Month: June 2020

June 16, 2020

Ezra8- 2020-06-16

Journal

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Commentary:

Ezra 8

8:15–20 […] Reporting his review of those assembled, Ezra notes, but does not explain, the initial absence of the Levites (about which one may thus only speculate), but his immediate action to remedy the situation provides advance notice of their importance for his mission. The list of those sent to recruit Levites seems to include a suspicious number of “(El)nathans,” but the importance of the embassy is underlined by Ezra’s sending of those who are “leaders” (8:16) and “those who are wise” (or perhaps “those skilled in instruction”). Nothing is known of Casiphia, nor its leader, Iddo and his brethren, but the nature of the request, “send us ministers for the house of our God” (8:17), and the speedy compliance (8:18) suggest that Casiphia may have been a spiritual center for the exilic community (or at least some Levites), though one may only speculate regarding what worship facilities it may have offered. […]

In keeping with the reduced enrollment generally in the second return, significantly fewer Levites (38) volunteer than in Zerubbabel’s time but their descent from Merari (entrusted with the transport of sacred things; Exod 6:16; Num 3:17) may be relevant given the role that some of them will be asked to fulfill (8:24–30). The temple servants who will return (220) are also reduced in number in comparison with earlier times but are apparently still too numerous to mention by name in the context of Ezra’s memoir (8:20). Whether it is the provision of all of these or Sherebiah alone that is understood to betoken God’s favor, Ezra voices his conviction that the Levitical addition to the traveling party is a sign that the specifically “good hand of God” (7:9; cf. 7:6, 28: “hand of God” simpliciter) is now resting not on him alone, but also “us.”

8:21–36 […] As elsewhere in Jewish literature and practice of the postexilic period (10:6; Neh 9:1; Esth 4:3, 16), the offering of prayer is enhanced by fasting (Ezra 8:21, 23)—a tangible expression of the community’s humble hope for the “straight/smooth road” through the wilderness envisioned in Isa 40:3. Having proclaimed the fast (Ezra 8:21), Ezra then reports not only the community’s prayer, but the divine protection afforded—visible of course only from the vantage point of the journey’s end (8:31–32), but reported here to emphasize the efficacy of the community’s petitionary faith.

Ezra’s setting apart of twelve priests (8:24; cf. 2:2; 6:17; 8:3–13) is not likely to be accidental (though here all are members of a single tribe), nor is his listing of the donors and the careful accounting of their contributions (8:25–27); by doing these things Ezra celebrates yet again the support of the crown and the community for the worship of YHWH. In emphasizing that both the Levites and their freight are “holy” (8:28), Ezra acknowledges the appropriateness of the descendants of Merari for the transportation of the sacred vessels. It is precisely because these and “the silver and gold” are for “YHWH, the God of your fathers” (8:28) that Ezra provides clear instructions to ensure that they arrive safely, not merely in Jerusalem, but “within the rooms of the house of YHWH” (8:29; cf. Neh 10:37–39; 13:4–9). Ezra’s issuing of orders to “guard” and to “weigh” the treasure out on arrival will have been intended to protect both the precious goods against thievery and the porters (and Ezra himself) against any suggestion of personal profit or mismanagement.

[…] In the record of the burnt offerings made on their arrival, the recurring appearance of twelve (“bulls for all Israel” and “male goats” as a sin offering) and its multiple (ninety-six rams) strikes that same chord of continuity with the distant past (Num 7) as was struck more recently in connection with the restoration of the temple (Ezra 6:17). [1] 

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 24-25.

Bible Text:

Ezra 8:1-20

1 These are the heads of their fathers’ houses, and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylonia, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king: 2 Of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom. Of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel. Of the sons of David, Hattush. 3 Of the sons of Shecaniah, who was of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah, with whom were registered 150 men. 4 Of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah, and with him 200 men. 5 Of the sons of Zattu, Shecaniah the son of Jahaziel, and with him 300 men. 6 Of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him 50 men. 7 Of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him 70 men. 8 Of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him 80 men. 9 Of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him 218 men. 10 Of the sons of Bani, Shelomith the son of Josiphiah, and with him 160 men. 11 Of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah, the son of Bebai, and with him 28 men. 12 Of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him 110 men. 13 Of the sons of Adonikam, those who came later, their names being Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, and with them 60 men. 14 Of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zaccur, and with them 70 men.

