Many years later, when Artaxerxes was emperor of Persia, a man named Ezra came from Babylon. He traced his ancestry back to Aaron, the High Priest, as follows: Ezra was the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum,
son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Bukki, son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron.
Ezra was a scholar with a thorough knowledge of the Law, which the God of Israel had given to Moses. The emperor had a high regard for him and approved all the requests he made. Ezra set out from Babylonia
for Jerusalem with a group of Israelites which included priests, Levites, Temple musicians, Temple guards, and workmen.
They left Babylonia on the first day of the first month in the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes. God gave them a safe journey, and they arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month.
Ezra had a thorough knowledge of the Law of the Lord and neglected none of its details. As a result he could teach all its laws and regulations to all the people of Israel.
The following is a copy of the decree that Emperor Artaxerxes gave to Ezra, the priest and scholar of the Law of the Lord:
"From Emperor Artaxerxes to the priest Ezra, scholar of the Law of the Lord, greetings.
"In my generosity I have decided to decree that throughout my empire any of the Jews who so desire, including priests and Levites, may go with you to Jerusalem.
I and the seven counselors who have the title "Friends of the Emperor' have decided that all who wish to do so may go with you.
Let them investigate the conditions in Jerusalem and Judah to see how well the Law of the Lord is being obeyed.
Let them also take with them to Jerusalem the gifts which I and my counselors have vowed to give to the Lord of Israel, including all the silver and gold belonging to the Lord which may be found in Babylonia,
and all that is given by the people of Israel for the Temple of their Lord. The silver and gold are to be collected to buy bulls, rams, lambs, and everything else that is necessary,
so that sacrifices may be offered on the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem.
"You may use the silver and gold for whatever you and the rest of your people desire, in accordance with the will of your God.
You may obtain from the royal treasury the sacred vessels of the Lord that are being entrusted to you for use in the Temple of your God in Jerusalem, as well as anything else you may need for the Temple service.
"I command all the treasury officials in Greater Syria and Phoenicia to provide promptly for Ezra, the priest and scholar of the Law of God Most High, everything he asks for,
up to a limit of 7,500 pounds of silver, 500 bushels of wheat, 550 gallons of wine, and as much salt as may be needed.
You must be careful to do everything that the Law requires in order to honor God Most High and so make sure that he is never angry with me or with those who reign after me.
You are forbidden to collect any taxes from the priests, Levites, musicians, guards, workmen, or anyone else connected with this Temple. No one has the right to impose any burden on them.
"You, Ezra, using the wisdom that comes from God, shall appoint administrators and judges to govern all the people in Greater Syria and Phoenicia who live by the Law of your God. You must teach that Law to anyone who does not know it.
If anyone disobeys the laws of your God or the laws of the empire, he is to be punished promptly: by death, by fine, by exile, or by some other punishment."
Ezra said, "Praise the Lord, the Lord alone! He has made the emperor willing to restore the glory of the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.
By God's grace, I have won the respect of the emperor, his counselors, all his Friends, and all his powerful officials.
The Lord my God has given me courage, and I have been able to persuade many men to return with me."
This is the list of the leaders of the clans and families who had been in exile in Babylonia and returned with Ezra to Jerusalem when Artaxerxes was emperor:
Gershom, of the clan of Phinehas 8:Gamael, of the clan of Ithamar8:Hattush son of Shecaniah, of the clan of David8:Zechariah, of the clan of Parosh, with 150 men of his clan (there were records of their family line)8:Eliehoenai son of Zechariah, of the clan of Pahath Moab, with 200 men8:Shecaniah son of Jehaziel, of the clan of Zattu, with 300 men8:Ebed son of Jonathan, of the clan of Adin, with 250 men8:Jeshaiah son of Gotholiah, of the clan of Elam, with 70 men8:Zeraiah son of Michael, of the clan of Shephatiah, with 70 men8:Obadiah son of Jehiel, of the clan of Joab, with 212 men8:Shelomith son of Josiphiah, of the clan of Bani, with 160 men8:Zechariah son of Bebai, of the clan of Bebai, with 28 men8:Johanan son of Hakkatan, of the clan of Azgad, with 110 men8:Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, of the clan of Adonikam, with 70 men (they returned at a later date)8:Uthai son of Istalcurus, of the clan of Bigvai, with 70 men
I assembled the entire group at Theras River, and we camped there for three days. I inspected them
and found that there were no priests or Levites in the group,
so I sent a message to ten of the leaders who were competent men: Eliezer, Iduel, Maasmas, Elnathan, Shemaiah, Jarib, Nathan, Elnathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
I told them to go to Iddo, the chief official at the treasury,
and ask him, his associates, and the treasury officials to send us priests to serve in the Temple of our Lord.
With God's help, they sent us some able men: Sherebiah, a Levite from the clan of Mahli, with eighteen of his sons and relatives,
and Hashabiah, Annunus, and his brother Jeshaiah of the clan of Hananiah, with twenty of their sons.
There were also 220 Temple workmen whose ancestors had been designated by King David and his officials to assist the Levites. They were all listed in the register by name.
