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Commentary On The Book Of Ezra

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD


While it is true that in the Hebrew texts prior to the time of Christ the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were treated as one book, this was probably in order artificially to make the number of the books in the Old Testament come to 22 the same number as the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. But the differences between the two books are quite clear, and it impossible to see how almost identical lists of returnees would have been used, once in Ezra 2 and then in Nehemiah 7 had it been the work of the same writer. We intend therefore to treat them as two separate books.


After the destruction of the Temple in 587 BC, when the cream of the people who remained from the slaughter had been carried off to Babylon (according to Jeremiah 52.29 this included eight hundred and thirty two men with their families, who were presumably those from Jerusalem at the time of its destruction), many of the people left in Judah fled to Egypt, fearing Nebuchadrezzar’s wrath as a consequence of the assassination of his appointed governor Gedaliah along with those Babylonians who had been left in order to give him support (2 King 25.25-26). They ignored the pleas of Jeremiah for them to remain, and his assurance that if they did so it would go well with them (Jeremiah 42.7 ff.).

Judah, however, still remained fairly well populated by the common people (‘the poorest of the land’ - 2 Kings 25.12), although lacking in experienced leadership. This was the situation when a further invasion by Nebuchadrezzar occurred in c. 582 BC, in which a further seven hundred and forty five men with their families were carried away into exile (Jeremiah 52.30). We have no knowledge of the reason for this latest reprisal, although it may partly have been a belated response to the assassination of Gedaliah, and the slaughter of the Babylonian contingent who had been left there to support him and keep an eye on things. It would, however, have resulted in the people being even more bereft of leadership.

Those who now remained in Judah were left to struggle on, bereft of leadership, enjoying limited cohesion, and with limited religious guidance, still no doubt involved in the worship of gods on every high hill and under every green three. Yahwism was at a low ebb, the Temple was in ruins, Jerusalem was devastated, their other main cities had been destroyed, and the land was still recovering from the depredations that it had experienced. Their situation was dark indeed.

They were no doubt at some stage joined by some who had fled to neighbouring countries, who would by then have felt it safe to return, and this would increase their numbers. And judging from what we know of them their religion would be syncretistic, combining the worship of YHWH with the worship of Baal and Asherah (Jeremiah 19.5; 2 Chronicles 36.14). By this time much of the province of Judah had probably been incorporated into the province of Samaria, whilst Southern Judah was being gradually taken over by the Edomites (who were themselves seeking refuge), and would remain lost to Judah for centuries.

Some kind of Jerusalem cultus does appear to have remained, with an altar set up amidst the ruins of the Temple (see Jeremiah 41.4). Note in this regard how in Ezekiel (43.18) it was only the altar, not the Temple, which was commanded to be rebuilt. This was in order to service the ‘heavenly Temple’ which he describes, which was invisibly situated on a high mountain away from Jerusalem (where it would be away from the impurity of that city). This indicated that God was still invisibly but remotely dwelling among His people in a splendid, albeit invisible, heavenly Temple (compare the invisible hosts of YHWH which Elisha saw as surrounding His people - 2 Kings 6.17). It was this assurance that Ezekiel wanted to give to Israel.

But suddenly there was a change in the situation that must have appeared miraculous. The defeat of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian, a king who followed enlightened policies, resulted in a limited return of exiles from Babylon under Sheshbazzar in 538 BC, with the Temple vessels being returned to them, and with authority being granted to them to rebuild the Temple with assistance from the Persian treasury (Ezra 5.16). For this period see Ezra 1.1-4.24. This was in accordance with general Persian policy to encourage local deities, and establish semi-independent communities under their own native rulers, overseen of course by leading Persian officials. Other nations benefited in a similar way, notably Babylon itself. There were influential Jews in high places who would encourage Cyrus in this (consider e.g. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and the later status of Nehemiah). How far Sheshbazzar was an independent governor we do not know. He may only have had authority over the new community, he may well have had to answer to the governor of Samaria, and both were seemingly answerable to a leading Persian official in ‘Beyond the River’, a wider province which included Syrian and Palestine.

No doubt the returnees were filled with high hopes of what God was about to do (consider the words of Haggai 2.6-9, 21-22, the latter spoken later to Zerubbabel), and arrived full of vision. But the community that was established was small and spread out around what remained of Judah (‘they returned every one to his own city’ - Ezra 2.1, 70), whilst Jerusalem itself was still in ruins and sparsely inhabited. Thus although the foundations of the Temple were laid, fierce local opposition and general dilatoriness (life was tough and demanding), to say nothing of the actual limitations of the returnees, soon brought the work to a halt (Ezra 4.3-5, 24), and it was not until 520 BC, as a result of the urgings of Haggai and Zechariah, that the work was recommenced, and finally carried through to completion in 516 BC, by which time Sheshbazzar was presumably dead and Zerubbabel (of the Davidic house) was prince over a Judah very limited in size, along with Joshua as its High Priest (Ezra 5.1-6.22).

The years that followed these events are lost to sight, but at some stage the Davidic house appears to have lost its position of authority, which must have been a great blow to the hopes of the community that the Davidic house would be restored, hopes no doubt fostered, not only by the appointment of Zerubbabel as their prince, but by the kindly treatment which had previously been shown to their King Jehoiachin in Babylon (2 Kings 25.27-30). Meanwhile Judah was being overseen by a governor of ‘Beyond The River’ (looking at it from Persia’s point of view and therefore a governor south of the Euphrates), while the local leadership of the returned community, who would have joined up with those in Judah who had remained faithful to YHWH, had now seemingly been transferred into the hands of the High Priest, again under the aegis of Samaria. They had little protection from the machinations of their enemies, both official and unofficial, and no doubt suffered continual harassment, to say nothing of experiencing local famines (Haggai 1.6). Ezra gives us hints of such official opposition (4.6-23).

The religious situation was equally parlous:

  • 1). There were the more or less orthodox returnees who strove to maintain the purity of Yahwism, and whose hopes had been raised by the building of the Temple and the establishment of a Davidic ruler. But it was only to see these hopes all dissipating in front of their eyes. They faced a situation in which they found that, instead of God acting in some wonderful way, they were experiencing continual animosity from those among whom they had taken up residence (apart from those who had remained faithful to YHWH who would not be a large number), and from those who lived in the surrounding area. They also found themselves suffering from famine and hardship, to say nothing of their having lost their Davidic hope. Their confidence must thus have been at a low ebb.
  • 2). There were also the previous dwellers in the land, among whom they lived, the remnants of Judah, whose religion as far as the majority were concerned would, to put it mildly, have been mainly somewhat syncretistic (note the criticisms of Jeremiah concerning their fathers, e.g. Jeremiah 2.27-28; 25.2-7; etc). Without any guidance from the Temple they would no doubt have continued in the ways of their fathers, offering incense and sacrifices to false gods. They would also no doubt have resented the arrival of the returning exiles who would have laid claim to ancestral land, land which up to this time they had seen as theirs by right of possession.
  • 3). There were the people who had been established by the Assyrians in the old kingdom of Israel, who had been converted to a Yahwism of a kind, but a Yahwism which was totally debased (2 Kings 17.24-34). They initially sought to participate in the building of the Temple, only to find themselves rebuffed (Ezra 4.2-3), no doubt because of their idolatrous connections, and because of the influence they could then have claimed over Temple worship. (It is doubtful if we are to equate these with the later ‘Samaritans’ who were not idolatrous, and of whose origin we know nothing. The later ‘Samaritans’ were situated in and around Shechem).
  • 4). On top of this there was the animosity of those who were in positions of authority around them, some of whom would be syncretistic Yahwists, whilst others would be worshippers of false gods. They would not be happy to see a separatist, exclusive community being established among them.

Thus the hopes that had been raised that God was about to act in some miraculous way had been largely dashed, and although two generations had passed all that they had to show for it was the restoration of Temple worship, and a patched up, sparsely populated, Jerusalem, the latter mainly arising from the need to service the Temple. No Davidic kingdom was in sight. Things had failed to come up to their expectations. It may well have been this sense of religious failure, and their recognition of their own inadequacy in the face of it, that caused the leaders of the people to make known to the prominent Jews in Persia their need for some authoritative figure to be sent to them who could help to establish their understanding of the covenant in a way that was applicable to their situation. Or it may be that their letters to their brethren in Babylon and Persia had made such inadequacy clear. It is quite likely that it was some such situation which resulted in an approach being made to Artaxerxes, an approach which resulted in Ezra the Scribe being sent to them for this purpose, arriving along with another large group of returning exiles (in the same way as the Assyrians had earlier sent a priest to those whom they had settled in and around Samaria, in order to teach them the ways of YHWH -2 Kings 17.24-28)). It is possibly to be seen as significant that hope was no longer being placed in God raising up a prophet among them. Rather the emphasis was on someone who could teach them the Law. Their faith had become more prosaic.

It was thus in 458 BC (in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I - Ezra 7.7) that Ezra, ‘the scribe of the Law of the God of Heaven’, possibly, but not necessarily, the secretary of state for Jewish affairs in Persia (‘the God of Heaven’ and its equivalents was one of the titles by which Judah’s God was made known outside Judah/Israel, see Jonah 1.9; Daniel 2.18-19, 37, 44; 4.37; 5.23; Nehemiah 1.4-5; 2.4, 20), was sent to the people of Judah with the responsibility of teaching them the Law. It is very probable that Persia had a secretary of state overseeing Jewish affairs as they no doubt had secretaries of state for other national religions. The Persian policy of religious appeasement would require the appointment to similar positions of experts in all national religions, and besides Jews held prominent positions in Babylon and Persia with the result that their views would not be overlooked.

This was later followed in 445 BC by the arrival in Jerusalem of Nehemiah, a Jew and a trusted high official of the Great King, the king of Persia, who as a consequence of his own intercession, had been despatched to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding its walls, and establishing Judah as a semi-independent state, a state over which for a period he would act as governor. Judah was on the way up.


The Initial Return Of The Exiles And The Building Of The Temple - 538 BC to 516 BC (chapters 1-6).

  • 1). As a result of the decree of Cyrus a group of returnees under the leadership of Sheshbazzar make for Jerusalem bearing with them the Temple vessels previously appropriated from the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (chapter 1).
  • 2). A list of the returnees who accompanied Sheshbazzar and of the treasures they brought with them (chapter 2).
  • 3). An altar is built in Jerusalem, sacrifices are offered, and the foundations are laid for a new Temple (chapter 3).
  • 4). Local adversaries prevent the continuation of the Temple, and later prevent the building of the walls of Jerusalem (chapter 4).
  • 5). Renewed attempts are made to build the Temple which are looked into by Tattenai, governor of Beyond the River who sends a letter to King Darius seeking instructions. Darius finds the decree of Cyrus and commands that the Temple be built with state aid (chapters 5-6).

The Arrival Of Ezra Along With A Further Batch Of Returnees, And What He Accomplished - 458 BC onwards (chapters 7-10).

  • 1). Ezra, a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses sets off for, and arrives at, Jerusalem with another group of returnees, carrying a letter from Artaxerxes authorising his activities, such as the teaching of the Law and the setting up of judges (chapter 7).
  • 2). Ezra gathers the returnees together, and they are listed, but there are no Levites. Levites and Nethinim are encouraged to join the party which makes for Jerusalem along with the treasures that they have accumulated. They have a safe journey and arrive in Jerusalem, delivering the treasures to the Temple and Artaxerxes letter to the Persian officials (chapter 8).
  • 3). Ezra deals with the problem of idolatry creeping into Judah through marriage with foreign women and thus saves Judah from the wrath of God (chapters 9-10).


The book can be seen as divided up into two sections:

  • The Initial Return Of The Exiles And The Building Of The Temple - 538 BC to 516 BC (chapters 1-6).
  • The Arrival Of Ezra Along With A Further Batch Of Returnees, And What He Accomplished - 458 BC onwards (chapters 7-10).

It will be noted from this that there is a gap between 516 BC and 458 BC of which we know almost nothing apart from the fact that during that period Zerubbabel appears either to have died, or to have been replaced by a non-Davidide, and that there was continual opposition from officials round about against attempts to restore Jerusalem (4.6-23). While the Book of Esther also refers to this period, that book deals solely with the position of Jews in Persia.

Restoration From Exile - The Return Of The Exiles And The Restoration Of The Temple (chapters 1-6).

What was now to occur must have seemed at the time a wonder to the remnant of Judah in exile. Babylon their great enemy, who had been the cause of their exile and had destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, had been crushed, and Cyrus, an enlightened King of Persia, had taken over their empire. And he had decreed that the Judean exiles could return to their native land and there build a Temple to YHWH. This magnanimity was in fact his general policy with regard to all peoples and their gods, as he sought to cement his new empire together, and obtain the help of their gods, and there is therefore nothing surprising in it historically speaking. But to the Judean exiles it must have seemed like a miracle, as indeed in some ways it was. It would appear to them that Cyrus had been appointed by YHWH for this very purpose (compare Isaiah 44.28-5.4).

But all this would not occur without problems, for as it would turn out, there would be a delay in building the Temple, and there was much opposition. It is quite clear that, having given his permission and having intended to supply building materials (6.3-5), Cyrus took no further interest in the proceedings. The initiative was left in the hands of the returnees.

However, the consequence of the Edict of Cyrus was that a group of exiles returned to Judah under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, who is spoken of as ‘governor’, but was presumably an under-governor. These bore with them the Temple vessels that had been appropriated by Nebuchadrezzar (Ezra 1.7-11). This occurred in 538 BC, forty nine years after the destruction of the Temple. These settled in the areas around Judah which related to their family land holdings, with Jerusalem remaining only partially occupied, and a start was made on the foundations of the Temple. But the difficulties that they encountered, which included local famine and local opposition, prevented the work from progressing, and the result was that they concentrated their attention on improving their own homes rather than on building the Temple.

It was the rise of the prophets Haggai, and his younger contemporary Zechariah, that stirred Zerubbabel, the new governor, who came from the Davidic house, and Joshua (Jeshua), the High Priest, to recommence work on the foundations of the Temple in 520 BC, and within four years the Temple was completed. It was but a shadow of Solomon’s Temple, but it was nevertheless an important achievement. We must now consider this in more detail.

The Edict Of Cyrus And Its Result (1.1-11).

In 538 BC Cyrus issued an edict allowing Jews to return to their homeland, and authorising the rebuilding of the Temple with state help. The wording of the edict given here is in terms that would be appreciated by the Jews. It was a ‘popular’ version, to be proclaimed to the outside world, and was no doubt worded by a ‘secretary of state for Jewish affairs’ who preceded the time of Ezra, or by officials given responsibility for Jewish affairs. We should not see it as unique, except in its detail. In basic idea it would have been similar to other edicts promulgated concerning the gods of other nations. For Cyrus was concerned to claim the personal support of the gods of all the nations of his empire, whom he saw as having helped him to where he was. They had, after all, proved their support by the fact that the empire was now his. For example, he could claim of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, that ‘the entirety of all the lands he (Marduk) surveyed and examined. He sought out a righteous prince, the desire of his heart, who would grasp his hand. Cyrus the king of Anshan, whose name he uttered, he called for kingship over all’. An official version of the Ezra 1 edict in a different format, written in Aramaic, giving practical details concerning the building of the Temple, and promise of state funding, was, according to 6.3-5, at the same time lodged among the state records held in Achmetha (Ecbatana).

The Edict Of Cyrus (1.1-4).

1.1 ‘Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of YHWH by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, YHWH stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,’

The first year of Cyrus II referred to was 538 BC, the dating being from his capture of Babylon, this being the date when control of Palestine passed into his hands. The title King of Persia was one proudly used by him and his successors, along with the titles the King, the Great King, King of kings, King of the lands, etc. The writer no doubt saw these other titles as impinging on the sovereignty of YHWH and thus spoke of him as the ‘king of Persia’, an exalted title, but also (to Jews) a reminder that only YHWH was King over the whole earth. An inscription dated about 600 BC spoke of Ariyaramna, the brother of Cyrus I, as ‘the great King, King of kings, King of Persia’, and indeed the title King of Persia occurs regularly in records during the period of the Persian Empire. It has been said that ‘eighteen different authors in nineteen different documents from Persian times use this title altogether thirty eight different times, and of at least six different Persian kings’. It is found on the inscriptions at Behistun of Darius I. Thus objections to its use in Ezra are invalid.

In Babylonia, and only in Babylonia (that is, outside of Scripture where it is used in Ezra 5.13 in a place where Cyrus is seen as successor to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and in Nehemiah 13.6), the kings of Persia used the title ‘king of Babylon’. In Egypt they used the title ‘king of Egypt’ or equivalent. Compare also ‘king of the Medes’ and ‘king of Anshan’. The use of titles by Persian kings was thus very fluid and often depended on who was being addressed. But ‘king of Persia’ was widely used and aptly described Cyrus.

‘That the word of YHWH by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished.’ The writer sees what follows as resulting from ‘the word of YHWH’. His word is going forth and accomplishing His purpose (compare Isaiah 55.11). The particular word of YHWH is described as that spoken by Jeremiah the prophet. This is probably a reference to Jeremiah 51.1 where we read, ‘Behold I will stir up against Babylon -- the spirit of a destroyer.’ This can be read in parallel with Jeremiah 25.12 ff; 29.10 ff).

‘YHWH stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.’ Whatever Cyrus might say, and whatever other people might believe, the writer knew that it was YHWH who had brought about what would now happen. It was He Who had ‘stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia’, with the result that Cyrus had issued an edict and made a public proclamation to the effect that the Jews could return to Jerusalem and there build a Temple to YHWH in accordance with the king’s command.

This was fully in accordance with Cyrus’ policy of restoring native communities and their gods. Thus in what we call ‘the Cyrus cylinder’ Cyrus wrote, “the holy cities beyond the Tigris, whose settlements had been in ruins over a long period, the gods whose abode is in the midst of them, I returned to their places and housed them in lasting abodes. I gathered together all their inhabitants, and restored (to them) their dwellings.” Judah were not unique in this regard.

‘So that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying ---.’ The proclamation made ‘throughout all his kingdom’ may well have been in more general terms, with the writer only being interested in what was put into writing concerning Judah. On the other hand it may be that Cyrus had all his edicts read out in popular form in each place in order to impress both his subject people and their gods. Alternately ‘throughout all his kingdom’ may simply be intended by the writer to signify all places where Jews might be present, and they were pretty widespread.

‘Put it also in writing.’ It was common for important oral edicts to also be put in writing. Compare 2 Kings 19.9-14; 2 Chronicles 17.9; 30.1.

1.2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth has YHWH, the God of heaven, given me, and he has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”

Similar wording to this, in the form of a proclamation and altered to suit the particular situation, was probably used by Cyrus in many parts of his kingdom as he caused permanent sanctuaries to be rebuilt in many major religious centres and restored to people their gods which had been plundered by Babylon. He wanted full credit for what was happening so as to gain the support of the people, and what was equally important in his eyes, the support of their gods. Here the wording of his decree is particularised, presumably by Jewish advisers, in order to apply to the situation of the Jews, possibly as influenced by Isaiah 44.28-45.1. Cyrus was unconsciously fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, something which the Jews may well have brought to his attention (something which Josephus claims, for, although he is not reliable for this period, it is not unlikely).

‘All the kingdoms of the earth.’ A slight exaggeration. But the idea was of those kingdoms within his purview. He did not in fact conquer Egypt, that would be left to his son Cambyses after his death. For an example of such an exaggerated description compare 1 Kings 4.34.

‘Has YHWH the God of heaven given me.’ Cyrus saw all the gods as on his side. After all had they not given him control over his world? And thus he did genuinely believe that ‘YHWH, the God of Heaven’ had given to him all the kingdoms of the world (as had Marduk also, see citation above) and that YHWH had charged him to build him a house in Jerusalem (just as other gods had charged him to rebuild their sanctuaries). That the edict was not too personal to him comes out in that he made no effort to ensure that the building of the Jerusalem Temple actually took place. For whilst an initial foundation was laid early on, it would not be until after his death that the Temple was actually built. Thus he left the actual fulfilment of the charge to the initiative of the local communities. We must not, however, underestimate the value of the decree. It gave official permission, from the highest possible earthly source, to erect the Temple.

The title ‘the God of Heaven’ and its equivalents was one used to describe YHWH to outsiders, and was therefore the one used by those who were living outside Palestine. Thus it was used by Jonah to foreign seamen (Jonah 1.9), and by Daniel in exile (Daniel 2.18-19, 37, 44; compare also 4.37; 5.23). See also Nehemiah 1.4-5; 2.4, 20. Compare its use in the Elephantine papyri addressed to the Persian governor in Judea.

1.3 “Whoever there is among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of YHWH, the God of Israel, he is God, which is in Jerusalem.”

Permission was also given for all exiles who wished to do so to return to their native land. This was important. Prior to this they had had a certain level of freedom, but they did not have permission to leave the place where they were. Had they attempted to leave the Babylonians would immediately have stepped in to prevent it. Now, however, Cyrus was giving official permission for them to return home. The permission was voluntary. There was no compulsion. But it was valid for all who wanted to return. Note Cyrus’ plea that in the case of each who wanted to return his God would be with him, and it was with a view to YHWH’s house being rebuilt in Jerusalem. Cyrus was concerned to keep YHWH on his side.

‘Which is in Judah.’ The Jewish advisers, and no doubt the Persian officials, would be concerned to ensure that all recognised where the Jerusalem in mind was. This is a touch of authenticity.

1.4 “And whoever is left, in any place where he sojourns, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with domestic animals, besides the freewill-offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.”

Those Jews who did not want to return were nevertheless called on to give material assistance towards the project. They were to provide silver, gold, materials and provisions, and domestic animals. This would include horses, camels and asses for travelling, and cattle, sheep and goats which would supply provisions. The reference to the freewill offering for the house of God may have in mind that it was a freely given contribution towards the building fund, or it may have been a regular amount given freely by many Jews towards the upkeep of worship in Jerusalem.

It must be considered unlikely that the intention was that non-Jews should also contribute towards their welfare, although of course some might, even though some see it that way. There was no reason why they should, unless out of pure friendliness. They probably had no great desire to see the Jews depart.

The Return From Exile Of A Portion Of The Babylonian Exiles Together With The Temple Vessels (1.5-10). .

We are informed of the return of the Babylonian exiles mainly because it was with them that the Temple vessels were restored to Jerusalem, but they were probably not the only exiles who returned. It must be considered questionable whether, in view of the widespread nature of the proclamation, there would have been no other returnees from among the large number who had been carried into exile over the previous two hundred years. But such probably returned in small numbers. Nor did all the returnees from Babylon necessarily return as one party.

1.5 ‘Then rose up the heads of fathers (houses) of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, even all whose spirit God had stirred to go up to build the house of YHWH which is in Jerusalem.’

Once again, as with Cyrus in verse 2, God ‘stirs up the spirit’ of men in the carrying forward of His purposes, in this case the building of the house of YHWH in Jerusalem. This need not mean that all who were stirred went at one time. In view of the widespread nature of the proclamation (see verses 1-3) we can be sure that there were a series of groups which made their way to Jerusalem over a period from different parts. But the concentration here is on those who were entrusted with the Temple vessels. They consisted of priests, Levites, and members of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, whose leaders were stirred in their spirits to respond to the call of God, presumably from among the exiles settled in Babylonia, some of whom had been ministered to by Ezekiel.

1.6 ‘And all those who were round about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with domestic animals, and with precious things, besides all which was willingly offered.’

‘All those round about’ probably signifies Jews who were remaining, those whose spirits had not been stirred up. Many would have settled and become prosperous, and would have no desire to return. Compare in this respect verse 4 where, among other gifts, the freewill offering to the Temple is mentioned, something which would be given by Jews.

But it is probably worded in this way in order to indicate a deliberate parallel with Exodus 11.2-3; 12.35-36, the writer seeing this as a new Exodus. (There is, however, in this case no reason why non-Jews should have given financial support, unless they did so in response to Cyrus’ decree). Note how the list of things also largely parallels verse 4, although here there is a mention of ‘vessels of silver’. This may suggest the memory of an eyewitness, for while the parallels in Exodus 3.22; 11.2-3; 12 35-36 may be in mind, if that were the case we would expect here ‘vessels of gold’ as well as ‘vessels of silver’. ‘Precious things’ are introduced additionally, whilst ‘the freewill offering for the house of God’ are rather expressed as ‘all which was willingly offered’. The differences are against the idea that this verse was simply the composition made by a later writer based on Cyrus’ decree. They rather indicate a contemporary writer who remembers the excitement of the occasion as wealth poured in.

1.7-8 ‘Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of YHWH, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put in the house of his gods, even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.’

In the case of the Jews Cyrus was unable to return their gods to them, for they had no images of gods. He therefore rather bestowed on them the vessels of the house of YHWH that Nebuchadnezzar had appropriated from Jerusalem in order to place them in the house of his gods. He would have seen them as evidence that his gods had triumphed. These were produced ‘by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer’, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the ‘prince’ (recognised tribal head) of Judah. Mithredath (‘given by Mithra’) is a good Persian name, being connected with Mithra, the Persian god of light. The term ‘treasurer’ is a Persian one.

‘Numbered them to Sheshbazzar.’ The Persian treasurer counted out the Temple vessels to Sheshbazzar, the leader of the returning party, no doubt on the basis of an inventory, a copy of which was probably given to Sheshbazzar, who would no doubt have added his seal to both copies as evidence of having received them. They were valuable items and strict account would be kept.

The use of the title ‘prince of Judah’ here (compare Numbers 1.14, ‘the princes of the tribes of their fathers’; Numbers 2.3 ‘prince of the children of Judah’) indicates Sheshbazzar’s position before he was appointed ‘governor’ (5.14) and probably Tirshatha (2.63; Nehemiah 7.65, 70; compare Nehemiah 8.9; 10.1 where it is used of Nehemiah). He was appointed as ‘governor’ because he was the recognised tribal leader of the main secular tribe who made up the number of the returnees. This description again hints at the reminiscence of a contemporary. Sheshbazzar (like Zerubbabel) is a good Babylonian name (Sassu-aba-usur - ‘may Sassu protect the father’). Many Jews had taken Babylonian names, especially if they had gained positions of authority.

1.9-10 ‘And this is the number of them: thirty platters of gold, a thousand platters of silver, nine and twenty censers, thirty bowls of gold, silver bowls of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand.’

The details of the Temple vessels are now given. The terms used would appear to be technical ones, with some unknown to us, but there is no good reason for doubting that these details were taken from an official inventory, something which the use of loan words confirms. The word translated ‘platters’ is a unique one, and with its five root consonants would appear to be a loan-word. There is no certainty as to its meaning. ‘Platters’ is simply a guess. It could equally be another type of vessel.

The word translated ‘censers’ (macalaphim) appears to be derived from the root ‘to change’, or alternatively, ‘to pierce’. LXX translates ‘changes’. It may indicate ‘varieties’. 1 Esdras 2.13 suggests ‘censers’. It will be noted that there is no indication of them being made of metal, e.g. gold or silver, which counts against a type of vessel, even though it is strange as to why knives should be introduced among the vessels. On the other hand it may be that the intention was that ‘silver’ should also apply to these. If these were a special type of type of silver vessel or bowl (seen as of the first sort) it would explain the use of ‘a second sort’ in relation to the silver bowls in contrast. The phrase ‘of a second sort’ translates misnim, which means ‘double’ or ‘second’. Some, however, see this word as indicating that something has dropped out of the text (reading it, for example, as ‘two thousand’). What is apparent is that there were ‘vessels’ of various kinds which were on the whole strictly enumerated.

1.11a ‘All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred.’

It is immediately apparent that this total is far higher than the sum of the figures give. But this is not unusual in such ancient lists where the important items are enumerated with the remainder not being mentioned although included in the total (compare the Alalakh texts). Furthermore we must bear in mind that the use of ‘a thousand’ (occurring twice) may simply indicate ‘a large number’, the common significance of ‘a thousand’ when standing by itself in the Scriptures. Compare ‘the cattle on a thousand hills’ (Psalm 50.10); ‘to a thousand generations’ (Deuteronomy 7.9; 1 Chronicles 16.15; Psalm 105.8); ‘a thousand years’ (Psalm 90.4; Ecclesiastes 6.6; 2 Peter 3.8; Revelation 20.2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). This being so we do not necessarily have to look for scribal errors, although such may have occurred.

1.11b ‘All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when they of the captivity were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem.’

The chapter ends triumphantly. All these vessels were brought up to Jerusalem by Sheshbazzar at the same time as the exiles returning from Babylon were brought up. ‘From Babylon to Jerusalem.’ It was the reversal of the exile. It may be that it was because Sheshbazzar was the one who ‘brought up’ the exiles to Jerusalem that he is not mentioned in the list of those who were so brought up in chapter 2.

A List Of Those Who Returned From Babylon To Jerusalem In The Initial Stages (2.1-70).

In this chapter we are provided with a list of those who returned from Babylon, taking advantage of Cyrus’ edict. This list must have been recorded early on and deposited in a recognised official place (compare Nehemiah 7.5). Whilst it might be our tendency to take a quick look at the list of names and move on we should not disregard its spiritual lessons. We should recognise that:

  • 1). It indicates that God is interested in individuals. He knew the tribal names of everyone who returned. It is a reminder to us that, if we are truly His, we are all numbered by God, and that our names are written in Heaven (Luke 10.20). He has chosen us individually in Christ before the world began (Ephesians 1.4) and recorded our names in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 13.8; 21.27). We are ‘written with the righteous’ (Psalm 69.28; Malachi 3.16).
  • 2). This was a record of those who were most faithful among God’s people, and not one of them was forgotten before God, even down to the lowliest slave. It is the Old Testament equivalent to the roll of honour in Hebrews 11. Out of zeal for God, and a desire for His glory, these people left their comfortable lives in Babylonia for a country that many of them had never seen, in order to rebuild there God’s Temple, and re-establish God’s people. It was not an easy way that they chose. They would face famine and hardship, disease and violence. They would be reduced as a consequence almost to poverty, in spite of their grand houses. But they did it because they felt that God had called them. They knew that it was what He wanted them to do..
  • 3). To the Jews such a list was of deep interest. It stressed the connection of the new Israel with the old, and the preservation of family names and descent. Indeed, it is probable that many took new names, based on the past, connecting them with their history. It was bringing out that God was restoring His people to the land, a people whose antecedents had been clearly demonstrated. These were the very people who had been removed from the land decades before.

It is interesting that Sheshbazzar’s name does not occur in the list of leaders in verse 2 but this may simply be because, having already been mentioned by the writer as ‘bringing up’ these people to Jerusalem (1.11), the writer omits it in verse 2 because those mentioned are the people ‘brought up’, and this even though Sheshbazzar’s name may well have been in the original list. For along with the eleven prominent men named in verse 2, he would then have made the number of leaders up to twelve, indicating that the returnees were seen as representing the twelve tribes of Israel. (The comparable list in Nehemiah 7.7 does have twelve names).

Following these names we find listed the names of the families which returned from Babylon around this time. These were all able to demonstrate from their genealogies that they were true Israelites, i.e. could trace themselves back to pre-exilic times. This is in contrast with those who could not do so (verses 59-60). One importance of this would come out when they sought to claim back family land.

A comparable list can be found in Nehemiah 7.5-73. There are, however, interesting differences and in our view it is difficult to explain them all simply in terms of copying errors, although the possibility of those in some cases must not be discounted. A far better explanation for some, if not all, of the differences is that the two lists represent the list of returnees as prepared on different dates during the first months of arrival, the second one being updated as a result of information submitted from the various clans, because of the arrival of further exiles (e.g. the sons of Azgad). In this updated listing account would be taken of deaths and comings of age, and further arrivals and departures. If Sheshbazzar died in the period between the two lists we have a good explanation as to why his name was replaced in the twelve by Nahamani (Nehemiah 7.7). Indeed, his death and the subsequent appointment of Zerubbabel may have been a major reason for the updating of the list as the position of the new Israel was consolidated. This would suggest that the original list was the one in Ezra, with that in Nehemiah being the updated one. (Compare also how ‘men of --’ and ‘sons of --’ is regularised in the list in Nehemiah in contrast with the list in Ezra). It is probable, however, that the writer in Ezra made slight adjustments when copying the list. One example is the omission of the name of Sheshbazzar in verse 2 because he had already mentioned him as bringing these people up to Jerusalem. Note how, in order to demonstrate this, we have below carried forward 1.11 to also open chapter 2.

Such a detailed list should not surprise us. It was normal practise in ancient days for cities to keep a roll of its citizens, a roll which was constantly updated due to both deaths and births, or coming of age. What is more likely then than that the returnees would decide to maintain a comparative list of adult males who were seen as true Israelites, and subsequently update it, although in the summary form shown here? (That at least one such list was made is demonstrated by Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7). In this case the same basic framework would be retained from list to list as it was encompassing those who had returned from Babylon, with the original list being updated, no doubt on the basis of submissions from the different family groups. That being so the cases where comparative numbers differ by a small amount, something which occurs a number of times, could simply indicate that meanwhile some men had died, or some had come of age, or a combination of the two. The larger differences could mainly be explained, either in terms of new arrivals (e.g. in the case of Azgad), or in terms of departures due to dissatisfaction with the situation pertaining, or in terms of pestilence or violence which in some cases gave a high proportion of deaths. Where numbers alter by a round 100 this could simply be due to a group of new arrivals (or departees) being assessed by some submitters as ‘a hundred’, i.e. a fairly large unit, this being used for convenience in some cases (different approaches may have been taken by different submitters), without there being a strict count, or it may have been a convenient approximation (not all groups would have people in them capable of dealing with large numbers). The final total numbers (which are well above the sum of the individual numbers in all sources), would remain sacrosanct and would not be altered. (It should, however, be pointed out that many scholars assume both lists to be the same, with differences mainly accounted for by scribal errors).

The Pattern Of The List.

The list follows a clear pattern:

  • Introductory material (2.1-2).
  • Number of the men of the people of Israel, enrolled by family association (2.3-20), and enrolled by place of domicile (2.21-35).
  • Number of priests (2.36-39).
  • Number of Levites (2.40).
  • Number of singers (2.41).
  • Number of gate-keepers (2.42).
  • Number of the Nethinim and number of the children of Solomon’s servants (2.55-57).
  • Number of those whose genealogies could not be proved (2.59-60).
  • Number of the priests whose genealogies could not be proved (2.61-63).
  • Sum Totals (2.64-67).
  • Summary of gifts for the building of the Temple (2.68-69).
  • Conclusion (2.70).

As to when the list was compiled there are indications, such as the listing of some by residence, and the reference to ‘every one to his city’ (verse 1), that it was certainly after they had arrived in Judah and settled down. Furthermore the Tirshatha (ruler) is already seen as active in verse 63. It may well, therefore have been a few months after the arrival of the first group, once others had joined them. But the fact that no priest had arisen with Urim and Thummim (verse 63) might be seen as confirming its early date, in that Jeshua would shortly become such a ‘priest’ (High Priest). We do not, however, know if Urim and Thummim were used after the Exile. We have no evidence of it. But we do know that decisions were made by lots, which was a similar method (Nehemiah 10.34; 11.1), and it is very probable that this was done by the priests. This therefore demonstrated that they had again begun to discover God’s guidance by sacred lot. The list would appear to have been compiled by asking the different groups to submit their numbers. This would explain the different designations and descriptions as each group defined themselves in their own way.

Introductory Material (2.1-2).

The listing reproduced in this chapter is of male Jews ‘in the administrative district/province’ who returned from Babylonia.

1.11-2.2 ‘All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when they of the captivity were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem, and these are the males (sons) of the province/administrative district, who went up out of the captivity of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, every one to his city, who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah.’

Putting these three verses together brings out why Sheshbazzar’s name is not mentioned in 2.2. Sheshbazzar has already been mentioned in 1.11. It was he who brought them all up out of the captivity, commencing with the other leaders, and then going on to the full details of the whole. 1.11 clearly links with 2.1. Note the repetition of ‘the captivity’; the ‘bringing up’ and the ‘coming up’; and the reference to being ‘brought up from Babylon’, having been ‘carried away to Babylon’. There is a deliberate linking of the two verses.

The list that follows is a list of those who were brought up by Sheshbazzar from Babylon to Jerusalem. It is an open question whether ‘the province’ mentioned is the province from which they came in Babylonia, or the province to which they came in Palestine. The list is a list and numbering of the adult males of those who had returned from exile in Babylon, (to which they had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar), and had taken up residence in their own cities, taking possession of their own land. They would be sharing these cities with those who had not gone into captivity who would mainly be syncretistic in their worship.

