Shealtiel, but in 1 Chronicles 3:17-19, Zerubbabel is described as the son of Pedaiah, who was a brother of Shealtiel. Possibly Shealtiel died childless, and his brother Pedaiah married Shealtiel's widow, following the custom of levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10). Or Pedaiah may have adopted Zerubbabel. Or Shealtiel may have reared Zerubbabel.
"From now on, Israel would be viewed (as in the theology of the Chronicler [the writer of 1 and 2 Chronicles]) as that remnant of Judah which had rallied around the law. He would be a member of Israel (i.e., a Jew) who assumed the burden of that law. … The cult was regulated and supported by the law; to be moral and pious was to keep the law; the grounds of future hope lay in obedience to the law. It was this consistent stress on the law which imparted to Judaism its distinctive character."
Judaism, the system of worship as it is known today, began during the Babylonian Captivity, when the Israelites had no temple, functioning priesthood, or kings.
"Ezra's work was to reorganize the Jewish community about the law."
The "law" in view is the Mosaic Law. One reason the people began offering sacrifices again was that they feared their neighbors (v. 2). They called on the LORD to protect them. Normally prayers for the LORD's blessing on His people accompanied the daily morning and evening sacrifices (cf. Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:3-8).
"Courage is not lack of fear; it is the will to act in spite of fear."
The reconstruction of the temple foundation 3:7-9
As Solomon had done, these Jews contracted with their Phoenician neighbors to the north to supply wood for the temple (cf. 2 Chron. 2:16).
"The archaeological discoveries illuminate the use of cedar wood from the Lebanon Mountains in Phoenicia for the building of important structures. Long before the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem, a ruler in the city of Lagash in Babylonia by the name of Gudea (c. 2100 B.C.) rebuilt a temple of Ningirsu, and for this purpose he sent to the Amanus mountains for cedar wood. The Amanus mountains were a part of the same general range as the Lebanons, lying along the Mediterranean to the north of the Orontes River. … Archaeological light on the use of cedar wood for construction also comes from Egypt. … The archaeological discoveries also show that Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 B.C.) had been to the Lebanon Mountains."
The people needed several months of preparations before actual construction began on the site, in 536 B.C. It commenced about 70 years after the first group of exiles had departed for Babylon in 605 B.C. Extensive foundation repair work was necessary because the temple stood on a hilltop, and because Babylonian destruction had been extensive.
Under the Mosaic Law, Levites began their service at age 25 (Num. 8:24). The Mosaic Law did not allow them to carry the tabernacle until they were 30 (Num. 4:3). David had allowed Levites to begin some service at age 20 (1 Chron. 23:24, 27). Zerubbabel and Jeshua also allowed them to begin working on the reconstruction project at age 20 (v. 8).
The responses of the people to the completion of the temple foundation 3:10-13
The people celebrated God's faithfulness when they had completed phase one of the temple reconstruction: its foundation.
"Principles of praise to be gleaned from these verses include the following: (1) Praise is the act of publicly exalting God's person and work. (2) Praise can be enhanced through the use of music and songs. (3) Praise is a participating activity, not a spectator sport; it is worship people join in, not a program people watch. Praise involves God's people in singing and playing, boasting and testifying to the greatness and goodness of the Lord!"
Compared with the first temple (Solomon's temple), this second temple was much less impressive (v. 12; cf. Zech. 4:10). The term "second temple," as biblical scholars commonly use it today, refers to both this restoration temple and the Herodian temple that followed it. The second temple underwent changes occasionally, the major changes taking place as a result of Herod's renovations. These improvements were still in progress in Jesus' day (John 2:20). This second temple stood from 515 B.C. (6:15) until the Romans destroyed it in A.D. 70.
The old men who had seen the first temple (v. 12) may have been those who were taken to Babylon in the third deportation, in 586 B.C., and now returned, in 356 B.C. For them the Exile would have been 50 years long. Some of them, however, may have been even older, having been relocated to Babylon earlier than 586 B.C. As then so now: Some people choose to weep because things are not as grand as they once were while others choose to rejoice because the future looks bright.
2. The opposition to construction ch. 4
No project that seeks to honor God and to advance His will in the world will go unopposed by Satan and his agents. This chapter reveals that Israel's enemies opposed temple reconstruction energetically, and for many years.
"From this point onward right to the end of Nehemiah there is conflict."
"The peoples of the land wished the exiles to be entirely like them. But these were people whose allegiance was fundamentally not to Yahweh."
Opposition during Cyrus' reign 4:1-5
The Assyrian government encouraged the residents of its empire to move to Israel and to settle there after the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. This was official government policy during the reigns of the Assyrian kings Esarhaddon (680-669 B.C.; 2 Kings 17:24) and Ashurbanipal (668-ca. 630 B.C.; 4:10). These immigrant people worshipped pagan idols (2 Kings 17:30-31), but they also started worshipping Yahweh, whom they regarded as the god of the land in which they now lived (2 Kings 17:32-33). Eventually they intermarried with the Jews who had remained in the land. Their descendants became the Samaritans, a mixed breed racially and religiously. The exiles who returned from Babylon and their descendants despised the Samaritans (cf. Luke 10:30-37; John 4:9). It was these people of the land who approached Zerubbabel and offered to help the Jews rebuild their temple (v. 2).
"But 'people of the land' is a vague term being attached to different groups during different phases of the historical period and having no inner continuity to the term itself. Chronologically, it cannot refer to Samaritan opposition, since the Samaritan sect is a much later emergence."
Zerubbabel refused their offer because, even though they worshipped Yahweh, they did not worship Him exclusively, as the Mosaic Law specified (Exod. 20:3). Zerubbabel realized that if their commitment to God did not include a commitment to obey His revealed will, the Jewish remnant could only anticipate endless disagreement, conflict, and frustration with them.
"This attitude of exclusiveness displayed by the Jews … is troublesome to our modern society, where perhaps the highest virtue is the willingness to accept and cooperate with persons whose beliefs and practices differ from one's own. If we are tempted to think that Zerubbabel and the other leaders were sinfully separatistic or mistaken in their evaluation of those who offered their assistance, we must observe that these outsiders are identified as 'enemies.' Their motives were clearly subversive."
"The leaders in the province of Samaria may well have seen the emergence of a new, aggressive presence in Judah, and one which enjoyed the favor of the imperial government, as threatening. … An offer to share the labor, and presumably also the expense, of rebuilding the sanctuary would have been taken to entail, and would in fact have entailed, a share in controlling the temple itself with all that implied."
The fact that these neighbors had no sincere interest in helping the Jews became obvious very quickly (vv. 4-5). Their persistent opposition continued into the reign of Darius I (Hystaspes) of Persia (521-486 B.C.).
"The Persian officials were bribed to frustrate the plans of the returnees. Bribery as a practice was well known in Persian times."
Persian Kings of the Restoration Period
Cyrus II (the Great)
Ezra 1:1; 4:5
Darius I (son of Hystaspes)
Ezra 5—6; Haggai; Zechariah
Xerxes I (Ahasuerus)
Ezra 4:6; Esther
Artaxerxes I (Longimanus)
Ezra 4:7-23; chs. 7—10; Nehemiah; Malachi
Darius II (Nothus)
Artaxerxes II (Mnemon)
Artaxerxes III (Ochus)
Darius III (Codomanus)
Opposition during Ahasuerus' reign 4:6
"When he [the writer] discussed the problems of the building of the temple in 4:1-5, it reminded him of later similar troubles with the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, and so 4:6-23 has been inserted, almost parenthetically, before the argument of the building of the temple has again been taken up in 4:24ff. (already noted by C. F. Keil in the last [nineteenth] century)."
This king of Persia, whose Greek name was Xerxes, was the man whom Esther married. He ruled from 486 to 464 B.C. Since the restoration Jews completed the temple in 515 B.C. (6:15), this verse shows that the neighbors of the returned exiles continued to oppose them long after they had finished rebuilding the temple.
"Without this foretaste of history to reveal the full seriousness of the opposition, we would not properly appreciate the achievements recorded in the next two chapters (5 and 6) nor the dangers hidden in the mixed marriages which Ezra would set himself to stamp out (chaps. 7—10)."
Opposition during Artaxerxes' reign 4:7-23
Artaxerxes was the successor of Ahasuerus (Xerxes), and he ruled the Persian Empire from 464 to 424 B.C. Clearly the incident reported in these verses took place long after the temple was complete. It really involved the attempt by Israel's enemies to halt the rebuilding of Jerusalem's wall in the days of Nehemiah. It evidently took place about 446 B.C. (cf. 4:21-23; Neh. 1:1-3). The writer's purpose in inserting this incident in the text was evidently to show the continued antagonism of Israel's enemies and the faithfulness of God in giving the Jews victory over them.
"Near Eastern kings used an elaborate system of informers and spies. Egyptian sources speak of the 'ears and eyes' of the Pharaoh. Sargon II of Assyria had agents in Urartu whom he ordered, 'Write me whatever you see and hear.' The efficient Persian intelligence system is described by Xenophon. The King's Eye and the King's Ear were two distinct officials who reported to the monarch. But God's people could take assurance in their conviction that God's intelligence system is not only more efficient than any king's espionage network but is omniscient (cf. 2 Chron. 16:9; Zech. 4:10)."
