Profile Of A Priest - Ezra

by Joseph Hunting

The survival of Israel is a miracle. Not only is the preservation of this nation unique, so also is the revival of their language, Hebrew.

So that we may appreciate the magnitude of God's dealings with this nation we need to put the clock back and retrace their history, much of which has been pre-written. For instance, Moses foretold in accurate detail the sorrows and anguish that would accompany their uprooting from the land due to disobedience to God's laws.

More than a century before the event took place Isaiah foretold the name of the Persian king, Cyrus, who would issue the decree for their first regathering. Jeremiah predicted that Judah's first dispersion would be for seventy years. No other nation has had the Eternal take such a personal interest in their past, present and future destiny. Well did Moses exclaim: "What nation is there so great, who has God as near unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon Him for." (Deuteronomy 4:7)

Ezra (meaning 'help') made no predictions as to Israel's future. He was not classed as a prophet, yet he was instrumental in guiding Israel's destiny and shaping the nation during the very difficult days associated with the return of a very small remnant representing all the twelve tribes who returned to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem.

From the Biblical account it appears that Ezra did not accompany this first contingent of some fifty thousand souls under the leadership of Jeshua the priest and Shealtiel and his son Zerubbabel who were descendants of the royal line of David.

During the reign of Artaxerxes, some eighty years after the decree issued by Cyrus, Ezra obtained permission from the king to journey to Jerusalem. "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances." (Ezra 7:10)

In order to accomplish his mission Ezra gathered fifteen hundred priests and Levites. And most importantly he also had a royal decree issued by Artaxerxes authorizing him to "carry silver and gold which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel" (Ezra 7:15), a practice which Gentile kings either before or since have not been in the habit of doing! Furthermore it appears that this Persian monarch was not a heathen despot. According to the Scriptures he was a godly ruler, and the decree which he issued to Ezra is evidence of the man's character.

Artaxerxes was to issue yet another decree, that was to be referred to by the angel Gabriel, which pinpointed the actual day that the nation of Israel would acclaim the Messiah. "Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah, the Prince, shall be seven weeks (or seven sevens of years), and threescore and two weeks" (sixty-two sevens of years). (Daniel 9:25). The only decree that specifically relates to the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and its walls is that given by Artaxerxes to Nehemiah in the month Nisan in the twentieth year of his reign. (Nehemiah chapter 2)

Sir Robert Anderson, Astronomer Royal and mathematician of the last century, researched the dates and revealed the following information. The sixty-nine sevens of years (being lunar years of 360 days) totalled 483 years or 173,880 days. He calculated that the "going forth of the commandment" was made by Artaxerxes on 1st Nisan, or the 14th March, 445 B.C. A further 483 years or 173,880 days terminated on 10th Nisan, which was 6th April, A.D. 32.

On that day Messiah rode triumphantly into Jerusalem and was acclaimed by the multitudes shouting their 'hosannas' in fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; Behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass." (Zechariah 9:9)

Although the Temple and the Holy City were rebuilt, and although the Seed Royal returned and took an active part in the reconstruction, no king has ever again been anointed to rule over Israel on the throne of David, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea: "The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a Prince ..." (Hosea 3:4).

The closing scenes of the book of Ezra reveal the spiritual greatness and integrity of the man. It was reported to him that the people, the priests and the Levites, were "doing according to the abominations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites." (9:1) Ezra's great prayer of confession was mingled with his tears. Like Moses and other great intercessors before him he pleaded with God for forgiveness, but the price was an extremely costly and tragic one.

They had taken wives of the nations round about, "the princes and the rulers being first in this thing." The book of Ezra closes with scenes of national repentance as the people stood "trembling because of this matter and because of the great rain. And Ezra the priest stood up and said unto them, You have transgressed, and have taken foreign wives, to increase the trespass of Israel.

"Now make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do his pleasure; and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the foreign wives. Then all the congregation said with a loud voice, As you have said, so must we do." (10:9-12)

There are interesting parallels in the first and second regatherings of the Jewish people to their homeland. In Ezra's time the pioneers were harassed by adversaries. In the early days of the newly-born state of Israel, a feature was the terrorism and harassment of the pioneers. In Ezra's time there was political intrigue designed to hinder the ongoing development of the land. How familiar are those tactics with modern-day intrigue and even outright opposition to Israel's centuries-old rights to establish sovereignty over Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) and the Golan Heights. What these nations do not understand is that the territory in question is Israel's by Divine right.

In Ezra's time Jerusalem was a 'hot potato'. Everything possible was tried to prevent their possession of the Holy City. History is again repeating itself concerning Israel's right to the sovereignty of David's City.

When he was confronted with problems that threatened to disrupt the ongoing work of re-establishing the nation, Ezra turned to the Word of God for the solution. He was a man of great spiritual courage, and his faith in God's Word was mingled with his works in putting matters right. This is a principle that still holds good for us all.