The *Jews return to Jerusalem

An EasyEnglish Bible Version and Commentary (2800 word vocabulary) on the Book of Ezra


Robert Bryce

This commentary has been through Advanced Checking.

Words in boxes are from the Bible.

A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.


About the Book of Ezra

There are many dates in this *introduction. These dates are the number of years before the time that Jesus Christ was born. Each date has the letters ‘*BC’ after it. The letters mean ‘before Christ’. This *introduction also refers to places in the Bible where you can read about these things.

The history of the *Jews before their *exile

These are the events that happened in Israel before the time of Ezra. This account will help us to understand the book of Ezra better. We can read about these events in Nehemiah 9:5-37.

The people in Israel do not obey God

God chose the nation called Israel to be his special people (Leviticus 20:26). He wanted the people to love him and to *worship him. And he wanted them to obey him. In the city called Jerusalem, which was their capital, they built a great *temple. The people *worshipped God and they gave *sacrifices to him in this *temple. Israel became a powerful nation.

But the people in Israel did not obey God (Nehemiah 9:16-18 and 9:26). They *worshipped the gods of the other nations. So God caused them to suffer trouble and difficulties.

The *Israelites continued to *sin against God (Nehemiah 9:28). God sent many *prophets to warn them about this. But often the *Israelites did not listen to these men and they continued to do bad things (Nehemiah 9:29-30). God loved his people, that is, the *Israelites. He did not want them to suffer. Often their troubles were the result of their own evil behaviour. But God still cared about the *Israelites. He wanted them to turn away from *sin and to obey him again.

The nation divided into two parts. The name of the northern part was Israel and people called the inhabitants *Israelites. The name of the southern part was Judah and people called the inhabitants *Jews. Jerusalem was in the southern part. The Book of Ezra is about the people from Judah. However, sometimes Ezra calls them ‘the *people of Israel’. God gave Jacob the name ‘Israel’ when he promised to make Jacob’s *descendants God’s special people (Genesis 32:28). Most of the families who returned from *exile were originally from Judah. But they were still God’s special people.

Assyria overcomes Israel

In 722 *BC God allowed a powerful nation, the *Assyrians, to overcome Israel. See 2 Kings 17:1-23. (Israel was the northern part of the country.) The *Assyrians forced many *Israelites to live in other countries (2 Kings 17:6; 18:10-11). And they brought other people to live in Israel (2 Kings 17:24). These other people *worshipped false gods. They also tried to *worship the real God, but they did not *worship him properly (2 Kings 17:25-41). People called them *Samaritans because their chief city was Samaria (2 Kings 17:24). Samaria was not far from Jerusalem. The journey between the two cities took about two days to walk. The *Samaritans became enemies of the *Jews who returned from *exile. One of their leaders was Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s chief enemy. (Jesus often spoke about the *Samaritans. We can read about his conversation with a *Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. He explained to her how people everywhere would *worship God properly. See John 4:23-24.)

The beginning of the *exile of the people from Judah

Many of the kings from Judah did not obey God. (Judah was the southern part of the country.) But some of them loved God and they encouraged the people to obey him. However, the people in Judah usually refused to obey God (Nehemiah 9:28-30), as the *Israelites had done. So, after many years, God had to punish them too.

In 701 *BC Sennacherib, king of Assyria, overcame some of the cities of Judah (2 Kings 18:13). But he did not overcome Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:32-36). God saved the city on that occasion.

Many years later, the *Assyrian army became weak and the *Babylonians took control of Assyria. The *Babylonians were the *Jews’ enemies, as the *Assyrians had been. The king of the *Babylonians was Nebuchadnezzar. During his rule, the *Babylonian army overcame Judah. The soldiers took most of the *Jews to Babylonia and forced them to live there. This is called the *Babylonian *exile. It lasted for about 70 years.

God used a foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar, to punish the *Jews. Nebuchadnezzar took them away from the country that God had given to them. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar did not give honour to the real God. He gave honour to false gods. But God still used him to punish the *Jews. In Jeremiah 25:9 and Jeremiah 27:6, God said that Nebuchadnezzar was his servant. But Nebuchadnezzar did not know that. God also said that he would punish the *Babylonians 70 years later. They were wicked too (see Daniel 5:23). God is more powerful than any nation. He often uses people to carry out his purposes. He can even use people who do not know him.

The *Babylonians overcame Judah in three phases:

·    In 605 *BC they took King Jehoiakim’s family and the people who served the king (2 Chronicles 36:5-7; Daniel 1:1-7). They forced them to go to Babylonia and to live there. Daniel was one of these people and he became a very important official in Babylonia (Daniel 1:17-21; 5:29-6.3; 6:28). He wrote the Book of Daniel.

·    Then, 8 years later, the *Babylonians took Jehoiachin, the next king of Judah, to Babylonia. And they appointed his uncle, Zedekiah, to be king of Judah. They also took all the leaders, soldiers and skilled workmen. The *Babylonians also stole the beautiful and valuable things in the *temple and they took them to Babylonia (2 Kings 24:10-17).

·    Later, in 586 *BC, the *Babylonians came again. They destroyed the *temple and the city called Jerusalem. They took King Zedekiah, and most of the people who remained in Judah, to Babylonia. They allowed only the poorest people to live in Judah (2 Kings 25:1-12).

God had warned his people about these terrible events. He would allow these events to happen if the people refused to obey him (Leviticus 26:27-39; Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:64-68; 2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Isaiah 39:6-7 and Micah 4:10). God waited for a long time for his people to confess their *sins and to obey him. But the people did not listen to him. They did more and more evil things and they gave honour to false gods.

The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah

The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah are two parts of the same story. They tell us about the time when the *Jews returned from Babylonia to their own country, Judah. Babylonia was a long way from Judah. The journey between Babylonia and Judah took about 4 months to walk. The *Babylonians had defeated the people from Judah. They had forced most of the *Jews to go to Babylonia and to live there. After many years, the *Persians defeated the *Babylonians. Then Cyrus, the king of Persia, allowed the *Jews to return to Judah.

The Book of Ezra is the first part. It tells us about the first two groups of *Jews who returned to Judah. This happened about 70 years after the *Babylonians had taken the *Jews into *exile. The book also explains how the *Jews built their *temple again. Many years later a man called Ezra helped the *Jews. He helped them to know God’s commands and to obey them.

The Book of Nehemiah is the second part. It tells the story of a man whose name was Nehemiah. He was a very important official of the king of Persia. God sent him so that he could help the *Jews to build the walls of the city called Jerusalem again. He arrived in Judah about 13 years after Ezra went there. The king appointed Nehemiah to be the ruler of Judah. Nehemiah, like Ezra, helped the *Jews to obey God’s commands.

Notes to explain the book of Ezra

Chapter 1

v1 In the first year of the rule of Cyrus king of Persia, the *LORD spoke into the heart of Cyrus. The *LORD told Cyrus to make a declaration. Cyrus made this declaration to his whole *kingdom and he also wrote it in the records. Jeremiah had spoken the words of the *LORD. Jeremiah said that this would happen.

Verse 1 The army from Babylonia had defeated God’s people the *Jews. The *Babylonians had taken most of the *Jews into *exile in Babylonia. Almost 70 years later the *Persians defeated the *Babylonians. Cyrus was the king of Persia. He did not serve the real God (Isaiah 45:5), but God had an important job for Cyrus to do.

God had allowed the *Babylonians to take the *Jews into *exile. But God also intended to allow the *Jews to return to their own country (called Judah) after 70 years. In fact, God had told his people this by the words of his *prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:10).

So God ‘spoke into the heart of Cyrus’. Cyrus did not actually hear God’s voice. But he knew what was the right thing to do. God showed Cyrus that he should allow the *Jews to return to their own country (called Judah). So Cyrus announced that the *Jews could leave Babylonia and he wrote this in the official records. Then everyone would know that this was the king’s command.

v2 This is what King Cyrus says, ‘The *LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me all the *kingdoms in the world. He has ordered me to build a house for him in Jerusalem, which is in the country called Judah. v3 Any of God’s people who so desires may go to Jerusalem in Judah. I desire that your God will be with you. Go to Jerusalem and build the *temple of the *LORD, the God of Israel. He is the God who is in Jerusalem. v4 And the inhabitants of any place where God’s people still live must help. They must give silver and gold. And they must give goods and animals. They must also give gifts for the *temple of God in Jerusalem.’

Verses 2-4 Cyrus ruled over many nations. We know that Cyrus respected the gods of those nations. This made the people from those nations more loyal to him. And although Cyrus did not really serve the real God, he did give honour to God. He said that God had given to him his vast *kingdom. He believed that God wanted him to build God’s special house, the *temple, in Jerusalem in Judah. Some people think that he knew about the words of the *prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:10). They think that he wanted to make those words become true.

The Bible tells us the real reason why Cyrus allowed the *Jews to return to Judah. God made him do it. So although Cyrus was not a real servant of God, God had a special job for Cyrus to do (Isaiah 44:28).

So Cyrus allowed God’s people to return to Judah in order to build the *temple. Anyone could go who wanted to. Cyrus ordered other people to give gifts for the *temple. And he also ordered them to help the people who would build the *temple.

v5 And God spoke into the hearts of many people. So the heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and *Levites prepared to go to Jerusalem. They intended to rebuild the house of the *LORD there. v6 All their neighbours helped them. The neighbours were generous and gave them silver and gold. They also gave goods and animals. They gave other valuable things and other gifts.

Verses 5-6 God had spoken into the heart of Cyrus. Then he also spoke into the hearts of many of the *Jews. Perhaps, like Cyrus, they did not hear God’s voice. But they knew in their hearts what was the right thing to do. God gave them a desire to go to Jerusalem to build his special house, the *temple.

The *Jews were living in Babylonia which was far from their own country called Judah. They were sad about the state of Judah and Jerusalem (Psalm 137:1-4). But they had lived in Babylonia for many years. Most of the *Jews were born in Babylonia and they had never travelled to Judah. They probably had comfortable lives in Babylonia. Judah was far away and it would take about 4 months to walk there. When they arrived there, they would have to build new homes for themselves. And it would be a hard task to rebuild the *temple. So not all the *Jews wanted to go to Judah. But God spoke into the hearts of many of them. In other words, he gave them a desire to go. God would make them into a real nation again. He did not need all the people to do this. He would do it with those people who really wanted to obey him.

Their neighbours gave them gifts for themselves. And the neighbours gave special gifts for the *temple. These neighbours were probably the people from Babylonia as well as the *Jews who did not want to go to Judah. This would have reminded the *Jews about the time in their history when God rescued them from Egypt. At that time, the people from Egypt had given gifts to the *Jews (Exodus 12:35-36).

v7 Also, King Cyrus brought out the objects which belonged to the *temple of the *LORD. Nebuchadnezzar had taken these objects away from Jerusalem. He had put them in the *temple of his gods. v8 Cyrus (king of Persia) ordered Mithredath, who looked after the king’s money, to bring out the objects. Mithredath counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the leader of Judah. v9-10 These are the numbers of the objects. There were 30 gold plates, 1000 silver plates, 29 knives, 30 gold bowls, 410 matching silver bowls and 1000 other objects. v11 In total, there were 5400 gold and silver objects. Sheshbazzar brought all these objects when the people left *exile in Babylonia to go to Jerusalem.

