“Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him” (v. 6).
Nearly sixty years passed between the temple rededication recorded in Ezra 6:13–22, which occurred in 516 BC, and the commissioning of Ezra in 458 BC, recorded in 7:1–26. We know very little about what happened during those six decades, though we know that the Jews in Judah experienced opposition to their rebuilding of Jerusalem during that time (4:6–23). As one commentator has pointed out, this would certainly have created a need over time for the people to receive new instruction in the law. After all, it would have been hard to continually know and do God’s Word as they attempted to endure the threat of their enemies.
In today’s passage we meet Ezra, the scribe who was a key leader of God’s people in the postexilic period. Ezra, we learn, was a priest from Aaron’s line who had been living in the city of Babylon, which was then part of the Persian Empire. Being a priest certainly explained why he was “skilled in the Law of Moses,” and his education meant that the Jews who had remained in Babylon prospered and could devote time to learning. King Artaxerxes I gave Ezra all that he asked because “the hand of the LORD his God was on him” (7:1–6). In fact, Ezra’s name is a shortened version of the name Azariah, which means “the LORD has helped.” God appointed Ezra to fulfill the task of educating people in His law, and the reforms Ezra would institute would shape the faith and practice of the Jews for centuries. To this day, Ezra is a much-revered figure in Jewish history, and he seems to have played a key role in collecting the books of the Old Testament into a single canon and codifying scribal practices related to copying and transmitting the biblical text.
That Artaxerxes granted Ezra’s request to go to Jerusalem is in keeping with the Persians’ desire for the peoples they ruled to follow their own religious practices properly. The journey from Babylon to Jerusalem took several months, and Ezra had a single purpose in mind for his trip: “to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (vv. 7–10).
Artaxerxes ordered the people to obey Ezra and to give him what he needed to accomplish his purposes, for the Lord was with Ezra (vv. 6, 11–26). This does not surprise us, for it is the practice of God to raise up teachers of His covenant people and to bless their work according to His purposes so that His Word does not return to Him void (Isa. 55:10–11; Eph. 4:11–14).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
God has given us not only His infallible and inerrant Word to guide us in the truth but also teachers whom He has equipped to instruct us in this Word. We should therefore pay heed to the godly and wise teachers whom the Lord has appointed in His church, and we should thank God for the teachers He has given us. It is a blessing indeed to sit under sound instruction in the Word of God.