Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
II. The Return of Ezra the Scribe from Babylon to Jerusalem, and His Entry upon His Official Duties There - Ezr 7:1
In the seventh year of the reign of King Artaxerxes Longimanus, Ezra the priest and scribe returned with certain priests, Levites, and other Israelites from Babylon to Jerusalem, furnished with a royal commission to provide for the worship of God, and the observance of the law, according to the ordinance of God, by the community, Ezra 7 and 8. This mission he began to execute by sending way such heathen women as were married to Israelites.
Ezr 7:1-10 form the introduction to the narrative which follows of Ezra's return to Jerusalem and his ministry there, and speak in general terms of himself and his arrival at Jerusalem with a band of exiles. They are followed, vv. 11-26, by a copy of the royal commission, and a thanksgiving, Ezr 7:27, Ezr 7:28, on the part of Ezra, for the mercy of God bestowed upon him.
What follows is slightly combined with the former occurrences by the formula "after these things," without any more exact chronological definition; comp. Gen 15:1; Gen 22:1, and elsewhere. Between the dedication of the temple in the sixth year of Darius and the arrival of Ezra in Jerusalem, a period of fifty-seven years had elapsed. "In the reign of Artachshasta king of Persia, went up Ezra," etc. The verb of the subject עזרא does not follow till Ezr 7:6, where, after the interposition of the long genealogy, Ezr 7:1-5, the distant subject is again taken up in עזרא הוּא. It is all but universally agreed that Artaxerxes Longimanus is intended by ארתּחשׁסתּא; the explanation of this appellation as Xerxes in Joseph. Antiq. xi. 5. 1, for which Fritzsche (on 1 Esdr. 8:1) has recently decided, being a mere conjecture on the part of that not very critical historian. The fact that the Artachshasta of the book of Nehemiah (Neh 1:1; Neh 5:14; Neh 13:6) can be no other than Artaxerxes, is decisive of this point: for in Neh 13:6 the thirty-second year of Artachshasta is mentioned; while according to Neh 8:9; Neh 12:26, Neh 12:36, Ezra and Nehemiah jointly exercised their respective offices at Jerusalem.
(Note: Very superficial are the arguments, and indeed the whole pamphlet, Etude Chronologique des livres d'Esdras et de Nhmie, Paris 1868, p. 40, etc., by which F. de Saulcy tries to show that the Artachshasta of Ezra 7 and of Nehemiah is Artaxerxes II (Mnemon).)
Ezra is called Ben Seraiah, whose pedigree is traced to Eleazar the son of Aaron; Seraiah the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, was the father of Josedec the high priest carried into captivity (Ch1 6:14, etc.), and was himself the high priest whom Nebuchadnezzar slew at Riblah (Kg2 25:18-21). Between the execution of Seraiah in the year 588 and the return of Ezra from Babylon in 458 b.c., there is a period of 130 years. Hence Ezra could have been neither the son nor grandson of Seraiah, but only his great or great-great-grandson. When we consider that Joshua, or Jeshua (Ezr 2:2), the high priest who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel, was the grandson of Seraiah, we cannot but regard Ezra, who returned thence 78 years later, as a great-great-grandson of Seraiah. Moreover, we are justified in inferring from the fact that Ezra is not, like Joshua, designated as Ben Josedech, that he did not descend from that line of Seraiah in which the high-priestly dignity was hereditary, but from a younger son, and hence that his immediate ancestors were not (though his forefathers from Seraiah upwards were) of high-priestly descent. Hence the names of Ezra's ancestors from Seraiah up to Aaron (Ezr 7:1-5) agree also with the genealogy of the high-priestly race (Ch1 6:4-14), with the one deviation that in Ezr 7:3, between Azariah and Meraioth, six members are passed over, as is frequently the case in the longer genealogies, for the sake of shortening the list of names. - In v. 6 Ezra, for the sake of at once alluding to the nature of his office, is designated בת מהיר סוף ר, a scribe skilful in the law of Moses. The word סופר means in older works writer or secretary; but even so early as Jer 8:8 the lying pen of the ספרים is spoken of, and here therefore סופר has already attained the meaning of one learned in the Scripture, one who has made the written law a subject of investigation. Ezra is, however, the first of whom the predicate הסּופר, ὁ γραμματεύς, is used as a title. He is so called also in the letter of Artaxerxes (Ezr 7:11), because he is said (Ezr 7:9) to have applied his heart to seek out and to do the law of the Lord, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgment, i.e., because he had made the investigation of the law, for the sake of introducing the practice of the same among the congregation, his life-task; and the king granted him all his desire, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him. The peculiar expression עליו אלהיו יהוה כּיד which is found only here and in Ezr 7:9, Ezr 7:28, Ezr 8:18; Neh 2:8, Neh 2:18, and in a slightly altered guise in Ezr 8:22, Ezr 8:31, "according to the good hand of his God, which was over him," means: according to the divine favour or divine care arranging for him; for the hand of God is הטּובה, the good (Ezr 7:9, and Ezr 8:18), or לטובה, Ezr 8:22. בּקּשׁה, the desire, request, demand, occurs only here and in the book of Esther.
