Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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,II.—THE SECOND RETURN UNDER EZRA.
(1-10) A. general summary of Ezra’s expedition under Divine guidance.
(1) After these things.—Fifty-seven years after: this special phrase is here alone used. During the interval we must place the events of the Book of Esther.
Ezra the son of Seraiah.—His lineage is given, as frequently in Scripture, compendiously, and according to the genealogical law which makes every ancestor a “father” and every descendant a “son.” We know not the reason why certain names supplied in 1 Chronicles 6 are here omitted; but Seraiah is claimed as the father of Ezra because he was the eminent high priest who last ministered in Solomon’s Temple and was slain at Riblah (2Kings 25:18). The links wanting in the lineage are easily supplied.
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.(6) A ready scribe.—The “ready writer” of Psalm 45:1. Ezra was a priest, and this title is rightly placed before that of scribe in what follows; but here at the outset, when he first appears in history, the title is used which expressed his pre-eminent function, that of guarding and interpreting the law (Ezra 7:10).
All his request.—This anticipates the letter of Ezra 7:11; a series of supplementary notes intervenes.
According to the hand of the Lord his God upon him.—The full formula for that special providence over God’s servants which both Ezra and Nehemiah recognised.
And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.(8) In the seventh year.—The repeated notes of time must be marked. The journey itself comes afterwards: it is here indicated as having occupied four months. Ezra’s company also is summarised beforehand, according to the manner of this book.
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.(10) For Ezra had prepared his heart.—It must be remembered that the providence of God over him immediately precedes—not as the reward of his preparing his heart, but as the reason of it. First, he gave himself to study the law, then to practise it himself, and lastly to teach its positive statutes or ordinances and its moral judgments or precepts—a perfect description of a teacher in the congregation. There is nothing discordant in Ezra saying of himself that he had thus “set his heart.”
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 to Israel.(11-26) Credentials and commission of Ezra. After the general statement the particulars are given, beginning with the letter of authorisation, in which we discern throughout the hand of Ezra.
(11) Even a scribe.—In the case of Ezra the function of scribe was more important than that of priest. The word scribe originally meant the writer or copier of the law; but now it meant the expositor of its general moral commandments and of its special ceremonial statutes. It is with the latter more especially that the commission of Ezra had to do.
Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time.(12) Artaxerxes, king of kings.—Artachshatra in Persian, Artachshasta in Hebrew. The Persian monarchs inherited the title here given from the Babylonians (Daniel 2:37). It is not used by the historian, only by the king himself.
Perfect peace, and at such a time.—Literally, perfect, and so forth. The expression occurs only here, and is a difficult one. Our translation follows the apocryphal Esdras, and is on the whole to be accepted, a salutation being implied.
Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellers, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand;(14) Seven counsellors.—These are mentioned in Esther 1:14, and were probably the heads of those families who aided Darius Hystaspis against the pseudo-Smerdis, as mentioned by Herodotus.
According to the law of thy God.—Ezra’s commission was first to enquire into the condition of the city and province, with regard to the relation of both to the Divine law.
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:(16) Which is in Jerusalem.—The repetition of this and similar phrases is after the manner of the literature of this period; but here, as in some other places, it implies deep reverence.
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 in Jerusalem.(17) Buy speedily.—Provide first of all for the sacrificial ceremonial. Every sacrifice had its own meat-offerings and drink-offerings (Numbers 15). These phrases in the commission of course Ezra dictated.
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.(18) The rest . . .—This clause of large latitude would be of great importance for the general beautify. ing of the Temple (Ezra 7:27).
The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem.(19) The vessels.—Offered (see Ezra 8:25) to be added to those sent up by Zerubbabel.
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.(20) Out of the king’s treasure house.—Every satrap had his local treasury. The decree gives Ezra very large powers, but the following verses add a measure of qualification.
Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.(22) Unto an hundred talents of silver . . .—A certain restriction is laid upon the amount, although the very restriction seems almost indefinite. The silver might reach £24,000 sterling. As to the rest, Palestine abounded in these productions, which were regularly remitted to the king’s service. Salt especially was plentiful near the Dead Sea.
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?(23) Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven.—The last is the strongest ground for such an ample authorisation. In the solemn and devout firman the phrase “the God of heaven” occurs twice, and the Persian prince deprecates His wrath. In this seventh year of Artaxerxes, B.C. 458, the tide of success turned for Persia against the Athenians in Egypt.
And his sons.—Though Artaxerxes Longimanus was young at this time, he is said to have left eighteen sons.
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.(24) We certify you.—The exemption of so large a number as the entire ministry of the Temple from all kinds of taxation is emphatically introduced.
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.(25) All such as know.—The firman, or king’s commission, returning directly to Ezra, makes him supreme in the province over the Jewish population.
And teach ye them that know them not.—That is, those Jews who had comparatively forsaken the law. Here he has absolute authority in religion.
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 to imprisonment.(26) Let judgment be executed speedily upon him.—Hence civil authority is added to religious. All these powers were usually entrusted to the provincial administrators, with more or less of reservation, by the Persians. But it is obvious that their combination in the one person of this servant of Tehovah demanded express statement.
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:(27) Blessed be the Lord God.—This is the solitary expression of Ezra’s private devotion; and it is incorporated with his record in so artless a manner as to confirm the impression that the whole narrative is from his hand.
This sudden ejaculatory thanksgiving, in the midst of his narrative, reminds us of Nehemiah’s habit.
To beautify.—A general term, signifying all that belonged to the restoration of the Temple.
And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellers, 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.(28) And hath extended mercy unto me.—The honour done to himself before the council of Persia he ascribes to the mercy of God. Once more we have an anticipation of the journey, with a parenthesis intervening.