Bible Society of South Africa

To The Word – Day 153

Ezra 7–10, Psalms 33 & 35

Bible text(s)

Ezra Arrives in Jerusalem

1Many years later, when Artaxerxes was emperor of Persia, there was a man named Ezra. He traced his ancestors back to Aaron, the High Priest, as follows: Ezra was the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron.

6-7Ezra was a scholar with a thorough knowledge of the Law which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given to Moses. Because Ezra had the blessing of the LORD his God, the emperor gave him everything he asked for. In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, Ezra set out from Babylonia for Jerusalem with a group of Israelites which included priests, Levites, temple musicians, temple guards, and workmen. 8-9They left Babylonia on the first day of the first month, and with God's help they arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month. 10Ezra had devoted his life to studying the Law of the LORD, to practising it, and to teaching all its laws and regulations to the people of Israel.

The Document which Artaxerxes Gave to Ezra

11Artaxerxes gave the following document to Ezra, the priest and scholar, who had a thorough knowledge of the laws and commands which the LORD had given to Israel:

12“From Artaxerxes the emperor to Ezra the priest, scholar in the Law of the God of Heaven.

13“I command that throughout my empire all the Israelite people, priests, and Levites that so desire be permitted to go with you to Jerusalem. 14I, together with my seven counsellors, send you to investigate the conditions in Jerusalem and Judah in order to see how well the Law of your God, which has been entrusted to you, is being obeyed. 15You are to take with you the gold and silver offerings which I and my counsellors desire to give to the God of Israel, whose Temple is in Jerusalem. 16You are also to take all the silver and gold which you collect throughout the province of Babylon and the offerings which the Israelite people and their priests give for the Temple of their God in Jerusalem.

17“You are to spend this money carefully and buy bulls, rams, lambs, corn, and wine and offer them on the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem. 18You may use the silver and gold that is left over for whatever you and your people desire, in accordance with the will of your God. 19You are to present to God in Jerusalem all the utensils that have been given to you for use in the temple services. 20And anything else which you need for the Temple, you may get from the royal treasury.

21“I command all the treasury officials in the province of West Euphrates to provide promptly for Ezra, the priest and scholar in the Law of the God of Heaven, everything he asks you for, 22up to a limit of 3.4 tonnes of silver, ten tonnes of wheat, 2,000 litres of wine, 2,000 litres of olive oil, and as much salt as necessary. 23You must be careful to provide everything which the God of Heaven requires for his Temple, and so make sure that he is never angry with me or with those who reign after me. 24You are forbidden to collect any taxes from the priests, Levites, musicians, guards, workmen, or anyone else connected with this Temple.

25“You, Ezra, using the wisdom which your God has given you, are to appoint administrators and judges to govern all the people in West Euphrates who live by the Law of your God. You must teach that Law to anyone who does not know it. 26If anyone disobeys the laws of your God or the laws of the empire, he is to be punished promptly: by death or by exile or by confiscation of his property or by imprisonment.”

Ezra Praises God

27Ezra said, “Praise the LORD, the God of our ancestors! He has made the emperor willing to honour in this way the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem. 28By God's grace I have won the favour of the emperor, of his counsellors, and of all his powerful officials; the LORD my God has given me courage, and I have been able to persuade many of the heads of the clans of Israel to return with me.”

The People who Returned from Exile

1This is the list of the heads of the clans who had been in exile in Babylonia and who returned with Ezra to Jerusalem when Artaxerxes was emperor:

    2-14Gershom, of the clan of Phinehas
    Daniel, of the clan of Ithamar
    Hattush son of Shecaniah, of the clan of David
    Zechariah, of the clan of Parosh, with 150 men of his clan (there were records of their ancestry)
    Eliehoenai son of Zerahiah, of the clan of Pahath Moab, with 200 men
    Shecaniah son of Jahaziel, of the clan of Zattu, with 300 men
    Ebed son of Jonathan, of the clan of Adin, with fifty men
    Jeshaiah son of Athaliah, of the clan of Elam, with seventy men
    Zebadiah son of Michael, of the clan of Shephatiah, with eighty men
    Obadiah son of Jehiel, of the clan of Joab, with 218 men
    Shelomith son of Josiphiah, of the clan of Bani, with 160 men
    Zechariah son of Bebai, of the clan of Bebai, with 28 men
    Johanan son of Hakkatan, of the clan of Azgad, with 110 men
    Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, of the clan of Adonikam, with sixty men (they returned at a later date)
    Uthai and Zaccur, of the clan of Bigvai, with seventy men.