Verses 7-11 King Cyrus also gave the *Jews something to take back to Jerusalem for God’s *temple. He gave back the special objects that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the *temple in Jerusalem many years before (Daniel 1:2). Although Nebuchadnezzar had been careful with these objects, a later king, Belshazzar, was not careful (Daniel 5:1-4). But God kept his holy objects safe for the new *temple which the *Jews would build.

Chapter 2

In the Book of Ezra, there are many names. Some of these people were leaders. However, Ezra also refers to many people who were not well-known. They lived many years ago, but they were important to God. God cares about all sorts of people. And he is pleased when they obey him. When Ezra records some of the names, he also mentions their families. Families were very important to the *Jews.

v1 These are the people from the district who returned from *exile. (Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, had taken their families into *exile.) The people returned to Jerusalem and Judah. Each person went back to his home town. v2 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah.

The list of the men from the families of Israel is below.

Verses 1-2 In this chapter, Ezra recorded the list of the people who returned from *exile in Babylonia. Zerubbabel and Jeshua (who was the chief priest) led this first group of people. The people went back to the towns that God had given to their *ancestors.

God had made special promises to the *Jews (Genesis 12:2-3). So it was important for *Jews to know about their *ancestors. Then they would know that they were real *Jews. But those special promises would not only benefit the *Jews. God’s plan was to use them in order to benefit people from every nation. That is why Jesus was a *Jew.

Many years later, Nehemiah also recorded this list (Nehemiah 7:6-73). Nehemiah’s list is slightly different from Ezra’s list. There are several possible explanations for these differences. Perhaps some people said that they would return. But then they did not go. Or perhaps Nehemiah spelt some of the names in a different way. This might explain why the lists are slightly different.

v3 The *descendants of Parosh, 2172;

v4 The *descendants of Shephatiah, 372;

v5 The *descendants of Arah, 775;

v6 The *descendants of Pahath-Moab (the *descendants of Jeshua’s and Joab’s parts of this family), 2812;

v7 The *descendants of Elam, 1254;

v8 The *descendants of Zattu, 945;

v9 The *descendants of Zaccai, 760;

v10 The *descendants of Bani, 642;

v11 The *descendants of Bebai, 623;

v12 The *descendants of Azgad, 1222;

v13 The *descendants of Adonikam, 666;

v14 The *descendants of Bigvai, 2056;

v15 The *descendants of Adin, 454;

v16 The *descendants of Ater (the *descendants of Hezekiah’s part of this family), 98;

v17 The *descendants of Bezai, 323;

v18 The *descendants of Jorah, 112;

v19 The *descendants of Hashum, 223;

v20 The *descendants of Gibbar, 95;

v21 The *descendants of Bethlehem, 123;

v22 The men from Netophah, 56;

v23 The men from Anathoth, 128;

v24 The *descendants of Azmaveth, 42;

v25 The *descendants of Kiriath Arim, Chephirah and Beeroth, 743;

v26 The *descendants of Ramah and Gaba, 621;

v27 The men from Michmas, 122;

v28 The men from Bethel and Ai, 223;

v29 The *descendants of Nebo, 52;

v30 The *descendants of Magbish, 156:

v31 The *descendants of the other Elam, 1254;

v32 The *descendants of Harim, 320;

v33 The *descendants of Lod, Hadid and Ono, 725:

v34 The *descendants of Jericho, 345;

v35 The *descendants of Senaah, 3630.

v36 The priests:

the *descendants of Jedaiah (the *descendants of Jeshua’s part of this family), 973;

v37 the *descendants of Immer, 1052;

v38 the *descendants of Pashhur, 1247;

v39 the *descendants of Harim, 1017.

v40 The *Levites:

the *descendants of Jeshua and Kadmiel (the *descendants of Hodaviah’s part of Kadmiel’s family) 74.

v41 The singers:

the *descendants of Asaph, 128.

v42 The *descendants of the men who guarded the gates:

the *descendants of Shallum, the *descendants of Ater, the *descendants of Talmon, the *descendants of Akkub, the *descendants of Hatita, the *descendants of Shobai, in total 139.

v43 The servants who worked in the *temple:

the *descendants of Ziha, the *descendants of Hasupha, the *descendants of Tabbaoth,

v44 the *descendants of Keros, the *descendants of Siaha, the *descendants of Padon,

v45 the *descendants of Lebanah, the *descendants of Hagaba, the *descendants of Akkub,

v46 the *descendants of Hagab, the *descendants of Shalmai, the *descendants of Hanan,

v47 the *descendants of Giddel, the *descendants of Gahar, the *descendants of Reaiah,

v48 the *descendants of Rezin, the *descendants of Nekoda, the *descendants of Gazzam,

v49 the *descendants of Uzza, the *descendants of Paseah, the *descendants of Besai,

v50 the *descendants of Asnah, the *descendants of Meunim, the *descendants of Nephisim,

v51 the *descendants of Bakbuk, the *descendants of Hakupha, the *descendants of Harhur,

v52 the *descendants of Bazluth, the *descendants of Mehida, the *descendants of Harsha,

v53 the *descendants of Barkos, the *descendants of Sisera, the *descendants of Temah,

v54 the *descendants of Neziah the *descendants of Hatipha.

v55 The *descendants of Solomon’s servants:

the *descendants of Sotai, the *descendants of Sophereth, the *descendants of Peruda,

v56 the *descendants of Jaala, the *descendants of Darkon, the *descendants of Giddel,

v57 the *descendants of Shephatiah, the *descendants of Hattil, the *descendants of Pokereth from Zebaim the *descendants of Ami.

v58 The total number of men who served in the *temple and those who were the *descendants of Solomon’s servants, 392.

Verses 3-58 The people who returned to Judah had different jobs to do. Some were priests and *Levites and some were singers. They led the people when they *worshipped God. Some of the people guarded the *temple and the gates and some were servants in the *temple.

Often, this list describes people as ‘the *descendants of’ a person or a place. Usually we use the word ‘*descendants’ to mean that a particular person was the head of the family long ago. But in verses 21 to 35, this list shows the names of places. So probably, the people from these places described their families by the name of their home town.

After Ezra’s record of the family names, he mentions the number of people in each group. This is the meaning of the numbers at the end of the verses.

v59 These are the people from the towns called Telmelah, Telharsha, Kerub, Addan and Immer. But they could not prove that their families really belonged to Israel:

v60 They were the *descendants of Delaiah, the *descendants of Tobiah, and the *descendants of Nekoda, 652.

v61-62 And some of the priests searched for their family registers, but they could not find them. So they could not prove who their *ancestors were. These priests were the *descendants of Habaiah, the *descendants of Hakkoz and the *descendants of Barzillai. (Barzillai had married a woman from the family of Barzillai from Gilead and he took her family’s name.) So it was not proper for them to carry out the special duties of the priests. v63 The chief officer therefore ordered these people not to eat the priests’ special food. They had to wait for a priest who could use the *Urim and Thummim to make a decision.

Verses 59-63 Some of the people could not prove who their *ancestors were. And among these people were some priests. They searched for their family registers. But they did not find them.

God appointed the *descendants of Aaron (the brother of Moses) to be priests. They had to prove that they were *descendants of Aaron. If not, then they could not serve as priests (Numbers 16:40). God had also given to the priests special food to eat. God did not allow people who were not priests to eat that food. So the chief officer did not allow these men to eat the priests’ special food. He was careful to obey God’s law.

God gave some priests the *Urim and Thummim. The priests used these to know what God was telling the people to do. But at that time there was no priest who could use the *Urim and Thummim to make a decision.

Later there might be a priest who could use the *Urim and Thummim. Then that priest could ask God for direction. Then God could tell him about the priests who could not prove their *ancestors. Perhaps then, God would allow them to serve as priests.

v64 The total number of all the people was 42 360.

v65 There were also 7337 male and female servants and 200 male and female singers.

v66 There were 736 horses and 245 mules [strong animals that are like horses].

v67 There were 435 camels and 6720 donkeys [animals that are like small horses].

v68 Some of the leaders of the families gave gifts when they arrived at the house of the *LORD in Jerusalem. They gave these gifts to help the people to build the house of God again in its place.

v69 They gave what they could afford:

·    500 kilos (1100 pounds) of gold

·    2900 kilos (6500 pounds) of silver

·    100 sets of special clothes for the priests to wear.

Verses 64-69 When the people returned to Judah, they began the preparations to rebuild the *temple. They did not wait until they had comfortable homes in Judah. They considered that the construction of God’s *temple was their most important task.

The *Babylonians had destroyed the *temple when they took the *Jews into *exile. But now the *Jews were very pleased that they could start to rebuild it.

Some of the people became rich when they lived in Babylonia. They were able to be generous when they gave gifts for the work of the *temple.

v70 The priests and the *Levites began to live in their own towns. So did some of the other people, the singers, the men who guarded the gates, and the servants in the *temple. And the rest of the *people of Israel began to live in their own towns.

Verse 70 At the time of Moses, God had promised to give the country called Canaan to the *Israelites. God gave a part of the country to each of the families (Numbers 34:13-15). That country included the southern part, called Judah, where the *Jews came from. When the *Jews returned from *exile they lived in their own towns. These towns were the same towns that God had given to their *ancestors.

Ezra calls the people ‘the *people of Israel’ instead of ‘the people from Judah’. God gave to Jacob the name Israel. At the same time, God promised to make Jacob’s *descendants God’s special people (Genesis 32:28). At the time when the people first returned from *exile, most of them were from Judah. But they were still God’s special people. And that is why Ezra calls them ‘the *people of Israel’.

Chapter 3

v1 When the *people of Israel were living in their towns, they all met in Jerusalem together. It was the 7th month.

Verse 1 The people who had returned from *exile started to live in the towns in Judah. But soon after they arrived in the country, they all met in Jerusalem. It was important to start to *worship God together again. The 7th month was a very important month for the *Jews. There were three special holidays to *worship God during that month.

v2 Then Jeshua (the son of Jozadak) and his companions the priests began to build the *altar of the God of Israel. Zerubbabel (the son of Shealtiel) and his companions also began to build the *altar of the God of Israel. They needed the *altar so that the priests could burn animals on it, as *sacrifices. That was what the law of Moses, the man of God, ordered. v3 They were afraid of the people who lived in the other places round them. However, they built the *altar in its proper place. And they burned *sacrifices on it to the *LORD. They burned *sacrifices in the mornings and in the evenings. v4 Then they had the holiday of the shelters. And they burned the correct number of *sacrifices every day. They were careful to do all that the law ordered. v5 After that, they made the other regular *sacrifices. They made the *sacrifices at the beginning of each month. And they made the *sacrifices for all the special holy holidays of the *LORD. They also made *sacrifices for everyone who brought special gifts to the *LORD. v6 On the first day of the 7th month, they began to burn their *sacrifices to the *LORD. They did that although they had not yet laid the base of the *LORD’s *temple.

