In 458 B.C.E., fifty-eight years after the dedication of the templeThe Jerusalem temple, unlike the tabernacle, was a permanent structure, although (like the tabernacle) it was a place of worship and religious activity. On one occasion Jesus felt such activity was unacceptable and, as reported in all four Gospels, drove from the temple those engaged... More, EzraScribe who helped establish Jewish practices in Jerusalem after the exile. More leads a caravan consisting primarily of temple personnel from Babylon to Jerusalem.
In this section we see the second of the great returns. Just as the first return was structured around the decree of CyrusPersian leader who allowed Jewish exiles to return home. More that allowed the exiles to return home and rebuild the temple, this second return is structured around the decree of Artaxerxes that calls for all Jews to obey the law of MosesProphet who led Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land and received the law at Sinai More.
Most important, this passage demonstrates Ezra’s unique qualifications for his mission. First of all, he is included in the Aaronide line of priests and thus authorized to perform sacrificeSacrifice is commonly understood as the practice of offering or giving up something as a sign of worship, commitment, or obedience. In the Old Testament grain, wine, or animals are used as sacrifice. In some New Testament writings Jesus' death on the cross as the... More and conduct temple worship, though nowhere is it said that Ezra functioned as high priestThe high priest was the most powerful priest in the temple in Jerusalem. The high priest Caiaphas held the office during the trial of Jesus. Later, in the New Testament book of Hebrews, the role of merciful high priest is ascribed to the resurrected Jesus. More (7:1-5). Second, Ezra was a scribeA scribe is a person paid to write books or documents by hand. In Jesus' time, scribes were credentialed interpreters of Jewish law. Scribes in the New Testament, along with the elders and chief priests, are among Jesus' most committed opponents, although on one occasion... More, that is, someone trained in the interpretation of the law (7:6). This important qualification means that Ezra could function as an authoritative link to Israel’s preexilic past, reinterpreting the law of Moses for a community no longer under the auspices of a Davidic ruler. Finally, Ezra enjoyed the favor of God (7:6, 9).
Ezra also enjoyed the favor of Artaxerxes, king of PersiaPersia was a southwestern Asian country. The Persian empire was a series of empires that occupied what is currently Afghanistan and Iran from 600 B.C.E. forward. Rulers of the Persian empire mentioned in the Bible are Cyrus and Darius. More, the present ruler of the province of JudahJudah was the name of Jacob's fourth son and one of the 12 tribes. More (7:12-26). Artaxerxes’s commissioning of Ezra includes a description of the contributions for the temple (7:15-24) and a royal decree to reestablish the people based upon the “law of your God” (7:13-15, 25). The people are thus asked to define themselves as part of the Jewish community by their acceptance of the TorahThe Torah is the law of Moses, also known as the first five books of the Bible. To many the Torah is a combination of history, theology, and a legal or ritual guide. More. Since the leaders of the community were authorized by the emperor through Ezra, the officially recognized religion of Judah was what we know as Second Temple Judaism. Persian law permitted the observance of both local law (“the law of your God”) and the law of the Persian Empire.
The account of the return itself begins with a list of those who accompanied him (8:1-14). A three-day stay at the Ahava River provides the occasion for Ezra’s examination of the fifteen hundred males in the company, where he discovers that there are no Levites present (vv. 15-20). No reason is given for this crisis; perhaps the Levites were aware of the inferior status they would have in the new order and either resented the curtailment of their duties or preferred the lack of liturgical responsibility they had in Babylon. Ezra realized that their presence was necessary, at least for a symbolic representation of all Israel, and he successfully persuaded thirty-eight Levites and 220 temple servants to join the company