Ezra's precious name saluted us, at first, in the title of the book,
but in the history we have not met with it till this chapter introduces
him into public action in another reign, that of Artaxerxes. Zerubbabel
and Jeshua we will suppose, by this time, to have grown old, if not
gone off; nor do we hear any more of Haggai and Zechariah; they have
finished their testimony. What shall become of the cause of God and
Israel when these useful instruments are laid aside? Trust God, who has
the residue of the Spirit, to raise up others in their room. Ezra here,
and Nehemiah in the next book, are as serviceable in their days as
those were in theirs. Here is,
I. An account, in general, of Ezra himself, and of his expedition to
Jerusalem for the public good,
II. A copy of the commission which Artaxerxes gave him,
III. His thankfulness to God for it,
The next chapter will give us a more particular narrative of his
associates, his journey, and his arrival at Jerusalem.
|Ezra's Arrival at Jerusalem.
||B. C. 457.|
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
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,
4 The son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, 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 went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe
in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and
the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of
the LORD his God upon him.
7 And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of
the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters,
and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of
Artaxerxes the king.
8 And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in
the seventh year of the king.
9 For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up
from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he
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 in Israel statutes and judgments.
I. Ezra's pedigree. He was one of the sons of Aaron, a priest. Him God
chose to be an instrument of good to Israel, that he might put honour
upon the priesthood, the glory of which had been much eclipsed by the
captivity. He is said to be the son of Seraiah, that Seraiah, as
is supposed, whom the king of Babylon put to death when he sacked
2 Kings 25:18,21.
If we take the shortest computation, it was seventy-five years since
Seraiah died; many reckon it much longer, and, because they suppose
Ezra called out in the prime of his time to public service, do
therefore think that Seraiah was not his immediate parent, but his
grandfather or great-grandfather, but that he was the first eminent
person that occurred in his genealogy upwards, which is carried up here
as high as Aaron, yet leaving out many for brevity-sake, which may be
1 Chronicles 6:4-81,
&c. He was a
younger brother, or his father was Jozadak, the father of Jeshua, so
that he was not high priest, but nearly allied to the high priest.
II. His character. Though of the younger house, his personal
qualifications made him very eminent.
1. He was a man of great learning, a scribe, a ready scribe, in the
law of Moses,
He was very much conversant with the scriptures, especially the
writings of Moses, had the words ready and was well acquainted with the
sense and meaning of them. It is to be feared that learning ran low
among the Jews in Babylon; but Ezra was instrumental to revive it. The
Jews say that he collected and collated all the copies of the law he
could find out, and published an accurate edition of it, with all the
prophetical books, historical and poetical, that were given by divine
inspiration, and so made up the canon of the Old Testament, with the
addition of the prophecies and histories of his own time. If he was
raised up of God, and qualified and inclined to do this, all
generations have reason to call him blessed, and to bless God for him.
God sent to the Jews prophets and scribes,
Ezra went under the latter denomination. Now that prophecy was about to
cease it was time to promote scripture-knowledge, pursuant to the
counsel of God by the last of the prophets,
Remember the law of Moses. Gospel ministers are called
scribes instructed to the kingdom of heaven
New-Testament scribes. It was a pity that such a worthy name as this
should be worn, as it was in the degenerate ages of the Jewish church,
by men who were professed enemies to Christ and his gospel (Woe unto
you, scribes and Pharisees), who were learned in the letter of the
law, but strangers to the spirit of it.
2. He was a man of great piety and holy zeal
He had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, &c.
(1.) That which he chose for his study was the law of the Lord.
The Chaldeans, among whom he was born and bred, were famed for
literature, especially the study of the stars, to which, being a
studious man, we may suppose that Ezra was tempted to apply himself.
But he got over the temptation; the law of his God was more to him than
all the writings of their magicians and astrologers, which he knew
enough of with good reason to despise them.
(2.) He sought the law of the Lord, that is, he made it his
business to enquire into it, searched the scriptures, and sought the
knowledge of God, of his mind and will, in the scriptures, which is to
be found there, but not without seeking.