‘The administrative district/province’ may refer to the province from which they came, that is, Babylonia, for while both Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel are called ‘governor’ it is questionable what they governed. For they appear only to have taken responsibility for the returnees, and not for all the people who lived in Judah, the large proportion of whom were tainted by idol worship. There must have been a good number of such people living there prior to the return.

2.2a ‘Who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah.’

The comparable list in Nehemiah 7.7 is ‘Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah.’ With the exception of Nahamani, where the names differ it would appear to be due to alternative names. Variations in names were a common feature of life in those days, where names were seen to express what a person was. The names are closer in Hebrew than in English. Thus sryh (Seraiah) compares with ‘zryh (Azariah); r‘lyh (Reeliah) compares with r‘myh (Raamiah), mspr (Mispar) compares with msprth (Mispereth) the ‘th’ being a feminine ending; rhm (Rehum) compares with nhm (Nehum). Such changes might well have been made shortly after returning in order to emphasise a new beginning. Both Seraiah and its replacement Azariah are well attested names and comparison between 1 Chronicles 9.11 and Nehemiah 11.11 demonstrates a similar substitution. It would appear that Seraiah and Azariah were interchangeable. The replacing of ‘n’ by ‘r’ (Nehum/Rehum) is also well attested (compare Nebuchadrezzar/Nebuchadnezzar). Thus suggesting copying errors should be a last resort although they undoubtedly occurred.

Some of the names occur elsewhere, Seraiah in Nehemiah 10.2; Bigvai in Ezra 8.14; Rehum in Nehemiah 3.17; 10.25; 12.3; and Baanah in Nehemiah 10.27, although not necessarily referring to the same people. Nehemiah and Mordecai were well known Jewish names. Thus only Reelaiah, Bilshan and Mispar (or Mesapper) in the list in Ezra are names which are unattested elsewhere.

As suggested above, if we include Sheshbazzar in the Ezra list, (omitted by the writer as having already been mentioned in 1.11 as ‘bringing up to Jerusalem’ those who were named), the number of leaders comes to twelve. It is possible that he died within months of arrival with the result that Nahamani (see Nehemiah 7.7) replaced him in the list in order to maintain the twelve as representing the twelve tribes of Israel. His early death, after having laid the foundation stone of the Temple (Ezra 5.16), may indeed partly explain why work on the new Temple did not progress. It was he who had directly received the charge to build the Temple.

Zerubbabel certainly at some early stage took over from Sheshbazzar (although not necessarily at that stage officially), for it is he who was responsible for the building of a new altar (3.2), which must have been early on, almost certainly during the first year of the return, and who was prominent when the work of building the new Temple recommenced for a short while in the second year of their return (3.8). He was later described as ‘governor’ when the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah resulted in the final rebuilding of the Temple, but we do not know when the appointment was made, nor over precisely what he governed. Some therefore see Sheshbazzar as an alternative name for Zerubbabel. But while for a Jew to have two names, a Jewish one and a Babylonian one, was common, for one Jew to have two Babylonian names was not.

Zerubbabel (a grandson of Jehoiachin - 1 Chronicles 3.9) and Jeshua (Joshua the High Priest - Zechariah 3.1) are well known to us as a result of their future prominence (3.2; 4.3; 5.2; Haggai 1.1, 12, 14; 2.2, 4, 21, 23; Zechariah 3.1-10; 4.6-10), but the remainder are unidentifiable on the basis of the information we have. Familiar names like Nehemiah, Seraiah and Mordecai simply indicate the popularity of those names in Jewish circles. They do not refer to those known to us by those names. Bigvai would appear to be a Persian name, but Jews in exile undoubtedly took foreign names, and it may simply indicate that for certain purposes, such as trading with Persia, he had found it useful. Apart from Zerubbabel and Jeshua we have no means of knowing their tribal connection as by the time of the earlier destruction of Jerusalem Judah contained families from all twelve tribes. But the fact that this information is not given suggests that it was not seen as important in context.

2.2b ‘The number of the men of the people of Israel.’

This heading probably covers verses 3-35, being subsequently followed by further headings, ‘The Priests’ (verse 36); ‘the Levites’ (verse 2.40) etc. Note that the number given is ‘the number of the men of the people of Israel’, which probably indicates the mature males (those over twenty years of age as in Exodus 30.14). It is probable that the sum total in verse 64 (of 42,360) also includes women, which would explain why it is so much higher than the sum of the ages given (in Ezra amounting to 29,818). In view of the numbering of female slaves and female singers, and even of domestic animals, the women of the assembly could hardly have been excluded.

‘The men of the people of Israel’ is a proud claim. It is stressing that they saw themselves as the ‘true Israelites’, in contrast with those who were still in the land. It may, however, be that those of the Israelites who were still in the land who could demonstrate their genuine loyalty to YHWH and their true genealogy were incorporated in their number (compare 6.21).

Enrolled By Family Association.

Some submitted their numbers in terms of their family name. Those named were probably heads of families who had lived centuries before, to whom the particular group looked back with respect and awe (compare the descent from Immer (2.37) in Nehemiah 11.13), and there are indications elsewhere (e.g. 3.9 with 2.40; and in the names in the list of those who sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah in chapter 10), that there was a tendency for prominent returnees to take the names of their ancestors in order to stress the continuity of the old Israel. Others, mainly Benjamites, were described in terms of their domicile. The list begins with those who were described in terms of family association. Many of these names reoccur in later lists. See, for example, Ezra 8; Nehemiah 10.

  • 2.3 ‘The sons of Parosh, two thousand, one hundred and seventy two.’

    A further group of this clan/family returned under Ezra (8.3). Some of the family were among those who would have foreign wives (10.25). One descendant, Pedaiah, helped to rebuild the city walls (Nehemiah 3.25). One of their number, along with others, "sealed" the covenant of Nehemiah as ‘chiefs of the people’ (Nehemiah 10.1, 14)

  • 2.4 ‘The sons of Shephatiah, three hundred and seventy two.’

    A well attested Jewish name meaning "Yah has judged". See 2 Samuel 3.4; 1 Chronicles 3.3; 9.8; 12.5; 27.16; 2 Chronicles 21.2; Ezra 2.57; Nehemiah 7.59; 11.4; Jeremiah 38.1. A further group of this family would return under Ezra (8.8).

  • 2.5 ‘The sons of Arah, seven hundred and seventy five.’

    For the name compare 1 Chronicles 7.39; Nehemiah 6.18. In Nehemiah 7 the number given is six hundred and fifty two. This might suggest that some had returned to their fellow-Jews in Babylon, or that one hundred and twenty three men had died prematurely, possibly through pestilence or violence, requiring an adjustment to be made in the list used in Nehemiah. The exactness of the difference suggest that the submitter in this case calculated the numbers accurately.

  • 2.6 ‘The sons of Pahath-moab, of the sons of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand, eight hundred and twelve.’

    The sons of Pahath-Moab (‘governor of Moab’) were divided into two families, those of Jeshua and Joab who had possibly been actual sons of Pahath-Moab. Both names were common in Israel/Judah. The ancestor of these returnees had seemingly been governor of Moab when it was under Israel’s jurisdiction. Further members of the clan would return with Ezra (8.4), while Hashub, a "son of Pahath-moab," is named among the repairers of both the wall and the "tower of the furnaces" at Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3.11). Pahath-Moab is the name of one of the signatories who sealed the "sure covenant" of Nehemiah 9.38 (Nehemiah 10.14), although the signatory may have signed in the name of the clan. Some of the sons of Pahath-Moab would take "foreign wives" (10.30)

    In Nehemiah 7 the number given is two thousand, eight hundred and eighteen. The increase is explicable in terms of sons coming of age in the period between the two lists, possibly as set off against some who had died. Alternately a few members of the family may have returned in a party which arrived after this first list was made, a party that was mainly made up of members of the family of Azgad.

  • 2.7 ‘The sons of Elam, one thousand, two hundred and fifty four.’

    The name as such is attested elsewhere in Israel in 1 Chronicles 8.24; 26.3; Nehemiah 12.42. Further members of the family returned with Ezra (8.7). Others were involved with foreign wives (10.26), and one of their number, Shecaniah, was prominent in dealing with the matter (10.2). An Elam connected with the family was a sealant of the sure covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.14).

    Further on in the list Elam Acher (or ‘the other Elam’) is mentioned (verse 31), although there it appears to represent a town. Coincidentally the number returning there is also one thousand, two hundred and fifty four, and this is repeated in Nehemiah 7 demonstrating that if it is incorrect the error occurred very early on prior to the lists being used in Ezra and Nehemiah. But such remarkable coincidences have occurred in history so the number may well be correct. However, the Greek versions have a larger number in verse 31. On the other hand this may simply have been influenced by their not being willing to accept the coincidence. There are a number of possible explanations:

    1). That it is simply a remarkable coincidence
    2). That the compiler of the list wanted to enter the same clan/family in two places, one under family name and the other under district, indicating that he had done this by using the term ‘the other’. (The numbers were not intended to be added up).
    3). That the compiler had asked for lists from both the family of Elam and from the town of Elam, with the submitter achieving this either by numbering the Elamites and halving the total, applying one half to the family and the other half to the town, or by submitting the same total in respect of each.
    4). That a copy of the list was made very early on (prior to its use in these records) with the copyist consulting the original list and in one case selecting the wrong total as his eye ran down looking for Elam.

  • 2.8 ‘The sons of Zattu, nine hundred and forty five.’

    Sons of Zattu were involved in marrying foreign wives (10.27) and one was a signatory to Nehemiah’s covenant (Nehemiah 10.14). In Nehemiah 7 the number is eight hundred and forty five. Once again this may be the consequence of some becoming disillusioned and returning to a securer life in Babylon, or the result of deaths by pestilence or violence. The round ‘one hundred’ might suggest that in this case the one who submitted the alteration used ‘a hundred’ in the regular way of signifying a fairly large group, without being exact (compare Exodus 18.25; Deuteronomy 1.15), this being subtracted from the original total.

  • 2.9 ‘The sons of Zaccai, seven hundred and sixty.’

    This may be the same as the family of Zabbai (qere Zaccai) in Nehemiah 3.20, relating to the repairing of the wall, and the family of Bebai, one of whose sons was named Zabbai, who were involved with foreign wives in 10.28.

  • 2.10 ‘The sons of Bani, six hundred and forty two.’

    The name is used of one of David's mighty men, a Gadite (2 Samuel 23.36); of a Levite whose son was appointed for service in the tabernacle in David's time (1 Chronicles 6.46); of a Judahite whose descendant lived in Jerusalem after the captivity (1 Chronicles 9.4); of one of the builders in Nehemiah 3.17 who was named Rehum, the son of Bani; of one who helped the people to understand the Law in Nehemiah 8.7; of a Levite involved in worship in Nehemiah 9.4 ff.; of a Levite who sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.13); of a chief of the people who did the same (Nehemiah 10.14); and of one whose son was an overseer of the Levites at Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11.22). It was thus a popular name.

    The sons of Bani were involved in taking foreign wives (10.29), as were other ‘sons of Bani’ (10.34), one of those sons was named Bani and another Binnui (10.38). Nehemiah 7 calls them the sons of Binnui and numbers them at six hundred and forty eight. The difference in name is minimal, the one being an alternative of the other. The numbered members of the family had clearly increased by six.

  • 2.11 ‘The sons of Bebai, six hundred and twenty three.’

    Nehemiah 7 has six hundred and twenty eight, indicating another increased family, this time by five. A further group of the sons of Bebai arrived with Ezra (8.11), while one who was named Bebai sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.15). There would later be a town called Bebai (Judith 15.4).

  • 2.12 ‘The sons of Azgad, one thousand, two hundred and twenty two.’

    The name means "strong is Gad". Nehemiah 7 has two thousand, three hundred and twenty two, an increase of eleven hundred. This suggests that a further party of the sons of Azgad had arrived after this list in Ezra was made, but prior to Nehemiah’s list. Further sons of Azgad arrived with Ezra (8.12). Azgad was among the leaders who sealed Nehemiah’s sure covenant (Nehemiah 10.15).

  • 2.13 ‘The sons of Adonikam, six hundred and sixty six.’

    The name means "my lord has risen up". In Nehemiah 7 there is an increase of one, possibly due to someone coming of age. Further sons of Adonikam arrived with Ezra (8.13).

  • 2.14 ‘The sons of Bigvai, two thousand, and fifty six.’

    Compare verse 2. Nehemiah 7 has two thousand and sixty seven, an increase of eleven. Once again the increase could be through men coming of age, and/or as a result of some who had come with the later arrival of sons of Azgad. A further seventy two males would arrive later under Ezra (8.14). Bigvai was one of those who sealed Nehemiah’s sure covenant.

  • 2.15 ‘The sons of Adin, four hundred and fifty four.’

    The name means ‘adorned’. Again in Nehemiah 7 there is an increase of one, probably as a result of a coming of age (or a combination of deaths and comings of age). A further group, led by Ebed, the son of Jonathan, arrived with Ezra (8.6). Adin also was one of those who sealed the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.16).

  • 2.16 ‘The sons of Ater, of Hezekiah, ninety eight.’

    ‘Of Hezekiah’ distinguishes the sons of Ater here from the sons of Ater who were gatekeepers (verse 42). We cannot identify the Hezekiah. Ater was a sealant of the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.17).

  • 2.17 ‘The sons of Bezai, three hundred and twenty three.’
  • Bezai was a sealant of the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.18). In Nehemiah 7 there is an increase of one, presumably through a coming of age, and Bezai, along with Jorah/Hariph, comes after Hashum.
  • 2.18 ‘The sons of Jorah, a hundred and twelve.’

    In Nehemiah 7 these are given the family name of Hariph. Hariph was a sealant of the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.19). Jorah (‘autumn rain’) was probably Hariph’s (‘harvest time’) alternate name.

  • 2.19 ‘The sons of Hashum, two hundred and twenty three.’

    Nehemiah 7 gives a number of three hundred and twenty eight, an increase of one hundred and five. Possibly some had arrived with the later arrival of sons of Azgad, or they may have come in their own party. Sons of Hashum were involved with foreign wives (10.33).

  • 2.20 ‘The sons of Gibbar, ninety five.’

    Gibbar means ‘hero’. In Nehemiah 7 the family is called Gibeon. This may have been because of their connection with Gibeon, in which case Nehemiah 7 appears to transfer them to the list of those enrolled by domicile which now commences. But that that is not so is indicated by his continued use of ‘sons of’ in this verse. (He then changes to ‘men of --’).Thus Gibeon would appear to be an alternative name to Gibbar.

Enrolled By Domicile.

We now come to those families who submitted their numbers in terms of domicile. This may simply have been as a consequence of the choice of the particular submitter, or it may have been though custom. Or, indeed, it may have been because it was easier to prove connection with a pre-exilic town than it was to prove family connection. It may be significant that most of the towns are Benjamite towns, whilst the exceptions, Bethlehem and Netophah, are very close to Benjamite territory. It will be noted that in these cases some submitters spoke of ‘the sons of --’ while others spoke of ‘the men of --’. Each was then listed as submitted. Thus these differences are no reason for not seeing the list as a unity. In Nehemiah 7 these descriptions are regularised so that verses 26-33 (2.21-29) are all listed as ‘men of --’, with what follows being ‘sons of --’. This suggests again that the list in Nehemiah comes later than that in Ezra. It is difficult to see why the regularised pattern should have become disorganised, but easy to see why someone should seek to regularise the pattern.

It should, however, be pointed out that in what follows most, but not all, of the towns and cities are identifiable. Some therefore see these verses as a mix of domicile and family connection.

2.21 ‘The sons of Beth-lehem, one hundred and twenty three.’

Bethlehem (of Judah) was a town nine kilometres (five miles) south of Jerusalem. The name means ‘house of food (bread)’. It was the town in which David was reared, and one of the places in which Samuel offered sacrifices. This is the first mention of an incoming group in terms of its town. In Nehemiah 7 the sons of Bethlehem and the men of Netophah (verse 22) are listed together as ‘the men of Bethlehem and Netophah’. This suggest that at the time of the second list one submitter submitted the increase in the number of the two groups as a combined figure, necessitating the conjunction of the two in the list. In Nehemiah 7 they number in total one hundred and eighty eight, as against a sum of one hundred and seventy nine here. The increase of nine may be due to comings of age, or to a few more of the clan arriving with the later arriving sons of Azgah.

2.22 ‘The men of Netophah, fifty six.’

Netophah was seemingly also in Judah and was the birthplace of two of David's heroes, Maharai and Heleb (2 Samuel 23.28, 29), and also of Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, one of the captains who came to offer allegiance to Gedaliah (2 Kings 25.23; Jeremiah 40.8). In 1 Chronicles 9.16 "the villages of the Netophathites" are mentioned as the dwellingplaces of certain Levites, whilst in Nehemiah 12.28 they are the dwellingplaces of some of the "sons of the singers." Being placed in the list between Bethlehem and Anathoth it would appear to be in the vicinity of Bethlehem, something confirmed by the uniting of the numbers in Nehemiah 7. The change to ‘the men of --’ was probably the consequence of the description used by the one who submitted the numbers. Others said ‘the sons of --.’

2.23 ‘The men of Anathoth, one hundred and twenty eight.’

Anathoth was a town which lay between Michmash and Jerusalem (Isaiah 10.30), in the territory of Benjamin, being about two and a quarter miles north east of Jerusalem. It was assigned to the Levites (Joshua 21.18). It was the native town of Abiathar (1 Kings 2.26), and of the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1.1; 11.21 ff, etc.), and it was in the vicinity of Anathoth that Jeremiah bought a field in order to demonstrate that land would once more be bought and sold in Judah (Jeremiah 32.7 ff). Two of David's distinguished soldiers, Abiezer (2 Samuel 23.27) and Jehu (1 Chronicles 12.3), also came from Anathoth. As we gather here, it was again occupied by Benjamites after the return from the Exile (compare Nehemiah 11.32, etc.). It is identified with `Anata, a small village of some fifteen houses which contains remains of ancient walls.

2.24 ‘The sons of Azmaveth, forty two.’

Nehemiah 7 has ‘the men of Beth-azmaveth’, which suggests the name of a town. Azmaveth was the name of one of David's 30 mighty men (2 Samuel 23.31; 1 Chronicles 11.33), and of the father of two warriors who joined David at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12.3). It was also the name of a descendant of Jonathan, the son of Saul (1 Chronicles 8.36; 9.42), and of one who was set over David’s treasures (1 Chronicles 27.25). No town of this name is known, but there may well have been such a town, (in those days people were often named after the town with which they were connected), and this would appear to be confirmed by the wording in Nehemiah 7.

2.25 ‘The sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred and forty three.’

The only difference between this and the reference to it in Nehemiah 7 is that Nehemiah 7 has ‘the men of --.’ Indeed Nehemiah 7 regularises all the references in regard to cities in verses 21-29 to ‘the men of --’. These three cities (the first as Kiriath-jearim - the city of the forests) were members of the Gibeonite confederacy (Joshua 9.17), and were in Judah/Benjamin (Joshua 15.60; 18.14, 25, 26; Judges 18.12). Kiriath-jearim was on the border of Judah and Benjamin, and was also known as Kiriath-Baal) (Joshua 18.14-15). In Joshua 15.9-11 it was also known as Baalah). It had clearly been a sanctuary of the Canaanite god Baal. It was in Judah, although if we identify it with Kiriath, it was also seen as in Benjamin (Joshua 18.28). It was in Kiriath-jearim that the ark rested for twenty years (1 Samuel 7.1-2). The prophet Uriah, who was martyred by King Jehoiakim in the days of Jeremiah, was born there (Jeremiah 26.20). The site is as yet unidentified. Chephirah and Beeroth were both in Benjamin (Joshua 18.25, 26).

2.26 ‘The sons of Ramah and Geba, six hundred and twenty one.’

Nehemiah 7 has ‘the men of --’. Ramah (‘the height’) was Ramah of Benjamin, near Bethel, in the area of Gibeon and Beeroth (Joshua 18.25). It was here that the Levite and his concubine planned to rest for the night (Judges 19.13). Deborah the prophetess lived close by (Judges 4.5). Here Baasha of Israel built a fortress, which Asa of Judah demolished (1 Kings 15.17, 21-22). It was here that Nebuzaradan gathered the people being taken into exile after the fall of Jerusalem, and from which Jeremiah was released (Jeremiah 40.1). Geba (‘a hill’) was in Benjamin, eleven kilometres (seven miles) north of Jerusalem. Its modern name is Jeba. It was assigned to the Levites (Joshua 21.17; 1 Chronicles 6.60), and from its slopes Jonathan, with his armour-bearer, revealed himself to the Philistines in a daring attack (1 Samuel 14.1 ff.). It was fortified by King Asa (1 Kings 15.22) as on the northern border of Judah (2 Kings 23.8). From here came some of ‘the sons of the singers’ who sang at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12.29). Both Ramah and Geba are both described as occupied by the sons of Benjamin in the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 11.31, 33).

2.27 ‘The men of Michmas, a hundred and twenty two.’

Michmas was also known as Michmash. It was a town in the territory of Benjamin, and its settlement by Benjamites after the exile is confirmed in Nehemiah 11.31. It was apparently not of sufficient importance in the time of Joshua to secure mention in the list of cities given in Joshua 18.21 ff. Michmash first appears as occupied, along with the Mount of Bethel, by Saul with 2,000 men, at the time when Jonathan, advancing from Gibeah, smote the Philistine garrison in Geba (1 Samuel 13.2). To avenge this injury, the Philistines came up in force and encamped in Michmash (1 Samuel 13.5, 16), from which they sent out ‘spoilers’. Saul and Jonathan with 600 men meanwhile held Geba, which had been taken from the Philistine garrison (1 Sam 13:16). During the Assyrian advance on Jerusalem in Isaiah 10.28, they ‘laid up their stores at Michmash, crossed the pass, and spent the night at Geba’. Thus the two sites are fairly close to each other. Michmash is represented by the modern Mukhmas, which is about 12 kilometres (7 miles) North of Jerusalem.

2.28 ‘The men of Beth-el and Ai, two hundred and twenty three.’

The list of Nehemiah 7 shows one hundred less. This reduction in numbers may have been due to an outbreak of pestilence or violence, or it may have been caused by some who were dissatisfied with the situation and returned to Babylon. The ‘hundred’ may not have been an exact number. The submitter may well have simply used ‘a hundred’ as a round number signifying a fairly large number (a thousand, a hundred and a ten were often used to indicate groups of different sizes regardless of actual number, see Exodus 18.25; Deuteronomy 1.15). This would then be used to alter the number as given in the Ezra list to produce the number in Nehemiah. The settlement of Bethel by the Benjamites is confirmed in Nehemiah 11.31.

Ai was east of Bethel, but close enough for both to be seen from a mid-point (Genesis 12.8). Bethel and Ai were the first two towns that the Israelites encountered when they went up the pass after destroying Jericho. Ai was taken but, while Bethel’s army was defeated, Bethel was probably not captured at that time (Joshua 8). Their sites are disputed although we can assess that Bethel (formerly called Luz) was about 19 kilometres (12 miles) north of Jerusalem. Abraham built an altar and offered sacrifices in its vicinity (Genesis 12.8). It was in its vicinity also that Jacob had his dream of the steps leading up to Heaven. It is named as a border town in the lists of both Joseph (Ephraim) and Benjamin (Joshua 16.1-2; 18.13), and was possibly initially shared by the two tribes. The Ark rested there for a time in the early days (Judges 20.18), and it was included in Samuel’s circuit as judge (1 Samuel 7.16). After the division into Judah and Northern Israel it became an important shrine in Northern Israel, and was roundly criticised by the prophets for its idolatrous associations (1 Kings 12.29 ff; Amos 7.13). It became part of Judah in the days of Josiah (2 Kings 23.15).

2.29 ‘The sons of Nebo, fifty two.’

Nehemiah 7 speaks of Nebo as Nebo Acher (or ‘the other Nebo’), and refers to ‘the men of --.’ This difference in name may suggest that what is found in Nehemiah may have been the submission of a different submitter, who used different terms. The town possibly had the longer name of Nebo Acher to distinguish it from Nebo in Reuben (Numbers 32.3, 38). From its position here it would appear to have been a Benjamite town. It may be represented by Beit Nuba, 19 kilometres (12 miles) northwest of Jerusalem.

2.30 ‘The sons of Magbish, one hundred and fifty six.’

These are omitted in Nehemiah 7. No town of this name is known, and it may have been a relatively small one. It may be that these sons of Magbish had decided to return to their fellow-clan members in Babylonia, or that the town had been raided and its inhabitants massacred. Alternately it may have been wiped out by a virulent disease. Some relate the name to Magpiash, one of the sealants of the sure covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.20) which, if it is correct, might suggest that some returned again later.

2.31 ‘The sons of the other Elam (or Elam Acher), one thousand, two hundred and fifty four.’

Compare verse 7 for an ‘Elam’, and see the note there. That may be why it speaks of ‘the other Elam’. On the other hand Nehemiah 7.33 speaks of ‘the other Nebo’ or ‘Nebo Acher’, so that Elam Acher may, on the same basis, be the name of a town. Certainly from its position here Elam Acher would appear to be the name of a Benjamite town (a Benjamite of the name is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 8.24), even though it is at this point that the writer in Nehemiah 7 reverts back to ‘the son of --’. The references to ‘the sons of Jericho’ and ‘the sons of Lod, Hadid and Ono’ appear to confirm that he is still speaking of domicile.

2.32 ‘The sons of Harim, three hundred and twenty.’

‘Sons of Harim’ are mentioned among those who married foreign wives (Ezra 10.31), and we find an Harim among those who sealed Nehemiah’s covenant (Nehemiah 10.27), although it may be that it was sealed in the family name. In Nehemiah 3.11 Malchijah, son of Harim, is mentioned as one of the wall-builders. These ‘sons of Harim’ may well, however, have been named after their town. Such a town is not mentioned elsewhere, but it may have been a small one.

2.33 ‘The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred and twenty five.’

In Nehemiah 7 this comes after the sons of Jericho, and they number seven hundred and twenty one, no doubt due to deaths. Ono and Lod with their ‘towns’ are said to have been ‘built’ (fortified?) by Shemed, a Benjamite (1 Chronicles 8.12). The towns lay in the Shephelah (lowland hills), perhaps in ge ha-charashim, "the valley of craftsmen", and their habitation by Benjamites after the Exile is mentioned in Nehemiah 11.35. It was in one of the villages in the plain of Ono that Sanballat and his friends vainly tried to inveigle Nehemiah into a conference in order to do him harm (Nehemiah 6.2). Ono is represented by modern Kefr `Ana, which lies to the Northwest of Lydda. In the New Testament Lod appears as Lydda. Here the apostle Peter visited the saints and healed the palsied Arenas, and from here he was summoned by messengers from Joppa on the death of Dorcas (Acts 9.32 ff).

2.34 ‘The sons of Jericho, three hundred and forty five.’

Jericho was probably named after the god Yarich. It was in the Jordan rift valley in Benjamite territory (Joshua 18.21), at the bottom of the pass that led up to Jerusalem, and was known as ‘the city of the Palm Trees’ (Deuteronomy 34.3; 2 Chronicles 28.15). It was the first ‘city’ captured by Joshua after crossing the Jordan. Elijah had a school of the prophets there (2 Kings 2.5). The men of Jericho, which was by then only a small town, assisted Nehemiah in the building of the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3.2).

2.35 ‘The sons of Senaah, three thousand, six hundred and thirty.’

In Nehemiah 7 these number three thousand, nine hundred and thirty. This suggests that a fairly large party of them accompanied the later arrivals of the sons of Azgad, or came in their own caravan, the increase possibly being of three ‘hundreds’ using the non-numerative significance of ‘a hundred’. In Nehemiah 3.3 the name occurs with the definite article, ha-senaah, referring to a wall builder. The people may be identical with the Benjamite clan Hassenuah (1 Chronicles 9.7).

Some cavil at the number on the grounds of its size, but it is not so large as to be impossible, if we compare, for example the sons of Pahath-Moab who number two thousand eight hundred and twelve. Archaeology suggests that the Benjamite towns appear to have suffered less at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and Senaah, probably in the Jordan rift valley (it comes after Jericho), was not in the direct path of his advance. This may help to account for the numbers who had survived and been exiled.

Enrolling Of The Priests (2.36-39).

The priests were divided up into four courses, as opposed to the twenty four courses pertaining under David (1 Chronicles 24.1-19). But these four courses would eventually in the future be divided up into twenty four under the names of the old courses. The number of priestly families as a whole amount to four thousand, two hundred and eighty nine, roughly a tenth of the total of forty two thousand, three hundred and sixty who returned, and an even larger percentage of the named families. This was to be expected as they had a greater incentive for returning to Jerusalem. There would be a further addition to priestly numbers when some returned along with Ezra (8.2 ff).

2.36a ‘The Priests.’

The Priests are separately designated as a group. These were able to demonstrate their ancestry, and therefore their legitimacy to act in the forthcoming Temple.

2.36b ‘The sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred and seventy three.’

Jedaiah (‘Yah knows’) was the head of the second order of priests in the time of David (1 Chronicles 24.7). On the other hand ‘of the house of Jeshua’ possibly indicates that a different Jedaiah was in mind, one who was descended from Jeshua, the head of the ninth order of priests (1 Chronicles 24.11). Jedaiah was a very popular name among the priests. For example, two Jedaiahs are named as priests who came with Zerubbabel from Babylon (Nehemiah 12.1, 6-7), who were chiefs of priests in the days of Jeshua the son of Jozadak, the High Priest under Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12.1, 7). Furthermore two Jedaiahs as family names are found in the list of priests who were ‘heads of fathers’ houses’ in the days of Joiakim who succeeded Jeshua as High Priest (Nehemiah 12.12, 19, 21). In this regard we should note that there was a tendency for names to be passed on to grandsons. A Jedaiah is also named as one of the priests who later took up dwelling in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11.10; 1 Chronicles 9/10). A Jedaiah (presumably one of those mentioned in Nehemiah 12.6-7) was involved in the symbolic crowning of Jeshua the High Priest as ‘the Branch’ in Zechariah 6.10, 14.

‘Of the house of Jeshua.’ This would usually indicate that he was a descendant of Jeshua (compare Exodus 2.1; 1 Samuel 25.3; 1 Chronicles 2.55; 2 Chronicles 31.10). Jeshua (‘Yah saves’) was such a popular name that certain identification of this one is impossible to us, although it probably in this context looks back to the Jeshua who headed the ninth order of priests in 1 Chronicles 24.11.

Jeshua was a very popular name. Jeshua was the name of a Levite who lived in Hezekiah’s time (2 Chronicles 31.15). Jeshua the son of Jozadak was the name of the High Priest alongside Zerubbabel (e.g. Ezra 3.2; Zechariah 3; etc), and in this very same list a Jeshua is the son of Pahath-Moab (2.6), whilst another is a head of a Levite family (2.40). Another Jeshua had, along with others, oversight of workmen restoring the Temple in the early days of the return (Ezra 3.9), whilst still another, a Levite, was among those who helped the people to understand the Law in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8.7). It was this latter who, along with others, led worship, and called on the people to worship (Nehemiah 9.4-5), and may have been the father of ‘Jozabad, the son of Jeshua’, whom, along with others, received the silver, gold and vessels for use in the Temple (Ezra 8.33). Jeshua, the son of Azaniah, was one of those who sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.9). Nehemiah 12.10 refers to a Jeshua who came up with Zerubbabel (see Ezra 2.40 above), while a further Jeshua, the son of Kadmiel, is referred to in Nehemiah 12.24 as present at the dedication of the walls in the time of Nehemiah. The famous Jeshua the son of Nun is mentioned in Nehemiah 8.17.

2.37 ‘The sons of Immer, one thousand and fifty two.’

Immer was the name of the sixteenth order of priests in David’s time (1 Chronicles 24.14). Two ‘sons of Immer’, Hanani and Zebediah married foreign wives (10.20). Zadok, the ‘son’ of Immer’, who lived in Jerusalem, helped in the building of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3.29). Also living in Jerusalem was Amashsai, the son of Azazel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, a line (which probably only included prominent ancestors) that evidences the fact that Immer was long dead (Nehemiah 11.13; compare 1 Chronicles 9.12). Jeremiah 20.1 speaks of a ‘Pashhur, the son of Immer’ living before the Babylonian Exile. In 2.59 we learn of a place in Babylonia which was called Immer, the returnees from which could not prove their genealogy.

2.38 ‘The sons of Pashhur, one thousand two hundred and forty seven.’

Pashhur, which means ‘one who splits, one who cleaves’, was a common Jewish name. This is the only name among the four which does not directly tie up with the courses of priests in David’s time. Six ‘sons of Pashhur’ married foreign wives (10.22). A Pashhur, or someone who signed in the clan name, also sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah in Nehemiah 10.3.

We have already seen that a Pashhur who was ‘the son of Immer’ lived before the Babylonian Exile, and treated Jeremiah the prophet very badly (Jeremiah 20.1-3). There was also at that time a Pashhur, the son of Malchijah (Jeremiah 21.1; 38.1; Nehemiah 11.12), and a Gedaliah the son of a different Pashhur (Jeremiah 38.1) who were also antagonistic towards Jeremiah. However, none of these indicate the Pashhur who was the source of the clan name. All that they demonstrate is that Pashhur was a common Jewish name likely to have been borne by a clan chief.

2.39 ‘The sons of Harim, one thousand and seventeen.’

Harim was the name of the third order of priests in the days of David (1 Chronicles 24.8), and this probably indicates their descent from him. In 10.21 the ‘sons of Harim’ covenant to put away foreign wives, and in Nehemiah 12.15 they are listed among the priests who ‘went up with Zerubbabel’. A priestly Harim seals the covenant of Nehemiah, or someone does it in the family name (Nehemiah 10.27).

We have already had ‘sons of Harim’ referred to in verse 32, but they were of a non-priestly family, and there Harim was possibly a town. Some of the sons of Harim also married foreign wives (10.31), whilst one sealed the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.27).

Malchijah, the son of Harim, was one of the wall-builders in Nehemiah 3.11, but we do not know which of these two families that designation refers to.

Enrolling Of The Levites (2.40).

Compared with 4,289 priests who returned, only 74 Levites returned, to which we might add the 128 singers and the 139 gatekeepers, making 341 in all (although it would appear that the writer of the list did not include the singers and gatekeepers as Levites). This ties in with the fact that when Ezra later gathered those who were returning with him he says, ‘I viewed the people and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi’, a situation which he set about remedying (8.15). The Levites were clearly not enthusiastic about returning. This is partly explicable by the fact that as the Levites only assisted the priests in worship, it was something not so appealing as being a fully fledged priest (as 8.15 confirms), and partly by the fact that the priests would have been exiled in large numbers as people of importance, whilst the Levites may well have been seen as ‘the poor of the land’, and thus not exiled in large numbers. The lowly state of the Levites as compared with the priests is brought out in Ezekiel 44.10-31. It is clear from Ezekiel 44 that the Levites bore a large part of the blame for the encouragement of idolatrous worship in pre-Exilic days.

2.40a ‘The Levites.’

Details are now given of the generality of Levites, who would assist the priests in worship, who were among those who returned. This will then be followed by the more specialist singers and gatekeepers, who may not at this time have described themselves as ‘Levites’, although they were originally. We must be careful, however, not to read too much into silence. The musicians are clearly seen as Levites in 3.10, a short while later.

2.40b The sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, seventy four.’

The two orders of Levites who returned are the sons of Jeshua, (the son of Azaniah - Nehemiah 10.4) and the sons of Kadmiel, who was ‘of the sons of Hodaviah’. Nehemiah 7.43 reads, ‘the sons of Joshua, of Kadmiel of the sons of Hodaviah’. The addition, “of the sons of Hodaviah,” is applicable to Kadmiel, in order to distinguish him from other Levites of a similar name. Kadmiel appears to be a typically Levite name. According to Ezra 3.9 Jeshua and Kadmiel were chiefs of two orders of Levites in the times of Zerubbabel and Joshua, who had oversight of the workmen of the house of God. Both played their part in the ceremony of praising God for the return (Nehemiah 9.4-5), and in sealing the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.9) and these names reoccur as names of orders of Levites in Nehemiah 12.8. In the MT a ‘Jeshua the son of Kadmiel’ is mentioned in Nehemiah 12.24.

