Ezra, the Priest and Scribe
years after the return of the first company of exiles under Zerubbabel and
Joshua, Artaxerxes Longimanus came to the throne of Medo-Persia. The name
of this king is connected with sacred history by a series of remarkable
providences. It was during his reign that Ezra and Nehemiah lived and
labored. He is the one who in 457 B.C. issued the third and final decree
for the restoration of Jerusalem. His reign saw the return of a company of
Jews under Ezra, the completion of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah and
his associates, the reorganization of the temple services, and the great
religious reformations instituted by Ezra and Nehemiah. During his long
rule he often showed favor to God's people, and in his trusted and
well-beloved Jewish friends, Ezra and Nehemiah, he recognized men of God's
appointment, raised up for a special work.
experience of Ezra while living among the Jews who remained in Babylon was
so unusual that it attracted the favorable notice of King Artaxerxes, with
regarding the power of the God of heaven, and the divine purpose in
restoring the Jews to Jerusalem.
Born of the
sons of Aaron, Ezra had been given a priestly training; and in addition to
this he had acquired a familiarity with the writings of the magicians, the
astrologers, and the wise men of the Medo-Persian realm. But he was not
satisfied with his spiritual condition. He longed to be in full harmony
with God; he longed for wisdom to carry out the divine will. And so he
"prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it."
Ezra 7:10. This led him to apply himself diligently to a study of the
history of God's people, as recorded in the writings of prophets and
kings. He searched the historical and poetical books of the Bible to learn
why the Lord had permitted Jerusalem to be destroyed and His people
carried captive into a heathen land.
experiences of Israel from the time the promise was made to Abraham, Ezra
gave special thought. He studied the instruction given at Mount Sinai and
through the long period of wilderness wandering. As he learned more and
still more concerning God's dealings with His children, and comprehended
the sacredness of the law given at Sinai, Ezra's heart was stirred. He
experienced a new and thorough conversion and determined to master the
records of sacred history, that he might use this knowledge to bring
blessing and light to his people.
endeavored to gain a heart preparation for the work he believed was before
him. He sought God earnestly, that he might be a wise teacher in Israel.
As he learned to yield mind and will to divine control, there were brought
into his life
the principles of true sanctification, which, in later years, had a
molding influence, not only upon the youth who sought his instruction, but
upon all others associated with him.
Ezra to be an instrument of good to Israel, that He might put honor upon
the priesthood, the glory of which had been greatly eclipsed during the
captivity. Ezra developed into a man of extraordinary learning and became
"a ready scribe in the law of Moses." Verse 6. These
qualifications made him an eminent man in the Medo-Persian kingdom.
Ezra became a
mouthpiece for God, educating those about him in the principles that
govern heaven. During the remaining years of his life, whether near the
court of the king of Medo-Persia or at Jerusalem, his principal work was
that of a teacher. As he communicated to others the truths he learned, his
capacity for labor increased. He became a man of piety and zeal. He was
the Lord's witness to the world of power of Bible truth to ennoble the
of Ezra to revive an interest in the study of the Scriptures were given
permanency by his painstaking, lifelong work of preserving and multiplying
the Sacred Writings. He gathered all the copies of the law that he could
find and had these transcribed and distributed. The pure word, thus
multiplied and placed in the hands of many people, gave knowledge that was
of inestimable value.
that God would do a mighty work for His people, led him to tell Artaxerxes
of his desire to return to Jerusalem to revive an interest in the study of
word and to
assist his brethren in restoring the Holy City. As Ezra declared his
perfect trust in the God of Israel as one abundantly able to protect and
care for His people, the king was deeply impressed. He well understood
that the Israelites were returning to Jerusalem that they might serve
Jehovah; yet so great was the king's confidence in the integrity of Ezra
that he showed him marked favor, granting his request and bestowing on him
rich gifts for the temple service. He made him a special representative of
the Medo-Persian kingdom and conferred on him extensive powers for the
carrying out of the purposes that were in his heart.