(3.) He made conscience of doing according to it; he set it before him
as his rule, formed his sentiments and temper by it, and managed
himself in his whole conversation according to it. This use we must
make of our knowledge of the scriptures; for happy are we if we do what
we know of the will of God.
(4.) He set himself to teach Israel the statutes and judgments
of that law. What he knew he was willing to communicate for the good of
others; for the ministration of the Spirit is given to every man to
profit withal. But observe the method: he first learned and then
taught, sought the law of the Lord and so laid up a good treasure, and
then instructed others and laid out what he had laid up. He also first
did and then taught, practised the commandments himself and then
directed others in the practice of them; thus his example confirmed his
(5.) He prepared his heart to do all this, or he fixed his
heart. He took pains in his studies, and thoroughly furnished himself
for what he designed, and then put on resolution to proceed and
persevere in them, and thus he became a ready scribe. Moses in Egypt,
Ezra in Babylon, and both in captivity, were wonderfully fitted for
eminent services to the church.
III. His expedition to Jerusalem for the good of his country: He
went up from Babylon
and, in four months' time, came to Jerusalem,
It was strange that such a man as he staid so long in Babylon after his
brethren had gone up; but God sent him not thither till he had work for
him to do there; and none went but those whose spirits God
raised to go up. Some think that this Artaxerxes was the same with
that Darius whose decree we had
and that Ezra came the very year after the temple was finished: that
was the sixth year, this the seventh
so Dr. Lightfoot. My worthy and learned friend, lately deceased, Mr.
Talents, in his chronological tables, places it about fifty-seven years
after the finishing of the temple; others further on. I have only to
1. How kind the king was to him. He granted him all his
request, whatever he desired to put him into a capacity to serve
2. How kind his people were to him. When he went many more went with
him, because they desired not to stay in Babylon when he had gone
thence, and because they would venture to dwell in Jerusalem when he
had gone thither.
3. How kind his God was to him. He obtained this favour from his king
and country by the good hand of the Lord that was upon him,
Note, Every creature is that to us which God makes it to be, and from
him our judgment proceeds. As we must see the events that shall
occur in the hand of God, so we must see the hand of God in the events
that do occur, and acknowledge him with thankfulness when we
have reason to call it his good hand.
|The Decree of Artaxerxes.
||B. C. 457.|
11 Now this is the copy of the letter that the king
Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe
of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes
12 Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of
the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a
13 I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and
of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of
their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee.
14 Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven
counsellors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according
to the law of thy God which is in thine hand;
15 And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his
counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose
habitation is in Jerusalem,
16 And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the
province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people,
and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God
which is in Jerusalem:
17 That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks,
rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings,
and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is
18 And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren,
to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the
will of your God.
19 The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the
house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of
20 And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy
God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of
the king's treasure house.
21 And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all
the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra
the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall
require of you, it be done speedily,
22 Unto a hundred talents of silver, and to a hundred
measures of wheat, and to a hundred baths of wine, and to an
hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.
23 Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be
diligently 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 certify you, that touching any of the priests and
Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house
of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or
custom, upon them.
25 And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in
thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the
people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of
thy God; and teach ye them that know them not.
26 And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of
the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it
be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or
We have here the commission which the Persian emperor granted to Ezra,
giving him authority to act for the good of the Jews; and it is very
ample and full, and beyond what could have been expected. The
commission runs, we suppose, in the usual form: Artaxerxes, King of
kings. This however is too high a title for any mortal man to
assume; he was indeed king of some kings, but to speak as if he were
king of all kings was to usurp his prerogative who hath all
power both in heaven and in earth. He sends greeting to his trusty
and well-beloved Ezra, whom he calls a scribe of the law of the God
a title which (it seems by this) Ezra valued himself by, and desired no
other, no, not when he was advanced to the proconsular dignity. He
reckoned it more his honour to be a scribe of God's law than to
be a peer or prince of the empire. Let us observe the articles of this
I. He gives Ezra leave to go up to Jerusalem, and as many of his
countrymen as pleased to go up with him,
He and they were captives, and therefore they would not quit his
dominions without his royal license.