Verses 2-6 The *Jews had returned to Judah to build the *temple. They had not yet started this work. But they started to give honour to God. The leaders of the priests burned animals as *sacrifices to God. They were very careful to do everything that the law of God ordered. They knew that their *ancestors had not obeyed God. So God had sent them into *exile. Now God had allowed them to return to Judah. And Judah was part of the country that God had promised to his people. So the people were very aware that they should obey God.

They were afraid of the other people who lived round them. These other people did not want the *Jews back in the country called Judah. But the *Jews knew that the real God was with them. So they built the *altar. They made *sacrifices and they gave honour to God.

The holiday of the shelters (or, holiday of tents) lasted for a week. God wanted to remind the people about an event that happened long before. Then, God had rescued their *ancestors from the country called Egypt. When the people left Egypt, they lived in tents. (Those tents were just temporary homes, so they were like shelters.) God had taken care of them and he led them to their own country. Judah was part of the country that he had promised to give to his people. So, afterwards, God said that his people should make shelters during the 7th month of the year. The people should use the branches of trees to make the shelters. And they should live in the shelters for 7 days. On the 8th day, the people had to meet together. God told the people to be happy during this holiday (Leviticus 23:33-36; Deuteronomy 16:13-15).

v7 Then the people gave money to the men who made things from stone and wood. Also they gave food, drink and oil to the people who lived in Tyre and Sidon. They did this so that the people from Tyre and Sidon would bring them wood. This wood was from their best trees, called cedars. The people from Tyre and Sidon would bring this wood by sea from Lebanon to the port called Joppa. Cyrus the king of Persia had allowed the *Jews to do this.

Verse 7 Then the people prepared to start to build the *temple. The people were generous. They gave money and goods for the work. They paid the skilled men. And they bought good wood from other countries. King Cyrus had allowed them to do this. This might mean that he had given money or goods to pay for the wood. The *Jews had not been back in Judah long enough to produce their own wood.

Many years earlier, King Solomon built the first *temple for God. He too had paid the people from Tyre to send him good wood. The people from Tyre also sent that wood by sea to the port called Joppa. Joppa is a convenient port for Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2:1-16).

v8 Later, the people started the work to build the house of God. They were Zerubbabel (the son of Shealtiel), Jeshua (the son of Jozadak) and the rest of their companions. Those companions were the priests, the *Levites and all the people who had returned to Jerusalem from the *exile. They appointed *Levites who were 20 years old or older. These *Levites would organise the work to build the house of the *LORD. This happened during the second month of the second year after they arrived at the house of God in Jerusalem. v9 These are the names of the *Levites who *supervised the work:

·    Jeshua and his sons and brothers;

·    Kadmiel and his sons (who were *descendants of Hodaviah);

·    the sons of Henadad and their sons and brothers.

They acted together to *supervise the men who worked on the house of God.

Verses 8-9 A few months later the people started to build the *temple. In the meantime, they were working on their new homes and they were planting their crops. Now it was time to build the *temple, which is also called ‘the house of God’.

The *Levites led the work. They were men from a group of families that had responsibility for the *temple. Usually nobody could carry out the work of the *Levites until he was 25 years old (Numbers 8:24). But perhaps there were not enough *Levites of the correct age. So *Levites who were 20 years old or older shared these duties.

This also happened at the time of King David (1 Chronicles 23:24-27). He prepared for the first *temple which his son (King Solomon) built. David had wanted to build that *temple himself, but God did not allow him to do so. However, God permitted David to gather materials and to make preparations (1 Chronicles 22:2-5).

v10 The builders made the base of the *temple of the *LORD. Then the priests and the *Levites (the *descendants of Asaph) took their places. The priests were wearing their special clothes. And they had musical instruments called trumpets. The *Levites had other musical instruments, called cymbals. They praised the *LORD in the manner that David, king of Israel, had ordered. v11 They praised and they gave thanks to the *LORD. They sang, ‘He is good. He will always love Israel.’ And all the people praised the *LORD with a loud shout. They did that because they had built a base for the house of the *LORD. v12 But many of the older priests, *Levites and the heads of the families had seen the previous *temple. So they wept aloud when they saw the base of the new *temple. Many other people shouted because they were happy. v13 The people made so much noise that people far away could hear the sound. But those people could not distinguish between the sound of happiness and the sound of the people who were crying.

Verses 10-13 After the builders had made the base of the *temple, the people met to *worship God. The priests and the *Levites led the people as they praised God. They sang the same words that their *ancestors had sung at the time of King Solomon. That was when Solomon built the first *temple (2 Chronicles 5:13; 2 Chronicles 7:3).

The people were so happy that they shouted aloud. But some of the older people were not so happy. They remembered the first *temple. They had only built the base for the new *temple. But the people could see that it would be much smaller than the first one.

The first *temple was much bigger and more beautiful than the next one. But the people who lived during those earlier times had not obeyed God. So God had punished them. He had sent them into *exile. And he allowed their enemies to destroy the beautiful first *temple.

The new *temple gave hope to the *Jews. Many of them had waited all their lives for this day. They had left their homes in Babylonia and they had travelled to a distant country to make this possible. They wanted this event to be the start of a new nation where the people would always obey God. But the *Jews realised that many of these things could not happen yet. And that is why many of them were sad, even on this happy occasion.

God wanted the *Jews to return to their own country. He wanted them to realise that their punishment was over. And he wanted to carry out his promises to them. In particular, he wanted to send Jesus, who would give his life as a perfect *sacrifice for *sins. This could only happen when the *Jews were living in their own country.

Chapter 4

v1 The enemies of the *descendants of Judah and Benjamin heard that they had returned from the *exile. Their enemies heard that they were building a *temple for the *LORD the God of Israel. v2 The enemies came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families. They said, ‘Let us help you to build. We *worship your God, even as you do. We have given *sacrifices to your God since the time of Esarhaddon the king of Assyria who brought us here.’ v3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered them. ‘You have no part with us in the work to build a *temple for our God. We will build it ourselves for the *LORD the God of Israel. That is what King Cyrus, the king of Persia, ordered us.’

Verses 1-3 The people who lived near Judah were the enemies of the *Jews. They did not want the *Jews to live in Judah again. So they tried to stop the work on the *temple. At first, they pretended that they wanted to help the *Jews to build the *temple. They said that they *worshipped the real God. This was only partly true. These people *worshipped other gods as well (2 Kings 17:24-41). These people would have encouraged the *Jews to *worship other gods too. God had sent the *ancestors of the *Jews into *exile because they had not obeyed him. Their *ancestors had *worshipped and served other gods. So it was important that the *Jews were careful not to listen to their enemies.

So the leaders of the *Jews were quite right to refuse the offer of help. They knew that these other people were their enemies. These other people did not really want to help to build the *temple. In fact, they wanted to stop the work. So these people were not just opposing the *Jews. They were also opposing God.

Through all history, people have opposed God’s plans. This is not just a human attitude. The devil always opposes God’s work. And there have always been people who have been willing to do the devil’s work for him.

At the time of Zerubbabel, God’s plan was that the *Jews would establish a strong nation in their own country. But they would not be a strong nation unless they served God. So the construction of the *temple was essential for the future of the country. In fact, it was not just important for that one country. God’s plan was to use the *Jews in order to show his kindness to people from every nation (Genesis 12:3). In time, Jesus would be born a *Jew.

v4 Then the other people in the country tried to make the people from Judah weak. They made the people from Judah afraid to build. v5 The people in the country paid people to speak against the people from Judah. They tried to stop the plans of the people from Judah. This happened all through the rule of Cyrus king of Persia. It even happened until the rule of Darius king of Persia.

Verses 4-5 The enemies of the *Jews were not pleased when the *Jews refused their offer of help. Their plan had not worked. So they had to find another plan to stop the work.

They tried to make the *Jews afraid to build. They even paid people to try to stop the work. They did this for many years. In fact, the *Jews did not complete the construction of the *temple for about 20 more years. The work would not be complete until the rule of King Darius of Persia.

From verse 6 to verse 23, Ezra describes later events when people opposed the reconstruction of Jerusalem. He continues his account of the work to build the new *temple in verse 24.

v6 At the beginning of the rule of Xerxes, these people wrote a letter. They accused the people who lived in Jerusalem and Judah.

v7 And Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of their companions wrote to Artaxerxes at the time when he was king of Persia. They wrote their letter in the letters and language from Aram.

v8 Rehum the chief official and Shimshai the writer wrote a letter to Artaxerxes the king. They wrote to oppose Jerusalem. This what the letter said. v9 Rehum the chief official, Shimshai the writer and the rest of their companions wrote the letter. These other people were the judges and the many different officials who ruled over the people. They ruled over the people from Tripolis, Persia, Erech and Babylonia, and the *Elamites from Susa. v10 There were also other people whom the great and noble Ashurbanipal had sent away. He had made these people go to live in the city called Samaria and the district beyond the Euphrates river.

Verses 6-10 Even after the *Jews had built the *temple, their enemies still opposed them. In the rest of this chapter, Ezra records what happened many years later. The *Jews started to build their capital city called Jerusalem again. And again their enemies tried to stop them. The enemies of the *Jews wrote letters to the kings who ruled after Darius. They wrote to King Xerxes. Later they wrote letters to King Artaxerxes.

v11 This is a copy of the letter that they sent. ‘To King Artaxerxes. This is from your servants, the men who live in the district beyond the Euphrates river. v12 The king should know about the *Jews who have left you to come to us. They have come to Jerusalem and they are building that city. It is a wicked city and it is not loyal to the king. They are building the walls again and they are repairing the base. v13 There is something else that the king should know. The people will build the city and repair the walls. Then they will not pay any of their taxes. Then the royal income will reduce. v14 The king looks after us. This will make the king poorer. And it is not right for us to see that. That is why we are sending this message to inform the king. v15 Then you can order people to search the records of the kings who ruled before you. You will find in the records that this is not a loyal city. It causes trouble to kings and to the districts. People have plotted revolutions there since long ago. This is why previous kings destroyed the city. v16 We are telling the king what will happen. The people will build the city and they will repair the walls. Then the king will no longer have any property in the district beyond the Euphrates river.’

Verses 11-16 Ezra recorded what these people wrote in one of their letters to King Artaxerxes.

They told the king how loyal they were. They pretended that they only cared about the king’s benefit. They said that the *Jews were not loyal to foreign kings. They said that the people in Jerusalem would build their city again. Then the people in Jerusalem would stop paying taxes. They asked the king to search in the records. They told the king what he would find in the records. He would find that Jerusalem was not a loyal city.