15 I gathered them to the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the sons of Levi. 16 Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of insight, 17 and sent them to Iddo, the leading man at the place Casiphia, telling them what to say to Iddo and his brothers and the temple servants at the place Casiphia, namely, to send us ministers for the house of our God. 18 And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion, of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi, son of Israel, namely Sherebiah with his sons and kinsmen, 18; 19 also Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, with his kinsmen and their sons, 20; 20 besides 220 of the temple servants, whom David and his officials had set apart to attend the Levites. These were all mentioned by name.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 8:15-20

  • In light of King Artaxerxes’s decree (ch. 7), why would it be a sad picture to have a lack of Levites among those who had assembled to return?
  • Consider what the conversation must have been like between Ezra’s representatives and Iddo, and between Iddo and Sherebiah, and the others. What were the issues and stakes involved, and why is Sherebiah’s (and the others’) decision so beautiful?
  • Recount a time when I placed the call of duty higher than my own needs, comfort and plans.

Prayer 

June 15, 2020

Ps19- 2020-06-15

  • Bible Text: Psalm 19

    To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

    1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
        and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
    Day to day pours out speech,
        and night to night reveals knowledge.
    There is no speech, nor are there words,
        whose voice is not heard.
    Their voice goes out through all the earth,
        and their words to the end of the world.
    In them he has set a tent for the sun,
        which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
        and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
    Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
        and its circuit to the end of them,
        and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

    The law of the Lord is perfect,
        reviving the soul;
    the testimony of the Lord is sure,
        making wise the simple;
    the precepts of the Lord are right,
        rejoicing the heart;
    the commandment of the Lord is pure,
        enlightening the eyes;
    the fear of the Lord is clean,
        enduring forever;
    the rules of the Lord are true,
        and righteous altogether.
    10 More to be desired are they than gold,
        even much fine gold;
    sweeter also than honey
        and drippings of the honeycomb.
    11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
        in keeping them there is great reward.

    12 Who can discern his errors?
        Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
    13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
        let them not have dominion over me!
    Then I shall be blameless,
        and innocent of great transgression.

    14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
        be acceptable in your sight,
        Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

June 12, 2020

Ps15- 2020-06-12

  • Bible Text: Psalm 15

    A Psalm of David.

    1 O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?

        Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

    2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right

        and speaks truth in his heart;

    3 who does not slander with his tongue

        and does no evil to his neighbor,

        nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

    4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised,

        but who honors those who fear the Lord;

        who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

    5 who does not put out his money at interest

        and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

    He who does these things shall never be moved.

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

June 11, 2020

Ezra7- 2020-06-11

Journal

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Commentary: EZRA 7

Bible Text: Ezra 7:11-28

11 This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, a man learned in matters of the commandments of the LORD and his statutes for Israel: 12 “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven. Peace. And now 13 I make a decree that anyone of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. 14 For you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the Law of your God, which is in your hand, 15 and also to carry the silver and gold that the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 with all the silver and gold that you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia, and with the freewill offerings of the people and the priests, vowed willingly for the house of their God that is in Jerusalem. 17 With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and you shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God that is in Jerusalem.   18 Whatever seems good to you and your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God. 19 The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. 20 And whatever else is required for the house of your God, which it falls to you to provide, you may provide it out of the king’s treasury.

21 “And I, Artaxerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence, 22 up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. 23 Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons. 24 We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll on anyone of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.

25 “And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God. And those who do not know them, you shall teach. 26 Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.”

27 Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem, 28 and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 7:12-26

  • Notice the remarkably high degree of reverence King Artaxerxes gives to “the God of Israel” (v.15), equating him with “the God of heaven” (v.21), and the high degree of respect the king has for the priesthood (v. 24).  What can I infer about the source of the king’s attitude?
  • Reflect on the role of this one person, Ezra, along with his character, piety and wisdom (v. 25), in advancing God’s will and bringing about a huge blessing to God’s people. In what ways can I emulate him?

Ezra 7:27-28

  • How did Ezra respond when he realized that the hand of the Lord was on him?
  • From what do I take courage and strength to gather and motivate others?