II. He gives him authority to enquire into the affairs of Judah and
The rule of his enquiry was to be the law of his God, which was in
his hand. He must enquire whether the Jews, in their religion, had
and did according to that law--whether the temple was built, the
priesthood was settled, and the sacrifices were offered conformably to
the divine appointment. If, upon enquiry, he found any thing amiss, he
must see to get it amended, and, like Titus in Crete, must set in
order the things that were wanting,
Thus is God's law magnified and made honourable, and thus are the Jews
restored to their ancient privilege of governing themselves by that
law, and are no longer under the statutes that were not good,
the statutes of their oppressors,
III. He entrusts him with the money that was freely given by the king
himself and his counsellors, and collected among his subjects, for the
service of the house of God,
1. Let this be taken notice of,
(1.) To the honour of God, as the one only living and true God;' for
even those that worshipped other gods were so convinced of the
sovereignty of the God of Israel that they were willing to incur
expenses in order to recommend themselves to his favour. See
(2.) To the praise of this heathen king, that he honoured the God of
Israel though his worshippers were a despicable handful of poor men,
who were not able to bear the charges of their own religion and were
now his vassals, and that, though he was not wrought upon to quit his
own superstitions, yet he protected and encouraged the Jews in their
religion, and did not only say, Be you warmed, and be you
filled, but gave them such things as they needed.
(3.) To the reproach of the memory of the wicked kings of Judah. Those
that had been trained up in the knowledge and worship of the God of
Israel, and had his law and his prophets, often plundered and
impoverished the temple; but here a heathen prince enriched it. Thus
afterwards the gospel was rejected by the Jews, but welcomed by the
Through their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles.
2. We are here told that Ezra was entrusted,
(1.) To receive this money and to carry it to Jerusalem; for he was a
man of known integrity, whom they could confide in, that he would not
convert to his own use the least part of that which was given to the
public. We find Paul going to Jerusalem upon such an errand, to
bring alms to his nation and offerings,
(2.) To lay out this money in the best manner, in sacrifices to be
offered upon the altar of God
and in whatever else he or his brethren thought fit
with this limitation only that it should be after the will of their
God, which they were better acquainted with than the king was. Let
the will of our God be always our rule in our expenses, and
particularly in what we lay out for his service. God's work must always
be done according to his will. Besides money, he had vessels also given
him for the service of the temple,
Cyrus restored what of right belonged to the temple, but these were
given over and above: thus it receiveth its own with usury.
These he must deliver before the God of Jerusalem, as intended
for his honour, there where he had put his name.
IV. He draws him a bill, or warrant rather, upon the treasurers on
that side the river, requiring them to furnish him with what he had
occasion for out of the king's revenues, and to place it to the king's
This was considerately done; for Ezra, having yet to enquire into the
sate of things, knew not what he should have occasion for and was
modest in his demand. It was also kindly done, and evinced a great
affection to the temple and a great confidence in Ezra. It is the
interest of princes and great men to use their wealth and power for the
support and encouragement of religion. What else are great revenues
good for but that they enable men to do much good of this kind if they
have but hearts to do it?
V. He charges him to let nothing be wanting that was requisite to be
done in or about the temple for the honour of the God of Israel.
Observe, in this charge
1. How honourably he speaks of God. He had called him before the God
of Jerusalem; but here, lest it should be thought that he looked
upon him as a local deity, he calls him twice, with great veneration,
the God of heaven.
2. How strictly he eyes the word and law of God, which, it is likely,
he had read and admired: "Whatsoever is commanded by your God"
(whose institutions, though he wrote himself King of kings, he
would not presume in the least iota or tittle to alter or add to) "let
it be done, let it be diligently done, with care and speed." And,
3. How solicitously he deprecates the wrath of God: Why should
there be wrath against the realm? The neglect and contempt of
religion bring the judgments of God upon kings and kingdoms; and the
likeliest expedient to turn away his wrath, when it is ready to break
out against a people, is to support and encourage religion. Would we
secure our peace and prosperity? Let us take care that the cause of God
be not starved.
