Ezra

June 2, 2020

Ezra4- 2020-06-02

Journal

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Commentary:

EZRA 4

4:3 While the allusion to the Persian imperial edict is the explicit grounds for the returnees’ rejection of cooperation, their emphasis on “our God” (cf. “your God” in 4:2) suggests that religious perceptions may lie at the root of their refusal. If this is the case, the problem may well have been the perception (or indeed reality) that even after two centuries, the practices of the immigrants’ ancestors had continued (2 Kgs 17:41a notes that while these people were worshiping YHWH, they were also serving their idols). If so, given the Israelite tradition’s insistence that it was the worship of gods alongside YHWH that was instrumental in the fall of both the northern and southern kingdoms, the returnees’ reluctance is understandable, especially if involvement in rebuilding would have been understood to offer a precedent[…]

4:4–5 While we may assume that the people who set out to discourage (lit., “weaken the hands”) and frighten off the returnees include those already mentioned, 4:5 suggests that others may have been added to their number over an extended period of time. The motif of external intimidation met here for the first time will be a recurring one in Ezra-Nehemiah. Having dwelt at length on the initial progress of the returnees, the writer here offers a justification for the temple remaining unfinished until the time of Darius.

4:12–13 While it is not clear precisely which group of returnees is being referred to or when they returned, that the foundations of the walls are still being repaired (4:12) indicates a time prior to the walls’ completion in Nehemiah’s time. Eventually the returnees themselves will confess their own wickedness and that of their predecessors (9:13). Here however the wickedness being alleged is clearly less theological than it is political, as may be seen from 4:13’s rehearsal of the potential threats to the financial interests of the crown posed by the city’s restoration.

4:17–20 Having offered greetings to his addressees (4:17) and confirmed receipt of their correspondence (4:18), the king reports his investigations and confirms their allegations (4:19). While some suppose that 4:20 might refer to Judean kings’ own historic hegemony over and exploitation of what was now the Persian district, the tradition does not remember David—nor even Solomon in all his splendor—exercising authority over this entire region. Instead, the king reasons that if Jerusalem has paid taxes, tribute, and duty to his imperial predecessors in Babylon, then any activity that has the potential to reduce or eliminate Jerusalem’s contribution to his own coffers should be actively discouraged.

4:21–24 Royal investigation now gives way to instruction as the addressees are authorized to order the work to be stopped until the king decides otherwise (4:21). What might persuade the king to allow such work is unclear, but this final phrase may betray an awareness (or anticipation perhaps) of the sending of Nehemiah and the work that was eventually concluded under his supervision. Given that the obvious intention of the initial correspondence from Rehum and others was to halt the work, the king’s warning in 4:22 has a slightly ironic ring about it. We are thus not surprised when the writer of Ezra informs us (4:23) that the king’s instructions are acted upon “immediately” and with “full force” (lit., “with power and strength”). [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) 17-18.

Bible Text: Ezra 4:1-24

1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

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

7 In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated. 8 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows: 9 Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their associates, the judges, the governors, the officials, the Persians, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River. 11 (This is a copy of the letter that they sent.) “To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now

12 be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. 14 Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, 15 in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from of old. That was why this city was laid waste. 16 We make known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River.”

17 The king sent an answer: “To Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. And now 18 the letter that you sent to us has been plainly read before me. 19 And I made a decree, and search has been made, and it has been found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. 20 And mighty kings have been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid. 21 Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. 22 And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?”

23 Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. 24 Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 4:4-6

  • What emotional result did the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin hope to cause through their opposition to the rebuilding of the temple?
  • Given the persistence and determination of the opposition, what attitude did the Israelites need in order to continue?
  • What discouragement, fear, and frustration have I experienced in ““building a temple to the Lord” (v.1)?

Prayer 

May 28, 2020

Ezra3- 2020-05-28

Journal

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Commentary:

Ezra 3

3:2 The writer is keen to demonstrate not only that the restoration of the altar was done under the aegis of the appropriate religious (Jeshua et al.) and civic (Zerubbabel et al.) authorities, but also that it was done “according to what was written in the law of Moses, the man of God” (Exod 20:25). As others note, the latter phrase is applied to David (2 Chr 8:14; Neh 12:24, 36) and Moses (1 Chr 23:14; 2 Chr 30:16), particularly in contexts where Torah observance is emphasized, thus allowing the writer here to not only establish the contemporary continuity with the cultic past, but also the care with which the commandments were kept in the process of restoration.

