Ezra 6:14–7:28. The Emergence of a New Kind of Leader in Israel.
Key Notes: The scribe who was the king's secretary now becomes a student and teacher of Scripture. Table of occupations. Teaching the Law vs. doing it.
In this lesson, a new occupation emerges, the religious teaching-leader or scribe. Although much maligned in Jesus’ day, the scribe was crucial to the development of Judaism. This lesson describes the first of these leaders, a role-model for those who followed.
Ezra. 6:14 The House of God was finished with the spiritual assistance of prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and the political and material support of Cyrus and later, Darius. It was four years in building. Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem will come later under Nehemiah.
6:16–22 There was great joy and celebration at the dedication. Priests and levites were positioned in their stations and set in schedules. Passover was celebrated as a community-wide activity, as it had been in the time of Josiah. IIChron. 35
The "king of Assyria" had been moved by God? It is a reference to Cyrus, king of Persia; Assyria would have been a district under his control. Neh.9:32 uses the expression “kings of Assyria” probably meaning the succession of Assyrian , Babylonian, and Persian kings. Herodotus later described Babylon as the capitol of Assyria. (Expositors’ Bible Commentary. Zondervan;Vol.4,’88. pg. 647–8)
7:1–10 Seventy years later, Ezra emerged as a new leader. He could trace his ancestry back sixteen generations to Aaron—a thousand years. (Many generations are omitted.) He was a learned man, skilled in interpreting the Law of Moses. His goal was to go back to Jerusalem to be a teaching leader in Israel. He was supported by Artexerxes and accompanied by Jews and temple workers.
7:11–26 Artexerxes gave him a letter of reference indicating that he knew Ezra well. He sent Ezra to Jerusalem with money from Babylon. He was to:
•inquire about the condition of Judah and Jerusalem 7:14
•provide worship to the God of heaven, in order to protect the life of the king and his sons. 7:23
•appoint judges and magistrates from those who knew the Law of Moses, to teach to those who did not. 7:25
* compel all to obey the Law of God. 7:26
*No taxes should be levied against temple workers. 7:24
The letter also authorized Ezra to requisition from the local treasurers:
100 talents of silver, 7500 lb. One talent is about 80 lb.
100 cors of wheat, 6500 bushels. One cor is a donkey load, about 6.5 bushels.
100 baths of oil and wine, 600 gallons of each. One bath is 6 gallons.
Salt as needed.
7:27 The text concludes with a doxology, praising God for moving the king to extend mercy to Ezra, so that he might beautify the temple.
Many occupations are a part of OT culture. This chart separates them into categories--political, sacramental, manual and illicit.
Scribes have been described before. Earlier they served as secretary to the king. (I Chron.27:32). In Josiah’s time, some of the levites were scribes, meaning learned people who could write. (IIChron.34:13). The sons of Rechab were scribes. IChron.2:55
What is new in Ezra’s job is his devotion to the Law.
“Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (7:10)
The five books of Moses called, “Pentateuch” or “Torah", are Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. and Deuteronomy. They have now been received in a final form. The earliest known writer was Moses. ( Ex.24:4,7). Some think that Ezra also wrote the Chronicles because of similarities in vocabulary and style. How the rest of the OT was compiled is unknown.
When Israel was in her own land, their identity could be taken for granted. In exile, much of what they had previously done and known was gone, since they had no temple or king. Ezekiel was the only prophet who spoke to the exiles away from Judah. The Law became the defining fence that separated Jews from Babylonians. The second generation of emigrants would likely lose their native tongue, making the Law even more important. The scribe became the center of religious life. To this day, the teachers of the Law (“Rabbis”) are the focus of Jewish culture and observance.
Isaiah said “The Lord was pleased, for His righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious." (Isa.42:21). It was the task of the scribe to make God’s word glorious.
The scribe made a profession of Moses’ admonition to Israel before the conquest of Canaan.
“And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise. “ (Deut.6:6–7)
The nearest NT equivalents of the leader / teacher are Paul and Timothy.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (IITim.2:15)
However, Paul had little good to say of scribes otherwise.
“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (ICor.1:20)
Being a teacher of Scripture involves an occupational hazard. As one student told me, “You teach better than you can do.” That is undoubtedly true. None of us are as good as the standard we profess. “To do ” is the hard part. James warns us,
“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. For we all make many mistakes, and if anyone makes no mistakes in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.” (Jm.3:1–2)
There are warnings against the scribes in Jesus’ time because the Law had become a great subject to teach, but not necessarily to practice. The task was a source of power and prestige. Jesus indicted the scribes and Pharisees repeatedly in Matt.23:13–33 for being hypocrites.
•They kept people from getting into the Kingdom by obscuring the way.
•They made up ridiculous rules.
•They were scrupulous with tithes of minor incomes but neglected justice, mercy and faith.
• Purity was on the outside; extortion (using their power to extract unearned money) on the inside.
•Like whitewashed tombs, they were good-looking but corrupt.
•They persecuted the prophets (John the baptist and Jesus) as their ancestors had done.
So what had been in the beginning, a great calling—to study, do and teach the Law—had become a profession of hypocrites: “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Paul in Rom.2:21–24 asks
“You then teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, do you dishonor God by breaking the Law? For it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’”
When Christ came, He fulfilled the Law. He became the living definition of what it meant to do the will of God. As His followers (Christians, little Christs), we exemplify what the Law requires by the Holy Spirit's power in our daily walk. (Rom.8:4). We are all privileged to embody what the Law requires. That is our common gift and responsibility. Paul’s discussion of the problem of “doing” what the Law requires deserves special attention. Rom.7:7–8:11
May God gift some of you with this special calling of teaching the Word of God outside of your family. It requires curiosity, a love of books, a love of people, a love of God, and time. The rewards are many.