The Word Made Fresh
1After all these things had taken place during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of the priest Aaron, 6traveled from Babylonia. He was a scribe trained in the law that the LORD God of Israel had given to Moses. The king gave him all he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was upon him. 7Other Israelites came with him in the king’s seventh year, including priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple attendants.
8They arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes. 9They began their journey on the first day of the first month and came to Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month. God’s hand was upon him, 10for Ezra had a heartfelt desire to study the LORD’s law and follow it and teach all the details of it in Israel.
11This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra, priest and recorder, and scholar of the law of the LORD, and all the statutes the LORD had made for Israel:
12“Artaxerxes, king of kings, to the priest Ezra, the recorder of the law of the God of heaven: greetings. 13I hereby issue this decree that any of the people of Israel, including their priests and Levites who live in my kingdom, are free to go to Jerusalem with you. 14The king and his seven advisors are sending you to question Judah and Jerusalem in accordance with the law of your God which is in your possession. 15You are also to carry with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisors have freely given to the God of Israel whose dwelling place is in Jerusalem; 16also you may take the silver and gold which may be contributed from around the province of Babylonia along with the offerings of the priests and the people that are freely given for the house of their God in Jerusalem. 17You will use these funds to purchase bulls, rams, and lambs, grain and drink offerings, which you shall offer on the altar of your God in Jerusalem. 18Whatever is left of the silver and gold you may use at your discretion, and in accordance with the will of your God. 19Take with you the bowls and containers that have been given to you for service in your God’s house and deliver them in Jerusalem. 20Whatever else is required of you for the house of your God you may provide out of the king’s treasury. 21I, King Artaxerxes, order all the treasuries in the province beyond the River to submit to the priest Ezra, the recorder of the law of the God of heaven, whatever he requires of you, and to do so without hesitation. 22He may request up to three and three-fourth tons of silver, six hundred bushels of wheat, six hundred gallons of wine, six hundred gallons of olive oil, and salt without limit. 23Do whatever the God of heaven commands, and do it with zeal, or fury will descend upon the realm of the king and his heirs. 24You are also hereby notified that it will be unlawful to impose any form of tribute, custom or toll on any of the priests and Levites, singers and doorkeepers and temple attendants or other attendants connected to this house of God. 25And you, Ezra, use your God-given wisdom to appoint officials and judges over all the people in the province beyond the River who know the laws of your God. You shall also teach those who do not know the laws. 26Everyone who refuses to obey the law of your God and the law of the king, must be swiftly judged and punished with death or exile or confiscation of their belongings or prison.”
27Praise the LORD, the God of our ancestors, who encouraged such a ruling from the king to honor the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, 28and who gave me such love and support before the king and his advisors and officers. I was greatly encouraged. The LORD’s hand was upon me, and I gathered together leaders from Israel to go to Jerusalem with me.
1-6: The priest Ezra migrates to Jerusalem. The text is careful to register his pedigree as a direct descendant of Aaron. Some years have passed since Zerubbabel has returned, and another Artaxerxes is the Persian ruler – not the one mentioned earlier.
7-10: Ezra brings an entourage of priests and Levites with him from Babylon, a journey of some 5 months.
11-20: Ezra comes with a written document sealed with the seal of none other than the King of Persia, Artaxerxes. It places under his care gold and silver offerings from the Persian court and from the Jews living in Babylon.
21-24: The letter goes on to order the surrounding provinces to provide silver, wheat, wine, oil, and salt, and not to charge any of them a tax for passage through their territories.
25-26: Moreover, Ezra is given judicial authority over the province “Beyond the River” (that is, the territories west of the Euphrates).
27-28: The last sentence of the chapter is written in first person singular. Ezra has now finally become the narrator of the book that bears his name.
One reason Assyria was such a long-lasting empire was because they accepted the influence of whatever gods were worshiped by the people they conquered. Artaxerxes is willing to acknowledge the God of Israel and even to provide funds for the building of the temple and the practice of the religion of the Jewish people. Of course, he believed in other gods in other parts of his empire as well, but it is fascinating that this pagan king is more loyal to the God of Israel than the people of Israel had been.