Ezra Overview

Ezra is the 15th book of the English Bible.

It is one of what we call the historical books, from Joshua to Esther.

Interestingly, in the Hebrew Bible it is part of what is called the writings, and appears before the Chronicles!

Order of Bible books in the Hebrew Old Testament:

The Law:

The Prophets:

The Writings:

Genesis

Joshua

Psalms

Exodus

Judges

Proverbs

Leviticus

Samuel

Job

Numbers

Kings

Song of Songs

Deuteronomy

Isaiah

Ruth

 

Jeremiah

Lamentations

 

Ezekiel

Ecclesiastes

 

The Twelve

Esther

 

 

Daniel

 

 

Ezra-Nehemiah

 

 

Chronicles

 

 

As far as Chronological content, Ezra picks up where Chronicles leaves off, the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem after 70 years of captivity.

Babylon had fallen to Persia, and the Persian king Cyrus allowed a remnant to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their city and temple.

The book of Ezra was circulated with Nehemiah as one book in the Hebrew Bible.

Both Ezra and Nehemiah cover the people’s return to Jerusalem after captivity, with Ezra writing more from a religious standpoint and Nehemiah writing more from a civil standpoint.

Why do you think that is?

Ezra was a priest, and Nehemiah was a government official!

Ezra and Nehemiah then are some of the latest books of the Old Testament period, probably written around 450 B.C.

The number of those who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their ancestral home was probably about 50,000.

The theme of Ezra is the rebuilding of the Temple. The theme of Nehemiah is the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s protective city wall.

Now who do we think wrote the Chronicles?            Ezra

And Chronicles was really about rebuilding the people of God so they would be ready to rebuild the city and its walls around the Temple!

Perhaps that is why it was the last book of the writings, the last book of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Now before we look at the text, let’s make sure we have our historical moorings down.

We need to do this, because just as Judah didn’t fall all at once, they didn’t return to Jerusalem all at once.  

The Babylonians had three major deportations of the Jews, the last one leading to the destruction of Jerusalem.

In 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, following his defeat of Assyria and Egypt at the Battle of Carchemish, made Judah a vassal state and took some captives back to Babylon (including who?    Daniel!)

In 598 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar returned and asserted more control, taking king Jehoiachin and others with him back to Babylon.

In 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar crushed the rebellion of king Zedekiah, destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, and took most of the survivors to Babylon.

From 586 B.C. to 539 B.C., the Jews lived as exiles in the land of Babylon.

But then in 539 B.C. the Persians whipped the Babylonians and gained control of Israel in the win.

The next year, in 538 B.C., Cyrus issued a decree that permitted the Jews to rebuild their homeland. That’s the decree that ends Chronicles and begins Ezra!

In 538 B.C. approximately 50,000 Jews returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, and rebuilt the Temple, although not without opposition and delay. It is completed in 516 B.C. That is what the first 6 chapters of Ezra cover.

Jeremiah had prophesied that they would be in captivity for 70 years. That can actually be fulfilled in one of two ways:

586 B.C. Temple Destroyed         -           516 B.C. Temple rebuilt.

OR

605 B.C. First Deportation            -           535 B.C. Temple rebuilding begins.  

In 458 B.C. Ezra the scribe returns with about 1,000 others and sets about the spiritual revitalization of the people. This is what chapters 7-10 of Ezra covers.

In 445 B.C., Nehemiah returns with permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, completing the task in 52 days.

That’s one possibility for the decree that squares with the amazing prophecy in Daniel that we will see when we get to the Book of Daniel.

Pointing out some things from the book of Ezra!

Chapter 1     The Decree and the Return Fulfill Prophecy

Read 1:1-4

On the divine level we see Jeremiah’s prophecy being fulfilled. But why on the human level would Cyrus make this decree? It is here where archaeological evidence helps us.

One key archaeological find was the Cyrus cylinder.

It confirms that Cyrus tried hard to achieve goodwill with the nations he had conquered.

The Cyrus Cylinder is 9 inches long and was found at ancient Babylon, dating to 539 B.C., telling of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon and of his decree to let captives held by Babylon return to their lands and restore their temples.

Chapter 2     The Census of those who returned

Chapter two shows what happened when the roll was called down yonder!

The Bible often gives us important background details to confirm the historical accuracy of what is being said. We should never just skip such chapters, because we might miss a blessing if we do!