With regard to Hodaviah, there is no mention of the sons of Hodaviah in the lists of Levites in Chronicles. It was, however, the name of one of the heads of the half-tribe of Manasseh on the East of the Jordan (1 Chronicles 5.24), and of a Benjamite, who was the son of Hassenuah (1 Chronicles 9.7). It was also the name of a son of Elioenai, and a descendant of David (1 Chronicles 3.24). Thus it was a regular Jewish name.

Enrolling Of The Singers/Musicians (2.41).

The singers were a special order of Levites (seen as such in 3.10-11; Nehemiah 11.15-17, but seemingly not designated as such here) who according to 1 Chronicles 6.31-32 had been responsible for leading the singing and musical accompaniment in Tabernacle and Temple worship. Asaph is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 6.39. It would appear that of the singers/musicians, only the sons of Asaph, i.e. members of the musical group of Asaph, returned at this stage. Thus in 3.10-11 we read that at the laying of foundations of the new Temple ‘they set --- the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals to praise YHWH, after the order of David the King of Israel’ (see 1 Chronicles 15.16-22).

In Nehemiah 11.17 three singers are mentioned, Mattaniah, a ‘son of Asaph’, who was the leading one to give thanksgiving in prayer, Bakbukiah, who was the second, and Abda, a ‘son of Jeduthun’. Many see this as indicating that there were by that stage three orders of singers in view of the fact that in 2 Chronicles 5.12 in the time of Solomon the three orders of musicians were stated to be Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun. This would make Bakbukiah a ‘son of Heman’, although in 1 Chronicles 9.15 his ancestry is ignored, as here. So as with the later twenty fours orders of priests this may well have been an artificial arrangement. In Israel/Judah adoption was a common form of descent (indeed a large proportion of Israel and Judah were only children of Abraham by adoption).

2.41a ‘The Singers.’

Possibly more accurately we must see them as the musicians, for part of their privilege was to play the cymbals and other instruments (1 Chronicles 15.16).

2.41b ‘The sons of Asaph, one hundred and twenty eight.’

It would appears that of the three orders in the time of Solomon (2 Chronicles 5.12) only ‘sons of Asaph’ had returned at this stage. It is, of course, always possible that of the musicians only sons of Asaph had been exiled. In 3.10-11 the lead in singing and playing was taken by Mattaniah, a ‘son of Asaph’. In Nehemiah 11.22-23 we learn of ‘the sons of Asaph, the singers, over the house of God’, and they were seen as so important that ‘the king’ gave commandment concerning them, and they had a settled provision as every day required.

Enrolling Of The Gatekeepers (2.42).

The Gatekeepers were another special order of Levites. In 1 Chronicles 9.17 we are informed that in earlier pre-Exilic days the gatekeepers included ‘Shallum and Akkab and Talmon, and Ahiman and their brothers. Shallum was the chief’. These were the ones who dwelt in Jerusalem. Others dwelt in their own towns and could be called on at special times (1 Chronicles 9.25). The gatekeepers were responsible for opening the Temple doors each morning, watching over the chambers and treasuries, having charge of the vessels of service, having responsibility for the furniture, the vessels of the sanctuary, the fine flour and wine and oil, and the frankincense and spices (1 Chronicles 9.26-30).

2.42a ‘The Sons Of The Porters (Gatekeepers).’

Details are now given of the ‘gatekeepers’ that is those who had overall responsibility for watching over the security of the Temple.

2.42b ‘The sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, the sons of Shobai, in all one hundred and thirty nine.’

The gatekeepers are listed in six orders, and in the case of three of them (Shallum, Talmon and Akkab) their descent is from the gatekeepers mentioned above who dwelt in Jerusalem. Of the remaining three (Ater, Hatita and Shobai) we know nothing positive. Their descent was no doubt from those who dwelt in the towns outside Jerusalem. As we saw in verse 16 there were other ‘sons of Ater’, but they were distinguished as being ‘of Hezekiah’. They were non-Levities.

The Enrolling Of The Nethinim (2.43-54).

The Nethinim (given ones) probably had their origin in the Gibeonites who were forced to become ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ for the Tabernacle (Joshua 9.27). Whoever they were they were seen as ‘given to God’. (Compare the same description of the Levites in Numbers 8.16 where the word is ‘nethunim’). They would later be added to by prisoners of war and other slaves, as 8.29 makes clear when it speaks of them as ‘those whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites’. Others were no doubt ‘given’ later by various kings. The Nethinim are distinguished in the list from ‘Solomon’s servants’ (verse 55), but included with these in the final total of two (verse 58), they thus clearly had similar functions. Nevertheless their status was such that they were exempt from taxes (7.24), had their own quarters in Jerusalem (3.26, 31), and took the oath connected with the sure covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.28-31).

With regard to the Gibeonites, many of them had probably merged into Israel and would no doubt for this purpose at some stage have become of those who were circumcised. They might well therefore have been relieved from the most onerous duties, being replaced by prisoners of war and slaves. But there were certainly others who retained their identity as Gibeonites, and they clearly had an element of freedom (2 Samuel 21.2-9). And this at the time when David introduced the prisoners of war and slaves into the Temple. No doubt the slaves and prisoners of war, being required to work in the Temple, were also circumcised, and that not all of them saw their position as humiliating and undesirable comes out in the fact that so many of them chose to return from Exile as compared with the generality of Levites (verse 40), although we do not know how far they were free to choose. Further Nethinim would return with Ezra (8.29). The Nethinim had their quarters in Ophel (‘eminence’), a district in Jerusalem near the Temple and near the old Water Gate (Nehemiah 3.26; 11.21). The only mention of them outside Ezra/Nehemiah is in 1 Chronicles 9.2.

2.43a ‘The Nethinim.’

The families of the Nethinim are now listed. There are thirty five of them (in Nehemiah thirty two), and therefore, in view of the small total number (verse 58), there were a limited number in each family. This ties in with them as not having a long ancestry. The number of non-Israelite names is very illuminating.

As has been stated, whilst having a lowly place among the Temple personnel, these, along with the Levites, singers and gatekeepers, were exempted from taxes (7.24), had their own quarters in Jerusalem (3.26, 31), and took the oath connected with the sure covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.28-31).

2.43b ‘The sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth,
2.44 the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon,
2.45 the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub,
2.46 the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shamlai, the sons of Hanan,
2.47 the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah,
2.48 the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam,
2.49 the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai,
2.50 the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephisim,
2.51 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur,
2.52 the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha,
2.53 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah,
2.54 the sons of Neziah, the sons of Hatipha.’

Tabbaoth, possibly the people of Tabbath (Judges 7.22). Meunim (compare 2 Chronicles 26.7) and Nephisim (compare 1 Chronicles 5.19) may well be the names of enemy tribes (note the plural ending) from which these were captured. The sons of Akkub, Hagab and Asnah are omitted in Nehemiah 7, possibly having returned to Babylonia, or possibly having been wiped out by pestilence or violence (they would be few in number). For Shamlai Nehemiah 7.48 has Salmai (such deliberate transpositions were common with names). For Nephisim Nehemiah 7.52 has Nephusheism, an alternative name. All other variations relate only to differences of form.

The Enrolling Of The Sons Of Solomon’s Servants (2.55-58).

The fact that the total of these was combined with the total of the Nethinim (verse 58) suggests that they had similar duties. We have no specific knowledge of whether they had different duties, although two of the names (the scribes and the gazelle keepers) may suggest that these had a more practical function. The title ‘servants’ is not necessarily derogatory. Those who were the highest in the land could be called ‘servants of the king’. They are not mentioned outside the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, nevertheless it cannot be doubted that they had been in existence in the pre-Exilic period. We have no mean of knowing how, or whether, their duties differed from those of the Nethinim. They are probably included in the exemption from taxes of 7.24, and may well, when on duty, have resided in Ophel like the Nethinim.

It is, however, clear that once the Temple was built on its comparatively huge scale (as compared with the Tabernacle), more ‘servants would be required, something which Solomon no doubt ensured either by the use of foreign captives, or by forcing the Canaanites into such service, having duly circumcised them. Gradually the positions, possibly invidious at first, would have come to be seen as honoured ones. Service in the Temple would have been seen as the highest form of service

2.55a ‘The Sons Of Solomon’s Servants.’

The families of the sons of Solomon’s servants are now listed.

2.55b ‘The sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda,
2.56 the sons of Jaalah, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel,
2.57 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, the sons of Ami.’

There are slight, but immaterial, differences in form between these names and those in Nehemiah 7.57-59. Hassophereth (‘the scribes) become Sophereth (dropping the article). Peruda becomes Perida, Jaalah becomes Jaala, Amon becomes Ami. They are probably simply due to variant spellings. The names Hassophereth meaning ‘the scribes’ and Pochereth-hazzebaim meaning ‘the gazelle-keepers’ may indicate something of their special duties.

2.58 ‘All the Nethinim, and the sons of Solomon’s servants, were three hundred ninety and two.’

A combined total is now given of the Nethinim and the sons of Solomon’s servants. Their ‘families/clans’ were clearly limited in size.

The Enrolling Of The Non-Priests Who Could Not Prove Their Descent From Israel (2.59-60).

These appear to have been settled in the Babylonian cities described although the names of the cities mentioned are nowhere testified to in Babylonian records. This is not, however, surprising as few small cities and towns are. The fact that they stand out as those who could not prove their descent demonstrates how careful Jewish families were to keep records of descent. The main problem that would result from this would be the proving of their right to land in Israel. As they were presumably circumcised they would have the same rights as proselytes to take part in the worship of YHWH, and to be adopted as Israelites (Exodus 12.48). Indeed the fact that they are listed demonstrates their acceptability to the other immigrants already listed, but it is noteworthy that their names do not occur later in Ezra/Nehemiah. They were not called on to seal the covenant, or to supervise the building of the wall in Jerusalem, and so on.

2.59 ‘And these were they who went up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer; but they could not show their fathers’ houses, and their seed, whether they were of Israel,’

The Babylonian towns or districts mentioned are not testified to in inscriptions and records, apart from here. Note the two things that they could not do, they could not trace their father’s houses in Israel, and they could not prove that they were descended from Israelites. This would appear to confirm that the previous names have been names of pre-Exilic father’s houses.

It may well be that these particular people were the product of earlier exiles so that they had been in Babylonia for a long time. Thus the only method they had of attempting to demonstrate their Jewishness was by the naming of cities or districts known to have received exiles from Israel/Judah, combined of course with their circumcision and observance of the Sabbath.

2.60 ‘The sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, six hundred and fifty two.’

The name Delaiah was a good Israelite name. It was the name of a descendant of David in 1 Chronicles 3.24, of the leader of the twenty third order of David’s priests (1 Chronicles 24.18), and of one of the princes who pleaded with Jehoiakim not to destroy the roll containing the prophecies of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36.12, 25). It was also the name of the father of the wary Shemaiah in Nehemiah 6.10. But it was, of course, in itself, no proof of Israelite ancestry.

In contrast Tobiah and Nekoda are not found directly as Israelite names. Tobiah (‘Yah is good’) certainly has connections with Yahwism, but as far as we know was borne only by the Ammonite deputy of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria (Nehemiah 2.10; 4.7; 6.1, 14, 17), who was probably a Yahwist of the debased (idolatrous) kind (4.2), for he named his son Jeho-hanan (Nehemiah 6.17). Nekoda is the name of the father’s house of one of the Nethinim (verse 48), but that may have been a foreign name.

The Enrolling Of The Priests Who Could Not Prove Their Ancestry (2.63-65).

Far more important was the situation of the priests who could not demonstrate their ancestry, for this excluded them from priestly office, and from reception of priestly benefits such as the tithe, and the parts of offerings and sacrifices particular to the priests. They would also presumably be liable to pay taxes. The exclusion was necessary because for a non-Aaronide to participate in the priesthood would have been seen as a major sacrilege (compare Numbers 16). The risk could not be taken.

2.61a ‘And of the sons of the priests,’

Those now mentioned are distinguished from the non-Priests mentioned above. These claimed to be sons of the priests.

2.61b The sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name.’

The name Hakkoz was a good priestly name being borne by the seventh order of David’s priests (1 Chronicles 24.10). It was also the name of one of Judah’s descendants. But clearly the family could not prove its ancestry. However it may well have done so later, for in 8.33 we read of ‘Meremoth, the son of Uriah the priest’ who may have been the same as ‘Meremoth, the son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz’ (Nehemiah 3.4, 21). On the other hand that may have been a different Hakkoz, or a different Meremoth.

Barzillai was a wealthy Israelite, a Gileadite, who assisted David during the rebellion of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 12.31-39). But he was not an Aaronide. The argument of the sons of Barzillai was that they were Aaronides, but that the Barzillai in question had taken the name of his wife’s family, presumably for inheritance purposes. It is clear that at this time the name change was preventing proof of his ancestry. A second consideration might also have been that having inherited wealth he had disqualified himself as a priest in view of the fact that the priest’s only inheritance was to be YHWH (Numbers 18.20). The name Habaiah is not testified to in the Old Testament.

2.62 ‘These sought their register among those who were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found, therefore they were deemed polluted and put from the priesthood.’

It would appear that records of ancestry of the priests had been taken to Babylon by the captives, or may even have been memorised and written down once they arrived there and that when these were consulted no trace could be found of the above families. We can compare with this how the ancestry of the kings of Scotland going back many generations were so memorised, and were repeated at the coronation of kings. A similar example was found among the Arabs. Someone who was visiting an Arab encampment described how an Arab got up and related the history of his forebears going back forty generations, and commented that there were others in the assembly who obviously could have done the same, telling who married and who begat whom, and where they lived, and frequently what they had done, and where they wandered. He said it sounded exactly like a chapter of genealogy out of the Bible. In consequence of their failure to prove their ancestry they were considered ‘polluted’ (not proven as Aaronides and therefore unfit to serve) and therefore excluded from the current priesthood. They would, of course, be accepted as Israelites on the same basis as those above. As they were presumably circumcised they would have the same rights as proselytes to take part in the worship of YHWH, and to be adopted as Israelites (Exodus 12.48). It is striking that no number is given in respect of these. Their status was pending.

2.63 ‘And the governor (Tirshatha) said to them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim.’

The Tirshatha was clearly in control of matters, and it was his decision, not to exclude them for ever, but to exclude them from eating of the priest’s portions until their position could be determined by the use of the Urim and Thummim, utilised by ‘a (High) Priest’. The Urim and Thummim were the sacred lots carried in the High Priest’s breastpouch (Exodus 28.30; Leviticus 8.8; see also Deuteronomy 33.8-10; Numbers 27.21). These would appear to have given the answers of ‘yes’ or ‘no answer’ (no example is known of a specific ‘no’ being given as an answer). See for example 1 Samuel 14.41; 23.9-12; 28.6; and compare their probable use in Joshua 7.16-18; 2 Samuel 2.1. We know of no example of their use after the early monarchy, but that may simply have been because the kings preferred other methods. The Urim and Thummim (beginning with the first and last letters of the alphabet) may have been pieces of wood or stone marked in such a way as to be able to read an answer from them when they were either withdrawn from the pouch, or tossed on sacred ground. Their mention here would, however, appear to indicate that a situation when they would be used might be expected within a reasonable period (certainly the sacred lot is used later - Nehemiah 10.34; 11.1). If this list is a first list, made in the time of Sheshbazzar, as compared with a second list in Nehemiah 7, it would appear that the Tirshatha in question was Sheshbazzar. We can compare the fact that the Tirshatha appears to have been able to decide the use of the Urim and Thummim with the fact that Joshua could do the same through the High Priest (Numbers 27.18-21).

‘The Tirshatha.’ This would appear to be a Persian title meaning ‘governor’. Indeed Sheshbazzar was probably officially appointed as Tirshatha, with ‘governor’ (5.14) being an interpretation of it. The term is also used in the Book of Nehemiah of Sheshbazzar (7.65, 70) and Nehemiah (8.9; 10.1).

The Sum Total Of The Arrivees (2.64).

2.64 ‘The whole assembly together was forty two thousand, three hundred and sixty,’

The sum total of the arrivees who represented Israel comes to 42,360. The male arrivees enumerated above come to 29,818, plus whatever number the defrocked priests came to. That leaves just over 12,000 to be accounted for. But in view of the fact that in the next verse female slaves and female singing women are counted, and in the following verses domestic animals are numbered, it would be quite remarkable if the female members of Israel were ignored. Indeed it would have been a direct insult. Thus we may see them as represented in the remaining 12,000. If it then be argued that 12,000 females hardly suffices when there are 30,000 males we can reply, firstly that many of the males might well have left their families behind, intending to bring them to Judea once they had satisfactorily settled and were confident that they would be able to feed them, and secondly that many of the males who made the decision to come might well have been unmarried. It was the unmarried ones who would be more prepared to take the risks involved in returning. Indeed this lack of females might well have been part of the cause of a number of them marrying foreign wives. But, of course, there would be Israelite women who had remained in the land who would also be available.

Both this list in Ezra and the list in Nehemiah, in spite of its changes, give the same total. But that is probably because the number of arrivees in the initial immigration having been fixed, that was the number that was retained, having become sacrosanct. It is probable that in the second list the women were not specifically counted, but simply allowed to make up the number.

Enumeration Of Their Slaves (2.65).

2.65 ‘Besides their male slaves and their female slaves, of whom there were seven thousand, three hundred and thirty seven, and they had two hundred singing men and singing women.’

These were additional to the assembly of Israel. This very much points then to the fact that these were slaves. Israelite servants would have been counted as part of the assembly. The singing men and women would not be Temple singers, already counted in verse 41, but singers for the purpose of entertainment in wealthy households and for purposes of mourning (compare 2 Samuel 19.35; Ecclesiastes 2.8; 2 Chronicles 35.25). Thus the total number of slaves was approximately seven thousand, five hundred and thirty seven (the ‘two hundred’ might be a round number, for Nehemiah 7 has 245 singers, although that could be because forty five singers arrived subsequently with the sons of Azgad). These would not be Israelite slaves. Such were forbidden in Israel (Leviticus 25.39-41). The ownership of these slaves points to a certain initial level of wealth in the restored community, although this would soon be depleted by famine and robbery (4.4, 23; Haggai 1.6, 9-12; 2.16-17).

Enumeration Of The Beasts Of Burden (2.66-67).

2.66-67 ‘Their horses were seven hundred and thirty six; their mules, two hundred and forty five; their camels, four hundred and thirty five; their asses, six thousand, seven hundred and twenty.’

These are possibly enumerated as evidence of wealth, or because they were seen as having faithfully served the needs of the community on their journey. The camels and asses especially would have been necessary in order to carry the possessions of the emigrants. The horses and mules would have been for the most important to ride on. It is noteworthy that cattle, sheep and goats are unmentioned. This would tend to support the idea that there was in the statement an indication of their gratitude to God in providing them with means of transportation. It was an indication that God was with His people. He had not allowed them to struggle on without help.

It would not be felt necessary in revising the list to renumber the beasts of burden. They did not form a part of the covenant community. It was sufficient to indicate God’s satisfactory provision.

Contributions Towards The Building Of The Temple (2.68-69).

The description of these differs considerably from that in Nehemiah 7.70-72, which does not mention the Temple, but gives greater detail concerning the gifts, especially distinguishing those made by the Tirshatha. The reference to the Temple may well have been because the writer here deliberately altered the text of the original list in order to prepare for what is to follow in the next four chapters, the attempts to erect, and the final success in erecting, the Temple of YHWH. The non-mention of the specific contribution of the Tirshatha may well have been true of the original list, and may have been deliberate on the part of the Tirshatha so that mention of his contribution did not take away honour from YHWH. As a humble and godly man he may well not have wanted his contribution to be magnified. Later when he was dead, those who followed him would feel that they should honour his name as the one who had brought them out of the captivity to the land of their fathers. Alternately the writer behind Ezra 2 may have abbreviated (without altering the substance) in order to make the description tally more closely with the parallel descriptions of the giving at the Exodus, and the giving towards the building of the Temple in the time of David.

2.68 ‘And some of the heads of fathers’ (houses), when they came to the house of YHWH which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to set it up in its place,’

Note the dual emphasis on ‘the house of YHWH’, ‘the house of God’. This is what the next four chapter will be all about, the erection of the house of YHWH. ‘They came to the house of YHWH.’ By this time the Temple mount was seen as so sacred that it could be described as ‘the house of YHWH’, even though His house, as the ‘house of God’ had not yet been erected. Sacrifices and offerings had continued to be made here by dedicated priests even during the Exile. Compare how Jacob could speak of the place where he had his vision and made his offering to God as ‘the house of God’ (Genesis 28.17) even though there was no building there.

‘Some of the heads of the fathers’ (houses) -- offered willingly’ for the purpose of erecting the Temple. The writer possibly amended what was originally written in order to make a deliberate comparison with the freewill giving of the people the Exodus, and the freewill giving to the Temple in the time of David. Thus we can compare how the people of Israel had offered willingly towards the making of the Tabernacle and its furniture (Exodus 25.2; 35.21-22). This may well have been in mind in this description, for we have already seen in 1.4 how the writer seeks to portray this arrival of the exiles as a second Exodus. Furthermore also in mind might be the source behind 1 Chronicles 29.6-9, 29, where gifts were offered willingly for the building of the first Temple. Thus he saw history as repeating itself in the parallel with both the Exodus and the reign of David

2.69 ‘They gave in accordance with their ability into the treasury of the work, sixty one thousand darics (or drachmas - Hebrew: darkemonim) of gold, and five thousand minas (maneh) of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments.’

What was given ‘into the treasury of the work’ (the Temple building fund) was ‘in accordance with their ability’. This is a reminder that God never requires of us more than we are able to give. And the sum total of the giving, in round numbers, was ‘sixty one thousand darics (darkemonim) of gold, and five thousand minas (maneh) of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments’. (Darkemonim is found only here and in the parallel in Nehemiah 7. It may not represent darics. Darics were not introduced until the time of Darius I (521-486 BC). Alternately the writer may have updated the weights). The giving of the priests’ garments was apposite as they would in fact be required immediately at the coming ‘seventh month celebrations, from the first day of the month to the Feast of Tabernacles (3.1-6).

Nehemiah 7 details this giving in more depth, providing more precise information. The abbreviation here from what was possibly in the original record (if it was so) may well have been with a view to not spoiling the parallels with Exodus 25.2; 35 21-22 and the sources behind 1 Chronicles 29.6-9. On the other hand the original record might have given the figures here, with the figures becoming more detailed in the records compiled once the Tirshatha was dead. The figures in Nehemiah amount to forty one thousand drachmas of gold; four thousand seven hundred minas of silver, and ninety seven priests’ garments. Thus the figures in verse 69 are clearly round numbers. There is, however, a discrepancy with regard to the amount of gold. It is possible, however, that the figure here in Ezra 2 includes the gold contributed by those who had remained in Babylonia (1.4). (Alternately it may include the grant made by Cyrus - 3.7).

2.70 ‘So the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinim, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.’

This confirms what was said in verse 1 that all returned to their own cities. The people are listed in terms of previous designations, the priests, the Levites, some of the people (this my have in mind that the remainder were still in exile, or simply that some did not choose to dwell in cities, or that some could not dwell in their cities because they were already fully occupied (e.g. by the Edomites in the south) or more likely that some could not identify which were their own cities e.g. those who were unsure of their ancestry), the singers and the gatekeepers and the Nethinim (with the son of Solomon’s servants included with the Nethinim, as they were in the totals). All these, apart from those who chose not to do so, or could not identify them, dwelt in their cities. Thus ‘all Israel’, as summed up in the previous descriptions, were in their cities. The return was complete. Israel was once more in place in accordance with God’s allocation after the conquest. The summary is a cry of triumph. Israel has been restored!

Whether this verse was in the original list is impossible to state categorically. It may simply be a summary added by the original writer who utilised the list. With verse 1 it forms an inclusio. But it also appears, with slight differences, in Nehemiah 7, which might suggest otherwise. However as what follows in the next verse (3.1) indicates that the writer of Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 were either using a common source, or one was copying the other, and it is doubtful if that verse would have been part of the list, the fact that the contents of verse 70 is cited in both is not conclusive. If Ezra 1-6 had once been a unit on its own, available to both writers, this would serve to explain the parallels, with Nehemiah preferring to use in the main the list that he himself had discovered in the archives.

The emendation made by some English translations of ‘in Jerusalem’ after ‘some of the people’ (in accordance with 1 Esdras) is unnecessary. It goes without saying that some would take up residence in Jerusalem if they ‘returned to their own cities’, but the emendation was made simply because of a failure to understand the phrase ‘some of the people’, so that it was felt that it needed to be explained.

The First Observance Of The Feasts Of The Seventh Month After The Return (3.1-7).

It is probable that this is the first of the major feasts that the arrivees had been in a position to celebrate. (Had they been able to observe a Passover it would surely have been mentioned). Thus it occurred possibly in the seventh month in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia (1.1), or alternately in the seventh month in the year in which they arrived. But the mention of the seventh month is not for dating purposes. It is in order to explain why they now acted as they did. For ‘the seventh month’ was in Israel a month of feasts. First would come the feast of trumpets on the first day of the month, then the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the month (although to be fully celebrated that required the Temple and a Holy of Holies), and then the feast of Tabernacles, which continued for seven days, commencing on the fifteenth day of the month (see Leviticus 23.23-36).

3.1 ‘And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem.’

The gathering of the people to Jerusalem would have been seen as one more evidence that Israel was now continuing as of old. It indicated that the assembly of the twelve tribes was once more taking place. We can therefore imagine with what joy they gathered. It would have made them feel an affinity with the people of Israel at the time of the Conquest, who would also have experienced a similar ‘first time’, when they too were finally established ‘in their cities’. It would appear from this that this was the first opportunity for them to do this subsequent to their arrival in the land.

The mention of ‘the seventh month’ is not for the purpose of dating the passage, but because it would arouse a chord in every reader’s heart in view of its connection with the Feasts of that month. They would recognise that the people had been eagerly awaiting ‘the seventh month.’ ‘When the seventh month was come -- the people gathered themselves together’ does not necessarily mean that they awaited the seventh month before commencing preparations. The point is that the seventh month saw them all gathered in Jerusalem ready for the feasts to begin.

3.2 ‘Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brothers, and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt-offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.’

The non-mention of Sheshbazzar would appear to be fairly conclusive evidence that he was dead, or at least incapacitated. For the lead in what took place was taken by Jeshua, as chief priest, along with his brother priests, and Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, as at least governor-elect, along with his ‘brothers’. That the term ‘brothers’ is to be taken widely is apparent from the fact that the priests have all been described as Jeshua’s ‘brothers’. It may well simply indicate all the non-priestly returnees, seen very much as ‘brothers’. The emphasis is thus on the fact that all involved were in full agreement with what was happening, and indeed saw themselves as involved in it.

And their first act was to ‘build the altar of the God of Israel’. This may indicate that they built it from scratch, but it could equally indicate that they erected it on a primitive altar already there. For even if we had not had reason to think so, it would have been extremely unlikely that such a sacred spot had not been used for offerings and sacrifices during the preceding period. Archaeology continually evidences the fact that veneration of sacred sites continues long after any buildings have been destroyed. That this did in fact take place here is confirmed for us in Jeremiah 41.5; Haggai 2.14.

This ‘building of the altar of the God of Israel’ was in accordance with YHWH’s instructions through Ezekiel whereby he commanded the people to build an altar in Ezekiel 43.13-27, by which to service the heavenly Temple which had descended on a mountain outside Jerusalem (a Temple which was already there, invisible to the normal eye, and not commanded to be rebuilt). This may well have been in the minds of Jeshua and Zerubbabel, and would confirm the legitimacy of the altar. Furthermore such an altar had been authorised in Exodus 20.24-25, for none could doubt that the Temple mount where God had revealed His glory on the first Temple (2 Chronicles 7.1-2) was a place where YHWH had recorded His Name. And had not Abraham himself, on entering the land, built an altar to YHWH? (Genesis 12.7, 8).

The emphasis on ‘the altar of the God of Israel’ (a unique phrase) may be intended to emphasise that the previous altar used since the destruction of the Temple was not seen as being such. In other words it was not seen as legitimate (compare Haggai 2.14). Now it had been replaced by an altar that was legitimate. The previous altar might well have involved syncretistic worship.

In the Law of Moses the phrase ‘the God of Israel’ is used three times and is uniquely connected with the worship of God. In Exodus 24.10 it refers to God when He appeared as the elders were gathered on Mount Sinai to eat before Him, inaugurating Israel as the covenant people. In Exodus 34.23 it refers to Him as the One before Whom the people will gather three times a year. In Numbers 16.9 it is used of God as having set aside the Levites to the service of the Tabernacle. Thus it was potent with meaning.

‘To offer burnt-offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.’ And the aim of this altar was so that they could offer burnt offerings on it in accordance with the Law of Moses the ‘man of God’ (i.e. prophet). Just as their gathering in assembly again fulfilled the Law of Moses, so would the offering of whole burnt offerings on the altar. Such burnt offerings were required during the feasts of the seventh month (see Numbers 29 for details, the offerings beginning on the first day of the month). So there was a great sense of repeating what had followed the Exodus.

3.3 ‘And they set the altar on its spot, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt-offerings on it to YHWH, even burnt-offerings morning and evening.’

‘They set the altar on its spot.’ This would seem to indicate that it was sited where the bronze altar had originally been sited in Solomon’s Temple. They were being careful to ensure that they were following in the ways that God had commanded Israel. And one of the reasons for this activity was that they hoped thereby to obtain YHWH’s assistance against the hostility being shown to them by those who already dwelt in Judah and Samaria. The ‘peoples of the lands’ would be those who had been left in Judah when the exiles had been removed, who resented their coming back and taking back their family lands, and possibly also their religious isolationism, the neighbouring people in Samaria, who seemingly resented the same, and also possibly the Edomites who had taken over the land to the south, to say nothing of other antagonistic neighbours across the Jordan. Thus they clearly felt that by recommencing the worship of YHWH in the proper mode, and establishing the daily offerings, they would obtain YHWH’s assistance in dealing with their enemies.

Then the altar being ready they offered on it burnt offerings in the morning and the evening. This was a great milestone for the new Israel for it signalled the commencement of the daily morning and evening offerings. The establishing of the morning and evening burnt offering, an offering which was required of Israel twice a day in perpetuity (Exodus 29.38-46; Numbers 28.3-8), would have been seen as an important stage in re-establishing the people of Israel. It commenced from the first day of the seventh month (verse 6), even though the Temple had not begun to be built.

3.4 ‘And they kept the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt-offerings by number, according to the ordinance, as the duty of every day required;’

Then (from the fifteenth day of the seventh month) they observed the feast of Tabernacles, in accordance with what was written in the Law of Moses in Numbers 29.12-40. They also offered the daily burnt offerings in accordance with the number required by the ordinance for the seventh month. The details of these daily offerings are found in Numbers 29.1-11. They would include the offerings on the feast of trumpets on the first day, the daily offerings, and the special offerings for the tenth day, for while the Day of Atonement could not be kept in accordance with Leviticus 16, because there was no Temple, the offerings of Numbers 29.7-11 could be offered.

3.5 ‘And afterward the continual burnt-offering, and the offerings of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of YHWH which were consecrated, and of every one who willingly offered a freewill-offering to YHWH.’

And from then on they continued to offer the continual burnt offerings day by day (Numbers 28.3-8), and those of the new moons on the first day of each month (Numbers 28.11-15), and the offerings for all the set feasts which YHWH had consecrated, namely Passover and Unleavened Bread (Numbers 28.16-25), and the Feast of Sevens (Weeks) or of Firstfruits (Numbers 28.26-31), when they became due. And along with these were offered the freewill offerings which were willingly offered by God’s people.

3.6 ‘From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt-offerings to YHWH, but the foundation of the temple of YHWH was not yet laid.’

And this whole procedure commenced from the first day of the seventh month. From then on they began to offer burnt offerings to YHWH, even though the foundation of the Temple of YHWH was not yet laid. This is referring to the foundation commenced in verse 10. In 6.16 we learn of a foundation laid by Sheshbazzar. This would suggest that on first arriving in the land Sheshbazzar had laid a foundation stone for the Temple, presumably so that he could report back to Cyrus that he had begun to fulfil his commission to build the Temple. But of course the work could not then proceed until the necessary time consuming preparations had been made, something clearly delayed, presumably because there were more important things to do, and possibly due to Sheshbazzar becoming ill. Now, with the work planned to recommence further foundation stones would be laid (verse 10). It was the practise in ancient days to have more than one foundation stone.

3.7 ‘They gave money also to the masons, and to the stone workers (and/or ‘wood workers’ and/or ‘carpenters’), and food, and drink, and oil, to those of Sidon, and to those of Tyre, to bring cedar-trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.’

The work could not proceed immediately. Money was given to the masons and ‘the stone workers’ (the word has a wide meaning and could include wooworkers and carpenters) who would plan the work accordingly and list what was required, and then carry the work forward, and meanwhile an order was placed with Sidon and Tyre for them to provide cedar trees in accordance with requirements which were paid for by means of the export of grain, wine and olive oil (compare 2 Chronicles 2.15). The cedar trees were to be conveyed from Lebanon to the sea, and then by sea to the port of Joppa (or ‘to the sea of Joppa’, that is the sea which surrounded the port of Joppa), compare 2 Chronicles 2.16. There appears to be a deliberate echoing of the words in 2 Chronicles 2, which themselves would be was based on earlier sources (compare 1 Chronicles 29.29), with the aim of equating the building of this Temple with that of Solomon. It may not have been as grand, but it was certainly as important. These purchases were all made possible by the grant (the word means permission, but in this case the permission included the resources to carry out the work - 6.4) made by Cyrus, the king of Persia. Whether this grant was the monies described in 1.4, or whether it was extra to this, we do not know. We can compare the further grants made in 6.8-10.

The Preparation Of The Foundations For The New Temple And The Reaction Of The People (3.8-13).

In the seventh month of the first year of their ‘coming to the house of God at Jerusalem’ the returnees had celebrated the feasts of the seventh month. Now seven months later they would commence work on the Temple. In view of the fact that their order made to Sidon and Tyre had probably not yet been fulfilled simply due to the time required for its fulfilment all that they could do was lay the foundations. But they went about that with a will. Sheshbazzar had apparently laid a foundation stone, probably so that he could report back that the work on the building of the Temple had begun, but now other foundation stones were laid and the foundations prepared for when the material arrived. There would probably be a good amount of stones from the former Temple of Solomon to provide them with all the material that was necessary. Seeing the foundations laid would be a great boost to the new community, and we learn in this passage of the rejoicing that took place. Sadly difficulties would arise almost immediately. God expects us to build through difficulties, rather than removing them from us.

3.8 ‘Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brothers, the priests and the Levites and all those who were come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work of the house of YHWH.’

‘Coming to the house of God in Jerusalem’ refers to the arrival of the returnees at Jerusalem where the site of the house of God could be found (see on 2.68). This brings home the fact that the dating in this chapter is calculated from the time of the arrival of the returnees. In the first year of their return, in the seventh month, they had celebrated the seven month feasts on the new altar that they had erected. Now on the second month of the second year of their return they would lay the foundations of the Temple.

The work was to be the work of the whole community, the leaders Zerubbabel and Jeshua, and the rest of their brothers, that is the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem out of the captivity (compare 3.2. The whole community were working as one). And they appointed the Levites of twenty years old and upwards to have the oversight of the work of the house of YHWH. They would be responsible for ensuring that everything went forward satisfactorily. The dual phrases ‘house of God’ and ‘house of YHWH’ are also found in 2.68. The work may have been deliberately begun in the second month as it was in the second month that the building of the first Temple had commenced (1 Kings 6.1; 2 Chronicles 3.2).

The selecting of Levites from twenty years old and upwards was based on what David had done earlier, when selecting those who would work for the service of the house of YHWH. He too had called on the Levites from twenty years old and upwards (1 Chronicles 23.24). It was especially necessary at this time as there were so few Levites (2.40). For ‘to have the oversight of the house of YHWH’ compare 1 Chronicles 23.4 from which (or from its source as outlined in 1 Chronicles 29.29) the phrase was taken. It is clear that an attempt was being made to equate the building of the two Temples, and thus to emphasise that the new Temple was being built in accordance with the words of David, just as the old had been. And, indeed what was now taking place was being built in accordance with the words of a Davidide, Zerubbabel. There is a deliberate indication of continuity.

3.9 ‘Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to have the oversight of the workmen in the house of God, the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brothers the Levites.’

