Study Notes

Ezra 7:1-8:36


Last Thursday night, we looked at chapters five and six of the book of Ezra. The people had once again started the work of rebuilding the temple, and encountered opposition. But God intervened, allowing them to continue the work while inquiries were made to King Darius, and then God blessed, putting it in the king's heart to not only approve the work, but to protect it, and even finance it as well!

When the temple was finished, they dedicated it the the Lord, and then celebrated Passover.

(7:1-5) Ezra

Nearly 60 years passed, and another Artaxerxes took the throne.

We are now introduced to Ezra, with the first five verses of chapter seven giving us his genealogy as a descendant of the priests, from Aaron through Aaron's son El-aw-ZAWR and grandson Pee-nekh-AWS (7:5), who was the high priest during the later years of Moses' leadership and on into the days of the judges (Judges 20:28).

Ezra was a priest and also a scribe. Scribes were the pastors of the day, men who learned and taught the Law of God. Their work included the interpretation, copying, and recounting of the Law. This is where the title "scribe" comes from - it literally means "to count exactly or relate accurately."

7:6-7 Up From Babylon

Ezra, who was among the numerous Jews still living in Babylon, made a request of King Artaxerxes, asking if he and whichever Israelites wanted to, could go to Jerusalem. The king agreed, and Ezra left for Jerusalem with about 2,000 men, along with women and children.

7:8-10 The Hand Of God Because Of The Law Of God

The trip from Babylon took four months. By our calendar, they left Babylon on April 8th, 458BC, and arrived at Jerusalem on August 4th, traveling about 900 miles.

It is noted in the Scriptures that "the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him" (7:6), and they made it "to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him" (7:9).

When the phrase, "the hand of the Lord came upon him" is used in Scripture, it is describing God giving people strength (Ezra 7:28), provision (Ezra 8:18), or a word of prophecy (2Kings 3:15; Ezek. 1:3; etc.).

Why was the hand of God upon Ezra? Verse ten tells us:

Ezra 7:10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to practice {it,} and to teach {His} statutes and ordinances in Israel.

God desires to bless those who place such high value on His Word. Ezra had set his heart on studying the Word, putting what he learned into practice in his own life, and teaching it to others. All of these things are connected to promises of God's blessing.

Because Ezra made the Word of God a priority in his life, God made Ezra's life a priority.

7:11-13 The Decree Given To Ezra

The king not only gave his verbal permission for Ezra and the people to return, but also gave a written decree for Ezra to carry. This decree included several commands of the king, beginning with the fact that any Israelite who wanted to could leave with Ezra.

7:14-19 Freewill Offerings

The king and his counselors were sending silver and gold with Ezra to buy offerings to give to God. They were also given permission to receive more from those who gave them freewill offerings.

Notice the term "freewill offerings" in verse 16. It is a verb that means "to give voluntarily, to offer freely." It is actually repeated twice here, literally saying, "...along with the voluntary giving of those who voluntarily give..."

To this day, I do not understand the mentality of pastors and preachers who mandate that the people who attend their churches give. "If you want to be a member at our church, you've got to make a giving pledge for the year. And if you don't fulfill your giving pledge, we send bouncers... er... elders to your door to collect from... um... remind you." It really amazes me that people tolerate this.

Saints, giving is all about the heart. When Moses told the people that they were building the tabernacle,

Exod. 35:29 The Israelites, all the men and women, whose heart moved them to bring {material} for all the work, which the LORD had commanded through Moses to be done, brought a freewill offering to the LORD.

They gave because their hearts moved them. When Paul was taking up a collection for the church in Jerusalem, he told the Corinthians,

2Cor. 9:7 Let each one {do} just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.

Again, they were only to give as each one had purposed in their heart. It's all about the heart.

The last thing I ever want is for this church to become a guilt-inducing, phone soliciting, bell-ringing collection agency. We are here to learn about God and worship Him. And I trust that as you learn that God desires your offerings, you will give Him those offerings in worship.

7:20-24 Notice To The Treasurers

This was a truly incredible time in history. The government was saying, "Whatever funds you have need of that are not provided for by offerings, we'll pay for with government funds."

Many people in America today like to cry "separation of church and state" and insist that not a penny of government money is paid to any religious organization for any reason. But King Artaxerxes knew what our nation has forgotten: If a kingdom doesn't follow God's commands - and zealously - God's wrath comes against that kingdom.

Another financial aspect of Artazerxes' decree was that those who served in the temple were not to have their income taxed. I sure wouldn't mind this law in the USA!