3:3 The emphasizing of the restoration of the altar on the “(original) site” (or “foundations” if the plural of the Hebrew is read) and the reinstating of the appropriate daily sacrifices (as stipulated in Exod 29:38–42) appear to be a further reflection of the writer’s persistent concern to emphasize continuity with the past. Most striking of all, however, is the writer’s insistence that the returnees’ first recorded response to their “fear of the peoples” was to prepare for and recommence worship of their God. […]

3:4–6 Just as Solomon celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles (3:4) hard on the heels of the dedication of the first temple (1 Kgs 8:2) so too here the “harvest” festival originally associated with the exodus generation (Lev 23:33–36, 39–43) is celebrated by the returnees as worship recommences. That this takes place “as is written” and “by the numbers” specified in Torah, day by day, reaffirms the faithfulness of the returnees and specifically their care and attention to the worship life of the community. […]

3:7 […] The writer’s description of, in this case, the gathering of supplies for the building of the temple appears to be influenced by the description in Chronicles of the building of the Solomonic temple (1 Chr 22:2–4; 2 Chr 2:7–15). Some returnees (and later readers) will have been aware of the prophetic word of Isa 60:13 to those exiled or returned: “The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the pine, the fir, and the cypress together, to adorn the place of my sanctuary; and I will glorify the place of my feet.” For them, the arrival of building materials will have been a reassurance that the God who had promised to restore was beginning to do so. […]

3:10–11 Rather than dwell on the mechanics of the reconstruction, the text is primarily interested in the character and intensity of the celebration that accompanies it. While we would expect such celebrations on momentous occasions, the similarity of the language here to that associated with the first temple (2 Chr 7:6) seems to reflect an attempt to evoke those festivities. […] While Ezra 2 emphasized the sacrificial involvement of the people themselves, this passage here—with its multiple mentions of praise and adoration of God (3:10, 11 [twice])—reflects and resonates with the remembered reality of God’s initiative and action in Ezra 1. Indeed, the psalmic refrain that is sung (3:11) leaves no space for self-importance among the returnees: it is not their piety or preservation of Torah and tradition that endures forever; rather it is God’s goodness and love that do so, and in their enduring, they make possible the repair, restoration, and renewal. That they endure “forever” is thus not only cause for gratitude, but also cause for hope.

3:12–13 Having duly noted the corporate liturgical celebration (3:10–11) of the progress that had been made, the writer now adds color to the scene by recounting the range of emotional responses among those gathered. Given the effort expended by the writer to illustrate the continuity of the new with the old, if the tears of those who had seen the former temple were ones of sadness (given the contrast drawn in 3:13 and perhaps Hag 2:3), they are at least confirmation that there were some who were able to assess and guarantee a sufficient degree of similarity. The writer’s curious insistence on emphasizing the impossibility of differentiating between joy and sadness suggests that the point is less the particular emotion expressed than the intensity and volume of their expression and their testimony to those beyond the community. [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) 16-17.

Bible Text: Ezra 3:1-13

1 When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they 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. 3 They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. 4 And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, 5 and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the Lord. 6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. 7 So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.

8 Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the Lord. 9 And Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together supervised the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and brothers.

10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,

“For he is good,

    for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 3:7-9

  • Consider all the groups of people involved in building the temple, and their respective roles. What is my role in the body of Christ, and why is my faithfulness to it important?

Ezra 3:11

  • Given the mention of the “Law of Moses” (v. 2) and the “directions of David” (v. 10), what connections would the people have felt as they were engaged in the rebuilding?
  • What is there to celebrate about only the foundation being laid, when the completion of the building was still far away?
  • What are some new beginnings for which I can be “praising and giving thanks to the Lord”?

Ezra 3:12-13

  • In what sense are the joyful shouts and the people’s weeping both appropriate?
  • What can I learn from each?

Prayer 

May 27, 2020

Ezra2- 2020-05-27

Journal

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Commentary: Ezra 2

Ezra 2

 

2:1–2 The mention again of Nebuchadnezzar and the circumstances of exile signals a reemphasizing of the continuity of the returnees with the original exiles. That it was their own towns to which they returned reflects and depends on the divinely sanctioned division and allocation of the land described in Numbers and Joshua. Whether intentional or not, the listing of twelve leaders (not including Sheshbazzar) would likely have offered early readers an echo of the twelve sons of Jacob and the eponymous tribes that descended from them. Though not emphasized here, Zerubbabel’s Davidic ancestry may well have reminded ancient readers of the hope of royal restoration (and thus the fulfillment of God’s promise to David in 2 Sam 7) that would wax and wane in the years following the return. […]

2:21–35 Beginning in 2:21 the focus of the list seems to shift from parentage to place…The interest in connecting the returning people to particular places reflects the historic concerns with (re)securing the land that had been promised by God in ancient times. If the people are listed by place name because they are “the poor of the land” (2 Kgs 25:12) who do not hold title to any ancestral property, the list reaffirms the community’s inclusion of those on the margins who might otherwise have fallen by the wayside on their return.

