The events of chapter 7 begin 57 years after the events of chapter 6. So, the temple has been completed for 57 years and the Jews have had that much time to worship the Lord as they are required to by the covenant, but are not doing so.
These verses introduce Ezra to us. The lengthy description of his ancestry is meant to show us he is an important person who is qualified for the task at hand. It is likely that he was wholly unknown in Jerusalem, having lived in Persia his whole life. It is likely he began his ministry in Persia after the first group of exiles left for Judah. He may not have even been born when they left.
To qualify as a priest, Ezra would have to prove his lineage was of the priestly line. We see that Ezra is a direct descendant of Aaron, the first high priest, whose line descends for the most part through the first born sons. (5) Eleazar was actually the third son of Aaron by birth, but the first surviving son. The first two sons by birth, Nadab and Abihu, were killed by the Lord for offering unauthorized fire and incense before the Lord. (Leviticus 10:1-3)
Eleazar and his younger brother, Ithamar, replaced Nadab and Abihu and served as priests under their father, Aaron the High Priest. Eleazar became high priest after Aaron’s death, and the office was passed down his line through the first born sons until the death of Uzzi. (4)
For some reason, the office of high priest at that time switched to the line of Ithamar. This began with Eli, who is famous for raising Samuel the prophet and judge, and continued until Abiathar, who conspired with others to keep Solomon from taking the throne.
Solomon removed Abiathar and restored the high priestly office to the line of Eleazar, appointing Zadok as high priest. Ezra descends from Zadok after a few generations and so is a descendant of Aaron through the qualified line. It is quite a pedigree. It shows he was important. That is why this lengthy description of Ezra’s lineage is given to the Jews in Jerusalem and to us.
Not only was Ezra qualified by his lineage, he was qualified by his dedication. He was a scribe, one who studied and taught Scripture. He was skilled in the law of Moses. (6) This refers to the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. (This statement also refutes claims that Moses did not write these books and that they were not written until after the exile.)
Ezra must have been serving in some important priestly position in Persia, for Araxerxes refers to him as “Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven”. (12)
Finally, Ezra could claim authority from the Persian king, just as Zerubabbel and Jeshua had in the first migration from Persia. He had a letter from the king to prove it.
And, on top of all that, he had the favor of King Artaxerxes. (6) He may have been a government official and known by the king. He evidently asked the king for permission and funds to go to Jerusalem and the king gave him all he asked. (6) So, this Ezra left Persia, here called Babylonia, and went to Jerusalem.
Ezra’s journey took place in the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, so it 458 B.C., 80 years after the first exiles returned in 538 B.C., the first year of the reign of Cyrus. This tells us the Ezra was born and raised in Persia. Yet, he was devout. Verse 10 tells us he had set his heart to study the law, to obey it, and to teach it.
A group of people came with Ezra. There were some priests and Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants. They would be men who could prove their lineage entitled them to these offices.
The journey took four months. They would travel north along the Euphrates River until they were north of the Arabian Desert, then traveled west to Damascus and south down to Jerusalem. The path was similar to the one Abraham took from Ur to Canaan. The journey took Ezra four months. That must have been good time because the writer says he made it in four months because the hand of the Lord was on him.
The King’s Letter
The King gave Ezra a letter of authority to take with him. He decreed that any Jew who wanted to go with Ezra could do so. In addition, he provided silver and gold for the offerings to God, the God of Israel. Ezra could use it to buy animals, grain, drinks, and salt to offer on the altar. The king authorized Ezra to spend any money left over as he saw fit, within the will of God. (18)
The king evidently found additional vessels from the Temple, or had fashioned new ones, and sent them with Ezra also. (19)
This was a generous endowment from the king, but he did not stop there. He also decreed that any of the treasurers of the Province Beyond the River, where Jerusalem was located, to give Ezra whatever he needed, up to some limits he set. (22) And even further, the king exempted all those that had any service to the Temple from taxes. (24)
As a final point, the king commanded Ezra to appoint judges who also knew the law, or whom Ezra could teach, to judge the people of Judah according to the law of God and the law of the king of Persian. Ezra was also authorized to enforce the law and inflict punishment on those who disobeyed.
Why did Artaxerxes do all this? First of all, because the Lord put it on his heart to give favor to Ezra. Daniel 4:35 says God does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and none can stay his hand.
Second, the king sought stability in the region. History tells us that Egypt has been in revolt against Persia. Artaxerxes would have been wise to establish buffer provinces that were stable and law abiding and that would not join the revolt.
Third, the king was hedging his religious bets. He was not a Jew, but likely believed there were many gods who ruled over specific territories. He wanted to appease God so that his wrath would not fall on the king and his sons.
After recording the contents of the king’s letter, Ezra added his own comments. He blessed the Lord who put it into the king’s heart to beautify the Temple. It is an interesting contrast to the book of Esther, which never explicitly mentions God. Ezra gives full credit to God.
Ezra gave further credit to God, who in steadfast love, give Ezra favor with the king and his counselors. Because Ezra felt God’s hand on him, he too courage and put his hand to the task.
The book of Ezra shows God firmly in control of people and events. Even the mighty king of Persian does the will of the Lord.
The Lord works to fulfill his promise to return the exiles to Jerusalem and restart the national worship of God. This is also his furthering the work of bringing the Messiah and his salvation at a later time.
As the book of Ezra casts the return from Persia in the light of the original exodus, so it portrays Ezra as a new Moses. He will give the law to Israel in that he will teach it and bring obedience to it. He also appointed judges just as Moses did to assist in governing Israel.
God works through different people at different times and situations. Esther was a beautiful young woman who, initially, was not very concerned with her people or her religion. But God placed her in a position to preserve his people and equipped her to do so. Ezra was zealous for his religion, devoted to God’s word in learning and obedience. God used him to revive his people.
God gave both Esther and Ezra favor in the eyes of those in power around them in order to accomplish the work he have them to do.
God is still in control, he still uses women and men of all types to accomplish his work, and he will equip them to do it. You can step out in faith to do God’s will knowing he will do these things for you.