With Ezra went up a number of Israelites, priests, and Levites. מן partitive: a part of the whole. That they went up with Ezra appears from the context, and is expressly stated both in the royal edict (Ezr 7:13) and in the further description of the expedition (Ezr 7:28, Ezr 8:1). They went up in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, and reached Jerusalem in the fifth month of that year. - In Ezr 7:8 Ezra is again, as in Ezr 7:6, the subject of the sentence; the intervening seventh verse being really only in apposition with Ezr 7:6. - In Ezr 7:9 the time occupied by the journey is more precisely defined; כּי is explanatory. Namely, on the first day of the first month, he had appointed the journey from Babylon, etc. The Keri יסד הוּא can only mean, ipsum erat fundamentum profectionis, as J. H. Mich. after R. Sal. explains it, for יסד is pointed as the construct state. The departure of the expedition from the place of meeting occurred, according to Ezr 8:31, on the twelfth day of the first month. Since, however, they encamped three days there, making the final preparations for their journey, eleven days might easily elapse between the period when the whole caravan had assembled, and the day of actual departure. The Keri offers no appropriate signification; for since הוּא can only be taken for the subject, and הם יסד for the predicate, the sentence would contain an anacoluthon. To translate הוּא by ipsum cannot be justified by the usages of the language, for there is no such emphasis on יסד as to cause הוּא to be regarded as an emphatic reference to the following noun. יסד must be pointed יסד or יסּד, as the third pers. perf. Kal or Piel, meaning to arrange, to appoint, and הוּא referred to Ezra. On הטּובה אלהיו כּיד, comp. Ezr 7:6. The hand of his God graciously arranged for him, for he had prepared his heart to seek and to do the law of Jahve, i.e., to make the law of God his rule of action. לבבו הכין, like Ch2 12:14; Ch2 19:3; Ch2 30:19. To teach in Israel statutes and judgments, as both are prescribed in the law of God.
The commission given by Artachshasta to Ezra (Ezr 7:11), with a short postscript by Ezra (Ezr 7:27 and Ezr 7:28). - Ezr 7:11 The introductory title, "This is the copy of the letter," On פּרשׁגן, comp. Ezr 4:11, and on נשׁתּון, Ezr 4:7. Ezra is here, as also in the letter itself, Ezr 7:12, Ezr 7:21, and in Neh 8:9; Neh 12:26, called only הסּופר הכּהן, the priest, the scribe; in other places we find merely one title or the other: either the priest, Neh 10:10, Neh 10:16, Neh 8:2; or the scribe, Neh 8:4, Neh 8:13; Neh 12:36. To designate him according to his rank, as the priest, seems to have subsequently become more customary; hence in the first book of Esdras he is constantly called ὁ Ἱιερεύς. הסּופר is explained by the addition וגו דּברי ספר, scribe of the words of the law of Jahve and of His statutes to Israel, i.e., the scribe, whose investigations referred to the law of God. More briefly in Ezr 7:12 and Ezr 7:21 : scribe of the law.
The letter containing the royal commission is given in the Chaldee original. It is questionable what explanation must be given to גּמיר in the title. If it were the adjective belonging to דּתא ספר, we should expect the emphatic state גּמירא. Hence Bertheau combines it with the following וּכענת as an abbreviation, "completeness, etc.," which would signify that in the royal commission itself this introductory formula would be found fully given, and that all the words here missing are represented by וּכענת. This would be, at all events, an extremely strange expression. We incline to regard גּמיר as an adverb used adjectively: To the scribe in the law of God perfectly, for the perfect scribe, etc., corresponding with the translation of the Vulgate, doctissimo. The commission begins with an order that those Israelites who desire to go to Jerusalem should depart with Ezra, because the king and his seven counsellors send him to order matters in Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of God, and to carry thither presents and free-will offerings as a contribution towards the sacrifices, and other matters necessary for the worship of God, Ezr 7:13. "By me is commandment given," as in Ezr 6:8. למהך...כּל־מתנדּב: Every one of the people of Israel in my kingdom, who shows himself willing to go up to Jerusalem, let him go up with thee. On יהך and the infin. מהך, comp. Ezr 5:5.