2:36–39 As in Numbers, where the priests and Levites are listed (Num 3–4) following the others (Num 1–2), so too here in connection with this new “exodus,” the attention moves from laity to priests and functionaries—the comparatively sizeable numbers of the latter offer a further indication that worship is not incidental, but remains central to the plans of God and his people.

2:40–42 As Ezra would himself eventually discover (8:15), comparatively few Levites made this journey (2:40). While singers and gatekeepers would later (1 Chr 6) be incorporated into the Levite ranks and classified according to descent (Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun), here they are reported separately. Collectively, they are further testimony to the cultic ambitions and commitments of the returning community.

2:43–58 It is very likely that the temple servants (lit., “given/devoted”), and the sons of Solomon’s servants were responsible for assisting the Levites with some of the most basic tasks relating to worship and the temple. If, as some of the names suggest, this group included foreigners (including, potentially, prisoners of war), their inclusion as full members of the community (as we see in 2:64) suggests that the community continued to be inclusive within the limits of the tradition as they understood it.

2:59–63 The limits of the community’s inclusivity appear to have had implications for those who belonged to specific communities in exile but were unable to establish their genealogical credentials and/or connection to a traditional location in the ancestral land. While the implications remain unclear for the laity, the priests are excluded from facilitating the worshiping community. Given the emphasis on ensuring continuity with the community of origin, such a position, while appearing severe, would certainly have been understandable. […]

2:64–67 The total sum of the preceding numbers is considerably lower (by some 11,000) than the total given in 2:64. While it is possible, as in 1:9–11, that something has been lost in the preceding list, the more likely suggestion is that women have been included in the latter total, but not in the preceding numbers. Both men and women are included in the figures for servants/slaves (2:65), who are included along with the animals (2:66)—a notion that is as anathema to modern sensibilities as it was apparently unremarkable to ancient ones. […]

2:70 Given that some of the priests and temple functionaries clearly (and of necessity) settled in Jerusalem (Neh 3:26, 31; 11:21), why does the text here make a point of suggesting that both they and the rest of the people settled in their towns? By reiterating the same point at the end of the chapter, which he had made at the beginning (Ezra 2:1), the editor/narrator perhaps wishes to emphasize that the return was not merely a symbolic but also quite literal (re)settlement of the land as evidenced by the repopulation of not just Jerusalem, but also the wide variety of cities and towns that are indicated at great length in the lists found in Josh 15:21–62; 18:21–28. [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) 14-15.

Bible Text:

Ezra 2:1-70

 

1 Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. 2 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.

The number of the men of the people of Israel: 3 the sons of Parosh, 2,172. 4 The sons of Shephatiah, 372. 5 The sons of Arah, 775. 6 The sons of Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,812. 7 The sons of Elam, 1,254. 8 The sons of Zattu, 945. 9 The sons of Zaccai, 760. 10 The sons of Bani, 642. 11 The sons of Bebai, 623. 12 The sons of Azgad, 1,222. 13 The sons of Adonikam, 666. 14 The sons of Bigvai, 2,056. 15 The sons of Adin, 454. 16 The sons of Ater, namely of Hezekiah, 98. 17 The sons of Bezai, 323. 18 The sons of Jorah, 112. 19 The sons of Hashum, 223. 20 The sons of Gibbar, 95. 21 The sons of Bethlehem, 123. 22 The men of Netophah, 56. 23 The men of Anathoth, 128. 24 The sons of Azmaveth, 42. 25 The sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743. 26 The sons of Ramah and Geba, 621. 27 The men of Michmas, 122. 28 The men of Bethel and Ai, 223. 29 The sons of Nebo, 52. 30 The sons of Magbish, 156. 31 The sons of the other Elam, 1,254. 32 The sons of Harim, 320. 33 The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 725. 34 The sons of Jericho, 345. 35 The sons of Senaah, 3,630.

36 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, 973. 37 The sons of Immer, 1,052. 38 The sons of Pashhur, 1,247. 39 The sons of Harim, 1,017.

40 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, 74. 41 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 128. 42 The sons of the gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, and the sons of Shobai, in all 139.

43 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 44 the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon, 45 the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub, 46 the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shamlai, the sons of Hanan, 47 the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, 48 the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam, 49 the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, 50 the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephisim, 51 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 52 the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 53 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 54 the sons of Neziah, and the sons of Hatipha.

55 The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda, 56 the sons of Jaalah, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 57 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, and the sons of Ami.

58 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.

59 The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer, though they could not prove their fathers’ houses or their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: 60 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, and the sons of Nekoda, 652. 61 Also, of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, and the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name). 62These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 63 The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.