Ezra Finds Levites for the Temple

15I assembled the entire group by the canal that runs to the town of Ahava, and we camped there three days. I found that there were priests in the group, but no Levites. 16I sent for nine of the leaders: Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, and for two teachers, Joiarib and Elnathan. 17I sent them to Iddo, head of the community at Casiphia, to ask him and his associates, the temple workmen, to send us people to serve God in the Temple. 18Through God's grace they sent us Sherebiah, an able man, a Levite from the clan of Mahli, and eighteen of his sons and brothers came with him. 19They also sent Hashabiah and Jeshaiah of the clan of Merari, with twenty of their relatives. 20In addition there were 220 temple workmen whose ancestors had been designated by King David and his officials to assist the Levites. They were all listed by name.

Ezra Leads the People in Fasting and Prayer

21There by the Ahava Canal I gave orders for us all to fast and humble ourselves before our God and to ask him to lead us on our journey and protect us and our children and all our possessions. 22I would have been ashamed to ask the emperor for a troop of cavalry to guard us from any enemies during our journey, because I had told him that our God blesses everyone who trusts him, but that he is displeased with and punishes anyone who turns away from him. 23So we fasted and prayed for God to protect us, and he answered our prayers.

The Gifts for the Temple

24From among the leading priests I chose Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten others. 25Then I weighed out the silver, the gold, and the 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. 26-27This is what I gave them:

    silver — 22 tonnes
    100 silver utensils — seventy kilogrammes
    gold — 3.4 tonnes
    twenty gold bowls — 8.4 kilogrammes
    two fine bronze bowls, equal in value to gold bowls.

28I said to them, “You are sacred to the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and so are all the silver and gold utensils brought to him as freewill offerings. 29Guard them carefully until you reach the Temple. There in the priests' room weigh them and hand them over to the leaders of the priests and of the Levites, and to the leaders of the people of Israel in Jerusalem.” 30So the priests and the Levites took charge of the silver, the gold, and the utensils, to take them to the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Return to Jerusalem

31It was on the twelfth day of the first month that we left the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. Our God was with us and protected us from enemy attacks and from ambush as we travelled. 32When we reached Jerusalem, we rested for three days. 33Then on the fourth day we went to the Temple, weighed the silver, the gold, and the utensils, and handed them over to Meremoth the priest, son of Uriah. With him were Eleazar son of Phinehas and two Levites, Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui. 34Everything was counted and weighed, and a complete record was made at the same time.

35All those who had returned from exile then brought offerings to be burnt as sacrifices to the God of Israel. They offered twelve bulls for all Israel, 96 rams, and 77 lambs; they also offered twelve goats to purify themselves from sin. All these animals were burnt as sacrifices to the LORD. 36They also took the document the emperor had given them and gave it to the governors and officials of the province of West Euphrates, who then gave their support to the people and the temple worship.

Ezra Learns of Intermarriages with Non-Jews

1After all this had been done, some of the leaders of the people of Israel came and told me that the people, the priests, and the Levites had not kept themselves separate from the people in the neighbouring countries of Ammon, Moab, and Egypt or from the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Amorites. They were doing the same disgusting things that those people did. 2Jewish men were marrying foreign women, and so God's holy people had become contaminated. The leaders and officials were the chief offenders. 3When I heard this, I tore my clothes in despair, tore my hair and my beard, and sat down crushed with grief. 4I sat there grieving until the time for the evening sacrifice to be offered, and people began to gather round me — all those who were frightened because of what the God of Israel had said about the sins of those who had returned from exile.

