Chapter 7 marks the beginning of the second half of the book of Ezra. Chronologically the book moves forward to the reign of Artaxerxes. Topically, the book turns to focus on the internal needs of the Israelites rather than on external opposition.
The book of Esther took place in the time period between the end of Ezra 6 and the beginning of Ezra 7.
Return from Exile as a Second Exodus
Though Ezra 8:31 gives the actual departure date as the twelfth day of the first month, 7:9 highlights that preparations for departure began on the first day of the first month. Since that was the day Israel left Egypt in the first exodus (Ex. 12:2; Num. 33:3; cf. Isa. 11:11.16), Ezra may have been making a connection between his return and the exodus (Williamson 1985: 93; Breneman 1993: 129; Shepherd and Wright 2018: 31).
Some read this verse as stating that Ezra began his journey on this date but was delayed so that he actually left on the twelfth. Steinmann, however, argues for the translation “it was the foundation of the ascent from Babylon” (Steinmann 2010: 285). In other words, this date marks the beginning of a preparatory stage of the journey.
In the first exodus, God led the people out of Egypt, had them build the tabernacle, gave them the law, and led them into the land. This same combination of temple, land, and law is at work in Ezra as well. The first part of the book recounted the rebuilding of the temple in connection with the people’s return to the land. But true temple worship and true life in the land requires the law as well. Levering notes that “for the land to be what it truly is, it requires not merely the temple but the indwelling of God. This indwelling is impossible unless the people are holy” (Levering 2007: 81). This is the whole point of Exodus 33:3-4. The position of the land without the presence of God is of no value. This is also the point of Ezekiel 10. The existence of a temple structure is of no value if God is not present.
A purpose of the law was to instruct the people in how to be holy before a holy God. Just as Moses brought the law to the people in the first exodus, so Ezra in this second exodus instructs the people in the law of Moses (Kidner 1979: 70; Levering 20007: 88).
In both the first and the second exodus the hand of God was at work. God’s mighty hand compelled Pharaoh to let the Israelites go (Ex. 3:19; 6:1; 7:4-5; 13:9), and in Ezra’s day the hand of Yhwh led Artaxerxes to give to Ezra all that he asked for with regard to the journey to the land (Levering 2007: 88).
God’s Providential Work
The repetition of “the hand of Yhwh his God was on him” (7:6) and “the good hand of his God was on him (7:9) in Ezra 7:1-10 highlights also God’s providential working on behalf of his people. In verse 6 the hand of God being on Ezra explains why the “king granted him all that he asked.” Though what Ezra asked for has not yet been related, the reader already knows it will be granted.
In verse 9 the hand of God on Ezra explains why they arrived safely in Jerusalem. Brown (2005a: 47-48) notes that account could have been structured to build suspense by delaying the outcome of Ezra’s journey to chapter 8. This is especially the case since 8:21-23 indicates that there was some anxiety about their safety in the journey. However, 7:8 records the date that Ezra arrived at Jerusalem prior to providing the date when he prepared to leave.
Ezra … deliberately undermined his story’s potential for suspense in favor of a temporal strategy that supports his theological purpose. … At least nine times throughout this episode Ezra inserted narrative references to God’s personal activity. Whereas magnified narrative suspense would have provided an opportunity to focus on faith, Ezra’s minimal suspense maximizes the reader’s awareness of God’s prevenient grace at work on behalf of His people (Brown 2005a: 48).
Ezra the Priest
Chapter 7 opens with a lengthy recitation of Ezra’s genealogy. He stands in the line of priests that extends back to Aaron. As is common in biblical genealogies, the list is not comprehensive.
Ezra is said to be the “son of Seraiah,” who was the grandfather of Joshua the son of Jozadak. The generations between Ezra and Seriah have been omitted. (Son in the Old Testament does not always refer to a direct descendant of a father but can indicate more distant descent as well.) The generations after Seraiah may have been omitted because though Seraiah was a high priest, Ezra was not. He came from a different line of descent from Seraiah than Joshua (KD 4:59-60).
Comparison with 1 Chronicles 6:3-15 reveals that six names between Azariah and Meraioth have been omitted as well. Some think that this was due to a scribal error (Williamson 1985: 93; Steinmann 2010: 286-87). However, there is no textual evidence that these names were ever included. Since biblical genealogies often omit some generations, it is better to conclude that these names were not initially included (KD 4:60; Steveson 2011: 61).
The point of the lengthy genealogy is to highlight Ezra’s importance (Breneman 1993:126) and to link him to the time of Moses and the initial establishment of the priesthood (Shepherd and Wright 2018: 30-31). Ezra remains concerned to establish continuity between the returnees and their forebears.
Notably, Ezra is not described as carrying out the cultic duties of the priests, though this should not cause readers to think that he was uninvolved in the temple or sacrificial system. However, the priests were also to teach the law to the people (McConville 1985: 46; Steinmann 2010: 288). Thus Ezra’s role as a scribe and teacher of the law is tightly connected with his responsibilities as a priest.
Deuteronomy 31:9-13 links the priestly instruction in the law to the Feast of Booths. See Nehemiah 8 which links Ezra’s instruction of the people with the Feast of Booths.