64 The whole assembly together was 42,360, 65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. 66 Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, 67 their camels were 435, and their donkeys were 6,720.

68 Some of the heads of families, when they came to the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site. 69 According to their ability they gave to the treasury of the work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priests’ garments.

70 Now the priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel in their towns.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 2:1

  • What can I learn from these Israelite exiles who left the advanced civilization of Persia to return to a Jerusalem in ruins?

Ezra 2:36-57

  • Reflect on the fact that the priests, Levites, gatekeepers and temple servants kept their identities intact during their exile in Babylon, even after the destruction of the Temple.
  • What must I do in order to keep my identity intact throughout changing circumstances?
  • What does the detailed listing of the names of those who returned reveal about God’s heart?

Prayer 

May 26, 2020

Ezra1- 2020-05-26

Journal

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Commentary: 

EZRA 1

1:1 Not surprisingly, the beginning of Ezra commences with the beginning of Cyrus, whose arrival in Babylon in 539 BCE and proclamation in 538 offered both powers and pretenders conclusive evidence of his meteoric rise from the provinces of Media. While the first verse of Ezra begins and ends with Cyrus, the syntactical heart of 1:1 is profoundly theological: “YHWH moved.” […]

1:2 While the tradition strongly associates Israel’s God with sovereignty over the heavens (e.g., Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms), it is suggested that the use of the specific title “the God of heaven” within the edict of Cyrus reflects Persian usage. […] The use of this terminology among the returnees (cf. Ezra 5:12; 6:9–10; Neh 1:4–5; 2:4, 20 etc.) may then reflect an accommodation to imperial expectation, rather than a novel and original use of the title by the exiles. That YHWH has given Cyrus “all the kingdoms,” however, confirms that this heavenly God has earthly interests and intentions, while his charge to build YHWH a house in Jerusalem illustrates the conviction of the returnees, not only that their God has the power to move the “powers that be,” but also that his own worship is his chief priority.

1:3–4  […] for Jews about to embark upon a journey to a land that was once promised, this invocation of their God’s presence “with them” might find a resonance rather in the exodus generation’s hope that their God would go with them on their own journey out of a foreign land (cf. Exod 34:9; Num 14:8–9). The edict’s suggestion that their God might be both “with them” and “in Jerusalem” poses no difficulty for those who conceived of their God in incorporeal terms in any case, though the association of the divine presence with Jerusalem will be expressed regularly in the early chapters of Ezra (e.g., 4:24; 5:2). That the Jews should return with more than “their God” is made explicit in 1:4, which encourages material support for the returnees and especially the temple, even if it is unclear whether such support should be expected from those Jews who were not willing or able to make the journey or from Gentile neighbors, on the pattern of the despoiling of the Egyptians found in the exodus tradition.

1:5–6 While in the prayer of Neh 9, it is the divine spirit’s tutelage of the exodus generation (Exod 9:20) that is remembered, here special note is made of the power of God’s spirit to stir up the people to embrace the opportunity to return to Jerusalem. That this spiritual encouragement was necessary may suggest that the journey was perceived to be a daunting one and may also imply that not all of the “heads of Benjamin and Judah, priests and Levites” were willing to make the trip. However, the emphasis here is laid very much on the receptivity and spiritual sensitivity of those who did so and the divine initiative of YHWH, who stirs up or rouses, not only the “powers that be” like Cyrus (1:1) but also the people themselves. […]

1:7–11 That it is the Persian king himself who brings out the temple vessels (1:7) and then releases them into the charge of a royal treasurer, Mithredath (1:8), is further confirmation of the divine Spirit’s stirring of Cyrus, while the mention of Nebuchadnezzar’s plundering of the temple (2 Kgs 24:13; 25:13–16; 2 Chr 36:10) invites the reader to reflect on the ultimate sovereignty of the God of heaven over even the greatest sovereigns of the earth. The writer’s attention to the facts and figures (Ezra 1:9–10) of the temple vessels reflects the importance of the return of what was taken and the notion of careful (ac)counting reflected also in 1 Chr 9:28, which relates the practice of counting the vessels when they were brought into the temple for use and again when they were taken out. Having been taken out of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar in the most traumatic of circumstances, this precious paraphernalia is now “counted” out of the house of Cyrus’s gods to ensure that all that should return to the temple does so. […] [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) 13-14.

 

Bible Text:

Ezra 1:1-11

1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”

5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. 6 And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. 7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8 Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9 And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 10 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 11 all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Ezra 1:1

  • What can I learn about how God works from the fact that “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation”?

Ezra 1:2

  • Given Cyrus’s high position and power, why is it amazing that he says that God “has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah”?
  • How does Cyrus’s view of his personal accomplishments and blessings contrast with mine?

Prayer 

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