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9. Ezra and Nehemiah

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I. Persian Period (550-330) and Background of Ezra/Nehemiah

“When Cyrus entered Babylon in 539 B.C., the world was old. More significant, it knew its antiquity.”1

“The story of the ancient Orient is drawing to its close. And yet, by a strange contrast, on the very eve of the final crisis it achieves its maximum extension, unification and power. Up to and beyond its boundaries, from India to Libya, a single empire is built up from diverse peoples, and the synthesis which had existed momentarily under the Assyrians now becomes a stable condition, reinforced by an enlightened policy of liberality and tolerance.”2

The chief actors in this new phase of history are Indo-Europeans, known to be present long since on the Iranian plateau, but who form strong political organisms only during the first millennium.

The prologue to the new chapter of history is provided by the empire of the Medes, who are of Iranian stock and closely related to the Persians. In the seventh century B.C., they established a powerful state and, under king Cyaxares, defeated Assyria and penetrated into Armenia and Anatolia, checked only at the river Halys by the resistance of the Lydians (along with Nabopolassar,3). The empire disappeared soon after its rise. In the middle of the following century, Cyrus’ Persians threw off its yoke, took over the power and set out along the open road of expansion (note maps for Median expansion alongside the Neo-Babylonian empire). The ancient name Hakhamanish or Achaemenes becomes the dynastic title and the Persian rulers are henceforth known as the Achaemenids.

A. Cyrus II (550-529)

The story of Astyages, king of the Medes who married his daughter to an unimportant Persian (Cambyses I a king but under Median thumb) is recounted by Herodotus.4 Of this marriage was born Cyrus who was destined to death by Astyages (because of a dream that his daughter gave birth to water which flooded the world) but was kept alive by a herdsman. Harpagus had been assigned the task of killing the child, and when Cyrus grew up, Astyages discovered him and cooked Harpagus’ son and fed him to him.

Cyrus became king of Anshan in 560 or 559 B.C.5 and made his move against the Medes in 550 B.C., and Harpagus deserted to his side. “Ecbatana was captured, and its wealth of gold, silver, and precious objects was carried off to Anshan.”6 Cyrus became the ruler of the Medes and the Persians and conquered an empire that stretched to India in the East and to the western edge of Anatolia. This vast empire, with its disparate peoples could only have come about through a policy of the Persians that differed immensely from their predecessors. Cyrus allowed a measure of local autonomy and allowed the return of various gods, the rebuilding of temples, and the recognition of local cultures. Isaiah (40-45) tells us that God raised him up as his anointed (Isa 45:1-2). The Jews benefited from the policy in that they were allowed to return to their land, rebuild their temple, and restore their worship system.7 The decree of Cyrus, found on the Cyrus Cylinder is on p. 348. in a foot-note.8

Three major military expeditions (in addition to the many minor ones) were necessary to bring this about (note the three ribs in the Bear in Daniel’s vision ch. 7). The Lydian campaign began in 547 B.C. when Croesus moved to take over the part of the empire left by the now defunct Medes. Cyrus moved west to interrupt this action and forced the old Assyrian/Median groupings to submit to him. He defeated Croesus in the winter of 547 even though he had called on his allies the Babylonians and the Egyptians to help him. Cyrus also began the process of forcing the Ionian Greeks to submit to him as well.9

The capture of Babylon took place some eight years later.9 10 The reason for the delay is not clear. Since the Greek sources talk about his developing a number of canals north of Babylon (with which Herodotus says he diverted the Euphrates River to allow him to invade Babylon), some argue that he was developing irrigation projects while waiting for Babylon to fall into his hands.11 Sippar fell on 10 October and Nabonidus fled to Babylon where he was captured when the Persian forces entered the city. Cyrus himself entered on 29 October, 539 B.C., and the Babylonian territories became Persian thereafter. These territories included the “Abar Nahara” satrap, encompassing Syria and Palestine and thus the Jews. Cyrus’ son Cambyses was appointed the king of Babylon. Cyrus was killed in a campaign of 530 B.C., and his son Cambyses became king in his place.

B. Cambyses II (529-522 B.C.).

Some identify him with Darius the Mede (Dan 5:31ff), since he ruled Babylon under his father, but that is not likely.12 Cambyses as the King’s son “took the hands of Marduk” in 538 B.C. and was called king of Babylon.13 Cook believes that Cambyses irritated the priests at Babylon and that he was not king again until 530 when his father went to the battle in which he was killed.14 But Olmstead says he ruled as governor the entire time.15

Cambyses began the Egypt campaign in 526 B.C. (the third major thrust) and conquered all Egypt in 525 B.C. Darius was a spear bearer in Cambyses’ army, and Cook argues that he may have been moving in the highest circles at that time.16 Amasis the resourceful pharaoh died as Cambyses began his campaigns and the Greek mercenaries deserted to Cambyses. The new pharaoh was defeated in the delta and at Memphis. Cambyses became the king of upper and lower Egypt. He campaigned further south, but it is difficult to sort out malicious rumor and legend from the truth.

C. Gaumata (522-521 B.C.)

In Cambyses’ long absence, there was a usurpation back home. The details are conflicting and confused. Cambyses’ manner of death is disputed. He died in Syria in 522, some of the Greek sources say due to a wound suffered when he fell on his dagger. There is confusion in the empire during this time, and the details are hard to determine. Darius, whose vested interested in the story clouds his reliability, claims that a usurper had pretended to be Cambyses’ brother, Bardyia (the Greeks pronounced it Smerdis), had taken over the throne and was killed by Darius and/or the nobles. It may be that Bardyia had indeed taken over the throne in the extended absence of Cambyses and was killed by Darius who was an officer in the army.17

D. Darius I (Hystaspes, 521-486 B.C.).

Darius the Great was the great imperialist, noted for the Behistun inscription.18 He is mentioned by Ezra (he was not a direct descendant of Cyrus but of royal blood). Darius immediately faced rebellion in the empire. After much bloody fighting, he succeeded in establishing his rule. This was accomplished by 520 B.C. He claims that he fought nineteen battles and took captive nine kings in one and the same year.19 It was in this year that Zechariah began his ministry (Zech 1:1). All the world was at peace, but Israel was unhappy. Work on the temple was resumed in 520 B.C., and the Cyrus decree was found in Ecbatana (they first looked in Babylon, Ezra 6:1-2), the temple was finished in 516 B.C. twenty years after it had been started. The Persian wars against the Greeks began in 492 and continued under Xerxes. Darius was defeated by the Greeks at Marathon in 490 B.C. Egypt revolted four years later, and Darius died as he was setting out to put down the revolt.

E. Xerxes I (Ahasuerus, 486-465 B.C.).

This is the mad king who in a mighty combined operation sought to avenge Marathon, and whom the Greeks defeated at Salamis (480 B.C.) and Plataea (479 B.C.). The feast and assembly of Esth 1:3 is plausibly equated with Herodotus 7:8 (the king pays attention to his harem), while Esth 2:16 may be a reference to the events of Herodotus 9:108, 109, according to Blaiklock.20 [Xerxes wanted the wife of a friend but refrained from taking her. He brought her daughter to the palace and married her to his son but took liberties with her himself. Through a series of events, his wife learned of it and mutilated the mother of the girl (Herodotus).]

F. Artaxerxes I (Longimanus, 464-424 B.C.).

It was this monarch who permitted Ezra to go to Jerusalem to restore the affairs of the Jewish community (Ezra 7, 8—458 B.C.) and who promoted the mission of his cup-bearer Nehemiah thirteen years later (445 B.C.).21 Malachi is usually dated through internal evidence to the first half of the fifth century (c. 450 B.C.).

