EZRA 7 Ė 8 PART 5

 

In last weeks lesson, we learned that the children of Israel had neglected building on the house of the Lord, but Haggai and Zechariah stirred the people and they got busy and built the house of God and they had the backing of King Darius. They were unified and focused on the task at hand.

 

As we enter into chapter 7 a great deal of time has passed. After King Darius died, Xerxes I began his reign. This is the king that is found in the book of Esther, which means the events of Esther took place between chapter 6 and 7. The next king is Artaxerxes I, and this is the king who was reigning in Chapter 7. So, approximately 58 years have passed between chapter 6 and chapter 7. I do want to mention that scholars are divided on which Artaxerxes this is because some believe that it was Artaxerxes II and that is the case then there is 117 years between these 2 chapters. Personally, I believe its talking about Artaxerxes I.

 

Chapter 7 introduces us to Ezra and as we will see, the children of Israel have started becoming lax in taking care of the temple and upholding the Law of Moses because Ezra is determined to go to Jerusalem and get the people back on track. While it may surprise us that these Jews had already started losing their conviction, it shouldnít because when we look at their history, we can see that they lost their commitment to God over and over again, especially in the book of Judges.

 

Ezra 7:1 Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah,2 the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub,3 the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, (meh-ray-yawth)4 the son of Zerahiah, (zera-hi-uh) the son of Uzzi, (uhz Ė eye) the son of Bukki,5 the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest -- ††6 this Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given. The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.

 

As we will see in just a minute, the return of Ezra happened in the 7th year of the king in 458 B.C. These first 5 verses give us a brief genealogy, which shows that Ezra was a descendent of Aaron, which means that he was qualified to be a priest and to teach the people about the Law of Moses.††

 

Ezra was living in Babylon and even though he was used to living there, his heart was in Jerusalem and in serving God. He was a skilled scribe of the Law of Moses. As a scribe, he would carefully copy the Word of God down so that it could be passed on to others. Since the scribes were always copying the Word the God, they knew what it said very well.

 

Through the providence of God, Ezra had managed to influence the king and this king was willing to send Ezra to Jerusalem and he had a great respect for God almighty.

 

Ezra 7:7 Some of the children of Israel, the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim (neth-uh-neam) came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.9 On the first day of the first month he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.

 

These verses briefly describe the 4 month 900 mile journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. More details of this journey are given in chapter 8. One the greatest things that can be said about Ezra is found in verse 10.

 

10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.

 

These characteristics should be found in every Gospel preacher and Christian as well. Notice, the first thing that he did was to prepare his heart. If you are going to commit your life to something, you must first prepare your heart to do so as Jesus said,

 

Matthew 6:21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

Whenever you determine in your mind that you are not going to let anything get in your way of accomplishing your goal, then you will have the foundation that you will need to accomplish your goal. Ezra goal was to seek the Law of the Lord. Again, this should be the goal of every single Christian.

 

There are far too many Christians today who have not prepared their hearts to seek the Law of God and because of this many are allowing false doctrine and man-made traditions to sneak into the church. There are also many preachers today who have not committed themselves to the Word and they are not defending the truth. Instead, they just let things happen and they go with the flow, so they donít have to worry about losing their jobs or having to deal with people who are offended by Godís truth.

 

Another important thing that Ezra did was he practiced what he preached. Itís one thing to seek the law of the Lord and it another thing to do it as James said,

 

James 1:21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

 

Christians and preachers alike must do more than just study Godís Word, they must make it part of their every day lives. If we find ourselves knowing what the Scriptures teach and then we donít do what they say, then we are no better off than the Pharisees and Scribes of Jesus day.

 

Finally, we see that Ezra taught the Law of the Lord to the Jews. He was willing and able to leave the comforts of his home and take the dangerous journey to Jerusalem so that he could preach the whole council of God to the people, and we will find out Ezra did not compromise Godís truth in any way and he had some difficult lessons that he had to teach that would affect the lives of many of these Jews. But if they were going to be serious about doing it Godís way instead of their own, they would have to conform to the truth.

 

Again, this is area that many Christians and preachers are failing at today. We are allowing ourselves to be influenced by our society that we should just all try and get along and just overlook the sins of others for the sake of unity. If we want to be like Ezra and be pleasing to God, we have to stop compromising Godís truth and tolerating those who continue to live in sin. While it may be easier for us to avoid teaching the truth and to fellowship with those that are practicing evil, its not going help us or the sinner to get to heaven and it will cause God to be disappointed with us.