            Many of the ancient records from this time still exist. The officials wrote them on clay. (Clay is a type of earth. It becomes hard if someone bakes it.) People have found some 120 000 such records. The British Museum has a large collection of them.

v17 The king sent an answer. ‘I send greetings to Rehum the chief official and to Shimshai the writer. I send greetings to the rest of their companions who live in Samaria and elsewhere beyond the Euphrates river. v18 My servants have read to me clearly the letter that you sent to us. v19 And I ordered that people search the records. They discovered that this city has not been loyal to kings. People have often plotted revolutions there. v20 Powerful kings in Jerusalem have ruled over the whole district beyond the Euphrates river. And people paid all kinds of taxes to them. v21 Now order these men to stop work. They must not build this city again until I give the order. v22 Be sure not to neglect this matter. This danger to the *kingdom must not increase.’

Verses 17-22 The king read the letter and his officials searched the records. What was in the first letter (verse 11-16) was true. Many years before, the *Jews had opposed foreign kings. We can read in the Bible about some of these events (2 Kings 18:7; 2 Kings 24:1). But those events happened very many years earlier. The *Jews who lived during the rule of Artaxerxes were not a strong nation. Only a small number of people had returned to Judah from *exile. They did not have an army so they were not really a danger to the king. And they had no desire to oppose King Artaxerxes’s rule. They were loyal to him.

Also, the *Jews who went into *exile were very loyal to their rulers. In fact, *Jews often became important officials of the foreign kings who ruled them. And those kings trusted them greatly. We can read about that in the Books of Esther, Nehemiah and Daniel.

However, the king ordered the work to stop. But he did say that he could give the order for the work to start again. About 12 years later, Artaxerxes did allow Nehemiah to lead more *Jews back to Jerusalem to build the city again. We can read about that in the Book of Nehemiah.

v23 Then people read to Rehum, Shimshai the writer and their companions the copy of the letter from King Artaxerxes. So they went immediately to the *Jews in Jerusalem and forced them to stop work.

Verse 23 When the enemies of the *Jews received the reply from the king, they told the *Jews about it. They forced the *Jews to stop work.

v24 Then the work to build the house of God in Jerusalem stopped. It stopped until the second year during the rule of King Darius who was the king of Persia.

Verse 24 In this verse, Ezra returns to his earlier story (which he left at verse 5). He continues his account of the work to build the *temple. The work stopped because the *Jews were afraid of their enemies. The work did not start again until the rule of King Darius. That was about 16 years later.

Chapter 5

v1 Haggai and Zechariah (a *descendant of Iddo) were *prophets. They spoke messages from the God of Israel to the *Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem. v2 Then Zerubbabel (the son of Shealtiel) and Jeshua (the son of Jozadak) started to build the house of God in Jerusalem again. The *prophets of God were with them and helped them.

Verses 1-2 In this chapter, Ezra recorded what happened in the second year of King Darius’ rule. About 16 years had passed since the *Jews started to rebuild the *temple (Ezra 3:2). They had not continued with the work, because they were afraid of their enemies (Ezra 4:4-5).

During the second year of the rule of Darius, God sent *prophets to speak to the *Jews. Their names were Haggai and Zechariah. We can read what they said in the Books of Haggai and Zechariah in the Bible.

The *Jews were living in expensive houses, but they had not built the house of God (Haggai 1:2-4).

Then the *Jews obeyed the word of God, which the *prophets had spoken. The *Jews started to build the house of God again. The *prophets even helped them with the work.

v3 At that time, Tattenai was the chief official of the region beyond the Euphrates river. Tattenai, Shethar-Boznai and their companions went to Zerubbabel and Jeshua. They asked, ‘Who gave you authority to build this *temple again and to erect the wall?’ v4 We told them the names of the men who were erecting this building. v5 But God cared about the situation. So he was watching over the leaders of the *Jews. And nobody could stop the work until Darius had decided about the matter. So first, the officials had to send a report to Darius. And then they had to wait for his reply.

Verses 3-5 However, when the people started to build the house of God there were more problems. Some *Persian officials asked them who had given them authority to build.

Perhaps the other people in the country had complained to the officials. We have already seen that those people did not want the *Jews to build the house of God (Ezra 4:1-5).

During the rule of Darius, many people plotted revolutions against him. So perhaps the officials were worried about what the *Jews were building. The officials saw the large stones that they were using (Ezra 5:8). They might have thought that the *Jews were building a castle and not a *temple.

The *Jews were building the *temple in order to obey God. So God made sure that the work did not stop. The officials did not force the *Jews to stop work. Instead, the officials sent a letter to the king and then they waited for his reply.

v6 Tattenai was the chief official in the region beyond the Euphrates river. He, Shethar-Boznai and their companions, the officials in the region beyond the Euphrates, sent a letter to King Darius. This is a copy of the letter. v7 This is what the letter said:

‘To King Darius: We wish success to the king. v8 The king should know that we went to Judah. We went to the *temple of the great God. The people are building it with large stones. They are putting wood in the walls. They are working carefully and they are building it well. v9 We spoke to the leaders. We asked them “Who gave you authority to build this *temple again and to erect the wall?” v10 We also asked them their names. Then we wrote down the names of the leaders so that we could report to you.’

Verses 6-10 The officials wrote a letter to the king. They told him what they had seen in Jerusalem. They told the king what they had said to the *Jews.

v11 ‘They gave us this answer. “We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth and we are building this *temple again. A great king of Israel built it and he finished it many years ago. v12 But our *ancestors made the God of heaven angry. So he allowed Nebuchadnezzar the *Chaldean, the king of Babylonia, to defeat them. He destroyed this *temple and he took the people away to Babylonia.

v13 But Cyrus, king of Babylonia, ordered the people to build this house of God again. He did this in the first year of his rule. v14 Also, King Cyrus brought out gold and silver objects which were in the *temple in Babylonia. These objects belonged to the house of God. But Nebuchadnezzar had taken these objects from the *temple in Jerusalem and he had brought them to the *temple in Babylonia. King Cyrus gave these objects to a man called Sheshbazzar. Cyrus had appointed him as chief officer. v15 And Cyrus said to him, ‘Take these objects. Go and put them in the *temple in Jerusalem. And build the house of God again in its proper place.’

v16 So this man Sheshbazzar came and he made the base for the house of God in Jerusalem. The people have been building it from then until now. But they have still not finished.” ’

Verses 11-16 In their letter to the king, the officials explained to him what the *Jews had told them.

The *Jews told the officials that they served the real God. That is, God who made the heaven and the earth. So perhaps the officials wondered why people had been able to destroy the house of such a powerful God. So the *Jews told them about their history.

It was good for the *Jews to remember their history. They knew that their *ancestors had not obeyed the real God. Instead, those *ancestors had served other gods. The *Jews knew that God had punished their *ancestors. God had allowed their enemies to defeat them. And God had sent those *ancestors into *exile far away in Babylonia.

But God did not want his people to stay in *exile. After many years, God spoke into the heart of King Cyrus (Ezra 1:1). Cyrus did not actually hear God’s voice. But he knew what was the right thing to do. God told Cyrus to allow the *Jews to return to Judah. And God told him to allow them to build the house of God again. So Cyrus gave authority to the *Jews to build the house of God again. This was the answer to the question that the officials had asked. Cyrus even gave back to the *Jews the objects which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the first *temple.

Some Bible teachers think that Sheshbazzar is the same person as Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Haggai 1:1).

v17 ‘Perhaps the king may think that this is a good idea. Order people to search the royal records in Babylonia. They can check if King Cyrus did give the command to build the house of God in Jerusalem again. Then the king can tell us what he wants us to do.’

Verse 17 So the officials reported everything to King Darius. They suggested that the king should order people to search the official records in Babylonia. The records would prove if Cyrus had given authority to the *Jews to build the house of God again.

Then the officials waited for the king to tell them what to do.

Chapter 6

v1 Then King Darius gave a command. So people searched in the records. Those records were in the house of the records in the city called Babylon. v2 They found a book in the palace in Ecbatana, which is in the district called Media. This book contained the record below.

Verses 1-2 God cared about the construction of the *temple. So the *Jews did not have to stop the work on the *temple while they waited for Darius’ reply (Ezra 5:5). However, as they waited, their task may have seemed harder. Perhaps they worried that the king would order them to stop work. They probably had to wait quite a long time for the king’s reply.

Darius did what the officials had suggested. He ordered people to search the records and they found the right record. But they found the record in Ecbatana and not in the main city called Babylon. Ecbatana was one of the other cities where the king had a palace.

v3 ‘King Cyrus gave a command in the first year of his rule. This command was about the house of God in Jerusalem. “People must lay the base and they must rebuild the *temple. It is a place where people give *sacrifices. It must be 27 metres (89 feet) high and 27 metres wide. v4 It must have three rows of large stones and a row of wood. The king will pay the cost. v5 Also, you must return the objects of gold and silver which belong to the house of God. Nebuchadnezzar took these objects away from the *temple in Jerusalem and he brought them to Babylonia. You must return these objects to the right places in the *temple in Jerusalem. You must put them in the house of God.” ’

Verses 3-5 Here, Ezra copies the record of Cyrus’ command.

The record showed that the *Jews had spoken the truth (Ezra 5:13-15). Cyrus had ordered the *Jews to build the house of God again. He even said that he would pay the cost. He also told the *Jews to take the special gold and silver objects back to the *temple at Jerusalem.

The *Persian officials may have been worried about the large stones that the *Jews were using to build the *temple (Ezra 5:8). But Cyrus had actually ordered the *Jews to build the *temple with large stones.

v6 Darius wrote, ‘These are my instructions to you, Tattenai, the chief official in the region beyond the Euphrates river. And these are my instructions to Shethar-Boznai and your companions, the other officials in that region. Stay away from there. v7 Do not stop the work on this house of God. Allow the chief official of the *Jews and the leaders of the *Jews to rebuild this house of God. They must build it in its proper place. v8 Also, this is my command. You must do these things for these leaders of the *Jews as they build this house of God. Take care to pay to these men all the costs. The king will pay this from the taxes of the district beyond the Euphrates river. The work must not stop. v9 The priests may need young *bulls, male sheep and young sheep. They will burn these as *sacrifices to the God of heaven. They may need wheat, salt, wine and oil. Do not neglect to give each day whatever the priests in Jerusalem request. v10 Then they will be able to give *sacrifices which will please the God of heaven. And then they will pray for the life of the king and his sons.’

Verses 6-10 Ezra continues with the letter that King Darius wrote to his officials.

Darius told his officials that they must not stop the work. They must allow the *Jews to continue to build the *temple. In fact, the king ordered his officials to help the *Jews. He told them to take the taxes that they collected in the district. They must use this money to pay the costs of the work. He even told them to give to the *Jews whatever they needed for their *sacrifices to God.

Darius gave honour to many false gods. He did not serve the real God. But he still wanted the *Jews to pray to their God for him and for his family.