7:25-26 Appoint Judges

The king also instructed Ezra that he was to appoint magistrates and judges to govern everyone west of the Euphrates River. In other words, he was supposed to set up a police force and judicial system. How could a priest possibly know how to do this? Might I suggest that a priest is one person who should know how to do it best of all.

Artaxerxes knew this, for he told Ezra to establish these magistrates and judges, "according to the wisdom of God which is in your hand." Ezra was carrying a copy of God's Law, which outlined what justice was, how it was to be administered, and who was qualified to be put in those positions of authority.

What would punishments for crime be? Again, no mystery there - just follow what the Bible says, whether it be a punishment of death, banishment, fines, or jail.

But I think the best thing about this decree was that it mandated anyone who did not know God's Laws had to be educated in them! In a day and age when Bibles are banished from schools and God is denied access to our government, how refreshing it sounds to make Bible education mandatory for everyone!

7:27-28 Blessed Be The Lord

Ezra was so blessed by this decree that he interjected the text with praise for God.

(8:1-14) Those Who Returned With Ezra

The first 14 verses of chapter eight list the people who went up from Babylon to Jerusalem with Ezra.

8:15 Observing The People

When the group of them reached the river that ran to the Babylonian city of A-hav-AW, Ezra had them camp there for three days.

He spent this time observing the people and the priests. The word "observed" there means "to consider, perceive, discern, or understand." Ezra was scoping them out, seeing what kind of people they were. Who was godly? Who were the leaders? Who would be worthy of appointment as a magistrate or a judge?

It is always educational to observe people, listening to what they say, watching how they respond to situations, looking to see the Lord working in their lives.

Lacking Levites

When Ezra was observing the people, he saw that there were no Levites in their group. We learned back in chapter two that the priests, the singers, the gatekeepers, etc. were all from the tribe of Levi, but those whose genealogy within the tribe of Levi did not grant them any of these prominent positions were simply referred to as Levites.

When the first wave of about 50,000 people left Babylon with Zer-oob-baw-BEL and Yay-SHOO-ah, there was a mere 74 Levites (2:40) in the group. Now Ezra finds that there are none at all in his.

Why were the Levites so reluctant to return from Babylon? I can only speculate on that. I do know from ministry experience with people that it is hard to gather folks to serve when they will not be receiving any special recognition or position of prominence. Therefore, it would not surprise me that the Levites would be no different than many others that say, "Why should I show up to the work party? Why should I volunteer to clean the bathrooms? Why should I teach in the Sunday School? I'd rather be more visible as a Greeter, a Deacon, or a member of the Worship Team."

(8:16-20) Sending For Levites

These next five verses list those leaders and teachers that Ezra sent to the city of Kaw-sif-YAW to recruit Levites as servants in the temple. In all, they convinced more than 250 guys to join up.

How did they manage to recruit so many volunteers? I wish I knew. Ezra simply says that he...

Ezra 8:17 ...told them what to say...

I think that maybe if I knew what he told them, I could write a book on recruiting Sunday School teachers!

8:21-23 Seeking God For A Safe Journey

Ezra proclaimed a fast before they set out on their journey. They were carrying quite a valuable load, and were concerned about the children being hurt.

Ezra knew that you can prepare, observe safety rules, surround yourself with bulletproof glass, buy insurance, and all the rest, but if God is not granting you safety, there is nothing that will protect you.

Isa. 31:1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!

Ezra knew that apart from the protection of God, you really have no protection at all. And so they humbled themselves, fasted, and sought the Lord in prayer for a safe journey.

(8:24-30) Twelve Leading Priests Given Stewardship

These verses explain how Ezra set apart 12 of the leading priests and entrusted stewardship of the valuables to them until they were brought to the temple in Jerusalem and given as donations.

8:31 Delivered From Enemies And Ambushes

I find this verse really interesting. You see, although they had prayed, fasted, and humbled themselves before God for a safe journey, they still encountered enemies and ambushes along the way.

Of course, God delivered them, but He did allow the ambushes to be set, and the enemies to oppose. I wonder how many of us have - or know people who have - despaired of the faithfulness of God because He allowed us to encounter difficulties? Although I do not know all of God's reasoning behind His decisions, I do know that He frequently allows us to see the enemies and the ambushes so that we recognize His hand of deliverance.

8:32-36 The King's Edicts Delivered

Chapter eight now ends with a successful end of the journey in arriving at Jerusalem. May God bless your journeys this holiday month, be they across town, or across the country.

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