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The Return of Captives to Jerusalem Under Zerubbabel
The Return of Captives to Jerusalem Under Ezra
Ezra Arrives in Jerusalem
Artaxerxes' Letter to Ezra
Ezra Praises the Lord
Register of Those Who Returned
Account of the Trip to Jerusalem
Mixed Marriages and Ezra's Prayer of Confession
The Jews' Covenant to Put Away Foreign Wives and Children

The Return of Captives to Jerusalem Under Ezra
Ezra 7:1-10:44

Ezra Arrives in Jerusalem

Ezra 7:1-10

  • During the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, there was a man named Ezra. (v. 1)
  • There is a gap of about sixty years between the eventsof chapters six and seven.
  • The brief genealogy in verses 1 through 5 show Ezra's priestly ancestry.
  • Ezra was a scribe, well-versed in the Law. (v. 6)
  • Ezra came to Jerusalem from Babylon, getting everything from the king that he asked for, because the hand of the Lord was on him. (v. 6)
  • Ezra retturned to Jerusalem eighty years after the first exiles returned.
  • Why did Ezra have to ask the king if he could return? Ezra wanted to lead many Jews back to Jerusalem and needed a decree from the king stating that any Jew who wanted to return could do so. This decree served as a passport.
  • Ezra led a group of about 2000 Jews to Jerusalem. It took them almost five months, traveling about 9 miles per day, to make the journey.
  • Ezra was determined to teach the laws and regulations to the people of Israel. (v. 10)

Artaxerxes' Letter to Ezra

Ezra 7:11-26

  • King Artaxerxes gave Ezra a copy of an important letter to Ezra. (v. 11)
  • The king decreed that anyone who wanted to return to Jerusalem, including the priests and Levites, had permission to do so. (v. 13)
  • The king also gave Ezra some silver and gold to take. (v. 15)
  • Additionally, the king gave Ezra permission to collect other gold and silver from throughout the kingdom to buy materials for offerings. (v. 16-17)
  • Ezra has permission to get extra money from the treasury if they run out of moeny. (v. 20)
  • Ezra is given permission to set up a regional government for the Israelites. (v. 25-26)

Ezra Praises the Lord

Ezra 7:27-28

  • Ezra praises the Lord. (v. 27-28)
  • Ezra praised God for all that God had done for him and through him. Ezra had honored God throughout his life, and God chose to honor him. Ezra could have assumed that his own greatness and charisma had won over the king and his princes but he gave the credit to God. We, too, should be grateful to God for our success and not think that we did it in our own power.

Register of Those Who Returned

Ezra 8:1-14

  • Verses 1-14 list the names of family heads and those registered with them who came with Ezra from Babylon.

Account of the Trip to Jerusalem

Ezra 8:15-36

  • Ezra assembled the people and discivered that there were no Levites among th crowd. (v. 15)
  • The progress back to Jerusalem had to be put on hold while Ezra recruited Levites.
  • Ezra gathered a group of leaders and sent them to Iddo, the leader in Casiphia. (v. 16-17)
  • The leaders came back with a few Levites and many Temple servants. (v. 18-20)
  • Before making all the physical preparations for the journey, Ezra led the people in spiritual preparations.
  • Ezra proclaimed a three day fast. (v. 21)
  • Ezra had not asked the king for soldiers for protection because he told the king that God looked after His people. (v. 22)
  • It would have been normal for Ezra to ask for help from the king, but to do so would make him look foolish in light of his previous statements about God's protection. So Ezra put his faith on the line and was able to be a witness for others. Do we find ourselves in situations saying that we trust God but acting in ways that show that we don't?
  • The people fasted and prayed for protection and God granted their prayers. (v. 23)
  • Note that serious prayer requires concentration.
  • Ezra set apart twelve of the priests and presented them with the offering of silver and gold that were for the Temple. (v. 24-27)
  • Ezra said that the priests and the treasure were consecrated to the Lord. (v. 28)
  • Because the money and utinsils were holy, they had to be kept by holy people.
  • The peple went to Jerusalem and God protected them from enemies and bandits along the way. (v. 31)
  • After resting, the people presented the offerings at the Temple. (v. 33-34)
  • The exiles offered burnt offerings. (v. 35)
  • Notice that the exiles honor God before attending to their day-to-day business.