It is clear that God was using Darius in order to help the *Jews. Like Cyrus, Darius was acting as God’s agent, although neither king actually served God. But both kings also had a political reason for their actions. The *Persian kings were often good to the people whom they had defeated. Then the people would not oppose the king and the country would have peace.

v11 Darius continued, ‘I also make another command. If anyone changes this law, people must take a beam from his house. Hang that man’s dead body on this beam. Make his house into a pile of rubbish. v12 No king or people must do anything to change this law or to destroy the *temple in Jerusalem. I ask the God who lives there to defeat any such person. I, Darius, have made this law. Now obey it with care.’

Verses 11-12 Darius made another command. He believed that it was very important for the *Jews to rebuild the *temple. His officials must allow the *Jews to build and they must help the *Jews. Darius would punish greatly anyone who did not obey this command.

God was now speaking into the heart of another king of Persia (Ezra 1:1). God did this so that God’s people, the *Jews, would rebuild the *temple. Like Cyrus, Darius did not actually hear God’s voice. But he knew what was the right thing to do.

v13 Then Tattenai the chief official in the region beyond the Euphrates river, Shethar-Boznai and their companions acted with care. They did what King Darius ordered. v14 So the leaders of the *Jews continued to build. Haggai the *prophet and Zechariah (a *descendant of Iddo) spoke the word of God. And the leaders of the *Jews had success. They finished the construction of the *temple as the God of Israel had ordered. This was also the command of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, the kings of Persia. v15 The *Jews completed the *temple on the third day of the month called Adar. This was in the sixth (6th) year of the rule of King Darius.

Verses 13-15 So Tattenai and the other *Persian officials obeyed the king; and the *Jews were able to build the *temple. The kings of Persia and their officials helped the *Jews. The *prophets helped them too and the leaders of the *Jews led the people well.

They built the *temple as God had ordered. And they finished it 4 years later. That was about 515 *BC. This was about 70 years after the *Babylonians had destroyed the first *temple.

Many years before, God had spoken by his *prophet Jeremiah. The punishment that God gave to the *Jews would only last for 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10).

v16 Then the *people of Israel gathered for a special opening ceremony to give the *temple to God. Everyone was happy: the priests, the *Levites and the rest of the people who had returned from *exile. v17 When they gave this *temple to God, they offered *sacrifices. They gave a *sacrifice of 100 *bulls, 200 male sheep and 400 young male sheep. They also gave a *sacrifice of 12 male goats. They offered one goat for the *sin of each of the large families that make up the entire nation called Israel. v18 They appointed the priests in their groups and the *Levites in their groups. These groups would serve God in Jerusalem as God ordered in the book of Moses.

Verses 16-18 The *Jews were able to be happy again because they had obeyed God. They had built the *temple again. The new *temple was not as large as the first one. Neither was the opening ceremony as large as the time when the first *temple was complete (2 Chronicles 7:4-6). At that time God had spoken to King Solomon who built the first *temple. God said that he would protect both the people and the *temple. But if the people did not obey him then he would punish them. He would take them away from the country that he had given to them. And he would leave the *temple (2 Chronicles 7:11-22). That is what happened. That is why the *Jews had been in *exile. And that is why they had to build the new *temple.

The people appointed priests and *Levites to serve God in the new *temple. Many years earlier, God had told Moses how the priests and *Levites should serve in the *temple. Moses wrote these commands in his books (Numbers 3:6-9; 18:1-32).

v19 On the 14th day of the first month the people who had returned from *exile had the *Passover holiday. v20 The priests and the *Levites had carried out a ceremony so that they would be ready to serve God. Then they killed a young sheep for the *Passover holiday. They did this for all the people who had returned from *exile, for their companions the priests, and for themselves. v21 So the *people of Israel who had returned from *exile ate the *Passover meal. And all the other people who had chosen to serve the *LORD, the God of Israel, ate with them. (These people had chosen not to follow the wrong behaviour of their neighbours, who were not *Jews. So these people had separated themselves from their neighbours.) v22 The *people of Israel also had the holiday of the Special Flat Bread for 7 days. They had great joy because the *LORD had given them joy. He had changed the attitude of the king of Assyria towards them. Then the king helped them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

Verses 19-22 Soon after the people completed the *temple, they had the *Passover holiday. This reminded them of the time when God brought their *ancestors out of the country called Egypt. At that time, God told them always to have the *Passover holiday to remember the first *Passover (Exodus 12:1-14). They also had the holiday of the Special Flat Bread. This reminded them of the special bread that their *ancestors ate on that occasion. This bread was flat because the *ancestors left too quickly to allow the bread to rise (Exodus 12:15-20). God told them always to have this holiday to remember their history (Exodus 13:3-10). The holiday would remind them that they, and their nation, have a special relationship with God.

Some *Jews were already living in Judah when the people returned from *exile. These *Jews were poor people whose families remained in Judah at the time of the *exile. Many such people simply joined the other nations that were near Judah. But when the people returned from *exile, some of these *Jews wanted to join them. They too wanted to serve God. And they wanted to be a part of the new nation.

So these *Jews separated themselves from their neighbours who were not *Jews. And they began to behave as God’s law orders. They joined the people who had returned from *exile at the *Passover meal. And together, they were all very glad because of the things that God had done for them.

Chapter 7

In the first 6 chapters of the Book of Ezra, we read about the people who returned from *exile. We read how they built the *temple of God in Jerusalem again.

The events in the rest of the book happened almost 60 years later in 458 *BC. At last, the man Ezra appears in the Book of Ezra.

v1 After all this happened, Ezra came during the rule of Artaxerxes, the king of Persia. Ezra was the son of Seraiah. Seraiah was the son of Azariah. Azariah was the son of Hilkiah. v2 Hilkiah was the son of Shallum. Shallum was the son of Zadok. Zadok was the son of Ahitub. v3 Ahitub was the son of Amariah. Amariah was the son of Azariah. Azariah was the son of Meraioth. v4 Meraioth was the son of Zerahiah. Zerahiah was the son of Uzzi. Uzzi was the son of Bukki. v5 Bukki was the son of Abishua. Abishua was the son of Phinehas. Phinehas was the son of Eleazar. Eleazar was the son of Aaron who was the chief priest.

Verses 1-5 The rules of King Darius and King Xerxes have finished and Artaxerxes is the king of Persia. We have already read something about King Xerxes and King Artaxerxes in the book of Ezra (Ezra 4:6-23). We can also read more about King Xerxes in the Book of Esther in the Bible.

God had brought many of his people, the *Jews, back to Judah. They had built the *temple again in Jerusalem. Now there was another step (development) in God’s plan. God wanted to make the people a real nation again. God wanted to make a nation that *worshipped him, the only real God. And God had chosen a special man, Ezra, to have a part in God’s plan.

Ezra was a *descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Only the *descendants of Aaron could be priests. So it was important that a priest knew the history of his family. (See Ezra 2:61-63.)

v6 This Ezra came from Babylonia. He knew very well the law of Moses that the *LORD, the God of Israel, had given. And Ezra was a skilled teacher of that law. The king had given Ezra everything that Ezra had asked for. This happened because the *LORD his God was with Ezra.

v7 Some of the *people of Israel also came to Jerusalem. There were priests, *Levites, singers, men who guarded the gates and *temple servants. This was in the 7th year of the rule of King Artaxerxes.

v8 Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the 5th month of the 7th year of the king’s rule.

v9 Ezra had started his journey from Babylonia on the first day of the first month. He arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the 5th month because God was taking care of him. v10 Ezra’s sincere desire was to study and to obey the law of the *LORD. And so Ezra worked hard to teach its commands and laws among the *people of Israel.

Verses 6-10 God needed a special man to teach the people about God’s law. Ezra had learned how to copy the books that contained God’s words. So Ezra had studied hard and he knew the law of God. Ezra was also a very good teacher so he could teach the people the law of God. And God was with Ezra because God had chosen him to teach the people.

Ezra lived in Babylonia. He went to the king of Persia to ask for help. And the king gave him everything that he had asked for. God was helping Ezra. God was preparing Ezra for the task that God wanted him to do.

Ezra travelled to Jerusalem in Judah. And *Levites and other priests went with him. Other people who would help in the work of the *temple also travelled with Ezra to Jerusalem. They travelled for 4 months to go from Babylonia to Jerusalem. It was a long journey of about 600 kilometres (370 miles). But they arrived safely because God was helping them.

v11 This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest and teacher. Ezra was a teacher of the commands and laws of the *LORD for the *people of Israel.

Verse 11 King Artaxerxes gave a letter to Ezra.

In this letter, the king tells Ezra what to do when Ezra goes to Jerusalem. The letter also has instructions for the leaders of the people whom Ezra will meet in Judah.

v12 ‘From King Artaxerxes, the king of kings, to Ezra, the priest and teacher of the law of the God of heaven. I greet you. v13 This is my command for any of the *people of Israel, including priests and *Levites, who are in my *kingdom. If they want to go to Jerusalem, they may go with you.

v14 The king and the 7 men who advise him send you. You must inquire about Judah and Jerusalem. You have the law of your God in your hand. So, you must find out if the people are obeying it. v15 Also take with you silver and gold. The king and the men who advise him have freely given this silver and gold. They have given it to the God of Israel who lives in Jerusalem. v16 Also take all the silver and gold that you can obtain in the district called Babylonia. And take the gifts that the people have given freely. Also, take the gifts from the priests. The people and the priests have given these gifts freely for the *temple of their God that is in Jerusalem. v17 Then, with this money, you must buy *bulls, male sheep, young sheep and gifts of grain and drink. Do this carefully. Then give them all as a *sacrifice on the *altar in the house of your God in Jerusalem. v18 Then, with the rest of the silver and gold, you and your companions may do what seems right to you. Use it in the way that your God wants you to use it. v19 You have received objects for the *worship in the *temple of your God. Deliver these to the God of Jerusalem. v20 If you need anything else for the *temple of your God, provide it. The king will pay the cost.’

Verses 12-20 Artaxerxes did not really *worship the real God. Kings Cyrus and Darius, who ruled before Artaxerxes, did not *worship the real God either. However they all helped the *Jews after the *exile because God was in control. God even used great kings who did not serve him to bring about his plan for his people. God made these kings to be generous to the *Jews and to the work at the *temple.

These kings also had political reasons for their actions. The kings wanted the people that they ruled over to be content. The people would be content if they were freely able to *worship their own gods. Also the kings wanted the gods that their people *worshipped to be kind to them too (Ezra 6:10; 7:23). So God did not force these kings to do his work. They did these things because they wanted to.

So King Artaxerxes sent Ezra to Jerusalem. The king allowed other *Jews to go with Ezra if they wanted to. The king told Ezra to make sure that the people in Judah were obeying the law of God.

