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Israel’s troubles started back in the eighth century when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom. God was furious with His people because of their sins, so He used that empire to punish them. Over the next two centuries, the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians and the Persians conquered the Babylonians. Which foreign nation led the empire was of no consequence to Him; He could use their power whenever and however He liked. But God uses kings Cyrus and Darius in a different way—He uses them to restore the Jews. They have much to celebrate!

More than 50 years had passed since the temple was completed by the first group of exiles, and Artaxerxes I was ruling Persia. Ezra (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 Meraioth, son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest)— this Ezra traveled from Babylon to make a request of the king. Ezra was a scribe, a scholar of the law of Moses that the Eternal God of Israel had given, who had the support of the Eternal God; so the king granted all his requests that more Jews (including laypeople, priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants) be allowed to return to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes’ reign.

From the beginning, Ezra has influence. As a descendant of Aaron, he is of the highest and most respected priestly class in the Jewish community, so his own people will follow him. Even in the Persian Empire, his status as a priest makes him a valued political figure. These qualifications make him the perfect person to revitalize the waning religious reforms started by the first Jewish exiles who have returned to Jerusalem.

8-9 On the first day of the first month of Artaxerxes’ seventh year as king, Ezra traveled from Babylon and arrived in Jerusalem on the first of the fifth month. Ezra’s exodus from this foreign empire was successful because he was supported by his True God. 10 He was a second Moses, and tenaciously studied, practiced, and taught the Eternal’s law to Israel.

11 King Artaxerxes gave this copy of the letter to Ezra, the priest, teacher, and scholar of the Eternal’s laws to Israel.

Artaxerxes’ Letter:

12 To Ezra, the priest and teacher of the law of the True God of heaven:

May you have perfect peace. I, Artaxerxes, the ruler of all kings, 13 have decreed that any of the Jewish exiles, priests, and Levites residing in my empire may go with you to Jerusalem if they want to. 14 I, the king, and my seven cabinet members are sending you to investigate how Judah and Jerusalem are following your True God’s laws, the laws which you study and teach. 15 You will take the silver and gold—which we are freely offering to the True God of Israel who lives in Jerusalem— 16 all the silver and gold in the province of Babylon, and the freewill offerings of all the people and priests for their True God’s temple in Jerusalem. 17 Use the money to buy bulls, rams, and lambs for burnt offerings and sin offerings, and offer the grain and drink offerings on the altar of your True God’s temple in Jerusalem. 18 Use any leftover money as your True God intends for you and your fellow returning exiles to use it. 19 Deliver all the new vessels, which I have given you to use in the services of your True God’s temple, to the True God in Jerusalem. 20 Whatever the True God’s temple requires, the Persian royal treasury will pay for it.

21 To the treasurers in the provinces west of the Euphrates: I, King Artaxerxes, command you to obey Ezra, the priest and teacher of the law of the True God of heaven, and give whatever he needs to support the temple sacrifices for 2 years 22 up to 7,500 pounds of silver, 600 bushels of wheat, 600 gallons of wine, 600 gallons of oil, and salt. 23 Whatever the True God of heaven commands, do it eagerly for the True God of heaven’s temple so that He will not be angry with my empire. 24 Also do not charge taxes, tributes, or tolls to any priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, priests’ and Levites’ servants, or temple servants.

25 Ezra, appoint officials and judges over everyone in the province west of the Euphrates, including the Jews who follow your True God’s laws, as the wisdom of your True God motivates you, and teach those who do not know His laws. 26 Anyone who does not follow your True God’s law and my law will be judged harshly and punished by death, exile, foreclosure, or prison.

Ezra: 27 Eternal God of our ancestors, may You be blessed by the praises of Your people for motivating the king to fill and beautify the Eternal’s temple in Jerusalem. 28 You have blessed me with Your loyal love and strengthened me with Your motivation as I stood before the king and his cabinet and his princes. Because of You I was able to convince the elders of Israel to accompany me back to Jerusalem.

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