We have here the commission which the Persian emperor granted to Ezra, giving him authority to act for the good of the Jews; and it is very ample and full, and beyond what could have been expected. The commission runs, we suppose, in the usual form: Artaxerxes, King of kings. This however is too high a title for any mortal man to assume; he was indeed king of some kings, but to speak as if he were king of all kings was to usurp his prerogative who hath all power both in heaven and in earth. He sends greeting to his trusty and well-beloved Ezra, whom he calls a scribe of the law of the God of heaven (Ezra 7:12), a title which (it seems by this) Ezra valued himself by, and desired no other, no, not when he was advanced to the proconsular dignity. He reckoned it more his honour to be a scribe of God’s law than to be a peer or prince of the empire. Let us observe the articles of this commission.
I. He gives Ezra leave to go up to Jerusalem, and as many of his countrymen as pleased to go up with him, Ezra 7:13. He and they were captives, and therefore they would not quit his dominions without his royal license.
II. He gives him authority to enquire into the affairs of Judah and Jerusalem, Ezra 7:14. The rule of his enquiry was to be the law of his God, which was in his hand. He must enquire whether the Jews, in their religion, had and did according to that law—whether the temple was built, the priesthood was settled, and the sacrifices were offered conformably to the divine appointment. If, upon enquiry, he found any thing amiss, he must see to get it amended, and, like Titus in Crete, must set in order the things that were wanting, Titus 1:5. Thus is God’s law magnified and made honourable, and thus are the Jews restored to their ancient privilege of governing themselves by that law, and are no longer under the statutes that were not good, the statutes of their oppressors, Ezek. 20:25.
III. He entrusts him with the money that was freely given by the king himself and his counsellors, and collected among his subjects, for the service of the house of God, Ezra 7:15, 16.
1. Let this be taken notice of, (1.) To the honour of God, as the one only living and true God;’ for even those that worshipped other gods were so convinced of the sovereignty of the God of Israel that they were willing to incur expenses in order to recommend themselves to his favour. See Ps. 45:12; 68:26. (2.) To the praise of this heathen king, that he honoured the God of Israel though his worshippers were a despicable handful of poor men, who were not able to bear the charges of their own religion and were now his vassals, and that, though he was not wrought upon to quit his own superstitions, yet he protected and encouraged the Jews in their religion, and did not only say, Be you warmed, and be you filled, but gave them such things as they needed. (3.) To the reproach of the memory of the wicked kings of Judah. Those that had been trained up in the knowledge and worship of the God of Israel, and had his law and his prophets, often plundered and impoverished the temple; but here a heathen prince enriched it. Thus afterwards the gospel was rejected by the Jews, but welcomed by the Gentiles. See Rom. 11:11; Through their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles. Acts 13:46.
2. We are here told that Ezra was entrusted, (1.) To receive this money and to carry it to Jerusalem; for he was a man of known integrity, whom they could confide in, that he would not convert to his own use the least part of that which was given to the public. We find Paul going to Jerusalem upon such an errand, to bring alms to his nation and offerings, Acts 24:17. (2.) To lay out this money in the best manner, in sacrifices to be offered upon the altar of God (Ezra 7:17), and in whatever else he or his brethren thought fit (Ezra 7:18), with this limitation only that it should be after the will of their God, which they were better acquainted with than the king was. Let the will of our God be always our rule in our expenses, and particularly in what we lay out for his service. God’s work must always be done according to his will. Besides money, he had vessels also given him for the service of the temple, Ezra 7:19. Cyrus restored what of right belonged to the temple, but these were given over and above: thus it receiveth its own with usury. These he must deliver before the God of Jerusalem, as intended for his honour, there where he had put his name.
IV. He draws him a bill, or warrant rather, upon the treasurers on that side the river, requiring them to furnish him with what he had occasion for out of the king’s revenues, and to place it to the king’s account, Ezra 7:20, 22. This was considerately done; for Ezra, having yet to enquire into the sate of things, knew not what he should have occasion for and was modest in his demand. It was also kindly done, and evinced a great affection to the temple and a great confidence in Ezra. It is the interest of princes and great men to use their wealth and power for the support and encouragement of religion. What else are great revenues good for but that they enable men to do much good of this kind if they have but hearts to do it?
V. He charges him to let nothing be wanting that was requisite to be done in or about the temple for the honour of the God of Israel. Observe, in this charge (Ezra 7:23), 1. How honourably he speaks of God. He had called him before the God of Jerusalem; but here, lest it should be thought that he looked upon him as a local deity, he calls him twice, with great veneration, the God of heaven. 2. How strictly he eyes the word and law of God, which, it is likely, he had read and admired: “Whatsoever is commanded by your God” (whose institutions, though he wrote himself King of kings, he would not presume in the least iota or tittle to alter or add to) “let it be done, let it be diligently done, with care and speed.” And, 3. How solicitously he deprecates the wrath of God: Why should there be wrath against the realm? The neglect and contempt of religion bring the judgments of God upon kings and kingdoms; and the likeliest expedient to turn away his wrath, when it is ready to break out against a people, is to support and encourage religion. Would we secure our peace and prosperity? Let us take care that the cause of God be not starved.
VI. He exempts all the ministers of the temple from paying taxes to the government. From the greatest of the priests to the least of the Nethinim, it shall not be lawful for the king’s officers to impose that toll, tribute, or custom upon them, which the rest of the king’s subjects paid, Ezra 7:24. This put a great honour upon them as free denizens of the empire, and would gain them respect as favourites of the crown; and it gave them liberty to attend their ministry with more cheerfulness and freedom. We suppose it was only what they needed for themselves and their families, and the maintenance of their ministry, that was hereby allowed to come to them custom-free. If any of them should take occasion from this privilege to meddle in trade and merchandise, they justly lost the benefit of it.
VII. He empowers Ezra to nominate and appoint judges and magistrates for all the Jews on that side the river, Ezra 7:25, 26. It was a great favour to the Jews to have such nobles of themselves, and especially to have them of Ezra’s nomination. 1. All that knew the laws of Ezra’s God (that is, all that professed the Jewish religion) were to be under the jurisdiction of these judges, which intimates that they were exempted from the jurisdiction of the heathen magistrates. 2. These judges were allowed and encouraged to make proselytes: Let them teach the laws of God to those that do not know them. Though he would not turn Jew himself, he cared not how many of his subjects did. 3. They were authorized to enforce the judgments they gave, and the orders they made, conformable to the law of God (which was hereby made the law of the king), with severe penalties—imprisonment, banishment, fine, or death, according as their law directed. They were not allowed to make new laws, but must see the laws of God duly executed; and they were entrusted with the sword in order that they might be a terror to evil doers. What could Jehoshaphat, or Hezekiah, or David himself, as king, have done more for the honour of God and the furtherance of religion?