 

Thatís why itís so important that we stand on Godís Word and that we teach the whole council of God, even if goes against what society says is acceptable. I hope each of us in this room take this one verse to heart and everything that goes along with it because until you are willing to set your heart to seek the law of God and to do it and teach others you are not going to be the faithful Christian that you should be.

 

Next we will read the letter and decree that Artaxerxes gave to Ezra.

 

Ezra 7:11 This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave Ezra the priest, the scribe, expert in the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of His statutes to Israel:12 Artaxerxes, king of kings, To Ezra the priest, a scribe of the Law of the God of heaven: Perfect peace, and so forth.13 I issue a decree that all those of the people of Israel and the priests and Levites in my realm, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem, may go with you.14 And whereas you are being sent by the king and his seven counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, with regard to the Law of your God which is in your hand;15 and whereas you are to carry the silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem;16 and whereas all the silver and gold that you may find in all the province of Babylon, along with the freewill offering of the people and the priests, are to be freely offered for the house of their God in Jerusalem --17 now therefore, be careful to buy with this money bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them on the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem.18 And whatever seems good to you and your brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, do it according to the will of your God.19 Also the articles that are given to you for the service of the house of your God, deliver in full before the God of Jerusalem.20 And whatever more may be needed for the house of your God, which you may have occasion to provide, pay for it from the king's treasury.21 And I, even I, Artaxerxes the king, issue a decree to all the treasurers who are in the region beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, may require of you, let it be done diligently,22 up to one hundred talents of silver, one hundred kors of wheat, one hundred baths of wine, one hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribed limit.23 Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it diligently be done for the house of the God of heaven. For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?24 Also we inform you that it shall not be lawful to impose tax, tribute, or custom on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, Nethinim, (neth-uh-neam) or servants of this house of God.25 ∂ And you, Ezra, according to your God-given wisdom, set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people who are in the region beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and teach those who do not know them.26 Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily on him, whether it be death, or banishment, or confiscation of goods, or imprisonment.

 

The king offered a great deal of kindness to Ezra and like King Cyrus he was making sure that the children of Israel would be taken care of.

 

First, Ezra was given permission to lead a group of willing Jews back to Jerusalem.

Second, Ezra was allowed to offerings from Babylon to Jerusalem. The King also sent along vessels with Ezra as a part of his offering.

Third, Ezra would be allowed to get more money from the kingístreasury as needed.

Fourth, the king exempted the workers in the house of the lord from taxes and he made a decree that anyone who went against the law of God would be punished.

 

Everything this king was doing for Ezra and the Jews can be summed up with verse,

 

23 Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it diligently be done for the house of the God of heaven. For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?

 

This shows how this king had a great respect for God and how he wanted to do everything in his power to make sure God was pleased. He understood that if someone opposed God that they will face his wrath and he didnít want this to happen to him. It also interesting that he decreed that anyone who didnít know the Law of God must be taught it. Everything was working perfectly for the Jews and they had everything they needed to be pleasing to God and Ezra gives his thanksgiving for the Lord in our next verses,

 

Ezra 7:27 Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem,28 and has extended mercy to me before the king and his counselors, and before all the king's mighty princes. So I was encouraged, as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me; and I gathered leading men of Israel to go up with me.

 

Ezra knew that God had a hand in all of this and since he knew the Scriptures well, he also could know that God was fulfilling His promises. This caused Ezra to thank God for all that he done and it encouraged him to press on and continue to remain faithful to God because he knew that no matter what obstacle may lay ahead that God would be with him and help him.

 

This is the same confidence that you and I can have today because God is always there for us and through His providence, He will help us to overcome the hurtles in our life. Just like Ezra, we should thank God everyday for what He has done for us and for what He is going to do for us.

 

Ezra 8:1 These are the heads of their fathers' houses, and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of King Artaxerxes:

 

In chapter 8, we have more details about their 4 month journey to Jerusalem. Verses 2 Ė 14 gives a list of the heads of the family that went with Ezra. If you will read these names on your own, you find that many of them are the same names of those that went with Zerubbable in Ezra 3. This indicates that not all of those families returned with Zerubbable and these are the remainder of the families that had stayed behind. Approximately 1754 men went back with Ezra. Only the number of men are given, but their women and children would have went along with them as well. Some have guessed that this would make the total number of people that went with Ezra between 5000 Ė 9000.

