Ezra’s caravan to Jerusalem
Families in Ezra’s caravan1 When Artaxerxes was king, I led a caravan of families from Babylon to Jerusalem. Here are the names of the leading men and the families they represented:
Hattush son of Shecaniah/DAVID
3Zechariah and 150 other registered men/PAROSH
4Eliehoenai son of Zerahiah with 200 men/PAHATH-MOAB
5Shecaniah son of Jahaziel with 300 men/ZATTU
6Ebed son of Jonathan with 50 men/ADIN
7Jeshaiah son of Athaliah with 70 men/ELAM
8Zebadiah son of Michael with 80 men/SHEPHATIAH
9Obadiah son of Jehiel with 218 men/JOAB
10Shelomith son of Josiphiah with 160 men/BANI
11Zechariah son of Bebai with 28 men/BEBAI
12Johanan son of Hakkatan with 110 men/AZGAD
13Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah who came later with 60 men/ADONIKAM
14Uthai and Zaccur with 70 men/BIGVAI
Ezra recruits Levites for the trip15I staged the caravan beside the Ahava canal. We met there and camped for three days. That was long enough for me to get a sense of who would be traveling with us. I discovered we didn’t have any descendants of Levi. Not a single Levite in the crowd.
16So, I sent for these leaders camping with us: Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And I called in two men I respected for their wisdom: Joiarib and Elnathan. 17I sent these men as a delegation to meet with a man named Iddo. He led the place called Casiphia. I told the delegation to ask Iddo and his colleagues to help us find people qualified to work in Jerusalem’s Temple and willing to come with us.
18God was looking out for us. He sent us a man of distinction—a Levite named Sherebiah, from the family of Mahli. He came with his sons and others in his family—18 in all. 19Hashabiah and Jeshaiah came with their families, too—20 relatives. They came from Merari’s family. 20Another 220 came with them, each one credentialed, listed by name. They were all relatives of servants King David and his officials had appointed long ago to help Levites at the Temple.
Skipping meals to pray for safe travels21Before we left, I asked the people to skip some meals so we could pray, asking God to keep us safe on the trip. We humbly asked God to protect us, our children, and all that we took with us.
22I would have asked the king for a patrol of soldiers to protect us, but I was too embarrassed. You see, I had assured the king that God takes care of people who are devoted to him. And I had warned the king that God doesn’t deal kindly with his enemies—but that he hammers them with anger.
23So, we prayed instead of eating. God heard us.
Priests trusted to carry valuables24I appointed 12 top priests: Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and 10 of their relatives. 25I weighed the silver and gold objects we were taking to the Temple. That included gifts from the king and his council, along with donations from other leaders and Jews who stayed behind.
26I distributed it all among the priests. And I asked them to keep it safe during the trip. Here’s the inventory:
24 tons of silver
3.75 tons of silver containers, 100 in all
3.75 tons of gold
2720 gold bowls valued at 1,000 gold coins, which weighed a total of 20 pounds
2 exquisite bronze objects, polished to look like gold.
28I told the priests,
“I’m declaring that you are now reserved exclusively for God’s business. You are holy because you are devoted to him alone. And the objects I’ve entrusted to your care are holy as well. This silver and gold are gifts we are taking to the LORD. 29Guard them with care because we’re going to weigh them again when we present them to the priests, Levites, and family leaders at the Temple in Jerusalem.”
30So, the priests and Levites took charge of the silver, gold, and precious objects I had weighed. They guarded them during the trip to God’s Temple in Jerusalem.
Arriving in Jerusalem31We had left Ahava’s canal for Jerusalem on a spring day, the 12th of Nisan, God was with us. He kept us safe from ambushes and attacks.
32When we reached Jerusalem, we rested for three days. 33On the fourth day, we took the silver, gold, and precious objects to the Temple. We gave them to the priest, Meremoth son of Uriah. Eleazar son of Phinehas was there, along with Jozabad son of Jeshua, Noadiah son of Binnui, and the Levites. 34The group counted and weighed it all, and the numbers came out right. Nothing was missing.
35Those of us who had just returned from exile presented God with burnt offerings to erase our sins. On behalf of all Israel, we sacrificed 12 bulls, 96 rams, and 77 lambs. As a sin offering, we sacrificed 12 goats. We burned all the animals on the altar.
