Ezra 7 picks up in the seventh year of the Persian king Artaxerxes, approximately the year 448 B.C., fifty-three years after the initial return of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem and thirty years after the completion of the temple in Jerusalem.
Evidently, things have not been going well. We might well have surmised that from Haggai and Zechariah. What God’s people need is some encouragement, and a fresh dose of dedication. Ezra and his companions were to provide that.
Ezra and those who made the journey with him to Jerusalem, while family, were, of course, not a part of that initial return. And now, half a century later, they would be seen somewhat as outsiders. But that’s a good thing. Outsiders often see us as we really are and we’d do well to remember that in our churches. Asking a family who becomes a part of your church why they chose as they did can be important. And just as important is asking those why they chose somewhere else.
But one of the things that strikes me about chapter eight is who does not initially elect to go: Levites. The Levites were given the task of serving the Lord at the temple. That temple can only be established in Jerusalem. Without going back, they are, in essence, abandoning their calling for God. The first return had divided families (the family names mentioned here are, with one exception) all mentioned in chapter two. This return would effect a unity of sorts. But why had these people not returned before?
Perhaps because they were guilty of the same thing their brethren in Judea were guilty of: making their home among the pagans. Once you get settled, integrate yourself in a community, it is difficult to maintain a holy distinction. These returnees under Ezra recognized that, and determined to do something about it. Perhaps that is why they were so upset with their brethren who, in the holy land of their inheritance, had done the same thing.