The Levites who were to ‘have oversight of the workmen in the house of God’ are now detailed. The sentence is a little complicated but its essential meaning is clear. They were firstly ‘Jeshua his sons and his brothers, Kadmiel and his sons’. For these compare 2.40. In 2.40 Jeshua and Kadmiel appear to be the ancestral fathers of the clans. This presents us with three options:

  • 1). That in 2.40 it is the contemporary leaders of the clans who are named and not the ancestral fathers of the clans. This appears unlikely, but not impossible.
  • 2). That the contemporary leaders of the clans had, in view of the new beginning, taken the same names as the ancestral leaders of the clans. In view of examples that will follow later this could very well be the explanation. Taking a new name at a time of great crisis (like Jacob became Israel) was a tendency within Israel, and what better names to take at this crisis point than those of the ancestral clan leaders, especially as thereby they emphasised the continuity with the past. Compare how in Nehemiah 10 the covenant appears to be sealed in the names of the ancestral clan leaders, but may in fact have been sealed by men who, as leaders of the clan, had taken the names of the ancestral clan leaders
  • 3). That it was pure coincidence resulting from the fact that names tended in Israel to be repeated in different generations.

Secondly there were ‘the sons of Henadad’, who in view of their position in the sentence may well have held a secondary position, something confirmed by the fact that they are linked with the remainder of the Levites. Later the sons of Henadad would include Binnui (see Nehemiah 3.24; 10.9) and Bavai (Nehemiah 3.18). But that was over ninety years later when there was another Jeshua and another Kadmiel (Nehemiah 10.9), presumably grandsons of the ones mentioned above. Grandsons were, at this time, regularly named after their grandfathers.

‘The sons of Judah.’ Note that Jeshua and his brothers and sons, and Kadmiel and his sons are called ‘sons of Judah’. This is the only use of the term in Ezra. Here it does not mean that they were descended from Judah the patriarch, but that they essentially belonged to, and were a part of, Judah the people (1.2, 3; compare ‘the sons of Israel’ in Deuteronomy 23.17). All the returnees, without exception, could be seen as ‘sons of Judah’, that is, as belonging to Judah the people, even those who were sons of Levi, Benjamin or other tribes. The term is stressing the oneness of the returnees.

Many, not liking this idea, have suggested an emendation of the text. In 2.40 Kadmiel is described as being ‘of the sons of Hodaviah ‘ and it is therefore suggested that that should be read here (bnyhwdwyh instead of bnyyhwdh). But we must always remember that in the days of the Temple the copyists knew the text by heart and would not just be copying a text but would be copying it as those who knew in their heads the words that they were copying. In those circumstances copying errors were far less likely, although clearly not impossible.

3.10 ‘And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of YHWH, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise YHWH, after the order of David king of Israel.’

Here the huge significance of the laying of the foundations is emphasised. It was accompanied by priests with their trumpets, dressed in their priestly apparel (2.69), and Levites with their cymbals, as they praised YHWH for the ‘miracle’ that had happened. For the trumpets and cymbals compare 2 Chronicles 5.12 where they had similarly celebrated the completion of the first Temple. See also 2 Chronicles 7.6. The same instruments had celebrated the bringing of the Ark into Jerusalem in the days of David (1 Chronicles 15.28). It was seen, as it was, as an historic moment. YHWH’s house was being restored. The materials necessary for building had probably not yet arrived. The work would not be able to go on for some time. But the very fact of having laid the foundations was a triumph beyond what ten years earlier they could even have dreamed of. It was an event in itself.

‘After the order of King David (in the manner prescribed by King David).’ Note the emphasis of continuity with what David had done. What David had done was being continued. God’s work was again going forward. The writer was no doubt anticipating that God would work again in the same way as he had through David, who was seen as the pinnacle of Israel’s history. He clearly had in mind the promises of the coming of a future David (Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4; Jeremiah 23.5; 30.9; 33.15; Ezekiel 34.23-24; 37.24-25).

‘To praise YHWH.’ We must not let this fact get lost in the midst of the detail. They were set forward to praise YHWH. There was a huge feeling of praise and gratitude and worship. God was doing great things. They would later no doubt feel disappointed that things did not happen as quickly as they had hoped, but at this point in time they were full of praise and confidence. But God does not always work in accordance with our expectations.

3.11 ‘And they sang one to another in praising and giving thanks to YHWH, saying, “For he is good, for his lovingkindness endures for ever towards Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised YHWH, because the foundation of the house of YHWH was laid.’

The enthusiasm of the moment comes out here. There were huge celebrations because the foundations of the house of YHWH had been laid. They no doubt saw everything as now going forward without a hitch. Sadly it was to be otherwise. But they were not aware of that at the time. The scene is contagious:

  • ‘They sang to one another in praising and giving thanks to YHWH.’ We can see the joy on their faces as they looked at one another as they sang His praise. They were all in it together.
  • ‘They shouted with a great shout.’ It was a moment of great triumph.
  • ‘They praised YHWH.’ Their worship was genuine. Their hearts were full of thanksgiving and praise as they considered what He had done.

The ideas behind the words they sang ‘for He is good, for His covenant love is always towards Israel’ are common in the Psalms. See Psalms 100.4-5; 106.1; 107.1; 118.1; 136.1. But here they stress that it was especially being shown towards His people, Israel.

3.12-13 ‘And many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, the old men who had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.’

Those who were older, who had seen the first Temple, wept. This may have been because they were so emotionally moved at the thought that it was being restored that they broke forth into weeping, just as women tend to weep at weddings (the Jews were an emotional people), or it may have been because, as they looked at the foundations they were aware that it would not quite come up to the magnificence of the old (compare Haggai 2.3). In view of the fact that only the foundations were to be seen we suspect it was probably the former rather than the latter. The later despondency (Haggai 2.3) should possibly not be read back into this moment. But we are left to make our own decision on that. It may well be that they were disappointed as to its size. But however that may be, the shouts of joy exceeded the sound of weeping, so much so that the one could not be discerned from the other. Indeed their shouts of joy were so loud that they could be heard a long way off. There is probably a double meaning in these last words. They were, of course, literally true. But the writer will now go on to point out that they were also eventually ‘heard’ by their enemies.

The Enemies Of The Returnees Of Judah And Benjamin Seek To Hijack The Building Of The Temple (4.1-5).

When they learned that work was beginning on the building of the Temple, the syncretistic Yahwists round about, who worshipped Baal and Asherah, and other gods alongside YHWH, sought to become a part of the enterprise. Had they been permitted to do so they would no doubt have taken it over and the result would have been a syncretistic Yahwism which included all the elements which were displeasing to God, and which would have included the introduction of priests who were not of the line of Aaron. The question was not a race one, but a religious one. And it was vital. The future of Yahwism was at stake. It is a reminder to us that we should beware of whom we align ourselves with.

4.1 ‘Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity were building a temple to YHWH, the God of Israel,’

Those who approached with the request to have a part in the building of the Temple would not have appeared to be enemies, and would probably not have seen themselves as enemies. Their offer was no doubt genuine, although it unquestionably had a hidden agenda. They did not want to become Yahwists of a type represented by the returnees. They wanted a comfortable Yahwism of the kind that they had long enjoyed, one that made few demands and that allowed them their pagan festivities and their revels in the mountains. It was only when their offer was rejected that they outwardly became enemies. But the writer discerned things clearly when he recognised that from the start their position was one of opposition to all that the returnees now held dear, the uniqueness of YHWH, and the importance of eschewing idolatry. For these were the two things that they would have undermined.

Some explanation has to be found for the bitter enmity that then ensued, for the writer goes on to demonstrate how bitter that enmity was, and how long it lasted, and how great the steps were that they were prepared to take in order to undermine the returnees. And this can only lie in the fact that they saw the purity of the faith of the returnees as a constant rebuke to their own ways. Had they been able to bring the returnees down to their level they would have been happy. But the constancy of the returnees was a continuing rebuke to them, and it brought home to them shallowness of what they themselves believed in. And that they could not stomach.

4.2 ‘Then they drew near to Zerubbabel, and to the heads of fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you; for we seek your God, as you do; and we sacrifice to him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.”

The opposition was mainly headed up by the leaders of the region of Samaria, as their argument reveals. Politically it was therefore powerful opposition, for up to this point of time they had had responsibility for Judah in its position within the governorship of Samaria, and possibly did still have such a responsibility, although having to defer to the leaders of Judah in local matters to do with the returnees, something which probably irked them. As appointed rulers they would also have had great influence with the kings of Persia on local matters. So it must have been tempting to yield to their request and curry their favour.

The argument seemed reasonable enough, but, of course, veiled the truth. They claimed to seek God as the returnees did. But it was not so. Alongside YHWH they worshipped other gods, and the priests were illegitimate from a covenant point of view, and were undoubtedly syncretistic (see 2 Kings 17.24-41). Furthermore their move may well have been a political one. Partial control of the Temple and its worship would have ensured their supremacy in local matters.

‘We sacrifice to him.’ Literally, ‘to Him we sacrifice’. Lo’ (to him) is a variant form of low (to him), a variant which is also found elsewhere. It can, however, also signify ‘not’, and some would argue that they are saying that ‘we have not sacrificed (i.e. legitimately) since the days of Esarhaddon’, hoping thereby to appeal to the orthodoxy of the returnees. But the position of lo’ in the sentence points to the meaning ‘to him’, which makes the better sense, for they would certainly have offered sacrifices during the period.

‘Since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.” The original settlers had been settled in the days of Sargon II, not long after the destruction of Samaria in 722 BC.. It may therefore simply be that ‘the adversaries’ had their history wrong. But the transportation of peoples was a major Assyrian policy, no doubt continued by Esarhaddon (681-669 BC), so that it is quite likely that some of the inhabitants of Samaria had been transported there by Esarhaddon, whilst others were transported out. We do know from historical texts that he was active in the area. The general picture was therefore probably a true one, with the population of Samaria being supplemented by transportees in the days of Esarhaddon, with other elements removed and transported elsewhere.

4.3 ‘But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ (houses) of Israel, said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves together will build to YHWH, the God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.’

The reply of the leadership of the returnees (Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers) was straight and direct, and theologically necessary. To have acceded would have destroyed all that they were seeking to do in re-establishing the true covenant of YHWH. Note that the decision was a cumulative one. It was made by Zerubbabel and Jeshua in consultation with ‘the heads of the fathers’, that is with those who had authority among the different families represented among the returnees. And it was decisive. It pointed out they it was the returnees who had been given authority by Cyrus to build the Temple of ‘the God of Israel’, an important political point, for to have ignored it could have put them in the wrong with the Persian authorities. After all Cyrus had laid down strict regulations about its building (6.3-5) and had given to them the Temple vessels in recognition of what they were to do. Politically therefore it was their responsibility. It had nothing to do with anyone else. They had been given the responsibility, and they, and they alone would ensure its fulfilment. However, there can be no question but that they also recognised the dangers involved in including outsiders in the project, outsiders whose ideas of Yahwism were very different from their own. Had they acceded the Temple and its worship would once again have become things of compromise.

We have a good example of what might have happened if we compare the situation with the worshippers at the Jewish Temple built at Elephantine (in Egypt), which we know about from papyri coming from 5th century BC. There Yahu (YHWH) was worshipped, but it was alongside Ishum-bethel, Anath-bethel, Anath-yahu, and Herem-bethel. Anath was a well known Canaanite goddess and was probably here seen as, among other things, the consort of Yahu. The Temple was destroyed by the Egyptians in 410 BC, and an appeal was made to the Persian representative in Jerusalem, and to the Temple authorities (in which only Yahu’s name was used), seeking their assistance in obtaining permission to rebuild it. When there was no reply a further appeal was made to the Persian governors of Jerusalem and Samaria. We do not know if the Temple was ever rebuilt, but it was certainly syncretistic.

4.4-5 ‘Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.’

This refusal to allow their participation in the building of the Temple did not please ‘the people of the land’ that is those people who had been in Samaria and Judah before the arrival of the returnees, thus a wider group than just the people of Samaria. No doubt stirred up by the people of Samaria they all recognised that the attitude of the returnees excluded them from Temple worship on their own terms. It was not that they were totally excluded. The returnees would unquestionably not have refused to acknowledge those who truly sought YHWH in accordance with the Law of Moses, as is made clear in 6.21. What they refused was those who sought to worship Him outside that Law, in accordance with their own ideas. It was not only the people of Samaria who were syncretistic. Such syncretism was widespread, as it had been in the days of Jeremiah (e.g. Jeremiah 7.30-31; 19.4-5; 32.34-35). The purity of the Temple and its worship was therefore the first concern of the returnees.

Thus the people of the land began to ‘weaken the hands’ of those who sought to build. They used all means. They combined the use of violence against them with political trickery. They not only made life difficult for them by direct means such as keeping them in constant fear of attack, and causing trouble for them wherever they could (a few burned fields and attacks on their properties would soon turn their minds to other things), but also hired experts to act with the Persian authorities in order to block the work that was going on. Details of some of these attempts will shortly be outlined, attempts which went far beyond just the question of the Temple, and which continued on until the days of Nehemiah, but they clearly commenced quite early on, although as the writer had no direct information concerning the earliest attempts he does not provide any details of them. What he does seek to demonstrate is that opposition to the returnees was so long lasting, that he was justified in calling them ‘enemies’, and that the returnees were therefore justified in rejecting their offer.

We note that these attempts commenced in the days of Cyrus, ‘all the days of Cyrus’ clearly covering a good part of his reign, and thus initially that we are dealing with a fairly long period before the recommencement of the work on the Temple in the days of Haggai and Zechariah, which occurred in the reign of Darius I. For they went on until that reign. Here we have an explanation of why the work on the Temple ceased for so long. It was largely due to the activities of these adversaries. In the days of Darius, however, the plan of the adversaries backfired, for it resulted in new authorisation for the building of the Temple, and financial provision for the purpose (6.6-12). The Subsequent History Of The Enmity Revealed Against The Returnees Up To The Time Of Nehemiah (4.6-23).

What follows up to verse 23 goes beyond the question of building the Temple. The writer now wishes to bring out precisely how dangerous these adversaries would in the future prove to be, and how long lasting was their enmity. Their attitude was to be seen as not just a temporary one, but as a constant one, which would grow ever more belligerent, would seek to frustrate all that the returnees tried to do, and would finally result in the intervention of the King of Persia himself. So he takes up the question of their continuing opposition, and ignoring chronology as being of secondary importance (he will turn back to the question of the building of the Temple in 4.24), he deals with the question of how their opposition would continue long after the building of the Temple.

What he is here dealing with and explaining is the continuing work of the hired experts who would go on with their activities for a long time, a work which had in view getting the returnees into trouble with the Persian authorities. This process would continue long after the building of the Temple. God’s people were to be allowed no rest. And the writer uses these examples because they were ones of which he had written details. We may presume hat he had no written evidence of earlier attempts. It is an indication of the hand of God at work that these attempts did not frustrate His purposes, although they did no doubt frustrate His suffering people. But one good thing it did do. It kept the returnees firmly to their purpose. There is nothing like opposition for the stiffening of resolve. Tribulation works patient endurance, and patient endurance produces expectancy, and that expectancy will not fail if it causes us to look truly to God (compare Romans 5.2-5).

4.6 ‘And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.’

The opposition continued on over a long period. One major attempt to put the returnees in the wrong was made in the reign of Ahasuerus, that is of Xerxes I (486-465 BC), who took Esther as one of his wives. This was at least thirty years after the building of the Temple had been completed. And at that time an accusation was written against the returnees. But it clearly came to nothing.

4.7 ‘And in the days of Artaxerxes (Hebrew: Artachshasta) wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of his companions, to Artaxerxes king of Persia, and the writing of the letter was written in Aramaic (characters), and set forth in the Aramaic (language)’

Another attack was made in the days of Artaxerxes, the king of Persia (old Persian arta-zxa-ra) (464-423 BC), who followed Xerxes I and was in the end the king who sent Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It is clear that the writer had obtained full details of what had occurred. He even knew the names of the experts responsible. He describes them as ‘Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of his companions’. Mithredath is a Persian name (see 1.8) while Tabeel is an Aramaic name (compare Isaiah 7.6).

Alternatively the word Bishlam, if repointed can signify ‘in peace’ (be shalom), and it is so translated in LXX. Thus we could render ‘in the days of Artaxerxes, with the agreement of Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his companions wrote to Artaxerxes --’.

These ‘wrote to Artaxerxes in Aramaic script using the Aramaic language’. But this information is rather superfluous. It would have been sufficient to say that it was written in Aramaic. Naturally someone using Aramaic would write in the Aramaic script. So alternately this may be translated as, ‘the writing of the letter was written in the Aramaic script but translated’, in other words it was translated into Hebrew using the Aramaic script. The change to using the Aramaic script for Hebrew records occurs around this time. It may be that it was because the copy he had was in Hebrew but in Aramaic script that he did not include its contents, not wanting to confuse his readers.

The second ‘Aramaic’ will then be a signpost standing on its own and indicating that what follows is in Aramaic, and is so until 6.18. This continued use of Aramaic may well have been because he wanted to present the original records which he will now call on, in the original Aramaic, but did not want to cause unnecessary confusion by switching to Hebrew for the explanatory verses. This would tie in with what we have suggested above about why the previous letter was not cited because it was a document translated into Hebrew but written in Aramaic script. We must remember that both he and his anticipated readers were equally fluent in Aramaic. In this regard we should note that the Aramaic section is in a Hebrew envelope. 4.1-7 is in Hebrew, as is 6.19-22. What comes in between is in Aramaic. This was much more tidy than a constant switching between Hebrew and Aramaic, and especially so if we see chapters 1-6 as the work of one writer, possibly even Ezra himself, with chapters 7-10 dealing with the work of Ezra, and including the Ezra first person memoirs (7.27-9.15).

Furthermore there may be the intention of indicating that all that occurs in 4.8-6.18 does so at the behest of the Persian Empire. It is outside the control of the returnees. But in the end it is an indication that God controls the Persian Empire.

Once again nothing appears to have come of the accusation against the returnees, which appears to have petered out without any repercussions.

Written In Aramaic: 4.8 to 6.18.

4.8 ‘Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this manner,’

The third attack was made by Rehum the chancellor (literally ‘lord commander’, high government official) and Shimshai the scribe (secretary). Rehum was probably a high official of a type typical of Persian rule, whose responsibility was to write directly to the king concerning matters that occurred in his area. He now wrote to Artaxerxes laying accusations against Jerusalem, no doubt stirred on by the adversaries spoken of earlier (verse 1), who had manufactured a case against the returnees. Artaxerxes was the king who sent Ezra the Scribe to the assistance of the returnees, and later Nehemiah himself, so he was not anti-Jewish.

4.9-10 ‘Then (wrote) Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions (colleagues), the Dinaites, and the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Shushanchites, the Dehaites, the Elamites, and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar brought over, and set in the city of Samaria, and in the rest of the country beyond the River.’

This would appear to be the preamble to the letter, a kind of official heading describing who were responsible for its contents. It would head up the letter, and is typical of Aramaic correspondence at the time.

‘Then.’ The word stands on its own and we might expect it to be followed by a verb like ‘wrote’. It may here, however, simply stand on its own and signify ‘this is the result’ or ‘as follows’.

Those responsible for the letter are then described. The names that follow Rehum and Shimshai are those of peoples who had been transported to the area by the Assyrians. They are here represented as having been transported by ‘the great and noble Os-napper’, (As-nipal as an abbreviation of Ashur-bani-pal, which is then revocalised, with r becoming l under Persian influence), but reference to such a transportation may have been a simplification (compare verse 2 where Esar-haddon was cited, presumably because those who led that deputation had been transported by Esar-haddon). A first transportation had taken place under Sargon II when the Israelites were replaced by peoples from Babylon, Cuthah, Avar, Hamath and Sepharvaim (2 Kings 17.24), and a further transportation both in and out had occurred under Esarhaddon (see 4.2). The Assyrians believed that by moving people around they could stop them from establishing roots, and thus becoming a danger. But we certainly do know that Ashur-bani-pal campaigned in this area in 640-639 BC, against a rebellion that had broken out, and at such a time transportations, both in and out, were likely. It was continuing Assyrian policy. Thus the peoples described were what remained in the area after these different transportations, presented succintly as being transported by Ashur-bani-pal (they would not want to go into full detail).

‘The Dinaites.’ This can be repointed as meaning ‘the judges’ (there was no pointing in the ancient texts, only the consonants, so that it is not altering the original text). That would serve to bring out that the opposition was clearly high-powered. ‘And the Apharsathchites’. This may signify ‘the envoys’ or ‘the inspectors’. Thus two important groups of officials would be seen as adding their weight to the letter. It is an indication of how deep and widespread was the opposition to the Jews.

The names that follow are then listed without conjunctions, and are the names of peoples. Note among them the ‘Babylonians’ and ‘Elamites’, both well known from elsewhere. The aim is to bring out the widespread nature of the complainants. This was to be seen as no petty quarrel. All were to be seen as in agreement, and concerned for the welfare of the king as his noble subjects. Then comes the sweeping up statement, ‘and the rest of the nations’. By this time those ‘nations’ were a real mixture.

‘The great and noble Os-napper’. Os-napper is the Hebrew rendering of Ashur-bani-pal, and consists of As-nipal as an abbreviation of the name, which is then revocalised, with r becoming l under Persian influence. They wanted the king of Persia to know that they had never borne any grudge against their overlords, but rather respected and admired them, as, of course, they did him. They wanted him to think that they saw Ashur-bani-pal (Os-napper) as ‘great and noble’, implying by that, that that was also how as they saw the present king of Persia.

‘And set in the city of Samaria, and in the rest (of the land) beyond the River.’ These peoples had been set in Samaria and in the land west and south of the Euphrates. ‘Beyond the River’ was the name given to these lands which included Syria and Palestine. They were controlled by a Persian satrap, who was also at one stage satrap of Babylon, to whom the various ‘governors’ were responsible.

4.11a ‘And now this is the copy of the letter which they sent to Artaxerxes the king.’

These word introduce the main body of the letter. It is by these words written here in verse 11a that the main body of the letter is distinguished from the preamble.

4.11b “Your servants the men beyond the River.”

The preamble having provided the full details the opening address can be made in a few words. All the kings subjects were seen as his ‘servants’ from the greatest to the least, and they want him to know that it is as his ‘servants’ that they are writing. The aim will now be to demonstrate to the king how dangerous the returnees are. We must recognise that the details that we know would not be known to the king. All he would have to go on was past records and the advice passed on to him by these officials who represented a seemingly formidable group.

4.12 “And now be it known to the king, that the Jews who came up from you are come to us to Jerusalem. They are building the rebellious and the bad city, and have finished the walls, and repaired the foundations.”

They want the king to realise what ‘the Jews who came up from you’ are doing. ‘The Jews who came up from you’ probably refers to the group who had come with Ezra which would still be at the back of his memory. They wanted him to see this group as a group of rebels who, as soon as they were out of the king’s sight, determined on rebellion. It would not have been so convincing to represent as rebels people who had already been there for over fifty years without causing any trouble, but a people stirred up to religious zeal by a formidable person like Ezra was a different matter. The point being made is that these newcomers have immediately set about building and fortifying Jerusalem. (Their charge would have had no teeth if it was the building of the Temple that was in mind).

Note their description of Jerusalem as ‘the rebellious and the bad city’. They wanted it immediately to have a tainted reputation. ‘And have finished the walls and repaired the foundation.’ This was no doubt an exaggeration. The reference to the repair of the foundations, would appear to indicate that the work on the walls was still going on, but they were far from finished, and it was, of course, due to behaviour like theirs that the walls were needed. It was they and their associates who threatened the peace of the people of Judah, not the other way round. We can compare with this the dangers from outside attack that Nehemiah would have to face when he rebuilt the walls, even though that was specifically under the authorisation of the king.

Their accusations would have been reinforced by the fact that the Persians had been experiencing trouble from the region. Ezra and his party had arrived in 458 BC. In 448 BC Megabyzus, the satrap of the province Beyond The River, raised up a revolt against Persia. If these people who were writing the letter, who may not have been involved in that rebellion, could give the impression that Jerusalem was intending to join in this revolt, it would clearly add emphasis to their letter. There was also trouble in Egypt which had been going on for some years, and was not finally put down until 454 B, four years after the arrival of Ezra. Jerusalem would be known from Babylonian records as often causing trouble in collusion with Egypt. In both cases tribute would have been withheld. Thus to a king ruling far away in Persia, who was uneasy about the region, any seemingly warlike act could have been seen as a danger.

4.13 “Be it known now to the king, that, if this city is built, and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or rent, and in the end it will be hurtful to the kings.”

They fed the king’s fears by pointing out that if the people of Jerusalem were allowed to make themselves secure by completing the defences, (thereby giving a clear indication that the walls were not yet finished), their next step would be to withhold ‘tribute, customs duties and rent’ (these are loan words from Akkadian and their exact equivalent is not known). And this would obviously be hurtful to the wellbeing and wealth of all future kings. The accumulation of wealth was one of the reasons for establishing an empire.

4.14 “Now because we eat the salt of the palace (literally ‘because we have salted the salt of the palace’), and it is not fitting for us to see the king’s dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king,”

They wanted the king to recognise that they had no ulterior motive for their actions, and that they were writing solely due to their deep sense of loyalty to the king because having partaken of the royal benefits, they had a deep sense of what was owed to the king. To eat of someone’s salt, that is to receive their hospitality, was in ancient times to seal friendship, and give an assurance of peaceful intent. To act dishonourably after partaking of hospitality was deeply frowned on. Thus the king could be sure that their friendship and loyal support was genuine. Indeed, they wanted him to know, that it was precisely because they had such a deep sense of loyalty to him, that they had written to the king and certified what was going on. This does not necessarily signify that they had actually enjoyed hospitality at the king’s palace, although some of the leaders may well have done so when taking tribute, but simply to give that impression and indicate that they saw the benefits that they received from the king as putting them in the same position. Their words were enough to warm the heart. Who could refuse to be grateful for such touching loyalty? It was, of course, mainly pure pretence, but if they had in fact refrained from taking part in a rebellion (see above), it would have added emphasis to their claim.

In MT the words are ‘since we have salted the salt of the palace’, and this, repointed without altering the consonants, could be translated, ‘since our salt is the salt of the palace’. Solemn pledges were often linked with salt (Leviticus 2.13; Numbers 18.19; 2 Chronicles 13.5), thus alternatively they may be saying, ‘because we have made a solemn covenant with you’.

4.15 “That search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. So will you find in the book of the records, and know, that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful to kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time, which was the reason why this city was laid waste.”

They then unleashed their masterstroke. Let the king examine the ancient records (the records of the kings of Babylon. The Persians saw themselves as continuing the Babylonian empire). He would soon discover that Jerusalem had constantly been a rebellious city, and had caused damage to kings and provinces by their activity (especially in association with Egypt), and had been constantly involved in seditious activity. Indeed, that was the very reason why the walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed in the first place. And certainly history would have added some weight to their accusations, as three investments of Jerusalem would prove, but there was a huge difference between an established kingdom with its own army and a fierce sense of independence, and the motley group of returnees who were now in Jerusalem and rather had cause to be grateful to the kings of Persia, and were desperately seeking to protect themselves from the violent behaviour of the very people who had written the letter. The king, however, was not to know this. All he had to go on was past records, and a recognition of the instability of the region.

4.16 “We certify to the king that, if this city be built, and the walls finished, by this means you will have no portion beyond the River.”

The writers then underlined their point with a grim (and ridiculous) warning. If the city was built no one who lived in Beyond The River would be safe. With mighty Jerusalem established the Persian empire might well find itself bereft of the province of Beyond The River. To any who know the facts such an idea was, of course, absurd. It was true that Egypt might well be a threat to the Empire with its struggle for independence. The rebellion of Megabyzus might also have been a potential danger. But little Jerusalem with its struggling immigrants was hardly in a position to affect either. They had no army, no chariots and no trained fighting men. That was why they wanted walls. The king, however, was not to know this.

The king could, of course have discovered all this by extensive enquiry, and perhaps he later did so. But for the present it was a simple matter just to make a quick check of the records and then to forbid the carrying on of the work. And that was what he did. Indeed, the fact that he stopped at that is evidence that he was not over duly concerned, simply being cautious lest there be any truth in it (it will be noted that he did not demand the dismantling of what had already been built).

4.17a ‘Then sent the king an answer to Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions who dwell in Samaria, and in the rest of Beyond the River:’

We are now given a copy of the king’s reply. This would, of course, have been produced by the recipients as evidence that they were acting on behalf of the king. The reply is addressed to those who had sent the previous letter.

4.17b “Peace.”

A recognised form of greeting.

4.17c-19 “And now, the letter which you sent to us has been read before me word by word, and I decreed, and search has been made, and it is found that this city of old time has made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it.”

The king confirmed that the letter had been read to him in full and that he had accordingly initiated a search of the records. And he agreed that what they had claimed had been confirmed. Jerusalem had in the past been rebellious, and had been involved in sedition against its overlords.

4.20 “There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, who have ruled over all of Beyond the River, and tribute, customs duties, and rent, was paid to them.”

This picture of a mighty kingdom receiving tribute, customs duties and rent may suggest that in the records was some memory of the great days of David and Solomon, for they alone could have been described as ‘ruling over all of Beyond the River’, and indeed such a memory may have been conveyed by such men as Daniel who were high in the Babylonian, and then the Persian, hierarchy. But it might equally have been a rather exaggerated picture of the reign of kings like Hezekiah and Josiah. Either way the one time greatness of Jerusalem is brought out. The point behind the statement is that past kings of Jerusalem have indeed been mighty enough to trouble empires, reinforcing the idea of the danger that Jerusalem presented.

Alternately some see ‘the mighty kings’ as referring to the Babylonian and Persian kings, and suggest that by it the king is demonstrating that he has the same rights as his predecessor.

4.21 “Now give an order to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not built, until a decree shall be made by me.”

So the king called on them to give an order (command) that the builders should cease work so that the city would not be fortified unless and until a decree came from him. It is not necessary to see this instruction to give an order as indicating an official decree (contrast 6.12). It is simply an instruction as to how to proceed. The word ‘order’, while of the same root as the one translated ‘decree’ in the latter half of the verse, is different from it. It is true that it is elsewhere used to indicate decrees, but that is when the orders are specifically made by the king. It is, however, also used of God ‘commanding’ where it is in contrast with the making of a decree (6.14), whilst the same word is used of Rehum (verse 17) when he is called ‘lord commander’.

Note that there is no suggestion by the king that what had been built should be pulled down, and fortunately, in view of later events, the order was specifically described as only temporary, with a possibility of it being rescinded by a decree from the king. This may suggest that he was not altogether happy with the story that he had been told and intended that the matter should be looked into further, but, as verse 22 makes clear, he nevertheless wanted his instruction to be carried out swiftly so as to ensure there was no possibility of the king’s revenues being affected.

4.22 “And take heed that you be not slack in this. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?”

So the king then called on them not to be slack in carrying out his instructions lest damage be caused both to his own treasury, and the treasury of his successors. They were to issue the decree immediately so as to ensure the prevention of what they feared. It will be noted that he made no reference to the use of force, although, of course, he would have expected the decree to be enforced if it was necessary. Thus they went beyond their remit in using force.

4.23 ‘Then when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.’

It would appear that the recipients of the letter went beyond the king’s command, for as soon as they had heard what the king had instructed they raced to Jerusalem and used violence in order to prevent the work continuing. The impression given is that, rather than issuing an order and seeing if it was carried out, they acted precipitously, probably in great glee. It was clearly a vindictive action. Nehemiah 1.3 may well be seen as indicating that it was at this time that they demolished the wall and burned the gates.

Thus the writer ends the survey of history, the aim of which was to bring out how dangerous the adversaries would turn out to be.

The Eventual Building Of The Temple And The Observance Of The Passover (4.24-6.22).

This passage now returns to take up the account of the building of the Temple from 4.5 where reference was made to the hired counsellors who sought to frustrate the building of the Temple ‘all the days of Cyrus, king of Persia, even unto the reign of Darius, king of Persia’ It commences in 4.24 by indicating that their attempts were successful to the extent that work on the Temple ceased ‘until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.’ Then from 5.1 inwards we are told of how the work on the Temple once more began, finally being confirmed by a decree of Darius in which he commanded that all assistance be given for that rebuilding from the revenues of the Province of Beyond The River. In consequence the House was finally built and the Passover observed. The verses in 4.6-23 are to be seen as a parenthesis, dealing with later matters concerning the building of the defensive walls of Jerusalem.

After A Period Of Stagnation Work Begins On The Rebuilding Of The House of God, Which Causes Some Concern To The Persian Governor (4.24-5.5).

Revealing that the work on the house of God ceased as a result of the activities of their adversaries the writer now describes how, as a result of the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah, the work on the Temple recommences, something which disturbs the Persian governor of the area because he is concerned about their use of valuable materials which could be being used for warlike purposes.

4.24 ‘Then the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.”

The repetition of phrases makes clear that this verse is resuming what has been spoken of in verse 5. It is a technical device found often in the Old Testament where it is necessary to indicate that what lies in between is a parenthesis. Thus verses 6-23 are such a parenthesis.

Attention is now drawn to the fact that as a result of the widespread local opposition of their enemies, the work that had begun on the Temple by laying foundations (3.8-4.1) had come to a full stop. From the indications given we can probably understand why:

  • 1). Part of the problem probably lay in acts of violence perpetrated on the new community in order to distract them (4.4). This might have included threats, and even attacks, on their houses and families if they left them unprotected; their enemies setting fire to fields of grain, as Samson did in the times of the judges; and even vindictive attacks on the persons of the returnees themselves. All this would involve the returnees in having to take protective measures which could only prevent them from concentrating on building the Temple.
  • 2). Furthermore, as we know, much of the timber had to be obtained from Sidon and Tyre (3.7). This in itself would mean the work coming to a halt for a time, and with everyone against them we can imagine the difficulties that there would be in getting the supplies through. And once the work had halted for a time the initial enthusiasm would inevitably wane, especially as there were more immediate problems to be dealt with
  • 3). The machination of counsellors who were hired to present a case against them, may well have made them afraid of what the consequences might be of continuing, with the threat of Persian interference hanging over their heads (4.5; 5.3).
  • 4). There were also the problems of erecting a Temple in the face of continual opposition, violently expressed against those who sought to build (4.4).
  • 5). Added to all this would be their own need to build their own homes and ensure the welfare of their families (Haggai 1.4).
  • 6). Later this situation would be further exacerbated by the local famines which meant that their time was directed elsewhere as they struggled to survive (Haggai 1.6, 9-11).

Taken together these things would have been sufficient to deter them from making the effort to build the Temple, which in itself was a difficult enough task. It thus took the activity of two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to stir them into action so that they recommenced the work.

5.1 ‘Now the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel (who was) over them (or ‘to them’).

Things came to a head when two prophets arose and prophesied to them in the Name of the God of Israel. Their names were Haggai and Zechariah, and their prophecies were to all those who were in Judah and Jerusalem, that is to the returnees and those who supported them. Haggai is always called ‘Haggai the prophet’ (compare 6.14) even in his own writings. This may well be because his antecedents were unimportant. Zechariah’s family was clearly more distinguished. He was the ‘son of Iddo’, a well known priestly ancestor. We have here a reminder that God takes people from all backgrounds for the carrying out of His purposes. It was Haggai who was the more direct, speaking with great bluntness (see his prophecy), whilst Zechariah was more visionary, although nevertheless at times speaking equally directly. We have a record of both their messages in the books of Haggai and Zechariah.

‘The God of Israel (Who was) over them.’ This may indicate ‘over the prophets’ or it may signify ‘over the people’. In the first case it would emphasise the position of the prophets as servants of YHWH. In the second it would be a reminder of what the people owed to their God as their Sovereign Lord.

5.2 ‘Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem; and with them were the prophets of God, helping them.’

The consequence of the preaching of the prophets was that the Jewish leaders, Zerubbabel the governor, and Jeshua the High Priest, spurred on the people to recommence the building of ‘the house of God which was at Jerusalem’, whilst the two prophets continued with their urging, stirring them up and encouraging them to carry on, giving them every assistance by their words. The fact that this continued activity of the prophets had to be mentioned brings out the strength of the opposition to the project. It took all the authority of Zerubbabel and Jeshua, both political and religious, together with all the urgings of the prophets, to ensure that the work carried on. And the problems were exacerbated when the opposition dropped a word in the ear of the Persian the Governor of the Province of Beyond the River, no doubt with deceptive inferences, in order to force him to look into what they were doing. A report of people who were building with ‘massive stones’ would be enough in itself to force him to take an interest.