Prayer 

June 10, 2020

Ezra7- 2020-06-10

Journal

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Commentary: 

EZRA 7

7:1–6 […] As with previous lists (cf. Ezra 2), the paramount concern is to establish continuity with the past—extending in this case back to Aaron the chief or first priest of Moses’s time. Irrespective of its provenance, the length of the genealogy requires the narrative to resume by clarifying that it was “this Ezra” (7:6a) who came back from Babylon. Whatever else a “scribe” may be equipped and called upon to do (7:12, 21), the emphasis here in the description of Ezra is on his proficiency in the “Torah of Moses, which YHWH, the God of Israel, had given.” While the text notes that Artaxerxes too is generous (“giving all for which Ezra asked”), it is at pains to clarify that the gift of Persian royal favor and provision derives ultimately from the “hand of YHWH his God which was upon him [i.e., Ezra].”

7:7–10 […] Ezra joins a relatively small group of texts in the Hebrew Bible where the verb “to seek” is governed by the word of God (Isa 34:16). In 1 Chr 28:8, David charges the leaders of Israel to not merely “observe” but also “seek” the commandments of YHWH your God “that you may possess this good land and leave it for an inheritance to your children after you forever.” The notion that “seeking” then involves more than merely obedience to, but rather deep engagement with, the written word is reinforced by the instructive references found in Ps 119. […] Ezra’s commitment to a searching enquiry of Torah is accompanied by a conviction (Ezra 7:10) regarding his own practical application of it (“to do” it) and then finally to inculcate this same passion and process within the community through education (“to teach” the statutes and ordinances in Israel). […]

7:11–20 […] As conventional as both phrases are for the Persian crown, that the “king of kings” acknowledges the “God of heaven” must have been a significant encouragement for a community of returnees attempting to reconcile the unlimited sovereignty of YHWH with the undeniable precariousness of their position. […]

7:21–24 That the royal check is not entirely blank and that even Persian largesse has its limits is made clear by what appears to be a separate decree addressed now to provincial treasurers. […] 7:23 confirms that like Darius (Ezra 6) and Cyrus before him, Artaxerxes’s desire to support the Jewish cult in Yehud (“let it be done with zeal”) stems from a calculated and pragmatic piety that seeks to cultivate loyalty among the elite of the religious establishment and appease the gods whose “wrath” he fears might otherwise destroy the empire. […]

7:25–26 […] That Ezra is equipped to proceed according to the “wisdom of your God, which is in your hand” suggests an equation of “wisdom” with “the law of your God,” which the letter has already specified is also “in your [i.e., Ezra’s] hand” (7:14). […] That Ezra’s jurisdiction is limited to the Jewish community/ies within the province is suggested by the mention of “all the people . . . who know the laws of your God” (7:25), but the specification of comparable punishments, listed here in descending order of severity, for the violation of this law and “the law of the king” (7:26), is an indication of both the significance of Ezra’s authority and the importance of his role in educating the local communities (7:25: “you shall teach”).

7:27–28 The first words of Ezra himself encountered in the book that bears his name offer a blessing of YHWH of the sort found in the Psalms (e.g., 28:6; 31:21) and indeed elsewhere on the lips of Israel’s past leaders (e.g., 1 Kgs 8:15). Like Jehoshaphat in 2 Chr 20:6 (after his own reformation efforts), Ezra also invokes the “God of our fathers” (Ezra 7:27; elsewhere only Deut 26:7) and recognizes the “hand” of God (Ezra 7:28; cf. 7:6, 9) as the stimulus for his strengthened resolve and invitation to others to “go up” (cf. 7:9) with him to Jerusalem. The specific catalyst for Ezra’s blessing is, first, his conviction that the same God who “turned the heart” of Darius to complete the temple in Jerusalem (6:22), also “placed in the heart” of Artaxerxes the impulse to glorify/beautify it. The second stimulus is his belief that the same “loving-kindness” of God that was celebrated at the completion of the altar in the early days of the return (3:11) has persuaded the Persian king to allow Ezra to play his part in the further restoration of worship in Jerusalem. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 21-23.

Bible Text:

Ezra 7:1-10

1 Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2 son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub,

3 son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4 son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5 son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest— 6 this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.

