Nehemiah leaves and returns (Neh 13:6-13:9)

“While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem. In the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes of Babylon I went to the king. After some time I asked leave of the king. I returned to Jerusalem. I then discovered the wrong that Eliashib had done on behalf of Tobiah, preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. I was very angry. I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the room. Then I gave orders to cleanse the chambers. I brought back the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.”

Nehemiah had left Jerusalem because he had agreed to stay there only 12 years. He then returned to serve the Persian King Artaxerxes. Once again, he asked the king to return to Jerusalem around the year 433 BCE. The text says Babylon but it was Persia as in the beginning of this book. When he got back, he was shocked and angry at what he saw. He was so angry that he threw out all the furniture of Tobiah in the Temple storehouse. He had it cleansed and restored it with grain offerings and frankincense.

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The twelve priests (Ezra 8:24-8:30)

“Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their kinsmen with them. I weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the vessels. These were the offerings for the house of our God that the king, his counselors, and his lords as well as all Israel present had offered. I weighed out into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver and silver vessels worth a hundred talents. I also weighted out a hundred talents of gold, twenty bowls of gold worth a thousand darics, and two vessels of fine polished bronze as precious as gold. I said to them. ‘You are holy to Yahweh. The vessels are holy. The silver and the gold are a freewill offering to Yahweh, the God of your ancestors. Guard them! Keep them until you weigh them before the chief priests, the Levites, and the heads of families in Israel at Jerusalem, within the chambers of the house of Yahweh.’  So the priests and the Levites took over the silver, the gold, and the vessels, as they were weighed out, to bring them to Jerusalem, to the house of our God.”

Ezra himself set aside 12 priests with 2 leaders, Sherebiah and Hashabiah. Sherebiah was a very important post-exilic priest. Hashabiah was important too but that was a common name shared by about 10 other people. Once again, notice the first person singular “I.” He weighted some silver and gold and then gave it to them. A talent was roughly the equivalent of small person about 125 pound. So that when you convert pounds to ounce you get a huge amount of silver and gold. 650 talents of silver would be worth about 10 million USA dollars today. The 100 talents of gold would be worth about 100 million USA dollars. This was quite a rich fortune, over 100 million dollars. This money was vowed to Yahweh. Thus these priests and Levites had to take good care of these precious items as they brought them to Jerusalem to the house of God there.

The letter of King Artaxerxes outlining the mission of Ezra (Ezra 7:12-7:20)

“Artaxerxes, king of kings, to the priest Ezra, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven: Peace! Now I decree that any one of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. You are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God, which is in your hand. You are to convey the silver and gold that the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem. You are to bring all the silver and gold that you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia. Any freewill offerings of the people and the priests can be given willingly for the house of their God in Jerusalem. With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings. You shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem.  Whatever seems good to you and your colleagues to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God. The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. Whatever else is required for the house of your God, which you are responsible for providing, you may provide out of the king’s treasury.”

The Persian kings seem to refer to the God of heaven. Apparently King Artaxerxes had 7 counselors with him. In some sense, Ezra is a personal envoy of the king and his counselors to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem. He was to bring silver and gold from the king and his counselors for the house of the God of Israel in Jerusalem. He could collect free willing offerings to buy animals for sacrifice at the Temple. They may do whatever they want with the money left over. If they need more money, the king’s treasury is available. The Persian king is very generous to Ezra and his group. All this assumes that the Temple had been built already. This is more about the upkeep and the sacrifices at the Temple. In fact, it almost seems like a state supported religion. The king seems to know a lot about the kind of sacrifices that will take place in the house of the God of Jerusalem. Slowly Yahweh is becoming the God of Jerusalem.