G. Later Persian Kings, 424-330 B.C.

Xerxes II (Promptly murdered by half-brother, Sogdianus)

Sogdianus (Murdered after a few months by half-brother, Ochus)

Ochus known as Darius II (423-404)

Arsaces known as Artaxerxes II (404-358)

Ochus known as Artaxerxes III (358-338)

Arses (338-336) murdered by Darius III

Darius III (336-330)

The last one hundred years of Persian rule were chaotic. The kings tended to weaknesses, were often dominated by their women, and were filled with cruelty. The Satraps often revolted and declared indepen-dence.

II. The Political Structure of Judah under the Persians.

The Assyrians had effectively destroyed independent entities in Syria-Palestine except for Tyre, Sidon, and Judah. The native dynasts were re-placed by Assyrian governors. Judah also lost her independence to Babylon. When Cyrus took over the Babylonian territory these provinces submitted to Persia and were incorporated into the structure of the empire.22

“For the government of this wide-extending territory, he [Cyrus] adopted in principle the organization first devised by the Assyrians, who replaced the states they had conquered by formal provinces. Each was ruled by a governor with a full staff of subordinates, and all kept in close touch with the central power through frequent exchange of orders and reports.”23 The word Satrap means “protector of the Kingdom.” The hereditary position of the Satrap created problems of loyalty which were handled by making the military directly responsible to the King.

Palestine was part of the very large satrap called Abar Nahara (Ezra 4:10, 11, 16, 17, 20; 8:36). This word means the “Cross River” area. Stern says that the term was already in use as early as the Assyrian period.24 Abar Nahara was combined by Cyrus with the whole of the territory captured from Babylonia.25 The Satrap seat was in Damascus. Therefore, when Nehemiah and Ezra returned, that Satrap was already in existence.

The many changes in the satrap of Abar Nahara that took place over the years, obviously affected Judah as well. Presumably, the divisions and subdivisions of Palestine were already in effect under the Babylonians. Two of the more significant units were Samaria and Palestine (see map, p. 365). The information on this era is sparse indeed, but more information is coming to light. Cross shows that there were a series of Sanballats who ruled as governor of Samaria.26As for Judah as a province, the Bible speaks of Sheshbazzar as “prince of Judah” and Zerubbabel as “the governor of Judah” as it does also of Nehemiah. The Elephantine papyri speak of a certain Bagohi as a governor after Nehemiah. Stern also refers to a group of coins from the end of the Persian period that bear the legend: “Jehezekiah the governor.”27 As a summery, Avi-Yonah lists six known governors of Judah during the two hundred years of Persian rule (there may even have been times when there was no governor): Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, Nehemiah, Bigoai or Bagohi, Yehoezer, Ahio.28 He also argues for the separate Jewish province in spite of the interference of the Samaritans in the Book of Ezra. He says that the loose Persian rule lent itself to disputes among the provinces.29

“In summary, Palestine in the Persian period was apparently organized into a number of provinces or ‘states’ (medinoth). Each unit was ruled by a dynasty of governors, generally of a local family: Samaritans in Samaria (according to the wadi Daliyeh papyri) and Arabs in the south (according to the Tell el-Maskhuta inscriptions), and possibly also in Judah (as is suggested by stamp impressions, bullae, and coins of Jehezekiah). These governors had small courts, imitating those of the satraps, and they stood at the head of small administrative organizations. They were probably in charge of small military garrisons and were allowed to keep official stamps of the ‘state’ in their possession, one of the most frequent finds of that period at sites excavated in the province. The governors also seem to have been permitted to strike the small silver coins, which are now known as ‘Palestinian’ coins. Thus far the inscriptions of four of the provinces are clearly legible: Samaria, Judah, Ashdod, and Gaza. The provinces were subdivided into ‘parts’ (pelek; Neh 3:9, 17).”30

III. Introduction to the books.

A. The relation of the two books.

The evidence in all the versions and ancient records points to the fact that Ezra and Nehemiah were once one account of the “new exodus” from Babylon to rebuild the temple, walls and community. “We may therefore conclude by affirming that there is good reason to approach Ezra and Nehemiah as two parts of a single work and that this work is to be regarded as complete as it stands.”31

B. Authorship and composition of the books.

There is much controversy over the dates, chronology and inter-relationship of the books. For background information see the most recent studies in Fensham, The Book of Ezra and Nehemiah, New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah in Word Biblical Commentary; and Myers, Ezra, Nehemiah in Anchor Bible. The trend in the past was to see Ezra-Nehemiah as part of the overall “Chronicler’s” work (1‑2 Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah) and Albright argued for the Chronicler to be Ezra.32 Williamson denies that Ezra wrote the Chronicles.33

Fensham suggests five major sources for the books: (1) Ezra 1‑6 describing the history prior to the arrival of Ezra.34 (2) Ezra 7‑10 constituting the first part of the memoirs of Ezra. (3) Neh. 1:1—7:72a comprising part of the Nehemiah memoir. (4) Nehemiah 8‑10 continuing the Ezra memoir (5) Neh. 11:1—13:31 continuing the Nehemiah memoir.

C. Broad outline of the books.

1. Return under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel to build the temple (538 B.C.) (Ezra 1-6).

2. Return of Ezra for spiritual reform (458 B.C.) (Ezra 7-10).

3. Return of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls (445-433 B.C.) (Neh. 1-7).

4. Revival of the people (Nehemiah 8-12).

5. Nehemiah’s second return (Nehemiah 13).

D. The chronological sequence of the books.

1. Events under Cyrus, first king of Persia (539‑529 B. C).

a. Edict issued returning people and temple contents (538 B.C.).

b. Temple foundation laid (536 B.C.).

2. Events under Cambyses, Cyrus’ son (529‑522 B. C).

No biblical events. Cambyses conquered Egypt (referred to in the Elephantine papyri).

3. Events under Darius, the great, Persian general (522‑486 B. C).

a. Darius defeats usurper to throne (Gaumata) and struggles to put down rebellions (done by 518).

b. Zechariah begins his ministry in second year of Darius.

c. The temple was completed in 516.

d. Darius was defeated at Marathon by Greeks in 490.

4. Events under Xerxes (Ahasuerus) (486‑465 B. C).

a. Xerxes was defeated at Salamis in 480.

b. b. The events of Esther may have taken place after his return.

5. Events under Artaxerxes I (465‑424 B.C.).

a. Accusations against the Jews (Ezra 4:6).

b. Ezra’s return to promote religious reform (458 B.C.)

Fensham says the Egypt Satrap revolted in 460 B.C., and the revolt was suppressed in 456 B.C. Artaxerxes needed loyal people in Judah and may have sent Ezra for this purpose (Ezra 7:8).35

c. Nehemiah’s first return (445 B.C. Neh 5:14).