The antagonists enlisted the help of local Persian officials, including Rehum and Shimshai (v. 8), in order to appeal to Artaxerxes to issue an order to stop work on the walls. The letter was in Aramaic, the common language of the Persian Empire. This is the language in which it appears in the oldest Hebrew texts of Ezra. The writer evidently wrote all of 4:8—6:18 as well as 7:12-26 in Aramaic originally. The other Aramaic portions of the Old Testament are two words in Genesis 31:47 (translated "the heap of witness"), Jeremiah 10:11 (a divine announcement of the destruction of idols), and Daniel 2:4b—7:28 (which reports the words of Babylonian astrologers and the following words addressed to the kings of the earth). Aramaic was a language well known to all the Jews living in the empire, as well as the Gentiles. The writer may have written this entire section of the book in Aramaic in order to avoid changing back and forth from Hebrew to Aramaic so many times.
"The end of v. 7 is literally 'and he wrote the letter written in Aramaic and translated in Aramaic.' … This could mean that while the letter had been written in Aramaic, the author's copy had been translated into Hebrew. Since the actual letter is not given, however, it more likely would mean that although the letter had been written in Aramaic it was translated into Persian when it was read to the king."
Osnappar (v. 10) is evidently an Aramaic form of Ashurbanipal (669-ca. 660 B.C.), the Assyrian king who succeeded Esarhaddon. The Assyrian phrase "beyond the Euphrates River" (vv. 10, 11, 16, 17, 20) refers to the Persian province that lay to the southwest of the upper Euphrates, namely, the one that encompassed Syria, Phoenicia, Canaan, and Babylon.
"Over this whole vast stretch of fertile country, Gobryas [Darius the Mede] ruled almost as an independent monarch."
The Jews mentioned in this letter (v. 12) would have been those who returned with Ezra in 458 B.C., the second group of Jews to leave Babylon. That group attempted to rebuild the walls of the city, having received permission from Artaxerxes in 458 B.C. to do so (7:21).
"The similarity of the Aramaic in the Elephantine papyri and in Ezra shows that the Aramaic of Ezra may easily date back into the fourth century, if not even to the end of the fifth century … Thus the present critical view which holds that Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles were all written about 250 B.C. … is not sustained."
Israel's enemies presented three reasons why Artaxerxes should withdraw the Jews' building permit: They warned that the Jews would stop paying taxes when their fortifications were complete (v. 13), and the consequent decline in revenue would hurt the king's reputation (v. 14). Moreover, if the Jews continued to rebuild a city that had a reputation for rebellion, their actions might encourage other people in other parts of the empire to revolt (vv. 15-16).
"The historical justification for the claim that Jerusalem is a chronically rebellious city will have consisted in such events as Hezekiah's withholding of tribute from Assyria (2 Kings 18:7, ca. 724 B.C.) and Zedekiah's abortive bid for freedom from the Babylonians, which led to the cataclysm of 587 (2 Kings 24:20ff.). The Assyrian and Babylonian annals were evidently available to the Persian kings. And it is clear that a nerve is touched."
In his reply, Artaxerxes explained that, having done some research, he had concluded that it seemed to be in his best interests to halt wall construction temporarily. He put an order to stop work into effect only until he could determine a permanent solution to the problem (v. 21, "until …"). About two years later (444 B.C.), Artaxerxes released Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem to finish rebuilding the wall (Neh. 2:8). Evidently the king had concluded that, all things considered, it was better to have Jerusalem defended than undefended.
"Neither they [the Jews' enemies], in their letter, nor he [King Artaxerxes], in his order, make any mention of the temple, and the building of that, because both they and he knew that they had a command from Cyrus to rebuild that. They spoke only of the city: 'Let not that be built,' that is, as a city with walls and gates."
When the Samaritans received Artaxerxes' reply, they immediately forced the Jews to stop building the wall. They may even have destroyed part of the rebuilt wall and burned the gates (cf. Neh. 1:3).
"This was a day of great shame to the Jewish population because their honest endeavor was thwarted by their archenemies, the Samaritans, and it was forced on them by Samaritan soldiers."
"… for such is the disposition of the Samaritans … that when the Jews are in adversity they deny that they are of kin to them, and then they confess the truth; but when they perceive that some good fortune hath befallen them, they immediately pretend to have communion with them …"
The effect of opposition during Cyrus' reign 4:24
The reference in this verse to the work stopping indicates that at this point, the writer returned to the opposition he had been describing earlier (vv. 1-5). Verses 6-23 are parenthetical. They record later events and simply illustrate the continuing antagonism of Israel's enemies in the years that followed the main event in view in this chapter.
Work on the temple ceased in 536 B.C., as the writer noted here. The workers had only completed the foundation. Construction did not resume until 520 B.C., 16 years later.
"Accordingly, these works were hindered from going on till the second year of the reign of Darius, for nine years more; for Cambyses reigned six years, and within that time overthrew Egypt, and when he was come back, he died in Damascus."
"Even when they [the restoration Jews] strove to again lay the foundations of that most important symbol of the presence of God, their sanctuary, discouragement took its toll; and the whole project came to a complete stop for sixteen long years (Ezra 4:24). Everything was wrong: they lacked the means, then the inclination, and finally even the will to build the temple; for their every attempt met with constant opposition both from within the small group and from the outside (Ezra 3:12-13; 4:1-22). So it would have remained had not God graciously sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1)."
3. The challenge to construction ch. 5
As a result of local intimidation (4:1-5), the restoration Jews stopped building the temple in 536 B.C. (4:24), and did little work on it until 520 B.C. They said, "The time has not come, the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt" (Hag. 1:2). The Jews should have persevered because Cyrus had supported their efforts to rebuild it. As previously explained, Artaxerxes' order to stop building (4:21) came much later, in 446 B.C., and suspended work on the walls of Jerusalem, not the temple.
"Like every spiritual advance, from Abraham's to the missionary expansion in Acts, this venture began with a word from the Lord. And in common with the rest, it was quickly tested and threatened."
The resumption of work 5:1-2
The Book of Haggai contains four messages that Haggai delivered to the returned exiles in 520 B.C. We know from what he said that the people had turned from their commitment to rebuild the temple to constructing comfortable houses for themselves (Hag. 1:2-11). The prophet Zechariah joined Haggai in encouraging the people to give God's interests priority over their own (v. 1).
"There is always an effective answer to discouragement in the bold proclamation of the word of God."
In response to the ministries of these prophets, the people began to rebuild the temple again (v. 2; Hag. 1:12-14) in 520 B.C. (4:24).
"Haggai and Zechariah went together just like Ezra and Nehemiah. The practical man and the poet must walk together; God arranged it that way."
Tattenai's question 5:3-5
The text does not say if the Jews' antagonistic neighbors had provoked Tattenai, the governor of the Persian province in which Jerusalem stood, to ask to see the Jews' temple building permit. It simply says that he asked to see it. The Jews kept the construction work going while Tattenai determined whether they had authority to build.
Tattenai had reason to question the Jews' actions without prodding from the local antagonists. The Persian Empire had undergone political upheaval since Cyrus' death in 530 B.C. Cyrus' son and successor, Cambyses, had to put down several rebellions against his authority. This involved his executing his brother, Smerdis. An Egyptian nobleman, Gaumata, then claimed to be the true Smerdis and revolted against Cambyses. Popular opinion swung behind Gaumata, and Cambyses committed suicide in 522 B.C. However, the Persian army supported a distant cousin of Cambyses named Darius I (the son of Hystaspes). Darius was able to overthrow Gaumata and to put down several other claimants to the throne, as well as rebellions in many different parts of the empire. In view of these events, it is easy to see why Tattenai would have been suspicious of any attempt to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and why he wrote to Darius for instructions.
Another reason for Tattenai's concern may very well have been what Zechariah was prophesying. He said that the "Branch," the long-expected descendant of David's line, would soon appear and sit on David's throne (Zech. 3:8; cf. Isa. 11:1; Jer. 23:5-6). What Zechariah predicted of Messiah seemed to fit Zerubbabel to a tee (Zech. 6:9-15).
Tattenai's letter 5:6-17
In contrast to Rehum and Shimshai's letter to Artaxerxes (4:11-16), Tattenai's letter to Darius was fair and objective. He gave no indication of wanting to stop the Jews' project. He only wanted to know if Cyrus had really given permission for the Jews to rebuild the temple and if Darius wanted that edict to stand.
The record of this letter in the text shows that high-ranking government officials had observed God's care of His chosen people. This would have encouraged the original readers of Ezra with the assurance that what they had done was honest, and that God was moving governors and kings to accomplish His will (cf. Prov. 21:1).
Opposition to Temple Construction
The form it took
What it tested
Israel's enemies offered to help.
The Jews' wisdom (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14)
Zerubbabel declined the offer.
They discouraged and frightened the builders.
Their faith (cf. 2 Tim. 1:7)
The Jews trusted God and pressed on.
They tried legal action and red tape.
