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Reference: Ezra, The Book Of


Hilary of Poitiers calls Ezra a continuation of Chronicles. The first part of Ezra (Ezra 1-6) describes the return from the captivity under Joshua and Zerubbabel, and the building of the temple; the enemy's obstructions; its advance through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezr 5:1-2; 6:14), and its completion in Darius Hystaspes' sixth year, 516 B.C. (Ezr 6:15.) A long interval follows; and the second part of the book (Ezra 7-10) passes to Ezra's journey from Persia to Jerusalem in Artaxerxes Longimanus' seventh year, 458-457 B.C. (Ezr 7:1,7); the details are given in Ezra 7; 8. Ezra's numerous caravan bringing fresh strength to the weak colony (Ezra 8). And his work in Ezra 9-10, restoring the theocratic nationality and removing foreign wives. The book ends with the names of those who had married them.

The second part combined with Nehemiah is a complete historical picture. But the distinct title to Nehemiah shows it is a separate book. ESTHER fills up the interval between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7. The first part (Ezra 1-6) period (536-516 B.C.) is the time of prince Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua aided by Haggai and Zechariah. The second (Ezra 7-10) is that of the priest Ezra and the governor Nehemiah, aided by the prophet Malachi. In both royal, priestly, and prophetical men lead God's people. The first is the period of building the temple, a religious restoration; the second that of restoring the people and rebuilding the city, a political combined with a religious restoration. The things of God first, then the things of men. Only 50,000 settled with Joshua and Zerubbabel (Ezr 2:64, etc.); and these intermingled with the pagan, and were in "affliction and reproach" (Ezr 9:6-15; Ne 1:3).

Hence the need of restoring the holy nationality, as well as the temple, under Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra the priest took charge of the inner restoration, by purging out paganism and bringing back the law; Nehemiah the governor did the outer work, restoring the city and its polity. Ezra is therefore rightly accounted by the Jews as a second Moses. Ezra received permission to go to Jerusalem in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus (Ezr 7:6-26); Nehemiah in the 20th year (Ne 2:1). Ezra is supposed by some to have used the Babylonian era, Nehemiah the Persian. The 70 weeks (490 years) of Da 9:24-25 probably date from this seventh year of Artaxerxes, when Ezra received leave to restore the temple and the people and the holy city (457 B.C.), because the re-establishment of the theocracy then began, though the actual rebuilding was not until 13 years later under Nehemiah.

Ezra's placing of Daniel in the canon immediately before his own book and Nehemiah's implies that his commission began the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy; Christ's 30th year in beginning His ministry would be A.D. 26-27 (the A.D. dates three or four years later than Christ's actual birth), and His crucifixion A.D. 30. So that "He was cut off" and "caused the sacrifice to cease in the midst of the week," the last week beginning with His ministry to the Jews, A.D. 26-27, and ending with that exclusive ministry to them for three and a half years after His crucifixion, ceasing through their own rejection of Him when preached by the apostles and evangelists (Acts 7-8).

Thus the 490 years or 70 weeks consist of (1) seven weeks (49 years) of revelation, from 457 to 407 B.C., the probable date of Malachi's prophecy and Nehemiah's work, which the prophet supported, ending; then (2) 62 weeks (434 years) of no revelation; then seven years of special and brightest revelation to Israel, first by Messiah in person, then by His still more powerful presence by the Holy Spirit, in the middle of which week His one sacrifice supersedes all other sacrifices. The succession of Persian monarchs in Ezra is Cyrus, Ahasuerus (the Cam byses of secular history), Artaxerxes (Pseudo-Smerdis, the Magian, an usurper), Darius (the Ahasuerus of Esther or Xerxes of secular history comes in here, in the interval between Ezra 6 and 7), Artaxerxes. Ezra's account of (See CYRUS accords with his character, celebrated for clemency.