IV. The work of Ezra the Priest.

“To judge from the Ezra material, it appears fairly clear that the great religious leader was concerned primarily with the reorganization of the cult on the basis of the Pentateuchal legislation . . . it is becoming increasingly certain that Ezra did not function as governor. What he came to do was more significant in the long run—laying the foundations of Judaism that was to make an incalculable impact upon the world in the following centuries. . . It is perhaps not too much to say that what Nehemiah did for the body of Judaism, Ezra did for its soul.”36

The idea of a scribe is an old one, but the only early biblical reference to the word (sopher) is in the poetic section of Judges 5. Under the monarchy they served as court secretaries. Baruch was a scribe to Jeremiah. However, it is with Ezra that the New Testament type of scribe emerges. He is one who is trained in the law of Moses to copy it and to interpret it. (KJV has “ready scribe”; NASB has “a scribe skilled.”) The Hebrew phrase sopher maher means first a fast writer and then a skilled writer and then a competent person. As Samuel was to the prophetic movement, so Ezra was to the scribal movement.37

Ezra’s purpose was to study the law, to practice it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances to Israel (7:10). Williamson says, “The scribe, we should note, was not only a student of Scripture, but explicitly a practitioner and especially a teacher of its requirements. And these qualities we find exemplified in Ezra’s ministry.”38

Artaxerxes had sent a special decree with Ezra (7:11‑26). Fensham says that the “Jewishness” of the letter is to be explained by the fact that Ezra probably drafted the letter that went out in the name of the king.39 He permitted people to go with Ezra and permitted him to collect money for the undertaking. Ezra was to take utensils to be used in the temple back with him. Artaxerxes gave him an expense voucher and freed certain temple workers from taxes. He commissioned Ezra to appoint officers to enforce the Mosaic law.40

Williamson says, “It has been widely accepted since Schaeder’s work that ‘the scribe of the law of the God of heaven’ was an official Persian title, so that some have gone so far as to translate ‘minister/secretary of state for Jewish affairs.’”41

Ezra’s purpose in coming to Jerusalem was two‑fold: (1) He was to “inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God which is in your hand” (7:14). Williamson suggests that this facet of the commission took three directions. First it would investigate how closely the temple worship related to the Mosaic law. Second, the concern with mixed marriages may have in part been concerned with who legitimately came under this law. Third, it may have involved checking up on the use of state aid for the temple worship.42 (2) The second purpose is more difficult to understand (7:25). He was to appoint “magistrates and judges” (shaphetin wedayyanin שָׁפְטִין וְדַיָּנִין). This was no doubt designed to regulate the lives of those in the Abar Naharna Satrap who considered themselves to be Jews.

V. The work of Nehemiah.

Hanani (shortened form for Hananiah) is referred to as Nehemiah’s brother. This reference should be understood in a literal sense because of 7:2. There is another Hananiah connected with the Elephantine community, but whether they are the same man is not clear. The breaking down of the walls is debated. Sometime during the first 20 years of Artaxerxes, an attempt was made to rebuild the city and walls (Ezra 4:7-22). The attempt was thwarted, and the present state of the walls was worse than in 586 B.C. The walls continued to lie in ruins even though the temple had been built. The people were vulnerable to attacks from all those around them.

Sanballat the Horonite is known from the Elephantine Papyri as the governor of Samaria. The date of that papyrus is 408 B.C. There he was older, and his sons were representing him. The Nehemiah context is over thirty years earlier. The reference to him as a Horonite is not clear. It may refer to the town of lower Beth Horon or it may refer to a deity.

Tobiah the Ammonite is an obscure figure. Quite a bit is known about the Tobiads of the third century. Josephus tells us that they played an important part in the events leading up to the Maccabean revolt. “The great man of the family was Joseph, the son of Tobiah, who was active under Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221 B.C.).”43 A tomb inscription, Tobiah, is dated by Mazar in the sixth or fifth centuries. He concludes that, “This Tobiah [in Nehemiah] was not only a Jew (not half-Ammonite and half-Jew, or even pure Ammonite, as some scholars hold to this day), but one of the heads of the Jews and a relative of the high priest, exactly like Tobiah the father of Joseph a hundred and fifty years later. Nehemiah states expressly (vi, 18) that ‘there were many in Judah sworn unto him.’”44 The use of the phrase in Nehemiah “the Ammonite servant” is for Mazar to be equated with “servant of the king,” i.e., of the king of Persia, and thus concludes that Tobiah may have been the governor of Ammon.45 Williamson argues that he was probably an associate of Sanballat and may have had some temporary responsibility in Judah in the absence of a governor.46 “Ammonite” is certainly a pejorative term. Nehemiah recorded a past event in which Eliashib had become related by marriage to Tobiah. Eliashib had prepared a special room for him in the temple when he visited (Neh 13:5). Fensham argues that this is not the same Eliashib as the high priest since this one is over the chamber.47

An additional adversary appears in 2:19 by the name of Geshem the Arab. This man is well-known as a powerful Arabian operating within the Persian empire with a fair amount of independence. There is no way of knowing why he is hostile to Nehemiah, who could have posed little threat to him, unless he simply does not want any strengthening of the Persian influence in a neighboring province.48

Fensham says the Persian general who defeated Egypt became angry at Artaxerxes and revolted against him. Later he declared loyalty and was restored, but again Artaxerxes would want loyal leaders in the west and so may have sent Nehemiah.49

50

A. Ezra apparently came back a second time early in Nehemiah’s period (Neh 8‑10; 12:36).

B. Nehemiah returns a second time (after 432 B.C. Neh 13:6).

VI. Outline notes on Ezra-Nehemiah.

A. The return under Sheshbazzar/Zerubbabel to build the temple (from the first year of Cyrus to the second year of Darius: 538 B.C. to 516 B.C.) (Ezra 1:1—6:22).

1. The return from Babylon (1:1—2:70).

The edict was issued to return.51 Most people will argue that the reference to Jeremiah is to the seventy-year prediction (ch. 25, 29). Williamson argues that it should be related to Jeremiah 51, tied in with Isaiah 41, 44, and 45, but I would still go with the seventy-year element as the Chronicler does. The leaders were chosen, and the material of the temple returned. Sheshbazzar (1 Chron 3:18) is either another name for Zerubbabel or another person who must have died before the edict was carried out.52 The list of the people returning is given (2:1‑70).

Zerubbabel

Levites

Jeshua

Nehemiah

Jeshua and Kadmiel

Seraiah

Hodaviah

Reelaiah

Mordecai

Singers

Bilshan

Mispar

Asaph

Bigvai

Rehum

Gatekeepers

Baanah

Shallum

Men of the people

Ater

Talmon

Parosh

Akkub

Shephatiah

Hatita

Arah

Shoba

Pahath‑moab

Jeshua and Joab

Temple servants

Elam

Zattu

Ziha

Zaccai

Hasupha

Bani

Tabbaoth

Bebai

Keros

Azgad

Siaha

Adonikam

Padon

Bigvai

Lebanah

Adin

Hagabah

Ater of Hezekiah

Akkub

Bezai

Hagab

Jorah

Shalmai

Hashum

Hanan

Gibbar

Giddel

Bethlehem

Gahar

Netophah

Reaiah

Anathoth

Rezin

Azmaveth

Nekoda

Kiriath‑arim

Gazzam

Chephirah

Uzza

Beeroth

Paseah

Ramah

Besai

Geba

Asnah

Michmas

Meunim

Bethel

Nephisim

Ai

Bakbuk

Nebo

Hakupha

Magbish

Harhur

Elam

Bazluth

Harim

Mehida

Lod

Harsha

Hadid

Barkos

Ono

Sisera

Jericho

Temah

Senaah

Neziah

Hatipha

Priests

Jedaiah of house of Jeshua

Immer

Pashhur

Harim

2. The Beginning of the temple construction (3:1‑14).

a. Jeshua and Zerubbabel led in building the altar (3:1‑6).

Jeshua was the grandson of the last officiating high priest before the exile (cf. 2 Kings 25:18 and 1 Chron 6:15). Jeshua himself soon assumed that office and was prominent in Zechariah 1‑8. Zerubbabel was a descendant of the Davidic family. 1 Chron 3:19 lists him as a son of Pedaiah, a younger son of Jeconiah rather than Shealtiel. Shealtiel could have had a levirate adoption of this son, but the text does not explain what happened. The altar of burnt offering was erected and offerings began to be made.

b. They began the temple construction (3:7‑13).

5:16 indicates that Sheshbazzar was the one who laid the original foundation whereas this passage indicates that it was Zerubbabel. Either the two are to be equated or Sheshbazzar was the real governor while Zerubbabel worked under him. Williamson argues that 3:7—4:5 are a “recapitulation” of the events that actually only began under Darius. This, however, assumes chronological inaccuracies in ch. 3 which is unacceptable.

