ez'-ra (Aramaic or Chaldee, `ezra', "help"; a hypocoristicon, or shortened form of Azariah, "Yahweh has helped." The Hebrew spells the name `ezrah, as in 1Ch 4:17, or uses the Aramaic spelling of the name, as in Ezr 7:1. The Greek form is Esdras):
(1) A priest who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylon (Ne 12:1). In Ne 10:2, Azariah, the full form of the name, is found.
(2) A descendant of Judah and father of Jethro and other sons (1Ch 4:17).
(3) The distinguished priest who is the hero of the Book of Ezra and co-worker with Nehemiah.
The genealogy of Ezra is given in Ezr 7:1-6, where it appears that he was the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the high priest. Since Seraiah, according to the Book of Kings, was killed by Nebuchadrezzar at Riblah (2Ki 25:18-21), and since he was the father of Jehozadak, the high priest who was carried into captivity by Nebuchadrezzar (1Ch 6:14-15 (Heb 5:14), etc.) in 588 BC, and since the return under Ezra took place in 458 BC, the word "son" must be used in Ezr 7:2 in the sense of descendant. Since, moreover, Joshua, or Jeshua, the high priest, who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel, was the son of Jehozadak and the grandson of Seraiah, Ezra was probably the great-grandson or great-great-grandson of Seraiah. Inasmuch as Jehozadak is never mentioned as one of his forefathers, Ezra was probably not descended from Jehozadak, but from a younger brother. He would thus not be a high priest, though he was of high-priestly descent as far as Seraiah. For the sake of shortening the list of names, six names are omitted in Ezr 7:2-7 between Azariah and Meraioth, and one between Shallum and Ahitub from the corresponding list found in 1Ch 6:4-14 (Heb 5:14).
Being a priest by birth, it is to be supposed that Ezra would have performed the ordinary functions of a member of his order, if he had been born and had lived in Palestine.
Jos, indeed, says that he was high priest of his brethren in Babylon, a statement that in view of the revelation of the Elephantine papyri may not be without a foundation in fact. According to the Scriptures and Jewish tradition, however, Ezra was pre-eminently a scribe, and especially a scribe of the law of Moses. He is called "a ready scribe in the law of Moses," a "scribe of the words of the commandments of Yahweh, and of his statutes to Israel," "the scribe of the law of the God of heaven." As early as the time of Jeremiah (compare Jer 8:8), "scribe" had already attained the meaning of one learned in the Scriptures, one who had made the written law a subject of investigation. Ezra is the first who is called by the title of "the scribe," the title by which Artaxerxes designates him in his letter of instructions in Ezr 7:6,11.
3. His Commission:
In the 7th year of Artaxerxes I (459-458 BC) Ezra requested permission of the king to go up to Jerusalem; for "Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of Yahweh, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances." Artaxerxes granted his request, and gave him a letter permitting as many of the people of Israel and of the priests and Levites as so desired to accompany him to Jerusalem, and commissioning him to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, and to carry a gift of money from the king and his counselors, and all the money to be found in the province of Babylon, and the freewill offerings of the people and priests, with which to buy offerings to offer upon the altar of the house of God which was in Jerusalem. He was commissioned also to carry vessels for the service of the house of God, and to do at the expense of the royal treasury whatever was needful for the house of God. The king decreed, moreover, that the treasurers of the king should assist Ezra with a tribute of wheat, wine, oil and salt, and that they should impose no tribute, custom or toll upon any of those employed in the service of the house of God. Moreover, Ezra was authorized to appoint judges to judge the people according to the law of God and the law of the king, and to inflict punishments upon all who would not obey these laws.
Ascribing this marvelous letter of the king to the lovingkindness of his God, and strengthened by this evidence of God's power, Ezra proceeded to gather together out of Israel the chief men and teachers and ministers of the house to go up with him to Jerusalem. He gathered these men in camp at Casiphia, on the river Ahava. Here he proclaimed a time of fasting and prayer, that God might prosper their journey (Ezr 8:15-23). Then, having delivered the treasures into the hands of the priests, the assembled company departed for Jerusalem, where by the help of God they arrived in safety, delivered over the money and gifts by number and weight, offered burnt offerings and sin offerings, delivered the king's commissions and furthered the people and the house of God.
Shortly after Ezra's arrival at Jerusalem, the princes accused the people, the priests, and the Levites of having intermarried with the peoples of the land, even asserting that the princes and rulers had been leaders in the trespass. Upon hearing this, Ezra was confounded, rent his garments, plucked off his hair, fell upon his knees and prayed a prayer of confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God. While he prayed the people assembled and wept, acknowledged their sin and promised to do according to the law. The whole people were then assembled in counsel, and in spite of some opposition the strange wives were put away.
In Ne 8:1-18, Ezra appears again upon the scene at the Feast of Tabernacles as the chief scribe of the law of Moses, the leader of the priests and Levites who read and explained the law to the people. On his advice the people ceased from their mourning and celebrated the festival according to the law of Moses with joy and thanksgiving and giving of gifts, dwelling also in booths in commemoration of the manner of their fathers' sojourning while in the wilderness.
The traditions with regard to Ezra found in Josephus and in the Talmud are so discrepant that it is impossible to place reliance upon any of their statements which are not found also in the. canonical Scriptures.
R. Dick Wilson