Sunday, September 29, 2013

CLXXIX - Ezra 7-10

As we saw in chapter 6, Zerubbabel has finished the rebuilding of the Temple and has dedicated it with much celebration.  This brings us to chapter 7 - Ezra is introduced.  {I was a Sunday School teacher for a number of years.  Therefore, Ezra is special to me because I've always considered him to be the first Sunday School teacher.  Ezra was a Levite scribe who dedicated himself to the studying and teaching of the Law to his fellow Israelites.  Evidently he had gained notoriety in Babylon, as he is referred to as a teacher of the Mosaic Law, even by Artexerxes, king of the powerful Persian Empire.}  This passage we will study in this post took place about 460 BC.

The first five verses tells the lineage of Ezra, going all the way back to Aaron, the first High Priest.   In vss 6 and 7 we see that Ezra is an accomplished teacher and that he found much favor in the eyes of the Persian king.  Verse 8 tells us that it took four months to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem.  {Travel back then was
difficult and dangerous.  Those who chose to return had to muster faith and courage to commit their families to such an ordeal.}  Verses 11- 26 is the letter that king Artexerxes wrote to Ezra.  This letter was to be carried with Ezra, as it would serve as proof that the king not only gave him permission, but was in support of his mission in returning to Jerusalem.  The letter indicates how the king provided much silver and gold for Ezra to take with him.  {As stated in earlier posts, there were so many false gods throughout the civilized world at this time.  Many people considered gods to be territorial, being confined to specific locations.  Some regarded certain gods to be attached to tribes of people such as Baal being the god of the Canaanites.  The Persians were no different.  King Artexerxes, like his predecessors, recognized the God of the Israelites Who was back in Judah.  Artexerxes also acknowledged God as probably the most powerful of all the gods, but nonetheless limited to Judah and the Israelites.  These people, including Artexerxes did not realize that there was only one God, and men such as Ezra made little or no effort to promote this understanding among people who were not Israelites.}  As you read this letter from Artexerxes you will realize just how much the king thought of Ezra, as he granted him all authority, even immunity from the territorial governor.  Verse 27 begins what is commonly believed to be a section taken out of Ezra's memoirs, which will stretch through chapter 9.  This is evidenced by Ezra writing in the first person.

Chapter 8 begins by listing the families of those who joined Ezra in returning to Jerusalem from Babylon where they were servants to the citizens of Persia.  {You may find some familiar family names, as some were relatives of those who made that same journey ninety years earlier with Zerubbabel.}  Verse 15--> Ezra gathered all of the people in a location just outside Babylon.  This gathering allowed him to assess the entire group.  But he found that there were no Levites besides the ordained priests.  It was necessary to have Levites in order to handle the items to be taken into the Temple.  Ezra held up the journey in order to recruit enough Levites to accommodate his purposes.  Ezra then proclaimed a fast as a gesture of humility before God.  Verse 22 is interesting.  Ezra knew how dangerous this journey was going to be.  Earlier the king offered to send soldiers with them for protection, but Ezra told him that God was protection enough.  Therefore, even though all the people wanted the soldiers, Ezra could not ask the king for them after he had made such a profession of faith.  But in verse 31 it tells that God did in fact protect them as Ezra had promised.  Upon their arrival in Jerusalem they collectively made sacrifices of thanksgiving for their safe journey and to celebrate being back in the Promised Land and in the presence of the Temple.

Chpater 9  -  Ezra Addresses a Huge Problem:  Intermarriage

Ezra had been "expounding" on the Law.  He was teaching the Law and its many commands.  As he had been going through the various parts of the Law, he knew that situations would be brought to his attention.  The problem of intermarriage was drawn to Ezra’s attention by some of the ‘princes’ of Israel. This suggests that something had made them become concerned about a situation that they were well aware of.  And it must have been Ezra's teachings.  {I believe that this intermarriage had taken place by both groups of Israelites, those who came with Zerubbabel and those who had come with Ezra.}  Their sons and daughters had married Canaanites, which was in direct violation of the very Law that Ezra was teaching.  This must be dealt with immediately.  Verse 3 suggests that Ezra may not have been aware of this practice prior to this.  He tore his garments (sign of grief) and fell to his knees in prayer, confessing to God the sin of His people.  The Scripture records Ezra's entire prayer in verses 6-15.  In it he quotes Deuteronomy 7:3 and Exodus 34:16.  Both forbid marriage with Canaanites and gives the reasons why.  It was not contestable.

Chapter 10

While Ezra was weeping and praying audibly, many of the men and women joined him in confession and repentance of their sin.  Then Shekaniah, a spokesman for the group, acknowledges the need for correcting this situation and challenges Ezra to the task.  He encourages Ezra and tells him to "take courage and do it".  Both Ezra and Shedaniah realized this was going to be difficult and things could get ugly if mis-handled.  This chapter goes on to tell of how Ezra handled the situation.  He brought in all of those suspected of intermarriage, one at a time, to determine guilt or innocence.  (Those who failed to appear before Ezra and his council would be punished by being stripped of all possessions and citizenship.)  In verses 12-15 we see that Ezra gained support for this action and had only four who opposed.  This would be a massive undertaking and would take three long months.  Simply put, all Canaanite wives and husbands, including offspring were to be sent away by the congregation.  The only exceptions were those who were faithful to God and had assimilated to Israelite customs and Laws.  {As it had been for centuries, the Canaanite wives led their Israelite families to pagan idolatry, as predicted back in Joshua.  Evidence of guilt or innocence was easily obtained because of this.}  Verses 18-44 records those found guilty by family.  {This must have been an extremely unpleasant time for Jerusalem, but Ezra and the other leaders realized it must be done.}

This concludes the book of Ezra.  Ezra led the pilgrimage from Babylon to Jerusalem.  He taught the Law to his group plus the group and their descendants from Zerubbabel's pilgrimage ninety years earlier.  And Ezra led the entire nation in ridding itself of the sinful intermarriage practice and its consequences.

Next Post  -  Nehemiah

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