1. EZRA AND ARTAXERXES
a. What significance does the name of Artaxerxes Longimanus, king of Medo-Persia, hold in the history of the people of God? Ezra 7:8, 10–14. What year was Artaxerxes’ decree issued?
“It was during [Artaxerxes’] reign that Ezra and Nehemiah lived and labored. He is the one who in 457 B.C. issued the third and final decree for the restoration of Jerusalem.”—Prophets and Kings, p. 607.
b. What position did Ezra hold in the court of Artaxerxes? How was he able to help God’s people who were still in captivity? Ezra 7:1, 6, 10, 21.
“During his long rule [Artaxerxes] often showed favor to God’s people, and in his trusted and well-beloved Jewish friends, Ezra and Nehemiah, he recognized men of God’s appointment, raised up for a special work.
“The experience of Ezra while living among the Jews who remained in Babylon was so unusual that it attracted the favorable notice of King Artaxerxes, with whom he talked freely regarding the power of the God of heaven, and the divine purpose in restoring the Jews to Jerusalem.”—Ibid., pp.607, 608.
2. EZRA’S MAIN WORK
a. What other important work did Ezra accomplish? Ezra 7:10.
“The efforts of Ezra to revive an interest in the study of the Scriptures were given permanency by his painstaking, lifelong work of preserving and multiplying the Sacred Writings. He gathered all the copies of the law that he could find and had these transcribed and distributed. The pure word, thus multiplied and placed in the hands of many people, gave knowledge that was of inestimable value.”—Prophets and Kings, p. 609.
b. What did his faith in God, his love for the people in Israel, and his friendly relationship with the king lead him to do? Ezra 7:9.
“Ezra’s faith that God would do a mighty work for His people, led him to tell Artaxerxes of his desire to return to Jerusalem to revive an interest in the study of God’s word and to assist his brethren in restoring the Holy City. As Ezra declared his perfect trust in the God of Israel as one abundantly able to protect and care for His people, the king was deeply impressed. He well understood that the Israelites were returning to Jerusalem that they might serve Jehovah; yet so great was the king’s confidence in the integrity of Ezra that he showed him marked favor, granting his request and bestowing on him rich gifts for the temple service. He made him a special representative of the Medo-Persian kingdom and conferred on him extensive powers for the carrying out of the purposes that were in his heart.
“The decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus for the restoring and building of Jerusalem, the third issued since the close of the seventy years’ captivity, is remarkable for its expressions regarding the God of heaven, for its recognition of the attainments of Ezra, and for the liberality of the grants made to the remnant people of God.”—Ibid., pp.609, 610.
c. Summarize the decree of King Artaxerxes. Ezra 7:12–21.
3. LESSONS TO GUARD AND PROTECT
a. What precaution was used in the transfer of the sacred treasure (gold and silver) from Babylon to Jerusalem? Ezra 8:24–29.
“The blessing of God, however, did not make unnecessary the exercise of prudence and forethought. As a special precaution in safeguarding the treasure, Ezra ‘separated twelve of the chief of the priests’—men whose faithfulness and fidelity had been proved—‘and weighed unto them the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, even the offering of the house of our God, which the king, and his counselors, and his lords, and all Israel there present, had offered’ (Ezra 8:24, 25). These men were solemnly charged to act as vigilant stewards over the treasure entrusted to their care. . . .
“In the appointment of faithful officers to act as treasurers of the Lord's goods, Ezra recognized the necessity and value of order and organization in connection with the work of God”—Prophets and Kings, pp. 616, 617.
b. What lesson should we all—and especially church leaders and officers—learn from the care and prudence used in the transfer of the Lord’s treasury?
“The care exercised by Ezra in providing for the transportation and safety of the Lord’s treasure teaches a lesson worthy of thoughtful study. Only those whose trustworthiness had been proved were chosen, and they were instructed plainly regarding the responsibility resting on them.”—Ibid., p.617.
“Angels of God will preserve His people while they walk in the path of duty, but there is no assurance of such protection for those who deliberately venture upon Satan’s ground.”—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 198.
c. When they were ready for the long and dangerous journey, what did Ezra and his company do before departure? Ezra 8:21, 23.
“The spirit of true fasting and prayer is the spirit which yields mind, heart, and will to God.”—Ibid., vol.3, p. 324.
4. EZRA IS CONSISTENT WITH HIS PROFESSION
a. Why did Ezra decide to require no group of soldiers for protection on the way from Babylon to Jerusalem? Ezra 8:22.
“Ezra and his companions saw an opportunity to magnify the name of God before the heathen. Faith in the power of the living God would be strengthened if the Israelites themselves should now reveal implicit faith in their divine Leader. They therefore determined to put their trust wholly in Him. They would ask for no guard of soldiers. They would give the heathen no occasion to ascribe to the strength of man the glory that belongs to God alone. They could not afford to arouse in the minds of their heathen friends one doubt as to the sincerity of their dependence on God as His people.”—Prophets and Kings, pp. 615, 616.
“All were preserved in safety. Their enemies were restrained from harming them.”—Ibid., p.617.
b. What expressions of the king, in his letter to Ezra, show that Ezra had a beneficial religious influence on the king and his counselors? Ezra 7:11, 15, 21.
c. How did God use the dispersion of the Jews to bring the knowledge of the truth to the attention of the heathen? When did the Lord use a similar method? Acts 8:1.
“From all lands the Jews of the dispersion gathered to Jerusalem. . . . As these returned to the places of their sojourn, they could spread throughout the world the tidings of the Messiah’s coming. ”—The Desire of Ages, p. 32.
“Often the Israelites seemed unable or unwilling to understand God’s purpose for the heathen. . . . Christ came to demolish every wall of partition, to throw open every compartment of the temple courts, that every soul may have free access to God.”—Prophets and Kings, pp. 367, 370.
5. A WONDERFUL REVIVAL AND REFORMATION
a. Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, what spiritual situation did Ezra find among those who had returned in advance? Ezra 9:1–3.
b. What were the main points of the prayer Ezra offered at the opening of the assembly? Ezra 9:6–15.
c. What did the priests and the people decide in that assembly? Ezra 10:3–5, 7–12.
“Among those [first exiles] who had returned to Jerusalem in former years, there were many who had remained true to God as long as they lived; but a considerable number of the children and the children’s children lost sight of the sacredness of God’s law. Even some of the men entrusted with responsibilities were living in open sin. Their course was largely neutralizing the efforts made by others to advance the cause of God; for so long as flagrant violations of the law were allowed to go unrebuked, the blessing of Heaven could not rest upon the people.”—Prophets and Kings, pp. 618, 619.
“[Ezra 9:1–10:5 quoted.] This was the beginning of a wonderful reformation. With infinite patience and tact, and with a careful consideration for the rights and welfare of every individual concerned, Ezra and his associates strove to lead the penitent of Israel into the right way.”—Ibid., p.622.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. How was Ezra able to help God’s people under Artaxerxes?
2. What work did Ezra do to help preserve the Bible?
3. How did God help him through his friendship with the king?
4. What lessons of divine protection and personal accountability can we learn from the way the treasury was transported?
5. How was the dispersion of the Jews a tool in evangelism?