Ezra

EZRA (ĕz'ra, Heb. ‘ezrā’, help)

1. A man of Judah mentioned in 1Chr.4.17.

2. A leading priest who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel (Neh.12.1). In Neh.10.2 the name is spelled in its full form, Azariah.

3. The famous Jewish priest and scribe who is the main character of the Book of Ezra and the co-worker of Nehemiah.

Ezra was a lineal descendant from Eleazar, the son of Aaron the high priest, and from Seraiah, the chief priest put to death at Riblah by order of Nebuchadnezzar (2Kgs.25.18-2Kgs.25.21). All that is really known of Ezra is what is told in Ezra.7.1-Ezra.7.28-Ezra.10.1-Ezra.10.44 and Neh.8.1-Neh.8.18-Neh.10.1-Neh.10.39. There are various traditions about him in Josephus, 2 Esdras, and the Talmud, but they are discrepant, and consequently no reliance can be put on anything they say unless it is also found in the canonical Scriptures.

In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus, king of Persia (458 b.c.), Ezra received permission from the king to return to Jerusalem to carry out a religious reform. Following the return from Babylonian captivity, the temple had been rebuilt in 516, in spite of much powerful and vexatious opposition from the Samaritans; but after a brief period of religious zeal, the nation drifted into apostasy once more. Many of the Jews intermarried with their heathen neighbors (Mal.2.11); the temple services and sacrifices were neglected (Mal.1.6-Mal.1.14); and oppression and immorality were prevalent (Mal.3.5). Just how Ezra acquired his influence over the king does not appear, but he received a royal edict granting him authority to carry out his purpose. He was given permission to take with him as many Israelites as cared to go; he was authorized to take from the king and the Jews offerings made for the temple; to draw on the royal treasury in Syria for further necessary supplies; to purchase animals for sacrifice; to exempt the priests, Levites, and other workers in the temple from the Persian tax; to appoint magistrates in Judea to enforce the law of God, with power of life and death over all offenders. Eighteen hundred Jews left Babylon with him. Nine days later, they halted at a place called Ahava, and when it was found that no Levites were in the caravan, thirty-eight were persuaded to join them. After fasting and praying three days for a safe journey, they set out. Four months later they reached the Holy City, having made a journey of nine hundred miles (fifteen hundred km.). The treasures were delivered into the custody of the Levites, burnt offerings were offered to the Lord, the king’s commissions were handed to the governors and viceroys, and help was given to the people and the ministers of the temple.

When he had discharged the various trusts committed to him, Ezra entered on his great work of reform. The princes of the Jews came to him with the complaint that the Jewish people generally, and also the priests and Levites, but especially the rulers and princes, had not kept themselves religiously separate from the heathen around them, and had even married heathen wives. On hearing this report, Ezra expressed his horror and deep affliction of soul by tearing his garment and pulling out his hair. Those who still feared God and dreaded his wrath for the sin of the returned exiles gathered around him. At the evening sacrifice that day he made public prayer and confession of sin, entreating God not to remove his favor because of their awful guilt. The assembled congregation wept bitterly, and in the general grief, Shecaniah came forward to propose a covenant to put away their foreign wives and children. A proclamation was issued that all Jews were to assemble in Jerusalem three days later, under pain of excommunication and forfeiture of goods. At the time appointed, the people assembled, trembling on account of their sin and promising obedience. They requested that, since it was raining hard (it was the time of the winter rains in Palestine) and the number of transgressors was great, Ezra would appoint times for the guilty to come, accompanied by the judges and elders of each city, and have each case dealt with. A divorce court, consisting of Ezra and some others, was set up to attend to the matter; and after three months, in spite of some opposition, the work of the court was finished and the foreign wives were put away.

The Book of Ezra ends with this important transaction. Nothing more is heard of Ezra until thirteen years later in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (446 b.c.), he appears again at Jerusalem, when Nehemiah, a Babylonian Jew and the favored cupbearer of Artaxerxes, returned to Jerusalem as governor of Palestine with the king’s permission to repair the ruined walls of the city. It is uncertain whether Ezra remained in Jerusalem after he had effected the above-named reformation, or whether he had returned to the king of Persia and now came back with Nehemiah, or perhaps shortly after the arrival of the latter. Since he is not mentioned in Nehemiah’s narrative until after the completion of the wall (Neh.8.1), it is probable that Nehemiah sent for him to aid in his work. Under Nehemiah’s government his functions were entirely of a priestly and ecclesiastical character. He read and interpreted the law of Moses before the assembled congregation during the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles, assisted at the dedication of the wall, and helped Nehemiah in bringing about a religious reformation. In all this he took a chief place. His name is repeatedly coupled with Nehemiah’s, while the high priest is not mentioned as taking any part in the reformation at all.