5.3 ‘At the same time came to them Tattenai, the governor of Beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai, and their companions, and said thus to them, Who gave you a decree to build this house, and to shape and fashion for use (literally ‘finish’) this material?’

We can well imagine the consternation of the returnees when no less a person than Tattenai, Governor of the Province of Beyond the River, arrived, supported by a group of Persian inspectors, enquiring as to who had given them the order to commence this work and what were the names of the persons involved. It appears to have been a genuine enquiry rather than an accusation, as is evidenced by the fact that the work was allowed to continue while a decision was reached. He could see that they were building a Temple. The ‘material’ was probably the cedar wood from Sidon and Tyre which had presumably arrived a considerable time before, together with timber from the local forests (3.7; Haggai 1.8). This would have been piled up in readiness for use, although there may also be in it a reference to the blocks of stone which would also have been needed. The word used for ‘material’ is used in Scripture only here and in verse 9, (translated in LXX as material) and earlier guesses were that it meant ‘wall’, but external Aramaic sources have confirmed that it in fact indicates ‘building materials’.

A similar name to Tattenai (Tattani), together with his designation as ‘Governor of Eber-nari (Beyond the River), has been found in a Babylonian record dated 502 BC. He was under-governor to Ushtani the satrap of Babylon. Shethar-bozenai has been demonstrated from Aramaic papyri to be a good Persian name. The companions were probably Persian inspectors (OP frasarka). This may suggest that tight control was kept by the Persians over the use of valuable building materials. It was with such that prospective rebels made strong fortifications.

5.4 ‘Then we said to them in this way, what the names of the men were who were making this building.’

The change to ‘we’ is unexpected. It may well suggest a personal reminiscence of the writer as one who was present at the scene, either asserting boldly that ‘we were not afraid to identify ourselves’, or possibly indicating apprehension at having to provide names to the Persian authorities, or both. It would be in answer to a question posed to them as described in verse 10. The ‘we’ may also be emphasising that ‘all of us’ were involved in the reply, not just the elders. It was thus a declaration of faith, for giving their names might easily have turned against them. But their confidence was in God, and so they were not afraid. The idea would appear to be that in response to the question in verse 3 the whole party of builders attempted to hide nothing, but boldly and personally took responsibility for what they were doing.

Alternately it may be a direct reflection of verse 10, while taking up the reference to Tattenai and his inspectors in verse 3, it being stated in the first person with the purpose of making the background to the question ‘what are the names of the men who are making this building?’ more vivid. Indeed, if verses 3-4 were being constructed by the writer on the basis of the letter sent to Darius, he may well have been so involved in the spirit of the letter that he utilised the same ‘person’ in relation to the question as was used in verse 10.

5.5 ‘And the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not make them cease, till the matter should come to Darius, and then answer should be returned by letter concerning it.’

The writer then returns to the third person and gives credit to the God of the elders of the Jews for the fact that they were not made to stop working while the matter was being referred to Darius. While the eye of Persia may have been upon them in the person of the inspectors, the eye of God was also upon them too, overruling the eye of the inspectors. And the consequence was that the inspectors did not interfere with the work, but allowed them to continue their work until they had received a reply from Darius. For as Zechariah had made clear, ‘the eyes of YHWH run to and fro throughout the whole earth’ (Zechariah 4.10) ensuring the fulfilling of His purposes, and this in the direct context of the completing of the building of the Temple.

This reference to the eye of God being on them may be seen as supporting the idea that verse 4 was meant to be seen as a bold reply to the question posed in verse 3, put in such a way as to impress the Persian governor.

The Persian Governor Writes To King Darius Concerning The Building Of The Temple And The Statement Of The Elders Concerning Their Case (5.6-17).

It should be noted how deliberately the writer gives an exact record of the correspondence which took place to and fro. He was a careful historian. He first records the letter which Tattenai sent to King Darius in Aramaic. It is probable that a copy of this letter (verse 6) was given to the Jewish elders so that they would know what was said. This would serve to confirm the impartiality of Tattenai who appears only to have been doing his duty as he saw it.

5.6-7a ‘The copy of the letter that Tattenai, the governor of Beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai, and his companions the Inspectors (Apharsachites), who were of Beyond the River, sent to Darius the king. They sent a letter to him, in which was written thus:’

This would appear to summarise the preamble with which a letter would normally commence, which would be something like, ‘Tattenai, the governor of Beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai, and his companions the Apharsachites, to Darius the King’. The Apharsachites are again referred to in 6.6. The word is derived from the Old Persian (OP) word frasarka meaning inspectors. They are to be distinguished from the Apharsathchites of 4.9, where the word probably signifies ‘envoys’ (OP fraistarka). We are then given the contents of the letter. We again note the Persian style, both of the preamble and of the letter, confirming its authenticity.

‘In which was written thus. The word for ‘thus’ (signifying ‘in the body of the letter’) is typical of Aramaic legal documents

5.7b ‘Unto Darius the king, all peace.’

The name of the addressee is given with a wish for his total wellbeing, something typical of such letters.

5.8 ‘Be it known to the king, that we went into the district of Judah, to the house of the great God, which is being built with massive stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goes on with thoroughness and prospers in their hands.’

The reason for writing is now given. They wish to make known to the king that they have been fulfilling their responsibilities of being the eye of the king, in this case by going into the district of Judah to check out a report that the Jews were engaged in building something with massive stones. The first years of Darius, as so often when kings first came to the throne, had been a signal to disaffected factions to rebel against him. The report that they had received of the use of ‘massive stones’, very naturally therefore had aroused their suspicions.

No doubt the report, suitably embellished, had come from Judah’s enemies (4.1). But when the Persian representatives had arrived they had discovered that what was being built was a Temple to ‘the great God’ (the same description of God is used in Persepolis fortification tablets). It was being built with massive stones, and with timber laid in the walls (as with Solomon’s Temple - 1 Kings 6.36). These courses of timber would provide the flexibility needed if an earthquake struck. Here was the explanation for the massive stones. And the work was going on with thoroughness, and was prospering. In other words they were making a good job of it, and making proper use of the materials. These words confirm that Tattenai was seeking to be fair to the builders, and did not see them as a threat. But the question then was, did they have proper authorisation?

5.9 ‘Then we asked those elders, and said to them thus, “Who gave you a decree to build this house, and to make use of and fashion this material?”

So the writer of the letter then made clear to the king that they had asked the Jewish elders who it was who had given the authorisation for the building of the house, and the use and shaping of this expensive building material. They wanted the king to recognise that they had done their own job thoroughly as well.

5.10 ‘We asked them their names also, to certify to you, that we might write the names of the men who were at the head of them.’

They also confirmed that they had demanded the names of those who were responsible for the work, so that they could report them to Darius. This may have been in order that, if he felt it necessary, he could take suitable action against them, or it may have been so that he would know that the men doing the work were not subversive, but reliable. He was no doubt confident that Darius’ system of spies would have provided him with the names of any who appeared to be subversive. The kings of Persia had an efficient spy system which reported back directly to him. Thus a quick check of the list would confirm whether or not there was anything reported against these men.

5.11 ‘And thus they returned us answer, saying, “We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and are rebuilding the house which was built these many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished.”

The writer then reported on the answer that they had received. The Jewish elders had declared that they were the servants of the God of heaven and earth. We have seen previously that the ‘God of Heaven’ was the Name by which YHWH was known outside Palestine, and which Cyrus had used in his decree (see 1.2). Here the elders were also emphasising another relevant fact about Him. He was not only concerned with heaven but also with earth. And it was as His servants that they were rebuilding the house, a house which had been built many years before by a great king of Israel. It was thus not something new, but the establishing of something which had existed for centuries. There was nothing subversive about it.

‘A great king of Israel.’ The elders would have known the name of the great king of Israel but they recognised that Tattenai would not, and they wanted to get over the idea of how great he was.

5.12 “But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven to wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.”

And the elders had explained that the reason why the Temple had needed rebuilding was not because of the powerlessness of their God, the God of Heaven. It was because their fathers had provoked the God of Heaven to anger. As a consequence He had given them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who had destroyed the house and carried the people away to Babylon. The reference to Nebuchadnezzar as ‘the Chaldean’ distinguishes him from the current King of Babylon, who was a Persian. It was making clear that this destruction had not been the work of a Persian.

5.13 “But in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree to build this house of God.”

But then had come a new change in the situation, for on Cyrus the Persian becoming king of Babylon he had made a decree that the house of God on which they were now working should be rebuilt. (They did not need to spell out that Cyrus was a Persian, for it was something that everyone knew, most of all Darius). Thus what they were doing was actually at the command of the king of Persia.

This is an almost unique reference to Cyrus as king of Babylon outside records which relate to Babylon (where it is used regularly), but the reason for it is clear. He was being seen as having taken over the reins from the Chaldean kings of Babylon. Cyrus was in fact seen as king of Persia, king of Babylon, king of Egypt, as well as many other titles, depending on who was in mind in the record being made (compare ‘king of Assyria’ in 6.22).

5.14 “And the gold and silver vessels also of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, and brought into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor,”

Furthermore as proof of his generosity, and his reverence for the God of the Jews, Cyrus had taken out of the temple of Babylon the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnazzar had taken from the house of God in Jerusalem, and had delivered them to Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed as governor over the returnees, so that they might eventually be restored to their rightful place, the house of God in Jerusalem.

5.15 “And he said to him, ‘Take these vessels, go, put them in the temple which is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be built in its place.’ ”

And what was more it was his command that the house of God be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and that those vessels then be put within it. This command envisaged both the rebuilding of the Temple, the task that the elders were now engaged in, and the restoration to that Temple of the gold and silver vessels which had been stolen from the previous Temple. Cyrus was concerned to get all the gods in his empire on his side, as indeed Darius would be too (6.7-12).

5.16 “Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundations of the house of God which is in Jerusalem, and since that time even until now has it been in building, and yet it is not completed.”

The elders had then explained that this same Sheshbazzar had obeyed the king’s command, and had laid the foundations of the house of God which is in Jerusalem, and since then it had been in process of being built, but was not yet completed, which was why they were now working on it.

This was a slightly artificial description of what had happened, for as we know after the foundations were laid, the work had ceased for a good number of years, until recently recommenced. But the Jews would have been well aware that they might well be asked why they had not carried out Cyrus’ decree immediately. They thus tried to give the impression of a long process which had not yet been completed. So while what they said was not untrue, it was certainly deceptive. But they would not have dared to say otherwise. To suggest that they had deliberately not obeyed the king’s command could have been seen as gross disobedience.

This is the only mention of the fact that Sheshbazzar laid the foundations of the Temple. In 3.10 we were informed that it was Zerubbabel and Jeshua who had caused the foundations of the Temple to be laid. Can they both be correct? There are a number of possible explanations:

  • 1). That Sheshbazzar commenced laying foundation stones in obedience to the charge given him by Cyrus, but that this was interrupted by his early death so that the final completion of the laying of the foundations was carried out by his successor. It must be recognised that the laying of the foundations of so large a project would necessarily take a good amount of time. The ground had to be levelled, the correct material had to be obtained from sources outside Jerusalem, and it then had to be conveyed to the site and shaped so as to be suitable for their purpose, and whilst some suitable stones might be found from the previously destroyed Temple, even they would have required to be dressed ready for the project in hand. The initial laying of some foundation stones may have been achieved easily by utilising material available on the site, but the returnees would not have had the resources immediately available which would have enabled the rest of the work to be done quickly. Building so large a building was a huge project. So laying the whole foundations would necessarily therefore have been a lengthy task, easily commenced but not so easily finished.

    The Jews would mention Sheshbazzar because his was the name linked with Cyrus’ decree, but it would not necessarily indicate that he had completed the task. In our view this must be seen as a very probable explanation. It is difficult to see how, having received the king’s command, Sheshbazzar would have dared not to have commenced the work as soon as practicable, even if only in a very limited fashion. He would want to report back to the king that the work had begun. But we can easily see how his early death might have devolved the work on Zerubbabel and Jeshua, so that it was they who really completed the task of laying the foundations. Nor would they have delayed too long. Whilst not as conscious of the king’s command as Sheshbazzar, he would have instilled into them the necessity of carrying out the work, and besides this was one of the main reasons for their return. Jeshua especially, as High Priest designate, would have been keen for the work to continue, to say nothing of the fact that the valuable gold and silver vessels that they had brought with them were for use in the Temple, and would meanwhile have to be kept safe. All this would have increased the sense of urgency.

    But equally we can see how the delay necessary for the gathering of the materials, the problems of actually obtaining those materials and conveying them to the site, and the continuing hostility of those round about them which would often erupt into violence, would over time have weakened their resolve, and especially so because the task was so enormous, whilst they had their own livelihoods to consider in very difficult circumstances. It would have been so easy to find excuses for delaying the work until ‘a more suitable time’.

  • 2). That Sheshbazzar’s name was connected with the work by the elders because they knew that it was his name that would be in the decree, but that the work had really been begun by Zerubbabel soon after his early death. Thus it was Sheshbazzar’s representatives who had laid the foundations, and not Sheshbazzar himself, although that was not something that had to be particularised in such a brief statement. They had acted in Sheshbazzar’s name.
  • 3). That Sheshbazzar was mentioned because his was the name connected with the decree, but that the work had actually not been commenced until the initiative brought about by Haggai and Zechariah nearly twenty years afterwards, and that the statement that the work had commenced ‘in the second year of their coming to the house of God in Jerusalem’ (3.8) did not indicate the second year of their return, but the second year of their eventually taking an interest in building that house of God in Jerusalem. In my view, however, this is to ignore the plain meaning of the words (their very reason for returning was so that they might come to that holy site), and overlooks the fact that the king’s command to build the Temple would have been seen as urgent, and this especially so in view of the valuable artefacts which they had brought with them whose purpose was to be used in the Temple. The presence of those artefacts would have made the building of the Temple an urgent priority to the one into whose charge they had been committed.

Tattenai Advises The King On What He Might Do Next, If It Was His Good Pleasure To Do So (5.17). ,

5.17 ‘Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let a search be made in the king’s treasure-house, which is there at Babylon, whether it was so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter.’

Having outlined what the elders of the Jews had told him Tattenai suggested to the king that if he wished to confirm that such a decree had been issued by Cyrus he should initiate a search in the king’s treasure house in Babylon, the place where such a decree, if it existed, was most likely to be found. He then asked for instructions as to how he should proceed.

As it would turn out the decree would not be found in the king’s treasure house in Babylon. Rather it was discovered at Achmetha, in a palace in the province of Media (6.2). Cyrus had in fact spent some time in Achmetha after the conquest of Babylon, and therefore at the time of his decree. There is a touch of authenticity about this. Those charged with discovering the decree would not want to return empty handed

‘If it seems good to the king.’ This phrase is typical of official Aramaic letters at this time, as is evidenced by papyri. Clearly Tattenai did not dare to tell king Darius what to do, but could only make a helpful suggestion as one of his advisers, leaving the decision in the king’s hands.

The King Initiates A Search And Discovers The Decree Of Cyrus, The Contents Of Which Is Revealed (6.1-5).

6.1 ‘Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the archives, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon.’

In response to Tattenai’s suggestion Darius initiated a search for the decree concerning the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, and gave orders that it be discovered. But a search of the house of archives in the treasure house of Babylon seemingly produced no result. As so often in Scripture the consequence is assumed from what follows and not stated,

6.2 ‘And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of Media, a roll, and in it was thus written for a record,’

So attention was turned to the palace at Achmetha (Ecbatana). Ecbatana was a magnificent city (see Judith 1.1-4) and the former capital city of the Median Empire. It had become the summer residence of the Persian kings, and was in the province of Media In its archives was found a scroll in which was recorded the decree which was being sought. What follows was presumably recorded in Darius’ reply to Tattenai.

6.3a ‘In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king made a decree:’

These words were probably taken from the preamble to the decree. It made clear that the decree in question was made in the first year of Cyrus, and thus within a short time of his conquest of Babylon.

Large numbers of scholars now agree that this decree was genuine. It was written in Aramaic and bears all the hallmarks of a Persian document of the time. It was a different decree from the one mentioned in 1.2-4. That was for public consumption. This one was to be filed away as a record, and recorded the details of what Cyrus required with respect to the building of the Temple.

6.3b-4 ‘Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be built on the place where they offer sacrifices, and let its foundations be fixed; the height of it to be threescore cubits, and the breadth of it threescore cubits, with three courses of massive stones, and a course of new timber, and let the expenses be given out of the king’s house.’

In it Cyrus declared that ‘concerning the house of God at Jerusalem’, the house was to be rebuilt on its holy site, the place where sacrifices had been offered, and its foundations were to be fixed, that is, in the same place as the previous foundations. His concern was to make use of the ancient sacredness of the site for the benefit of his realm. He wanted sacrifices to be offered there as a sweet savour to the God of Heaven while the priests and people prayed for the life of the king and for his sons (verse 10). The sacredness of the site would ensure God’s response. He made a similar request to Marduk, the god of Babylon, and to other gods throughout his realm. He was seeking to get the gods on his side, and keep the people happy at the same time.

The building of the Temple was not, however, just a vague command. He wanted to have some say in how large it would be. So some details of how it was to be built were recorded, although the main detail was left to the builders who could call on the knowledge of people who had seen Solomon’s Temple (3.12). It was to have a height of sixty cubits, and a breadth of sixty cubits. In other words it was to be twice as large as Solomon’s Temple, as befitted a Persian king. (Solomon’s Temple was thirty cubits high and twenty cubits broad (1 Kings 6.2) but with side rooms at each side of five cubits (1 Kings 6.6), making thirty cubits in all). It was to be built with three courses of stones followed by one of timber, the same pattern presumably being repeated again and again. It would thus be massive, whilst protected against earthquakes. The courses of timber would enable it to respond to earth movement. The details of the whole were left for the builders to decide.

This was not intended to be a detailed building plan and we need not therefore ask why its length is not given. That was already determined by the length of Solomon’s Temple (sixty cubits in length (1 Kings 6.2) plus additional for the porch and the back rooms (1 Kings 6.3, 16). This might be seen as having the intention of making a perfect cube, 60 x 60 x 60. It may simply be symbolic with no intention of carrying it out. The cost of the whole was to be borne by the Persian treasury. Cyrus undoubtedly expected that the benefits that would accrue to him and his house for honouring the God of Heaven would far outweigh the cost of building. This generosity towards the restoration of Temples is paralleled elsewhere. The kings of Persia were prepared to pay generously for the support of the gods.

6.5 ‘And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought to Babylon, be restored, and brought again to the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to its place, and you shall put them in the house of God.’

Furthermore the Temple vessels of gold and silver, which had been appropriated by Nebuchadnezzar, were to be restored to the house of God in Jerusalem, ‘every one to its place’. All was to be restored as formerly. The God of Heaven was to be fully satisfied that His house and everything in it was as before, courtesy of the kings of Persia. The minutiae of ritual was to be scrupulously followed, thus ensuring maximum benefit for the realm. Following the correct ritual would have been seen as important.

‘You shall put them in the house of God.’ It is noteworthy that all references to Cyrus’ edict stress that the Temple is ‘the house of God’. See 1.2, 3, 4; 4.3.

The King Instructs Tattenai On How To Proceed (6.6-12).

Having established what was in the decree of Cyrus, king Darius now issued his instructions to Tattenai and his colleagues on how they are to proceed. Not only were the returnees to be allowed to complete the building of the house of God, but they were to be assisted out of state revenues. Furthermore they were to be provided with everything that was necessary in order to fully satisfy the God of Heaven, in the form of offerings and sacrifices, and all that pertained to them. Darius was clearly well informed concerning the requirements. He would have had many Jewish advisers.

6.6 ‘Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and your companions the Apharsachites, who are of Beyond the River, be you far from there (‘leave them alone’ or ‘go somewhere else’).’

Note the formal nature of the address. It follows exactly the pattern of the original letter addressed to Darius (5.6). And it informed Tattenai and his assistants that they were to leave the builders alone to get on with what they were doing. ‘Be you far from there’ signifies that they are to leave things alone, and possibly suggests that they are to move elsewhere as they are no longer required to be at the site of the new Temple. That would not, of course, mean that they were not to check up on how the work was going, but that they should not interfere in any way while it was going smoothly.

6.7 ‘Let the work of this house of God alone, let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in its place.’

The enemies of the Jews now found themselves confounded. Darius expressly states that the work is to be carried out by his duly appointed governor (Zerubbabel) and by the elders of the Jews. And they were to be left alone to carry on with the work, which now had the sanction of the current monarch. It thus had double sanction.

‘In its place.’ That is on the long revered holy site of the Temple. There is a constant requirement that it be built on the very site of the original Temple. This was holy ground and would, in Persian eyes, ensure that the God of Heaven was well pleased.

6.8 ‘Moreover I make a decree what you shall do to these elders of the Jews for the building of this house of God, that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the River, expenses be given with all diligence to these men, that they be not hindered.’

What was more the elders of the Jews had to be given all financial assistance for the work out of the tribute, customs duties and rents which were gathered for the king’s treasury in the district of Beyond the River, so that nothing would hinder its completion. This went beyond what Cyrus had offered in 1.4.

The importance of this comes out when we compare the situation at the commencement of the construction of the Temple. Both Haggai and Zechariah emphasise that the work is to be carried on even in the face of financial hardship. But as God had said, ‘the silver is Mine and the gold is Mine’ (Haggai 2.8). And now He was proving it. They had commenced in poverty, but now they would complete the work with plenty. It is a reminder to us that if we are faithful to God with what we have, He will often supply a hundredfold.

6.9-10 ‘And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for burnt-offerings to the God of heaven; also wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the word of the priests that are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail, that they may offer sacrifices of sweet savour to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.’

Furthermore, not only were they to be given financial assistance for the building of the house of God, but also in order that all sacrifices and offerings considered necessary by the priests might be offered. They were to be provided with young bullock, rams and lambs (the most valuable first, the least valuable last) in order to make whole burnt offerings to the God of Heaven, along with all the grain, salt, wine and oil that was necessary (see Exodus 29.40; Leviticus 2.13). The king clearly had well informed advice. There are a number of examples of the kings of Persia taking such a detailed interest in the ways of worship of their subjects. These sacrificial requisites were unfailingly to be provided day by day, so that their sweet savour might reach the God of Heaven (compare Genesis 8.21; Exodus 29.23-25; Leviticus 1.9, 13, 17; Ezekiel 16.19; etc), ensuring the success of their prayers for the lives of the king and his sons. His generosity was not disinterested. Comparison may be made with the Cyrus Cylinder where Cyrus says, ‘may all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask Bel and Nebo daily for a long life for me’.

6.11 ‘Also I have made a decree, that whoever shall alter this word, let a beam be pulled out from his house, and let him be lifted up and fastened on it, and let his house be made a dunghill for this,’

Darius then enforces his decree by calling for severe penalties on any who seek to prevent it being carried out or who seek to water it down. The idea may be of impalement, a recognised form of Persian punishment, but the idea is more probably that the person be strung up on a beam and beaten. The taking of the beam out of his house would ensure the collapse of the house, and this is confirmed by the fact that it is to become a dunghill (compare Daniel 2.5; 3.29). Thus would he be punished for hindering the work on God’s house. Such penalty clauses were common in the Ancient Near East.

6.12a ‘And the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow all kings and peoples who will put forth their hand to alter the same, to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem.’

We have here a further indication of self-interest. The only kings and peoples who would put forth their hands to destroy Jerusalem, in view of his decrees, would be those who were enemies of Persia, and he is seeking God’s help in their overthrow. At the same time he is demonstrating to God his own deep concern for His house. Surely in the light of this God will look kindly on the house of Darius.

‘The God who has caused His Name to dwell there.’ This is a clear indication of Jewish advisers behind the decree. It is a typical phrase from Deuteronomy. Compare Deuteronomy 12.11; 16.2; 26.2; 1 Kings 8.29.

6.12b ‘I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with all diligence.’

Darius ends his decree by emphasising that it is one that he has made (contrast 4.21) and that it should therefore be carried out with due diligence. The instruction is clear. There is to be no delay in carrying it out.

The Decree Is Carried Out And The Work On The Temple Is Completed Accompanied By Due Ceremony (6.13-18).

6.13 ‘Then Tattenai, the governor of Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their companions, because Darius the king had sent, did accordingly with all diligence.’

The carrying out of the decree is summarised in one verse. Because Darius had sent his decree, Tattenai and his associates, responded with due diligence and fulfilled all that was required.

6.14 ‘And the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.’

And the consequence was that the elders of the Jews both built and prospered (succeeded admirably) as a result of the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah. The writer concludes where he began (5.1). In the end the construction of the Temple was the result of the activities of God’s prophets, and the commandment of God, whatever assistance might have been given by the Persians. However, that was not to be overlooked, and so he concludes with the fact that it was ‘in accordance with the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.’ All three therefore worked in harmony, the prophets of God, the God of Israel Himself, and the kings of Persia. God was in control.

At first sight the mention of Artaxerxes might appear unusual. It was Cyrus and Darius who had made the decrees that were carried out. But it was Artaxerxes who made the decree (7.13) which resulted in Ezra himself arriving in Jerusalem, with further provision for the Temple (7.15-23; 8.24-30), establishing the Law of Moses (7.25; compare 7.1, 6, 10). The writer rightly saw that as the seal on the building of the Temple. Indeed, if it was Ezra who collected together the information in 1-6 and wrote it down, we can perfectly understand why he would want to include mention of his patron and his generosity to the Temple. The order in which the names of the kings are written makes quite clear that the writer knew that Artaxerxes came subsequent to Cyrus and Darius.

6.15 ‘And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.’

And the building of the house was finally completed on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius. Adar was the twelfth month (roughly February/March). The date was presumably on record (it was from the point of view of the Jews a world shaking event), and may well have been engraved on the stones of the Temple. The sixth year of Darius was 516 BC. So the Temple had taken four and a half years in building, commencing from the first preaching of Haggai (Haggai 1.1), a remarkable achievement.

Some have sought to see in this event the end of the ‘seventy years’ of Jeremiah 25.12 (destruction of the Temple 587 BC to restoration of the Temple 516 BC) but that was not what Jeremiah said. He was speaking of the destruction of the Babylonian empire. The seventy years was a divinely perfect round number. But if it is to be applied ‘literally’ it is far more likely that it was referring to the length of the rule of the Babylonian empire over ‘the nations’ including Judah, viz c.605 BC to 539 BC.

6.16 ‘And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy.’

At the completion of the Temple, a symbol to them that YHWH’s rule was once again firmly established over them, the ‘children of Israel’ (compare 3.1; and see 2.2), who consisted of the priests, the Levites and the rest of the former exiles, observed the day of the dedication of the Temple as a holy day, a day of great joy. YHWH once again ruled in His land, over His people. It should be noted that they saw this as the restoration of the whole of Israel. This is made clear in the next verse where sin offerings are offered for the twelve tribes of Israel. For the equivalent of ‘the priests, the Levites and the rest of the people’ compare 1.5; 2.70; 3.8; 7.7. 13; 9.1; 10.5; Nehemiah 8.13; 10.28, 34.

6.17 ‘And they offered at the dedication of this house of God a hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin-offering for all Israel, twelve he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.’

The offerings may appear large, but we must remember that they would be used to provide for the feasting of the people. It was to be a time of great celebration. Bullocks, rams and lambs were the regular sacrificial offerings in Israel (see Leviticus 1-7). It will be noted that seven hundred in all are offered, the number of divine perfection intensified. And together with these were offered as a sin offering for ‘all Israel’ (which would probably not be eaten, and would certainly not be eaten by the people) twelve he-goats representing a sin offering for the twelve tribes of Israel. ‘All Israel’ were seen as being present at the dedication.

We can compare how at the dedication of the tabernacle in the days of Moses twelve he-goats were offered as a sin offering (each for one tribe of Israel over a twelve day period), along with twelve he-goats for the dedication of the altar (Numbers 7.87). The same would be offered by Ezra on behalf of those who returned with him to Jerusalem (8.35).

6.18 ‘And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses.’

Servicing of ‘the service of God’ which is in Jerusalem in readiness for the coming Passover now being required the priests were separated into their divisions and the Levites into their courses for this very purpose. The idea is that the priests and Levites were set apart for the service of God in the same way as they had been by Moses.

The Hebrew equivalent of ‘divisions’ only occurs once in 2 Chronicles 35.5 where it refers to the ‘the divisions of the fathers’ houses’ to which groups of Levites would be allocated in preparation for the Passover under king Josiah. Its application to the priests is therefore unique in Scripture. The Levites were ‘set in their courses’, that is, in their families, by David in 1 Chronicles 23.6 ff. Moses had done the same thing with the Levites in Numbers 3.6-9,15-39; 4.1-49.

‘As it is written in the book of Moses’. This mainly has in mind the ‘setting -- for the service of God’ (and explains the unusual phrase). The new service of God being required the priests and Levites were ‘set for’ it as they had been in the book of Moses. The Levites were set apart ‘to do their service in the Tent of Meeting’ in Numbers 8.19, 22. They were separated into their courses for their specific tasks in Numbers 3.6-9, 15-39; 4.1-49. Moses separated the priests to ‘minister in the priests office’ in Exodus 28.1; 29.1. He spoke to the priests of ‘your service in the Tent of Meeting’ in Numbers 18.31. The tasks of the priests were also allocated in Numbers 4.16, 28, 33. Thus in a more refined way they were now doing the same thing.

Some suggest that ‘house’ should be ‘restored’ here reading ‘for the service of the house of God in Jerusalem’, but it is not only unnecessary but also takes away somewhat from the pregnant meaning of the phrase. They were appointed to the service of God, not to the service of the Temple, something which in the spiritual thrill of the moment they were fully aware of. And they were so set apart in readiness for the Passover which was to follow.

The Writer Now Commences Again In Hebrew.

The writer now changes back from using Aramaic to using Hebrew. This is in order that the whole passage from 4.1 to 6.22, although written mainly in Aramaic, might be enveloped in Hebrew. In the opening and closing passages, which are in Hebrew (4.1-7 and 6.19-22) the emphasis is on what God’s people were doing. In the Aramaic section the emphasis is on the activities of the Persians, even though in relation to the people of God. It was partly necessary, and more convenient, because the primary documents cited were in Aramaic.

The Celebration Of The Passover (6.19-22).

This would not have been the first Passover celebrated since the return, it would have been observed every year. But this was an unusually joyous one, for it was the first Passover that they had celebrated in connection with their new Temple. Now they really felt that Israel was established in the land. We can compare how Israel had first observed the Passover on entering the land after the Exodus (Joshua 5.10-11). They now met as a pure people free from the taints of foreign surroundings, and with their worship established. It was now over a month since the Temple had been dedicated.

6.19 ‘And the children of the captivity kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.’

As was required in the book of Moses they who had returned from exile observed the Passover on the fourteenth day of Nisan, the first month of their religious calendar, along with all in the land who had maintained their pure worship of YHWH (verse 21).

6.20 ‘For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together. All of them were pure. And they killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brothers the priests, and for themselves.’

It had become the custom at this time for the Levites to have a part to play in the celebration of the Passover. This comes out in 2 Chronicles 35 where Josiah called on them to sanctify themselves in readiness for their service at the Passover (see 2 Chronicles 35.6). In readiness for this service the priests and Levites here purified themselves together. This would partly be through avoiding all that was unclean, and partly by washing their clothes and abstaining from sex. The result was that all of them were pure. Thus they were in a position to kill the passover lambs for all those who had returned from exile, and for any of their brothers the priests who were not in a state to be able to kill the lambs, for example the ones who had not been able to prove their ancestry, and those who were disabled. They were also able to kill then for themselves.

6.21 ‘And the children of Israel who were come again out of the captivity, and all such as had separated themselves to them from the filthiness of the nations of the land, to seek YHWH, the God of Israel, did eat,’

Thus all the returned exiles partook of the Passover, along with all in the land who had either remained faithful to YHWH, and all, either Jew or Gentile, who had forsaken their unclean ways and their idolatry in order to seek YHWH, the God of Israel. All such ate of the Passover.

6.22 ‘And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy. For YHWH had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.’

And following the Passover they observed the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread as was the usual practise (Leviticus 23.4-8). And they did it with especial joy because they had been enabled to complete the building of the Temple, and were now able to use it for worship. And this was because YHWH had ‘turned the heart of the king of Assyria’, namely Darius.

But why should he be called the King of Assyria here? We have seen Cyrus called, in this book, the King of Persia (1.1, 2). And he is also called King of Babylon (5.13) because he righted what the former king of Babylon had done. And this did, of course, mean that he was the King of Assyria, for he ruled over the former Babylonian empire which had conquered Assyria. He was also in non-Biblical records called King of Egypt, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of Anshan to name but three. However, we still have to ask the question, why the writer should use this title of Darius here? One probable reason is that it was the kings of Assyria who had initially defiled the Temple. It was they who had ‘persuaded’ Ahaz to introduce a false altar into it, certainly connected with false gods (2 Kings 16.10-15; 2 Chronicles 28.23, 25). Equally certainly it was the Assyrians who had caused Manasseh to install the worship of the host of heaven in the Temple (2 Kings 21.3-5; 2 Chronicles 33.3). Furthermore the kings of Assyria are mentioned in Nehemiah as ones who had initially ‘brought trouble on Israel’ (Nehemiah 9.32). Thus, comparing the situation with that of Babylon in 5.13, it would have been seen as only poetic justice that a king who was ‘King of Assyria’, should be the one who assisted in the building of a new pure Temple. It revealed the hand of God.

There are also grounds for thinking that at this time Assyria had become the symbol of great and proud empire (as Babylon would later), and certainly the Persian kings saw themselves as successors to both the Assyrian and the Babylonian empires. This would tie in with what is said above.

Almost Sixty Years After The Building Of The Temple Ezra, An Expert In The Law, Comes To Jerusalem Bringing With Him A Group Of Fellow-Jews And Much Treasure For The House Of God, Being Authorised By King Artaxerxes To Teach The Law Of God And Enforce It Among Those Who Had Come There Out Of The Captivity (7.1-28).

In 458 BC Ezra, a Priest and Expert in The Law Of Moses, came to Jerusalem having been commissioned by King Artaxerxes to teach and enforce that Law among those who claimed to be loyal servants of YHWH, namely the previous returnees from Babylon and those who had united with them in the true worship of YHWH. We are not told what occasioned this commission but it is reasonable to assume that leading Jews among his officials (one of whom was Nehemiah) had drawn his attention to the state of affairs existing among those who had been commissioned by Cyrus to build a Temple in Jerusalem and offer prayers for the Kings of Persia. It was Persian policy to ensure that local religions prospered, and that prayers were offered to the gods of the nations on behalf of the kings of Persia. (Even the Assyrians had sent a priest to teach the ways of YHWH, ‘the God of the land’, to those who had been settled in the country of Samaria - 2 Kings 17.27-28).

Ezra Comes To Jerusalem (7.1-10).

Almost sixty years after the completion of the Temple, Ezra arrived in Jerusalem as an Expert in the Law of Moses, eager to teach it to the worshippers of YHWH, and accompanied by many Israelite exiles who had been given permission to return. It will be noted that 7.1-26 are written in the third person (‘he’). It is clear why from the introduction. Ezra is presenting his report to the king with due formality. There was no better way for a Jew to reveal his status than by outlining his genealogy. Without excessive boasting it revealed his pedigree and would impress those who heard because it connected him with the ancients. Thus the following narrative continued the note of formality, leading up to the king’s commission. The change to the first person is initiated by Ezra’s cry of praise and gratitude to God, and that continues until he comes to the end of his report in chapter 10 when he demonstrates how he and the people have fulfilled the king’s commission..

7.1-5 ‘ 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, the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, 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,’

‘After these things’ is a loose way of indicating that what is described comes chronologically after what has previously been described. It gives no indication of what the time gap between them might be, and in fact what has been described in the previous narrative had dealt with matters up to the reign of Artaxerxes (4.11, 23).

Note how Ezra’s pedigree is listed in detail, drawing attention to his direct descent from Eleazar, the son of Aaron. Apart from the omission of a few names, which was common practise in ancient genealogies, it coincides with that in 1 Chronicles 6.1-15. Whether Seraiah was his actual father or grandfather, named after the Seraiah from whom he was descended (1 Chronicles 6.14), or whether he was simply that well known ancestor, it is impossible at this stage to determine. Probably the former is true. The aim of the genealogy was, of course, in order to establish Ezra’s credentials as a son of Zadok (the High Priest in David’s day whose descendants were approved by Ezekiel 43.19; 44.15), who was the son of Eleazar (the High Priest in Joshua’s day), the son of the first Priest, Aaron, here called ‘the chief priest’.