Their patience (cf. Matt. 16:18)
God gave a favorable decision through Artaxerxes, and Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the Jews.
They demanded proof of authority to build.
Their perseverance (cf. Matt. 28:19-20)
The builders kept on working.
"… against the background of rampant polytheism or even the dualism of newly emerging Zoroastrianism it was important to affirm that Yahweh is Lord of all in heaven and on earth. To their enemies the Jews affirmed this when they announced that they were building the second Temple as the 'servants of the God of heaven and earth' (Ezra 5:11)."
"The God of heaven is probably an attempt by the Jews to create sympathy for their cause in the Persian court, because Ahuramazda, the Persian god, was also regarded as 'god of the heaven,' and was known as the creator of heaven and earth."
4. The completion of construction ch. 6
Darius not only approved his predecessor Cyrus' decree, he issued one himself that gave even greater support to the Jews in their building project.
Darius' search 6:1-2
Darius looked for Cyrus' edict in Babylon first. That was where Cyrus stayed for a while following his overthrow of that city in 539 B.C. He found nothing there. However, someone did discover a memorandum in one of Cyrus' files when they searched his summer capital, Ecbatana (modern Hamadan). According to the Greek historian Xenophon, Cyrus lived in Babylon during the winter, in Susa during the spring, and in Ecbatana in the summer. This memorandum was not the same as the edict (cf. 1:2-4). Nonetheless, it confirmed the edict and provided instructions for the royal treasurer, making a way for him to implement the edict.
"It is interesting to think how easily it might not have been found. Naturally, if such a document was not found in the proper libraries, men would abandon their search. However, we cannot read this story without realizing that the eye of the God of Israel was on the elders of the Jews, and that all the peoples were in His hand. The search, therefore, was prosecuted until successful."
Cyrus' memorandum 6:3-5
The memorandum provided details that the edict did not contain. Among these details were the dimensions of the proposed temple. It was to be twice as high and three times as wide as Solomon's temple (v. 3; cf. 1 Kings 6:2). The measurements apply to external dimensions. Apparently Cyrus intended to sponsor a temple that would excel Solomon's and thereby bring greater glory to himself. The fact that the foundations, when completed, appeared less impressive than Solomon's (3:12-13), suggests that the Jews did not take full advantage of their opportunity and resources. The Persian government had committed to pay for the building (v. 4). Christians too often fail to take full advantage of our opportunities and resources to glorify God.
Darius' decree 6:6-12
Evidently Darius also saw the Jerusalem temple as a monument to his own success. He instructed Tattenai to allow the Jewish governor, Zerubbabel, and his people to proceed unobstructed. Darius seems to have viewed Zerubbabel as the ruler of the Jews living within the jurisdiction of Tattenai, who governed the whole province, which included Palestine and Jerusalem. Darius further specified that the provincial treasury should pay all costs (v. 8), and that the provincial governor should provide the items required for sacrifices in the temple. The king also wanted the Jews to pray for him and his family (v. 10).
"Although Darius revered Ahuramazda especially, it is understandable that in a world of polytheism he would want to make sure that he was in the favor of every god in his empire."
One wonders if stories about Daniel (ca. 605-536 B.C.), who served under Cyrus (Dan. 6:28), might have had some influence on Darius. The Darius that the Book of Daniel mentions, however, was Darius the Mede, not this Darius, who was a Persian.
"… Darius [the Persian] himself was a monotheist and an adherent of the new faith of Zoroastrianism, but it is not known whether this religious orientation had any effect on his policies this early in his reign."
"The religion of the Iranians [Persians] was fundamentally monotheistic, and they must have felt a certain sympathy for a religion of a minor people who likewise believed in a unique divinity. … In matters religious, Persia was tolerant, even beyond the example of her predecessors; there was no persecution of alien cults, unless they were combined with nationalistic threats of revolt."
Impaling (v. 11) was a common method of execution in the Persian Empire (cf. Esth. 7:9-10), and Darius practiced it. After he subdued a rebellion in Babylon, Darius impaled 3,000 rebels there.
"Impalement was a well-known kind of punishment in the ancient Near East for grave offenses. One side [end?] of a beam was sharpened and the other side planted in the ground. The sharp point was inserted under the chest of a person and pushed through his esophagus and lungs. He was then left to hang until he died."
"Crucifixion proper, however, i.e. nailing to a cross, also occurred among the Persians; it was however, practiced by nailing the body of the criminal to a cross after decapitation; see the passages from Herodotus …"
Making a person's house a "refuse heap" (v. 11) meant turning it into a public latrine (cf. 2 Kings 10:27; Dan. 2:5; 3:29). The king closed his decree by calling down Yahweh's curse on anyone who might attempt to change it (v. 12).
"The enemies of the Jews, in appealing to Darius, hoped to get an order to suppress them, but, instead of that, they got an order to supply them."
"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."
Tattenai's compliance 6:13-15
Several factors resulted in the completion of the temple, which the writer brought together in verse 14. The reference to Artaxerxes (v. 14; cf. 4:7-23) does not mean that he had a part in completing the temple. As noted previously, he was the king who later supported the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. That action served to make the temple secure. He also contributed to the temple treasury (7:15-16, 21). Consequently, mention of him was appropriate at this point.
"The most powerful word on earth at that time was the decree of a Persian king, but silently and mysteriously the king was being directed by an even more powerful divine word."
The builders finished the temple on Adar 3 (in late February), 515 B.C. This was about four and one-half years after Haggai and Zechariah had gotten the builders moving again (in 520 B.C.). It was about 21 years after the Jews had laid the foundation (in 536 B.C.), and about 23 years after Cyrus had issued his decree allowing the Jews to return to Palestine (in 538 B.C.). (Josephus wrote that this temple was built in seven years.) It was 70 years after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple (586 B.C.). Thus, God fulfilled Jeremiah's prophecy that the captivity would last 70 years (Jer. 25:11; 29:10). Nebuchadnezzar burned Solomon's temple down in the fifth month of 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-9), and the restoration Jews reopened it in the twelfth month of 515 B.C. Solomon's temple had stood for almost 400 years, but the second temple lasted longer, about 585 years, until Titus destroyed it in A.D. 70.
The Jews' celebration 6:16-22
Compared with the dedication of Solomon's temple, this one was very modest. Solomon had offered more than 200 times as many animals. The Jews offered one sin offering, which involved killing a goat, for each of the 12 tribes (v. 17). The reference to the number of Israel's tribes being 12 shows that none of the tribes were "lost" during the captivity, as some modern cults claim (cf. Acts 26:7; James 1:1). The people still considered the nation to be a confederation of 12 tribes, and they called it "Israel" (2:2, 59).
"The remnant who had returned make solemn confession of sin in the name of the whole scattered and dispersed race. They acknowledge the essential unity of Israel's tribes alike in the consequences of sin, in the possibilities of restoration, and in the renewed consecration to God's service."
The Passover celebration took place five weeks after the temple dedication. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the day after Passover and lasted seven days (Lev. 23:6-8). Note that some Gentile converts had evidently accompanied the remnant from Babylon to Jerusalem (v. 21).
The reference to Darius (cf. vv. 6-12) as the "king of Assyria" (v. 22) is unusual but not unique. In some ancient Near Eastern king lists, the rulers of territories that were previously independent are referred to as kings of those countries.
"Perhaps, however, it is meant to awaken memories of the traditional oppressor (cf. Ne. 9:32), whose empire first Babylon and then Persia had inherited, but whose policies were now dramatically reversed."
Naturally the restoration Jews rejoiced greatly that their national worship of Yahweh could continue again as the Mosaic Covenant specified. Since life in Israel rested on the worship of Yahweh, the re-establishment of life under the Mosaic Law depended on the re-establishment of Mosaic worship. Thus the record of the completion of the temple and the resumption of worship is the climax of this first part of Ezra (chs. 1—6).
Baxter saw a parallel between the Jews' restoration to the land, in these six chapters, and factors that operate in "all true spiritual restoration":
Return to the land (chs. 1—2)
Return to the right basis of relationship to God by confession and repentance
Altar re-erected (3:1-6)
Renewal of dedication to God
New temple begun (3:7-13)
Recommencement of service and witness for God
Adversaries encountered (ch. 4)
Perseverance in faith under testing
Prophets exhort (5:1—6:14)
Need to listen to God's Word
Temple finished (6:15-22)
Final triumph of faith
II. THE SECOND RETURN UNDER EZRA chs. 7—10
A period of 58 years separates Ezra 6 from Ezra 7 (515-458 B.C.). During this time the events in the Book of Esther took place in Persia and, in particular, Susa, one of the Persian capitals.
Darius I (the son of Hystaspes; 521-486 B.C.) became a very capable ruler who united the vast reaches of the Persian Empire under his control. He organized the empire effectively into 20 satrapies, each of which functioned under a satrap appointed by the king. The satraps, who were usually from the Persian noble families, were virtual kings over their satrapies. They levied taxes and provided troops for the emperor. Darius also built a huge palace at Persepolis, a canal that connected the Nile River with the Red Sea, and a system of roads that greatly facilitated travel and communication within the empire.
"… under Darius, Persia reached her zenith."
