Ezra 7

Ezra 7:1 in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia [came] Ezra

It’s always nice to know the identity of the author of any text.  With much of the Old Testament, we don’t know the author, eg. 1 Sam., 2 Sam., 1 Kings, 2 Kings, etc.  Now we are introduced to the author of the book of Ezra.  The student should know that some scholars credit him with being the scribe who wrote 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles.  Also, in the Apocrypha, there is a book called 2 Ezra which is longer than 1 Ezra and includes great truths and a few doctrinal errors, just as promised in D&C 91. (See The Apocrypha, translated by Edgar J. Goodspeed, [New York: Vintage, 1989], 45, 48, 64-65, and 71)

So Ezra takes up his pen and has written the story of the migration back to Jerusalem (Ezra 1-6).  It started with Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel some 75-85 years prior to his time (Ezra 1).  Ezra’s story is much like theirs—he will lead a group of Jews back to their homeland with orders from the king of Persia to rebuild the walls of the city—the Second Great Migration. 

A friend of the king and expert in the Law of Moses, Ezra was a priest of the lineage of Aaron, living in Babylon.  Not all the Jews left Babylon with Zerubbabel, so there are plenty more Jews who were given the opportunity to flee Babylon and go the mountain of the Lord’s House.  “Ezra, a righteous priest and scribe, was appointed in 458 B.C. to organize a group of Jewish exiles to return to the land of their fathers (see Ezra 7:1-11). Numerous Jews joined the perilous caravans to help restore dignity to their former land and society. Ezra set religious affairs in order and initiated rigorous reforms in Jerusalem and Judah.” (David B. Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, and Andrew C. Skinner, Jerusalem: The Eternal City [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 123 - 124)

External histories including Josephus say that Xerxes, not Artaxerxes, was the king of Persia in the days of Ezra, but that is a technicality.  Josephus says he was “exceeding friendly to the Jews.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, 5:1)

Ezra 7:6 Ezra… was a ready scribe in the law of Moses

“In retrospect, the reading of the Law before the congregation by Ezra, the ‘ready scribe in the law of Moses’ (Ezra 7:6), was a very important event in Jewish history. This event and the attitudes that grew out of it are considered the beginning of a new and stronger affinity for the Law of Moses and the establishment of a strong scribal tradition among the Jews. Although there is little information about this period, from either secular or scriptural sources, historians believe that the scribal tradition, in turn, brought to the Holy Land a synagogue form of worship that had its roots in the Babylonian captivity.

“It appears that before the captivity, the people of Judah had been careless in keeping track of their holy writings. At times the scriptures were even lost from public knowledge, as in the days preceding King Josiah. (See 2 Kgs. 22–24.) But in the years of the captivity, the Jews engaged in a kind of ‘operation salvage’ as their scribes began to gather, preserve, and proliferate the works of the dead prophets. The Torah (the first five books of the Bible, containing the Law of Moses) was felt to be the key to reestablishing Israel’s special relationship with the Lord; and in bringing about a reformation in the hearts of the people of Israel, Ezra and other leaders resolved that never again would the people be ignorant of the Law.

“The scribes were originally educated men who made their livelihood as copyists of the scriptures. They studied the holy writings diligently—not only as a way to detect copyists’ errors, but also to understand the meaning of the scriptures. Thus, in the Holy Land the role of the scribes expanded. They became teachers of the Law, explaining its meaning and offering advice on how the details of the Law could be faithfully carried out. The titles these men took upon themselves reflected their growing prominence: lawyers, doctors, elders, and rabbis.” (Richard D. Draper, “Judah between the Testaments,” Ensign, Oct. 1982, 37-38)

Ezra 7:10 Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord and to do it

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments." (Ezra 7:10.)

“According to the Sunday School general presidency, this single passage in Ezra tells how one can be successful in learning of and teaching the will of the Lord. Elder Merlin R. Lybbert, Sunday School general president, and his second counselor, Elder Ronald E. Poelman, spoke with the Church News about the 1994 Gospel Doctrine course of study, which is the Old Testament…

“Elder Poelman, referring to Ezra 7:10, ‘It's interesting that Ezra didn't prepare his facts, his logic and his intellect. He prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord. That's where the Spirit can operate. We can prepare our hearts to seek the law of the Lord by asking, 'What does the Lord want us to learn from this?' Some teachers are anxious to make a good impression. But if they say, 'What does the Lord want to happen here?' and then do it, they will be better prepared to teach.’

“And, added Elder Lybbert, the class member, by applying the same questions, will be better prepared to learn.” (LDS Church News, 1994, 01/01/94)

Ezra 7:12-26 another epistle from the King of Persia

The book of Ezra is full of epistles, letters to the king, or imperial decrees on behalf of the Jews.  This epistle is much like the one Cyrus sent (Ezra 1:2-4) and the one Darius sent (Ezra 6:6-12).  The message is the same:

  • The king authorizes the Jews to return to build their temple and their city. 
  • They are to be given gold and silver for building/adorning the temple and beasts for their sacrifices. 
  • Don’t harass them.

