Book of Ezra Chapter One Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The Miraculous Decree
"Ezra" in the Aramaic, meant "help" or "Yahweh helps." Ezra the man was a direct descendant of the high priest, Aaron, brother of Moses, through Levites Eleazar, Phineas and Zadok (Ezra 7:1-5). Portions of the book were written in the first person (7:28 & forward) and the Jewish Talmud confidently asserts that Ezra himself was the author. 1st & 2nd Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah are one history written by Ezra the Levitical priest. The Latin Bible originally entitled this book, "First Ezra," and called the book of Nehemiah "Second Ezra," which he is said to have written by making use of Nehemiah's diary. Ezra wrote these books initially as a sort of journal, during and after the return of the Hebrew people to the land of promise.
What is it like to lose all hope? Everything is wrong, nothing is right—it seems like you can't win and all you are left with is the lament—"If only we had done things differently!" That was Israel for seventy years prior to the events of this book. You can read about their destruction in 2 Chronicles 36:11-21. They rebelled against God, who responded by sending more prophets that were ignored and mocked. Therefore King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was sent by the Lord against Judah, the southern kingdom of the Jews, and he destroyed and pillaged Judah, killing many people and enslaving others in 586 BC. What will it take to get YOUR attention, by the way?
That wasn't the end of the account, as seen in Verses 1-2 of this chapter: "Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: 2 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.'" God, through His prophets had warned of these events for centuries. Most did not listen, though in places like Jeremiah 25:11-12, it was prophesied long before the captivity that Babylon would conquer Judah, destroy Jerusalem, and the survivers were to be held captive for seventy years. After that, Babylon itself would be taken and punished for THEIR sins. A similar prophesy is recorded in Jeremiah 29:10-14—the nation Judah would be enslaved for 70-years. At least some of the captive Jews were aware of these prophesies. A well-known aging captive remarked as the decades drew to a close—"I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years" (Daniel 9:2).
Isaiah prophesied from 740 to 680 BC, preceding Jeremiah by more than a century. Isaiah spoke and wrote the name of a man not yet in existance—"Cyrus king of Persia" (Isaiah 44:28-45:1), asserting that he, Cyrus, would cause the return of the people, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the commencement of the rebuilding of the ruined temple. Cyrus defeated Babylon in late 539 BC and issued his decree of freedom for the Jews in 538 BC. The rebuilding of the temple commenced in 536 BC. The exile only lasted fifty years from 586 BC, but the 70-years for the captivity actually began in 606 BC, when the first deportation to Babylon occurred. The captivity lasted for precisely 70-years as foretold through God's prophets.
King Cyrus' decree continues in Verses 3-4: "Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.’” Nebuchadnezzar not only took the survivors as slaves, leading them out by chains, hooks and fetters, but he also took everything else of value as well, glimpsed in places like 2 Chronicles 36:18—"the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king, and of his leaders, these he took to Babylon." God has an interesting way of replacing what is lost, and so "silver and gold...goods and cattle... (and) a freewill offering" were given for the temple to the Hebrew people. What have you lost? God intends restoration with interest for you, if not in this life, then certainly in eternity for those willing to believe in the Lord. The shock of a humiliating experience is often the catalyst that leads to precious faith and more.
The tribe of Judah was within the nation of Judah, which also included the tribes of Benjamin, Levi, members of the southern tribe of Simeon, and no doubt refugees from the northern nation of the Jews (Israel), who had been defeated, scattered and enslaved in 722 BC. Now this mixed group would return. As people are, some of them would have been skeptical and cautious, whereas others were filled with joy. In Verse 5, "Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem." A considerable number had made new lives within the Persian Empire and did NOT return, preferring the things of this world—just as the kingdom of heaven is open to all, but only some are willing to have faith in the Lord and receive His grace.
The decree of Cyrus was a miracle, and the miracles continue as we view this record of the Persian people's compliance with it: Verse 6: "All those about them encouraged them with articles of silver, with gold, with goods, with cattle and with valuables, aside from all that was given as a freewill offering." When our Lord came to earth and spoke hundreds of years later, He was also addressing us right now. He said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). God knows your situation and knows that most of all you need the Lord. He who owns everything longs for you to place your faith in Him who will provide all that you need—and more.
Iran is essentially the successor nation of the Persian Empire and sadly is the sworn enemy of the modern nation Israel. You wouldn't expect, then or now, that the Persians would encourage and support the Jews, but they did, which should encourage us all that God is in the business of miracles, as in Verses 7-8: "Also King Cyrus brought out the articles of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and put in the house of his gods; 8 and Cyrus, king of Persia, had them brought out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and he counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah." The name "Cyrus" meant "sun" or "throne," "Mithredath" translates as "consecrated to Mithra," a false god, and "Sheshbazzar" can be translated as "the moon god." This was not a society or people likely to help the Jews, but God made it happen.
What follows is at least a partial listing of the temple treasures that had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar's armies from Jerusalem to Babylon. Kings then and now would never have returned them to their rightful owners, instead parading them as proof of victory. Museums all over the world are filled with artifacts that actually belong to nations thousands of miles away—but God caused these to be returned. Verses 9-11: "Now this was their number: 30 gold dishes, 1,000 silver dishes, 29 duplicates; 10 30 gold bowls, 410 silver bowls of a second kind and 1,000 other articles. 11 All the articles of gold and silver numbered 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought them all up with the exiles who went up from Babylon to Jerusalem." Not everything was returned. A notable omission was the ark of the covenant. The rebuilt temple would have an empty holy of holies, for the centerpiece, the ark, did not return. However, the real ark of the covenant always was in heaven, as in Revelation 11:19—"the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple." The temple, the ark, and the real you are all safe in heaven, for the Lord God has made it so.
Dear God, my treasure is in heaven. The Lord Jesus Christ died in my place, securing my inheritance forever. I confess my sins and acknowlege that I am not worthy of such a gift. I just say—thank You. I am Yours. In Jesus Name. Amen.