Darius' son, Xerxes I (486-464 B.C., known as Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6 and the Book of Esther), succeeded this great king. He was not as successful as his father militarily. He was, however, able to subdue rebellions in Egypt and Babylon, but he lost a third of the Persian fleet to the Greeks and eventually had to withdraw Persian troops from Europe. He died at the hand of an assassin.
The next Persian king was Artaxerxes I (Longimanus, lit. "Long Hand"; 464-424 B.C.), the younger son of Xerxes who killed his older brother to obtain the throne. During his reign the empire continued to decline in strength. The Greeks attacked Cyprus, Egypt rebelled, and parts of Asia Minor achieved independence.
The Persian province of Yehud (Judah) was part of the larger satrapy of Eber Nari (lit. "Beyond [i.e., west of] the [Euphrates] River"). This satrapy included Syria, Phoenicia, Canaan to the border of Egypt, and Cyprus. Herodotus identified the satrapy "Beyond the River" as Darius' fifth satrapy.
In Judah, the Jews did not continue to fortify Jerusalem. They were content simply to worship at the temple. Their earlier zeal to return to the Mosaic ordinances, which included separation from non-Jews, waned. Over this 58-year period some of them intermarried with unbelieving Gentiles (9:1-2). Evidently the Levites neglected the teaching of the law (7:25; cf. Neh. 8:1-12), and temple worship became more formal than sincere (7:23).
A. The Return to Jerusalem CHS. 7—8
In 458 B.C., God moved Ezra, a Jewish priest and scribe who was living in Babylon, to lead another group of exiles back to the Promised Land. The name Ezra is a short form of Azariah, which means "Yahweh Has Helped." In Jerusalem, Ezra's ministry consisted primarily of leading the people to return to observance of their Law. Since his time the Jews have regarded Ezra as a second Moses, because he re-established Israel on the Mosaic Law.
"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 postexilic community. Ezra is presented as a man who was strongly motivated by the Law of God."
1. The decree of Artaxerxes and its consequences ch. 7
After explaining Ezra's background and his trip to Jerusalem, the writer documented Artaxerxes' decree that permitted more Jews to return to the Promised Land. Then he related Ezra's response of thanksgiving.
Ezra's background 7:1-10
"These things" (v. 1) refers to the events of the first return that the writer described in chapters 1—6.
Ezra's genealogy (vv. 1-5) shows that he was a man of importance whom his fellow Jews would have respected. He was a descendant of Aaron, the first high priest of Israel (v. 5). There are gaps in this genealogy (cf. 1 Chron. 6:3-15). "Son of" occasionally means "descendant of," as elsewhere in the Old Testament. The purpose of this linear genealogy was not to record all of Ezra's ancestors but to trace his lineage from Aaron.
A scribe (v. 6) was a person who functioned as a copier, writer, and communicator. Scribes fulfilled various roles before the exile. These included military officer (Judg. 5:14; 2 Kings 25:19), messenger of the king (2 Kings 18:18), secretary to the king (2 Sam. 8:17; 20:25), clerk, and writer (Jer. 36:26, 32). In the Gospels there are many references to scribes. In Jesus' day they were primarily students and teachers of the Law and Jewish traditions. In Ezra's time this specialized function of the scribe was developing. Ezra himself, as a scribe and priest, was able to teach the Law of Moses (cf. Lev. 10:11; Neh. 8:1-9, 13). He also enjoyed special divine protection and enablement (v. 6; cf. 7:9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31).
"The wise scribe followed an honored profession in which he might take pride (Ecclus. [Ecclesiasticus] 38:24-34). His was the highest privilege and virtue: to study the law, to meditate on it and apply it to life (cf. Ps. 1; 19:7-14; 119)."
Ezra and his companions left Babylon in the spring of 458 B.C. The Jewish month of Nisan corresponds to our late March and early April.
"It is emphasized that the date of departure from Babylon was carefully calculated to take place on the first day of the first month, though in the event they could leave only on the twelfth day due to the need to recruit Levites (Ezra 8:31). While the point is not made explicitly, this arrangement implies that the Ezra caravan, like the Israelites of old, marked their departure with the celebration of Passover (cf Ex 12:1; Num. 33:3), and that therefore this second episode in the restoration of the commonwealth begins in the same way that the first ends."
Ezra and his fellow travelers completed their 900-mile journey exactly four months later (vv. 8-9) because of God's enablement (v. 9).
Ezra's personal resolve provides an excellent example for every believer (v. 10). He first purposed to study (lit. seek) the Law of God, then to apply that teaching to his own life, and then to teach others the revealed will of God. This was the key to Ezra's impact.
"He is a model reformer in that what he taught he had first lived, and what he lived he had first made sure of in the Scriptures. With study, conduct and teaching put deliberately in this right order, each of these was able to function properly at its best: study was saved from unreality, conduct from uncertainty, and teaching from insincerity and shallowness."
"The order is very significant, for you cannot effectively practice what you have not thoroughly learned, and you cannot convincingly teach what you have not practically applied."
"One called by God to teach must also study and obey."
"Law" (v. 10) is "Torah" in Hebrew, which means "instruction," and it describes the Law of Moses, the Book of Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch, and the whole Old Testament in various places in Scripture. Here it probably refers to all the revealed will of God that Ezra had—all the scrolls of the Old Testament sacred writings to which he had access.
Artaxerxes' decree 7:11-26
This decree appears in Aramaic, the official language of the Persian Empire, in the Hebrew Bible.
The king appointed Ezra as the person responsible to him for the affairs conducted in the Jewish community in Judah. He held a position in the Persian court equivalent to Secretary of State for Jewish Affairs. This decree encouraged any Jews in exile to return to their land (vv. 12-13).
"The Persians had respect for the laws of other nations as long as they did not conflict with their own."
"We know from the Elephantine papyri that a whole colony of Jews lived in the south of Egypt. The greatest concentration of Jews, however, was in Babylon and vicinity."
Elephantine stood on an island in the Nile River on the southern frontier of Egypt near modern Aswan.
Artaxerxes' decree promised provisions for the temple worship (vv. 14-20), authorized Ezra to withdraw funds from the provincial treasury (vv. 21-23; cf. 4:12), and permitted him to establish judicial and educational systems in Judah (vv. 24-26). The reason Artaxerxes permitted all this was evidently so that there would be peace and good will among his Jewish subjects, and so that he might appease Yahweh's wrath (v. 23). The king's seven counselors (v. 14) evidently constituted the supreme court of the land (cf. Esth. 1:14).
"Thus Ezra was 'sent' by the very highest authority in the empire."
"In 460 B.C. the confederation of Greek cities under Athenian leadership known as the Attic-Delic League sent a fleet of 200 war galleys against Persia in the Cypriot seas. This fleet sailed to Egypt, gained a great victory over the Persian army there and captured Memphis in the autumn of 459. This placed the coast of Palestine and Phoenicia into Greek hands as the only possible route from Ionia to Egypt. It was in 458, immediately after the fall of Memphis to the Greeks, that Ezra the Judean courtier was sent to Judea 'to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem' (7, 14) and to reorganize and strengthen this traditional enemy of the Philistines. From the point of view of the Persian king a strong pro-Persian Judea was a major threat to the Greek coastal lifeline, and as long as the Greeks dominated the coast and Egypt he supported a strong Judean province headed by a Judean-Persian official and peopled by a pro-Persian population, most of whose families were hostages in Babylon and Persia. The war in Phoenicia continued with battles in Cyprus and Egypt until the peace of Callias in 448 B.C. which put an end to the war between Persia and Greece."
The "utensils" (v. 19) for the temple may have been some that Cyrus had overlooked (6:5), or perhaps they were gifts from Artaxerxes. Probably Artaxerxes granted provisions for the exiles on their return to Jerusalem, not only for them after they had returned (vv. 21-22). Jewish temple employees received special tax exemption (v. 24; cf. 2:43). Ezra was officially responsible to teach the Jews God's Law (v. 25), and the king paid him to do so.
"Thus Ezra comes to Jerusalem as the real implementation of the Cyrus decree and his function is to establish an acceptable means of worship whereby Yahweh's lordship over Judah and the whole world (in terms of the extravagance of the Cyrus decree) may be realized and the kingship of God reasserted."
"Ezra's interest and assigned task was thus not to build the country materially, as it had been with the first return [in 538 B.C.; Ezra 1:1] and would be again with the third [in 444 B.C.; Neh. 2:1], but to build the people socially and spiritually."
Ezra's thanksgiving 7:27-28
Ezra recognized and acknowledged that God had moved Artaxerxes to do what he had done (cf. Prov. 21:1).
"God can put things into men's hearts which would not arise there of themselves, and into their heads too, both by his providence and by his grace, in things pertaining both to life and godliness. If any good appear to be in our own hearts, or in the hearts of others, we must own it was God that put it there, and bless him for it."
"Favor" (v. 28) is more precisely "loyal love" (Heb. hesed). This Hebrew word has linguistic connections to the word translated stork, a bird known for its affectionate devotion to its young. Yahweh was proving faithful to His promises to care for His chosen people. Ezra acknowledged God's enabling grace in his life.