The decree of
Artaxerxes Longimanus for the restoring and building of Jerusalem, the
third issued since the close of the seventy years' captivity, is
remarkable for its expressions regarding the God of heaven, for its
recognition of the attainments of Ezra, and for the liberality of the
grants made to the remnant people of God. Artaxerxes refers to Ezra as
"the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the
commandments of the Lord, and of His statutes to Israel;" "a
scribe of the law of the God of heaven." The king united with his
counselors in offering freely "unto the God of Israel, whose
habitation is in Jerusalem;" and in addition he made provision for
meeting many heavy expenses by ordering that they be paid "out of the
king's treasure house." Verses 11, 12, 15, 20.
art sent of the king, and of his seven counselors," Artaxerxes
declared to Ezra, "to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem,
according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand." And he
further decreed: "Whatsoever is
the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of
heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and
his sons?" Verses 14, 23.
permission to the Israelites to return, Artaxerxes arranged for the
restoration of the members of the priesthood to their ancient rites and
privileges. "We certify you," he declared, "that touching
any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers
of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or
custom, upon them." He also arranged for the appointment of civil
officers to govern the people justly in accordance with the Jewish code of
laws. "Thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine
hand," he directed, "set magistrates and judges, which may judge
all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy
God; and teach ye them that know them not. And whosoever will not do the
law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily
upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation
of goods, or to imprisonment." Verses 24-26.
"according to the good hand of his God upon him," Ezra had
persuaded the king to make abundant provision for the return of all the
people of Israel and of the priests and Levites in the Medo-Persian realm,
who were minded "of their own free will to go up to Jerusalem."
Verses 9, 13. Thus again the children of the dispersion were given
opportunity to return to the land with the possession of which were linked
the promises to the house of Israel.
brought great rejoicing to those who had been uniting with Ezra in a study
of God's purposes concerning His people. "Blessed be the Lord God of
our fathers," Ezra exclaimed, "which hath put such a thing as
this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in
Jerusalem: and hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his
counselors, and before all the king's mighty princes." Verses 27, 28.
issuing of this decree by Artaxerxes, God's providence was manifest. Some
discerned this and gladly took advantage of the privilege of returning
under circumstances so favorable. A general place of meeting was named,
and at the appointed time those who were desirous of going to Jerusalem
assembled for the long journey. "I gathered them together to the
river that runneth to Ahava," Ezra says, "and there abode we in
tents three days." Ezra 8:15.
expected that a large number would return to Jerusalem, but the number who
responded to the call was disappointingly small. Many who had acquired
houses and lands had no desire to sacrifice these possessions. They loved
ease and comfort and were well satisfied to remain. Their example proved a
hindrance to others who otherwise might have chosen to cast in their lot
with those who were advancing by faith.
looked over the company assembled, he was surprised to find none of the
sons of Levi. Where were the members of the tribe that had been set apart
for the sacred service of the temple? To the call, Who is on the Lord's
side? the Levites should have been the first to respond.
captivity, and afterward, they had been granted many privileges. They had
enjoyed the fullest liberty to minister to the spiritual needs of their
brethren in exile. Synagogues had been built, in which the priests
conducted the worship of God and instructed the people. The observance of
the Sabbath, and the performance of the sacred rites peculiar to the
Jewish faith, had been freely allowed.
But with the
passing of the years after the close of the captivity, conditions changed,
and many new responsibilities
the leaders in Israel. The temple at Jerusalem had been rebuilt and
dedicated, and more priests were needed to carry on its services. There
was pressing need of men of God to act as teachers of the people. And
besides, the Jews remaining in Babylon were in danger of having their
religious liberty restricted. Through the prophet Zechariah, as well as by
their recent experience during the troublous times of Esther and Mordecai,
the Jews in Medo-Persia had been plainly warned to return to their own
land. The time had come when it was perilous for them to dwell longer in
the midst of heathen influences. In view of these changed conditions, the
priests in Babylon should have been quick to discern in the issuance of
the decree a special call to them to return to Jerusalem.