"Forasmuch as thou (art) sent by the king and his seven counsellors to inquire (to institute an inquiry) concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God, which is in thy hand," i.e., which thou handlest or possessest and understandest. The seven counsellors of the king formed the supreme court of the realm; see remarks on Est 1:14. It is obvious from the context that שׁליח must be completed by אנתּ, for it is evidently Ezra who is addressed both in what precedes and follows. על בּקּרה, to inquire concerning (the condition of) Judah, i.e., concerning the religious and civil relations of the Jewish community, to arrange them in conformity with the divine law.
"To carry the silver and gold which the king and his counsellors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose habitation is at Jerusalem, and all the silver and gold which thou shalt obtain in all the province of Babylon, with the free-will offering of the people and the priests, willingly offering for the house of their God at Jerusalem." Three kinds of offerings for the temple are here spoken of: 1st, the gifts of the king and his counsellors for the service of the God of Israel; 2nd, the gold and the silver that Ezra should obtain in the province of Babylon, i.e., by the collection which he was consequently empowered to make among the non-Israelite population of Babylon; 3rd, the free-will offerings of his fellow-countrymen. התנדּבוּת is an abstract formed from the infin. Hithpael: the freely given. The participle מתנדּבין (not in the stat. emph. i.e., without an article) is but slightly connected, in the sense of, if they, or what they, may freely offer.
The application of these contributions. דּנה כּל־קבל, for this very reason, sc. because furnished by the king and his counsellors, and by the heathen and Israelite inhabitants of Babylon, thou shalt diligently buy with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat-offerings and their drink-offerings (the meat and drink offerings pertaining by the law, Num 15:1, etc., to the sacrifices), and offer them upon the altar ... The Pael תּקרב instead of the Aphel, Ezr 6:10, Ezr 6:17. The distribution and collection were thus chiefly destined for the support of public worship, but were larger and more abundant than was necessary for this purpose. Hence the further injunction, Ezr 7:18 : "And whatsoever shall seem good to thee and to thy brethren to do with the rest of the gold and the silver, that do after the will of your God," i.e., according to the precept of the law in which the will of God is expressed. "Thy brethren" are the priests, to whom was committed the care of the temple and its worship.
The gold and silver vessels, moreover, which, according to Ezr 8:25-27, the king and his counsellors, and the princes and all Israel, presented for the service of the house of God, he is to deliver before the God at Jerusalem (an abbreviated expression for the God whose dwelling is at Jerusalem). The noun פּלחן, only here and in the Targums, in the Syriac פּוּלחן, the service, corresponds with the Hebrew עבורה. שׁלם in the Aphel, to complete, to make full, then to deliver entirely, to consign.
Ezra is to defray the expenses of all other things necessary for the temple from the royal treasury, on which account a royal order is despatched to the treasurer on this side the river. "And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to give" (i.e., whatever necessary expenses shall be incurred which cannot be determined beforehand), and for which the gifts and contributions already furnished to Ezra shall not suffice, he is to give, i.e., to defray, out of the house of the king's treasures, i.e., the royal treasury. For this purpose Artaxerxes commands all the treasures on this side the river, that whatsoever Ezra shall require of them shall be immediately done. אנה is an emphatic repetition of the pronoun, as in Dan 7:15, and frequently in Hebrew.
