Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe…
After giving a general account of the exodus of Israel from Babylon under his leadership, Ezra transcribes the letter of the king of Persia containing his commission. In considering this very remarkable document, we notice -
I. THE GREETING.
1. The monarch announces himself. "Artaxerxes king of kings."
(1) This, in its perfect sense, is a title of Messiah (see Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16). He is destined to become the universal monarch (Daniel 7:14; Revelation 11:15). Happy will this earth be under the sway of his intelligence and grace (Isaiah 35.). For any earthly potentate to affect this title, in its full sense, would be at once blasphemous and ridiculous.
(2) In a limited sense Artaxerxes was "king of kings." This title was given to the king of Babylon by God himself (see Jeremiah 27:6-11; Ezekiel 26:7; Daniel 2:37). The Persians succeeded to the empire of the Babylonians.
(3) Artaxerxes used this title religiously. He acknowledged in it his vast indebtedness to the providence of God. So its equivalent was used by Cyrus (see Ezra 1:2). The whole tenor of this letter sustains this view. Glorying is legitimate when we glory in the Lord (see Jeremiah 9:23, 24; 1 Corinthians 1:31).
2. He addresses his letter:
(1) "Unto Ezra the priest." The emphatic article is used because Ezra stood out prominently amongst the priests of his nation by his many noble qualities. Noble qualities evermore give Christians distinction among their brethren.
(2) "A scribe of the law of the God of heaven." The margin, with justice, makes the word "perfect" in the next member of this sentence a part of this, so reading it "a perfect scribe," etc. He calls himself (ver. 11) "a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel." Here is an obvious reference to that great work with which he is credited by the Jews, viz., issuing under Divine inspiration a corrected edition of the more ancient books of Scripture. Ezra rejoiced more in this title than in that of his governorship. Spiritual are vastly more noble than earthly distinctions.
(3) "Peace, and at such a time." This form of expression is common in Persian state documents (see Ezra 4:10). The import seems to be that the peace, tranquillity, or happiness which the document is intended to promote may continue to be enjoyed so long as it continues to be, as at present it is, merited. No peace is so blessed or so enduring as that peace of God which passeth understanding.
II. THE FAVOURS. Ver. 13, etc. The particulars are -
1. Permission to go up to Jerusalem.
(1) This, in the document, is implied rather than expressed, but yet so implied as not to be mistaken.
(2) Ezra was a captive, and could not move without permission. How can slaves of sin escape its wrath without manumission from God?
2. Permission to the Jews to go up with him.
(1) The different classes of them are specified, viz., priests, Levites, stagers, porters, and Nethinims, together with the people of the tribes (vers. 13, 24).
(2) This permission was not to be construed into an expulsion. They were free to go or stay (ver. 13). All religious service should be voluntary.
3. Authority to set things in order in Judaea.
(1) This authority was not to be questioned. It came direct from the crown, and with deliberation, for it is with the advice of the seven counsellors. The names of seven such counsellors may be found in Esther (Esther 1:13, 14).
(2) It was authority to inquire, viz., into the extent to which disorganisation and demoralisation may have been carried. Then to adjust, viz., by appointing faithful magistrates and judges (ver. 25). And if necessary to punish the refractory (ver. 26). This power of life and death was withdrawn from Jewish magistrates in after times (see John 18:31). The sceptre was then visibly departing from Judah because Shiloh had come.
4. Authority over the Persian deputies beyond the river.
(1) The powers now described were not limited to Judaea. If the "river" here be the Euphrates rather than the Jordan, which is agreeable to the use of this phrase in Scripture, then the commission of Ezra invested him with very extensive powers. But whatever provinces were comprehended under the expression, there were Persian deputies there (Ezra 4:20; Ezra 7:21). This authority would effectually check opposition from the ancient enemies of the Jews.
(2) The treasurers were instructed to furnish Ezra with whatever he might require for the service of God, in silver, wheat, wine, oil, and salt (vers. 21-24).
5. Commission to carry offerings to God.
(1) "Silver and gold freely offered by the king and his counsellors" (ver. 15). Here was a mark of confidence in the integrity of Ezra 1
(2) "All the silver and gold" which the people "in the province of Babylon" were willing to confide to him. There never was a time when Gentiles were necessarily excluded from the service of God. Now the partition is broken down.
(3) "With the free-will offerings of the people and of the priests," etc., viz., for the provision of sacrifices and offerings daily required in the temple.
(4) And from the king's treasure-house vessels to be delivered to the house of God, and whatever else might be needed for his service (vers. 19, 20). Upon review of the whole subject three things strike us, viz. -
1. The wonderful accuracy of the knowledge of this heathen king of the religion of the Jews.
2. The largeness of his liberality in the service of the God of heaven.
3. The enlightened judgment which he formed of the true principles of civil government. In these things he is not an unworthy pattern even to Christians. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.