Shall we turn now to Ezra chapter seven as we continue our journey through the Bible?
In the sixth chapter of the book of Ezra, we have the account of the completion of the rebuilding of the temple and the dedication and the celebration of the Passover. Chapter seven begins now after these things and in our English mindset we would think immediately after these things but between the end of chapter six and the beginning of chapter seven, you have a space gap of fifty-seven years. So it’s quite a while after these things; the dedication of the temple, fifty-seven years later.
Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, (7:1).
The first repatriation of the Israeli citizens back into the land took place under the reign of Cyrus king of Persia, who made the proclamation for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Now is another movement, this is under Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes is the Longitimus of secular history, if you are familiar with the Persian history.
Ezra the son of Seraiah, (7:1).
Now Ezra gives you his genealogy. In this particular time of history, their genealogy was extremely important. Coming back to the land, they wanted to prove that they were Jews. Some of them who came back in the earlier time where unable to prove that they were Jews, they had lost their genealogies. Thus they were not allowed to minister in the temple or to come into the men’s court of the temple to worship until they could verify that they were truly Jews. As you know, the Jews had sort of a degree of entering into the place of worship. They had the outer court, which was for everyone, the court of the Gentiles was what it was known as. There was a fence around the temple and the outer area of the court of the Gentiles, anybody could come there and worship the Lord. There were signs warning Gentiles not to enter any further in, on the threat of death.
The next court was the court of the ladies, where the Jewish ladies were allowed to enter in. Then the court of the men, inner court yet. On into the temple they had a place where only the priests could come into the Holy Place and then onto the Holy of Holy’s where only the high priests could come. As you move further in, there are more exclusions from those who could enter.
Through Jesus Christ, all the walls, all the barriers had been taken down so that we can enter boldly right into the presence of God. Coming to the throne of mercy to receive grace for ourselves. How thankful we are for Jesus Christ who has broken down every wall and every barrier that stood between man and God. We have this blessed privilege of coming right into the presence of God to worship him; no one excluded who has received Jesus Christ. He is our peace who has broken down every wall.
So Ezra is careful to give his genealogy here and it is interesting that he carries his genealogy back to Aaron, the brother of Moses. He’s got good records; he could carry his pedigree all the way back to Aaron. However, he does not come into the family of the high priest. About three generations back, he breaks away from the high priesthood, his great, great, great grandfather was not the oldest son, thus the priesthood monarchy passed on to the oldest. Though Ezra could date back to Aaron, he is not of the ruling high priest family.
This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him (7:6).
A scribe was one who was engaged in the copying of the scriptures and thus one who was always considered a student of the scriptures. “He was a ready scribe in the law of the Lord” (7:6); it was more than just a job to him, it was his life. He had favor with king Artaxerxes.
And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king.
The king over Persia about the year 457 BC.
And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him (7:8-9).
A four-month journey across this barren wilderness area from Babylon to Jerusalem.
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgements (7:10).
He had studied; he had prepared his heart. How do you prepare your heart to seek the law of the Lord? I think you prepare your heart through prayer, through meditation and through commitment. You make a commitment, “I’m going to seek the Lord. I’m gonna study the word of God. I’m gonna commit the word of God to my heart and learn what God has to say about himself”. I think it’s through commitment, through dedication, through prayer that a person prepares his heart.
Notice he was preparing his heart, first of all, to seek the law of the Lord. Then secondly, to do it. Paul the apostle said that the Jews were making a serious mistake in their day because they thought that just because they had the law of the Lord, they were justified. Paul said, “having the law of God doesn’t justify anybody. It is the keeping of the law that justifies a man”.
Now I think that sometimes we make the same mistake in thinking that “well I go to church, I partake of the sacraments of the church and therefore, I am saved, I’m all right”. Yet we are not really doing the things that the Lord commanded. Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and yet you don’t do the things I command you to do?” It is really obedience unto him, the doing of the word of God that is so important to us. As James said, “Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only,” because if you’re just a hearer of the word you can deceive yourself. You start to think, “I know all about the Bible, I studied under Pastor Chuck, I’ve really gone through the Bible”. That won’t do it. Are you obeying the Bible? Are you obeying the precepts of the Bible?
