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BOOK : Ezra

Description : historical book telling of the return after the Exile and the rebuilding of the Temple and reforms brought to the returning community.

Author: a scribe, possibly Ezra. Originally written as one book with Nehemiah

Date written : 440BC

Chapters : 10


Brief Synopsis:


•  Gets its name from the key figure, Ezra.
•  King Cyrus of Persia , present ruler over the exiles of Israel , is moved by the Lord to decide to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem .
•  He releases the Jews to return to do the work.
•  The rebuilding of the Temple starts but they receive much opposition and eventually help is received from documents back in the royal archives.
•  The Temple rebuilding is completed.
•  Ezra the scribe comes at the next king's direction to bring administration to Jerusalem in accordance with God's law.
•  The returning exiles realise they have failed the Law by having mixed marriages and resolve to put this right.


Outline :


Ch.1-6 First Return from Exile and Rebuilding of the Temple

Ch.1 First Return of the Exiles

Ch.2 List of Returning Exiles

Ch.3 Revival of Temple Worship & beginning of temple rebuilding

Ch.4 Opposition to Rebuilding

Ch.5,6 Completion of the Temple

Ch. 7-10 Ezra's Return and Reforms

Ch.7,8 Ezra's Return to Jerusalem

Ch. 9,10 Ezra's Reforms



Key Verses :


Cyrus releases the Jews to return home

1:1,2,5 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "`The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah….. Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites--everyone whose heart God had moved--prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem .

They start rebuilding the Temple

3:8 In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Jeshua son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work, appointing Levites twenty years of age and older to supervise the building of the house of the LORD.

They receive opposition

4:1-4 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, "Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here." But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, "You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia , commanded us." Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.

The prophets encourage the rebuilding

5:1,2 Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem . And the prophets of God were with them, helping them.

The rebuilding of the Temple is finished

6:14,15 So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia.The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

Ezra comes to Jerusalem

7:1-8 After these things, during the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia , Ezra …. came up from Babylon . He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him. Some of the Israelites, including priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king.

The King directs administration

7:11,13,23,25,26 This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra….. Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who wish to go to Jerusalem with you, may go. Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and of his sons?.....And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates--all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.

They realise things need putting right

10:1-3 While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites--men, women and children--gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam , said to Ezra, "We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel . Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law.





Intriguingly, the books shows signs of a scribe with a great sense of administration and record keeping and the combined books of Ezra and Nehemiah include the following lists:

•  the temple articles (Ezra 1:9-11),
•  the returned exiles (Ezra 2, which is virtually the same as Neh 7:6-73),
•  the genealogy of Ezra (Ezr 7:1-5),
•  the heads of the clans (Ezra 8:1-14),
•  those involved in mixed marriages (Ezra 10:18-43),
•  those who helped rebuild the wall (Neh 3),
•  those who sealed the covenant (Neh 10:1-27),
•  residents of Jerusalem and other towns (Neh 11:3-36)
•  priests and Levites (Neh 12:1-26).




Similarly we find seven official documents or letters (all in Aramaic except the first, which is in Hebrew), each of which plays a significant part in all that took place.

•  the decree of Cyrus (1:2-4),
•  the accusation of Rehum and others against the Jews (4:11-16),
•  the reply of Artaxerxes I (4:17-22),
•  the report from Tattenai (5:7-17),
•  the memorandum of Cyrus's decree (6:2b-5),
•  Darius's reply to Tattenai (6:6-12)
•  the authorization given by Artaxerxes I to Ezra (7:12-26).



Concluding Comments


•  The new reader might wonder why so much attention is given to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem . The answer is that the Temple was the symbolic “house of God” the place where God revealed His glory to His people in the past and where He was said to reside. It was the focal point for worship and the sacrificial system that was at the heart of their relationship with the Lord.
•  Intriguingly Jeremiah prophesied a 70 year period of the Exile but the Jews started returning to Jerusalem long before that period was up. What is interesting is that it was exactly seventy years between the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and the finishing of its rebuilding. The seventy years would thus appear to be the period of the absence of the Lord's presence within the city.
•  What is remarkable about this history is that Cyrus was a heathen king who was impressed by God to initiate the return and the rebuilding. Even more, the later king, Artaxerxes , sent Ezra with very godly instructions to establish the people, and in between King Darius gave them a very favourable conclusion to the debate about their right to be there in the Land. The hand of God was clearly on these three heathen kings to bring about the restoration of His people.
•  We might find the closing chapters disturbing in the light of the non-Jewish wives being put away but two comments are applicable. First, it is a reminder of what comes all the way through the Old Testament: these are God's unique people who were to remain distinct from other peoples. Second, we are not told HOW they resolved this issue. We assume that they simply divorced their foreign wives but we would remember that the Law was always remarkably caring for all classes of people. It is possible that some of those men returned to Babylon with their wives; we just don't know. The account leaves us speculating for it does not give us an answer. What is clear, however, is the determination of the returning remnant of Israel to do all they could to be right with God.
•  Although we have not featured it in the Key Verses above (simply to save space) it is worth reading the accounts of the enemy opposition and the ways it was overcome, especially in the light of our comments above about the heathen kings that were involved.
•  Clearly as much as the destruction of Jerusalem was the judgment of God, the restoration after exile was the goodness and grace of God, working to bring His people back to the land and create an environment in which to bring His Son, some four hundred years later.



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