36Some in our group carried messages from the king to his officials in this province west of the Euphrates River. The officials and governors supported us and the Temple.
Artaxerxes reigned from 465-425 BC. He became king 50 years after Jews finished rebuilding the Temple in 515 BC.
Ezra didn’t count ladies or livestock. Both belonged to the men. At least that’s what men seemed to think in those days.
Two families of priests are listed first, ahead of the royal family of King David. Ezra is a priest from Phineas’ family, which tops the list. There were just two families of priests: Phineas and Ithamar. Those men were two of the four sons of Aaron, Israel’s first priest (Exodus 6:23). Ithamar was also a distant relative of King David. Ithamar’s mother, Elishiba, was the daughter of Amminadab (Exodus 6:23; Numbers 3:2), great-grandfather of Boaz (Ruth 4:19-21), who was David’s great-grandfather (Ruth 20:22).
Zattu shows up in ancient Greek copies of Ezra but he’s a no-show in Hebrew copies of Ezra.
Bani shows up in ancient Greek copies of Ezra but he, too, is a no-show in Hebrew copies.
Location of Ahava is uncertain. Scholars have suggested several locations, but not with certainty. Babylon was built beside the Euphrates River. There were a lot of natural streams in the area, along with hand-dug canals built for various reasons: transportation, irrigation, and defense. It’s harder for invaders to attack a city if they have to cross a body of water to get there. There’s nowhere to hide in the middle of a stream.
Levites were descendants of Levi, one of Jacob’s 12 sons. Levi’s descendants, or tribe, became the nation’s priests, Temple workers, and other worship leaders and associates. Bible writers often mention priests and Levites as though Levites were associates of priests. Yet, both were descendants of Levi, which makes them both Levites in one sense of the word. But there was another sense of the word. Historians still debate what the difference was between a priest and a Levite. It seems that priests performed what people considered the more important religious duties. Levites may have been more like associate ministers. But that’s a guess.
Casiphia’s location is unknown. And it’s unclear what Casiphia was. Many scholars say Bible writers often used the phrase describing it, “the place,” as code for a place of worship—possibly a synagogue. Many historians say synagogues first appeared during the exile, as a substitute for the Jerusalem Temple that Babylonians destroyed. There in the synagogue they could read the sacred Jewish writings and worship. But they couldn’t sacrifice. Jerusalem’s Temple altar was the only place Jews could sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:5; 2 Chronicles 6:6).
There’s no obvious record in the Bible of David appointing servants like this. There are, however, references to “Temple servants” (1 Chronicles 9:2) in addition to priests and Levites.
Christians often call this “prayer and fasting.” The word for “fast” more literally means, “deprive your throats,” as in, “don’t eat or drink.” The practice is sometimes called “self-denial.” Instead of eating, people are encouraged to pray and to confess their sins. Christians often fast in times of deep trouble when health and safety are threatened. Most wouldn’t call it twisting God’s arm, though it might look that way. Those who practice fasting often say they’re simply doing what Jesus did (Matthew 4:1-11).
It’s hard to know if Ezra overstated God’s willingness to do something people can do for themselves, such as beefing up security. Whatever he said, it sounds as though it left him afraid of the king’s potential comeback: “I thought you said God had you covered? Give me back my gifts to God’s Temple and stay here.” A few years later, a Jew named Nehemiah made the same trip, but with a military escort (Nehemiah 2:9).
That’s 650 talents of silver and 100 talents of containers and gold. The bowls were valued in a currency of coins called “daric.” All those 1,000 coins together would have weighed roughly 20 pounds, or about 8.6 kilograms.
The theological term behind these words is “consecrated.”
The Jewish month of Nisan stretches between March and April.
This was the most common animal sacrifice. Worshipers burned the entire animal. “Rest your hand on the head of the bull you’ll sacrifice. When you do this, the LORD will accept your offering. This sacrifice atones for your sins and puts you on good terms with God” (Leviticus 1:4).
A sin offering sometimes refers to something the people of Israel brought to God after they realized they had accidentally broken one of God’s laws earlier. Some scholars say a better translation is the opposite of “sin” because the sacrifice is intended to “un-sin” people, to purify them. So those scholars call it a “purification offering.”
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