 

Ezra 8:15 Now I gathered them by the river that flows to Ahava (a-hah-vuh), and we camped there three days. And I looked among the people and the priests, and found none of the sons of Levi there.16 Then I sent for Eliezer, (el-ih-ee-zur) Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leaders; also for Joiarib (joy-uh-rib) and Elnathan, men of understanding.17 And I gave them a command for Iddo the chief man at the place Casiphia, (kuh-sif-ih-uh) and I told them what they should say to Iddo and his brethren the Nethinim (neth-uh-neam) at the place Casiphia (kuh-sif-ih-uh) -- that they should bring us servants for the house of our God.18 Then, by the good hand of our God upon us, they brought us a man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli (mah-leh) the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, (sher-uh-bigh-uh) with his sons and brothers, eighteen men;19 and Hashabiah, (hash-uh-bigh-uh) and with him Jeshaiah (juh-shay-uh) of the sons of Merari, his brothers and their sons, twenty men;20 also of the Nethinim (neth-uh-neam), whom David and the leaders had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim (neth-uh-neam). All of them were designated by name.

 

These Jews were held up for 3 days at the river and Ezra noticed that there wasnít any of the sons of Levi there. Only the Levites could be priests so he wanted to make sure they had some go with them. Ezra had word sent to Iddo of Casiphia for him to send him some Levites and some Nethinims (neth-uh-neams). The Nethinims were slaves and they did a lot of the manual labor for the priest.

 

Ezra 8:21 Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, (a-hah-vuh) that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.22 For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, "The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him."23 So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.

 

It was customary for the Jews to fast to show their humility before God and to show their desire for Him to answer their prayers. There were many enemies that could attack this group of Jews and take all their possessions and this was real concern for Ezra, but he wasnít about to ask the king to send soldiers to protect them after he claimed that God was powerful and could take care of them. This took a lot of faith and trust in God for them to do because not only did they have a chance of losing their possessions, they also putting their little ones that is their children as stake. Verse 23 jumps ahead in time and lets know that God did answer their prayer and they had a safe passage to Jerusalem.

 

We must learn to put our faith in God like Ezra did. To many times we rely upon ourselves and others when we should rely upon God.

 

Ezra 8:24 And I separated twelve of the leaders of the priests -- Sherebiah, (sher-uh-bigh-uh) Hashabiah, (hash-uh-bigh-uh) and ten of their brethren with them --25 and weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the articles, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes, and all Israel who were present, had offered.26 I weighed into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, silver articles weighing one hundred talents, one hundred talents of gold,27 twenty gold basins worth a thousand drachmas, and two vessels of fine polished bronze, precious as gold.28 And I said to them, "You are holy to the LORD; the articles are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD God of your fathers.29 "Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leaders of the priests and the Levites and heads of the fathers' houses of Israel in Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD."30 So the priests and the Levites received the silver and the gold and the articles by weight, to bring them to Jerusalem to the house of our God.

 

This was a huge amount of treasure and Ezra was putting it into the hands of these 12 priests and 12 Levites. This was accordance with the Law found Nub. 4 because these priest and Levites were supposed to be the one that transported items like this that were for the house of God. This just shows how careful Ezra was being in following the Law of Moses.

 

Ezra 8:31 Then we departed from the river of Ahava (a-hah-vuh) on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road.32 So we came to Jerusalem, and stayed there three days.33 Now on the fourth day the silver and the gold and the articles were weighed in the house of our God by the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest, and with him was Eleazar (el-ih-ee-zur) the son of Phinehas; with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui, (bin-you-eye)34 with the number and weight of everything. All the weight was written down at that time.35 ∂ The children of those who had been carried away captive, who had come from the captivity, offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel: twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and twelve male goats as a sin offering. All this was a burnt offering to the LORD.36 And they delivered the king's orders to the king's satraps and the governors in the region beyond the River. So they gave support to the people and the house of God. ††

 

We are not given much detail of what happened on their journey, but we do know that God protected them and they arrived safely. They handed the treasure over and it was weighed and written down. Then these Jews sacrificed animals on that day, which was for all 12 tribes of Israel because all the sacrifices except for one was done in numbers divisible by 12. Now these2 groups of Jews were united and they were ready to serve the Lord. They also delivered the kings decree to his people in that area, so they would know that the Jews had the full support of the king.

 

In conclusion, I want to share with you how Matthew Henry summed up this event and how it applies to us today.

 

††† "The expressions here used, direct our attention to the deliverance of sinners from spiritual bondage, and their pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem, under the care and protection of their God and Savior.Those who have been long enslaved to sin and Satan, are exhorted to go forth from their captivity, and to enter on this pilgrimage.Difficulties and dangers await them, but the Lord will be with them by the way, as their Leader and Commander.Under his defense, whatever opposition may be raised, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head.O for the Spirit of God to be poured out in a more abundant measure, that men of piety and zeal, like Ezra, may stand forth as leaders in the church, to call sinners out of their captivity, and to go before them in the way to Zion!"