Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 12 2019 - Ezra 7 – Ezra

Only now, more than half way through the book that bears his name, does Ezra turns up in Jerusalem, arriving about 57 years after the temple had been completed and dedicated to the Lord.

Let me provide some historical background. King Darius, whose letter had ensured that the temple could be completed, was succeeded by his son Xerxes I, otherwise known as King Ahasuerus of the Book of Esther. But for the intervention of Esther, Haman would have succeeded in his plot to have all the Jews in the Persian Empire put to death and there would have been no Ezra, nor his book (a story we shall look at in a few weeks' time). Xerxes I was succeeded by Artaxerxes who had been king of Persia for seven years when Ezra returned to Jerusalem.

Ezra was a descendant of Aaron the chief priest to Israel and "had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel" (v. 10). His concern was to ensure that the returning Jews were obedient to the law which God had given them through Moses, especially the laws regarding the priests and the temple rituals.

Ezra arrived, accompanied by a number of priests and others who could serve in the temple, and with another letter from the King of Persia. The letter said that Ezra was to ensure that regular sacrifices were offered in the temple in accordance with "the Law of your God, which is in your hand" (v. 14). Ezra also brought gifts from Persia of silver and gold which were to be used to purchase "bulls, rams and male lambs, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings" (v. 17), necessary for the temple sacrifices. Any remaining money could be used as Ezra wished. When the money ran out, they might draw further funds from the royal treasury of Persia to maintain the temple sacrifices. The priests and temple officials were also to be exempt from all imperial taxes.

Ezra was also to appoint magistrates throughout the region of the ancient kingdom of Israel, to administer justice and to ensure obedience to the laws of "your God" (vv. 25-26).

Why should the king of Persia have been so concerned to maintain the temple in Jerusalem? Firstly we should note that this does not necessarily show any special favour by Persia towards the God of Israel. It had become the policy of the Persian Empire to allow exiled peoples, whoever they were, to return to their own lands and to worship their own gods in their own way. The motive behind all this is found in the letter which says, "Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should his wrath fall on the realm of the king and of his sons?" (v. 23). The King of Persia wants all peoples within his empire to pray to their gods for the king and his sons and so secure the peace and continued prosperity of the empire.

There is much interesting discussion to be had about the relationship between church and state today, but I shall leave that to one side. Let me remind you however of Paul's instruction to Timothy and the church under his care, living under the tyrannical rule of the Roman Empire:

I urge … that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness… This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all … to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

We know that there is only one living God and only one Saviour. Since God's concern is for the salvation of all, we should pray for and bear witness to all – even, perhaps especially, ungodly and tyrannical rulers! Praying particularly for peace and for the freedom to speak of our God.

Father God, we pray today for all in positions of power and authority in our country and throughout the world. Give them the wisdom to govern justly and well. May your people enjoy the freedom to speak of Christ, the Saviour of the world, and may many come to bow the knee to him.

 

Peter Misselbrook