"God's grace is to be seen in the measure of freedom and responsibility entrusted to Ezra for the regulation of both cultic and wider, social affairs concerning his people in the land."
"What makes the Jews' restoration so remarkable is not simply that they should return, but that kings should supply their needs in relation to worship (cf. 7:27). It is this that makes the 'new exodus' so evidently an act of God's salvation."
Compare the gifts that the Egyptians gave the Israelites at the first Exodus (Exod. 12:36).
2. The journey itself ch. 8
This chapter provides more details concerning the events of the return that the writer summarized earlier (7:7-9).
"Though with a somewhat different emphasis from Ezra 1—3, there is nevertheless the definite impression here of a second Exodus, with its arduous desert journey and entry into the land."
The leading men who returned 8:1-14
The descendants of the priestly and royal families in Israel appear first in this list (vv. 2-3). Then the names of the rest of the Jews follow (cf. 1 Esdras 8:28-40). A comparison of verses 3-14 with 2:3-15 shows that Ezra's companions were mainly the relatives of those Jews who had returned 80 years earlier under Sheshbazzar. The one exception was Joab's family (v. 9).
The recruiting of Levites to return 8:15-20
The returnees assembled on the banks of the Ahava waterway that flowed through the district of Babylon and bore the same name. The site is presently unknown.
"… Babylonia was crisscrossed by a network of irrigation canals that tapped the water of the Euphrates and flowed toward the Tigris, which had a slightly deeper bed."
No Levites had volunteered to return to Judah. In view of his plans for the restoration, Ezra needed more Levites than those already in Judah.
"Ezra sent them [the 11 representatives mentioned in verse 16] to a proper place, where there was a college of Levites, the place Casiphia, probably a street or square in Babylon allowed for that purpose—Silver Street one may call it, for ceseph signifies silver. He sent them to a proper person, to Iddo, the chief president of the college, to urge him to send some of the juniors, ministers for the house of our God, v. 17."
Due to his recruiting efforts in Casiphia (exact site unknown), 38 Levites and 220 temple servants joined the immigrants. One writer estimated the total number of men who returned with Ezra as about 1,700—plus women and children. Another calculated the total number of men, women, and children as between 4,000 and 5,000.
"Not one of the names here listed may be otherwise known to us; but all stand in God's sight for distinct living personalities, all of whose acts and words are as clear in His mind as though they still tabernacled in flesh and blood, and walked the earth as strangers and sojourners, servants of the God of heaven, cleaving to His name in the midst of ruin. It is for us to occupy this very position to-day [sic], as though in their place; and, if faithful in it, rest assured, He who forgets not one of them will pass by nothing in our history that He can reward in that day."
Chronology of Ezra 7—10
Ezra led 1,700 men out of Babylon (Ezra 7:1, 8). Ezra's party left the Ahava waterway.
Ezra's party arrived in Jerusalem. Shecaniah proposed a solution to the mixed marriages problem.
The Jews agreed to dissolve their mixed marriages.
The Jews finally dissolved 113 mixed marriages.
The immigrants' spiritual preparation 8:21-23
As is quite clear from these verses, Ezra sensed his great need for God's help in the dangerous trip that lay before them. This moved him to seek God's favor in prayer. Verse 21 was the text of John Robinson's last sermon at Leiden, Netherlands, before the Pilgrims sailed for the New World in 1620. Fasting enabled the people to give more time and concentration to their praying (cf. Neh. 1:4; Acts 13:3). Fasting facilitates prayer, but it does not manipulate God. Ezra's primary concern, as these verses indicate, was God's reputation.
"The refusal of an armed escort (historically surprising, given the amount of bullion being transported) brought into play the same providence which was vouchsafed to the ancestors in the wilderness (Ezra 8:22)."
"It is well to affirm faith, as many Christians do regularly in the creeds. Yet it is salutary to ask whether anything that one ever does actually requires faith."
Ezra's physical preparations 8:24-30
Ezra took special precautions to make sure that the expensive temple utensils arrived safely and to guarantee that everyone would view his handling of the precious cargo as completely honest (cf. 2 Cor. 8:20-21). The Babylonian talent (v. 26) weighed about 66 pounds. The daric (v. 27) was a thick gold Persian coin that weighed 130 grams or about 4 and one-half ounces. The total weight of the precious cargo that the exiles took with them seems to have been about 28 tons. There are records that indicate that there were some very wealthy Jews living in Babylon at this time.
"Following Ezra's example, Christian leaders should delegate responsibility. Ezra carefully chose the people to whom he gave responsibility. It may seem exaggerated to have taken such precautions with the money, to weigh it out carefully, to record every detail. However, to do things carefully, with decisions and transactions documented in writing, is a sign of wisdom rather than a lack of confidence. It protects everyone involved. Many present-day scandals could be avoided if Christian leaders would learn from Ezra."
Safe arrival 8:31-36
The exiles had begun their journey on the first day of the first month (7:9), but they had camped by the Ahava waterway for 12 days (8:31). They arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month (7:9). Thus the trip took four months, and it covered about 900 miles. God kept them safe on their dangerous trip, and all their 28 tons of valuable cargo arrived safely.
Burnt offerings represented the consecration of the worshippers' persons to God (Lev. 1; 6:8-13). Sin offerings provided atonement (covering) for the worshippers' sinful natures (Lev. 4:1—5:13; 6:24-30). A satrap (v. 36; lit. "protector of the kingdom") ruled over governors in the Persian governmental structure.
B. The Restoration of the People chs. 9—10
The rest of the Book of Ezra relates Ezra's ministry in Judah following his relocation to Jerusalem.
1. The problem of mixed marriages ch. 9
Ezra soon discovered that some of the Jews who had been living in Judah for some time had begun to intermarry with Gentiles. This practice had led the Israelites into idolatry in the past. God had sent their forefathers into exile for their idolatry. This is the reason the mixed marriages disturbed Ezra. The underlying issue was purity of religion: complete obedience to the revealed will of God.
The news of apostasy 9:1-4
The Mosaic Law strictly forbade intermarriage with the native Canaanites (Exod. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-5; cf. Lev. 18:3). Furthermore, intermarriage with other non-Israelites had often resulted in tragic consequences in Israel's earlier history (cf. 1 Kings 11:1-8).
"Thus the action in Ezra 10 is not directed against inter-Israelite marriages between the returnees and the 'peoples of the land' but specifically against Israel's old wilderness and early conquest enemies, namely, the Canaanite, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Amorites, Egyptians and Moabites (Ezra 9:1). It is upon this note of the 'conquest re-established' that the Book of Ezra ends."
"In the beginning 'God divided the light from the darkness,' and it has been the business of the devil ever since to seek to link the twain together."
"Under these circumstances the spirit of the law demanded an application broader than its original application. Hence Ezra was justified in applying a law limited to Canaanites to all pagan foreigners, even the Egyptians who were originally explicitly excluded."
Pulling out one's hair (v. 3) was and is an expression of extreme grief, violent wrath, or intense moral indignation (cf. Isa. 50:6). Ezra was not alone in his distress (v. 4). Ezra pulled out his own hair, but Nehemiah later pulled out the hair of his enemies (Neh. 13:25).
"If the people do not care to preserve their distinctiveness, then Ezra's effort to get them to follow the Torah will be fruitless, no matter how much power he receives from Artaxerxes."
"A man's attitude toward God's Word is one of the ultimate criteria of his spirituality."
"The key to this book is found in Ezra 9:4 and 10:3: they 'trembled at the words of the God of Israel.'"
Ezra's prayer 9:5-15
The priests presented the evening offering (v. 5) between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. in Jesus' day. This was the traditional time for this offering. Ezra's prayer contains four primary characteristics: solidarity, confession, readiness to change, and faith in God's mercy.
In his sermonic prayer, Ezra identified with the body of believers, even though he had not personally participated in their sin (cf. Dan. 9:4-19).
"In a time like today in which individuality is emphasized, people cannot always understand this attitude. For the Israelites, and later for the Jews, the Lord contracted a covenant with all the people and not only with individuals. All the people were responsible for the acts of every individual or group (cf. also Judg. 19—21)."
We enter into the blessing and discipline of others simply because we are part of the group to which we belong (cf. Josh. 7; 1 Cor. 5:1-8).
Ezra's posture (v. 5) reflected his attitude of humility and submission to God. Israel had departed from God's revealed will. Ezra confessed this as sin (vv. 6-7, 10). He also thanked God for His grace to the immigrants (vv. 8-9). The "peg" (v. 8) in view could refer to both the temple and/or the returned exiles. It is a figure here for a small, fairly weak support—like a tent peg that keeps a tent from blowing away or collapsing. The temple and the returned exiles were the first small beginnings of a larger establishment in the land that would hopefully follow, as the pounding in of a tent peg is the first step in erecting a tent. It was a foothold.
"This is language from nomadic life, and it refers to a place reached after a long journey where a tent may be pitched."
"A little grace had been granted by God to his people; a small remnant had found its weary way back to its home and driven a single peg into its soil; a solitary ray of light was shining; a faint breath of freedom lightened their slavery."