5When the time came for the evening sacrifice, I got up from where I had been grieving, and still wearing my torn clothes, I knelt in prayer and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God. 6I said, “O God, I am too ashamed to raise my head in your presence. Our sins pile up, high above our heads; they reach as high as the heavens. 7From the days of our ancestors until now, we, your people, have sinned greatly. Because of our sins we, 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. 8Now for a short time, O LORD our God, you have been gracious to us and have let some of us escape from slavery and live in safety in this holy place. You have freed us from slavery and given us new life. 9We were slaves, but you did not leave us in slavery. You made the emperors of Persia favour us and permit us to go on living and to rebuild your Temple, which was in ruins, and to find safety here in Judah and Jerusalem.

10“But now, O God, what can we say after all that has happened? We have again disobeyed the commands 11that you gave us through your servants, the prophets. They told us that the land we were going to occupy was an impure land because the people who lived in it filled it from one end to the other with disgusting, filthy actions. 12They told us that we were never to intermarry with those people and never to help them prosper or succeed if we wanted to enjoy the land and pass it on to our descendants for ever. 13Even after everything that has happened to us in punishment for our sins and wrongs, we know that you, our God, have punished us less than we deserve and have allowed us to survive. 14Then how can we ignore your commandments again and intermarry with these wicked people? If we do, you will be so angry that you will destroy us completely and let no one survive. 15LORD God of Israel, you are just, but you have let us survive. We confess our guilt to you; we have no right to come into your presence.”

The Plan for Ending Mixed Marriages

1While Ezra was bowing in prayer in front of the Temple, weeping and confessing these sins, a large group of Israelites — men, women, and children — gathered round him, weeping bitterly. 2Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, of the clan of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have broken faith with God by marrying foreign women, but even so there is still hope for Israel. 3Now we must make a solemn promise to our God that we will send these women and their children away. We will do what you and the others who honour God's commands advise us to do. We will do what God's Law demands. 4It is your responsibility to act. We are behind you, so go ahead and get it done.”

5So 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 do what Shecaniah had proposed. 6Then he went from in front of the Temple into the living quarters of Jehohanan son of Eliashib, and spent the night there grieving over the unfaithfulness of the exiles. He did not eat or drink anything.

7A message was sent throughout Jerusalem and Judah that all those who had returned from exile were to meet in Jerusalem 8by order of the leaders of the people. If anyone failed to come within three days, all his property would be confiscated, and he would lose his right to be a member of the community. 9Within the three days, on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the men living in the territory of Judah and Benjamin came to Jerusalem and assembled in the temple square. It was raining hard, and because of the weather and the importance of the meeting everyone was trembling.

10Ezra the priest stood up and spoke to them. He said, “You have been faithless and have brought guilt on Israel by marrying foreign women. 11Now then, confess your sins to the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and do what pleases him. Separate yourselves from the foreigners living in our land and get rid of your foreign wives.”

12The people shouted in answer, “We will do whatever you say.” 13But they added, “The crowd is too big, and it's raining hard. We can't stand here in the open like this. This isn't something that can be done in one or two days, because so many of us are involved in this sin. 14Let our officials stay in Jerusalem and take charge of the matter. Then let anyone who has a foreign wife come at a set time, together with the leaders and the judges of his city. In this way God's anger over this situation will be turned away.” 15No one was opposed to the plan except Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah, who had the support of Meshullam and of Shabbethai, a Levite.

16The returned exiles accepted the plan, so Ezra the priest appointed men from among the heads of the clans and recorded their names. On the first day of the tenth month they began their investigation, 17and within the next three months they investigated all the cases of men with foreign wives.

The Men who had Foreign Wives

18This is the list of the men who had foreign wives:

Priests, listed by clans:
    Clan of Joshua and his brothers, sons of Jehozadak: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah. 19They promised to divorce their wives, and they offered a ram as a sacrifice for their sins.
    20Clan of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah
    21Clan of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah
    22Clan of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.
23Levites:
    Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (also called Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.
24Musicians:
    Eliashib.
Temple guards:
    Shallum, Telem, and Uri.
25Others:
    Clan of Parosh: Ramiah, Izziah, Malchijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malchijah, and Benaiah
    26Clan of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Elijah
    27Clan of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza
    28Clan of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai
    29Clan of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Jeremoth
    30Clan of Pahath Moab: Adna, Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh
    31-32Clan of Harim: Eliezer, Isshijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah
    33Clan of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei
    34-37Clan of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel, Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluhi, Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu
    38-42Clan of Binnui: Shimei, Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph
    43Clan of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah.