Mixed Marriages and Ezra's Prayer of Confession

Ezra 9:1-15

  • The leaders came to Ezra and reported that the people, including the Levites, had not kept them separate from the cultures of neighboring people. (v. 1)
  • See Exodus 34:16 and Deutoronomy 7:3 for examples of where the law is clear that God's people must be holy and separate themselves from the world and every other form of evil.
  • Ezra reached Jerusalem in the fifth month (Ezra 7:9). The measures dealing with the problem of intermarriage were announced in the ninth month (Ezra 10:9) - four months later. This was enough time for the people to begin to get settled into their reclaimed land.
  • Why would the Jews marry foreign women? There was probably a shortage of Jewish women who had returned from the exile. Additionally, by marrying foreign women, especially daughters of wealthy and influential people, the Jews would have been able to gain a more prominant position with the people who surrounded them. This, however, is not what their main goal should be - by paying more attention to the neighboring people, they neglect their devotion to God.
  • An example of the perils of losing their unique culture as a race when they intermarried is seen by examing the Elephantine settlement in Egypt. This settlement was contemporary with Ezra and Nehemiah. The Jews who married pagen spouses expressed their devotion to pagan gods in addition tot he Lord. Gradually, this community was assimilated and disappeared. They lost their unique individuality. This is an example why God is a jealous God. This is an example of why the first commandment is "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."
  • Opposition to mixed marriage was not racial prejudice because Jews and non-Jews of this area were of the same Semitic background. The reasons were strictly spiritual. Until the Israelites finally stopped this practice, idolatry remained a constant problem.
  • See also 2 Corinthians 6:14 for a New Testament admonition that believers should not "team up with those who are unbelivers." Such marriages cannot have unity in the most important issue in life - commitment and obedience to God. Faith may become an issue (and often does), and one spouse may find themseves compromising beliefs for the sake of unity. This was a problem in Ezra's time. It was a problem in Paul's time. It continues to be a problem today.
  • The people had mingled the holy race with their unholy neighbors by taken foreign wives. This practice was led by the the leaders and officials. (v. 2)
  • People of authority are emulated by others. They are role models. It is important that people of authority be true to their faith and their morals because other people are watching them closely and copying their example. With leadership comes responsibility.
  • When Ezra heard that the people had been intermarrying, he was appalled. He tore his his tunic and cloak and pulled hair out from his head and beard. (v. 3)
  • It is common to express grief or distress by tearing one's clothing. Ezra's pulling out his hair is the only example in the Bible where one expresses grief in this manner. In other instances, people's heads are shaved, and Nehemiah reacts to the same problem by pulling out the hair of the offending parties (see Nehemiah 13:25)
  • People who respected the words of God gathered around Ezra and trembled. Ezra sat there until the evening sacrifice. (v. 4)
  • At the evening sacrifice, Ezra fell on his knees with his hands spread out to the Lord and prayed. (v. 5)
  • Ezra starts his prayer admitting the sins of the people and proclaiming his shame. (v. 6)
  • The prayer continues with a short history lesson of Israel's sin and it's consequences - because of the sins, the people had been subjected to captivity. (v. 7)
  • Ezra's prayer proclaims the generosity of God, even to an unfaithful people - a remnant of the people has been spared and given a place to rebuild the Temple and their society. (v. 8-9)
  • Ezra's prayer admits that the people have disobeyed a direct command that the people keep themselves separate from the pagan people. There are specific commands not to intermarry witht he people and not to seek treaties with the people. (v. 10-12)
  • See, e.g., Deuteronomy 11:8-9, Isaiah 1:19, and Ezekial 37:25 for examples of passages that forbid the practices Israel was engaging in.
  • Ezra declares in his prayer that the people deserved harsher punishment for their sins than they received. (v. 13)
  • Ezra's prayer wonders if God will punish them severly for breaking the commandment against intermarriage, especially since He had been generous with their previous punishmnet. (v. 14-15)
  • Ezra's prayer provides a good perspective on sin. He recognized (1) that sin is serious (9:6); (2) that no one sins without affecting others (9:7); (3) that he was not sinless, although he didn't have a pagan wife (9:10ff); and (4) that God's love and mercy had spared the nation when they did nothing to deserve it (9:8, 9, 15). It is easy to view sin lightly in a world that sees sin as inconsequential, but we should view sin as seriously as Ezra did. (Life Application notes)
  • Ezra recognized that if God gave the people the justice they deserved, they would not be able to stand before him. Often we cry out for justice when we feel abused and unfairly treated. In those moments, we forget the reality of our own sin and the righteous judgment we deserve. How fortunate we are that God gives us mercy and grace rather than only justice. The next time you ask God for fair treatment, pause to think what would happen if God gave you what you really deserve. Plead instead for His mercy. (Life Application notes)

