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,
Verse 1. - The writer makes a marked division between his first and second sections by means of the words, "Now after these things," which he uses in this place only. The actual interval seems to have been one of between fifty-seven and fifty-eight years, the sixth year of Darius being B.C. 516, and the seventh of Artaxerxes Longimanus B.C. 458. Artaxerxes is in the original "Artakhshatra," which reproduces the Persian Artakhshatra with the change of only one letter. That Longimanus, the grandson of Darius, is meant seems to follow from the fact that Eliashib, the grandson of Jeshua is high priest under him (Nehemiah 3:1).
Darius, correspond to Jeshua,
Xerxes correspond to Joiakim
Artaxerxes correspond to Eliashib
But for this it would be possible to regard the Artaxerxes of Ezra (ch. 7.) and Nehemiah as Mnemon. Ezra the son of Seraiah. Probably the great-great-grandson. In the language of the sacred writers, every descendant is a "son," and every ancestor a "father." Christ is "the son of David," and David "the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). Joram "begat" Uzziah (ibid. 8), his great-great-grandson. Jochebed was "the daughter of Levi (Exodus 2:1). Ezra omits the names of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, who were undistinguished, and claims descent from Seraiah, the last high priest who had ministered in Solomon's temple (2 Kings 25:18). Azariah, the father of Seraiah, does not occur in either Kings or Chronicles; but Hilkiah, Azariah's father, is no doubt the high priest of Josiah's time (2 Kings 22:4-14; 2 Chronicles 34:14-22, etc.).
The son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub,
Verses 2-4. - This portion of the genealogy agrees exactly with that of Jehozadak in 1 Chronicles 6:3-15, excepting in the omission, which has been already noticed, of six names between Azariah and Meraioth. We may gather from 1 Chronicles 9:11 that a Meraioth is also omitted between the Zadok and Ahitub of ver. 2. EZRA'S JOURNEY FROM BABYLON TO JERUSALEM, WITH DATES (Xerxes 7:6-10). In introducing himself, Ezra seems to regard it 25 of primary importance to state two things -
(1) who he was, and
(2) what place he had in a history of which the main object is to give an account of the return of Israel from captivity. In connection with the former point, he gives, first of all, his genealogy; and, secondly, the account of himself contained in vers. 6 and 10. He describes himself as "a ready scribe" - one who "had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it," and also "to teach in Israel statutes and judgments." In connection with the latter, he is careful to put before us at once the fact that he too, like Zerubbabel, "went up from Babylon" to Jerusalem by the permission of the Persian king, and, like Zerubbabel, was accompanied by priests, Levites, both singers and porters, Nethinim, and a number of the people (ver. 7). He adds an exact statement as to the date of both his departure and arrival, very natural in one who is his own biographer, and very interesting to the general historian. He also, without any parade of religious sentiment, acknowledges the baud of God as directing, helping, and sustaining him in all his proceedings, ascribing to the Divine favour, especially, Artaxerxes allowance of his journey, and his safe accomplishment of it within a moderate space of time (vers. 6, 9).
The son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth,
The son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki,
The son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest:
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.
Verse 6. - This Ezra went up. See comment on Ezra 2:1, where the same expression — "went up" - is used. He was a ready scribe in the law of Moses. On the meaning of this phrase, and the new position occupied by "scribes" after the captivity, see Introduction to Ezra,' § 5. Which the Lord God of Israel had given. It is characteristic of Ezra's piety never to forget that the law was not a mere human code given by an earthly lawgiver, not even a national treasure, the accumulation of centuries, but a direct Divine gift "the law of the Lord" (ver. 10), "the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel" (ver. 11), "the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses" (Nehemiah 8:14). According to the hand of the Lord his God upon him. i.e. "by reason of God's favour to him." God, by reason of his favour to Ezra, inclined the heart of Artaxerxes towards him, so that he granted all his request. The nature of the "request" is not directly stated, but may be gathered from the "letter of Artaxerxes," especially vers. 13, 14, 16.
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.
Verse 7. - The same six classes are here mentioned as furnishing colonists under Ezra which, according to the earlier narrative (Ezra 2:70), had accompanied Zerubbabel. The order in which the classes are mentioned is nearly, but not quite, the same. In the seventh year of Artaxerxes. This is the emphatic clause of the verse; Ezra's main object in the section being to give the exact date of his journey. As Artaxerxes began to reign in B.C. 464 (Clinton, F. H., vol. 2. p. 380, note b), his seventh year would be B.C. 458.
And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.