The king and
his princes had done more than their part in opening the way for the
return. They had provided abundant means, but where were the men? The sons
of Levi failed at a time when the influence of a decision to accompany
their brethren would have led others to follow their example. Their
strange indifference is a sad revelation of the attitude of the Israelites
in Babylon toward God's purpose for His people.
Ezra appealed to the Levites, sending them an urgent invitation to unite
with his company. To emphasize the importance of quick action, he sent
with his written plea several of his "chief men" and "men
of understanding." Ezra 7:28, 8:16.
travelers tarried with Ezra, these trusted messengers hastened back with
the plea, "Bring unto us ministers
for the house
of our God." Ezra 8:17. The appeal was heeded; some who had been
halting, made final decision to return. In all, about forty priests and
two hundred and twenty Nethinim--men upon whom Ezra could rely as wise
ministers and good teachers and helpers--were brought to the camp.
All were now
ready to set forth. Before them was a journey that would occupy several
months. The men were taking with them their wives and children, and their
substance, besides large treasure for the temple and its service. Ezra was
aware that enemies lay in wait by the way, ready to plunder and destroy
him and his company; yet he had asked from the king no armed force for
protection. "I was ashamed," he has explained, "to require
of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy
in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our
God is upon all them for good that seek Him; but His power and His wrath
is against all them that forsake Him." Verse 22.
matter, Ezra and his companions saw an opportunity to magnify the name of
God before the heathen. Faith in the power of the living God would be
strengthened if the Israelites themselves should now reveal implicit faith
in their divine Leader. They therefore determined to put their trust
wholly in Him. They would ask for no guard of soldiers. They would give
the heathen no occasion to ascribe to the strength of man the glory that
belongs to God alone. They could not afford to arouse in the minds of
their heathen friends one doubt as to the sincerity of their dependence on
God as His
people. Strength would be gained, not through wealth, not through the
power and influence of idolatrous men, but through the favor of God. Only
by keeping the law of the Lord before them, and striving to obey it, would
they be protected.
knowledge of the conditions under which they would continue to enjoy the
prospering hand of God, lent more than ordinary solemnity to the
consecration service that was held by Ezra and his company of faithful
souls just before their departure. "I proclaimed a fast there, at the
river of Ahava," Ezra has declared of this experience, "that we
might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of Him a right way for us,
and for our little ones, and for all our substance." "So we
fasted and besought our God for this: and He was entreated of us."
Verses 21, 23.
of God, however, did not make unnecessary the exercise of prudence and
forethought. As a special precaution in safeguarding the treasure, Ezra
"separated twelve of the chief of the priests"--men whose
faithfulness and fidelity had been proved--"and weighed unto them the
silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering of the house of
our God, which the king, and his counselors, and his lords, and all Israel
there present, had offered." These men were solemnly charged to act
as vigilant stewards over the treasure entrusted to their care. "Ye
are holy unto the Lord," Ezra declared; "the vessels are holy
also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering unto the Lord
God of your fathers. Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before
the chief of the priests and the Levites,
and chief of
the fathers of Israel, at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the
Lord." Verses 24, 25, 28, 29.
exercised by Ezra in providing for the transportation and safety of the
Lord's treasure, teaches a lesson worthy of thoughtful study. Only those
whose trustworthiness had been proved were chosen, and they were
instructed plainly regarding the responsibility resting on them. In the
appointment of faithful officers to act as treasures of the Lord's goods,
Ezra recognized the necessity and value of order and organization in
connection with the work of God.
few days that the Israelites tarried at the river, every provision was
completed for the long journey. "We departed," Ezra writes,
"on the twelfth day of the first month, to go unto Jerusalem: and the
hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the
enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way." Verse 31. About four
months were occupied on the journey, the multitude that accompanied Ezra,
several thousand in all, including women and children, necessitating slow
progress. But all were preserved in safety. Their enemies were restrained
from harming them. Their journey was a prosperous one, and on the first
day of the fifth month, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, they reached