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HOMEWARD-BOUND: Why Study the Book of Ezra

For thus saith the LORD, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place - Jeremiah 29:10

The Hebrew people were prophesied to go into captivity because of their sin; yet, in grace and mercy, after 70 years they would return home to Judah. The Book of Ezra, which was once attached to Nehemiah as one book, tells the needful story of the fulfilment of this prophecy. Ezra was the religious and Nehemiah the political leader.

The twin-themes of the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament was condemnation for sin yet comfort and consolation in mercy; of rebuke and restoration; of reprobation and revival. We see in Ezra that there is hope in God and He always keeps His promises.

HEBREW NAME

‘Ezra’ is the Aramaic version of the the Hebrew ezer. It means ‘help,’ which is something God is more than willing to do.

AUTHOR

Ezra is universally considered to be the author of the book that bears his name. This seems reasonable since parts of the book are written in the first person with lots of vivid detail. Ezra was a priest and scribe (7:6,21).He is considered the reformer who reformatted Israelite worship in the post-monarchy period. Some even call him the ‘Father of Judaism.’ This may be because of his putative founding of the Great Synagogue, which settled the canon of Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible or TANAKH), and the codification of Jewish law and practice.

Ezra was a contemporary of some important leaders of his day: Nehemiah, the Israelite leader; Gautama Buddha (560-480 BC), a reformer of Hinduism who founded Buddhism; Confucius in China (551-479 BC), the founder of Confucianism; and Socrates in Greece (470-399 BC). Like the 18th century AD Enlightenment Genius Period, Ezra’s era was a beehive of reform and restoration. While we are not necessarily endorsing all that was done by these non-Biblical personalities, we recognise they played a pivotal role in history.

PORTRAIT OF CHRIST

Jesus Christ is the One who leads out of Babylon. In Him there is forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, and revival.

THEME OF EZRA

The physical, political, and spiritual restoration of the nation of Judah.


KEY VERSES

Who is there among you of all His people? May his God be with him! Now let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem (1:3)

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel (7:10)

SUMMARY OF EZRA

Cyrus the Great, as prophesied by Isaiah, gave a decree that the people of Judah were free to go home after 70 years of captivity and rebuild the temple of the God of Israel. The Book of Ezra tells us the story of two returns from Babylon. The first return was led by Zerubbabel, a ‘prince of Judah,’ around 536 BC a small minority took up Cyrus’ invitation: 49,897 out of 1.5 million Israelites.

During the next twenty years the temple at Jerusalem was rebuilt. Opposition arose to this rebuilding but the prophets Haggai and Zechariah exhorted the people to persevere. When king Darius discovered the decree of Cyrus, he commanded that the work of temple re-commence. It was completed in 516 BC. These events are covered in chapters 1-6. A few decades later Esther becomes Queen of Persia.

The second return happened 80 years later after the first under Ezra himself. He and 2,000 people travel the 1,500 kilometres to Judah without any armed escort; only the protection of God. He wanted to rebuild the spiritual side of his people and became the great reformer, compiler, and organiser, leading to the formation of canon of the Old Testament and Biblical Judaism. He discovered the people had intermarried with foreign women who did not worship the God of Israel. They confessed their sins and responded positively to the Word of God. Reformation and revival were the results.

OUTLINE OF EZRA

I.         First Return from Babylon with Zerubbabel (1:1-6:22)

A.     Zerubbabel (1:1-2:7)

1.       Cyrus’ Decree & Gifts (1)
2.       Census of the Returnees (2:1-63)
3.       Completion of the Return (2:64-70)

B.      Rebuilding of the Temple (3:1-6:22)

1.       Foundations (3)
2.       Rebuilding Interrupted (4)
3.       Temple Completed (5-6)

II.      Second Return under Ezra (7:1-10:44)

A.     Ezra returns (7:1-8:36)

1.       Artaxerxes (7)
2.       Census of Returnees, spiritual preparation (8)

B.      People Edified (9:1-10:44)

1.        Ezra intercedes because of intermarriage (9)

2.        Revival in Israel (10)

(Photo courtesy of blueletterbible.org)

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