The king also gave Ezra silver and gold from Babylonia to pay for the work of the *temple. The king told Ezra to use this silver and gold to pay for the *sacrifices to God. If Ezra needed anything more for the work of the *temple then the king would pay the cost.

v21 ‘And I, King Artaxerxes, make a law. This law is for all those who look after the money in the district beyond the Euphrates river. You must give to Ezra whatever he asks from you. Ezra is the priest and the teacher of the law of the God of heaven. You must do this carefully. v22 You must give him *up to 3.4 tons of silver, 22 000 litres (5800 gallons) of wheat, 2200 litres (580 gallons) of wine, 2200 litres (580 gallons) of oil. Also, give him as much salt as he requests. v23 You must do carefully whatever the God of heaven demands for the *temple of the God of heaven. We do not want him to be angry with the king’s nation or the king’s sons. v24 We also order that you must not take any kind of taxes from any of these people. Do not tax the priests, the *Levites, the singers, the people who guard the gates nor the *temple servants. Do not tax any other people who work at this house of God.’

Verses 21-24 The king’s letter also gave orders to the leaders of the people in the district round Judah. The king ordered his officials to help the *Jews. He told them to give the *Jews all that they needed for their *sacrifices to God. He even told them not to take taxes from the people who worked in the *temple. The king did not want the God whom the *Jews served to be angry with him.

v25 ‘And you, Ezra, you have the wisdom of your God. Use that wisdom to appoint judges who will *judge the people in the district beyond the Euphrates river. The judges will *judge all the people who know the laws of your God. You must teach anyone who does not know these laws. v26 You must punish anyone who does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king. Take care to do this. You can punish such people by death or you can send them away from the country. You can take away their property or you can put them in prison.’

Verses 25-26 King Artaxerxes knew that Ezra was a wise man. He knew that God had given Ezra this wisdom. The king wanted the people to obey the law of God as well as the laws of the *kingdom. So the king gave the authority to Ezra to appoint men who would be good judges. The king also ordered Ezra to teach the law of God to the people. The king also gave legal authority to Ezra. Ezra should punish anyone who did not obey the law of God or the law of the king.

v27 Let us praise the *LORD, the God of our *ancestors. He has given the desire to the king to do these things. The *LORD has given the desire to the king to give honour to the house of the *LORD in Jerusalem. v28 The *LORD has shown kindness to me in front of the king and the men who advise the king. The *LORD has shown kindness to me in front of all the king’s powerful officials. I had courage because the *LORD my God was with me. So I gathered some chief men from the *people of Israel to go with me.

Verses 27-28 Ezra might have been afraid to go to ask the king for help. (See Esther 4:11.) But he knew that God was with him. He knew that God had made the king do all these things to help Ezra and the *Jews. God had even given these good desires to the men who advised the king.

So Ezra went to Judah with some of the leaders of the *Jews.

Chapter 8

v1 This is the list of the families and the chief men in the families. They came with me from Babylonia during the rule of King Artaxerxes.

v2 Gershom from the *descendants of Phinehas,

Daniel from the *descendants of Ithamar,

From the *descendants of David, Hattush,

v3 from the *descendants of Shecaniah.

Zechariah from the *descendants of Parosh.

There were 150 men from his family with him.

v4 Eliehoenai, who was the son of Zerahiah, from the *descendants of Pahath-Moab.

There were 200 men with him.

v5 Shecaniah, who was the son of Jahaziel, from the *descendants of Zattu.

There were 300 men with him.

v6 Ebed, who was the son of Jonathan, from the *descendants of Adin.

There were 50 men with him.

v7 Jeshaiah, who was the son of Athaliah, from the *descendants of Elam.

There were 70 men with him.

v8 Zebadiah, who was the son of Michael, from the *descendants of Shephatiah.

There were 80 men with him.

v9 Obadiah, who was the son of Jehiel, from the *descendants of Joab.

There were 218 men with him.

v10 Shelomith, who was the son of Josiphiah, from the *descendants of Bani.

There were 160 men with him.

v11 Zechariah, who was the son of Bebai, from the *descendants of Bebai.

There were 28 men with him.

v12 Johanan, who was the son of Hakkatan, from the *descendants of Azgad.

There were 110 men with him

v13 Eliphelet, Jeuel and Shemaiah who were the last of the *descendants of Adonikam.

There were 60 men with them.

v14 Uthai and Zaccur who were the *descendants of Bigvai.

There were 70 men with them.

Verses 1-14 In chapter 7 we read about the journey that Ezra made to Judah with some of the *people of Israel. Ezra had found some of the chief men of Israel to go with him (Ezra 7:28). These chief men brought members of their families with them. And Ezra recorded the names of these men and the number of family members who came with them. Many of them were relatives of the first *Jews to return from the *exile almost 80 years earlier (Ezra 2:3-65). We do not know much about these men and their families, but they were important to God. God knew that they were leaving their homes in Babylonia. In Babylonia, they probably had comfortable lives and perhaps some of them were wealthy. God knew that they were going on a long journey. They were going to live in a place that, probably, they had never seen before. There they would have to work hard to make God’s people, the *Jews, into a proper nation again. They had made this brave decision because they wanted to serve God. So they wanted to live in the new nation that he was establishing.

v15 I gathered them together at the river that flows to Ahava. We stayed there in tents for three days. I checked the people and the priests but I did not find any *Levites there. v16 So I asked the leaders to come to me. The leaders were Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam. I also asked Joiarib and Elnathan to come to me. They were wise men. v17 I sent these men to Iddo who was the leader in the place called Casiphia. I told them what to say to Iddo and to his companions in Casiphia who were *temple servants. I asked Iddo and his companions to send us men to serve in the house of our God.

Verses 15-17 After the group had left Babylonia they stopped to rest by a river. Ezra took the opportunity to check the people who were travelling with him. Then he discovered that there were no *Levites in the group. Ezra would need *Levites to help him when they arrived at Jerusalem. The *Levites had an important job. They helped their relatives the priests in the work at the *temple.

Ezra was trusting God to help him with the task that he would have to do in Jerusalem. And Ezra realised that he had to do something about this problem. So Ezra chose some of the leaders and wise men from the group. He sent them to a place called Casiphia. The families of many people who used to work in the *temple were living there. That is why Ezra sent these men there. They asked the leader of the *Jews in Casiphia to send them some men to join the group of travellers. Ezra wanted more men to serve in the *temple when they arrived in Jerusalem.

Those *Levites would have the opportunity to serve God in a special way. But it would not be easy for them. They had to leave their homes in order to travel to an unfamiliar country. Sometimes today, God may ask us to do similar things. And sometimes we may not even consider ourselves capable to do his work. But when our lives are difficult, we can always trust God. God will provide the skills that we need to do his work.

v18 Because God was helping us, they brought to us Sherebiah and his sons and brothers. There were a total of 18 men. Sherebiah was a capable man who was a *descendant of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel. v19 They also brought Hashabiah, Jeshaiah, who was a *descendant of Merari, and Jeshaiah’s brothers and their sons. There were a total of 20 men. v20 They also brought 220 of the men who served in the *temple. David and his officials had established these *temple servants to assist the *Levites. The names of all these men were in the registers.

Verses 18-20 Ezra was right to trust God and, again, God helped him. The *Jews at Casiphia found some good men who were willing to go to Judah. They sent several *Levites to Ezra. They even sent many other men who would help in the work at the *temple.

v21 There, by the river Ahava, I declared that we would not eat food. We would be humble in order to serve our God. Then we would ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. v22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the journey. We had said to the king, ‘Our God looks after everyone who trusts him. But he is very angry with everyone who refuses to trust him.’ v23 So we did not eat food. We asked God for his help in this matter, and he heard our prayer.

Verses 21-23 Before they left their camp by the river the people prayed. Ezra told them not to eat food. Sometimes people do not eat food for a short time in order to be humble.

Ezra knew that it was important to pray to God about the long journey ahead of them. They needed God to protect them. And they needed his protection for the precious things that they were carrying (Ezra 7:15-16; 7:22; 8:25-27). Ezra had not asked the king for soldiers to go with them to protect them. He had told the king about God’s care for the people who love him.

And, again, God helped Ezra. He protected them on the journey although they did not have any soldiers with them. That was how God answered Ezra’s prayer.

(A few years later Nehemiah led another group of *Jews back to Judah. The king did send soldiers with Nehemiah on that journey. Nehemiah believed that God helped him in that way. God made the king give Nehemiah everything that he asked for. See Nehemiah 2:8; Nehemiah 2:18.)

v24 Then I chose 12 of the leaders of the priests, and Sherebiah and Hashabiah and 10 members of their families. v25 I weighed the silver and the gold and the objects. Then I handed them to these men. These things included the gifts that the king, his advisers and his officials had given. And these things also included the gifts from all the *people of Israel who were present there. These gifts were for the house of our God. v26 I weighed and I handed to them 22 tons of silver. I also handed to them silver objects that weighed 3.4 tons and 3.4 tons of gold. v27 There were also 20 gold bowls that weighed 8.5 kilos (19 pounds). And there were 2 shining *bronze objects. These were as precious as gold. v28 And I said to these men, ‘You are holy for the *LORD. These objects are also holy. The gold and the silver are a special gift to the *LORD, the God of our *ancestors. v29 Guard these things with care until you weigh them again in the rooms of the house of the *LORD in Jerusalem. The chief priests and the *Levites and the heads of the families of Israel will watch you do that.’ v30 So the priests and the *Levites took the silver and gold and holy objects that I had weighed. They had to take these things to the house of our God in Jerusalem.

Verses 24-30 The king and his officials had given many precious gifts for the *temple of God in Jerusalem. These things were gold, silver and *bronze objects. People used to polish *bronze well, and they considered it to be precious too. Ezra chose some of the leaders to look after these things on the journey. This was a very important task. Ezra would have chosen men whom he could trust. And these men did what Ezra asked them to do.

Ezra weighed all the objects before they left their camp by the river. Then he could be sure that nobody would steal these precious things.

We must be very careful with the money and other gifts that people give for the work of God. We must find people whom we can trust to look after these things. And we too must be people whom other people can trust. Other people should be able to trust us with anything, not just God’s money.

Ezra wrote this part of the book himself. In the book, he refers to Israel. There was not actually a nation called Israel at the time. But that was God’s name for his special people, the *Jews. And God had promised to Abraham that he would make the *Jews into a great nation (Genesis 22:17-18; 26:1-5).

v31 We left the river Ahava on the 12th day of the first month to go to Jerusalem. Our God looked after us. He protected us from enemies on the way. And he protected us from anyone who might attack us. v32 Then we arrived in Jerusalem and we stayed there for three days. v33 On the 4th day we went to the house of our God. There we weighed the silver and gold and the holy objects. We handed them to Meremoth the priest (the son of Uriah). Eleazar (the son of Phinehas) was with Meremoth. Jozabad (the son of Jeshua) and Noadiah (the son of Binnui) were also there. They were *Levites. v34 We counted and weighed everything. And we recorded the weight of everything at that time.

v35 Then the people who had returned from the *exile burned *sacrifices to the God of Israel. They gave 12 *bulls for all the *Israelites, 96 male sheep and 77 young sheep. Also they gave 12 male goats as a *sacrifice because of *sin. They burned all these animals as a *sacrifice to the *LORD.

v36 The people also delivered the king’s commands to the local royal officials. And the people delivered the king’s commands to the rulers of the district beyond the Euphrates river. These officials and rulers then helped the people and the house of God.