3. There was continued opposition to the work of the Lord by enemies of the returning Jews (4:1‑24).

The native Jews and Samaritans (as they will later be called) were refused when they offered assistance. Mention is made of Ahasuerus (Xerxes) and a letter53 to Artaxerxes I is given to show that there was opposition to the returning Jews for about 100 years.54 The opposition was successful in having the temple construction halted.

4. Work was resumed on the temple under the urging of Zechariah and Haggai (5:1—6:22).

a. The work was resumed, and the Governor of the Satrap of Abar Nahara (including Jerusalem) investigated the work (5:1‑5).

b. A letter was sent to the court of Darius asking if this permission had ever been granted (5:6‑17).

c. Darius replied favorably since the original document authorizing the return was found (6:1‑12).

d. The governor carried out the orders, and the temple was com-pleted in 516 B.C. The temple was dedicated, and the Passover was observed (6:13‑22).

B. The return of Ezra for spiritual reform (in the seventh year of Artaxerxes: 458 B.C.) (7:1—10:44).

Fifty-eight years have elapsed between chapters 6 and 7.

1. Ezra prepared the people and made the trip (7:1—8:36).

a. Ezra was a priest descended through Phinehas and Zadok (Num. 25:7, 11; 2 Sam 8:17ff) (7: 1‑5).55

Ezra’s theology of the priesthood:

Ezra listed Aaron as the first High Priest, followed by seven Priests.

He omitted the next six priests, followed by Azariah who was High Priest when Solomon dedicated the temple.

He then listed seven other priests and concluded with himself.

Jehozadok would have been in that slot, but since he was identified with the captivity, Ezra wants us to know that he is identified with the return, and then, in a sense, supplants Jehozadok.56

b. Ezra was a competent scribe (7:6).57

c. Ezra brought more temple servants with him (7:7‑9).

The Nethinims (Heb: nethinim נְתִינִים = given ones) are considered by many to be temple slaves as were the Gibeonites. The trip to Jerusalem took four months (a distance of eight or nine hundred miles). He attributed his success to the “good hand of God on him” (see 7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31; Neh. 2:8, 18 for this expression).

d. Ezra’s purpose was to study the law (derosh דְּרוֹשׁ), to practice it (aśoth עֲשׂת) and to teach (limmed לִמֵּד) the statutes and ordinances to Israel (7:10).

Williamson58 says, “The scribe, we should note, was not only a student of Scripture, but explicitly a practitioner and especially a teacher of its requirements. And these qualities we find exemplified in Ezra’s ministry.”

e. Artaxerxes had sent a special decree with Ezra (7:11‑26).

Fensham says that the “Jewishness” of the letter is to be explained by the fact that Ezra probably drafted the letter that went out in the name of the king.59 He permitted people to go with Ezra, and permitted him to collect money for the undertaking. Ezra was to take utensils to be used in the temple back with him. Artaxerxes gave him an expense voucher and freed certain temple workers from taxes. He commissioned Ezra to appoint officers to enforce the Mosaic law.

On Persian interest in local religions, Porten says, “Darius’ effect on religious matters in his empire is also worth noting. In Asia Minor he ordered the satrap Gadates to respect certain rights and privileges of the sacred gardeners of Apollo. In Judah he ordered the pehah Tattenai to supply whatever material was necessary for the building of the Temple there to provide sacrifices to be offered in the name of the royal family (Ez. 5:17‑6:12). In Egypt he restored the House of Life of the goddess Neith at Sais, contributed to temples at Edfu and Abusir, and displayed his liberality toward other sanctuaries as well. It was probably he who constructed the temple to Amon‑Re in the oasis of Kargeh.”60

See p. 344, for the idea of a Minister of state for Jewish Affairs.

f. Ezra praised God for this provision (7:27‑28).

The narrative moves from third to first person through the device of the prayer of Ezra. In like manner, it goes from first to third through prayer in 9:15.

g. Ezra has a genealogical list with some names like those in chapter 2, but with significant differences (8:1‑14).

Some of the same twelve family names occur in both chapters. This indicates only that some of the same families contributed immigrants to both returns.61 The list is somewhat stylized (that is, only selected names are given). The priesthood is mentioned first, then the royal house (Hattush), and finally twelve families are listed. There would have been probably about 5,000 people returning with Ezra.

h. Ezra needed more Levites and rounded some up (8:15‑20).

There were already Levites at Jerusalem, and apparently there was not a great deal of enthusiasm to return in the second wave. That thirty‑eight came on such short notice caused Ezra to recognize the “good hand of God” on him.

i. Ezra fasted and prayed for God’s protection (8:21‑23).

The long journey was fraught with danger, and they needed God’s care, but Ezra wanted to preserve his testimony that he trusted in God. God heard his prayer.

j. Ezra consigned the gold and silver to certain priests (8:24‑30).

He gave them all the collected money (8:24‑25). It was a large sum of money.62 He reminds them of the sacredness of the trust (8:28‑30).

k. The wealth was delivered to the temple in Jerusalem (8:31‑34).

They completed the journey safely but waited three days to deliver the money to the temple (perhaps they arrived just before the Sabbath). They delivered the money.

l. The people carried out their task (8:35‑36).

They made their offerings and delivered the king’s commissions. The shift from first to third person for these last two verses probably indicates that Ezra added them to the account later.

2. Ezra dealt with spiritual problems (9:1—10:44).

We learn in 10:9 that chapter 9 took place in the ninth month or four months after Ezra’s return. He must have been carrying out the king’s decrees for four months and only now was free to deal with the problem.63

Why did Ezra not know about the mixed marriages for four months, and why does he act so strongly at this point if he did know? Williamson64 argues that he did know about it and had already given advice that it be dealt with. He derives this from 10:3 where the crucial word is “my Lord.” The MT has pointed this word to mean “the Lord.” There are some MSS that even have Yahweh. One MS has “my Lord” as in NASB. Since the reference is to the “counsel” it sounds more like human advice than divine revelation. I suspect Williamson is correct.

If Ezra knew about it, why does he conduct himself in such a violent way here as if he were learning about it for the first time? It is important to note that Ezra shows his frustration, anger and rage in front of the temple where people could see him. This is a public display of spiritual grief. Even though Ezra knew of the problem, he waited for the elders and the people to react themselves. Now he could identify with them in their confession of culpability.

a. The problem was presented: intermarriage with unbelievers (9:1‑2).

This issue was not racial but religious. Foreign wives were not unknown to the patriarchs and many of the people of Israel. Some foreign wives (Rahab, Ruth) are extolled. The problem is intermarriage with Canaanites who would take the people away from Yahweh. The text does not tell us whether they had con-verted to Yahwism.

From Ezra’s point of view, the purest people were those who had returned from the exile (the golah). These had been purged from idolatry. On the other hand, the vast majority of Jews had not gone into exile (Jeremiah indicates 4,600 to Babylon while Kings indicates 10,000). Only some 50,000 returned with Zerubbabel. It is likely that those who remained in the land continued in semi-paganism. Is it possible that Ezra referred to these as “foreigners”? Williamson thinks not. Below is a chart of the three groups of people.65

b. Ezra reacted with confession (9:3‑15).

Ezra pulled out his hair as a sign of mourning, and others joined him in the confession. After a day of fasting, he arose to pray: (1) he spoke of the sins of the fathers; (2) he spoke of God’s grace in bringing them back from captivity;66 (3) He lamented the sin of intermarriage (Exod 23:32; Deut 7:3) and (4) he prayed for mercy.

c. The elders suggested that the foreign wives be divorced (10:1‑8).