Ezra is not again mentioned after Nehemiah’s departure for Babylon. It may be that he himself returned to Babylon before that year.

Evidence points to Ezra’s ministry taking place during the reign of Artaxerxes I (456-424 b.c.); but there are some modern critics who put Ezra after Nehemiah, holding that the sections dealing with them in the two books that bear their names have been transposed and that the chronicler (the supposed author of the two books and of 1 and 2 Chronicles) blundered in the few passages that associate the two.

According to Jewish tradition, Ezra is the author of the Book of Ezra and of 1 and 2 Chronicles. Many modern scholars hold that he wrote the Book of Nehemiah as well. First Esdras, a part of the OT Apocrypha, reproduces the substance of the end of 2 Chronicles, the whole of Ezra, and a part of Nehemiah, and was written somewhere near the beginning of the first century a.d. There is also an apocalyptic book known as 2 Esdras, written about a.d. 100, describing some visions granted to Ezra in the Babylonian exile.

Ezra made a lasting impression on the Jewish people. His influence shaped Jewish life and thought in a way from which they never completely departed.——SB


EZRAH (ĕz'ra). A man of Judah mentioned in 1Chr.4.17 (kjv Ezra).


b

EZRA ĕz’ rə (עֶזְרָא, H6474, ̓́Εσρας, ̓Εσδράς).

1. A descendant of Judah (1 Chron 4:17, but spelled עֶזְרָ֔ה).

2. Ezra, the son of Jozadak, a priest and prominent postexilic leader. His genealogy is carried back to Aaron in 1 Chronicles 6:3-15 and, with some omissions, in Ezra 7:1-5. He is called a ready scribe in the law of Moses (Ezra 7:6), and led back some 1750 men, perhaps a total of 5000 people, in a second return from Babylon. It seems clear that Ezra wrote the book bearing his name. The last two vv. of 2 Chronicles are identical with the first two of Ezra which supports the Jewish tradition that Ezra wrote Chronicles also (cf. W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan [1968], 182).


The only other argument of consequence for a late date of Ezra concerns the mention of Eliashib who was high priest in 444 b.c. (Neh 3:1). He was the father of a Jehohanan associated with Ezra (Ezra 10:6); and the Elephantine papyri mention a high priest Jehohanan in 408 b.c. The problem is not serious. Ezra’s marriage reform of Ezra 10 has no date given. Jehohanan could have been made high priest at some subsequent time and lasted in office until 408 b.c. Or there may have been two Eliashibs and two Jehohanans. It was the custom to name a boy for his grandfather. Three such successive Sanballats are now known! The traditional order of Ezra and Nehemiah is still satisfactory.

Of Ezra’s political office very little is known, but he clearly had influence at court. He was given a blank check by the king and authority to appoint officers (7:21-26), but is not called a governor as was Nehemiah. His faith is shown by refusing a military guard for his caravan (8:22). Nehemiah emphasizes Ezra’s scribal activity. Actually, Ezra was a priest of the line of Zadok and would be expected to teach the law (cf. Neh 8). Ezra and Nehemiah led the two processions at the dedication of the walls (Neh 12:36-40).

Ezra was prominent in post-Biblical Jewish tradition. In the late book, 2 Esdras 14, he is said to have rewritten and published the twenty-four books of the Heb. canon which had been burned during the captivity. In the tradition he dictated the books rapidly under special divine enablement.

Bibliography

H. H. Schaeder, Esra der Schreiber (1930); A. C. Welch, Post-Exilic Judaism (1934); J. S. Wright, The Date of Ezra’s Coming to Jerusalem (1947); W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (1957).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(Aramaic or Chaldee, `ezra’, "help"; a hypocoristicon, or shortened form of Azariah, "Yahweh has helped." The Hebrew spells the name `ezrah, as in 1Ch 4:17, or uses the Aramaic spelling of the name, as in Ezr 7:1. The Greek form is Esdras):

(1) A priest who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylon (Ne 12:1). In Ne 10:2, Azariah, the full form of the name, is found.

(2) A descendant of Judah and father of Jethro and other sons (1Ch 4:17).

(3) The distinguished priest who is the hero of the nodetitle and co-worker with Nehemiah.