Verses 31-36 God answered the prayer of Ezra and his companions. They travelled for almost 4 more months to get to Jerusalem. There might have been many thieves on the way, but God protected them. God kept them safe until they arrived in Jerusalem with all the precious gifts.

The travellers rested for three days and then they went to the *temple. They brought the precious objects with them and they weighed them at the *temple. Everything was safe. They did not lose anything on the journey nor did anyone steal anything. So they gave *sacrifices to God. They wanted to thank God because he had kept them and the precious objects safe on the long journey. They also wanted to ask God to forgive them for their *sins.

The travellers also delivered the king’s letter (Ezra 7:21-24) to the officials and rulers in the district. Then those officials and rulers obeyed the king’s command. They helped the people and the work at the *temple.

God had helped Ezra and his companions on their journey. The first part of Ezra’s task had been successful. The next part of Ezra’s task was to teach God’s law to the *Israelites.

Chapter 9

v1 After these things had happened, the leaders came to me. They said, ‘The *people of Israel have not kept themselves separate from the people from the nations round us. These people belong to the nations called the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. The *people of Israel are doing the evil things that these other people do. Even the priests and the *Levites are doing these things. v2 The *people of Israel and their sons have married some of the daughters of these other people. So the holy people have mixed themselves with the people from other nations. And the leaders and the officials are especially guilty. They have led the people to do this evil thing.’

Verses 1-2 Not long after Ezra arrived in Judah, some of the leaders came to see him. They had bad news for Ezra. The *Jews had not obeyed God’s law. In fact, the leaders of the *Jews had led the people in this *sin. Even the priests and the *Levites had not obeyed God’s law.

God’s law said that the *Jews must keep themselves separate from the nations round them. The people in these nations did evil things and they *worshipped false gods. God knew that the *Jews would imitate their evil behaviour. So he ordered the *Jews not to allow these people to join them (Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:2-6; Deuteronomy 18:9-13).

Some *Jewish men had married women from these other nations. God had ordered the *Jews not to marry these foreigners. Some of these *Jewish men had probably married foreign women for a commercial reason. They wanted to make friends with the people from other nations. Then they could trade with them and they could make more money.

Such things still happen today, of course. People often *sin because of their desire for money. Paul warned Timothy about this matter (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Christians should aim to be content with whatever God provides for them. The person who cares too much about wealth will damage his relationship with God.

The nations called Hittites, Jebusites and Canaanites were among the original inhabitants of the country called Canaan (Deuteronomy 7:1). Because of the terrible *sins of these people, God gave their land to the *Israelites. This happened at the time of Joshua.

The nations called Ammonites and Moabites were *descendants of Moab and Benammi. Moab and Benammi were the sons of Lot. They were born after Lot’s daughters made him *sin (Genesis 19:30-38). The Ammonites and Moabites were always the enemies of the *Jews. And the Moabites persuaded the *Jews to serve false gods at the time of Moses (Numbers 25:1-5).

(Ruth was from Moab but she became an *ancestor of Jesus. God even allowed Moabites to join his special people the *Jews if they really *worshipped him. See Ruth 1:16; Ruth 1:22; Matthew 1:1-16.)

God made King Solomon to be very wise. But even Solomon was not wise when he married foreign women. And they led him to *worship other false gods (1 Kings 11:1-13).

The *prophet Malachi lived at about the same time as Ezra. God spoke to the people by Malachi about this matter too. The men of Malachi’s time also married foreign women. So Malachi said that they were not obeying God (Malachi 2:10-16).

God wanted the *Jews to become a strong nation. But they could not become a strong nation if they were not separate from the other nations. And they could not be loyal to God if they did not obey his laws.

v3 When I heard this I tore my clothes and my coat. I pulled hair from my head and my beard and I sat down. This news was a terrible shock for me. v4 Then everyone who wanted to obey the words of the God of Israel gathered round me. They were afraid. The people who had returned from the *exile were not loyal to God. So I felt great shock as I continued to sit there until the evening *sacrifice.

Verses 3-4 Ezra felt great shock because of this bad news and he was very sad. He tore his clothes and he pulled out his hair. These things showed how very sad he was. The *Jews used to behave in such a manner when they were sad about someone’s death. At other times, *Jewish men took care of their hair, and they had long beards. If they lost their hair, they would feel ashamed. So Ezra’s behaviour shows how much this news had upset him.

Some of the people did want to obey God. They knew that this *sin would make God very angry. So they were ashamed too and they sat with Ezra.

Ezra sat down until the time when the priests would burn the evening *sacrifice.

v5 Then at the evening *sacrifice I got up. I had not eaten and I had torn my clothes and my coat. Then I knelt down and I spread out my hands to the *LORD my God.

Verse 5 Then Ezra started to pray. He went down on his knees and he spread out his hands. He wanted to show God that he felt very humble and ashamed. He did not eat food. Often people did not eat food when they were very sad. Then they would have more time to pray.

v6 And I prayed, ‘Oh, my God, I am ashamed and my face is red with shame. So I cannot look towards you, my God, because our *sins are vast. They seem higher than our heads. And the evil things that we have done are many. They seem to rise up to the heavens. v7 From the time of our *ancestors until now, our *sins have been enormous. Foreign kings have defeated us and our kings and priests because of our *sins. People have attacked us with swords and they have taken us into *exile. They have taken our property and they have made us ashamed. It is the same today.’

Verses 6-7 Ezra did obey God. His job was to teach God’s law to the people (Ezra 7:10). He had not done the wrong things that some of the *Jews had done. But he prayed to God as if he too had done the wrong things.

Ezra confessed to God that the people had done wrong things all through their history. He knew that God had punished the people in the past because of their *sins. God had allowed other nations to defeat the *Jews because the *Jews had not obeyed God. Now, in Ezra’s time, the people still did not obey God’s laws.

v8 ‘But now, for a very short time, the *LORD our God has shown his kindness to us. He has allowed some of our people to return from *exile. He has given us security in his holy place. So he comforts us. His light makes our eyes bright. And he gives us a little freedom from those who make us slaves. v9 Although we are slaves, God has not left us to be slaves. The kings of Persia have seen that God has shown his kindness to us. God has given us a new opportunity to build the house of our God again and to repair it. He has protected us in Judah and in Jerusalem.’

Verses 8-9 Although the *Jews had done wrong things all through their history, God loved them. He punished them many times and he sent foreign armies to defeat them. But then he was kind to them and he allowed them to be free again. Now, in Ezra’s time, God had done that again. God had allowed some of the people to return to Judah from *exile. He had helped them to build the *temple in Jerusalem again. He had even made the kings of Persia to be kind to them. Ezra knew that God had allowed all these things to happen.

v10-11 ‘But we have not obeyed your laws which you ordered by your servants the *prophets. So now, our God, there is nothing more that we can say. At that time you said, “You are entering a country in order to possess it. The people in this country have spoiled it because of the evil things that they have done. Their wicked acts are like dirt that has filled the country from one end to the other end. v12 So, do not allow your daughters to marry their sons. And do not take their daughters as wives for your sons. Do not ever help them to have peace or wealth. Then you will be strong and you will eat the good things in the country. You will be able to leave the country to your *descendants permanently.” ’

Verses 10-12 Although God had been kind to his people once again, they still did not obey his laws. God had given to their *ancestors the good country called Israel. God had been angry with the people who had lived in the country. These other people had done very wicked things, so God told the *Jews to be separate from them. God told the *Jews not to marry people from these other nations. If the *Jews obeyed God then he would help them (the *Jews). He would let them be content and successful in the country. Their *descendants would always live there.

But the *Jews during Ezra’s time did not obey God. They did the same things that their *ancestors had done. Ezra knew that they had no proper excuse for their actions.

v13 ‘All these things have happened to us because of our evil acts and because we have not obeyed you. But, our God, you have punished us less than our *sins deserved. And you have rescued us from *exile. v14 We must not neglect your commands again. We must not marry the people who do such evil things. We do not want you to be so angry with us that you would end our nation. Then nobody would remain. Nobody would escape. v15 Oh, *LORD, God of Israel, you are completely good and fair. You have allowed us to escape from *exile and we are here today. We are responsible to you for our *sins. And, because of our *sins, we are ashamed. None of us has the right to stand in front of you.’

Verses 13-15 Ezra knew that God had punished those *ancestors. They had not obeyed God, so many bad things happened to them. But Ezra also knew that God had still been kind to them. God had punished them less than their *sins deserved.

Ezra realised that the people’s *sin was very severe. Again the people had neglected God’s law. Again they were guilty. So Ezra asked God to show his kindness, as he had done so many times before. The people deserved nothing from God apart from punishment and death. But God is completely good and fair. He does not desire the death of his people. He wants them to turn to him with a humble and sincere attitude. He wants them to trust him. He wants to forgive.

And this is still the situation, even today. We deserve nothing from God. We have *sinned and we cannot become right by our own efforts. But God sent Jesus, his son, to rescue us from our *sin. And God will forgive us if we humbly confess our *sins to him. We can only have a right relationship with God because of his great kindness.

Chapter 10

v1 Ezra prayed and he confessed. He wept and he threw himself onto the ground in front of the house of God. As he was doing these things, a large crowd of the *people of Israel gathered with him. There were men, women and children and they all wept aloud.

Verse 1 Ezra was in front of the house of God when he prayed. He had torn his clothes and he had pulled hair from his head and his beard. Many people gathered with him. They did not just come to see what he was doing. They also wept aloud because they too were sad about the *sins of the people (Ezra 9:3-4).

v2 Then Shecaniah (the son of Jehiel) spoke to Ezra. Shecaniah was one of the *descendants of Elam. He said, ‘We have not obeyed God. We have married foreign women from the nations round us. However, there is still hope for Israel. v3 So we should now make a promise to our God. We will promise to send away all these women and their children. We will follow your advice, master. And we will follow the advice of those people who are afraid because of the command of our God. We want to obey God’s law. v4 Get up. This matter is your duty. We will support you. So, act with courage.’

Verses 2-4 A man called Shecaniah spoke to Ezra. Shecaniah was also very sad because of the *sins of the people. He had not married a foreign wife (Ezra 10:18-44), but some of his relatives had (Ezra 10:26). Shecaniah knew that there was still hope for Israel. He knew that God still loved the *people of Israel. But the people had to turn away from their *sins if they wanted God to forgive them. Shecaniah suggested that the *Jewish men should send their foreign wives away. Then they would obey God’s commands again. It was Ezra’s duty to make sure that the people obeyed God’s laws (Ezra 7:25-26). Shecaniah promised that the people would support Ezra in his task.

v5 So Ezra got up. He made the leaders of the priests and the *Levites and all the *people of Israel make the promise. So they made the promise that they had suggested.