Verse 8. - And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month. From the ninth verse it appears that the first day of the first month - the opening day of the year - was selected for the commencement of the journey. This was no doubt viewed as an auspicious day for beginning an important undertaking. The time occupied on the way was exactly four months, which is longer than might have been supposed to be necessary. Herodotus reckoned it a three months journey from Sardis to Susa (ver. 53), and the younger Cyrus conducted an army from Ephesus to Cunaxa, near Babylon, in ninety- three marching days (Xen, 'Anab' 2 1, § 6) - the distance in either case being considerably more than that from Babylon to Jerusalem, even supposing the route followed to have been by Balis and Aleppo. But a caravan, like an army, requires rests; and we hear of one such rest at Ahava (Ezra 8:15). Cyrus gave his troops more days of rest than of movement, and took half the year to reach Cunaxa from Ephesus. We need not be surprised, therefore, that Ezra's journey occupied four months. Some delay must almost certainly have been caused by the perils of the route (see Ezra 8:31).
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.
Verse 9. - According to the good hand of his God. For the meaning of this phrase, see comment on ver. 6. The special favour of God here intended would seem to be deliverance from certain enemies who designed to attack the caravan on the way (see the next chapter, vers. 21-23, 31).
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.
Verse 10. - For Ezra had prepared his heart, etc. God's favour towards Ezra, and the prosperous issue of his journey, were the consequences of his having set his heart on learning God's will, and doing it, and teaching it to others. To seek the law is to aim at obtaining a complete knowledge of it. To teach statutes and judgments is to inculcate both the ceremonial and the moral precepts. Ezra appears as a teacher of righteousness in Ezra 10:10, 11, and again in Nehemiah 8:2-18
CHAPTER 7:11-28 THE DECREE OF ARTAXERXES WITH RESPECT TO EZRA (vers. 11-26). The present decree was of the nature of a firman granted to an individual. It embodied, in the first place, a certain number of provisions which were temporary. Of this character were -
1. the permission accorded to all Persian subjects of Israelite descent to accompany Ezra to Jerusalem (ver. 13);
2. the commission to Ezra to convey to Jerusalem certain offerings made by the king and his chief courtiers to the God of Israel (vers. 15, 19);
3. the permission given him to convey to Jerusalem the free-will offerings of Jews and others resident in Babylonia (ver. 16);
4. permission to Ezra to draw on the royal treasury to the amount of a hundred talents of silver, a hundred measures of wheat, a hundred "baths" of wine, a hundred "baths" of oil, and salt to any amount (ver. 22); and,
5. an indefinite commission to "inquire" (ver. 14). Besides these temporary enactments, the decree contained certain provisions of a more permanent nature.
1. Ezra was invested with the chief authority over the whole district "beyond the river," and was commissioned to appoint all the subordinate "magistrates and judges" (ver. 25).
2. He was authorised to enforce his decisions by the penalties of imprisonment, confiscation of goods, banishment, and even death itself (ver. 26).
3. An exemption from taxation of every kind was granted to all grades of the sacerdotal order - to the priests, the Levites, the singers, the porters, the Nethinim, and the lowest grade of "ministers" - to all, in fact, who were engaged in the performance of any sacred function connected with the temple (ver. 24). This last provision was absolutely permanent, and probably continued in force down to the close of the empire.
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.
Verse 11. - The copy of the letter that the king... gave to Ezra. This decree, as already observed, was a private firman, one copy of which only was made, which was presented to Ezra, and was his authority for doing certain things himself, and for requiring certain acts of others. The priest. This is implied in the genealogy (vers. 1-5), but not directly stated elsewhere by Ezra himself. Nehemiah, however, designates him similarly (Ezra 8:2, 9). His most usual title is the "scribe." A scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord. Not so much a writer as an expounder (see above, ver. 10).
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.
Verse 12. - Artaxerxes, king of kings. "King of kings, kkshayathiya khshaya-thiyanam," an equivalent of the modern shahinshah, was a recognised title of the Persian monarchs, and is found in every Persian inscription of any considerable length (Rawlinson, 'Cuneiform Inscriptions of Persis,' vol. 1 pp. 195, 271, 279, 287, 292, etc.). It was a title that had been used occasionally, though not at all frequently, by the Assyrian monarchs ('Records of the Past,' vol. 3. p. 41; vol. 5. p. 8), and naturally expressed the fact that those monarchs for the most part maintained the native princes on the thrones of the countries which they conquered (see Isaiah 10:8). It was less appropriate to the Persians, whose empire was in the main satrapial, but still had a basis of truth to rest upon, since the Persian monarch had always a certain number of tributary kings under him ( cf. 'Herod.,' 5:104, 118; 8:142; Xen., 'Anab.,' 1:2, §12; 'Hellen.,' 4:1,§§ 3,4,etc.). The Parthian kings took the title from the time of Mithridates I.; and from them it passed to the Sassanians, who style themselves malkan malka, from first to last, upon their coins. The God of heaven. On this favourite Persian expression see comment on Ezra 1:2. Perfect peace. There is nothing in the Chaldee original in any way corresponding to "peace;" and the participle passage being translated as in the margin of the A. V. - "to Ezra the priest, a perfect scribe of the law of the God of heaven." And at such a time. Rather, "and so forth," as in Ezra 4:10, 11, 17.
