James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
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,Ezra 7:1-10:44
EZRA AND HIS REFORMS
THE COMMISSION AND ITS EXECUTION (Ezra 7-8)
The first of these chapters tells who Ezra was (Ezra 7:1-6), the date and object of his journey to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:7-10), the nature and extent of his commission from the king (Ezra 7:11-26), and his feelings in the premises (Ezra 7:27-28). The second, gives the number and genealogic record of the Jews who accompanied him (Ezra 7:1-20), the spirit in which they entered upon the pilgrimage (Ezra 7:21-25), the arrangements for guarding and delivering the treasurer in their keeping (Ezra 7:24-28), their arrival and the fulfillment of their commission (Ezra 7:31-36).
To consider chapter 7 in detail, the Artaxerxes of verse one is considered as identical with the Ahasuerus of Esther’s time, and Anstey regards him as identical also with the Darius Hystaspes named above. Ezra was a priest as well as a scribe (Ezra 8:1-5). The “Seraiah” whose son (great grandson perhaps) he was, was the high priest slain by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:18). Jeshua, with whom we got acquainted in the last lesson, was also his grandson, but probably in another branch of the family. “Scribe” is the same as doctor, teacher, or rabbi, one learned in the law of Moses and Jewish traditions and customs (Ezra 8:10).
How this Persian king came to be so interested is not known, unless, as some think, Esther had already become his queen, which would explain it. Others believe that after the death of the leaders of the earlier company, Zerubbabel and his associates, matters become so disordered in the province that leading Jews in Persia pleaded with the king to appoint this reform commission.
Observe the power granted Ezra to study conditions, as we now say (Ezra 8:14), to collect funds (Ezra 8:15-16), levy tribute (Ezra 8:21-22), appoint magistrates and judges (Ezra 8:25), and execute penalties (Ezra 8:26).
As to chapter 8, the number of male adults accompanying Ezra was but 1,754, but there should be added women, children and servants, making perhaps three or four times that number. Attention is called to verses 21 and 23. The danger of such caravans from the marauding Arabs was so great as to make a military escort necessary. But Ezra’s sensitive regard of God’s honor before the heathen would not permit his asking for one. It was a strong test of faith to which he and his companions were equal, and which God honored. May the principle of its lesson not to be lost upon the reader.
HOW INTERNAL CONDITIONS WERE CHANGED (Ezra 9-10)
This moral corruption (Ezra 9:1-2) is not inconceivable to those who know their own hearts and the nature of sin, but its effect on Ezra was what might have been expected under the circumstances (Ezra 9:3). His outward signs of grief were oriental. There is contagion in such grief which communicates itself to others animated by a like spirit (Ezra 9:4). It is thus as revival spreads. One soul is awakened, and he awakens another. And if he be a pastor or leader of the Lord’s hosts, like Ezra, the people gather round him, and results follow (Ezra 9:4; Ezra 10:1-44.) Study the prayer carefully (Ezra 9:5-15). The suppliant’s attitude (Ezra 9:5), his sense of shame (Ezra 9:6), his unqualified confession (Ezra 9:7), his gratitude (Ezra 9:8-9), his deep conviction of sin (Ezra 9:10-14), and his dependency only on divine mercy (Ezra 9:15).
Observe how God answered the prayer by graciously working on the people’s hearts, the leaders first, and then the people generally. Shecanaiah (Ezra 10:2), was a brave man in the attitude he took, for while his name does not appear in the subsequent list of offenders, yet those of his near relatives do (Ezra 10:26). Note the phrase, “There is hope in Israel concerning this thing” (Ezra 10:2). Hope only, however, along the line of thorough repentance. Here is a text and subject matter for a revival sermon.
Note the radical step taken by the leaders (Ezra 10:6-8), and its prompt result (Ezra 10:9). Also the judicious method of procedure as necessitated by the circumstances (Ezra 10:10-17). This justifies the belief that provision was made for the unlawful wives and children that were put away.
1. Have you familiarized yourself with the Persian kings of this period?
2. Who was Ezra?
3. What is a scribe?
4. How many were in Ezra’s company of returning exiles?
5. How was their strong faith shown?
6. What illustration of the progress of a revival is found in this lesson?
7. What feature of Ezra’s prayer most impresses you?