Verse 5 Ezra agreed with Shecaniah’s proposal. So Ezra made sure that all the people promised to send away the foreign women.

v6 Then Ezra went away from the front of the house of God. He went to Jehohanan’s room. Jehohanan was the son of Eliashib. While Ezra was there, he did not eat any food. He did not drink any water either. The people who had returned after the *exile had not been loyal to God. So Ezra was still very sad.

Verse 6 Although the people had made a good promise, Ezra was still very sad. He went to a more private place. And he did not eat or drink. This showed that he was sad. He probably prayed to God again while he was there.

v7 Then the leaders issued a declaration in all Judah and Jerusalem. They called all the people who had returned from the *exile to gather in Jerusalem. v8 The officials and the leaders made a command. Anyone who did not come in three days would lose all his property. The people who had returned from the *exile would also separate that person from them.

Verses 7-8 The leaders of the people wanted to be sure that the people performed their promise. So the leaders ordered all the people to gather in Jerusalem in three days.

If the people really wanted to be part of God’s special people, the *Jews, then they would come to Jerusalem. Anyone who did not obey would lose all his property. And that person would not continue to belong to God’s special people, the *Jews.

v9 After three days, all the men from the families of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. It was the 20th day in the 9th month. All the people sat in the square in front of the house of God. They were trembling with fear. This was because of the affair and also because of the heavy rain. v10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and he spoke to the people. He said, ‘You have not been loyal to God. You have married foreign women. Therefore, you have made Israel even more guilty. v11 Now confess to the *LORD, the God of your *ancestors. And do what pleases him. Separate yourselves from the people in the nations round you. And separate yourselves from your foreign wives.’

Verses 9-11 So all the people gathered in Jerusalem as their leaders had ordered. The people were very sorry about their *sins. It was the rainy season so they were also unhappy because of the rain.

Ezra reminded the people that they had not obeyed God’s laws. He told them to confess their *sins to God. And he told them to do what would please God. They must send away their foreign wives. Also, they must separate themselves from the evil people who lived round them. They could not continue to have such close relationships with people who opposed God.

v12 Then all the people who had gathered answered. They said in a loud voice, ‘We agree. We must do what you have said. v13 But there are many people here. It is the rainy season and we cannot stand outside. Many people have *sinned in this affair. So we cannot deal with it in one or two days. v14 Our leaders should act for all the people. They should select days for judgement. Everyone in our cities who has taken a foreign wife should come on those days. They should come with the leaders and judges from each city. This must happen until our God stops being angry with us for this affair.’

v15 Only Jonathan (the son of Asahel) and Jahaziah (the son of Tikvah) did not agree with this. And Meshullam and Shabbethai (the *Levite) supported them.

Verses 12-15 The people agreed with Ezra. They knew that they had *sinned. They knew that they must obey Ezra’s order.

However, the people did not want to do this in a hurry. They would send their foreign wives away, but the arrangements would take time. So the people made a recommendation to Ezra. They proposed that their leaders should *judge each man with a foreign wife.

Only a few men did not agree with this plan.

v16 So the people who had returned from the *exile did this. Ezra the priest chose men who were the heads of the families. He chose each by name and he separated them by their families. They sat down on the first day of the 10th month to examine the affair. v17 Their task was complete on the first day of the first month. By then, they had finished dealing with all the men who had married foreign women.

Verses 16-17 Ezra agreed with the people’s plan. And he chose the heads of the families who would *judge the people. Ezra chose men who knew the people. They would be able to *judge fairly.

The heads of the families *judged each man who had a foreign wife. They finished this task after three months.

The Bible does not tell us what happened to these women afterwards. Probably they returned to their fathers’ families, as a widow might do. And they took their children with them. It is likely that the men also had to return the wedding gifts from the women’s families. Perhaps the men also paid money to the women.

These men had to separate themselves completely from their foreign wives. Clearly, that was not a nice thing to do. But that was the result of their *sin when they married these women. The result of *sin is never pleasant. Even after God forgives us, we must sometimes suffer the results of our *sin.

v18 Some of the *descendants of the priests had married foreign women:

·    There were Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib and Gedaliah. These men were the *descendants of Jeshua (the son of Jozadak) and his brothers. v19 (They all promised to send away their wives. And, because they were guilty, they made a *sacrifice of a male sheep. That was their *sacrifice for their *sin.)

·    v20 There were Hanani and Zebadiah, who were the *descendants of Immer.

·    v21 There were Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel and Uzziah, who were the *descendants of Harim.

·    v22 There were Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad and Elasah, who were the *descendants of Pashhur.

v23 There were *Levites too:

·    There were Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (who was Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah and Eliezer.

·    v24 There was Eliashib from among the singers.

·    And there were Shallum, Telem and Uri. (They were among the men who guarded the gates.)

v25 And from the rest of the *people of Israel, there were the men in the list below:

·    There were Ramiah, Jeziah, Malchiah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malchijah and Benaiah. They were the *descendants of Parosh.

·    v26 There were Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth and Elijah. They were the *descendants of Elam.

·    v27 There were Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad and Aziza. They were the *descendants of Zattu.

·    v28 There were Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai and Athlai. They were the *descendants of Bebai.

·    v29 There were Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal and Jeremoth. They were the *descendants of Bani.

·    v30 There were Adna, Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui and Manasseh. They were the *descendants of Pahath-Moab.

·    v31 There were the *descendants of Harim. They were: Eliezer, Ishijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, v32 Benjamin, Malluch and Shemariah.

·    v33 There were Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh and Shimei. They were the *descendants of Hashum.

·    v34 There were the *descendants of Bani. They were Maadai, Amram, Uel, v35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluhi, v36 Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, v37 Mattaniah, Mattenai and Jaasu.

·    v38 There were the *descendants of Binnui. They were Shimei, v39 Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, v40 Macnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, v41 Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, v42 Shallum, Amariah and Joseph.

·    v43 There were Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel and Benaiah. They were the *descendants of Nebo.

v44 All these men had taken foreign wives. And some of them had children by these wives.

Verses 18-44 Ezra recorded the names of the men who had foreign wives. Some of them were priests and *Levites. Some had responsibilities in the *temple.

Verse 18 mentions *descendants of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak. Jeshua was the chief priest when the first *Jews returned from the *exile (Ezra 3:2; 5:2). These men had not been good models for the people.

Over 100 men had foreign wives. This may seem to be a small number as there were thousands of *Jews in Judah. But these men had done a serious *sin against God. So Ezra and the other leaders had to deal with the affair.

Perhaps some of these men had divorced their *Jewish wives before they married their foreign wives. The *prophet Malachi spoke God’s word about this time. He said that the people had made God very angry. The people had married foreign women and they had divorced their first wives (Malachi 2:10-16).

This chapter shows that it is very important to remain loyal to God. The men who married foreign wives had not been loyal to God. These men cared more about the affairs of this world than they cared about their relationship with God. And their *sin had become so serious that it affected their whole nation. That is why the *Jews told these men to divorce their wives. It was an extraordinary decision in an unusual situation.

The *New Testament also teaches that Christians should not marry unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). Sometimes it is necessary for Christians to be separate from other people. *Sin is dangerous. And it is easy for one person to imitate another person’s *sin.

However, the Bible also teaches that divorce is not a good thing (Malachi 2:16; Matthew 5:32). A Christian who is married to an unbeliever should not divorce that person. If the unbeliever is content to live with that Christian, they should continue to be husband and wife (1 Corinthians 7:12-17). The Christian should pray for the unbeliever and for their children, that they too will trust in Christ. A Christian should always show real love to other people, especially to his or her own family.

Word List

altar ~ a table (usually stone or metal) where the priests burned animals and gave other gifts as a *sacrifice to God.

ancestors ~ parents, grandparents and previous members of the same family.

Assyrian / Assyrians ~ a person from Assyria or anything that has a relationship with Assyria.

Babylonian / Babylonians ~ a person from Babylonia or anything that has a relationship with Babylonia.

BC ~ years Before Christ was born.

bronze ~ a brown metal. Bronze is usually less precious than gold and silver.

bull ~ the male animal which mates with a cow.

Chaldean ~ a person from Chaldea or anything that has a relationship with Chaldea.

descendant ~ a later member of a family, town, or nation.

Elamite / Elamites ~ a *descendant of Elam or a person from Elam or anything that has a relationship with Elam.

exile ~ a period when people cannot live in their own country. This period may be for many years.

introduction ~ the first part of a book, which explains the book’s purpose.

Israelites ~ *descendants of Jacob who was also called Israel. Sometimes the word ‘Israelites’ means all of Jacob’s *descendants. But sometimes it only means those *descendants who were from the northern part of the country called Israel.

Jews ~ another name for the *Israelites, especially those *Israelites who were from Judah. (Judah was the southern part of the country called Israel.)

Jewish ~ something that has a relationship to the *Jews.

judge ~ to make decisions about the law.

kingdom ~ the place or territory or country where a king rules.

Levites ~ the people from one of the 12 families of the *Israelites; they acted as assistants to the priests in the *temple.

LORD ~ a name for God. It means that he is always God.

New Testament ~ the part of the Bible which the first Christians wrote.

Passover ~ annual ceremony to remember God’s rescue of the *Jews from the country called Egypt.

people of Israel ~ another name for the people who are *Jews.

Persian / Persians ~ a person from Persia or anything that has a relationship with Persia.

prophet ~ someone who tells God’s messages; a person whom God sends to speak for him; someone who declares God’s words.

sacrifice ~ a gift to God to ask him to forgive *sins; or to thank him for something. The *Jews offered these to God, often an animal or bird, when they asked God to forgive their *sins. Jesus gave himself to die as a *sacrifice for our *sins.

Samaritan / Samaritans ~ a person from Samaria or anything that has a relationship with Samaria.

sin ~ when people do bad things against God or other people; when people do not obey the commands of God.

supervise ~ to lead a group of people who are carrying out a task.

temple ~ the special building in Jerusalem where the *Jews *worshipped God.

up to ~ a way to describe a maximum amount.

Urim and Thummim ~ sacred objects that some priests could use in order to know what God was telling the people to do. The name means ‘perfect lights’. They were probably some sort of precious stone.

worship ~ to praise God and to give thanks to him; to show honour to God and to say that we love him very much.

Book List

Bibles ~ AV, NIV, RSV, NKJV

Stan K Evers ~ Doing a great work ~ Evangelical Press ~ Welwyn Commentary series

Derek Kidner ~ Ezra and Nehemiah ~ IVP Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

Dave Cave ~ Ezra and Nehemiah ~ Crossway Bible Guides

Warren W Wiersbe ~ Be Heroic ~ Victor

Strong’s Lexicon


© 2008, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).

July 2008

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