It has been argued that Zadok was not the son of Ahitub, as it was Ahimelech who was the son of Ahitub (1 Samuel 22.9). But it is noteworthy that the same phrase is used of Zadok in 2 Samuel 8.17. There is no reason at all why Zadok’s father should not have been called Ahitub. This book itself is a witness to how often the same name appears with reference to different people.

7.6 ‘This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which YHWH, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of YHWH his God upon him.’

Ezra is described as ‘a ready (skilled and capable) Scribe in the Law of Moses, which YHWH the God of Israel had given’. He is thus seen as being an expert in the Law of Moses given at Sinai.

‘The king granted him all his request.’ The idea behind this statement is that he was fully approved of by Artaxerxes who was willing to give him anything that he required for the fulfilment of his task. A comparison may be intended here with the Pharaoh of the Exodus who also granted to Moses, albeit reluctantly, all that he had requested (Exodus 12.31-32). Ezra may be being seen as the new Moses, swaying the king and leading his people into the promised land, bearing the Law of Moses, and having received the gifts from the people who were remaining behind (compare 1.4; 7.15-16). While we are nowhere told of things which Ezra did ask for, chief among them would be the king’s authority to act in matters to do with the Law of Moses (7.25), something which was very dear to Ezra’s heart (7.10). And it may also have included the treasures for God’s house and the right to require from the officials in Beyond the River anything that he required for his task (7.21). Much may also well have been provided in the way of beasts of burden in order to ensure the comfort of his journey. And the reason for the king’s favour was because ‘the hand of YHWH his God was upon him’ (7.6)

7.7 ‘And there went up (with him) some from the children of Israel, and from the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the gate-keepers, and the Nethinim, to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king.’

‘Some from the children of Israel’ probably reflects the fact of the presence of the children of Israel already in the land from the previous return (compare 3.1). It is less likely that ‘some of’ is in contrast with those left in exile by their own choice. To the writer it was those who were in the land who were the new Israel (2.2; 3.1; 6.16) Compare with this verse ‘the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people and the singers, and the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim’ in 1.70) of the first returnees. The two groups would soon be combining. For information on these different classes see chapter 2, where it will be noted we have the same order, children of Israel, priests, Levites, singers, gate-keepers, and Nethinim (together with Solomon’s servants). We should note that the reason why Ezra is not mentioned here is because his ‘going up’ has already been mentioned in verse 6. ‘With him’ is to be understood.

The journey of Ezra and his fellow-travellers took place in the seventh year of Artaxerxes. There may well be intended in the mention of the fact that it was the seventh year (the year of divine perfection) the thought of God’s perfect timing. We can compare how the seventh year was always a year of rest for the land (Exodus 23.11) and release from debt (Deuteronomy 15.1-3) when they were in the land. It was also the year of release for the Habiru slave (Exodus 21.2; Deuteronomy 15.12).

7.8 ‘And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.’

They arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month (the number of covenant) of the seventh year (the number of divine perfection) of Artaxerxes. That was in 458 BC. The journey took nearly four months, although with women and children in the caravan they would have to move at a slow pace. The use of the singular ‘he’ refers back to the mention of Ezra in verse 6. Verse 7 is an explanatory sentence which we would have possibly put in parenthesis. The use of the singular continues in verse 9.

7.9 ‘For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.’

The first day of the first month is the day of new beginning, the commencement of the religious calendar. It was on that date that ‘he began to go up --.’ It was then that he gathered the people at the River of Ahava ready for the journey (5.15), where there was a three day inspection. But the fact that he then discovered that no Levites had responded to his call (8.15) meant that he had to persuade Levites and Nethinim to join him, and this delayed the start of the actual journey, which did not recommence until the twelfth day (8.31). But because the good hand of God was upon him there were no further delays on the journey so that they made good time.

7.10 ‘For Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of YHWH, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances.’

The reason why the good hand of God was upon him was that he had set his heart to look into the Law of YHWH so that it had entered into his heart, and then to actually ‘do it’, living it out in his daily life. Finally he had set himself to teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel that others might benefit by it too. He was dedicated to a teaching ministry based on the Law of God. ‘Look into -- do -- teach, are the perfect combination for such a person. He meditated, then did, and then taught. It is what the Christian should do with the word of God. It is the man who does these things who will live by them (Leviticus 18.5; Deuteronomy 4.1; 8.1; 12.1). To be a teacher without doing is to be deserving of heavy punishment (James 3.1).

This was where the later Scribes condemned by Jesus in Matthew 23; Mark 7 went astray. Instead of studying the Law as it was in itself, they studied what the elders had said about the Law. They thus failed to observe the true meaning of the Law. They found ways round it. And in consequence when they taught converts they made them ‘twofold more a son of Hell than themselves’ (Matthew 23.13).

Ezra’s Commission From The Persian King Artaxerxes (7.11-26).

We are now provided with a copy of Artaxerxes’ decree to Ezra, recorded in its original Imperial Aramaic. We must remember that this was the same king as the one who would order the work on the walls of Jerusalem to cease (4.7-24), something which probably took place a few years later. On the other hand we must remember that he was a busy king with many preoccupations. One of those was with regard to the religious welfare of his people, and a desire to keep the gods on his side, another was with the need to keep the realm safe from rebellion. And for both he was dependent on advisers. Just as there were enemies who would seek to present them to the king in the worst light, so there were Jews in high places who would see it as their responsibility to keep the welfare of their fellow-Jews before him (consider Nehemiah later), and it was no doubt they who had impressed on the king the need for the Jews in Judah and the surrounding area to be properly taught the Law of God so that God might feel benevolently disposed towards the empire, and had brought home the need for a people mainly living in relative poverty to have financial assistance in order to maintain the complicated requirements of Temple worship.

We must presume that the king had had consultations with Ezra prior to the decree, and no doubt Ezra had made his own views known in the form of guidance to the king subject to his approval (compare Tattenai in 5.17), so that much that is in the decree might have resulted from this advice. Alternatively the advice might have come from Jews in high places. We do not know whether Ezra was already a minister of state as ‘the Scribe of the Law of the God of Heaven’, or whether this was a title given to him at this time so as to indicate to all that he was acting on the king’s authority.

The authenticity of the letter is confirmed by the use of Imperial Aramaic, the way the letter is constructed, the use of Persian loan-words, and the agreement of its contents with Persian imperial policy. It indicates Persian authorship influenced by Jewish ideas, which is what we would expect in such a document.

Note the careful pattern of the letter. The opening commission is to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem in accordance with the Law (verse 14), and the closing commission is to appoint judges over those who know the Law, so as to ensure its fulfilment, while at the same time teaching that Law to those ignorant of it (verses 25-26). In between come the provisions for financing worship that will be pleasing to God so that He might bless the king, and the decree issued to the treasurers in Beyond the River ensuring continual provision.

7.11 ‘Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, even the scribe of the words of the commandments of YHWH, and of his statutes to Israel:’

This introduction may have been part of the official introduction heading the letter, depicting the official responsibility given to him. It specifically defines what his responsibilities were to be. He was to have responsibility for ‘the words of the commandments of YHWH and of His statutes for Israel’, in other words he was to teach them to, and if necessary enforce them on, the people who worshipped YHWH (verse 25). The words are very reminiscent of the Law of Moses which often speaks of the ‘commandments and statutes’ of YHWH, often accompanied by the promise that if they observed them it would go well with them, which was Artaxerxes concern (e.g. Exodus 15.26; Leviticus 26.2-3; Deuteronomy 4.39-40; 6.2; 10.13; 27.10; 28.15, 45; 30.10). There may be an echo in the wording (but not the idea) of 2 Kings 17.19 ‘the commandments of YHWH -- the statutes of Israel’. This indicates the influence of Jewish advisers, or even of Ezra himself.

We now come to the main contents of the letter, which is written in Aramaic, and follows the typical pattern of letters sent by Persian kings, found both here in Ezra and in papyri.

7.12 ‘Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect.’

The addresser is Artaxerxes ‘king of kings’. This was one title in regular use by Persian kings (but not by Greek kings later) illustrating their authority over many kings. The addressee, Ezra, is entitled ‘the scribe of the law of the God of Heaven’ (compare verse 21), which was clearly his official title. This may have been a new title conferred on him in view of the task ahead, or may have denoted his official position as a Jewish adviser to the king, which would explain why he was chosen for the task. In view of the large numbers of Jews scattered throughout the Persian empire (see e.g. Esther 3.8; 8-9) such an adviser would be useful. Compare Nehemiah 11.24.

‘Perfect.’ Compare the use of ‘peace’ and ‘all peace’ in 4.17; 5.7. This may well have been a recognised technical abbreviation used as a greeting, indicating something like ‘perfect peace’, or ‘may everything be perfect’. Some see it as adverbial and meaning ‘perfectly’, referring to Ezra as ‘a perfect or complete priest’.

That Ezra was given considerable authority by the king comes out in the body of the letter which follows:

  • He was authorised to take with him all of ‘the people of Israel’ who wished voluntarily to return with him (verse 12b-13). Depicted as fulfilled in chapter 8, with full names given.
  • He was sent by the king and his seven chief counsellors to enquire into the religious situation in Judah and Jerusalem, concerning which there was clearly concern (verse 14). Depicted as fulfilled in chapters 9-10.
  • He was taking to Jerusalem the gifts of the king and his counsellors, together with the freewill offerings of others, in order to make satisfactory offerings to the God of Heaven, and with authority to do whatever he felt best with what remained, ‘in accordance with the will of God’ (verses 15-18). Demonstrated as fulfilled in 8.24-30, 33-34; 35.
  • He was to deliver to the house of God in Jerusalem valuable vessels for use in that house (verse 19). Demonstrates as fulfilled in 8.33-34.
  • He was given the king’s authority to call on the king’s treasury for whatever should be needful for the house of God up to certain prescribed limits (verse 20-22) so that God’s requirements be satisfied (verse 23). Depicted as fulfilled in 8.36.
  • He was to announce freedom from all taxes for Temple personnel, presumably having the authority to ensure that the order was carried out (verse 24).
  • He was to appoint magistrates and judges to ensure that the laws of God were carried out satisfactorily by ‘all the people in Beyond the River’ (presumably all who were recognised as subscribing to them), and to teach all those who did not know them (verse 25), with authority to punish as he decided right, even up to the Death penalty (verse 26). Demonstrated as fulfilled in chapter 10. 6 ff. with full names of transgressors given.

It is quite clear from this that he had powerful authority specifically granted to him by the king, an authority which was to be recognised by Persian officials.

7.12b-13 ‘And so I make a decree, that all those of the people of Israel, and their priests and the Levites, in my realm, who are minded of their own free will to go to Jerusalem, go with you.’

This is the second decree of which we know (compare 1.3) by which Israelites informed that they were officially allowed to return to their homeland. It includes any of ‘the people of Israel, and their priests and the Levites’ a phrase which parallels the main divisions in chapter 2. For ‘the people of Israel’ compare 2.2; 9.1; Nehemiah 7.7. See also 2.70. In contrast ‘the children of Israel’ unqualified always means the whole of the returnees, including priests and Levites (3.11; 6.16, 6.21; Nehemiah 2.10; 7.73; 9.1), or the whole of Israel (Nehemiah 8.14, 17; 13.2), except in the one case where it is qualified by ‘some’ (7.7). There is one exception in Nehemiah 10.39 where the children of Israel are paralleled with the children of Levi in bringing the priests’ heave offering to the Temple, but that was necessary in consequence of the telescoping of the passage. The children of Israel brought the tithes to the Levites in their cities, but brought their heave offerings to the priests when they offered sacrifices. It was the Levites who then brought their tithe of the tithes to the priests as a heave offering (Numbers 18.24). It is striking that in Artaxerxes’ letter we should find the phrase ‘the people of Israel’ used as indicating one of the three groups, as distinguished from the priest and the Levites, something which suggests that Ezra had a hand in what the letter contained.

But for any who returned it was to be totally of their own freewill. There was to be no enforced repatriation, although the decision would be in the hands of the adult men.

7.14 ‘Forasmuch as you are sent by the king and his seven counsellors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of your God which is in your hand,’

The king emphasises that Ezra has been sent ‘by the king and his seven counsellors’, that is, his inner court. Compare Esther 1.14 where the seven ‘saw the king’s face and sat first in the kingdom’. They are also spoken of by Herodotus and Xenophon. There could be no greater authority.

Ezra was commissioned by this inner counsel of the king of Persia, to investigate the situation in Judah and Jerusalem in order to ensure that they were conforming to ‘the Law of God which is in your hand’. This makes clear that he had received disturbing reports from somewhere which suggested that all was not well with the worship of Judah and Jerusalem, which might well, in his view, have invalidated or weakened their prayers for the life of the king. It explains why Ezra dealt so severely with the matter of foreign wives, for the point was not that they were foreign, but that they were encouraging the worship of foreign gods (9.1). The very purpose that Persia had in ensuring the rebuilding of the Temple on its sacred site was in order to please the God of Heaven (6.3-10). They did not want this to be rendered ineffective by wrong ritual behaviour.

‘The Law of God which is in your hand.’ This probably simply signifies that as a priest and son of Aaron he was seen as being versed in the Law of God, because every legitimate priest had ‘the Law of God in his hand’. This was now the priest’s purpose in Exile. To teach the Law of God. This may indeed have been the significance, at least as seen by the priests of Ezra’s day, of the enigmatic phrase ‘to fill the hand’. The phrase is connected in the Law of God with the consecration of the Levitical priests. In Exodus 28.41, God instructs Moses: “you shall anoint [Aaron and his sons], and fill their hand, and consecrate them, and they shall function as priests for me.” See also Exodus 29.9, 33, 35; Leviticus 8.33; 16.32; 21.10; Numbers 3:3. This was no longer possible among the Dispersion in Ezra’s day. Whatever was signified may well therefore have been replaced by the Law of God.

7.15-16 ‘And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwellingplace is in Jerusalem, and all the silver and gold that you will 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,’

Ezra’s next responsibility was to carry to Jerusalem the gifts which the king and his counsellors were freely offering to the God of Israel who dwelt there. This can be compared with 6.8-10. It was a sincere offering to ‘the God of Israel’ (a name which again hints at Jewish influence on the contents of the letter), although clearly with a view to obtaining his favour. While the counsellors were to be seen as ‘freely offering’ it is doubtful if they could have done much else. To have refused would have been seen as wishing ill on the king.

The king also envisages them receiving gifts throughout all the province of Babylon. This would include contributions from various of the aristocracy (‘the princes’ - 8.25), and members of the Jewish population. Furthermore there would be a receiving of gold and silver as a freewill offering, both from the ordinary people and from the priests, as gifts for the house of their God in Jerusalem. ‘Their God’ makes clear that it was mainly Jews who were in mind. Some, however, see ‘all the silver and the gold that you will find in all the province of Babylon’ as referring to gifts from non-Jews, but, apart from the aristocracy under pressure from the king (8.25), it does not say so, although some may well have been willing to give in hope of benefiting from the blessing of the God of Heaven.

7.17 ‘Therefore you shall with all diligence buy with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meal-offerings and their drink-offerings, and shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem.’

The first use of these riches will be to buy bullocks, rams, lambs, grain and wine so that with all due diligence they might make offerings on the altar in the house of their God at Jerusalem.

7.18 ‘And whatever shall seem good to you and to your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do you after the will of your God.’

But it was recognised that the riches provided were to be far more than could be spent sensibly on the daily offerings, and the remainder was therefore at the disposal of Ezra and his brother priests for them to do with it what seemed good to them in accordance with the will of God. They would know best what was required by their God. There may be in mind, among other things, the adorning of the Temple itself (which would explain the reference to Artaxerxes in 6.14), and possibly special festivities for celebrating their arrival in Jerusalem.

7.19 ‘And the vessels which are given you for the service of the house of your God, do you deliver before the God of Jerusalem.’

These vessels were probably the gift of Artaxerxes, given by him so at to earn the approbation of ‘the God of Jerusalem’. They were intended for service in the house of Ezra’s God, and he was to deliver them before God on his behalf. The next verse may suggest that Artaxerxes had learned from his Jewish advisers that there was a shortage of vessels in the Temple, possibly due to the fact that not all the Temple vessels and been preserved, and thus given back.

7.20 ‘And whatever more shall be needful for the house of your God, which you shall have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king’s treasure-house.’

Furthermore if there was anything else needed in the house of God which Ezra felt that it was necessary in some way to obtain so that he could bestow it on the Temple, he was, within broad limits, to bestow it on the Temple from the king’s treasury. And to this end he included in his letter a copy of a letter addressed to the king’s treasurers in Beyond the River, the details of which are now provided in verses 21-22. The inclusion of one letter within another in this way has been evidenced in external sources.

The Letter To The Treasurers In Beyond The River A Copy Of Which Is Included in Artaxerxes Letter (7.21-24).

It will be noted that there is in these verses an opening address, followed by the detail of what is required. All that is missing is Darius’ final signing off. The treasurers would need to be informed about the decreed freedom from taxation of the Temple staff. It will be noted that Ezra the Priest is given his official title, ‘the Scribe of the Law of the God of Heaven’.

7.21-22 ‘And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers who are in Beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done with all diligence, unto a hundred talents of silver, and to a hundred measures of wheat, and to a hundred baths of wine, and to a hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.’

In this letter Artaxerxes informs his treasurers in Beyond The River of the decrees that he has made. The first is that they will fulfil all Ezra the Priest’s requirements as Scribe of the Law of the God of Heaven, both with regard to money, and with regard to wheat (for grain offerings), wine (for drink offerings), oil (to supplement offerings and to maintain the Temple lamps) and salt (for adding to offerings), up to the limits stated. In the case of the provisions it has been calculated that they would provide sufficient supplies for the Temple for two years, at which point it would be up to Ezra to apply for an extension.

In the case of the silver, which is a comparatively huge amount, it would provide more than ample to meet all Ezra’s needs. It should, however, be noted that this is a cap or limit, not a statement of amounts to be paid over. (Compare how your credit card limit might be £10,000. That does not mean that you expect to spend £10,000 every month, and indeed you may never spend that amount in a month). Thus in the case of the silver the idea is not that Ezra should spend so much, but that if he needed it, it would be available. Ezra would still have to give account for what he did spend. The intention is to make available a comparatively unlimited supply of silver to meet his requirements and telling the treasurers not to put any limit on what he could demand up to this theoretical limit. The silver would be for the purchase of sacrificial animals, and in order to cover any special requirements that the Temple might have, ‘to beautify the house of YHWH’ (7.27), where these could not be met out of the gifts described above in verses 15-16.

‘A hundred talents of silver.’ If Herodotus is correct the total tax levied on the whole of Beyond the River for a year was three hundred and fifty talents, although of course revenues would also be obtained in other ways (see in verse 23 ‘tribute, customs duty and rent’). Thus accepting the two years mentioned above, after which Ezra could apply for an extension, one seventh of a two year levy was to be available to Ezra if it was required (the assumption being that much of it would not be). A ‘measure’ (cor) was roughly 220 litres, a bath roughly 22 litres. Only a small amount of salt was required for each sacrifice (the salt of the covenant) and thus no limit was put on it.

7.23 ‘Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done exactly for the house of the God of heaven, for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?’

Artaxerxes was concerned that the God of Heaven should be pleased with the offerings offered to Him. Thus whatever He commanded concerning His house was to be done. And his purpose was to avoid His wrath, whether through invading armies or natural disaster. As Tattenai had pointed out to Darius, the God of Heaven was prone to exercise His wrath through invading armies (5.12). Thus He had a reputation among the Persians.

7.24 ‘We also certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, the singers, gate-keepers, Nethinim, or servants of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, customs duty, or rent, on them.’

All who served in the Temple were to be exempt from all tribute, customs duty and rent. The exemption from tribute would, however, have to be made up by other members of the community for, as we have seen above, the province was required to pay a fixed total amount. Such an exemption is paralleled elsewhere. We can compare how Darius wrote to a certain Gadatas condemning him for having ‘exacted tribute from the sacred cultivators of Apollo’ at Magnesia.

The details concerning those who served in the Temple would have been provided by Jewish advisers or by Ezra himself. The reference to ‘servants’ presumably has in mind the ‘servants of Solomon’ (2.55). We can understand why a Persian scribe would not see ‘of Solomon’ as being relevant.

The Appointment Of Judges And The Levels Of Punishment Permitted (7.25-26).

7.25 ‘And you, Ezra, after the wisdom of your God which is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges, who may judge all the people who are in Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God, and teach you him who does not know them.’

Ezra was also to appoint magistrates and judges who were to judge ‘all such as know the laws of your God’ in Beyond The River, that is, those who saw themselves as members of the covenant with YHWH. There may have been complaints from the returnees and those who had united with them in the pure worship of YHWH that the judges appointed in the area of Beyond the River so little understood the Law of God that they were unable to judge on important matters, and were indeed unable to judge them fairly. This would very much explain why Ezra was being sent to establish a new group of magistrates and judges who both knew the Law of God and knew the law of the king. They would then be able to judge on all matters related to the community.

It may also be that Artaxerxes had also learned of serious disquiet among the community of returnees concerning certain things which needed to be remedied if their prayers in the Temple were to be effective. This comes out later with regard to the issue of foreign wives who were introducing idolatry among the returnees, thus bringing great displeasure to the God of Heaven, something no doubt drawn to Artaxerxes attention by his Jewish advisers. They may well have stressed that God would not hear their prayers for the king while such things were going on.

But a number of people had joined the community additionally to the returnees (6.21), and where some of these among the community might be ignorant of the laws of God, Ezra was to teach them accordingly. Law and order was difficult if people did not know what was required of them. Thus Ezra was to be both a teacher and a judge in the community, setting up a panel of magistrates and judges to oversee the judicial needs of the community.

The area described as Beyond the River was widespread. It included people of many nations, many of whom would have had no knowledge of YHWH. It is inconceivable that the kings of Persia, who so favoured people looking to their ancient gods, would have sought to turn them to Yahwism. So it is quite clear that Artaxerxes’ statements have to be interpreted of those who did see themselves as committed to the Law of God.

‘After the wisdom of God which is in your hand.’ In verse 14 it was ‘the Law of God which was in his hand’. This appears to confirm that by ‘the wisdom of God’ Artaxerxes means His Law, indicating the great respect that he had for it.

7.26 ‘And whoever will not do the law of your God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed on him with all diligence, whether it be to death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.’

Ezra was made responsible, not only to ensure that the law of God was obeyed, but also the law of the king. He thus had religious and civil responsibility, a combination that Jews of course constantly had to face up to when they were living outside the land. The severer of the punishments then listed were possibly in respect of the law of the king, although the Law of God certainly demanded the death penalty for certain gross sins such as murder and adultery. He and his judges were given quite awesome powers. These included the right to pass the death penalty, the right to order banishment, the right to confiscate goods, and the right to imprison. The actual carrying out of the punishment would no doubt be by the Persian authorities.

This putting of local religious law on a par with the law of the king appears to have been a Persian policy. In 519 BC Darius instructed the Egyptian satrap to gather ‘wise men’ among ‘the warriors, priests and scribes of Egypt’ so that they may ‘set down in writing the ancient laws of Egypt’. This could only have been in order for these laws to be in some way incorporated into the legal system in Egypt.

(End of Aramaic section).

Ezra Expresses His Appreciation To YHWH (7.27-28).

From this point on we have a passage (7.27-9.15) where Ezra uses the first person singular in what are often called ‘The Ezra Memoirs’. But it is quite clear that verses 27-28 connect back with what has gone before from verse 1. This has caused many to see that 7.1-11 must also have mainly been based on Ezra’s memoirs, if indeed they were not the work of Ezra himself. Certainly the inclusion of the decree of Artaxerxes in Aramaic must be seen as the work of Ezra, for verses 27-28 assume it. It can therefore be reasonably argued that the writer’s faithfulness to his sources points to Ezra’s authorship from 7.1 onwards in spite of the use of the third person (which regularly occurs in Scripture as used by writers when referring to themselves). And this being so there is good reason for arguing that the accumulation of all that has gone before, and the faithful use of sources, including the citing in Aramaic of the various decrees, is also the work of Ezra.

7.27 ‘Blessed be YHWH, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of YHWH which is in Jerusalem,’

Ezra gives praise to YHWH for having put it into the king’s heart to beautify the house of YHWH in Jerusalem. He thus sees this as one of the main emphases of the decree. As he was given permission to use surplus monies in any way that he felt suitable (verse 18) it indicates that this is one of the things that he would have majored on. This would explain why he saw Artaxerxes as one of those involved with enabling the completion of the Temple (6.14).

7.28a ‘And has extended covenant love to me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes.’

He also sees YHWH as having extended ‘covenant love’ towards him before the king, his chief advisers, and all his mighty princes. He recognised that it was YHWH Who had put it into their hearts in order to give him the authority to do all these things.

The List Of The Names Of Those Who Gathered In Order To Go With Ezra From Babylon (7.28b-8.14).

Having been given permission by Artaxerxes to take with him on his mission all Israelites who freely and voluntarily wanted to return to their own land, Ezra gathered together to go with him ‘chief men out of Israel’ who fitted into that category. This time the situation was a little different from the time of Cyrus, for now there was a settled community which would receive them, and there was a functioning Temple in Jerusalem. Along with these chief men were many who were related to them, being of the same clan. The details of those who were going is listed, and once again it is only the adult males who are numbered. Significantly the priests and the Davidides (who were intercessory priests (Psalm 110.4; 2 Samuel 8.18) and had a special place in Temple worship in Ezekiel) are not numbered. The same applied to the Levites in Numbers 1.47. This points to this list having been prepared by a priest, and therefore probably Ezra. Such a list would necessarily have been made by Ezra once they had all gathered at the river (or canal) of Ahava (verse 15) in preparation for the journey.

The numbering from which the Levites (and therefore the priests) were excluded in Numbers 1 was the list of those available for military service. Ezra may well have seen the planned journey as a military operation, with the adult males required to defend the caravan. From this priests would be excluded.

This list differs from that in Ezra 2 in that it commences with priestly representatives, followed by a Davidide, followed by the names of twelve families of which the names of their chief men are given (although there are more than twelve chief men. See verses 13 and 14). It has been suggested that twelve groups were chosen in order to represent them as paralleling the twelve tribes of Israel returning to their land as at the Exodus (compare Numbers 1.5-43). See the note below on verse 28b for the Exodus motif. We can compare this with the twelve chief men in 2.2 (if we include Sheshbazzar as suggested).

7.28b ‘And I was strengthened according to the hand of YHWH my God upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.’

We note that Ezra saw himself as strengthened by the hand of YHWH his God upon him. He may well have seen himself as paralleling Moses for whom YHWH would put forth His hand (Exodus 3.20) and who was very much strengthened by the hand of YHWH (Exodus 4.1-17; 13.3, 14), and who numbered the adult males of the people in readiness to go forward (Numbers 1.1-4), and also Joshua who was entering a new country with the Law of God in his hand and knew himself to be strengthened by YHWH (Joshua 1.1-9). And the consequence was that Ezra gathered together the chief men of Israel to go with him, as Moses had so long before (Exodus 4.29; Numbers 1.5-17).

8.1 ‘Now these are the heads of their fathers’ (houses), and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king:’

Notice the ‘me’. Ezra is here speaking in the first person, of those who went with him from Babylon. For ‘the heads of their fathers’ compare 1.5 where it spoke of those who took part in the initial return. Note that in this case their genealogy is specifically said to be given. ‘In the reign of Artaxerxes the king’ underlines the name of his royal benefactor.

The Priests.

Two branches of priests are described, representing the two sons of Aaron who were left after his first two sons were slain for offering false incense (Leviticus 10.1-2).

8.2a ‘Of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom.’

Phinehas was the son of Eliezer, who was the third son of Aaron (Numbers 25.11; 1 Chronicles 6.50). Gershom was the name of one of the sons of Moses (Exodus 2.22), and of one of the sons of Levi (1 Chronicles 6.10). It had now been taken by the current head of the house of Phinehas. He had probably died by the time Nehemiah’s covenant was sealed as he was not a sealant. He was presumably a head of his father’s house (verse 1). Note that the priests are not numbered (see Numbers 1.47). That there were a number of them comes out in 8.24 where twelve are chosen to watch over the money and vessels destined for the Temple. The reason for not numbering them is that they were sacred to YHWH and not seen as part of those available to fight, the latter being more dispensable.

8.2b ‘Of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel.’

Ithamar was the fourth son of Aaron (Exodus 6.23; 1 Corinthians 6.3). Daniel was the chief man of the house descended from him. He was one of those who sealed the sure covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.6). There was also a Daniel who was one of David’s sons (1 Chronicles 3.1), and of course there was the famous prophet who traditionally wrote the book of Daniel was named Daniel. It was thus a popular name. Again the priests are not numbered.

The House Of David.

8.2c-3a ‘Of the sons of David, Hattush, of the sons of Shecaniah.’

David was, of course, the king of Israel of that name. Hattush was his descendant and may well be the Hattush mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3.22, who was there described as ‘of the sons of Shecaniah’. This Hattush was probably the one who sealed the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.6), although there was an Hattush who was a priest who went up to Judah with Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12.2). The importance of the mention of this name is that it indicates that there was a Davidide among the later returnees. Amongst the earlier ones, of course, was Zerubbabel (2.2). There may have been others among the sons of Bethlehem (2.21). The moving of ‘from the sons of Shecaniah’ to follow Hattush does not alter the original text, it fits the pattern that follows and it ties in with 1 Chronicles 3.22. As with the priests, his family are not numbered. This may be because they were seen as intercessory ‘priests after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalm 110.4; compare 2 Samuel 8.18).

The Chief Men.

8.3b ‘Of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah, and with him were reckoned by genealogy of the males a hundred and fifty.’

The sons of Parosh are the ones mentioned first of ‘the males of the people of Israel’ (2.3). A further one hundred and fifty will now join them. Zechariah was chief man among them. Unusually his father is not named, but compare verses 13 and 14. The fact that in the next few verses the numbers end in nought suggests that the numbers are round numbers.

8.4 ‘Of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah, and with him two hundred males.’

Sons of Pahath-moab are mentioned in 2.6 as having returned with Zerubbabel. These will therefore join them in the community. Eliehoenai was the chief man among the new arrivals, and he brought with him two hundred males.

8.5 ‘Of the sons of Shecaniah, Ben-Jahaziel, and with him three hundred males.’

No sons of Shecaniah are mentioned as having returned with Zerubbabel, but it is possible that there were some with him who were named under the name of their city, or it may be that none had then chosen to return. The name of their chief man may therefore have been Ben-Jahaziel (compare Bar-timaeus - Mark 10.46), in which case there would be no need to name his father who was, of course, Jahaziel.

Alternately it may be that a name has been accidentally omitted. On this basis some have suggested emendation to ‘of the sons of Zattu, Shecaniah the son of Jahaziel’ (Zattu having dropped out) which would find partial support in the apocryphal 1 Esdras 8.32. But that in itself might have been an attempt to solve what it saw as a problem, something which the writer of 1 Esdras tended to do. Even then 1 Esdras has Zathoes, which does not agree with its own rendering of Zattu as Zathui (1 Esdras 5.12).

Shecaniah was a very popular name. It is the name of priest who returned with Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12.3) It is the name of the chief of the tenth course of priests under David (1 Chronicles 24.11). It is the name of a priest during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 31.15). It is the name of one of the sons of Elam who supported Ezra in dealing with the problem of marrying foreign wives (10.2). A Shecaniah is the father of Shemaiah, the keeper of the East Gate, in Nehemiah 3.29. Another was the father-in-law of Tobiah the Ammonite (Nehemiah 6.18). And we have already seen a Shecaniah mentioned above in verse 3.

8.6 ‘And of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him fifty males.’

Sons of Adin had arrived with Zerubbabel (2.15). They were now being joined by other members of their family under the headship of Ebed, the son of Jonathan, who brought with him fifty males.

8.7 And of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him seventy males.’

Sons of Elam had arrived with Zerubbabel (2.7) and they were now being joined by more members of the family under the headship of Jeshaiah, the son of Athaliah,

8.8 ‘And of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him eighty males.’

Sons of Shephatiah had arrived with Zerubbabel (2.4). They were now being joined by other members of their family under the headship of Zebediah, the son of Michael. The sons of both Adin and Shephatiah are in a different order from Ezra 2 confirming that one list has not just been built up from the other.

8.9 ‘Of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him two hundred and eighteen males.’

Sons of Joab, a son of Pahath-moab, had arrived with Zerubbabel (2.6). They would now be joined by two hundred and eighteen males and their families, under the headship of Obadiah, the son of Jehiel. The reason for their distinctive mention here may be because for some reason they had achieved more importance and therefore now liked to see themselves as separate from the other sons of Pahath-moab.

8.10 ‘And of the sons of Shelomith, Ben-Josiphiah, and with him a hundred and sixty males.’

There were no sons of Shelomith mentioned among the arrivals under Zerubbabel, but they may well have been named under the name of their town. They arrived under the headship of Ben-josiphiah. Compare comments on verse 5.

Shelomith was a popular name with both men and women. It was the name of the mother of a man who was stoned for blasphemy (Leviticus 24.11), and of a daughter of Zerubbabel (1 Chronicles 3.19). It was the name of one of the sons of the priest Izhar (1 Chronicles 23.18).

An emendation has been suggested here to ‘of the sons of Bani, Shelomith, the son of (ben) Josiphiah’, on the basis of 1 Esdras 8.36, although the latter has Banias, whilst 1 Esdras 5.14 has Bani. 1 Esdras would appear to be trying to achieve conformity. The same stricture applies as in verse 5.

8.11 ‘And of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai; and with him twenty eight males.’

Sons of Bebai had arrived under Zerubbabel in 2.11. They were now joined by other members of their family under the headship of Zechariah, the son of Bebai. They share with the sons of Joab (verse 9) the distinction of not being a round number. This latter Bebai was a different Bebai, carrying on the family name.

8.12 ‘And of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him a hundred and ten males.’

Sons of Azgad had arrived in two different groups on the first return (see on 2.12). Their number is now further increased here under the headship of Johanan, the son of Hakkatan. Johanan was a popular Jewish name..

8.13 ‘And of the sons of Adonikam, the last, and these are their names: Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, and with them sixty males.’

Sons of Adonikam had returned with Zerubbabel (2.13). The reference here to them as the last’ may indicate that now all the sons of Adonikam had returned. Three chief men are named and the names of their fathers are omitted. This must be seen as surprising in itself (although compare verse 3b), but interestingly 1 Esdras concurs. In view of the changes by the writer of 1 Esdras elsewhere one may feel that the author could think of no explanation. This must throw doubt on his other changes. The reference to ‘with them’ confirms the plurality of chief men.

8.14 ‘And of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud, and with them (literally ‘him’) seventy males.’

Sons of Bigvai had arrived with Zerubbabel (2.14). These will now add to them. There were two chief men over them, Uthai and Zabbud. Again their fathers’ names are not given. In view of the ‘with him’ (in contrast to ‘with them’ in verse 13) it has been suggested that ‘ben’ (son) has dropped out and been replaced by waw (‘and’), but there is no other evidence to support this. We would then read ‘Uthai the son of Zabbud’. But against this it can be claimed:

  • 1). That the families in verses 13 and 14 came last in the list precisely because they had multiple chief men.
  • 2). That while 1 Esdras, characteristically of the writer’s methods, reduces the chief men to one, it gives a very different name for the father (‘Uthi the son of Istalcarus’).
  • 3). That we could argue that ‘with him’ indicates that Zabbud was the most important of the two sons, the ‘with him’ simply referring to Zabbud.
  • 4). That ‘with him’ simply sees the two men as a unit, possibly because they were twins. Even if they were not, the writer may well have thought that he could reasonably present two chief men as a unit, while feeling it unsuitable when there were three.
  • 5). Some Hebrew MSS and versions do have ‘with them’ (it would, however, be an obvious correction).

So those gathered with Ezra included two priests, one from each of the surviving branches of Aaron’s sons (a large proportion of priests had already gone back), a Davidide, and twelve representative family groups, possibly numerically representing the twelve tribes of Israel, thus covering every aspect of Israel’s life. That other priests accompanied the two mentioned is apparent from verse 24. But, as became priests, they were not ‘numbered’.