Ezra summarized the teaching of former prophets in verses 11-12. Then he reflected on the destiny of the Israelites (vv. 13-15). He contrasted Israel's sin and guilt with God's holiness and righteousness. He made no request or promise. He just confessed the sin of the people and reflected on its significance.
"Ezra does not pray for the pardon of their sin, for he desires only to bring the congregation to the knowledge of the greatness of their transgression, and so to invite them to do all that in them lies to atone for their guilt, and to appease God's wrath."
"This little phrase ["You are righteous," v. 15] thus constitutes the highest form of worship: an acknowledgment of God, even though at the same time it accepts that the worshiper has forfeited his or her right to live before God. God is thus praised solely for who he is, and not merely for what the worshiper hopes to gain from him."
This is one of the great prayers that God recorded in the Old Testament (cf. 2 Chron. 6; Neh. 9; Dan. 9). It illustrates how a faithful individual should respond to the sins of the people among whom he or she lives. Christians also need to realize that they are part of a group, not just individuals. As believers, we belong to the whole body of Christ, and most Christians also belong to a local church. As part of a group, we participate in the actions of the group—and the consequences of the group's actions—even though we may not personally approve of those actions. It is appropriate, therefore, for the leaders of God's people to confess the sins of the group or groups to which they belong.
2. The solution to the problem ch. 10
This chapter shows that God's people should respond to sinful conditions by praying to God and by doing everything in our power and in God's will to change the situation.
The proposal of Shecaniah 10:1-4
"See what a happy influence the good examples of great ones may have upon their inferiors. When Ezra, a scribe, a scholar, a man in authority under the king, so deeply lamented the public corruptions, they [many of the men, women, and children (v. 1)] concluded that they were indeed very grievous."
The writer did not list Shecaniah among those who had married foreign wives (cf. 10:18-44). He appears to have been another faithful Jew like Ezra. The present situation distressed him. He too, though faithful, identified with the unfaithful.
Shecaniah proposed divorce, not separation. The Hebrew word translated "send away" (v. 3) is the same as the one translated "leaves" in Deuteronomy 24:2, where divorce is in view. "According to the Law" (v. 3) probably refers to the law specifying the procedure for divorce in Deuteronomy 24 (i.e., with a certificate of divorce). In Deuteronomy 24:1 God permitted divorce for "some indecency" in the wife. Perhaps Ezra viewed these pagan women's beliefs and practices as indecent. In the ancient Near East, mothers received custody of their children when there was a divorce (cf. Gen. 21:14). However, in Greece the children went with their fathers.
"They [the leaders of the restoration] were aware that intermarriage and idolatry were the root cause of the exile. Motivated by a fear of repeating past mistakes, they were committed to rejecting intermarriage with pagan cultures, along with the idolatry and cultural assimilation it would bring (9:1—10:44). By the time of Christ this separation became a wall of prejudice against Gentiles and Samaritans."
"Foreign women were married contrary to the law of God. The marriages were illegal from the outset. The sending away of the women is to guard the exiles against the continuation of an illegal act. With their foreign wives they lived in sin. It is thus clear from v. 4 that there is a strong legal background against which Shecaniah has formulated his proposal. The dividing line between the permissible and impermissible is strongly emphasized. Even the children born from the illegal marriages must be sent away. This proposal is harsh in the light of modern Christian conceptions. Why should innocent children be punished? We must remember that the religious influence of the mothers on their children was regarded as the stumbling block. To keep the religion of the Lord pure was the one and only aim of Ezra and the returned exiles. As a small minority group, the repatriates lived in the Holy Land among a large population of influential people who were followers of various polytheistic religions. Against such larger numbers they had to defend themselves and their religious identity. Thus the drastic measures are understandable."
Even today, some Jewish leaders view intermarriage with non-Jews as the major threat to the continuation of Judaism:
"Therefore, the greatest danger to Jewish survival outside Israel today is not anti-Semitism but assimilation, epitomized by the threat of intermarriage … [and it] is a direct threat to Judaism, for without Jews Judaism cannot exist."
"… the situation described in Ezra 9 and 10 was a classic example of one in which the lesser of two evils had to be chosen."
The assembling of the people 10:5-8
Ezra first secured the cooperation of Israel's leaders (v. 5). He had become aware of the problem before Shecaniah approached him, but he wisely prayed about it, and waited for the people to take the initiative in asking him to deal with it. This assured their cooperation when Ezra took leadership in the matter. The Eliashib of verse 6 was not the same Eliashib who was the high priest in Nehemiah's day (Neh. 3:1; 13:4, 28). Ezra arose from his position in front of the temple and went inside, to one of its auxiliary rooms, in order to continue his mourning (v. 6). This shows that his prayer was not a "media event" designed just to motivate the people to repent, but he genuinely grieved over Israel's condition. Ezra then used the power over the exiles that he had received from Artaxerxes (vv. 7-8; cf. 7:26).
"Ezra was not some self-appointed reformer and custodian of other people's morals. He came to Jerusalem as a commissioner of the Persian king, with instructions, and not just permission, to insist that in the sub-province of Judea the Pentateuchal law was state law (7:25f.), 'the law of the Medes and Persians' (cf. Dan. 6:8). He was therefore legally entitled to compel obedience on this issue; a specific penalty is not laid down in the law, and it would have been left to his discretion."
The cooperation of the people 10:9-15
This general assembly took place on December 19, 458 B.C. The people who were guilty agreed to divorce their foreign wives and to do this in various local towns that were convenient to their homes in the weeks and months that lay ahead. The Feast of Dedication fell on the twenty-fifth of this month. Perhaps they made their commitment to God then.
"Since such marriages led to the introduction of foreign cults, Ezra's drastic solution is along the same lines as Joshua's Shechem assembly with its commitment to putting aside foreign gods (Jos 24:23)."
God sent rain (v. 9; fertility) when His people got right with Him. He had promised to do this in Deuteronomy 11:10-17.
Israel's leaders permitted divorce on this occasion because of the unlawful marriages of the Israelites. They had married contrary to the Law of Moses. Even though God hates divorce (Mal. 2:10-16), He permitted it (Deut. 24:1-4) in order to achieve the larger goals of maintaining Israel's distinctiveness—so that she could fulfill His purposes for her in the world (Exod. 19:5-6).
God's purposes for the church are not identical with His purposes for Israel. Furthermore, the church is not subject to the Mosaic Law. Therefore, it is inappropriate to appeal to the Jews' action on this occasion as a precedent that Christians who are married to unbelievers should follow (cf. 1 Cor. 7:12-13).
Christians who believe that God does not permit divorce for any reason find this passage very disturbing. Obviously, Ezra was following the Law very carefully, and he permitted divorce (Deut. 24:1, 3). I believe that the biblical revelation is that God hates divorce and does not want people to practice it (Mal. 3:16). However, He does permit them to practice it in certain situations. Similarly, God does not want anyone to perish but wants everyone to experience salvation (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Nevertheless, He permits people to perish.
Only a few of the returnees hardened their hearts and opposed this reform (v. 15).
The completion of the proceedings 10:16-44
The people were able to complete the divorce proceedings in three months (vv. 16-17), probably on March 27, 457. A total of 113 Israelites had married and now divorced their foreign wives, which was only a small fraction of the total number of Jews then living in Judah. Of these people, 16 were priests and 10 were Levites, about 25 percent of the total 113. Perhaps no Jewish women had married any Gentile men. A more likely possibility is that since women could not divorce their husbands in Israel, the Jewish women who had married Gentiles did not get divorces.
Was this plan one that God approved? The text does not give any statement from a prophet or other representative who spoke for God either way. However, for the reasons explained above I think it was God's will.
"… although the law in general was known to the exiles, the finer distinctions and the interpretation of certain stipulations could have escaped them. Ezra was sent to teach them these distinctions and to interpret the law for them (7:10). It is this lesson they had to learn in order to realize that their marriages to foreign women were wrong."
This reformation resulted in the continued racial, and more significantly, spiritual purity of Jacob's descendants for another generation. However, Nehemiah faced the problem of mixed marriages again only a few years later (Neh. 10:30; 13:23).
"Ezra then returned to Babylonia, where tradition said he died and where his alleged tomb may still be visited."
"The Book of Ezra-Nehemiah presents Ezra as a strong personality. He did not emphasize the law as an end in itself; rather, he was convinced that the covenant community needed to return to God by taking seriously his revelation and applying it to every aspect of life."
"In his personal character … Ezra is a fine example. See his godly purpose (vii. 10); his godly thankfulness for success (verses 27, 28); his prayerful dependence on God (viii. 21-3); his acute grief at the sin of the people (ix. 3, 4); his deep humility before God (verses 5-15); his prompt, brave action against that which was wrong (x.)."
The Book of Ezra records two major Jewish returns to the Promised Land from Babylon. The principal events of the period grew out of these migrations. The first of these took place in 537 B.C. under the leadership of Sheshbazzar and then Zerubbabel. About 50,000 Jews returned, rebuilt the temple, and re-established worship as the Mosaic Law directed, to the best of their ability (chapters 1—6).
