After these things, during the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, 2 the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, 3 the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, 4 the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, 5 the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest – 6 this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. 7 Some of the Israelites, including priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.
8 Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. 9 He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
King Artaxerxes’ letter to Ezra
11 This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law, a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the Lord for Israel:
12 Artaxerxes, king of kings,
To Ezra the priest, teacher of the Law of the God of heaven:
13 Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who volunteer to go to Jerusalem with you, may go. 14 You are sent by the king and his seven advisors to enquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand. 15 Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisors have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 together with all the silver and gold you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the freewill offerings of the people and priests for the temple of their God in Jerusalem. 17 With this money be sure to buy bulls, rams and male lambs, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem.
18 You and your fellow Israelites may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of your God. 19 Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God. 20 And anything else needed for the temple of your God that you are responsible to supply, you may provide from the royal treasury.
21 Now I, King Artaxerxes, decree that all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates are to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you – 22 up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. 23 Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should his wrath fall on the realm of the king and of his sons? 24 You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God.
25 And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates – all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. 26 Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.
27 Praise be to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honour to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way 28 and who has extended his good favour to me before the king and his advisors and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.
Only at the beginning of the seventh chapter is Ezra introduced into the story of the returning Jewish exiles, and two things stand out from this passage. The first is God’s gracious provision to His people. It’s likely that during their time in Babylon, they had lost touch with the scriptures, but here, on their return is a teacher, well versed in the Law of Moses, and devoted to its study and observance. Before they entered Canaan, God had urged the Israelites to observe His commands, decrees and laws, and pass on from one generation to the next (Deuteronomy 6:1-2). In His grace, as God brings the people back from exile into the land He promised them, He has provided one like Moses who can instruct them.
How we thank our Heavenly Father that in Christ He has given us one greater than Moses, one who has not only given us His law, but who has written it on our hearts, and who has given us His spirit so that we no longer try in vain to adhere to the letter of the law, but instead we are able to joyfully comply with its deepest intentions.
Something else also stands out from this passage. Although Ezra was in Babylon – famed for its great learning, its literature, its science and its astrology – he had set his heart on studying the scriptures. Like Moses in Egypt, he may well have excelled in the arts and sciences of the Babylonian culture, but above all he determined to study and live by God’s word. In our modern-day, multi-media, socially-networked Babylon, there is much to engage our attention, distract us from the scriptures and dilute our focus on the gospel. Like Ezra, let us set our hearts on studying the scriptures. This doesn’t mean we have to cut ourselves off from everything else, although we are certain nothing the world offers will fit us for eternity; nor will it give us a deeper love for Jesus and what He has done for us, nor will it show us how to live in obedience to Him.
So today, let us be thankful for good teaching and take every opportunity to come under sound doctrine. Like Ezra, let us devote ourselves to reading and studying the scriptures, and, as we see Christ in every page, may our hearts overflow with love for the Saviour who held back nothing to redeem us.
Prayer: Merciful Father, thank You for the inspired scriptures, Your very words to us. Thank You that they teach, correct, rebuke and train us in righteousness. Help us to delight in the scriptures, and thank You for faithful men who have studied them, taught them and preached them over the generations. We pray that Your word will do its work in our hearts, under the wise and loving counsel of Your Holy Spirit, and for the glory of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Amen.