Ezra Discovers That No Levites Have Joined The Returnees And Makes Arrangements For Some To Join The Party (8.15-20).

Gathering his party together at the Canal which runs to Ahava, which was probably an important caravan junction (possibly Strabo’s ‘Scenae’), Ezra reviewed those who were present, both of priests and of people, and discovered no Levites among them. Possibly in view of the already small number of Levites who had previously returned (2.40), possibly in order to make the caravan a mirror image of the Exodus (although he could hardly have used this as an argument in order to persuade the Levites to go with him from their comfortable lives in Babylonia), and probably because they would be needed to carry the Temple vessels, he then proceeded to take measures in order to add some to his party.

8.15 ‘And I gathered them together to the river or canal) which runs to Ahava, and there we encamped three days, and I viewed the people, and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi.’

Babylon itself was surrounded by rivers and canals, and this was probably a recognised assembly spot for caravans. Some identify it with Strabo’s ‘Scenae’, an important caravan junction near Babylon. Whilst they were encamped there ‘for three days’ (i.e. a few days) Ezra, as caravan leader, reviewed the people and the priests who were with him. Note the usual distinction between ‘people’ and ‘priests’. ‘Levites’ are notably missing as soon became obvious to Ezra.

8.16 ‘Then sent I for Eliezer, for Ariel, for Shemaiah, and for Elnathan, and for Jarib, and for Elnathan, and for Nathan, and for Zechariah, and for Meshullam, (these were) chief men. And for Joiarib, and for Elnathan, who were ‘men of discretion.’

Noting the absence of Levites Ezra chose out some important men whom he could send to remedy the need, for Levites would be required in order to carry the sacred Temple vessels. It was to Levites that God had given that privilege in the Law of Moses. Nine of these were ‘chief men’, and therefore men of influence, and two were ‘men of discretion’. This last phrase may have been used to describe men who had a special gift of friendly persuasion. If the idea was to see them as priests why did he not follow his usual method of distinguishing people and priests? (In verse 18a, a Levite is a ‘man of discretion’). The importance of those in the delegation would be in order to impress those to whom they were going. The necessity for ‘persuaders’ indicated the sensitivity of the task in hand. It is possible that the ‘men of discretion’ were in fact the Jarib (Joiarib is an alternative rendering of Jarib) and Elnathan already mentioned but now defined. Note that there are two (or three) Elnathans and one Nathan. Nathan means ‘given’, Elnathan ‘given by God’. It was probably a popular name among the Exiles as indicating that even in their Exile God had not forgotten them but had ‘given’ them heirs.

Of the nine men here designated as ‘chief men’, the names of Eliezer, Shemaiah, Jarib, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam occur again in 10.15, 18-31, where they are connected with the taking of ‘foreign wives’, although we cannot necessarily assume that they are the same men.

8.17 ‘And I sent them forth to Iddo the chief man at the place Casiphia, and I told them what they should say to Iddo, his brothers, the Nethinim, at the place Casiphia, that they should bring unto us servants for the house of our God.’

These chief men were sent to ‘Iddo, the chief man at the place (maqowm) Casiphia’. Casiphia was clearly a place where Ezra knew that many Levites would be found. The word maqowm is regularly connected with sacred sanctuaries (see our commentary on Deuteronomy 12), and here it is clear that it is a place where the Levites were to be found in numbers, but seemingly not priests (otherwise they would surely have been approached). It may suggest, not so much that Casiphia contained a specific sanctuary (otherwise priests would have been there), but that the Levites had made it a Levitical city so that it was seen as a place for gathering for worship and religious guidance (note how the Levites participate in teaching and prayer in Nehemiah 8.7-8; 9.4 ff.; etc.), especially now that so few priests remained (note the number who had gone with Zerubbabel in chapter 2). Some relate the name to ‘ceseph’ = silver, money, and 1 Esdras 8.45 has ‘the place of the treasury’. LXX has literally ‘the rulers of the money of the place’ which indicates the same idea. Thus it may also have been a place where tithes and/or freewill offerings were gathered by the Levites in order to assist the poor and needy among the exiles (see Deuteronomy 14.28-29).

‘To Iddo, his brothers, the Nethinim’. In other words to Iddo, to his brothers the Levites, and to the Temple servants, over all of whom Iddo was head. ‘Brother’ is singular but must clearly be seen as a compound singular indicating his family of brothers, or be repointed as a plural using the same consonantal text.

‘That they should bring unto us servants for the house of our God.’ That it says ‘they’ and not ‘he’ demonstrates that it was calling for voluntary response from the Levites. It was an honoured service to which they were being called. They were to be YHWH’s servants, His inheritance. And they would be needed in order to bear the sacred Temple vessels. But we can understand why men who were free to live life as they liked, balked at the idea of becoming restricted to lowly service in the Temple. Exile would have given them a new perspective. This was no doubt why not one of them had responded to Ezra’s original call.

‘Our God.’ The continual repetition of these words (see verses 18,21, 22, 23, 25, 30, 31, 33) may suggest that Ezra was writing a report for the eyes of king Artaxerxes, or his underlings, ‘our God’ being used in order to make clear that it was the God of Israel to Whom they had been responsible, and on behalf of Whom they had acted.

8.18a ‘And according to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of discretion, from the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel,’

‘They brought us a man of discretion.’ Presumably the Levites and Nethinim came together in order to discuss who should respond to the call of God, for it was ‘they’ who, as a result of ‘the good hand of our God upon us’, brought to his representatives a number of Levites and Nethinim who were willing to respond to his call. These were headed by a worthy man of ‘the sons of Mahli, who was the son of Levi, who was the son of Israel’. The ‘son of Israel’ may simply signify ‘a true Israelite’. Alternatively it might be seen as stressing his descent from the man who was transformed as a result of meeting God at the Brook Jabbok as he journeyed to the land of promise, (in the same way as they were proposing to do) when Jacob became Israel (Genesis 32.28). Mahli was in fact a son of Merari, and grandson to Levi (Exodus 6.19; Numbers 3.20).

8.18b ‘Namely Sherebiah, with his sons and his brothers, eighteen,’

‘The man of discretion was unnamed, and as that is unlikely it presumably referred to Sherebiah, the first named, who came with his sons and his kinsmen, numbering eighteen in all. The name Sherebiah occurs regularly in Ezra/ Nehemiah. See verse 24 where it refers to him as one of those to whom the treasures were entrusted for the journey. Furthermore in Nehemiah 8.7 a Sherebiah is one of the Levites who taught the Law; in 9.4,5 he participated in prayer and worship; and in 10.12 he was one of those who sealed Nehemiah’s covenant, indicating his important status. These references probably refer to this man. In 12.8 there is a Sherebiah who was a chief of the Levites, who accompanied Zerubbabel, possibly his grandfather.

8.19 ‘And Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, his brothers and their sons, twenty,’

Along with Sherebiah came Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah, a Merarite, along with his kinsmen and their sons. Hashabiah, like Sherebiah, was also the name of one of those to whom gold was entrusted for the journey (verse 24). In Nehemiah 3.17 a Hashabiah, who was a Levite, and was ruler over half of Keilah, worked on the wall being built by Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 12.24 Hashabiah, a chief of the Levites, along with Sherebiah and Jeshua, was of those who offered praise and thanksgiving. These may all have been the same Heshabiah. But that Hashabiah was a popular name comes out in its mention in 1 Chronicles 6.45; 9.14; 25.3; 27.17; 2 Chronicles 35.9; Nehemiah 11.15, 22; 12.21.

This Jeshaiah and his kinsmen were ‘sons of Merari’ who was a son of Levi. The name Jeshaiah is also found as the ‘son’ of Hananiah, who was the son of Zerubbabel (1 Chronicles 3.21; as a "son" of Jeduthun, and like him a temple musician (1 Chronicles 25.3, 15); as a Levite, ancestor of Shelemoth, one of David's treasurers (1 Chronicles 26.25); as a descendant of Elam; who went with Ezra from Babylon to Jerusalem (8.7); and as a Benjamite who was the ancestor of Sallu in Nehemiah 11.7.

So thirty eight Levites demonstrated their willingness to accompany Ezra which, considering the short time being allowed, would have been very encouraging. (There were apparently only nine days, that is from the first of the month to the twelfth of the month, after taking into account the three days of review - 7.9; 8.15, 21). They would be later be joining the Levites who had come up with Zerubbabel (2.40).

8.20a ‘And of the Nethinim, whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim.’

Of the Nethinim, who had been gifts of the Davidic house (‘David’ often indicates the Davidic house) for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty volunteered to go with Ezra. The large number may suggest that they felt that they had little to lose, and they would be required to watch over the bearing of the treasures as assistants to the Levites.

8.20b ‘All of them were mentioned by name.’

This probably indicates that the names of the volunteering Levites and Nethinim were listed, although it might have been by a public roll-call. To be mentioned by name regularly indicated praise and approval. This mentioning by name explains how we know their numbers, for as the priests had not been numbered we would expect the same of the Levites. But that numbering was of those who, among other factors, were available to guard the caravan. The naming and numbering here had nothing to do with that. It was in respect of who was volunteering to go with Ezra to Jerusalem. It will be noted that in Numbers 1-4, whilst the Levites were excluded from the numbering of the adult males for the purpose of being available to fight, they are later numbered with regard to their service. So the same thing happens here.

Ezra Gathers The Returnees In Order To Pray For Their Safety On The Journey (8.21-23).

The people who were returning with Ezra having all gathered (although it may have commenced before the Levites and Nethinim arrived) Ezra proclaimed a fast so that they could effectively pray for a safe journey.

8.21 ‘Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek of him a straight way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.’

The people who had gathered for the journey had had about twelve days to get themselves organised for it, and towards the end of that period Ezra proclaimed a fast where they were at the river Ahava so that they could humble themselves before God, praying for their journey to be a safe one and to be relatively unhindered. Fasting had always been a way of expressing humility and recognition of unworthiness at difficult and dangerous times, and no more so than at this period (compare Judges 20.26; 1 Samuel 7.6; Isaiah 58.3; Joel 1.8, 14; 2.12-17; Nehemiah 9.1; Esther 4.3, 16). This is the first mention that we have of ‘little ones’ but it is a reminder that that all those who returned who were married would have with them families and little ones. He was also concerned because he knew that they were taking large amounts of gold and silver with them, to say nothing of their own possessions. It was going to be a large caravan. Such a trip always produced its own difficulties, and it was going to be a great temptation to large bands of brigands, who tended to watch the trade routes. This may have been one reason why the men of Israel had been ‘numbered’.

8.22 ‘For I was ashamed to ask of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is on all those who seek him, for good; but his power and his wrath is against all those who forsake him.’

He could, of course, have asked the king for an escort (the king had promised him every assistance). But he was ashamed to do so because of the way in which he had boasted to the king of how the hand of God would be with them. In the face of that asking for military help would have seemed to him as a betrayal that would cast doubt on the faithfulness of God. The narrative demonstrates what often happens when men cast themselves on God and take a step of faith. They can go through periods of apprehension and wondering why they had done it. Not all have such faith that they never have a moment of doubt. It is an encouragement to us that Ezra, the great man of faith, should also have experienced doubts. But even without the escort they had over 1500 men of fighting age and over, who were available to act as guards, and a good number of older teenagers who would also be able to carry weapons, no doubt all showing themselves on the edges of the caravan. We are not told what animals were available but it is probably safe to assume that Ezra was not averse to asking for horses for his guards, in which case they would at least appear to be a formidable fighting force. A further factor that would have given him some assurance was that the network of roads maintained by the Persian authorities were regularly watched over by protective patrols.

His boast to the king had been that Israel’s God had His hand on all who sought Him, for good, whilst His power and wrath were revealed against all evildoers. If it were true then it should ensure that the godly caravan was protected, whilst any adversaries would be routed. To have asked for an escort would have belittled God. Note how he sees all evildoers as forsaking God, although he may well have had in mind regular prayers for protection found in the Psalms. But he was still clearly apprehensive of the possibility of ‘liers-in-wait’ (verse 31).

In contrast to Ezra, Nehemiah was delighted to have an escort provided by the king (Nehemiah 2.9). This is to see the distinction between two godly men, one of whom was a priest and the other a believing politician. In neither case is blame attached to the decision. It is a reminder that God works with His own in multiple ways, while not despising practical common sense. Ezra’s faith proved justified. Nehemiah’s was equally justified. Of course Nehemiah was going to Jerusalem as Governor, and was probably accompanied by Persian officials. The king would have looked askance on him if he had chosen the same route as Ezra with regard to an escort.

8.23 ‘So we fasted and besought our God for this, and he was entreated of us.’

So they fasted and prayed earnestly, and came to a place where they were confident that God had heard them, and the future would prove them right.

Ezra Entrusts The Gifts For The House Of YHWH Into The Hands Of Twelve Chief Priests For Them To Guard On The Journey (8.24-30).

It is never right to use faith as an excuse for foolishness. So having committed everything to God, and having obtained assurance of His protection, he now took wise steps to safeguard the treasure. He divided the treasure up among a number of trustworthy men, so that each could protect what was entrusted to him. They would have to watch against both internal thieves, and any attempts made by brigands on the caravan.

8.24 ‘Then I set apart twelve of the chiefs of the priests, for Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brothers with them,’

As became the responsibility of Levites, to Sherebiah and Hashabiah (compare verse 19) and ten of their brothers was granted the privilege of overseeing the bearing of the treasures. These were of course the chiefs among the Levites. They would oversee the actual bearing of the treasures by their brothers. But in order to safeguard them from any charges of failure in their duties, and in order to keep overall watch over the treasures, twelve chiefs of priest were set over them to take overall responsibility for the treasure. As the treasures were mainly intended for the Temple it would have been an insult to the priests if they had not had such overall responsibility. The number twelve indicated that they were acting on behalf of all Israel.

8.25 ‘And weighed to them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering for the house of our God, which the king, and his counsellors, and his princes, and all Israel there present, had offered.’

The silver, gold and vessels were weighed and technically handed over to the chiefs of the priests, who would be called upon to sign for them, but they would immediately have called on the Levites to bear them. They would not bend their backs to such matters. These were the offerings for the house of God which had been received from the king, his chief counsellors, his princes and all of Israel in the locality who had willingly offered. Here we learn that additionally to the counsellors, the aristocracy had been called on by the king to contribute.

8.26-27 ‘I weighed into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, and a hundred silver vessels in talents (or by repointing ‘of two talents each’), and a hundred talents of gold, and twenty bowls of gold, of a thousand darics, and two vessels of beautifully glittering bronze, precious as gold.’

The riches that had been gathered were now put into the hands of those appointed. Six hundred talents of silver was a huge amount. But it was tiny as compared with the riches of the Persian empire. The hundred silver vessels were apparently one talent each, although it could be repointed as dual, and therefore as two talents. A hundred talents of gold was again a very large amount. But the richest men throughout Babylonia had contributed, and wanted the king to see how much they cared about his life and the life of his sons. Twenty bowls of gold worth 1,000 darics each were for the Temple of the God of Heaven (whom they may well have associated with their own god, Ahura-mazda). The two vessels of beautifully glittering bronze were clearly seen as very special. They were ‘precious as gold’. That may have been because some metal-worker had had his own secret formula which had achieved unique and spectacular results (he may even have discovered how to produce true brass, but if so his secret died with him), or it may be because the material used came from a distant country and was rare (orichale has been suggested).

What had to be carried if these figures are correct was considerable, in weight as well as in value. There were at least 850 talents and 1,000 darics. If we take a talent as representing approximately 30 kilograms (66 pounds), the talents would come to over 25,000 kilograms (56,000 pounds). Divided among 258 Levites and their assistants that would mean each carried about 100 kilograms (or 225 pounds), although of course they would be able to call on asses and camels for the most part. (The holy vessels may have had to be carried by hand). It is not therefore impossible.

Remembering that Solomon would not even deign to use silver, ‘silver was not accounted of in the day of Solomon’ (1 Kings 10.21), and that the Persian kings were richer far, we should not be surprised at the huge amount of silver involved (compare on 1.9; 7.22). When we consider that the king and his wealthy counsellors would be vying with each other to be accounted generous, and that on top of these were the further contributions required from the wealthy aristocracy, these figures are not inconceivable. In the king’s eyes, nothing would have been too good for the God of Heaven, and he had probably heard how fabulously richly inlaid the Temple had once been. He would not want to suffer by comparison in the eyes of the God of Heaven. We see these figures as enormous. American multi-billionaires, like Persian kings, would see them as reasonable.

8.28 ‘And I said to them, “You are holy unto YHWH, and the vessels are holy; and the silver and the gold are a freewill-offering to YHWH, the God of your fathers.”

Ezra then reminded the priests and Levites that they were ‘holy unto YHWH’, as were the sacred vessels, which he may well have consecrated. It is probable that these vessels would have to be carried by the Levites themselves because of their holiness, which would be why the presence of Levites would be so necessary. But while the silver and gold were a freewill offering to YHWH, and therefore to be seen as sacred in a secondary way, they would eventually be melted down and used for the benefit of the Temple. Thus they were not ‘most holy’, and could no doubt be borne by asses and camels. Notice the reference to ‘YHWH the God of your fathers’, only found here and in 8.28. It is also found in Exodus 3.13-16 when Moses is called to deliver Israel; in Deuteronomy 1.11; 4.1 where they are to go in and possess the land and multiply; and in Joshua 18.3 where the taking of the land which God had given them is spoken of. It was therefore very apt. It is also used three times in 2 Chronicles. It may well be that Ezra wanted us to see them as ‘going forward in order to take the land’ for the Law of God.

8.29 “Watch you, and keep them, until you weigh them before the chiefs of the priests and the Levites, and the princes of the fathers’ (houses) of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of YHWH.”

The priests and Levites in question were to keep watch over the sacred vessels and the treasure, and guard them until they were able to weigh them before the chiefs of the priests and the Levites, and the princes of the fathers’ (houses), as they handed them over in the side rooms of the house of YHWH.

8.30 ‘So the priests and the Levites received the weight of the silver and the gold, and the vessels, to bring them to Jerusalem to the house of our God.’

And thus did the priests and Levites receive the weight of the silver and gold and the vessels in order to bring them to the house of God in Jerusalem.

Ezra And The Returnees Are Kept Safe On The Journey, Hand Over The Treasures To The House Of God, Offer Offering And Sacrifices To YHWH, And Deliver The King’s Commission To The Authorities (8.31-36).

The journey had begun on the first day of the month (7.9), but due to the delay caused by the necessity of obtaining Levites to bear the sacred vessels, the caravan could not set off from the river Ahava until the twelfth day of the month. However, once they had started off the journey went well, and as soon as they reached Jerusalem they rested for three days and then handed over the treasures to the priests and Levites in the Temple, after which offerings, and sacrifices for sin, were made to YHWH. Finally the king’s commissions were handed over to the kings satraps, and the governors of Beyond the River, who, along with the Israelite leadership, faithfully carried out their requirements.

8.31 ‘Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem, and the hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and those who lie-in-wait by the way.’

They left the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the month. The intention to leave earlier was possibly because of the approaching Passover, which they would celebrate as a family festival en route. The first month may well have been chosen in order to parallel the flight from Egypt. And during their journey, which would be almost a thousand miles, they were aware that the hand of God was upon them. Given that their journey took around four months, they would have had to travel at about nine miles a day which was good going for such a mixed caravan. But the Persian network of roads made it quite feasible.

‘The hand of our God was on us.’ In verse 22 Ezra had informed the king that ‘the hand of Israel’s God was upon all who those who seek Him’. In verse 17 he had declared that they had obtained a response from the Levites as a result of the fact that ‘the hand of Israel’s God was upon them’. Now he reveals that they had a safe journey because ‘the hand of Israel’s God was upon them’. This would again tie in with the idea that this passage was written as a report to the king.

‘He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and those who lie-in-wait by the way.’ We do not know whether the deliverance came as a result of beating off attacks, or by way of no attacks. But either way God was triumphant. For ‘the enemy’ compare ‘the enemy in the way’ (verse 22). We have here a reminder of the dangers of travel in those days. There were those who lay in wait, ever ready to take advantage of a weak moment, and as we know the caravan was a rich prize.

8.32 ‘And we came to Jerusalem, and stayed there three days.’

Arriving in Jerusalem they rested for ‘three days’. This period would enable them to recover from the rigours of the journey and sort themselves out. The leaders’ attention would initially be required in order to keep things organised, for they had to be settled in. Including women and children there would probably have been over five thousand people to cater for. But the Jews already there would no doubt have made them welcome. We can be sure that news would have gone ahead of the caravan

8.33 ‘And on the fourth day the silver and the gold and the vessels were weighed in the house of our God into the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest; and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them was Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah the son of Binnui, the Levite.’

Then on the fourth day they had reported at the Temple taking with them the gold and the silver and the sacred vessels, which were weighed and handed over to the Temple authorities. These Temple authorities consisted of Meremoth, the son of Uriah the priest and Eleazar, the ‘son’ of Phinehas, who would therefore also have been a priest. And together with them were two Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah, the son of Binnui. The priests would probably be responsible for the weighing and recording, while the Levites did the carrying.

Two priests would be required so as to establish the receipt of the treasures on a twofold witness. It would be the minimum required. The number of Levites would match that of the priests. In Nehemiah 13.13 Nehemiah assumes the same pattern which was probably a long established one.

Meremoth, the son of Uriah the priest, was presumably one of the Temple treasurers (compare Nehemiah 13.13 where two others are named as appointed by Nehemiah, which may suggest that at that stage he was demoted, although he may have died meanwhile). ‘Uriah the priest’ indicates a priest of some importance. Ezra was also regularly called ‘Ezra the priest’, and ‘Shelemoth the priest’ was appointed as a Temple treasurer (Nehemiah 13.13). The title does not therefore mean High Priest, but indicates a leading priest. Meremoth thus came from an important priestly family.

It must be seen as unlikely that Meremoth, son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz who was a prominent wall builder under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3.4, 21) was the same one. He is not there directly related to the priesthood, and the names were popular ones. Indeed Nehemiah 3.17 may suggest that this latter was a Levite. The sons of Hakkoz had not been accepted as priests because they could not prove their genealogy (2.62), although it may be that by this time that had been remedied. In Nehemiah 10.6 a Meremoth is listed as eleventh among the priests, but seen as important enough to be called on as a sealant of the covenant of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 12.3 a Meremoth, (clearly not the same one), was one of the chiefs of the priests who had come up with Zerubbabel. Meremoth the son of Uriah may have been his grandson.

Eleazar the son of Phinehas may be the Eleazar mentioned in 10.18 as having taken a foreign wife, but the name was a common one (see 10.23, 31) and identity is by no means certain. He is clearly different from the Eleazar in 8.16 who had arrived with Ezra, for he was already a high level priest in the Temple.

‘Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah, the son of Binnui.’ A Jozabad, who may well be the same one, is named as living in Jerusalem and as being a chief Levite who had oversight of the work on the outside of the Temple (Nehemiah 11.16). He may also have been one of those who had married foreign wives (10.23), although that might have been a different Jozabad. Nothing further is known about Noadiah.

But Jozabad and Noadiah were the ‘sons’ of two prominent men, Jeshua and Binnui. These were both sealants of the covenant of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10.9) although it is possible that Jeshua and Binnui were ancestors and that others signed in the family name. Alternately they might have taken the name of their ancestors as the signal of a new beginning. Compare how a Jeshua and Binnui also came back to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel over 80 years earlier (12.8), as did ‘sons of Jeshua’ (Nehemiah 7.43 compare Ezra 2.40). There was much duplication of names among the returnees, and possibly a taking of family names in honour of the new beginning.

8.34 ‘The whole by number and by weight, and all the weight was written at that time.’

Full records were kept of both the vessels and ingots by number, and also by weight, and everything that was brought and handed over was recorded by weight. It is probable that Ezra knew that he would have to report back details of the handing over, and written proof that he had done so. Indeed these two chapters may heave been written up from that report.

8.35 ‘The children of the captivity, who were come out of exile, offered burnt-offerings to the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety six rams, seventy seven lambs, twelve he-goats for a sin-offering, all this was a burnt-offering to YHWH.’

The personal pronouns here change from ‘we’ to ‘they’. This was necessary because here it was all the children of the captivity who participated, not just those who had come with Ezra. It was ‘the children of the captivity who had come out of exile’ regardless of when they had come, and this is confirmed by the mention of the offerings being for ‘all Israel’. Clearly the High Priest and the incumbent priests would be equally involved. Thus Ezra’s returnees were welcomed by the previous returnees, and all together offered offerings and sacrifices.

There were twelve bullocks for all Israel, one per tribe; and ninety six rams, possibly, but not necessarily, seen as eight per tribe (but note the number of lambs), and seventy-seven lambs. To the people of that day seventy seven would indicate intensified divine perfection. They tended to read into numbers ideas rather than quantity. And these were all offered as whole burnt offerings, that is as offerings of homage and dedication to YHWH which were wholly burnt up. Additional to these were the twelve he-goats sacrificed as a sin-offering, one for each of the tribes of Israel, necessary in order to deal with the sin of Israel so that Israel could be dedicated to God and approach Him in worship. The ‘twelve tribes’, would be seen as including the priests and the Levites. All these offerings and sacrifices were seen as ‘a burnt offering to YHWH’, symbolic of atonement, dedication and worship.

8.36 ‘And they delivered the king’s commissions to the king’s satraps, and to the governors of Beyond the River, and they furthered the people and the house of God.’

The community leaders (they), then ensured the delivering of the king’s commissions, as contained in his decrees, to the Persian authorities, that is to the king’s satraps and to the governors of the administrative districts in Beyond the River. The plural satraps may suggest that there was at this time a satrap over Beyond the River as well as an overall satrap over the satrapy of Babylon (which initially at least included the province of Beyond the River), and that both made themselves available in order to receive the king’s commissions, possibly having been advised about them beforehand by the king. In view of the importance of a decree from the king both may well have seen it as necessary to be present at the negotiations with Israel’s representatives as they worked out together how they should be fulfilled. Alternately one of them might have been a visiting satrap from another satrapy who took part in the official ceremony, even possibly as a twofold witness (we can compare how, in Acts, when King Agrippa was visiting Festus he took part in the trial of Paul - Acts 25). But the two are mentioned because that is the number of satraps that Israel’s representatives saw, not necessarily because there were two official satraps of Beyond the River.

‘And they furthered the people and the house of God.’ This may refer to the satraps, and the governors of administrative districts within the satrapy, in that they expeditiously fulfilled the requirements of the decree. Or it may refer to the leading men of Israel as they carried out their part in the fulfilling of the decree. Indeed it may refer to both. Whichever way it is the point being made is that the Persian rulers did what was right by God’s people, in enhancing the Temple, and ensuring that it fully fulfilled its purpose in encouraging the worship of God, whilst the leaders of Israel played their part in ensuring the same.

Ezra Deals With The Problem Of Returnees Who Have Been Led Astray Into Idolatry Having Taken Foreign Wives (9.1-10.44).

It is important here to recognise that what was in question was not the taking of foreign wives who willingly turned away from all false gods and became worshippers of YHWH, but the problem of taking foreign wives who introduced their false gods and ideas into the worship of Israel. This is specifically brought out in 9.1-2, 11-12. It was as a consequence of such false worship that God’s judgment had come on Judah and Jerusalem previously, and there was a grave danger that it could occur again. It was this recognition, and not racism, that made Ezra act as he did. We note here that Ezra’s reference to himself in the first person continues. We are still within the sphere of his own memoirs. His decision here was vital to Israel’s future.

It is understandable why some of the returnees should seek wives among the local population because the numbers given in Ezra 2 suggested that many of them were unmarried. But what they should have ensured was that those wives abjured idolatry and became true Yahwists. It was the failure to observe this rule, by taking wives still involved in idolatry, that led to the problem

What is now described in 9.1-10.6 all took place in the Temple on the same day, and 10.7 onwards then explains the steps that were taken afterwards to deal with the situation. It may be summarised as follows:

  • The princes report to Ezra in the Temple area on the taking of foreign wives involved in idolatry by the aristocracy and the people, thus introducing pollution among God’s people (9.1-2).
  • Ezra expresses his anger and grief and sorrow by his actions, and sits there in utter desolation, while around him gather those in Israel who tremble at God’s word (9.3-4).
  • At the time of the evening sacrifice Ezra prays and acknowledges the sin of the people against God in the face of His mercy (9.5-15).
  • A great crowd gather around Ezra joining with him in his grief (10.1).
  • Shecaniah confesses to Ezra that the people have sinned and suggests that they gather and make a covenant with God to put away their idolatrous foreign wives, calling on Ezra to arise and act (10.2-4).
  • Ezra arises and makes the priests, the Levites and all Israel swear that they will do what had been suggested (10.5).
  • Ezra retires to one of the side chambers and begins a time of fasting and prayer (10.6).
  • Proclamation is made throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the returnees that within three days they must gather in Jerusalem on pain of forfeit of their property (10.7-8).
  • All the returnees gather on the twentieth day of the ninth month in the open area around the Temple, in pouring rain, in great concern over the matter (10.9).
  • Ezra points out firmly that they have sinned in the matter of marriage to idolatrous foreign women, bringing guilt on Israel, and calls on them to make confession and separate themselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign women (10.10-11).
  • The people consent but point out that there are a large number of people involved and the rain is so heavy that they cannot stand out in it, and that besides this it is a matter which will take a few days (10.12-13).
  • They suggest that their princes be appointed to deal with the matter, and that there should be brought before them out of the cities at different appointed times all those who had married foreign women, accompanied by their elders and judges (10.14).
  • A few stand up and oppose the suggestion, but are overridden, with the result that the people do what is suggested (10.15-16a).
  • Ezra and the heads of fathers’ houses spend three months examining the cases as suggested by which time all the cases have been dealt with (10.16b-17).
  • A list is given of the priests, Levites, singers, gate-keepers and all of Israel who have been involved with idolatrous foreign women, and they give their word to put away their wives and offer suitable sacrifices (10.18-44).

The Problem Of Foreign Wives Is Brought To Ezra’s Attention (9.1-4).

It is noteworthy that the problem in question was drawn to Ezra’s attention by some of the ‘princes’ of Israel. This suggests that something had made them become concerned about a situation that they were well aware of. And this must surely have been the Law of God as expounded by Ezra. Ezra had begun his work of teaching the Law, and dealing with law-breaking, and in the course of time he would deal with the very question that was raised, especially as he was probably aware of a little of what was going on. But seemingly he did not want to meet the people head on over such a large issue until at least some concern was expressed. Rather he dealt with it by reading aloud and expounding the Law of God on the subject, leaving that to work on their hearts. Indeed, 10.3 suggests that it had been a matter of concern among those who were faithful to the Law ‘and trembled at it’ to such an extent that they now came up with a solution of how it could be dealt with. So we must see what follows as the people’s response to the teaching of the Law.

9.1 ‘Now when these things were done, the princes drew near to me, saying, “The people of Israel, and the priests and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.”

‘Now when these things were done.’ This is a vague time note simply demonstrating that it occurred some time after the arrival of Ezra and his party, once their celebrations were over, and once he had carried out the king’s initial requests. ‘These things’ included the furthering of the people and the house of God which would involve a lot of his time. Initially proclaiming the Law around the area, and setting up a system of judges would also necessarily take some time, and the period was broken up by the Feast of Trumpets on the 1st day of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement on the 10th day of the seventh month and the Feast of Tabernacles on the 15th day of the seventh month for eight days, during which time the Law would be read out to the people (Deuteronomy 31.10-13). For an example of this later on after the arrival of Nehemiah see Nehemiah 8. This would explain why things only came to a head in ‘the ninth month’ (10.9) whereas the Ezra party had arrived in the fifth month (7.9). But it does serve to bring out the impact that Ezra’s ministry was having. It may well have been the reading of the Law at the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month, together with exposition by Ezra, that made certain of the leaders finally come together and decide to approach Ezra in this way. It was no light thing to do.

Some of the ‘princes’, (heads of fathers’ houses, rulers of districts, and no doubt some of the recently appointed judges), came as a deputation to Ezra and pointed out that men out of all Israel, (the people, the priests and the Levites), were all guilty of practising idolatry and the evils of Canaanite religion. Their words clearly reflect a knowledge of the Law which had probably been emphasised by Ezra. The reference to the Canaanite, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites and the Amorites can be instanced again and again (e.g. Exodus 3.8, 17; 23.23; 34.11, 16; Deuteronomy 7.1-4; 20.7). Exodus 34.11, 16 and Deuteronomy 7.1-4 are particularly apposite as they refer to the dangers inherent in marriage with these peoples with their debased religions. It is interesting that the Hivites are omitted. This last may suggest that descendants of the other nations could still be identified (whether correctly or not) in the land and its surrounding area. But all who were involved in the worship of Baal among the peoples of the land may well have been seen as ‘Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites’. Compare for this the clauses that follow ‘the peoples of the lands’. The peoples from north of Israel, or the wandering Arabs to the east, may well have been seen as Amorites. The reference to the Egyptians may have been derived from Leviticus 18.3, where the ‘doings of the land of Egypt’ were compared with the ‘doings of the land of Canaan’. The Ammonites and the Moabites were the source of the worship of Molech which was such an abomination to the prophets and such a curse to Israel, and was probably still being carried on in the land, which was probably one reason why, apart from their lack of hospitality, they were excluded from membership of the assembly of Israel for ten generations even though they should convert to Yahwism (Deuteronomy 23.3-6). But the impression of the whole is not that it says that it was all right to marry among peoples not named regardless of their religious attitude, but rather to condemn any marriage with people involved in idolatry, and that could include syncretistic Yahwists.

That God had been right to legislate in this way comes out in that, even after the warnings of the prophets and what had happened to Jerusalem in living memory, Israel were still marrying such people and being led astray by their ‘abominations’, that is by their idols and their false religious ideas. We must remember that of the poor who had been left in the land probably the large majority had continued in these ways, and as we have suggested the returnees might well have seen them with their idolatrous practises as reflecting the nations named. It would have been just as wrong to marry a practising syncretistic Yahwist as to marry into these peoples.

9.2 “For they have taken of their daughters for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the peoples of the lands, yes, the hand of the princes and rulers has been chief in this trespass.”

The ‘princes’ pointed out that the main culprits had been the aristocracy who should have been preventing it happening. And they saw their activities as causing ‘the holy seed’ of the returnees and those who had united with them to become mingled with ‘the peoples of the land’, by allowing the aristocrats and the other men of the new Israel to intermarry with idolaters. We can compare Paul’s injunction in 1 Corinthians 6.15-17, where he condemns true Christians who have consorted with prostitutes, religious and otherwise, because by doing so they have become one with them. We should note that this reference to ‘the holy seed’ is in the words of the officials, and is probably citing Isaiah 6.13. They are not the words of Ezra. But it does demonstrate that they saw themselves as the holy remnant of Israel, and as such needing to be religiously pure.

It is not justifiable in context to take seed literally as seed that is implanted, and then to build theories on that basis. The contrast is not with other seed or with soil but with people, as in Isaiah 6.13. Thus the holy seed must signify the holy people. This is such a common use of seed in the Old Testament e.g. Genesis 3.15; 4.25; 12.7; 13.15; and often, that it scarcely needs to be demonstrated.

Once again we must reiterate that at the heart of what happened was a hatred of idolatry and sexual perversion, rather than an attack on races. People of all such nations could eventually have been absorbed into Israel (and had been in the past) if they had truly turned to YHWH. It is, however, certainly a warning to us not to be ‘unequally yoked together with unbelievers’ (2 Corinthians 6.14), because that is to mix light with darkness.

9.3 ‘And when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down desolated.’

Ezra’s response was immediate. This does not necessarily indicate that he had been unaware in general of what was happening, but it does demonstrate that he wanted the people to realise how seriously he treated the matter. He tore his clothes, plucked hair from his head and his beard, and ‘sat down desolated’. These were deliberate signs of distress and anger (compare Nehemiah 13.25). They not only depicted sorrow, but judgment.

9.4 ‘Then were assembled to me every one who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the gross dereliction of duty of those of the captivity, and I sat desolated until the evening oblation.’

Then those who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, that is the truly God-fearing, who, of course, had not taken foreign idolatrous wives, gathered to him to support him because of the gross dereliction of duty, the grievous sin, of ‘those of the captivity’ (those who had returned with Zerubbabel) who had become involved with idolatry. Ezra was clearly now in the Temple area but in a place where people could come to him, that is, in the court around the Temple. And he sat there in his anger and anguish until the time for offering the regular evening sacrifice, at around 3.00 in the afternoon.