Unto one hundred talents of silver, one hundred cors of wheat, one hundred baths of wine, one hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescription, i.e., as much as is needed. Cor had already become, even in Hebrew, the later word for chomer, e.g., Kg1 5:2; Eze 45:14. It was equal to ten ephahs or baths, almost two sheffels; see by bibl. Archol. ii. 126. The command closes with the injunction, Ezr 7:23 : Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, i.e., whatever is needful according to the law for the service of God, let it be completely done for the house of the God of heaven; for why should the wrath of heaven come upon the realm of the king and of his sons? The ἁπ. λεγ. אדרזדּא is derived from the Aryan, but is not to be regarded (as by Hitzig and Bertheau) as compounded of אדר and אזדּא; but probably (as by Haug in Ewald's bibl. Jahrb. v. p. 152) as formed of the Persian drsh, dorest, with א prosthetic, from the Zend root dore, to grow, to flourish, to become firm, in the meaning of perfect in all parts, exact. The motive of the royal order, that the priests may offer acceptable offerings to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and of his sons, recalls Ezr 6:10. On the formula למה דּי, for why should wrath come, comp. Ezr 4:22.
The priests, the Levites, and all the servants of the temple, are also to be free from all customs and taxes. מהודעין וּלכם, we also make known to you (it is made known to you). These words also are addressed to the treasures, as levyers of taxes on this side the river. That, with regard to all priests, ... and (other) ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose upon them toll, tribute, or custom. The אלהא בּית פּלחי are not worshippers in the house of God, but they who do service in the house of God. The expression comprises any servants of the temple who might have been omitted in the classes enumerated. On וגו בּלו מנדּה, comp. Ezr 4:13. שׁלּיט לא, (any one) has no right, with an infinitive following: it is allowed to no one to do. מרמא from רמא, Targ. for שׂים. On this matter, compare Josephus, Ant. xii. 3. 3, according to which Antiochus the Great freed the priests and Levites from taxation.
Finally, Ezra is empowered to appoint over his whole people (all the Jews) on this side the river, judges who know the law of God, and to inflict severe penalties upon those who transgress it.
"Thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God which is in thy hand (בידך דּי like Ezr 7:14), set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are on this side the river, namely all such as know the laws of thy God, and teach ye them that know them not." The form מנּי is imper. Pael for מנּי, the A sound probably passing in rapid speech into the flatter E sound. "All the people on this side the river" is limited to Israelites or Jews by the further particulars, "who know the law of thy God," etc. These are to receive from Ezra judges, viz., such as are acquainted with the law, i.e., Israelite judges, and thus to be placed under the jurisdiction established at Jerusalem. The sentence, "and they who know it (the law) not, them teach ye, make them acquainted with it," does not refer to the heathen, but to born Israelites or Jews, who, living among the heathen, had not hitherto made the Mosaic law the rule of their lives. Such were the judges to constrain to the observance and obedience of the law.
But whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let a court be speedily (מנּהּ) held on his account (i.e., let him be brought to justice, and punished). This, too, applies chiefly to such as were Israelites born. The law of the king is the present edict, the commission therein entrusted to Ezra: whoever opposes, neglects, or transgresses it, shall be condemned, whether to death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment. הן ... הן = the Hebrew אם ... אם = sive ... sive. שׁרשׁוּ (Keri שׁרשׁי), rooting our (from שׁרשׁ, to root out), i.e., banishment, exilium (Vulg.), not παιδεία (lxx).
This royal commission granted to the Jews all they could possibly desire from the heathen governors of the country, for the establishment and furtherance of their civil and religious polity. By granting these privileges, Artaxerxes was not only treading in the footsteps of Cyrus and Darius Hystaspes, but even going beyond these princes in granting to the Jews a jurisdiction of their own. Without a magistrate who was one of themselves, the Jewish community could not well prosper in their own land; for the social and religious life of Israel were so closely connected, that heathen magistrates, however well-intentioned, were incapable of exercising a beneficial influence upon the welfare of the Jews. Hence Ezra, having thus reported the royal commission, adds a thanksgiving to God for having put such a thing into the king's heart, namely, to beautify the house of the Lord, and for having granted him favour before the king and his counsellors. The sentence הטּה ועלי הטּה e is a continuation of the preceding infinitive sentence in the tempus finit. ל before כּל־שׂרי is the ל comprehensive. Ezra names the beautifying of the house of God as the occasion of his thanksgiving, not only because this formed the chief matter of the royal favour, but also because the re-establishment of divine worship was the re-establishment of the moral and religious life of the community. "And I felt myself strengthened, and gathered together (so that I gathered together) the heads of Israel to go up with me (to Jerusalem)." Ezra assembled the heads, i.e., of houses, as fellow-travellers, because their decision would be a rule for the families at the head of which they stood. With their heads, the several races and families determined to return to the land of their fathers.