Read 2:68-70

Chapter 3     Sacrifices are made and the Temple rebuilding begins

 I love how verse 3 tells us they went ahead and started making offerings to God even though they feared the surrounding peoples!

Apparently, they feared God more than they feared men! They went ahead with the Feast of Booths, since it was time to do so!

I love how verses 8-9 tell the names of the workers.

They are in the Bible because they are remembered in Heaven.

And we are thankful for the people who made sacrifices to build the wonderful building we worship in, as well as those who go with Gary Reynolds to build things around the world!

For God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you showed for His name when you served the saints- and you continue to serve them.  -Hebrews 6:10

This was a really good time for Israel, although of course they didn’t have the resources to build it like it was in Solomon’s day.

Read 3:10-13

Reminds me of the verse: don’t despise the day of small beginnings!

We can cry about what America no longer is all we want, but in the end it’s a waste of time – we need to seek God and begin rebuilding what we can!

Chapters 4-6           Amidst much opposition the Temple is delayed but finished

There is opposition from those who want to water down the faith; Then there are threats and bribery and false accusations

Now you have heard me say that Ezra later wrote Chronicles to fire up the troops for all that had yet to be done back in Jerusalem.

I may have mis-spoke and said part of that was rebuilding the Temple. No, it was already done when he got there, but there was still plenty to do!

Now look close at Ezra chapter four.

The first 5 verses of chapter four are about opposition to the rebuilding of the Temple before Ezra got there.But Ezra sees such a parallel to the fight to rebuild the walls closer to his day, that he inserts verses 6-23 as a kind of parentheses about the opposition later kings Ahasuerus (or Xerxes) and Artaxerxes gave to Nehemiah as he was trying to rebuild the walls. Verse 24 through chapter 6 picks back up the Temple completion story, completed before Ezra arrived.

Read 4:24-5:2

Yes, Haggai and Zechariah are the Minor Prophet guys! Yea! We finally found the right Zechariah!

It’s really a hoot what happens! Both of their books are about getting the Temple done!          Get ‘er done!

Governor Tattenai tries to stop the work of the Temple, and writes to King Darius to stop the Jews. Darius discovers the record of what Cyrus had said to do, and makes Tattenai pay for the Temple to be completed!

Read 6:16-22

Chapters 7-8           Ezra the priest returns with Artaxerxes’ permission! 

Now wait a second!

Ezra’s parentheses in chapter four said Artaxerxes had put a halt to repairs to the wall. What happened to him to make him now willing to let Ezra go and talking like he really likes Israel’s God?!

We don’t know, perhaps it was the courageous witness of Jews like Mordecai and Esther back in Persia. Esther had been married to Artaxerxes’ father, Xerxes I, also called Ahasuerus.

Select Kings of Persia:

Cyrus II                                  539-530 B.C.            Temple Begun, 535 B.C.

Darius I                                 521-486 B.C.            Temple Completed, 516 B.C.

Xerxes I (Ahasuerus)         485-465 B.C.            Married Esther

Artaxerxes I                         464-424 B.C.            Ezra, 458 B.C., Nehemiah 445 B.C.

 

This stuff really has to be looked at close, doesn’t it?!

 

Regardless of that stuff that requires close study and we are still earning about because of archaeology, the key to Ezra’s impact can be seen in 7:10

Key verse of the book of Ezra:

Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statues and ordinances in Israel.          -Ezra 7:10

That’s our call today as well!

Study the truths of the Bible; apply it to our lives, and then share it with others!

By the way, 4:8-6:18, and 7:12-26 are in Aramaic rather than in Hebrew; perhaps to make clear in the wider known language what the Persian kings had decreed!

Chapters 9-10         Ezra leads out in spiritual reformation

The main issue he deals with is that so many of the people had married wives with foreign gods, making idolatry rampant in the land.

Now we have already seen God bless the relationship between Boaz of Israel and Ruth from Moab. She had left her gods and worshipped YHWH, and became the great-grandmother of King David. Rahab is also in the line of Christ because she converted to YHWH.

Read 9:1-10:1

And then they put away the foreign wives and children. At this time it was critical to regain their Israelite culture. Here there is both continuity and discontinuity with the New Testament.

Like Israel, Christians are told to not be unequally yoked with non-believers. Unlike this time in Israel’s history, we are not to put away our spouses because they are unbelievers, but to seek to win them through prayer and actions.

But there is so much we can learn from the people:

We too are to humble ourselves before God and seek to reform our lives according to Jesus’ commands to us as believers!