7 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 10For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 7:6-10

  • What do we know of Ezra?
  • What is the relationship between the kind of person Ezra was, as described in this passage, and God’s hand being upon him?

Ezra 7:10

  • What did Ezra set his heart to do?
  • What is the relationship between studying, doing, and teaching the Law of the LORD?
  • How am I doing in my own study of, obedience to, and credibility as a teacher of God’s word?

Prayer 

June 9, 2020

Ezra6- 2020-06-09

Journal

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Commentary: Ezra 6

Bible Text: Ezra 6:13-22

13 Then, according to the word sent by Darius the king, Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what Darius the king had ordered. 14 And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia; 15 and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.

16 And the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. 17 They offered at the dedication of this house of God 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. 18 And they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their divisions, for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.

19 On the fourteenth day of the first month, the returned exiles kept the Passover. 20 For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were clean. So they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. 21 It was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by every one who had joined them and separated himself from the uncleanness of the peoples of the land to worship the LORD, the God of Israel. 22 And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 6:16-17

  • How were the Israelites able to experience joy in the midst of this sad situation of having been in exile for so many years?
  • What is my source of courage and faith? How might I maintain joy and faith in the aftermath of defeat, chastisement, or loss?

Ezra 6:19-22

  • What identity would have been reinforced or rekindled in the returned exiles by the celebration of this inaugural Passover?
  • What are some ways I need to reaffirm my salvation identity in the midst of spiritual setbacks or after repentance?

Prayer 

June 8, 2020

Ps9- 2020-06-08

  • Journal
  • Bible Text: Psalm 9

    To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben.

    A Psalm of David.

    I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
        I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
    I will be glad and exult in you;
        I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

    When my enemies turn back,
        they stumble and perish before your presence.
    For you have maintained my just cause;
        you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.

    You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
        you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
    The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
        their cities you rooted out;
        the very memory of them has perished.

    But the LORD sits enthroned forever;
        he has established his throne for justice,
    and he judges the world with righteousness;
        he judges the peoples with uprightness.

    The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
        a stronghold in times of trouble.
    10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
        for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

    11 Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion!
        Tell among the peoples his deeds!
    12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
        he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

    13 Be gracious to me, O LORD!
        See my affliction from those who hate me,
        O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
    14 that I may recount all your praises,
        that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
        I may rejoice in your salvation.

    15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
        in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
    16 The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
        the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah

    17 The wicked shall return to Sheol,
        all the nations that forget God.

    18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
        and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

    19 Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail;
        let the nations be judged before you!
    20 Put them in fear, O LORD!
        Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

June 5, 2020

Ps8- 2020-06-05

  • Journal
  • Bible Text: Psalm 8

    To the choirmaster: according to The Gittite. A Psalm of David.

    1 O LORD, our Lord,

        how majestic is your name in all the earth!

        You have set your glory above the heavens.

    2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,

        you have established strength because of your foes,

        to still the enemy and the avenger.

    3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

        the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

    4 what is man that you are mindful of him,

        and the son of man that you care for him?

    5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

        and crowned him with glory and honor.

    6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;

        you have put all things under his feet,

    7 all sheep and oxen,

        and also the beasts of the field,

    8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,

        whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

    9 O LORD, our Lord,

    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

June 4, 2020

Ezra6- 2020-06-04

Journal

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Commentary:

Ezra 6

6:6–12 Having supplied the requested confirmation of the edict from Cyrus’s time, the reply of Darius now further obliges by providing the current king’s directives to the governors: “keep away” (6:6) being practically explained in terms of noninterference with the building activities of the Jewish leadership (6:7). Darius’s confirmation of the crown’s renewed or continuing financial support for the rebuilding (6:8) is specified in terms that must have satisfied the returnees and frustrated the governor of “Beyond the River” in equal measure (i.e., “in full,” “without delay” from “Beyond the River’s” provincial funds). […] The challenges of interpreting 6:11 make the precise nature of the punishment for altering the decree difficult to determine. While the measures seem draconian by modern standards, they are broadly characteristic of the Persians’ approach as it appears in their own documents (Behistun Inscription §67) and Jewish literature (e.g., Dan 2:5; 3:29). […]

Darius’s invocation of the returnees’ God and his official recognition of and tangible support for his worship in the final form of the correspondence serve to reaffirm that the divine superintending of Persian power that had begun with Cyrus (1:1) continues under the current regime.