The second return occurred in 458 B.C. under Ezra's leadership. About 1,700 men (perhaps about 5,000 Jewish men, women, and children) returned on that occasion, and the result was a restoration of the people's allegiance to the Mosaic Law. Their purified marriages illustrate the sincerity of their commitment. (The Book of Nehemiah records a third migration, in 444 B.C.)
In both returns, God's sovereign control over the Persian kings is very evident. God moved the hearts of these men to permit His people to return and so fulfill His will (cf. Prov. 21:1). God can and will do seemingly impossible things in order to remain faithful to His promises to His people.
The purpose of Ezra was to give a historical account of the restoration of Israel to its land from the priestly (religious) point of view. Ezra was a priest as well as a scribe. He emphasized the re-establishment of the people in the land under the Mosaic Law. Return to the Mosaic Law, as well as to the Promised Land, is a major theme throughout this book. Overall, the main theme is the religious restoration of Israel.
This book is also a powerful revelation of how God deals with His chosen ones when they prove unfaithful to Him. He does not discard what He has chosen, but He fashions it anew when it fails.
"Today some people question the idea that things sometimes happen because of sinful actions. Through their suffering, believers can learn the kind of people God delights to bless and use."
The Hebrew Calendar
Pre-exile month or Post-exile month
Sacred or Civil month
Days of the month
Latter rains; flood season; beginning of barley season
Dry season begins; apricots ripen
Pentecost (Feast of Weeks)
Wheat harvest begins; dry winds; early figs; grapes ripen
Hot, dry season; grape harvest
Air still; heat intense; olive harvest
Dates and summer figs
Blowing of Trumpets
Early (former) rains
Day of Atonement
Feast of Tabernacles
Plowing; seed time
Rains; winter figs; wheat and barley sown
Winter begins; pastures become green
Coldest month; rains; snow on high ground
Growing warm; almond trees blossom
Feast of Purim
Spring (latter) rains begin; citrus fruit harvest
Ackroyd, Peter R. I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah. London: SCM Press, 1973.
_____. "The Temple Vessels—A Continuity Theme." Vetus Testamentum Supplement 23 (1972):166-81.
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_____. "The Date and Personality of the Chronicler." Journal of Biblical Literature 40 (1921):104-24.
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_____. "The Mission of Udjahorresnet and Those of Ezra and Nehemiah." Journal of Biblical Literature 106:3 (1987):409-21.
_____. "A Theological Reading of Ezra-Nehemiah." Proceedings of the Irish Biblical Association 12 (1989):26-36.
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_____. "Nehemiah and Narrative Order in the Book of Ezra." Bibliotheca Sacra 162:646 (April-June 2005):175-94.
_____. "Point of View in the Book of Ezra." Bibliotheca Sacra 162:647 (July-September 2005):310-30.
_____. "The Problem of Mixed Marriages in Ezra 9—10." Bibliotheca Sacra 162:648 (October-December 2005):437-58.
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_____. "The Interpretation of Ezra IV. 4." Journal of Theological Studies 16 (1965):124-27.
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_____. Moses and the Gods of Egypt. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971.
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_____. The Temple: Its Ministry and Services As They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ. Reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972.
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_____. "Medina in Ezra and Nehemiah." Vetus Testamentum 25:4 (October 1975):795-97.
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_____. Toward an Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.
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_____. S.v. "Number," by R. A. H. Gunner, pp. 895-98.
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_____. "Nehemiah's Mission and Its Background." Bulletin of the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester 37:2 (March 1955):528-61.
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The Septuagint is the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek that was made in the third century B.C.
Adapted from David M. Howard Jr., An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books, p. 276.
The Vulgate is the translation into Latin that was made in the fourth century A.D.
For an extended discussion of the views of scholars on the relationship of the ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah, see H. H. Rowley, "The Chronological Order of Ezra and Nehemiah," in The Servant of the Lord and other Essays on the Old Testament, pp. 137-68; John Bright, A History of Israel, pp. 375-86; and Edwin Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," in 1 Kings-Job, vol. 4 of The Expositor's Bible Commentary, pp. 573-80. Bright argued that Ezra followed Nehemiah to Jerusalem rather than preceding him, but this is a minority view.
C. F. Keil, The Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, p. 1; Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 400.
Mervin Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, pp. 37-41.
F. Charles Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 1.
Howard, p. 275.
A chiasmus is a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form.
Eugene H. Merrill, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 342.
E.g., Keil, p. 14; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 1149-50; W. F. Albright, "The Date and Personality of the Chronicler," Journal of Biblical Literature 40 (1921):119; et al. Albright also believed Ezra wrote Chronicles.
Baba Bathra 14b-16a. The Talmud is the body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend comprising the Mishnah and the Gemara.
See A. Philip Brown II, "Point of View in the Book of Ezra," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:647 (July-September 2005):310-30.
Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, pp. 134-35; Breneman, pp. 35-36; Howard, pp. 277-79; et al. See Hugh G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, pp. xxviii-xxxii, for more on Ezra's Memoirs.
Fensham, pp. 2-4; David J. Clines, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, p. 9.
For discussion of the view that Ezra returned to Jerusalem in 398 B.C., see Howard, pp. 281-84.
Eugene H. Merrill, "A Theology of Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 190.
Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 211-12, following T. C. Eskenazi, "The Chronicler and the Composition of 1 Esdras," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48 (1986):39-61; and D. Green, "Ezra-Nehemiah," in A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible, pp. 206-15.
George Van Pelt Campbell, "Structure, Themes, and Theology in Ezra-Nehemiah," Bibliotheca Sacra 174:696 (October-December 2017):407.
Ibid., p. 411.
See my comments on that verse below for further explanation.
See Fensham, pp. 9-16, for the historical background in the ancient Near East.
See A. Philip Brown II, "Chronological Anomalies in the Book of Ezra," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:645 (January-March 2005):33-49; idem, "Nehemiah and Narrative Order in the Book of Ezra," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:646 (April-June 2005):175-94; Williamson, pp. xxxix-xliv; and Longman and Dillard, p. 206.
Howard, pp. 273-74.
Chart adapted from J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book, 2:197.
Adapted from G. Campbell Morgan, Living Messages of the Books of the Bible, 1:1:237-49.
Breneman, p. 66.
See Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past, pp. 220-27, for more information about Nebuchadnezzar.
See ibid., pp. 242-44.
For more detail, see A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, pp. 34-58; Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, pp. 478-80; and Finegan, pp. 230-33.
Howard F. Vos, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, p. 16. This was a much larger area than what the Babylonian Empire occupied. For maps of these areas see Merrill, Kingdom of …, pp. 434 and 472; or The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1352.
Bright, p. 344.
Campbell, p. 399.
See ibid., pp. 400-405.
Fensham, p. 42. Cf. Exod. 1:1; Josh. 1:1; Judg. 1:1; et al.
Andrew E. Steinmann, "A Chronological Note: The Return of the Exiles under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel (Ezra 1—2)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51:3 (September 2008):513-22, argued that Sheshbazzar arrived in Jerusalem in 533 B.C., and in the same year the Jews completed the altar in Jerusalem and offered the first sacrifices on it. He believed the Jews began rebuilding the temple the following year, 532 B.C., and that work on the temple halted in 531 B.C.
Quotations from the English Bible in these notes are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB), 2020 edition, unless otherwise indicated.
J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 2:477.
Breneman, p. 68.
Olmstead, p. 54.
See Edwin M. Yamauchi, "The Archaeological Background of Ezra," Bibliotheca Sacra 137:547 (July-September 1980):200.
See Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History, p. 237.
James B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East, pp. 206-8. Cf. Amelie Kuhrt, "The Cyrus Cylinder and Achaemenid Imperial Policy," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 25 (1983):83-97.
The Nelson Study Bible, p. 767.
Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 11:1:2.
Campbell, p. 400. A leitmotif is a recurrent theme.
Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," p. 602.
Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, p. 392, including footnote 58.
Michael D. Coogan, "Life in the Diaspora," Biblical Archaeologist 37:1 (1974):12.
Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 482.
William J. Dumbrell, "The Theological Intention of Ezra-Nehemiah," Reformed Theological Review 45:3 (September-December 1986):65.
Kidner, p. 34.
Dumbrell, p. 65.
Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5:5:5.
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:245-46.
See Keil, p. 27; G. Campbell Morgan, The Unfolding Message of the Bible, p. 167; Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 338; Baxter, 2:198; John C. Whitcomb, "Ezra," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 428; Charles Lee Feinberg, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Malachi, p. 77; Kidner, pp. 139-46; Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary/History, p. 606.
The Nelson …, p. 768.
Breneman, p. 47; Clines, p. 41; Wood, p. 393, n. 59.
Bright, p. 343.
See Williamson, p. 17.
Olmstead, pp. 138-39.
Williamson, p. 18.
Henry, p. 482.
Olmstead, pp. 51-52.
Jamieson, et al., p. 338; Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," p. 604.
Breneman, p. 73.
Keil, p. 29.
Kidner, p. 35.
Breneman, p. 73. See also P. R. Ackroyd, "The Temple Vessels—A Continuity Theme," Vetus Testamentum Supplement 23 (1972):166-81.
Keil, p. 30.