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.
Verse 13. - All they of the people of Israel. The decree of Artaxerxes is as wide in its terms as the proclamation of Cyrus (Ezra 1:3), and gives permission not to the Jews only, but to all Israelites of whatever tribe, to accompany Ezra to Jerusalem. That Israelites of all the tribes actually went up to Jerusalem on the occasion seems indicated by the "twelve bullocks for all Israel," which those who returned with Ezra offered on their arrival to the "God of Israel" (see Ezra 8:35).
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;
Verse 14. - Ezra received his commission from the king, and from his seven counsellors, who thus seem to occupy an important position in the Persian state. They are commonly identified with the "seven princes of Persia and Media," mentioned in Esther (Esther 1:14), "which saw the king's face," and "sate first in the kingdom." A conjecture, which, though not unreasonable, cannot be said to be substantiated, connects the "seven counsellors" with the seven great Persian septs, or families, which had privileges beyond the rest, and among them the right of unrestricted access to the royal presence ('Herod.,' 3:84). The commission which Ezra received is described in this verse as one to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem; but the subject-matter of the inquiry is not mentioned. He can scarcely have been sent to make inquiry whether the law of Moses was observed or no, since that was certainly not a matter with which the Persian government would concern itself. Probably he was to inquire generally into the material prosperity of the province, and to report thereon.
And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellers have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem,
Verse 15. - And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered. Large sums in specie had in ancient times to be remitted from one country to another under escort. The roads were never safe from robbers; and the more considerable the remittance, the greater the danger of its being intercepted. We hear of its being usual to protect the treasure annually remitted to Jerusalem from Babylon in Roman times by an escort of above 20,000 men (see Joseph., 'Ant. Jud.,' 18:9, § 1). The God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem. No more seems to be meant by "habitation" here than by "house" in Ezra 1:2, 3. Artaxerxes does not regard Jehovah as a local God.
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:
Verse 16. - All the silver and gold that thou canst find. Rather, "that thou canst obtain" - "all that thou canst get my other subjects to give thee." Compare the proclamation of Cyrus (Ezra 1:4, 6).
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.
Verse 17. - That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, etc. The primary application of the money sent by Ezra was to be the maintenance of the Jewish ritual in its full splendour (compare the decree of Darius, Ezra 6:9, 10). The residue was, however, to be employed in any way that Ezra, acting under Divine guidance, might direct (see below, ver. 18). Apparently, this residue was actually employed on beautifying the temple (see ver. 27).
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.
The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem.
Verse 19. - The vessels also. It does not appear that these were sacred vessels belonging to the temple, like those which Cyrus had intrusted to Zerubbabel for restoration to the house of God. Rather, it would seem, they were a part of the voluntary "offering" mentioned in ver. 15, in which they are distinctly included (Ezra 8:25-28). We may perhaps conclude that the vessels sent with Zerubbabel had proved insufficient in number for the great festivals.
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.
Verse 20. - Whatever more shall be needful. Here the terms of the firman are very wide indeed, and authorise apparently an unlimited application of the royal revenue, or, at any rate, of the revenue of the province, to any purpose in any way connected with the temple. Probably it was expected that Ezra's own discretion would act as a restraint. If this failed, the royal treasurers would see that the amounts specified in ver. 22 were not exceeded. The king's treasure-house is not the royal treasury at Susa, to which the tribute went up from the various provinces, but the local treasury of Judaea or Syria, to which the Jews made their remittances, and on which Ezra was now authorised to draw. Such local treasuries existed of necessity under a satrapial system.
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,
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.
Verse 22. - Unto a hundred talents of silver. At the lowest estimate of the Jewish silver talent, this would be a permission to draw on the royal treasury to the amount of £24,000 sterling. If we adopt the views of Mr. R.S. Peele ('Dict. of the Bible, Articles, MONEY and WEIGHTS AND MEASURES), it would authorise drawing to the amount of £40,000. A hundred measures of wheat. Literally, "a hundred cors of wheat," as given in the margin. The cor is variously estimated, at 44.25 gallons and at 86.67 gallons. It contained ten baths. Orders on the treasury for so much wheat, wine, oil, and salt sound strangely in modern ears; but were natural enough in the Persian system, where taxation was partly in kind, and every province had to remit to the court the choicest portion of its produce. Wine, corn, oil, and salt were all of them produced abundantly in Palestine, which was "a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of off olive, and of honey" (2 Kings 18:32), and which, in the region about the Dead Sea, abounded with salt.
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?