We hear stories that grieve our hearts. Stories of those who say that they attend Calvary Chapel and yet are living in fornication or are living in adultery. Somehow they feel they intend Calvary as though attending Calvary is going to do anything for you. Some gal who won Miss Nude World a few years ago, in the interviews said, “Well I attend Calvary Chapel”. Well, that’s not going to help her. She better get some clothes on. I’m always reading about some far out person who says, “Well I attend Calvary Chapel”. As if that’s going to buy you anything. Not with God. It is doing the word that is important.
So Ezra set his heart to seek the word of God, to do the word of God and ultimately to teach the word God. Now in setting yourself to teach the word of God, you’re setting yourself in a position of awesome responsibility and great accountability. James warns about being quick to become a teacher for he said, “the teachers have the greater condemnation”. You see if you are teaching the word of God, then by virtue of the fact that you’re teaching it, it is presupposing that you know it. If you know it and don’t do it, then you are in a greater condemnation than those who don’t know. So a heavier obligation is placed upon those who are teaching the word of God; that we teach it correctly.
I am appalled at the belief and at the things that are said by some men who stand in pulpits. I read their comments in the newspapers on certain issues and I am amazed that a man would stand in a pulpit professing to be a minister of God and not believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. I can’t understand that. I can’t understand a man standing in the pulpit and not believing that Jesus was born of virgin. I wonder why they are even in the ministry if they don’t believe the Book that they are drawing their whole theology from. How important, when teaching the word of God, that we keep our own ideas in the background and that we are careful just to teach the word of God.
I got a letter this past week from a fellow here in the church that I had respected and admire and sort of rebuked me for some of remarks I make concerning financial investments, he said, “you stick to preaching”. Good advice, good advice. Stick to the word and you won’t go wrong.
So Ezra prepared his heart. He wanted to seek the word of God, he wanted to do the word of God, he wanted to teach the word of God. Teaching is often by doing. Paul the apostle, when he met with the elders at Ephesus said that, “ how that for the space of three years I taught and I showed”. By example, I lived it among you. Not only did I teach you what the Bible said; I lived among you the precepts. You could see by my life, I demonstrated. How important that our lives be a demonstration of what we preach. If we preach that we should love one another, then how important that we do love and that our lives demonstrate what we preach.
Now Ezra, in the next section of chapter seven, gives a copy of the decree that was made by Artaxerxes granting Ezra and his group the permission to go on back to Jerusalem.
Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes to Israel. Artaxerxes, king of kings, (7:11).
This guy doesn’t have a problem with pride does he? Hey man, I’m it.
unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee (7:12-13).
Here is a choice being given, to those who want, you can return. You can go with Ezra back to Jerusalem. No one is forced to go but no one will be hindered who wants to go. It is so like God to give man a totally free choice. You can serve God if you want you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You can commit your life to Jesus Christ, but you don’t have to commit your life to Jesus Christ. You can believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior or you don’t have to believe in Jesus. It is man’s choice; always a free choice of man. So the king is offering to these people the free choice; any one of their own freewill, if they want, they can return with Ezra to Jerusalem.
Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellers, (7:14).
Thou Artaxerxes was the king, there was also a ruling counsel with the king. They no doubt had this meeting and determined together that this decree should be made.
to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of they God which is in thine hand; And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellers have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation [house] is in Jerusalem, (7:14-15).
It isn’t that God lives in Jerusalem, but the house of God, the temple was built there in Jerusalem.
And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem: (7:16).
Take back the treasure that I give out of the treasure of Persia. Of course Persia was an extremely wealthy empire having conquered Babylon who controlled the wealth of the world; it now was an extremely wealthy empire. In the conquest of Alexander the Great, when he conquered Persia, he conquered the vast wealth of Persia. The history books that deal with Alexander the Great such as Ludwig’s tell of the tremendous treasures of Persia that were captured by Alexander. Here are treasures that are being sent from the king plus the offerings that they gather from the freewill of the Jews throughout the province.
That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the will of your God (7:17-18).