The Jews' Covenant to Put Away Foreign Wives and Children

Ezra 10:1-44

  • Ezra prayed and made the confession and people from Israel gathered and wept bitterly with him. (v. 1)
  • Shecaniah confessed to Ezra that they had married pagan women. (v. 2)
  • Shecaniah suggests that they divorce their pagan wives and send them away with their children. (v. 3)
  • It might seem extreme to have the men divorce their wives and send them away with their children, but remember that God had specifically forbidden them to marry pagan wives. Of the approximately 29,000 families, 113 were directly affected by participating in this sin.
  • Ezra's strong act, though very difficult for some, was necessary to preserve Israel as a nation committed to God. Some of the exiles of the northern kingdom of Israel had lost both their spiritual and physical identy through intermarriage. Their pagan spouses had caused the people to worship idols. Ezra did not want this to happen to the exiles of the southern kingdom of Judah. (Life Application Notes)
  • Shecaniah reiterates the desire to follow God's law. (v. 3-4)
  • Note that Ezra's task was not an easy one - it required courage (v. 4)
  • Ezra demands that the leaders do what Shecaniah suggested and the leaders agree. (v. 5)
  • Notice that the people asked for direction in restoring their relationship with God. This is an important lesson for us - true repentance does not end with words of confession, but must be followed with changed attitudes and/or behavior.
  • Ezra was still in mourning because oft he unfaithfullness of the exiles. (v. 6)
  • A proclamation was made that all the returned exiles should come to Jerusalem or risk forfeiting all their property and being expelled from the assembly of the exiles. (v. 7-8)
  • By forfeiting the property, the people would be disinherited. This was to ensure that no pagan children would inherit Israel's land.
  • All the people gathered in Jerusalem. They were trembling both because of the seriousness of the the matter and because it was raining. (v. 9)
  • Ezra confronts the people with their sin and demands that they separate themselves from the pagan women. (v. 10-11)
  • Verse 11 shows us that when we sin, we should make confession. How do we confess our sins? Every Sunday, the pastor leads us in a corporate prayer of confession. But we should also confess our individual and specific sins in private. Confession is not just saying what we did wrong, but it also involves realigning ourselves to improve.
  • The assembly agreed with Ezra. (v. 12)
  • The people suggested that they come to the leaders and judges of the city. (v. 13-14)
  • Over three months, they dealt with all the men who had married pagan wives.
  • In Ezra, how did the people deal with their sin? With prayer and fasting.
  • Verses 18-44 list the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and other people who were guilty of marrying pagan wives.
  • Although it is not stated, it is likely that adequate provision was made for the support of these wives and children. The sorrow created by the disruption of these families must be weighed against the importance of maintaining the solidarity of the nation destined to produce the Messiah. (Believer's Bible Commentary)
  • The book of Ezra is a study in revival. When men read the Word of God and apply its truths to their lives, when intercessory prayers flow for the saints, and when there is confession and separation from known sin, there will be power in the church to do great things for God. (Believer's Bible Commentary)

Last update: July 6, 2003

© 2002-2003 Greg Cohoon

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