Verse 23. - Why should there be wrath against the realm? In the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanns there was "wrath against the realm" of Persia in a very dangerous quarter, viz., Egypt. Egypt had revolted from the Persians in B.C. 460, and in the following year, with the assistance of the Athenians, had driven the last Persian out of the country. A vain attempt was made by an embassy to Sparta, towards the close of B.C. 459, to force Athens to recall her troops. In B.C. 458, Artaxerxes' seventh year, it was resolved that a Persian force should attempt the recovery of the revolted country. Artaxerxes gives his firman to Ezra when this expedition is preparing to start, and partly alludes to the past "wrath," shown in the success of the rebels, partly deprecates any further visitation. Without pretending to penetrate the Divine counsels, it may be noticed that from the year B.C. 458 things went well for the Persians in Egypt. Memphis was recovered in that year or the next; and in B.C. 455 the Athenians were finally defeated, and the province recovered. The king and his sons. This mention of the "sons" of Artaxerxes has been regarded as a proof that the Artaxerxes of Esther was Mnemon, and not Longimanus (Patrick). But it is quite a gratuitous supposition that Longimanus, who had attained to manhood before he ascended the throne, had no sons in the seventh year of his reign. Ultimately he left behind him eighteen sons (Ctesias, 'Exc. Pers.,' § 44).
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.
Verse 24. - We certify you. The use of the plural is curious. Hitherto the king has made every permission and command to rest on his own sole authority (see vers. 12, 13, 21). Now that he reaches the most important point in the whole of his decree - the permanent exemption of a large part of the people from liability to taxation of any kind, his style changes, and he says, "We certify you." Perhaps he speaks in the name of himself and his successors; or possibly he means to say that in this matter he has asked and obtained the assent and consent of his council (compare ver. 28). Or ministers. Rather, "and ministers." It is generally allowed that the word here translated "ministers" is not applied to the Nethinim, but to that still lower grade of attendants in the sanctuary called "Solomon's servants" in Ezra 2:55-58, and Nehemiah 7:57-60. It shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom upon them It may be suspected from this proviso that the Persians exempted from taxation their own (Magian) priests, though of this there is no other evidence. But they would scarcely have placed a foreign priesthood on a higher level of favour than their own.
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.
Verse 25. - And thou, Ezra. This conclusion would be by itself sufficient to remove the document out of the ordinary category of "decrees" or "edicts," and to render it, what it is called in ver. 11, nish-tevan, "a letter." After the wisdom of thy God, that is in thy hand. i.e. "that is in thy possession." Set magistrates and judges. Both the words used are derived from roots signifying "to judge," and it is difficult to draw any distinction between them. The one translated "magistrates" is that which gives its title to the Book of "Judges." Which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God. The latter clause is probably intended to be limitative of the former, and to consign to Ezra's government only the Jewish portion of the population, in which, however, are to be reckoned the proselytes (see comment on Ezra 6:21). And teach ye them that know them not. As the other inhabitants of Syria were not Zoroastrians, but idolaters, Ezra was given free permission to spread his religion among them.
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.
Verse 26. - Finally, to Ezra is intrusted distinctly the civil government of the Jewish people, with power to fine, imprison, banish, or put to death offenders, as he may think right. These powers were always intrusted by the Persians to the civil administrators of provinces, who were autocrats within their respective territories, and responsible to the king alone for the exercise of their authority. EZRA'S THANKSGIVING ON RECEIPT OF ARTAXERXES' LETTER (Ezra 7:27, 28). With an abruptness that may appear strange, but which has many parallels in the works of Oriental writers, Ezra passes without a word of explanation from Artaxerxes' letter to his own thanksgiving upon the receipt of it. Compare the interjectional prayers of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 4:4; Nehemiah 5:19; Nehemiah 6:9, 14, etc.).
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:
Verse 27. - Having concluded the important document, which he has transcribed, and not translated, and which is consequently in the Chaldee dialect, Ezra now resumes the use of the more sacred Hebrew, and henceforth employs it uninterruptedly to the close of his narrative. The form of his thanksgiving a little resembles that of David in 1 Chronicles 29:10. The Lord God of our fathers is an unusual phrase, only elsewhere employed by David (1 Chronicles 29:18) and Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:6). "God of our fathers" is more common, being found in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 26:7) and Acts (Acts 3:13; Acts 5:30), as well as in Chronicles frequently. Which hath put such a thought as this in the king's heart. Compare Ezra 1:1. and Ezra 6:22. All thoughts favorable to the Jews are regarded by Ezra as impressed upon the hearts of heathen kings by the direct action of God. To beautify. Or "adorn." Ezra gathers from the general tenor of the king's letter that the adornment of the temple is his main object (see comment on ver. 17).
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.
Verse 28. - Hath extended mercy unto me before the king. i.e. "hath given me favour in the king's sight" - "hath made him graciously disposed towards me" (see ver. 6). And his counsellors and... princes. Compare the comment on ver. 14. The "counsellors" and "princes" are the same persons.