W. Brueggemann, The Land, pp. 145-46.
Kidner, p. 37; Williamson, p. 33.
F. Charles Fensham, "Medina in Ezra and Nehemiah," Vetus Testamentum 25:4 (October 1975):795-97.
Keil, p. 33.
Sara Japhet, "Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel—Against the Background of the Historical and Religious Tendencies of Ezra-Nehemiah," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 94 (1982):66-98.
Jacob M. Myers, Ezra-Nehemiah, p. 28.
Free, pp. 237-38.
See Keil, pp. 33-34, for a table comparing the lists in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 2.
Coogan, p. 11.
Henry, p. 482.
See Gleason L. Archer Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 229-31.
See The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Number," by R. A. H. Gunner, pp. 895-98.
J. Carl Laney, Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 27.
John J. Davis, Biblical Numerology, p. 33. For a detailed explanation of the differences between these lists, see H. L. Allrik, "The Lists of Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 7 and Ezra 2) and the Hebrew Numerical Notation," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 136 (December 1954):21-27.
Keil, p. 40; Myers, p. 19.
Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," pp. 614, 615; The Nelson …, p. 770. Cf. Whitcomb, p. 425.
B. A. Levine, "The Nethinim," Journal of Biblical Literature 82 (1963):209.
Jamieson, et al., p. 338.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 55.
David N. Freedman and G. Ernest Wright, eds., The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, p. 63.
Josephus, Antiquities of …, 11:1:3.
Breneman, p. 85.
Kidner, p. 43. Cf. Keil, p. 45.
Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," p. 619.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 57. However compare Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," p. 620.
The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Money," by A. F. Walls, pp. 836-41.
The Nelson …, p. 770.
Breneman, p. 50.
John A. Martin, "Ezra," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 659.
J. G. McConville, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, p. 11.
Henry, p. 483.
See the appendix at the end of these notes for the Hebrew Calendar.
Keil, p. 50.
See Fredrick C. Holmgren, Israel Alive Again, p. 22.
Jamieson, et al., p. 339.
Bright, p. 416. Paragraph division omitted.
Ibid., p. 374.
Breneman, p. 91.
Free, pp. 238-39. Paragraph divisions omitted.
Laney, pp. 32-33.
See Lester L. Grabbe, "The Jewish Theocracy from Cyrus to Titus: A Programmatic Essay," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 37 (February 1987):117-24, for an introduction to the study of the second temple. Anthony J. Tomasino, Judaism Before Jesus, is a good, longer history (345 pages) of the second temple period.
Kidner, p. 48.
McConville, p. 27.
See Finegan, pp. 214-17.
Dumbrell, p. 67. Cf. Williamson, p. 49; R. J. Coggins, "The Interpretations of Ezra IV. 4," Journal of Theological Studies 16 (1965):124-27.
Breneman, p. 97.
Joseph Blenkinsopp, Ezra-Nehemiah, p. 107.
See Finegan, pp. 233-34.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 68.
Ibid., p. 70. See Keil, pp. 62-65.
Kidner, p. 48.
See William H. Shea, "Who Succeeded Xerxes on the Throne of Persia?" Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 12:1 (Spring 2001):83-88, who argued that Darius succeeded Xerxes. See also Finegan, pp. 238-39.
Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," p. 629. See also Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 8:2:10-12; J. Balcer, "The Athenian Apiskopos and the Achaemenid 'King's Eye,'" American Journal of Philology 98 (1977):252-63; and A. L. Oppenheim, "The Eyes of the Lord," Journal of the American Oriental Society 88 (1968):173-79.
Kidner, p. 136.
"Blenkinsopp, p. 112."
Breneman, p. 101.
A. R. Millard, "Assyrian Royal Names in Biblical Hebrew," Journal of Semitic Studies 21:1&2 (1976):11; Free, p. 240.
See Williamson, p. 62.
Olmstead, p. 56.
Free, p. 241.
McConville, pp. 28-29.
Henry, p. 485.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 76.
Josephus, Antiquities of . . , 11:8:6.
H. H. Rowley, "Nehemiah's Mission and Its Background," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester 37:2 (March 1955):540-43.
Josephus, Antiquities of …, 11:2:2. See Finegan, p. 233.
Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 250.
Kidner, p. 53.
McConville, p. 32.
See Olmstead, pp. 65-66, for a description of Cyrus's tomb.
Ibid., pp. 107-16.
Merrill, "A Theology …," p. 191.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 83.
Xenophon, 8:6:22. See Finegan, pp. 242-44.
G. Campbell Morgan, An Exposition of the Whole Bible, pp. 185-86.
Keil, p. 83.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 90. Cf. Keil, p. 87.
Vos, p. 49. See also Olmstead, p. 471.
Ibid., p. 465.
Herodotus, The Histories, 3.159.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 91.
Keil, p. 88. See also Olmstead, pp. 110, 129, 131, 260, 344, 375, 422, 486.
Clines, p. 94.
Henry, p. 486.
Martin, pp. 663-64.
Breneman, p. 118.
Josephus, Antiquities of …, 11:4:7.
See Jan Karel Van Baalen, The Chaos of Cults, pp. 189-203; McGee, 2:490.
H. E. Ryle, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 83.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 96. See also Williamson, pp. 85-86.
Kidner, p. 60. See also Dumbrell, p. 68.
Breneman, p. 25.
See Finegan, pp. 241-42.
See Merrill, Kingdom of …, pp. 488-91.
Bright, p. 357.
See Finegan, pp. 237-38.
Herodotus, 3.91. Cf. Breneman, p. 25.
Martin, p. 665.
L. H. Brockington, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, p. 70; Fensham, The Books …, p. 79; et al.
Judah J. Slotki, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, p. 150.
Bright, pp. 424-25.
Joseph Blenkinsopp, "A Theological Reading of Ezra-Nehemiah." Proceedings of the Irish Biblical Association 12 (1989):29.
J. Stafford Wright, The Date of Ezra's Coming to Jerusalem, pp. 17-28. Cf. K. Koch, "Ezra and the Origins of Judaism," Journal of Semitic Studies 19:2 (1974):173-97; and Frank M. Cross, "A Reconstruction of the Judean Restoration," Interpretation 29:2 (1975):194.
Kidner, p. 62.
Laney, p. 52.
Breneman, p. 130. Cf. McConville, p. 47; Steven J. Lawson, "The Pattern of Biblical Preaching: An Expository Study of Ezra 7:10 and Nehemiah 8:1-18," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:632 (October-December 2001):451-66.
Olmstead, p. 304; Whitcomb, p. 430; Bright, p. 370.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 104.
Ibid., pp. 104-5.
Keil, p. 98.
Williamson, p. 101.
Othniel Margalith, "The Political Role of Ezra as Persian Governor," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 98:1 (1986):111. Paragraph division omitted.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 106.
Dumbrell, p. 68.
Wood, p. 396.
Henry, p. 488.
Williamson, p. 105.
McConville, p. 59.
Williamson, p. 111.
Vos, p. 65.
Henry, p. 488.
Laney, p. 126.
Martin, p. 667.
H. A. Ironside, "Notes on the Book of Ezra," in Notes on the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther, pp. 73-74.
The exact date was April 19, 458, according to Olmstead, p. 306.
R. A. Bowman, "The Book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah," in The Interpreter's Bible, 3:632.
Blenkinsopp, "A Theological …," p. 29.
McConville, p. 58.
The New Bible Dictionary, "Money."
Myers, pp. 67-68.
See Olmstead, p. 304; Fensham, The Books …, p. 118.
Breneman, p. 143.
Olmstead, p. 59.
Dumbrell, p. 69.
Ironside, p. 92.
Joe M. Sprinkle, "Old Testament Perspectives on Divorce and Remarriage," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40:4 (December 1997):537. Cf. Keil, p. 116.
Matthew Levering, Ezra & Nehemiah, p. 98.
Whitcomb, p. 431.
Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, p. 144.
McConville, pp. 63-65.
Fensham, The Books …, pp. 123-24.
Keil, p. 119; Whitcomb, p. 431.
The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 543.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 129.
Slotki, p. 166.
Keil, p. 118.
Williamson, p. 138.
Henry, p. 490.
Howard, p. 296; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, p. 142; Williamson, p. 151.
Yamauchi, "Ezra-Nehemiah," p. 669.
Kenneth G. Hanna, From Moses to Malachi, p. 227.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 135. Cf. Merrill, in The Old …, pp. 352-53.
Dow Marmur, Intermarriage, p. 2.
Kidner, p. 71. See also A. Philip Brown II, "The Problem of Mixed Marriages in Ezra 9—10," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:648 (October-December 2005):437-58.
Cf. Williamson, pp. 129, 161.
See Kidner, pp. 153-55.
Clines, p. 117.
Olmstead, p. 307.
Blenkinsopp, "A Theological …," p. 29.
Olmstead, p. 307.
Fensham, The Books …, p. 143.
Olmstead, p. 307.
Breneman, p. 58.
Stephen J. Bramer, "Suffering in the Historical Books," in Why, O God? Suffering and Disability in the Bible and the Church, p. 108.
Davis, p. 142.