6:13–15 The due execution of Darius’s orders (“with all diligence”) by Tattenai and his associates leads to a notice of the successful completion of the building (6:14). In the preface to the resumption of the building (5:1–2), the focus is solely on the initiative of the returnees’ God and his prophets (Haggai and Zechariah). Here, at its conclusion, pride of place is still given to these same prophets (6:14a) and to the decree of the God of Israel, but now alongside the decree of the Persian kings, including Artaxerxes, whose later involvement (7:15–24, 27) is here likely anticipated. […]

6:16–18 […] Now with the temple completed, it is not surprising that the dedication includes both celebration and sacrifice, just as Solomon’s dedication of its predecessor did. The emphasis at this point is clear: the priests, Levites, and the rest of the returnees are, as in both Solomon’s day and Zerubbabel’s (3:1), nothing less than a reconstituted “people of Israel” (6:16) experiencing something of the same joy (6:16; 3:12–13; 1 Kgs 8:66) and offering the requisite sacrifices (Ezra 6:17; 3:3–6; 1 Kgs 8:63; 2 Chr 7:5). While the returning community’s “twelve tribes” may be implied in Ezra 2:2, they are fully visible here in the twelve goats offered for the sins of “all Israel” (6:17)—a pattern paralleled precisely by the tribal leaders’ dedication of the altar of the tabernacle in the days of Moses (Num 7). […]

6:19–22 […] The insistence too in Ezra that the Passover was celebrated only by those outsiders who had separated themselves from uncleanness (6:21; in keeping with Num 9:14) stands at odds with Hezekiah’s practice of relaxing the pertinent regulations (2 Chr 30:17–20). Finally, the specific sequence of the (re)dedication by the tribal leaders (Ezra 6:17; Num 7), purification of the Levites (Ezra 6:20a; Num 8), and celebration of the Passover (Ezra 6:20b–21; Num 9) that appears in both Ezra and Numbers seems unlikely to be accidental.

As in the Passovers of Hezekiah (2 Chr 30:13) and Josiah (35:17), here the Feast of Unleavened Bread follows (see Num 28:17), and as in Hezekiah’s time, the emphasis of the report falls on the emotion of the celebration (cf. 2 Chr 30:21). Here, however, alongside the narration of emotion there is explanation: they celebrate “with joy, for YHWH had made them joyful.” That this joy is related to what has been accomplished is not syntactically explicit in Ezra 6:22, but is suggested by the reminder in this verse that YHWH had enlisted the royal might of Mesopotamia (lit., a turning of the king’s “heart”) in completing the restoration of his “house”—a fitting recapitulation of the theme introduced at the outset of the book and visible at various points in the chapters that have followed. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 20-21.

Bible Text:

Ezra 6:1-12

1 Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in Babylonia, in the house of the archives where the documents were stored. 2 And in Ecbatana, the citadel that is in the province of Media, a scroll was found on which this was written: “A record. 3 In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices were offered, and let its foundations be retained. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, 4 with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. 5 And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple that is in Jerusalem, each to its place. You shall put them in the house of God.”

6 “Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and your associates the governors who are in the province Beyond the River, keep away.        7 Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. 8 Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. 9 And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, 10 that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons. 11 Also I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill. 12 May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence.”

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 6:6-12

  • Given the fact that Tattenai and Shethar-bozenai’s letter to Darius was full of concern for the king’s interests, what is surprising about Darius’s response to them?
  • What can I learn from this passage about how God can work?
  • What has been my response to obstacles in doing God’s work?

Ezra 6:1-12

  • What is King Darius like?
  • What can I learn from him?

