Ezra 7 is the start of the second half of the book of Ezra. The first six chapters of the book focuses on the rebuilding of the temple. It was completed in about 515 BC. Ezra entered onto the scene in 458 BC – the seventh year of the reign of the Persian King Artaxerxes.
You’ll notice how Artaxerxes – like the kings Cyrus and Darius – dealt favorably with the Israelites. How is this even possible? The people of Israel were a small, relatively insignificant tribe. They’d been routed in battle more than 100 years earlier and carried off into captivity. And yet pagan king after pagan king was highly interested in the Israel’s welfare – first in the rebuilding of the temple and then in the teaching of God’s Word. The short answer is God was acting on behalf of his people. He was giving them grace among the nations.
It is good to remember here that these events, according to the book of Ezra, were designed so that “the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled” (Ezra 1:1). Jeremiah prophesied before the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. He had plenty to say about those events, as well as the events that would come after, such as the people’s return from exile (Jeremiah 31).
Jeremiah also prophesied about the Law of God – “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me …” (Jeremiah 31:33-34). And so Ezra is beginning to bring the Law back into the center of Israel’s life. Of course, this is just the beginning. Jesus Christ will mark the culmination of this work begun by Ezra. The Law will be written on the people’s hearts by the Holy Spirit.
As I read Ezra 7-8 and saw the new emphasis on the God’s Word, I was reminded of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Moses led them into the wilderness, and a couple of things happened pretty quickly. The people received the Law of God – the Ten Commandments – and the people received instructions about the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle. So they got God’s way for their living (the Law), and they got a holy place for worship.
In the return to the Promised Land, the people seem to be re-enacting the exodus. They rediscover their central place of worship, and they rediscover God’s Law.
Moving into chapter 8, we get another list. Accompanying Ezra on his journey to Jerusalem are two priests, a member of the house of King David, and 12 families (likely representing the 12 tribes of Israel).
In going to Jerusalem, Ezra didn’t want to go without any Levites, and so he stopped and sent for Levites to come with the group. The Levites are important in the life of Israel because of the work they do in preserving the nation’s worship and its obedience to the Word of God. Again, this goes all the way back to the exodus from Egypt, when the people were in the wilderness. The Levites step to the front in Exodus 32. Read it when you get a chance. Another place to read about the Levites is in Numbers 3.
A couple of points can be made about the trip to Jerusalem. The Israelites needed courage because they were without a formal military escort. They had to trust in God – kind of like the Israelites needed to trust in God during their first venture into the Promised Land (Joshua 1). Also, priests were given control of the offerings. They were trusted to be good and righteous. Not all of Israel’s priests were like that. But these, apparently, were. This was a good sign.
And the whole trip started just after the Passover feast. There’s a lot of symbolism here! Please spend some time pondering it.
And ponder this: “We came to Jerusalem, and there we remained three days.” Recall Matthew 12:40.
We can also think about the numbers of bulls, rams, lambs, and male goats that were offered in sacrifice. The numbers 12 and 7 represent perfection, completion, and wholeness. The nation of Israel was becoming whole again. They had the land. They had the temple. They had priests and Levites. And they were about to refocus themselves on God Law. The nation was moving again toward holiness – to be a nation that would bless the whole earth. Israel was being made new.
But things were still in process. The people were not yet holy. Things still hadn’t been brought to completion. But the pieces were coming together. God was superintending a renewal in the life of Israel.
I suppose the element that caught my attention the most in these two chapters was the entrusting of all that gold and silver to the priests. Ezra told the priests, “You are holy to the Lord, and the vessels are holy …” Israel’s priests had important work to do. But it wasn’t just the work that was important. It was important who the priests were in themselves. They were holy to God – set apart, dedicated, consecrated for a specific purpose.
They weren’t just anybody. They were priests of God. And they carried holy things with them, things of precious value, things dedicated to God, things that were bound to reside in the temple of God.
Jesus is our high priest. He is holy, set apart for a purpose. And he carried a holy thing with him as he went – his sinless life. And at the end of the day, he gave it over to God as an offering, as a sacrifice.
And Jesus is still carrying holy things along with him. He’s carrying you and I, who are made holy by his sacrifice.
At some point, we just need to stop in gratitude.
Other scriptures to read: Hebrews 7:23-28 and 1 Peter 1:13-21.