Preview of Ezra’s Return
Fifty-seven years has passed since the events of Ezra 6. During this time Darius died, Xerxes (Ahasuerus), the story of Esther unfolded, and Artaxerxes began his reign. Thus, the Jews are now strongly supported by the Persian monarchy.
Ezra is presented as a man wholly dedicated to God (Ezra 7:10). His job was a “skilled scribe.” The New American Commentary states that underlying the original meaning of the word is the idea of an official position something akin to “Secretary of Religion” for the region of Judea (think of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce or Secretary of Defense).
Artaxerxes Gave Ezra Broad Authority
An advisor, probably Ezra himself, likely wrote the letter from Artaxerxes. The letter reveals Persian support for the work (7:14-19), responsibility of local officials to aid Ezra (7:20-23), tax exemptions for Levites and temple workers (7:24), and Ezra’s authority to enforce the Law in the region (7:25, 26). The writer views this as God’s care for his people, not the random acts of a Persian king.
Preparations To Return
Chapter 8 opens with a list of the heads of families that returned with Ezra. When they gathered, Ezra discovered there were no Levites among them. Thus, he made an extra effort to recruit some to commit to the cause.
Before embarking on such a momentous journey Ezra proclaimed a fast (Ezra 8:21-23). He felt the keen need to seek God’s blessing, as they would not only engage in a great work, but also face real dangers along the way.
The Return To Jerusalem
God granted them safety on their travel, apparently free of any harassment. After the four-month journey, the returnees rested for three days. The first priority after their rest was worship (Ezra 8:35). Other business followed.