Cyrus set the example.  Darius re-established the decree.  Artaxerxes (or Xerxes if you prefer) followed suit.

Ezra 7:13 I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel… which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go

Was this the word of the Lord through Cyrus, Darius, or Artaxerxes?  Consider this, “Let them who be of Judah flee unto the Jerusalem, unto the mountains of the Lord’s house.  Go ye out from among the nations, even from Babylon, from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon.  But verily, thus saith the Lord, let not your flight be in haste, but let all things be prepared before you; and he that goeth, let him not look back lest sudden destruction shall come upon him.”

What does this have to do with us?  Well, if you were astute, you might have noticed that the above quote is not in the Old Testament. Those exact words don’t come from a Persian King; they are found in D&C 133:13-16.  Rather miraculously, that 1831 scripture from Jehovah matches perfectly the message through Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes.  That’s for us and for the Jews of today—the Lord’s will for the modern House of Israel.  The message is always the same:  Get out of Babylon!  Go to the Temple!  Cleanse yourselves from spiritual wickedness and be clean before the Lord!

Ezra 7:24 priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims…

A temple can’t run without a temple presidency, office workers, organists, recommend checkers, and ordinance workers.  The king’s decree lists their temple workers: the priests, Levites, singers, porters, and Nethinims.  Briefly, we will discuss each.  The priests were descended from Aaron and performed the actual ordinances in the temple.  They were the ones who offered sacrifice and performed their duties regarding the Table of Shewbread, the Altar of Incense, and lighting the Menorah.  The Levites were responsible for the mechanics of the daily operations and assisted the priests.  Some “were in their set office, and were over the chambers and treasuries of the house of God” (1 Chron. 9:26).  The singers made up a temple choir (hopefully better than a ward choir—sorry, that was rude). 

The porters acted as ushers, almost as recommend checkers at the doors of the temple; the chief priest of the temple “set the porters at the gates of the house of the LORD, that none which was unclean in any thing should enter in” (2 Chron. 23:19).  They also performed some of the music in the temple.  The Jews had harps and other musical instruments used in their temple worship. For Solomon’s temple, “four thousand were porters; and four thousand praised the LORD with the instruments which I made, said David, to praise therewith” (1 Chron. 23:5).

Who in the world are the Nethinims

Nethinim--the name given to the hereditary temple servants in all the post-Exilian books of Scripture. The word means given, i.e., ‘those set apart’, viz., to the menial work of the sanctuary for the Levites. The name occurs seventeen times, and in each case in the Authorized Version incorrectly terminates in ‘s’, ‘Nethinims;’ in the Revised Version, correctly without the ‘s’ ( Ezra 2:70 ; Ezra 7:7 Ezra 7:24 ; 8:20 , etc.). The tradition is that the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:27) were the original caste, afterwards called Nethinim. Their numbers were added to afterwards from captives taken in battle; and they were formally given by David to the Levites (Ezra 8:20), and so were called Nethinim, i.e., the given ones, given to the Levites to be their servants. Only 612 Nethinim returned from Babylon (Ezra 2:58; 8:20 ). They were under the control of a chief from among themselves (2:43 ; Nehemiah 7:46 ). No reference to them appears in the New Testament, because it is probable that they became merged in the general body of the Jewish people.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary, “Nethinim,” www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/nethinim/)

Isn’t it interesting that the Nethinim were “set apart”?  Doesn’t that sound familiar? They were temple workers who were set apart to perform various temple functions.  What a privilege for them!  What a blessing for us to be “set apart” to serve in the temple!

Ezra 7:28 I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord was upon me

Ezra was a righteous man with a difficult task—to lead a group of immigrants from Babylon to Jerusalem in safety.  It was his calling.  He knew he was unequal to the task without the help of the Lord but was wise enough to see the strength that came from above.

George Q. Cannon

These people continually need strength from the Lord. There has never been a day, nay, not an hour, from the commencement of this work upon the earth in these last days that the Latter-day Saints have been destitute of the counsel of heaven, of the word of God, and of the guidance of that Holy Spirit that God has promised to bestow upon His faithful children. Having thus been led in the past it is still essential that we be thus led in the future, that we may live by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God—not that proceeded from His mouth 1,800 years ago, but that proceeds from His mouth to-day, in this year of our Lord 1883. And we need it just as much to-day as we ever did. We need the direct interposition of God's providence in our behalf, and we need the assistance of His Holy Spirit; we need His word, and His blessing, and His power, and His direct intervention in our behalf as much to-day as this Church did fifty years ago, or as the Church did 1850 years ago. It is indispensably necessary for our progress, for our advancement in the things that pertain to righteousness, in the knowledge of God, that we should be thus assisted and upheld and inspired. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 24: 180 - 181)