The people gathered contritely. The elders suggested divorce and promised to stand with Ezra. Ezra adjured them to carry out this suggestion. He then called a general assembly of the people.

d. The assembly came confessing and agreed on a method to implement this covenant (10:9‑17).

The people agreed that what had happened was sin, and they confessed it. They agreed to divorce the wives but asked that the implementation be handed over to local leaders since the weather was too bad to do anything at that time. Some opposition was expressed (10:15) by some who may have wanted to proceed forthwith.

e. A list of the priests who were compromised in the matter is given (10:18‑44).67

Nehemiah

C. The return under Nehemiah to build the wall (Neh 1:1—7:73).

Much debate surrounds the chronological relationship between Ezra and Nehemiah. Some will argue that Ezra actually came to Jerusalem after Nehemiah in spite of the statements to the contrary in the books themselves. Some will rearrange the material between the two books.68

1. The person involved is Nehemiah, son of Hacaliah (1:1).

Nehemiah means “Yahweh comforts.” Hacaliah is otherwise un-known. The setting is Susa, the winter palace of the Persian kings.

2. Nehemiah’s brother brings a report about Jerusalem (1:2‑3).69

3. Nehemiah responds in prayer (1:4‑11).

Weeping, mourning, fasting, and prayer were part of Nehemiah’s worship. He addressed God in covenantal terms and identified with his people as he confessed. He reminded God of the Deuteronomic covenant and closed with an entreaty for God to hear his prayer and grant him an open door with the king.

4. Nehemiah approached King Artaxerxes with a bold petition (1:1b—2:8).

a. Nehemiah was in a strategic position (1:11b—2:1).

He was the king’s cupbearer.70 For a Jew to arrive at this position speaks well of Nehemiah and of God’s providence. Some would argue that he was a eunuch because of the tendency in the Persian empire to make eunuchs of those who served the king and came into contact with the harem. What a contrast this would be with Ezra who was a priest. Nehemiah does not make his move until he had had extended prayer and until a propitious moment arrived. This was not a sign of weakness (we know from his later action that he is a resolute man), but because he recognized the priority of seeking God before acting. It was the 20th year of Artaxerxes I (445 B.C.) in Nisan (March/April). He had a sad countenance. Williamson argues that the month Nisan may have been a time when Persian kings granted favors. Thus, Nehemiah waited until this moment to let his emotions show through.

b. Nehemiah used his strategic position (2:2‑8).

The king asked about Nehemiah’s countenance. Given the capriciousness of Persian kings, Nehemiah was in a precarious position (cf. the book of Esther). Nehemiah explained that he was sad because of the desolation of Jerusalem. The king gave him an opportunity to make a request, and he asked for leave to go and rebuild Jerusalem. The king asked for a time frame. Nehemiah gave him one and boldly asked for papers and a voucher.

5. Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and began the work (2:9‑20).

a. He presented his letters to the governors of the provinces of the Satrap of Abar Nahara (Beyond the river) (2:9). (He was accompanied by Persian troops.)

b. The governors were not happy to see him (2:10).

Myers71 says there were four provinces around Judah: Samaria, Ammon, Ashdod, and Arabia.72

c. Nehemiah made a night survey (2:11‑16).

He spent three days in Jerusalem, during which time, he went with a few of his men at night to reconnoiter the broken walls.

He went out the valley gate

Dragon’s well
Refuse gate
Fountain gate
King’s pool
Ravine—valley gate

He kept all this quiet.

The locations of these sites as well as the extent of the city traversed and rebuilt by Nehemiah are all debated.73

d. Nehemiah presented his plan to the Jews, priests, nobles, and officials (2:17‑20).

The situation required immediate action. Nehemiah argued that the circumstances were conducive to building the walls (he cited the way God had worked to this point). The three enemies mocked them, but Nehemiah gave a testimony to God.

6. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem (3:1‑32).

a. The Sheep Gate and onward (3:1‑5).

Eliashib the high priest began the work with the construction of the Sheep Gate (this gate would probably have been north of the city to admit sheep to the sheep pool and to the temple area). The men of Jericho/son of Imri built the wall, and then more of the wall was built.

b. The Old Gate and onward (3:6‑27).

Joiada and Meshullam repaired the Old Gate. More of the wall was built.74

The Valley Gate (3:13).
The Refuse Gate and onward (3:14).
The Fountain Gate and onward (3:15‑27).

The Water Gate is included (this gate is probably the access gate to the Gihon spring).

c. The Horse Gate and onward (3:28‑31).

The Inspection Gate is included in this section.

d. Back to the Sheep Gate (3:32).

Provinces Around Judah75

7. Opposition to the building intensified (4:1‑23).

a. Sanballat and Tobiah tried mockery, but Nehemiah committed them to the Lord’s justice and kept on working (4:1-6).

b. Sanballat & Co. planned to kill the Jews but were frustrated (4:7‑14).

Representatives from the provinces planned to attack the Jews. Nehemiah prayed for protection and set up a guard against them. Nehemiah was informed of their plan on ten different occasions (this may have been done intentionally to discourage him). “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn” is difficult (4:12). Literally, the Hebrew says, “from all the places which you will return upon us.” Williamson translates, “Thus it was that ‘time and again’ groups of concerned relatives and fellow villagers were coming to Jerusalem to implore their menfolk: ‘you must return to us.’” The people were so frightened that Nehemiah had to encourage them.

c. The work continued with much watchfulness (4:15‑23).

Nehemiah’s action is a good pattern to follow when one is trying to accomplish something worthwhile but is receiving opposition. Nehemiah trusted the Lord, armed the people, organized them well, and kept up the work until it was finished.

8. Problems arose within the community in the matter of usury (5:1‑19).

The events of this chapter apparently came about because the absence of the men to work on the wall exacerbated an already difficult agrarian situation.76 The concluding verses indicate that the writing of the chapter took place at the end of Nehemiah’s twelve-year stint as governor. It is placed at this point to show that not only were there external problems faced by the Jewish community, there were also serious internal problems.

a. A shortage of food and money caused some poorer Jews to mortgage their property, borrow money to pay taxes and to make slaves of their children to richer Jews (5:1‑5).

b. Nehemiah demanded that the situation be rectified because this bondage was wrong. He had been loaning money and goods as well, but this candid admission may have helped win the people to his side. He asked them to return what had been taken as usury. He graphically illustrated (shaking out the garment) what would happen to those who did not comply (5:6-13).

c. Nehemiah spoke of his own unselfish work (5:14‑19).

He had not taken the normal governor’s allowance from the people (previous governors had). He dedicated himself to the wall, not even buying land and had fed 150 Jews and others who showed up. He called on God to remember him. One is reminded of Paul’s “boasting” on his own behalf to the Corinthians.

This unit (5:14‑19) gives us some important historical data: (1) Nehemiah was appointed governor by Artaxerxes (2) his first term lasted twelve years (445‑433 B.C.) (3) provincial governors were entitled to take certain taxes and (4) previous governors (most of them unknown to us) had taken full advantage of their perquisites.

9. The opposition took a different tack (6:1‑19).

a. The wall was finished although all the doors had not been set up (6:1).

b. Sanballat and Geshem tried to lure Nehemiah into a trap (6:2‑9).

Nehemiah refused their invitation to come to the plain of Ono. They sent five different letters and finally threatened to tell the king of Persia that Nehemiah was leading a revolt with himself as king. Nehemiah denied their charge.

c. Shemaiah tried to lure Nehemiah into the temple so that he could be charged with improper activity (6:10‑14).