In other words, the money was first of all to be used to by bullocks and all to offer sacrifices, but there was much more money than was just needed for sacrifices. So when you get there, what ever is left over, do with it, as it seems right, as you wait upon God and get direction so expend the rest of the money. Maybe in repairs, maybe in the beautifying of the temple, but you can use it for whatever purpose you desire.
The vessels also that are given to thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem (7:19).
He is sending also these vessels to be used in worship and in the service of the temple.
And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king’s treasure house. And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, (7:20-21).
To those that were collecting the taxes from the various provinces that were under Persian control, to those treasures he says Ezra’s in charge, whatever he needs, give it to him speedily. Of course, he puts a limit.
Unto an hundred talents of silver and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much (7:22).
No limit to the salt.
Whatsoever is commanded by 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? (7:23).
An interesting motivation here. Actually, at this point of history, Egypt had rebelled against Persia and also those of Athens had rebelled. Persia was beginning to experience some reverses. Now Ezra had told the king that the hand of the Lord was on those for good who would seek the Lord but the power and the wrath of God was against those who would forsake the Lord.
Artaxerxes, because of the reverses perhaps in Egypt and from the Athenians, decided to seek the Lord by making this decree in order that, possibly, they might change the course of events that was taking place. Interestedly enough, right after this, he sent the army against the Egyptians and they conquered over the Egyptians and brought them again under the reign of Persian, as also the Athenians were defeated right after this. If that was his motive, it worked because the kingdom was reestablished from the Egyptians and the Athenians who were rebelling at that time.
Also we certify you, 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 (7:24).
In other words, the ministers were exempted from the taxes. Not a bad idea in a sense, in as much as our salary comes from the church and then the government taxes us. They are making the church, in a secondary sense, support the government. Let me say that the government needs a lot more support than the church. They’re hurting and until they start using some wisdom in the way they expend their money, they will continue to be hurt.
And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine, hand, 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 (7:25).
Ezra was commissioned to set up judges and magistrates, those that knew the law of God. Those that didn’t know the law of God, Ezra was commanded to teach them the law of the Lord.
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 (7:26).
He gave a lot of authority to Ezra; authority of government, authority to impose the law of God upon the people with the penalty of death, banishment, imprisonment and the confiscation of their goods. With this decree, Ezra thanked the Lord.
Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, 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 counsellers, and before all the king’s mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me (7:27-28).
We have the decree; we have, in chapter seven, sort of a synopses. Already he has told us it took him four months to make the journey. He has the decree and the authority of the Persian Empire. Now we go back and we get some of the details. We are not yet in Jerusalem in chapter eight, but we are going to fill in some of the details as they begin to make this journey, as they make the preparation for this journey.
These are now the chief of their fathers, and this is the genealogy of them that went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king (8:1).
Basically, there are twelve major families, probably representing the twelve tribes of Israel. There is approximately fifteen hundred men, if you count them here it’s about fourteen hundred and ninety-six, plus those of the Levites which were not numbered plus the wives and the children, who went with Ezra with their families back to Jerusalem in this migration of people across this wilderness area. That saves us reading all of the names from verse two to verse fourteen. That’s basically what it says without all the names attached. They traveled for nine days.
And I gathered them together to the river that runneth to Ahava; (8:15).
That is this little stream that runs on into the Euphrates River.
and there abode we in tents three days: (8:15).
It was sort of a place for the staging of this journey getting everything together, checking all the supplies, going down the inventory and making sure everything was in order to begin this track across this wilderness area.
They arrived there on the ninth day out of Babylon. They remained there for three days.
and I viewed the people, and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi. Then sent I for Eliezer, for Ariel, for Shemaiah, and for Elnathan, and for Jarib, and for Elnathan, and for Nathan, and for Zechariah, and for Meshullam, chief men; also for Joiarib, and for Elnathan, men of understanding. And I sent them with commandment unto Iddo the chief at the place Casiphia, and I told them what they should say unto Iddo, and to his brethren the Nethinims, at the place Casiphia, that they should bring unto us ministers for the house of our God (8:15-17).
We need men who when we return can minister in the house of God.