44All these men had foreign wives. They divorced them and sent them and their children away.

A Song of Praise

1All you that are righteous,

shout for joy for what the LORD has done;

praise him, all you that obey him.

2Give thanks to the LORD with harps,

sing to him with stringed instruments.

3Sing a new song to him,

play the harp with skill, and shout for joy!

4The words of the LORD are true

and all his works are dependable.

5The LORD loves what is righteous and just;

his constant love fills the earth.

6The LORD created the heavens by his command,

the sun, moon, and stars by his spoken word.

7He gathered all the seas into one place;

he shut up the ocean depths in storerooms.

8Worship the LORD, all the earth!

Honour him, all peoples of the world!

9When he spoke, the world was created;

at his command everything appeared.

10The LORD frustrates the purposes of the nations;

he keeps them from carrying out their plans.

11But his plans endure for ever;

his purposes last eternally.

12Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD;

happy are the people he has chosen for his own!

13The LORD looks down from heaven

and sees the whole human race.

14From where he rules, he looks down

on all who live on earth.

15He forms all their thoughts

and knows everything they do.

16A king does not win because of his powerful army;

a soldier does not triumph because of his strength.

17War horses are useless for victory;

their great strength cannot save.

18The LORD watches over those who obey him,

those who trust in his constant love.

19He saves them from death;

he keeps them alive in times of famine.

20We put our hope in the LORD;

he is our protector and our help.

21We are glad because of him;

we trust in his holy name.

22May your constant love be with us, LORD,

as we put our hope in you.

A Prayer for Help

1Oppose those who oppose me, LORD,

and fight those who fight against me!

2Take your shield and armour

and come to my rescue.

3Lift up your spear and your axe

against those who pursue me.

Promise that you will save me.

4May those who try to kill me

be defeated and disgraced!

May those who plot against me

be turned back and confused!

5May they be like straw blown by the wind

as the angel of the LORD pursues them!

6May their path be dark and slippery

while the angel of the LORD strikes them down!

7Without any reason they laid a trap for me

and dug a deep hole to catch me.

8But destruction will catch them before they know it;

they will be caught in their own trap

and fall to their destruction!

9Then I will be glad because of the LORD;

I will be happy because he saved me.

10With all my heart I will say to the LORD,

“There is no one like you.

You protect the weak from the strong,

the poor from the oppressor.”

11Evil people testify against me

and accuse me of crimes I know nothing about.

12They pay me back evil for good,

and I sink in despair.

13But when they were sick, I dressed in mourning;

I deprived myself of food;

I prayed with my head bowed low,

14as I would pray for a friend or a brother.

I went about bent over in mourning,

as one who mourns for his mother.

15But when I was in trouble, they were all glad

and gathered round to mock me;

strangers beat me

and kept striking me.

16Like those who would mock a cripple,

they glared at me with hate.

17How much longer, Lord, will you just look on?

Rescue me from their attacks;

save my life from these lions!

18Then I will thank you in the assembly of your people;

I will praise you before them all.

19Don't let my enemies, those liars,

gloat over my defeat.

Don't let those who hate me for no reason

smirk with delight over my sorrow.

20They do not speak in a friendly way;

instead they invent all kinds of lies about peace-loving people.

21They accuse me, shouting,

“We saw what you did!”

22But you, O LORD, have seen this.

So don't be silent, Lord;

don't keep yourself far away!

23Rouse yourself, O Lord, and defend me;

rise up, my God, and plead my cause.

24You are righteous, O LORD, so declare me innocent;

don't let my enemies gloat over me.

25Don't let them say to themselves,

“We are rid of him!

That's just what we wanted!”

26May those who gloat over my suffering

be completely defeated and confused;

may those who claim to be better than I am

be covered with shame and disgrace.

27May those who want to see me acquitted

shout for joy and say again and again,

“How great is the LORD!

He is pleased with the success of his servant.”

28Then I will proclaim your righteousness,

and I will praise you all day long.

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