Shemaiah told him he would be safe in the temple. Nehemiah refused to go, perceiving that subterfuge was involved. Nehemiah prayed, committing himself to the Lord. (If Nehemiah were a eunuch, he would have been banned from the temple. Was Shemaiah trying to trick him so that he would be charged with improper conduct?)

Shemaiah was not the only prophet trying to mislead Nehemiah. A certain Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets were trying to frighten him as well.

d. The task was completed in spite of the fifth column in the city (6:15‑19).

The wall was finished in 52 days. This was a phenomenal achievement! It may be that the walls were not entirely destroyed by the Babylonians, or that the quality of his work was not of the highest nature, but even so Nehemiah accomplished a gigantic task. As a result, the enemies were discouraged. Communication had been going on between the enemies and certain Jews in the city. As a matter of fact, Jehohanan was the offspring of Tobiah who had married a Jewish girl. Tobiah is a Jewish name, but he seems to be excluded from the Jewish community by Nehemiah, so he may in actuality be a foreigner. This would be another case of mixed marriage and would explain the hesitancy of some Jews to follow Nehemiah.77

10. Nehemiah organized the city and reviewed the genealogy (7:1‑73).

a. He organized a watch for the city (7:1‑4).

The gates were installed, and Nehemiah appointed his brother and another man in charge of the city. The number of people in the city was small and the entire area was therefore quite vulnerable.

b. He reviewed the genealogy as found in Ezra 2 (7:5-73a).

The completion of the walls of the city was viewed by Nehemiah as a milestone in their history. Consequently, he reviewed the genealogies as they came from Babylon almost a century before. Myers (Ezra, Nehemiah) argues that Nehemiah may have used this list to encourage people to move into Jerusalem. The list, with a few exceptions, probably due to textual transmission, is the same as that in Ezra 2.

Ezra 2:70—3:1

Now the priests and the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gate keepers, and the temple servants lived in their cities, and all Israel in their cities. Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered to-gether as one man to Jerusalem. Then Jeshua the son of Josadak and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brothers arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God.

Nehemiah 7:73—8:1

Now the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all Israel, lived in their cities. And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel.

c. The people returned home in the seventh month (7:73b).

The genealogical list of Ezra 2 concluded with the people coming together under Zerubbabel and Jeshua to build the altar and to resume their worship in the land. Nehemiah used the same list and concluded with the people coming together to read the law under Ezra. This is a deliberate effort to link the two events: the altar was finished (Ezra 3) and the wall was finished (Nehemiah 7).

D. Revival of the people under Ezra and Nehemiah (8:1—12:47).

1. The reading of the Law of Moses began to play a very significant part in the lives of the people (8:1‑18).

Because of the sudden introduction for the first time in Nehemiah of Ezra, and because of the emphasis Ezra placed on the law in his own “memoirs” (Ezra 8), many scholars believe this chapter should follow Ezra 8 (or some such configuration). To do this, they must reject the mention of Nehemiah (8:9) as a later addition by the redactor.78 Fensham (The Book of Ezra and Nehemiah) argues for chap. 8 in its present location.

a. The reading of the law (8:1‑8).

The people called for Ezra the Interpreter (scribe) to bring the Book of the Law of Moses. Ezra brought the law before the people: (1) It was the first day of the seventh month, (2) he read to men and women who could understand (mebin lismo‘a מֵבִין לִשְׁמעַ = “discerning to hear”), (3) he read in the “wide place” before the water gate which probably gave access to the Gihon Spring, (4) he read it from early morning until noon. (Lit.: “from the light to the middle of the day.”) Ezra was surrounded by thirteen men as he spoke. The people stood when the law was about to be read, and Ezra led an invocation to which the people replied, “Amen, Amen” and bowed to the ground. The law was explained and translated to give the sense by thirteen men in addition to the Levites: (1) The word “explained” is מְבִינִים (mebinim) as in v. 2. It means to give understanding, discernment, i.e., to explain. (2) The word “translating” is מְפרָשׁ (meporash) and may mean “to translate” (from Hebrew to Aramaic) or “to interpret.” A literary device was created after the exile to handle the language problem called the “Targum.” This was an Aramaic paraphrase so that the people, whose Hebrew was rusty, could understand. That may be what is going on here.

b. The people responded favorably to the reading of the law (8:9‑18).

The leaders encouraged the people (8:9‑12).

Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levites told the people not to weep since this was a holy day. He (probably Ezra) told them to enjoy food and to rejoice in the Lord. The Levites quieted the people who then went away rejoicing. They sent gifts to one another and kept a great feast because they had understood the word of the Lord.

The assembly kept the feast of weeks or Succoth (Lev 23:39‑44) (8:13‑18).

The reading in the Law brought more information which they proceeded to carry out. The feast of booths was to remind them of the exodus from Egypt and was celebrated on the 15th of the seventh month. They built booths and lived in them. Ezra read from the book of the law of God for the seven days of the feast.

How do we understand 8:17 (“The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day”) in light of Ezra 3:4 that says Zerubbabel (in 538/7) led them in the celebration of Succoth? It is said of Josiah’s Passover: “Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah” (2 Kings 23:22). This verse uses the word “like,” but the sentiment is similar. Nehemiah must be referring to the circumstances or the spirit of the celebration rather than to the celebration itself. However, Williamson (Ezra, Nehemiah) says, “They were enacting the ‘exodus’ from Babylon in Jerusalem (hence, the reference to Joshua) whereas previous booths may have been those used in the fields as part of the harvest.”

A logical question is why the Day of Atonement is not men-tioned here since it was to be observed on the tenth day of this same month between Trumpets and Succoth. Williamson argues that Succoth was more tied in with the reading of the law, and Atonement was now primarily a priestly matter. I assume he means that it was observed, but quietly, and by the priests.

2. Another day was set aside to read Scripture and worship the Lord (9:1‑38).

a. The people gathered on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month with fasting (9:1‑4).

They were fasting and humbling themselves. They separated themselves from foreigners. They read from the law for one fourth of the day and confessed their sins for another fourth. The Levites were leading the worship from a platform.

b. The Levites led in a psalm of confession and praise (9:5‑38).

(This “recital of the acts of God” will become a stock form in the future presentations [cf. Stephen in Acts 7]). Yahweh is the creator God who made a covenant with Abraham (9:5‑8). Yahweh brought Israel from Egypt and made a covenant with them (9:9‑15). In spite of Israel’s arrogant disobedience, God was gracious to them for forty years and brought them into the promised land (9:16‑25). In spite of Israel’s sin in the land, God was continuously gracious until he sent them into captivity (9:26-31). The Levites called upon God to be gracious to them in their present distress and vowed to put their names in writing to separate themselves from the people of the land and to keep the covenant with God (9:32‑38).

3. The list of names and the vow were presented (10:1‑39).

a. The list contains the names of Nehemiah the governor, Zedekiah, and twenty-one priests; seventeen Levites and forty-four leaders of the people (10:1‑27).

b. They committed themselves to obey the Law of Moses (10:28‑31).

They promised to avoid mixed marriages (10:28‑30). (Some of those involved later in mixed marriages may not have taken this vow.)

They promised to keep the Sabbath holy and not to sell to Gen-tiles on that day (10:31a).

They promised to forego the crop of the seventh year (Sabbath year) and every loan made on pledge (release of debt, slaves) (10:31b).

c. They committed themselves to an annual temple tax (10:32-33).

There was no specific provision in the law for temple support on an ongoing basis, but some precedent was established in the half shekel of Exod 30:11‑16 and 38:25‑26.

d. They committed themselves to bring wood, first fruits, and tithes to the temple. In fine, they agreed to support the temple (10:34‑39).

4. The problem of the occupancy of the newly fortified city of Jerusalem was confronted and a name list was given (11:1—12:26).