There by Theras River I made a vow that the young men should fast in the presence of our Lord and ask him for a safe journey for us, our children, and our animals.
I would have been ashamed to ask the emperor for infantry and cavalry to accompany us and protect us from our enemies,
because I had told him that our Lord by his strength blesses and protects those who trust him.
So once again we prayed for our Lord to protect us, and he answered our prayers.
From among the leading priests I chose Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten others.
Then I weighed out the silver, the gold, and the sacred utensils which the emperor, his advisers and officials, and the people of Israel had given to be used in the Temple, and I gave it to the priests.
This is what I gave them:
I said to the priests, "You are sacred to the Lord, the Lord of our ancestors, and so are the utensils and the silver and gold brought to him in fulfillment of a vow.
Guard them carefully until you reach the Temple. There in the priests' rooms, turn them over to the leaders of the priests and the Levites and to the leaders of the people of Israel in Jerusalem."
So the priests and the Levites took charge of the silver, the gold, and the utensils for Jerusalem and brought them to the Temple.
It was on the twelfth day of the first month that we left Theras River, and with the Lord's presence and protection we reached Jerusalem. He protected us from all our enemies on our journey, and we arrived safely.
After we had been there three days, we went to the Temple, weighed the silver and gold and turned it all over to Meremoth the priest, son of Uriah.
With him were Eleazar son of Phinehas and two Levites, Jozabad son of Jeshua and Moeth son of Sabannus.
Everything was counted and weighed, and a complete record was made at the same time.
All those who had returned from exile then offered sacrifices to the Lord, the God of Israel. They offered 12 bulls for all Israel, 96 rams,
and 72 lambs; they also offered 12 goats as a fellowship offering. They sacrificed all these animals to the Lord.
Then they took the decree the emperor had given them and gave it to the governors and officials of Greater Syria and Phoenicia, who then honored the Jewish people and the Temple of the Lord.
After all this had been done, some of the leaders of the people of Israel came and told me that
the people, the leaders, the priests, and the Levites had not kept themselves separate from the people in the neighboring countries of Edom, Moab, and Egypt, or from the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, and Jebusites. They were doing the same disgusting things which those people did.
God's holy people had become contaminated because Jewish men were marrying foreign women. Even the leaders and the officials had taken part in this breaking of the Law from the very beginning.
As soon as I heard this, I tore my clothes and my sacred robe in despair. I also tore my hair and my beard, and sat down crushed with anxiety and grief.
I sat there grieving about this sin until it was time for the evening sacrifice to be offered, when people began to gather around me - all those who were disturbed by what the Lord of Israel had said.
Then I got up from where I had been fasting, and still wearing my torn clothes, I knelt in prayer and stretched out my hands to the Lord.
I said, "O Lord, I am ashamed and confused in your presence.
Our sins tower over our heads; they reach as high as the heavens.
This has been true from the days of our ancestors until now; we, your people, have sinned greatly.
Because of our sins and the sins of our ancestors, we and our relatives, our kings, and our priests have fallen into the hands of foreign kings, and we have been slaughtered, robbed, and carried away as prisoners. We have been totally disgraced, as we still are today.
Now, Lord, for a short time you have shown us great mercy. You have allowed just a few of us to survive in order to carry on the name Israel here in your holy Temple.
You have let the light of our nation shine again, after feeding us and taking care of us during the time of our slavery.
Even when we were slaves you did not abandon us; you made the emperors of Persia favor us, so that they gave us food,
restored the glory of your Temple, rebuilt the city of Jerusalem out of its ruins, and gave us a place of security here in Judah and Jerusalem.
"But now, Lord, what can we say, after you have done all this for us? We have again disobeyed the commands that you gave us through your servants, the prophets. They told us that
the land we were to occupy was an impure land because the heathen people who lived in it filled it with their disgusting deeds.
They told us that we should never intermarry with those people 1
and never seek peaceful relations with them if we wanted to be strong and enjoy the land and pass it on to our descendants forever.
Even after everything that has happened to us in punishment for our sins, we know that you, Lord, have punished us less than we deserve
and have allowed us to survive. But we have rebelled again, broken your Law, and intermarried with these wicked people.
Yet you were not angry enough to destroy us completely and leave none of us alive, with no descendants and without our name.
Lord of Israel, you are faithful; you have allowed us to survive.
We confess our guilt to you; we have no right to come into your presence."
While Ezra was bowing in prayer in front of the Temple, weeping and confessing these sins, a large group of people from Jerusalem - men, women, and children - gathered around him, all of them weeping bitterly.
Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the Israelites, said to Ezra, "We have sinned against the Lord by marrying foreign women, but even so, there is still hope for Israel.
Now we must make a solemn promise to the Lord that we will send all these foreign women and their children away.
We will do what you and the others who obey the Law of the Lord advise us to do.
It is your responsibility to act. We are behind you, so go ahead and get it done."
So Ezra began by making the leaders of the priests, of the Levites, and of the rest of the people take an oath that they would divorce their foreign wives.