Lesson 19 | Sabbath, 12 May 2018
“About seventy years after the return of the first company of exiles under Zerubbabel and Joshua, Artaxerxes Longimanus came to the throne of Medo-Persia. The name of this king is connected with sacred history by a series of remarkable providences. It was during his reign that Ezra and Nehemiah lived and labored. He is the one who in 457 B.C. issued the third and final decree for the restoration of Jerusalem. His reign saw the return of a company of Jews under Ezra, the completion of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah and his associates, the reorganization of the temple services, and the great religious reformations instituted by Ezra and Nehemiah. During his long rule he often showed favor to God’s people, and in his trusted and well-beloved Jewish friends, Ezra and Nehemiah, he recognized men of God’s appointment, raised up for a special work.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 607.
1. Who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in the seventh year of King Arta-xerxes? What had been this scribe’s greatest wish, even in the country of his captivity?
Ezra 7:6-10 This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him. 7And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king. 8And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. 10For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.
“The experience of Ezra while living among the Jews who remained in Babylon was so unusual that it attracted the favorable notice of King Artaxerxes, with whom he talked freely regarding the power of the God of heaven, and the divine purpose in restoring the Jews to Jerusalem.
“Born of the sons of Aaron, Ezra had been given a priestly training; and in addition to this he had acquired a familiarity with the writings of the magicians, the astrologers, and the wise men of the Medo-Persian realm. But he was not satisfied with his spiritual condition. He longed to be in full harmony with God; he longed for wisdom to carry out the divine will. And so he ‘prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it.’ Ezra 7:10. This led him to apply himself diligently to a study of the history of God’s people, as recorded in the writings of prophets and kings. He searched the historical and poetical books of the Bible to learn why the Lord had permitted Jerusalem to be destroyed and His people carried captive into a heathen land.” –Prophets and Kings, pp. 607, 608.
King Artaxerxes’ decree
2. What decree did King Artaxerxes issue in the seventh year of his reign? According to his command, what was the first thing Ezra needed to take care of as soon as he returned to Judea?
Ezra 7:11-14 Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel. 12Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. 13I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee.14Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand.
“Ezra’s faith that God would do a mighty work for His people, led him to tell Artaxerxes of his desire to return to Jerusalem to revive an interest in the study of God’s word and to assist his brethren in restoring the Holy City. As Ezra declared his perfect trust in the God of Israel as one abundantly able to protect and care for His people, the king was deeply impressed. He well understood that the Israelites were returning to Jerusalem that they might serve Jehovah; yet so great was the king’s confidence in the integrity of Ezra that he showed him marked favor, granting his request and bestowing on him rich gifts for the temple service. He made him a special representative of the Medo-Persian kingdom and conferred on him extensive powers for the carrying out of the purposes that were in his heart.”
–Prophets and Kings, pp. 609, 610.
3. What did the king and his advisers offer to the God of Israel? How do we know that the decree included provisions for sacrifices and offerings for the Lord?
Ezra 7:15-20 And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem, 16And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem: 17That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. 18And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the will of your God. 19The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem. 20And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king’s treasure house.
“The decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus for the restoring and building of Jerusalem, the third issued since the close of the seventy years’ captivity, is remarkable for its expressions regarding the God of heaven, for its recognition of the attainments of Ezra, and for the liberality of the grants made to the remnant people of God. Artaxerxes refers to Ezra as ‘the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of His statutes to Israel;’ ‘a scribe of the law of the God of heaven.’ The king united with his counselors in offering freely ‘unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem;’ and in addition he made provision for meeting many heavy expenses by ordering that they be paid ‘out of the king’s treasure house.’ Verses 11, 12, 15, 20.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 610.
4. What were the governors beyond the Euphrates River commanded to provide to Ezra? How earnest was the king in his desire for the matters relating to the God of heaven?
Ezra 7:21-23 And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, 22Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. 23Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?
“Thus, ‘according to the good hand of his God upon him,’ Ezra had persuaded the king to make abundant provision for the return of all the people of Israel and of the priests and Levites in the Medo-Persian realm, who were minded ‘of their own free will to go up to Jerusalem.’ Verses 9, 13. Thus again the children of the dispersion were given opportunity to return to the land with the possession of which were linked the promises to the house of Israel.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 611.
Priests and Levites exempt from taxes
5. What exemptions and provisions were included in his decree in favor of God’s people?
Ezra 7:24-26 Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them. 25And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. 26And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.
“In giving permission to the Israelites to return, Artaxerxes arranged for the restoration of the members of the priesthood to their ancient rites and privileges. ‘We certify you,’ he declared, ‘that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them.’ He also arranged for the appointment of civil officers to govern the people justly in accordance with the Jewish code of laws. [Ezra 7:24-27 quoted.]” –Prophets and Kings, p. 611.
Generosity of the king’s heart
6. When Ezra and the people devoted themselves to seeking the Lord, what things did they find both the king and his counselors ready to give generously?
Ezra 7:27, 28 Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem: 28And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.
“This decree brought great rejoicing to those who had been uniting with Ezra in a study of God’s purposes concerning His people.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 611.
7. What did the returning exiles do before beginning their long journey? How did the Lord respond as they sought for Him with all their hearts?
Ezra 8:15, 21, 23 And I gathered them together to the river that runneth to Ahava; and there abode we in tents three days:…21Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance…. 23So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was entreated of us.
“In the issuing of this decree by Artaxerxes, God’s providence was manifest. Some discerned this and gladly took advantage of the privilege of returning under circumstances so favorable.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 612.
“Before setting out on the journey, he assembled his companions–men, women, and little children–‘ at the river of Ahava,’ where a solemn fast was proclaimed, prayer offered to God for His blessing upon the undertaking…. And in recording the events that followed he adds: ‘So we fasted, and besought our God for this, and He was entreated of us.’ ‘Then we departed from the river of Ahava, on the twelfth day of the first month to go unto Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way. And we came to Jerusalem.’
“Ezra and his companions had determined to fear and obey God, and to put their trust wholly in Him. They would not form a connection with the world in order to secure the help or friendship of the enemies of God. Whether they were with the many or the few, they knew that success could come from God only.” –Review and Herald, January 8, 1884.
For additional study
Prophets and Kings, chapter 50, “Ezra, the Priest and Scribe,” pp. 607-617
“But with the passing of the years after the close of the captivity, conditions changed, and many new responsibilities rested upon the leaders in Israel. The temple at Jerusalem had been rebuilt and dedicated, and more priests were needed to carry on its services. There was pressing need of men of God to act as teachers of the people. And besides, the Jews remaining in Babylon were in danger of having their religious liberty restricted. Through the prophet Zechariah, as well as by their recent experience during the troublous times of Esther and Mordecai, the Jews in Medo-Persia had been plainly warned to return to their own land. The time had come when it was perilous for them to dwell longer in the midst of heathen influences. In view of these changed conditions, the priests in Babylon should have been quick to discern in the issuance of the decree a special call to them to return to Jerusalem.” –Prophets and Kings, pp. 613, 614.