And by the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel; and Sherebiah, with his sons and his brethren, eighteen; (8:18).
We will hear more about Sherebiah. He became, more or less, the leader in the priesthood and we will hear more about him when we get to Nehemiah.
And Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, his brethren and their sons, twenty; Also of the Nethinims, (8:19-20).
The Nethinims were just the servants in the temple. Those that took care of the janitorial.
whom David and the princes had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinims: all of them were expressed by name (8:20).
All of them were able to give their genealogies.
Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, 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 (8:21).
Before embarking on this perilous journey across five hundred miles of desolate wilderness area, Ezra called for the people to fast and pray, to wait upon God to receive guidance and direction. This is a practice that is a wise practice and was something that was done also in the New Testament. Knowing the direction that God wants you to go, knowing the thing that God wants you to do; it is not wise to jump into it. It is always wise to seek the Lord, to fast and to pray and wait for sort of step by step instructions.
In the book of Acts, chapter fifteen, it says, “And the spirits said Separate unto me Paul and Barnabas for the ministry wherein I’ve called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, they laid hands on them and the spirit sent them forth”. Now the spirit had directed Paul and Barnabas already, take these two fellows and take them into the ministry that I’ve called them to do, but before they embark in it there was that fasting and prayer, the waiting upon God. I think that we too often just jump into things, “Is that what God wants?” just jump and we don’t wait upon God and fasting and prayer for more specific direction.
Here, they knew that God wanted them to return to Jerusalem. We’ve got this perilous journey ahead of them, so let’s wait upon God, fast and pray and really get the mind of God and the anointing of God upon our lives before we begin this journey.
For I was ashamed 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. So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us (8:22-23).
History tells us that when they were transferring some of the treasury, that they had as many as twenty thousand soldiers accompany the treasures to protect it on this route because there was those marauding gangs, pirate types, who preyed upon the caravan. They would come down and kill the men, rape the women and steal the goods and make of with it. They lived off of the caravan.
That route was an extremely dangerous route to travel for the lack of law enforcement; it was the rule of the strong. Thus Ezra realized that he had a great amount of money, the gold and the silver and the vessels amounted to several millions of dollars. Thus he was a little concerned, going to be traveling over this dangerous route where all these marauding gangs hang out. But he told the king how great God is; God takes care of his people, God is a great power to those who trust in him. He had been bragging to the king so much about God that now he was ashamed to ask the king to send some soldiers.
There comes that place, I think, in life where we are determined to either trust in the arm of the Lord or we’re going to trust in the arm of flesh. I think we all have to come to that. When we were pastoring years ago, in Huntington Beach, we had a little lady who attended our church in her nineties. She was hardly as tall as the pulpit here; we called her mother Burke. She had a tremendous ministry of exhortation to the church. She could get up and make you want to love the Lord more, make you want to praise the Lord, make you want to pray, she just had a great gift of exhortation. She had a big Cadillac car that she drove around the country in, going to churches exhorting the body of Christ, that was her ministry. People were blessed by her ministry; she was just that grandmotherly type. Here at ninety, driving this car, you had to admire the spunk of this little gal.
She was in Texas ministering in a church there. A man was touched deeply, a man who owned a large trucking company. After the service, he came up and said, “I saw this car that you’re driving and that thing could just break down anytime, anywhere. That thing’s ready to go. So here’s my card and on it is my private home phone number. I have the trucking company and I have terminals and mechanics all over the country. You take my card and no matter where you are or what time, day or night, if you have a problem with your car just call me and I’ll see that your car gets towed in and repaired. No matter where you are, just call me”. She took the card and looked at it, smiled and handed it back and she said, “For seventy years I’ve been trusting the Lord to take care of me and he has never failed me yet. Though I appreciate so much your offer to me, I hope you’re not offended, but I would rather continue to trust in the Lord than to trust in you to help me out of a jam”.
Telling the people to trust the Lord, and that was her ministry, exhorting people that God was on the throne; that was her theme, “God is on the throne. God knows, God will take care of you”. Having that as her theme would be a little inconsistent to take a card that some man has offered saying you can trust in me to help you whenever you are in need, that’s inconsistent with her message.