Prayer 

June 3, 2020

Ezra5- 2020-06-03

Journal

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Commentary:

Ezra 5

 

5:1–2 Having described the frustration of the returnees’ later efforts to rebuild the city and the walls, the book of Ezra resumes the story of the temple, the reconstruction of which was, according to 4:5, halted until the time of Darius. […] That the community of returnees continues to receive prophecies also reaffirms its identification with the people of the past and their prophets—not least those prophets who had promised that Judah and its people would be rebuilt. […] whether it is God or his name that is “over/upon them” and whether “them” refers to the prophets or the people or both, the text here seizes the opportunity to reemphasize that the resumption commences under the aegis of the God whose house they are rebuilding. […]

5:3–5 The news that those beyond the community approach the returnees “at the same time” as building recommences prepares the reader for opposition of the sort encountered later (but described already in Ezra 4). While there is nothing obviously malicious or malevolent about the enquiries, the querying by the district governor and his associates of who has authorized the work (5:3) and who is undertaking it (5:4) is clearly seen as potentially if not actually obstructive (“they did not stop them”). […] The Chronicler (2 Chr 7:16) recounts the divine promise to Solomon that his “eyes” will always be at the temple, but in the context of the return from exile, perhaps most relevant of all is God’s word through Jeremiah (24:6): “I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not uproot them.” Whether it is God’s “hand” (Ezra 7:6, 9; etc.) or his “eye,” the image of divine attention and tangible support is clear. […]

5:11 Given that Rehum and others introduce themselves as “servants” of the Persian crown (Artaxerxes) in correspondence from a later period (included, however, already in 4:11), the returnees’ self-identification as “servants of the God of heaven and earth” is a bold beginning. While Cyrus’s edict and the returnees themselves (cf. 5:12) refer to the “God of heaven” (see commentary on 1:2), the allusion to the original construction of the temple by Solomon (“a great king of Israel”) may explain the returnees’ recognition of their God’s sovereignty over not merely heaven but “the earth” as well. After all, the opening verses of Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 1 Kgs 8 (to which Neh 1 is perhaps also indebted) are not only replete with “servant” language, they also consider the question of God’s presence on earth as it is in heaven. In alluding to Solomon’s earlier building, the returnees yet again underline the continuity of their own building with that of the past.

5:12 The note of continuity is sounded again as the returnees explain the exile in terms of the failings of their “fathers.” The focus on the sins of the previous generation (rather than the present one; cf. Neh 1:5–7) likely reflects the official purpose of the correspondence rather than the lack of contrition or sense of responsibility, given what we see elsewhere among the exiles (cf. Ezek 18). […] Evidently, for the exiles, God’s sovereignty is to be seen in both the ruin and the restoration. Of course, as we have seen, it is crucial for the exiles that the same people who were “carried” off to Babylon are now doing the rebuilding. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 19-20.

Bible Text:

Ezra 5:1-17

 

1 Now the prophets, Haggai 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. 2 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

3 At the same time Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and their associates came to them and spoke to them thus: “Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?” 4 They also asked them this: “What are the names of the men who are building this building?” 5 But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it.

6 This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and his associates, the governors who were in the province Beyond the River, sent to Darius the king. 7 They sent him a report, in which was written as follows: “To Darius the king, all peace. 8 Be it known to the king that we went to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God. It is being built with huge stones, and timber is laid in the walls. This work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands. 9 Then we asked those elders and spoke to them thus: ‘Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?’ 10 We also asked them their names, for your information, that we might write down the names of their leaders. 11 And this was their reply to us: ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. 12 But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia. 13 However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt. 14 And the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple that was in Jerusalem and brought into the temple of Babylon, these Cyrus the king took out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; 15 and he said to him, “Take these vessels, go and put them in the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its site.” 16 Then this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and from that time until now it has been in building, and it is not yet finished.’ 17 Therefore, if it seems good to the king, let search be made in the royal archives there in Babylon, to see whether a decree was issued by Cyrus the king for the rebuilding of this house of God in Jerusalem. And let the king send us his pleasure in this matter.”

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 5:3-5

  • What painful political reality is behind the question: “Who gave you a decree to build this house?” (In other words, why would this have been an intimidating question?)
  • What are some earthly realities and circumstances that remind me of the ways I am limited in my ability to serve God and build his kingdom?
  • How does v. 5 give me reassurance regarding how I can move forward with faith and vision in the face of opposition and life constraints?

Ezra 5:11-17

  • What can I learn from the way the Jews identified themselves when questioned by the governors of the province Beyond the River?

Prayer 

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