A Zoroastrian, a worshipper of Ormuzd, the great God, he hated idolatry and the shameless licentiousness of the Babylonian worship, and so was disposed to patronize the Jews, whose religion so much resembled his own. Hence his edicts for restoring the Jews, though an act unparalleled in history, harmonize with the facts concerning him in the Bible and in secular history (Ezr 1:2-4; 6:3-5). He identifies "the Lord God of heaven" with the Jehovah of the Jews. His restoring them in his first year immediately (Ezr 1:1), and his words "the Lord God of heaven has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem," plainly show he bad heard of God's words by Isaiah (Isa 44:28), "Cyrus is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure, even saying to Jerusalem, thou shalt be built, and to the temple, thy foundation shall be laid."

Daniel would necessarily, as just made "third ruler in the kingdom," and having foretold its transfer to "the Medes and Persians" (Da 5:28-29), come under Cyrus' notice immediately on the capture of Babylon; moreover, it is stated "he prospered in the reign of Cyrus the Persian" (Da 6:28), he would therefore be sure to mention to Cyrus Isaiah's prophecy. Cyrus' pious confession that he received all his dominions from Him accords with the spirit of the old Persian religion. His returning the golden vessels (Ezr 1:7-11; 6:5), his allowing the whole expense of rebuilding from the royal revenue (Ezr 6:4), his directing all Persians to help with silver, etc. (Ezr 1:4), agree with his known munificence. An undesigned coincidence, and therefore mark of genuineness, is that when Ezra wrote, a century later than Cyrus, the Persian kings usually lived at Susa or Babylon, where the archives were kept, and there Ezra would naturally have placed Cyrus' roll had he been forging.

But Ezra says Cyrus' decree was found at Achmetha (Ecbatana), Ezr 6:2. Herodotus (i. 153) and Ctesias (Exc. Per., 2-4) confirm this by mentioning that Cyrus held his court permanently at Ecbatana, and so would have his archives there. (See ARTAXERXES.) (Ezr 4:7) Artaxerxes or Smerdis, as a Magian, whose worship was antagonistic to Zoroastrianism (compare Herodotus iii. 61, Ctes. Exc. Pers., 10, Justin, 1:9, and Darius' inscription at Behistun, as to Smerdis' special portion), would naturally reverse the policy of Cyrus and Ahasuerus (Cambyses, who did not act on the accusation of the Jews' enemies: Ezr 4:6); accordingly, his harsh edict expresses no faith in the supreme God, whom Cyrus' edict honored (Ezr 4:17-22). Darius, a zealous Zoroastrian, succeeded; his Behistun inscription tells us he "rebuilt the temples the Magian had destroyed, and restored the chants and worship he had abolished."

This explains the strange boldness of the Jews (Ezr 5:1-2) in treating Smerdis' edict as void, and without waiting for Darius' warrant resuming the work under Zerubbabel and Jeshua, with Zechariah and Haggai. Their enemies, hoping Smerdis had destroyed Cyrus' edict, wrote to king Darius (Ezr 5:6) that they were building again on the plea of Cyrus' edict, and that search should be made at Babylon whether there were any such edict of Cyrus. Their mention of Babylon was either to mislead the king as to the real repository of the decree, or more probably from ignorance of Cyrus' habit of living at Ecbatana, which ignorance Providence overruled to save the roll from their destroying hands under Smerdis. The language of Darius' edict on finding it accords with his character and circumstances.

The Jewish temple he calls "the house of God," and Jehovah "the God of heaven"; he approves as a Zoroastrian of sacrifices to the Supreme Being, desires their prayers for himself and "his sons" (Herodotus i. 132, confirms Ezra that Darius had "sons" already, though he had but just ascended the throne), mentions the "tribute" (Ezr 6:8) which (Herodotus, 3:89) he was the first to impose on the provinces, and threatens the refractory with impaling, his usual mode of punishment (Ezr 6:11; Behistun inscription; Herodotus, 3:159). The three books Ezra, (See CHRONICLES , prob

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