Ezra’s Admission Of Israel’s Guilt Before YHWH On Behalf Of The People (9.5-15).

When the time of the evening sacrifice came, no doubt feeling that this act of atonement and dedication on the behalf of the whole of Israel was a suitable time , Ezra then rose from his sitting position and fell on his knees with his arms spread out towards YHWH. This presumably indicated spreading out his hands towards the sanctuary. And then he confessed before YHWH the sin of the people in the face of God’s gracious love towards them.

It was a prayer that suited the particular occasion only, not of a kind for general use, and is totally an admission of guilt. He does not even ask for mercy. He just leaves what response God will make in the hands of God. His prayer may in fact have been longer, but the gist of it is given here, for it is not only a prayer admitting guilt but is also an attempt to lead the people into similarly admitting their guilt, and that involved awakening their thoughts to the truth of the situation. He wants them to see the stark reality of what they have done>

9.5 ‘And at the evening oblation I rose up from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees, and spread out my hands to YHWH my God,’

He had been sitting there with his garment and robe torn (verse 3), in a condition that demonstrated his humiliation, and it was in that condition that at the time of the daily evening sacrifice, he rose up and fell on his knees before God with his arms outstretched towards the Temple.

9.6 ‘And I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to you, my God, for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our guiltiness is grown up to the heavens.”

Praying on behalf of the people he admitted to God the shame that ‘he’ felt concerning what ‘they all together’ had done. (‘I am ashamed --- our iniquities’). He was so ashamed that he himself blushed at the thought of lifting up his face towards God. And this was because the sins of the new Israel, (in which he included himself), had grown and increased over their heads and their guilt had grown even up to the heavens. ‘Increased over our head’ probably indicates that they had got so big that they could not be contained within themselves but multiplied over their heads before God.

Ezra accepted communal responsibility. If Israel had sinned then he had sinned. He had not taken an idolatrous foreign wife but he shared guilt with those who had because he shared responsibility for what happened in the community. This was not just an ancient belief, there was logic to it, for the community should have done something to prevent it happening.

9.7 “Since the days of our fathers we have been exceeding guilty to this day, and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to plunder, and to confusion of face, as it is this day.”

By continuing in the sins of their (pre-exilic) fathers they shared their guilt, and they also shared in what had historically happened to them. It was that that was the cause of their present condition. For it was due to ‘our’ iniquities that they (Israel and its anointed ones, kings and priests) had been delivered into the hands of the kings of the lands, suffering the sword, captivity, plunder and total embarrassment right up to this day. These were the sore judgments described in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, the curses on those who broke the covenant, which Israel had suffered again and again through history, as the book of Kings reveals. And they were still suffering under them to some extent. The sword and plunder were a common hazard at the hands of their adversaries and of lawless bands.

This must not be interpreted as signifying that they must necessarily continue to suffer for the sins of their fathers, for the very idea behind the putting away of idolatrous foreign wives was in order to ensure God’s continuing favour. Corporate responsibility did not mean that there was no way out. If they repented they would not suffer for the sins of their fathers.

‘The kings of the lands.’ This may refer to the kings of the great empires, Assyria, Babylon, Persia. Nehemiah 9.32 speaks of ‘from the time when the kings of Assyria oppressed us to this day’. But Ezra may have had in mind all oppressing kings.

9.8 “And now for a little moment grace has been shown from YHWH our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage.”

But while they were still not truly free and were still in bondage to the Persian empire, God ‘for a little moment’ had shown them His unmerited favour and love (grace) in giving them a remnant who had escaped from exile, and were firmly established in His holy place, where God could enlighten their eyes and give them a little reviving of life even though they were in bondage. His ‘for a little moment’ contained within it the hint that it might not carry on unless they truly repented.

The remnant here is not simply those who survive disaster, as the word indicated when they were in the land, but has in mind specifically those who have returned to the land as a remnant of His people. He sees the people who have returned as very much the true Israel.

‘To give us a nail (or ‘tent peg’).’ This may indicate that God has firmly encamped them in his holy place so that they are ‘tent-pegged’ there (compare Isaiah 54.2), or that He has given them a nail as a means of support by providing them with reliable leaders (compare Isaiah 22.23). ‘His holy place’ may be the Temple, or Jerusalem, or even His land. In Psalm 24.3 it indicates the Temple and it surrounds. In Psalm 46.4 it indicates the city of God.

‘May lighten our eyes.’ Compare 1 Samuel 14.27, ‘he (Jonathan) dipped his rod in the honeycomb and put it to his mouth and his eyes were enlightened’. It describes the effect of good food for someone who is very hungry. Metaphorically therefore it signifies being revivified in spirit

9.9 “For we are bondmen; yet our God has not forsaken us in our bondage, but has extended covenant love to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.”

Yet he recognised that they were still bondmen. He was under no grand illusions. Nevertheless God had shown His unmerited favour in that He had not forsaken them in their bondage, but had revealed His covenant love towards them, either in a way that could be observed by the kings of Persia, or by causing the kings of Persia to look favourably on them. And the consequence was that He (or they) had given them a reviving of life through the Law, through the setting up of the house of God, and the repairing of its ruins, and to ‘give them a wall in Judah and Jerusalem’. This last probably signified either the protection of the Persian empire, or the protection of God Himself as a consequence of His presence in the Temple among His people, rather than literal walls. The word for ‘walls’ is not the usual one for the walls of a city, but rather refers to fences round vineyards. Thus it indicates that Judah and Jerusalem are God’s vineyard under God’s protection. ‘A wall in Judah and Jerusalem’ would be a strange way to refer to the walls of Jerusalem.

9.10-11 “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, which you have commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land, to which you go to possess it, is an unclean land through the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, through their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their filthiness, now therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, nor take their daughters to your sons, nor seek their peace or their prosperity for ever, that you may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.’ ”

But now his question is, what is he to say ‘after this’, that is after God has demonstrated His unmerited favour in this way? For unbelievably, after His goodness to them, they have done the very thing that their forefathers had done. They have allowed among them the very abominations (idols) that God had commanded them to cast out. Thus they had forsaken His commandments by allowing idols to enter into the very houses of His own people, His remnant who have returned to the land. They are turning it again into an unclean land as a result of these uncleannesses which have their source in the peoples of the land, and this in spite of God having forbidden them to take daughters from those peoples for themselves. Only by not taking these daughters will they be strong and eat the good of the land.

The citation is put together from a number of references in the Law and the prophets, e.g. Deuteronomy 7.1-3 - ‘the land to which you go to possess it --.’; Joshua 22.19 - ‘if the land of your possession be unclean --’ (referring to a land which does not have in it the dwellingplace of YHWH); Leviticus 18.24-27 - ‘the nations are defiled which I cast out from before you, and the land is defiled -- for all these abominations have the men of the land done who were before you and the land is defiled --’; 2 Kings 21.16 - ‘Manasseh shed innocent blood -- until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to the other --’; Deuteronomy 7.3 - ‘you shall not give his daughter to your son, nor will you take his daughter to your son --; Exodus 34.16 - ‘And you take of their daughters to your sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make your sons go a whoring after their gods --’ ; Deuteronomy 23.6 - you shall not seek their peace or their prosperity for ever --’; Isaiah 1.19 - ‘if you are willing and obedient you shall eat the good of the land --’; see also Deuteronomy 11.8.

‘By your servants the prophets.’ Moses was seen as a supreme prophet (Deuteronomy 18.15; 34.10). Compare also ‘his servants the prophets’ in 2 Kings 21.10. See also Jeremiah 7.25, and often.

9.13-14 “And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great guilt, seeing that you our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such a remnant, shall we again break your commandments, and join in affinity with the peoples who do these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you had consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?”

Ezra then drew out before God the awfulness of what they were doing. He asked God whether, in view of the fact that He had punished them less than they deserved, after all that had come on them as a result of their evil behaviour and their great guiltiness, and had given them a remnant who had returned from exile, did He really think that they would again break His commandments and join in affinity with the very peoples who did these abominations? Surely it seemed impossible. Indeed would it not mean that He would be angry with them and consume them, so that as a consequence there would be no remnant, nor anyone to escape?

In other words he recognised that the people’s guilt was so great in doing what they had done, that really they could not hope for mercy any more. Having been given a second chance by deliverance, they had failed to take it. How could they then expect anything but the severest of judgment?

9.15 “O YHWH, the God of Israel, you are righteous, for we are left a remnant who have escaped, as it is this day. Behold, we are before you in our guiltiness; for none can stand before you because of this.”

Ezra does not pray for mercy. He does not ask forgiveness. He instead reminds YHWH that He is the Righteous One. In one sense that leaves them without hope because it means that He will judge righteously as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18.25). But in another sense it means that He can bring to them His righteousness (Isaiah 46.13), so that in experiencing deliverance they can say, ‘Glory to the Righteous One’ (Isaiah 24.16). And it is this that Ezra is hoping for but dared not ask for.

He reminds YHWH that they are left as the remnant who have escaped as a consequence of His goodness, but immediately admits that that does not mean automatic pardon. He admits that they stand before Him in their guiltiness, something which means that none of them can stand before Him.

So his cry for mercy and pardon is unspoken and he recognises that that will all depend on God’s compassion as the One Who has chosen His remnant.

Shecaniah Confesses To Ezra The Guilt Of Those Who Have Taken Idolatrous Foreign Wives And Confirms Their Agreement To The Plan Put Forward By Ezra And Those Who Tremble At God’s Word (10.1-5).

A great assembly of men, women and children gathered to hear Ezra’s prayer, and at the sight of his grief, and the solemnity of his prayer, they too wept bitterly. And the consequence of this was that Shecaniah , the son of Jahiel, an Elamite, spoke to Ezra on behalf of those who had transgressed, admitting their guilt, but expressing hope that there might be a way out by their carrying out the plan formulated by Ezra and those who trembled at God’s word. This was to make a sacred covenant to put away all their idolatrous foreign wives in accordance with God’s Law. And he calls on Ezra to rise because the matter was in his hands, and carry out the plan, as they were with him on it. Ezra then arose and made them all swear that they would do what had been suggested.

The narrative now changes to the third person. There are good reasons for this:

  • Firstly because the writer began this section with the third person in 7.1-10, making the statement statesmanlike in preparation for the instructions of Artaxerxes which follow, before altering to the first person, and therefore wants to finish in the same mode in reverse. One purpose of this section is in order to indicate how faithfully he has carried out his commission.
  • Secondly because the writer (in this case therefore Ezra) wishes to distinguish Ezra’s very personal commitment and response revealed in chapter 9 (which, however, underlines the fact that the commandments of God have been broken - verses 10-11) with his statesmanlike behaviour, and the response of the people, in chapter 10. In chapter 9 he is emptying his heart out before the people and before God, and demonstrating his own deep concern. In chapter 10 he wants it to be clear that he is carrying out the commission given to him by the king to ensure the fulfilment of the Law of God in full (compare 7.14), making use of the judges that he has appointed in accordance with the king’s command (verse 14, compare 7.25), and that what happened was carried along by the people. Note ‘the commandment of our God’ and ‘according to the Law’ in verse 3, and the emphasis on the fact that they have trespassed against God (verses 2, 6). It is typical of a report that he gives the names in detail of those involved (verses 18-44).

Yet that the two chapters are a unity comes out 1). in that 10.1-2 only make sense in the light of chapter 9, and 2). in the continuity of expression such as ‘those who tremble at the words of God’ (9.4; 10.3), and ‘trespass’ (9.2, 4; 10.2, 6 (ma‘al).

10.1 ‘Now while Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there was gathered together to him out of Israel a very great assembly of men and women and children, for the people wept very bitterly.’

It is easy to read passages like this without entering into the wonder of them. Here was the beginning of a great spiritual revival, a work of the Spirit, that was to sweep through Judah, and cause them to put away the idolatrous women from among them, thus saving them from the curses of Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28. It must not be underestimated. Those who suggest that Ezra somehow failed because over twenty years later others had taken idolatrous foreign wives and had to be dealt with by Nehemiah overlook the importance of what Ezra achieved, a purifying of the people from culpable wrongdoing in the eyes of God. It was inevitable, given the nature of man, that others would later transgress in a similar way. First enthusiasm always dies down

And as he prayed and confessed the sins of Israel, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a great crowd of people came together, made up of men, women and children, and they too wept bitterly. God was moving among the hearts of His people. This great effect on the people is only explicable in terms of 9.3-15.

The mention of women and children is poignant (and unusual in this kind of context). We can be sure that they did not include the women and children who would be sent away (verse 44). Thus the chapter opens with a depiction of the godly women and children who are faithful to God’s Law, and closes with a depiction of the idolatrous women and children who are contrary to God’s Law, who do not involve themselves in the interests of the new Israel.

It will be noted that this parallels 9.3-5. In 9.5 he spread out his hands to YHWH his God, and here he casts himself down before the house of God. In 9.4 those who were faithful among the people gathered around him as he prayed, which emphasises that he is in a public place, i.e. the Temple courts, and here a great congregation gather around him in the Temple courts. In 9.5 ‘at the evening oblation’ suggests that he is present as it is being carried out, and thus in the courts of the Temple.

10.2 ‘And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our God, and have married foreign women of the peoples of the land. Yet now there is hope for Israel concerning this thing.”

So moving was the situation that one of the chief men, Shecaniah the son of Jehiel of the sons of Elam, came to Ezra admitting Israel’s guilt (he is not named among the offenders), and recognising how many of the people had sinned against YHWH in marrying idolatrous foreign wives. He clearly came as a spokesman for the people. It was a crucial moment. Had this not been stopped Israel would soon have lapsed back into idolatry, needing thereby to be again purified through exile. The remnant would have been ripped apart. And yet having heard Ezra’s seemingly hopeless confession of guilt, he was confident that there was yet hope for Israel in this respect. This expression of ‘hope’ requires the background of Ezra’s confession of total guilt and recognition that they deserve nothing from God. Indeed ‘concerning this thing’ is exactly the same phrase as ‘because of this’ in 9.15.

‘Son of Jehiel.’ In verse 26 a Jehiel is named as an Elamite who had contracted a mixed marriage. But Jehiel was a common name and there is no way in which we can know whether it was the same Jehiel

‘Married.’ The word is only used of mixed marriages, and means literally ‘caused to dwell’, indicating that by marrying the woman has changed her domicile. It occurs only in this chapter and in Nehemiah 13. Some have suggested that it contains within it the idea that it is not really a full marriage. However, we should note that they are called ‘wives’ (nashim).

10.3 “Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the law.”

The proposal, which had been advised by Ezra and those who tremble at the commandment of God (obey it from the heart because of their fear of God), was that they make a covenant in the presence of God, to put away all their idolatrous foreign wives along with their children, restoring the position required by the Law of not being married to such. The reference to ‘my lord’ may indicate the status of Ezra as the king’s official representative. Note the emphasis on it being ‘in accordance with the Law’. He wanted the king to know that he was getting Israel right with God so that their prayers for him would be heard.

The verb ‘put away’ is not the usual one for divorce. This may tie in with the idea that they were not seen as legally married (verse 2).

10.4 “Arise, for the matter belongs to you, and we are with you. Be of good courage, and do it.”

Shecaniah points out that the authority to act is in Ezra’s hands as the king’s representative, and because as an intercessory priest Ezra has made it his own personal concern by his deep concern and prayers, and Shecaniah promises that he and the people are with him. Ezra must therefore act with courage and fulfil his responsibility.

10.5 ‘Then arose Ezra, and made the chiefs of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they would do according to this word. So they swore.’

At his words Ezra arose and made the chief of the priests, the Levites and all Israel (a description which follows the previous pattern - 2.70; 3.9; 7.7; 9.1) swear that they would do what Shecaniah had said. And swear they did. This immediately makes clear Shecaniah’s role as mediator. They had all been awaiting his reply. For ‘all Israel’ compare 2.70; 6.17; 8.25.

This is but a short sentence but it was a moment of crucial importance for the whole future of Israel. Had it not happened that future would have been in doubt. It made clear once and for all that Israel was to be kept free from idolatry, and that the chiefs of the priests, the Levites and all the people accepted that fact. It decided the future of Israel. Some might go astray in the future (Nehemiah 13.23-24), but none could doubt then that it was a gross sin against God and Israel. Note that it says ‘chiefs of the priests’. The idea is not to exclude the ordinary priests, but to emphasise the fact that the very highest religious authorities in the new Israel had confirmed their agreement with Ezra’s stance.

10.6 ‘Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib: and when he came there, he ate no bread, nor drank water, for he mourned because of the trespass of those of the captivity.’

His mission accomplished Ezra rose up from his position before the house of God and went into the chamber of Jehohanan, the son of Eliashib. This would be one of the side chambers in the Temple. And once he was there he fasted, taking no bread or water, for he was ‘in mourning over the trespass of the returnees’. We can presume that he also prayed, and expressed his grief to God. This confirms the genuineness of his grief. He was heartbroken over the sins of the people.

Note On Jehoanan, the son of Eliashib.

The first thing we have to recognise is that Jehoanan, the son of Eliashib may be the name given to the chamber after some past celebrity. Both Jehoanan and Eliashib were popular names in Israel. No Jehoanan, son of Eliashib is otherwise known apart from the one who was probably son of the Eliashib who was over the chamber in the house of God (Nehemiah 12.23; 13.4, 7). This would be a strange description for a High Priest.

Jehoanan (YHWH is gracious) was the name given to Jehoanan the son of Kareah, a warlord in the days of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40.7 ff; 2 Kings 25.23); Jehoanan the eldest son of king Josiah (1 Chronicles 3.15); Jehoanan a son of Elioenai, who was a post exilic prince (1 Chronicles 3.24); Jehoanan was the father of Azariah who was a priest in Solomon’s time (1 Chronicles 5.35-36); Jehoanan was a Benjamite recruit of David at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12.5); Jehoanan was a Gadite recruit of David at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12.13); Jehoanan was an Ephraimite chief (2 Chronicles 28.12); Jehoanan, son of Hakkatan, was an exile who returned with Ezra (Ezra 8.12). So the name was very popular.

In this very chapter three other Eliashibs are mentioned, a singer (verse 24); a son of Zattu (verse 27); and a son of Bani (verse 36). It was the name given to a descendant of David (1 Chronicles 3.24); the name of the head of the eleventh course of priests (1 Chronicles 24.12); the name of a priest who was ‘appointed over the chamber of the house of our God’ (Nehemiah 13.4, 7), who was later allied to Tobiah the Ammonite (Nehemiah 13.4), and allowed him the use of a great chamber in the Temple (Nehemiah 13.5). We are not told the name of his son.

Finally it was the name of a High Priest in the time of Nehemiah whose son was named Joiada (Nehemiah 13.28), whose grandson was called Jonathan, and whose great-grandson was called Jaddua. This Eliashib helped with the rebuilding of the wall (Nehemiah 3.1). His name appears in the list of High Priests (Nehemiah 12.10-11, 22), where again his son was Joiada and his grandson Jonathan, and his great grandson Jaddua.

In Nehemiah 12.22 a Johanan is mentioned in the sequence Eliashib, Joiada and Johanan and Jaddua, but it does not say that they were High Priests. On the basis of this sequence some have equated Johanan with Jonathan, but in verse 23 this Johanan is named as the son of Eliashib. And furthermore we have no grounds for seeing the four named as being father to son. Johanan and Jaddua may well have been otherwise related to Eliashib, with Eliashib’s great grandson being named after this Jaddua, for it will be noted that they are all seemingly connected with the reign of Darius. It was common for names to run in families. Furthermore if we see Johanan as also being named Jonathan, he would therefore be the grandson of Eliashib. But if this is so why is he called the son of Eliashib in a context where that would be deceptive? Johanan is never stated to be the grandson of Eliashib.

It is far more likely that the Jehohanan spoken of in 10.6 who had a chamber in the house was the son of the Eliashib who was appointed over the chamber of the house of God who may well have given his adult son a chamber in the Temple area. There is no good reason for identifying this Eliashib with the High Priest. But all in all it would be foolish to argue a case from this multiplicity of facts.

An added complication is that in the Elephantine papyri dated 408 BC a Jehohanan is named as High Priest. But that Jehohanan may well have been named after the Johanan mentioned above as a contemporary relation of Joiada who was at some stage High Priest, possibly due to the current High Priest being unable to function one year at the Day of Atonement because he was ritually defiled (unclean). Anyone who so acted as High Priest remained High Priest for life.

It is clear from all this that we cannot take the statement about Jehohanan the son of Eliashib as an indicator of the date of Ezra’s ministry in Jerusalem, because we do not know which Jehohanan it was.

End of Note.

10.7 ‘And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together to Jerusalem,’

Ezra having retired to pray, the leaders of Israel made a proclamation throughout Jerusalem and Judea that all the returnees from exile should gather at Jerusalem. They would be living among the peoples of the land, but these were not invited. The purpose was in order to determine who had married idolatrous foreign wives.

10.8 ‘And that whoever did not come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance would be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of the captivity.’

And the warning given was that any who failed to turn up within three days would lose all their possessions, whilst they themselves would cease to be members of the assembly of the returnees. And this would be because they had failed to heed the counsel of the princes and the elders, that is, the local leadership. But the authority to make such a demand must have come from Ezra as the king’s appointed representative. Confiscation of goods and banishment were two of the punishments which Ezra was authorised to exact in Artaxerxes’ letter (7.26).

10.9 ‘Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together to Jerusalem within the three days; it was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month, and all the people sat in the broad place before the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain.’

The demand was responded to. All the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together in Jerusalem within the allotted time period, and this was in the ninth month on the twentieth day of the month (around December). But it was sheeting down with rain, and all the people sat in the rain in a broad place before the house of God. And they were trembling, both because of the seriousness of the matter in hand, possibly remembering the Law that had been read out to them two months earlier at the Feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8.1), and also because of the dreadful rain. We have here the evidence of an eyewitness. The rain was not something that was likely to be invented.

10.10 ‘And Ezra the priest stood up, and said to them, “You have been unfaithful, and have married foreign women, to increase the guilt of Israel.”

Then Ezra stood up before the large assembled gathering and charged them with being unfaithful to God by marrying idolatrous foreign women who would lead them astray after their gods, adding to the guilt of their forefathers who had done similar things and had in that way become guilty before God. Israel had been guilty enough before the Exile. They were now adding to that guilt. They were behaving like their forefathers, and therefore calling on God to punish them in the same way as He had punished their forefathers. The point all the way through is not a racist one but a religious one. These women would lead them astray after false gods, and cause them to be unfaithful to God.

‘To increase the guilt of Israel.’ The picture is of a combined guilt which had built up through the centuries as the people of Israel became more and more involved with false gods. It had grown until it had reached the point where God had had to deal with it by the destruction of the Temple, and the exiling of the cream of the people. But now He had given them a new start. He had brought His remnant back from exile as those who were faithful to the worship of YHWH. The burden of guilt had been set aside. But if they now acted as their forefathers had done they would be adding to that burden of guilt, and would be even more guilty than their forefathers. They would be bringing the whole past guilt of Israel upon themselves. (We can compare how the same had been true of the Amorites. Their collective guilt had grown and grown until at length God had had to deal with it by sending Israel in to exterminate them or drive them out of God’s inheritance. It did not happen in Abraham’s time because at that time ‘the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full’ (Genesis 15.16)).

10.11 “Now therefore make confession to YHWH, the God of your fathers, and do his pleasure, and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the foreign women.”

So now what they had to do was come to YHWH, the God of their fathers, and admit their sins, thereby glorifying Him. The words translated ‘make confession’ mean ‘give praise to’. We can compare how Joshua called on Achan to confess by telling him to ‘give praise to YHWH’ by admitting what he had done. They then had to do what He wanted them to do, and separate themselves from the peoples of the land and from foreign women. The aim was to keep them from idolatry, and from degraded activities which would be displeasing to God. That this was not racist comes out in that many of ‘the peoples of the land’ were themselves Israelites, the ‘poor of the land’ who had been left behind when the cream were exiled (Jeremiah 39.10). And there would have been many of them. But because of their involvement in Canaanite religion they were now equally seen as Canaanites. Therefore they equally had to be avoided. We must in this regard remember that every aspect of life in those days was involved with religion. It was almost impossible to associate with such people without becoming involved in their religion. And that was why they had to separate from them.

As we have noted before an exception was made for those who fully and truly followed YHWH and had separated themselves from the filthiness of the land, that is from idolatry and its consequences (6.21). So not all were excluded. Those who were excluded were excluded because of their adherence to the old religion of the land.

10.12 ‘Then all the assembly answered and said with a loud voice, “As you have said concerning us, so must we do.”

The whole gathering then answered in a loud voice, “As you have said concerning us, so must we do.” The reply is similar to that of Israel in Exodus 19.8; 24.3, and may be patterned on it, possibly unconsciously, as they saw Ezra as bringing to them the words of YHWH. The loud voice indicates their emotion and the fullness of their intention. It was a full acceptance of joint guilt. They had been made to recognise the great danger that they had placed the new Israel in, the danger of an even worse judgment than before. And they had done this by ignoring the evil in their midst. For they all knew that it had been happening, and they all knew what they should have done something about it before this.

Clearly there had been much discussion of the matter before this. They all knew why they had been summoned to Jerusalem. And they had had three days in which to consider their position and their response. Thus it was not just an emotional response to a direct appeal (although it was that as well) but a response from the heart in recognition of their failure.

10.13 “But the people are many, and it is a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand outside, nor is this a work of one day or two, for we have greatly transgressed in this matter.”

These words were clearly addressed to Ezra by their leaders. They had come together to Ezra, and now they pointed out that the full implementing of what the crowds had said would not be quite so easy. Nor was it something that could be worked out there and then, for the inclement weather made it impossible for the whole crowd to stand waiting in the rain. Furthermore it was something which had to be looked into in depth. It was not merely the work of one or two days, because of the depth to which Israel had sunk in the matter, and they acknowledged the seriousness of the situation. They had greatly transgressed and disobeyed the Law of God.

10.14 “Let our princes now be appointed for all the assembly, and let all those who are in our cities who have married foreign women come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the their judges, until the fierce wrath of our God be turned from us, until this matter be despatched.”

So they proposed that their leaders, the heads of father’s houses, be appointed on behalf of the whole assembly, in order to look into the matter. Then those who had married idolatrous foreign wives should come before the council, along with the elders of their city and their judges. These would presumably themselves look into the matter with regard to individuals in their area before coming so as to distinguish between foreign women who had become true Israelites and worshippers of YHWH, and those who had continued in their idolatry. All would know who had married whom, but what would have to be investigated was their subsequent way of life. Thus it was necessary was for them to ensure that those who were discovered to have been unfaithful to YHWH came at an appointed time, until the whole matter was sorted out, thereby ensuring that the great wrath of God be turned from them, making them again acceptable before Him. Sin had to be rooted out.

10.15 ‘Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah stood up against this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them.’

There were, however, as always, a few who were not in agreement with the plan. Jonathan and Jahzeiah who stood up against it were clearly important men (their patronyms are given and they are distinguished from the other two), and they were joined in their opposition by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite. It is probable that what they did not agree with was the delay, not the agreement to get rid of foreign wives, and that in their enthusiasm they wanted the matter resolved immediately, possibly fearful of the impending wrath of God. If that is so the verse is intending to bring out the urgency felt about the matter. Others, however, see it as indicating that they disagreed with the whole idea of getting rid of idolatrous foreign wives, the idea being that they were speaking on behalf of their kinsmen who had taken such foreign wives. The aim would then be to bring out that Israel rejected the opinions of those who wanted compromise.

Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite are mentioned again after the arrival of Nehemiah in Nehemiah 8,4, 7, as assisting Ezra with the reading of the Law..

10.16 ‘And the children of the captivity did so. And Ezra the priest, with certain heads of fathers’ houses, after their fathers’ houses, and all of them by their names, were set apart; and they sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter.’

The returnees did what had been suggested and agreed to. The body was set up which would judge those who were brought before them, and it was made up of Ezra the priest, together with certain heads of father’s houses. They were all set apart by name. And on the first day of the tenth month they commenced looking into the matter. Thus it had taken five months to get to this point, but it had not of course been five months of little other activity. Ezra and his returnees would have had to deal with the problem of settling in. And as Ezra did not want to behave like an autocratic king, he wanted to take the people with him. And he could only do that by expounding the Law until it seized hold of the people’s consciences.

10.17 ‘And they made an end with all the men who had married foreign women by the first day of the first month.’

It then took a further three months for them to complete their caseload, so that by the first day of the first month, New Year’s Day, they had dealt with all the cases of men who had married adulterous foreign women. What they were investigating was who needed to be singled out whose idolatrous foreign wives had to be put away. Some foreign wives, who were faithful to YHWH would not be sent away, only those who were involved in idolatry. Such women did not belong to the returnees, for the returnees had come in order to establish the pure worship of God. Thus even from the Persian point of view it was very necessary, for the whole point of the return was that the pure worship of YHWH be set up. And that was what Ezra and the other leaders were now achieving. It therefore fits well into the idea of a report made to his Persian sponsor, Artaxerxes.

The Names Of Those Involved In Marrying Idolatrous Foreign Women (10.18-44).

Ezra then prepared for Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, a list of those with whom he had had to deal. We can compare how the king had asked for a list of those involved in building the Temple (5.10). The list is divided up into priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers an Israel. All four houses of priests mentioned in 2.36-39 were involved. Although the promise to put away their idolatrous foreign wives and to offer sacrifices are only mentioned with respect to the first-named it is clear that the same would apply to all who were named. The king would be happy to learn that the God of Heaven had been made happy.

We do not know how often the body that was set up met. It met during the winter months, so that they would have to travel to and fro in difficult travel conditions, .and the heads of the fathers’ houses may well have had other pressing responsibilities And time would have to be given for men to prepare their defence, especially when they need to demonstrate that their wives were good Yahwists and not involved in idolatry. Furthermore some cases may have come before the body more than once. Nor do we now how long it took them to determine each case, or how many put up a good case and were declared innocent, and were therefore not listed. And time would be spent in the usual Easter courtesies. They would not want to have too many per day because of the uncertainties. Three months times 24 days (excluding Sabbaths) equals roughly 72 days available to them if they met every day. They found guilty one hundred and fifteen men. This hardly suggests dilatory progress. (If we assumed two examinations per day it would indicate one hundred and forty four cases, with twenty nine proving innocent).

As we would expect the names of clans are paralleled in the list in chapter 2. It was these who would have been involved in taking idolatrous foreign wives. Those who had arrived with Ezra would not have had enough time.

The Priests.

10.18 ‘And among the sons of the priests who were found who had married foreign women: (were) of the sons of Jeshua: Ben-Jozadak, and his brothers (kinsmen), Maaseiah, and Eliezer, and Jarib, and Gedaliah.’

In 2.36 these were the children of Jedaiah of the house of Jeshua. Five of them were involved.

10.19 ‘And they gave their hand that they would put away their wives, and being guilty, (they offered) a ram of the flock for their guilt.’

Having been found guilty ‘gave their hand’ that they would put away their wives, and because of their guilt each made a sacrifice of a ram of the flock. This punishment once stated would not need to be repeated. There is no need to think that it has later been omitted in other cases. Guilt offerings would be required in all cases.

10.20 ‘And of the sons of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah.’

The sons of Immer are mentioned in 2.37. Three of them were found guilty.

10.21 ‘And of the sons of Harim: Maaseiah, and Elijah, and Shemaiah, and Jehiel, and Uzziah.’

The sons of Harim are mentioned in 2.39. Five were found guilty.

10.22 ‘And of the sons of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.’

The sons of Pashhur are mentioned in 2.38. Six were found guilty. Thus of the priests as a whole nineteen were found guilty.

The Levites.

10.23 ‘And of the Levites: Jozabad, and Shimei, and Kelaiah (the same is Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.’

See 2.40 where they were also listed as one clan. Six were found guilty.

10.24 ‘And of the singers: Eliashib.’

See 2.41 where they were listed as one clan. Only one was found guilty.

10.24b ‘And of the gatekeepers: Shallum, and Telem, and Uri.’

See 2.42 where they were computed as one clan. Three were found guilty. Thus in all ten of the Levites were found guilty. It is interesting but not surprising that the Temple servants are not mentioned. Once having been foreigners they would have had no land in Israel. They would probably live in Jerusalem and not have much contact with foreign women. Furthermore they would be of a class where their wives would be expected to conform to their husbands wishes.

The Rest Of Israel.

10.25a ‘And of Israel:’

Ten clans are listed as affected in Israel. The number has in fact been artificially achieved by including the sons of Bani twice because of their overwhelming numbers. We can compare the lists of ten patriarchs in Genesis 5 and 11. 1 Esdras has more but is unreliable. As we have seen it seeks to remedy what it sees as errors.

10.25b ‘Of the sons of Parosh: Ramiah, and Izziah, and Malchijah, and Mijamin, and Eleazar, and Malchijah, and Benaiah.’

The sons of Parosh are mentioned in 2.3. Seven were found guilty.

10.26 ‘And of the sons of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, and Abdi, and Jeremoth, and Elijah.’

The sons of Elam are mentioned in 2.7. (Rather than 2.31 which may be the name of a town). Six were found guilty.

10.27 ‘And of the sons of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, and Jeremoth, and Zabad, and Aziza.’

The sons of Zattu are mentioned in 2.8. Six were found guilty.

10.28 ‘And of the sons of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, Athlai.’

The sons of Bebai are mentioned in 2.11. Four were found guilty.

10.29 ‘And of the sons of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, and Adaiah, Jashub, and Sheal, Jeremoth.’

The sons of Bani are mentioned in 2.10. Six were found guilty.

10.30 ‘And of the sons of Pahath-moab: Adna, and Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, and Binnui, and Manasseh.’

The sons of Pahath-moab are mentioned in 2.6. Eight were found guilty.

10.31-32 ‘And the sons of Harim: Eliezer, Isshijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, Benjamin, Malluch, Shemariah.’

The sons of Harim are mentioned in 2.32. Eight were found guilty. It will be noted that the ‘of’ is missing. Such occasional variations occur in lists. There is no need to amend it to fit in with our ideas of uniformity.

10.33 ‘Of the sons of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, Shimei.’

The sons of Hashum are mentioned in 2.19. Seven were found guilty.

10.34-42 ‘Of the sons of Bani: Maadai, Amram, and Uel, Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluhi, Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu, and Bani, and Binnui, Shimei, and Shelemiah, and Nathan, and Adaiah, Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, Azarel, and Shelemiah, Shemariah, Shallum, Amariah, Joseph.’

This is the second mention of the sons of Bani, but apart from Adaiah they are different names. An occasional two people of the same name is not unusual. It would appear that the sons of Bani were particularly at fault in taking idolatrous foreign wives, possibly due to where they lived. It would have been surprising if at least one clan had not sinned above the norm. Real life is different from fiction. It was because of their large numbers that the writer divided them in order to make ten clans in the list. Twenty seven were found guilty (making thirty three sons of Bani in all)

10.43 ‘Of the sons of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Iddo, and Joel, Benaiah.’

The sons of Nebo are mentioned in 2.29. Seven were found guilty. The total number of Israel who were found guilty was eighty six. In all, including priests and Levites one hundred and fifteen were found guilty.

10.44 ‘All these had taken foreign wives, and some of them had wives by whom they had had children.’

The Hebrew has difficulties but is not impossible. It confirms that all those mentioned were found guilty and adds that in some cases children were involved. They would not, of course, just be cast out. They would return to their family home, and compensation may well have been paid. And as they were probably mainly from the higher classes they would suffer no hardship (it would require some wealth for them to be able to maintain their religions separately). Being arranged marriages their love for each other may not have been deep. When we consider that other women may have been divorced in order to make room for them, sympathy for them may not have run high (see Malachi 2.11, 14).

As Ezra had been sent by the king to teach and enforce the Law this was important evidence in his first year report that he was fulfilling the king’s expectations. He was in fact merciful. The king had urged death, banishment, confiscation of goods and imprisonment (7.26).

And so the book ends on what Ezra would have seen as a triumphant note. Idolatry has been rooted out from among God’s remnant, and the whole group of the returnees have expressed their commitment in future to avoid idolatrous associations. It was not Ezra’s fault, nor his failure (he had succeeded admirably) that a few of the next generation would slip back into the old ways (Nehemiah 13.22-31). Nehemiah was able to stamp it out quickly, and much more ferociously, precisely because Ezra had laid the foundation.

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