VI. He exempts all the ministers of the temple from paying taxes to the
government. From the greatest of the priests to the least of the
Nethinim, it shall not be lawful for the king's officers to
impose that toll, tribute, or custom upon them, which the
rest of the king's subjects paid,
This put a great honour upon them as free denizens of the empire, and
would gain them respect as favourites of the crown; and it gave them
liberty to attend their ministry with more cheerfulness and freedom. We
suppose it was only what they needed for themselves and their families,
and the maintenance of their ministry, that was hereby allowed to come
to them custom-free. If any of them should take occasion from this
privilege to meddle in trade and merchandise, they justly lost the
benefit of it.
VII. He empowers Ezra to nominate and appoint judges and magistrates
for all the Jews on that side the river,
It was a great favour to the Jews to have such nobles of themselves,
and especially to have them of Ezra's nomination.
1. All that knew the laws of Ezra's God (that is, all that
professed the Jewish religion) were to be under the jurisdiction of
these judges, which intimates that they were exempted from the
jurisdiction of the heathen magistrates.
2. These judges were allowed and encouraged to make proselytes: Let
them teach the laws of God to those that do not know
them. Though he would not turn Jew himself, he cared not how many
of his subjects did.
3. They were authorized to enforce the judgments they gave, and the
orders they made, conformable to the law of God (which was
hereby made the law of the king), with severe
penalties--imprisonment, banishment, fine, or death, according as their
law directed. They were not allowed to make new laws, but must see the
laws of God duly executed; and they were entrusted with the sword in
order that they might be a terror to evil doers. What could
Jehoshaphat, or Hezekiah, or David himself, as king, have done more for
the honour of God and the furtherance of religion?
|Ezra's Thankfulness to God.
||B. C. 457.|
27 Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put
such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house
of the LORD which is in Jerusalem:
28 And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his
counsellors, and before all the king's mighty princes. And I was
strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I
gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.
Ezra cannot proceed in his story without inserting his thankful
acknowledgement of the goodness of God to him and his people in this
matter. As soon as he has concluded the king's commission, instead of
subjoining, God save the king (though that would have been
proper enough), he adds, Blessed be the Lord; for we must in
every thing give thanks, and, whatever occurrences please us, we
must own God's hand in them, and praise his name. Two things Ezra
blessed God for:--
1. For his commission. We suppose he kissed the king's hand for it, but
that was not all: Blessed be God (says he) that put such a
thing as this into the king's heart. 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; for it is he that worketh in us both to
will and to do that which is good. When princes and magistrates act
for the suppression of vice, and the encouragement of religion, we must
thank God that put it into their hearts to do so, as much as if
they had granted us some particular favour. When God's house was built
Ezra rejoiced in what was done to beautify it. We read not of any
orders given to paint or gild it, or to garnish it with precious
stones, but to be sure that the ordinances of God were administered
there constantly, and carefully, and exactly according to the
institution; and that was indeed the beautifying of the temple.
2. For the encouragement he had to act in pursuance of his commission
He has extended mercy to me. The king, in the honour he did him,
we may suppose, had an eye to his merit, and preferred him because he
looked upon him to be a very sensible ingenious man; but he himself
ascribes his preferment purely to God's mercy. It was this that
recommended him to the favour of his prince. Ezra himself was a man of
courage, yet he attributed his encouragement not to his own heart, but
to God's hand: "I was strengthened to undertake the services, as the
hand of the Lord my God was upon me to direct and support me." If
God gives us his hand, we are bold and cheerful; if he withdraws it, we
are weak as water. Whatever service we are enabled to do for God and
our generation, God must have all the glory of it. Strength for it is
derived from him, and therefore the praise of it must be given to