The problem of the occupation of the city of Jerusalem was first addressed at 7:4. From that problem came the review of the census list with the end in mind of bringing people into the city. The solution to the problem is given in this chapter.

a. The leaders were already living in Jerusalem, but they cast lots to see which people would move in (11:1‑2).

b. The religious leaders moved to the city even though they owned property in the country (11:3).

c. The names of the Judahites and Benjamites who lived in the city are given (11:4‑9).

d. The names of the priests are given (11:10‑14).

e. The names of the Levites are given (total 284) (11:15‑18).

f. Other names are given. Gatekeepers are listed (total 172). Other people (priests, Levites and others) were living in their various cities. The temple servants were living in Ophel (11:19-21).

g. The Levitical leadership was controlled indirectly by the king of Persia (11:22‑24).

h. A list of various areas outside of Jerusalem is given (11:25‑36).

Verse 36 indicates that some of the Levites assigned to Judah were given to Benjamin.

i. The priests and Levites who came up with Zerubbabel (12:1‑7).

j. The Levites who were in charge of worship (12:8‑11).

Jeshua (538), Joiakim (?), Eliashib (458), Joiada (417, 40 years), Jonathan (377, Johanan? 40 years), Jaddua (337, 40 years).79 Williamson says (1) this list could be incomplete (another Johanan is known to have served, but is not in this list), (2) Josephus is wrong to date Jaddua as late as Alexander, or (3) there were two Jaddua’s.80 Cross says that Jaddua had to take office before 404.81

k. A list of priests is given (12:12‑21).

l. A list of Levites is given (12:22‑26) (who served in the period of Joiakim, Ezra and Nehemiah).

5. The wall of the city was dedicated (12:27‑43).

a. The Levites were summoned (12:27‑30).

b. Nehemiah appointed two choirs (12:31‑43).

One choir went south toward the refuse gate with Ezra. From there they went up to the fountain gate, up the stairs to David’s city and to the water gate on the east (12:31‑37).

The second choir lined up from the Broad wall to the Sheep gate and the Gate of the Guard (12:38‑43).

They sang and sacrificed. They seem to be somewhat opposite one another.

c. Men were appointed to be in charge of the stores, tithes, etc., to carry on the tradition begun by David (12:44‑47).

E. Nehemiah returned a second time (13:1-31).

1. Nehemiah enforced the law of Moses further (13:1‑9).

a. At the completion of the dedication, a reading of the law reminded them of the exclusion of Ammonites and Moabites (Deut 23:4‑7). As a result, they forced out all foreigners (13:1‑3).

b. Nehemiah recorded a past event in which Eliashib had become related by marriage to Tobiah (see the discussion at 2:17ff) (13:4‑9).

Tobiah may have been in charge of the Transjordan area which was called Ammon. He is probably being linked with the Ammonites here though he has a Jewish name.

Eliashib had prepared a special room for him in the temple when he visited (13:5).

Fensham (The Book of Ezra and Nehemiah) argues that this is not the same Eliashib as the high priest since this one is over the chamber.

Nehemiah speaks for the first time of the fact that he had been gone from Jerusalem for much of this time (Keil says several years) (13:6).

When he returned to Jerusalem, he threw Tobiah’s stuff out and cleansed the room (13:7‑9).

2. Nehemiah corrected the neglect of the Levites (13:10‑14).

In Nehemiah’s absence the temple servants had been neglected because the people did not pay the tithe. They were forced to go their farms for support. Nehemiah rebuked the leaders and rectified the situation.

3. Nehemiah corrected Sabbath abuses (13:15‑22).

The native Jews were not observing the Sabbath by continuing their normal daily work. Furthermore, Gentile merchants were selling stuff on the Sabbath. Nehemiah corrected this situation by closing the gates to prevent people from going in and out on the Sabbath. When the merchants tried to spend the night outside the walls, he threatened them with force.

4. Nehemiah corrected the problem of intermarriage that had cropped up again (13:23-29).

The perennial problem of intermarriage with pagans had to be dealt with again. The children of these marriages were barely able to speak Hebrew. Nehemiah took forthright action to stop the practice.

5. Nehemiah purified the Levites (13:30‑31).

Nehemiah summarizes his work and calls upon God again to rem-ember him for his work.


1Olmstead, The History of Persia, p. 1.

2Moscati, The Face of the Ancient Orient, p. 285.

3ANET, 304-305.

4The History of Herodotus, Clio I, paragraphs 108-119. See also de Sélencourt, The World of Herodotus, pp. 207-10.

5Cook, The Persian Empire, p. 24.

6Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, p. 37.

7Cyrus’ famous decree allowing people to return to their homelands (Ezra 1:1-4) was issued in 538 B.C This allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, but only a relatively small group of them actually returned under Sheshbazzar/Zerubbabel.

8ANET, p 316.

9See Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, pp. 39-40.

10When Babylon fell to him in 539 B.C., “Persia was raised to the position of a world empire, which encompassed the whole Near East.” (Stern, “The Archaeology of Persian Palestine,” 1:70).

11Ibid., p. 31.

12Wiseman, et al., Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel.

13So Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, pp. 86-87, and Cook, The Persian Empire, pp. 32,37. But Wiseman, Notes on Some Problems, says that Cambyses was never called “king.”

14Cook, The Persian Empire, p. 32.

15Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, pp. 86-87.

16Cook, The Persian Empire, p. 46.

17See Ibid., pp. 50-55.

18The Behistun inscription in Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian, is an “auto-biography” of Darius. For a discussion on the inscription and bibliography, see Olm-stead, History of the Persian Empire, pp. 116-18.

19Cook, The Persian Empire, p 56.

20E.M. Blaiklock, “Persia” in ZPBD.

21Ibid.

22Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land: From the Persia to the Arab Conquests (536 B.C. to A.D. 640); a Historical Geography, p. 11.

23Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, p. 59.

24Stern, The New Encyclopedia, 78.

25Ibid.

26Cross, “Papyri from the Fourth Century B.C From Daliyeh,” 41-62.

27Stern, The New Encyclopedia, p. 80.

28Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land, pp. 13-14.

29Ibid., p. 13.

30Stern, The New Encyclopedia, p 81. See Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land from the Persian Period to the Arab Conquest, p. 367, for a map of the provinces.

31H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, p. xxiii.

32W. F. Albright, JBL 40 (1921) 104‑24; more recently, Myers, Ezra, Nehemiah, lxviii-lxx.

33Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, p. xxxi.

34Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, p. xxiv, argues that seven sources underlie Ezra 1‑6: (a) the decree of Cyrus (1:2‑4); (b) the inventory of temple vessels (1:9‑11); (c) the list of those returning (chap. 2, a compilation of those who returned during the first twenty years or so of Achaemenid rule); (d) two letters which the editor summarizes at 4:6 and his writing of 4:1‑3; (e) a letter in Aramaic from Rehum and others to Artaxerxes (4:8‑16) and (f) Artaxerxes’ reply (4:17‑22); (g) a letter from Tattenai to Darius (5:6‑17) and (h) Darius’ reply.

35See also Porten, Archives of Elephantine, p. 26.

36Myers, Ezra and Nehemiah, p. lxii.

37Myers, Ezra-Nehemiah, pp. lvii-lxii.

38Williamson, Ezra-Nehemiah, p. 93.

39Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 103. See also Myers, Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 62.

40On Persian interest in local religions, see p. 355.

41Williamson, Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 100.

42Ibid., p. 101.

43B. Mazar, “The Tobiads,” IEJ 7 (1957): 137-145; 229-238.

44Ibid., p. 144.

45Ibid.

46Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, pp. 182-183.

47Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 260.

48See Naveh, “Hebrew Texts in Aramaic Script in the Persian Period?” BASOR 203 (1971): 27-32, for Aramaic script.

49Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, pp. 149-50.

50 M. Throntveit (“Ezra-Nehemiah” in Interpretation, p. 37) says: “In the per-spective of these books, the salient theological moments of the restoration period cohere in three parallel returns—under Zerubbabel (Ezra 1-6), Ezra (Ezra 7-10), and Nehemiah (Neh 1:1—7:3)—each of which resulted in a different project of reconstruction, namely, the temple, the community, and the walls.”

51All the kings of the entire world from the Upper to the Lower Sea, those who are seated in throne rooms, (those who) live in other [types of buildings as well as] all the kings of the West land living in tents, brought their heavy tributes and kissed my feet in Babylon (Su.an.na). (As to the region) from . . . as far as Ashur and Susa, Agade, Eshnunna, the towns Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Sumer and Akkad whom Nabonidus has brought into Babylon (Su.an.naki) to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their (former) chapels, the places which make them happy.

May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask daily Bel and Nebo for a long life for me and may they recommend me (to him); to Marduk, my lord, they may say this: Cyrus, the king who worships you, and Cambyses, his son, . . . all of them I settled in a peaceful place . . . ducks and doves, . . . I endeavoured to fortify/repair their dwelling places. . . . ANET, 316-17, supplement with Berger, ZAW 64 [1975]:192‑234).

52Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, argues that they are two different men; so Fensham, The Book of Ezra and Nehemiah, pp. 49‑50. J. Myers, Ezra-Nehemiah, p. 28, suggests that Sheshbazzar would have been old (55-60) and Zerubbabel about 40. As his deputy, he was the active leader.

53The language of 4:8 through 6:18 is Aramaic. This is because so many of the transactions regarding the rebuilding of the temple involved official correspondence with the Persian government. The language of government and commerce was Aramaic. Even the transition verses (4:17, 23‑24; 5:1‑6; 6:1‑2, 13‑16;) are in Aramaic. The concluding verses (6:19‑22) are in Hebrew which as Williamson says (Ezra, Nehemiah, p. 73), are probably written in the Jewish language as a fitting conclusion to this section. The use of “King of Assyria” in this passage is a loose construction. Myers, Ezra, Nehemiah, says that Herodotus and Xenophon refer to Babylon as the capital of Assyria.

54A number of historical problems exist in the identification of this letter.

The older commentaries link Ahasuerus with Cambyses (this would then place the letter in 529 B. C). They also link Artaxerxes with Gaumata (as Darius called him) who struggled for the throne after the death of Cambyses in 522 B.C. Working from A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, and J. M. Cook, The Persian Empire, Cambyses ruled from 529 to 522 and left for Egypt in 526 never to return to Mesopotamia (he died near Mt. Carmel). If he is indeed Ahasuerus, he would also be the Persian king of Esther. This is not impossible but Cook says that Cambyses was in Babylonia at Abanu near Uruk in 528. The setting for Esther is Susa in the Satrap of Elam. He could have returned to Susa for the events of Esther during the two years before he left for Egypt.

(2) The Artaxerxes/Gaumata/Smerdis/Bardiya equation is more difficult since it is made nowhere else that I know of, and it would require the introduction of an otherwise unknown Artaxerxes. Furthermore, this was a time of great disturbance with Bardiya (Cambyses’ brother) taking over the throne. He only ruled about six months. It is more difficult to suppose that the leaders of Samaria would write to Bardiya/Gaumata while Cambyses was in their area or that the time would permit a letter and a response as in Ezra 4.

(3) The letter does not speak of the temple (the situation in question), but it does speak of the walls—a situation apropos to Nehemiah’s time (the historical situation underlying the accusation in Ahasuerus’ [Xerxes’] time, and the aborted attempt to build a wall in Artaxerxes’ time are otherwise unknown).

(4) The temple was completed according to the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes (6:14). The order is important. It is not Cyrus, Ahasuerus, Artaxerxes, Darius as in Chapter 4, but Cyrus, Darius Artaxerxes. Ezra, the writer of this book, is functioning under the decree of Artaxerxes (458 B.C.). That decree mentions the temple in 7:11, 15, 16, 23 and even says the temple is to be adorned in 7:27. Ezra, therefore, views Artaxerxes’ decree as having a vital function in relation to the temple.

(5) Williamson (Ezra, Nehemiah, p. 59) citing others, argues that 4:5 and 4:24 are literary markers (referring to Darius) that indicate the insertion of material in between.

I therefore would concur with Keil and now Fensham, The Book of Ezra and Nehemiah, that this chapter contains a collage of letter writing used to illustrate the continuous opposition the Jews encountered.

55See p. 343, for a discussion of Ezra’s work.

56Throntveit, “Ezra and Nehemiah,” p. 41 indicates that there are seven priests after Aaron, seven after Azariah, and finally Ezra the priest (in Ezra; in Chronicles it is Jehozadok).

57See p. 344, for a description of a scribe.

58Williamson, Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 93.

59Fensham, The Book of Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 103, see also Myers, Ezra, Nehemiah, p. 62.

60Porten, Archives from Elephantine, p. 23.

61See Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, for a defense of the authenticity of this list.

62See Myers, Ezra, Nehemiah, p. 67, who says, “six hundred and fifty talents. Slightly over 24.5 tons. . . . On the value of these contributions, cf. Pavlovsky, Biblica 38 (1957), 297-301.”

63Note the stress on separation (nivdal נִבְדַּל). The Pharisee sect apparently took their name from the Hebrew word “paraš” (פָּרַשׁ, to separate).

64Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, loc. cit.

65Throntveit (Ezra-Nehemiah) says on p. 36, “The theme of exclusivity, which first arose in the careful investigation of lineage in chapter 2 and formed the basis of the community’s refusal of the assistance offered in 4:1, is furthered in the application of the term ‘Israel’ to the ‘returned exiles’ (v. 16. These, and these alone, who understand themselves as the purified remnant of Israel of old, can lay claim to being the people of God.”

66See Williamson, Ezra and Nehemiah, for a discussion of the wall. Some have used this verse to argue that Ezra came back after Nehemiah, but the word “wall” is geder (גֶּדֶר) not the normal word for city wall (ḥomah חוֹמָה). He argues for a metaphorical usage of a vineyard wall.

67See Ibid., for an excellent discussion of the difficulties associated with this list and the chronology of Ezra-Nehemiah.

68E.g., Williamson, Ezra and Nehemiah. See Fensham, The Book of Ezra and Nehemiah, for a good current discussion that is also somewhat conservative.

69See p. 345, for a fuller discussion of Hanani.

70See Fensham, The Book of Ezra and Nehemiah, for a discussion of the important place the cupbearer held in the palace.

71Myers, Ezra, Nehemiah.

72See p. 346, for a discussion of the enemies of Nehemiah.

73For a popular discussion, see Avigad, Discovering Jerusalem. For a discussion of the province of Judah in general, see M. Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land from the Persian to the Arab Conquests (536 B.C. to A. D. 640); a Historical Geography, pp. 11-31.

74See Avigad, Discovering Jerusalem, for a discussion of the broad wall.

75M. Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land from the Persian to the Arab Conquests (536 B.C. to A.D. 640) A Historical Geography, p. 30.

76See Williamson, Ezra and Nehemiah, for a defense of the chronological sequence of chapters 4 and 5.

77For a discussion on the Tobiad family, see B. Mazar, “The Tobiads,” IEJ 7 (1957) 137-45; 229-38.

78See for example, Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah.

79See Keil & Delitzsch, p. 150, for a defense of the idea that Nehemiah lived long enough to see Jaddua at age 25.

80Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, p. 363.

81F. M. Cross, “Papyri of the Fourth Century B.C. from Daliyeh,” p. 56.

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