1. Family:

The genealogy of Ezra is given in Ezr 7:1-6, where it appears that he was the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the high priest. Since Seraiah, according to the Book of Kings, was killed by Nebuchadrezzar at Riblah (2Ki 25:18-21), and since he was the father of Jehozadak, the high priest who was carried into captivity by Nebuchadrezzar (1Ch 6:14,15, Heb 5:14), etc. in 588 BC, and since the return under Ezra took place in 458 BC, the word "son" must be used in Ezr 7:2 in the sense of descendant. Since, moreover, Joshua, or Jeshua, the high priest, who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel, was the son of Jehozadak and the grandson of Seraiah, Ezra was probably the great-grandson or great-great-grandson of Seraiah. Inasmuch as Jehozadak is never mentioned as one of his forefathers, Ezra was probably not descended from Jehozadak, but from a younger brother. He would thus not be a high priest, though he was of high-priestly descent as far as Seraiah. For the sake of shortening the list of names, six names are omitted in Ezr 7:2-7 between Azariah and Meraioth, and one between Shallum and Ahitub from the corresponding list found in 1Ch 6:4-14 (Hebrew 5:30-40).

Being a priest by birth, it is to be supposed that Ezra would have performed the ordinary functions of a member of his order, if he had been born and had lived in Palestine.

2. Occupation:

Jos, indeed, says that he was high priest of his brethren in Babylon, a statement that in view of the revelation of the Elephantine papyri may not be without a foundation in fact. According to the Scriptures and Jewish tradition, however, Ezra was pre-eminently a scribe, and especially a scribe of the law of Moses. He is called "a ready scribe in the law of Moses," a "scribe of the words of the commandments of Yahweh, and of his statutes to Israel," "the scribe of the law of the God of heaven." As early as the time of Jeremiah (compare Jer 8:8), "scribe" had already attained the meaning of one learned in the Scriptures, one who had made the written law a subject of investigation. Ezra is the first who is called by the title of "the scribe," the title by which Artaxerxes designates him in his letter of instructions in Ezr 7:6,11.

3. His Commission:

In the 7th year of Artaxerxes I (459-458 BC) Ezra requested permission of the king to go up to Jerusalem; for "Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of Yahweh, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances." Artaxerxes granted his request, and gave him a letter permitting as many of the people of Israel and of the priests and Levites as so desired to accompany him to Jerusalem, and commissioning him to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, and to carry a gift of money from the king and his counselors, and all the money to be found in the province of Babylon, and the freewill offerings of the people and priests, with which to buy offerings to offer upon the altar of the house of God which was in Jerusalem. He was commissioned also to carry vessels for the service of the house of God, and to do at the expense of the royal treasury whatever was needful for the house of God. The king decreed, moreover, that the treasurers of the king should assist Ezra with a tribute of wheat, wine, oil and salt, and that they should impose no tribute, custom or toll upon any of those employed in the service of the house of God. Moreover, Ezra was authorized to appoint judges to judge the people according to the law of God and the law of the king, and to inflict punishments upon all who would not obey these laws. Ascribing this marvelous letter of the king to the lovingkindness of his God, and strengthened by this evidence of God’s power, Ezra proceeded to gather together out of Israel the chief men and teachers and ministers of the house to go up with him to Jerusalem. He gathered these men in camp at Casiphia, on the river Ahava. Here he proclaimed a time of fasting and prayer, that God might prosper their journey (Ezr 8:15-23). Then, having delivered the treasures into the hands of the priests, the assembled company departed for Jerusalem, where by the help of God they arrived in safety, delivered over the money and gifts by number and weight, offered burnt offerings and sin offerings, delivered the king’s commissions and furthered the people and the house of God.

Shortly after Ezra’s arrival at Jerusalem, the princes accused the people, the priests, and the Levites of having intermarried with the peoples of the land, even asserting that the princes and rulers had been leaders in the trespass. Upon hearing this, Ezra was confounded, rent his garments, plucked off his hair, fell upon his knees and prayed a prayer of confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God. While he prayed the people assembled and wept, acknowledged their sin and promised to do according to the law. The whole people were then assembled in counsel, and in spite of some opposition the strange wives were put away.

In Ne 8, Ezra appears again upon the scene at the nodetitle as the chief scribe of the law of Moses, the leader of the priests and Levites who read and explained the law to the people. On his advice the people ceased from their mourning and celebrated the festival according to the law of Moses with joy and thanksgiving and giving of gifts, dwelling also in booths in commemoration of the manner of their fathers’ sojourning while in the wilderness.

4. Traditions:

The traditions with regard to Ezra found in Josephus and in the Talmud are so discrepant that it is impossible to place reliance upon any of their statements which are not found also in the. canonical Scriptures.

R. Dick Wilson