It would have been inconsistent with Ezra’s message to the king for him to say, “can you give us a company of soldiers to go with us so we can get this treasure safely there”. He had been telling him how great God was and what God was able to do, so it would have been inconsistent. He fasted and prayed and they sought the Lord and God heard them and brought them safely there. That’s the bottom line to the story. You trust in God and God will take care of you. You trust in man and they might fail. As she said, “When I call you might be on vacation. You might be in the Caribbean or Hawaii or someplace and no one to answer the call”. She said, “I know whenever I call on the Lord, he’s always there”. O what an important message.
Then I separated twelve of the chief of the priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them, 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 counsellers, and his lords, and all Israel there present, had offered: I even weighed unto their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, (8:24-26).
The fact that he is weighing it to them means that it was probably in bars rather than in coins.
and silver vessels an hundred talents, and of gold an hundred talents; Also twenty basons of gold, of thousand drams; and two vessels of fine copper, precious as gold (8:26-27).
He weighs all of this stuff out, they’ve taken inventory, and they write it all down, what is being commissioned to these twelve priests to carry back to Jerusalem.
And I said unto them, Ye are holy unto the LORD; 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 (8:28-29).
You guys are responsible for this. When we get to Jerusalem, when we come into the court, we’ll have the chief and the priests there and we are gonna weigh this stuff again. So you guys are responsible to watch over it and to bare it safely until we weigh it again before the chief priests in the chambers of the house of the Lord.
So took the priests and the Levites the weight of the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, to bring them to Jerusalem unto the house of our God. Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, (8:30-31).
They began their journey on the first day of the month from Babylon, nine days to the river, three days there at the river as they conscripted some Levites as they fasted and prayed and now they head out towards 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 (8:31).
He delivered us from the power of the enemy. O how wonderful it is to have the hand of God upon our lives, delivering us from the enemy.
And we came to Jerusalem, and abode there three days. Now on the fourth day was the silver and the gold and the vessels weighed in the house of our God by the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest; and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them was Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah the so of Binnui, Levites; By number and by weight of ever one: and all the weight was written at that time (8:32-34).
Also the children of those that had been carried away, which were come out of the captivity, offered burnt offerings for all Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, ninety and six rams, seventy and seven lambs, twelve he goats for a sin offering: all this was a burnt offering unto the LORD (8:35).
We’ve arrived; there are the offerings of commitment, consecration, the sin offerings. As with joy, they celebrate God’s providential care over them during this hazardous journey.
And they delivered the king’s commissions unto the king’s lieutenants, and to the governors on this side the river: and they furthered the people, and the house of God (8:36).
We find the commission and the fulfillment of the commission as they arrive safely according to the good hand of God upon them.
As I said this morning, there can surely be an interesting spiritual analogy drawn to this whole story. As we make our journey through the enemy’s land to the promise land, sustained by the hand of God; according to the good hand of the Lord upon us, we are strengthened for the journey; we are protected in the journey from the enemy. One day, by the grace of God, we’re going to arrive safely home in that heavenly kingdom, where we shall live and dwell with our Lord, world without end. All because of the good hand of the Lord our God upon our lives.
How important it is that we seek the Lord, that the hand of the Lord is upon them for good that seek him. How important that we seek God that his hand might rest upon our lives.
Father; be with us as we make this journey through this alien world. Lord we realize that we’re just pilgrims here, we’re just passing through. We realize Lord how out of sync we are with the world around us, a world that has given into rebellion against you, and a world that has given over to the flesh and to the fulfilling of their fleshly desires. O God, may we walk in the spirit, may we seek You with all of our heart. That Your hand might be upon us to guide us, to protect us, to strengthen us in our pilgrimage here. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
May the Lord be with you. May his hand be upon your life this week, that you experience the presence, the power of God as you seek him. May God really challenge our hearts to seek the Lord, his will, his plan. That we might be led of the Lord to accomplish his purpose that he has in mind for us this week. God has a special task for you to do. I pray that you’ll discover it and I pray that you’ll complete it for his glory.
Edited & Highlighted from “The Word For Today” Transcription, Pastor Chuck Smith, Tape #7147