THE BOOK OF EZRA
Ezra is the first of the post-captivity books of which there are six, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Ezra records the return to Palestine of a Jewish remnant under the leadership of Zerubbabel, B.C. 536, resulting from the decree of Cyrus, king of Persia. The foundation of the temple was laid at that time. Seventy-eight years later, Ezra returned to Jerusalem and restored the law and spiritual order, and the order of worship. Most of the nation took no advantage of the privilege to return to their homeland, for they became prosperous in the land of their captivity. The remnant, though small in numbers, comprised the more spiritual of the people.
The book of Ezra is in two parts:
1. Chs. 1 to 6. From the decree of Cyrus to the dedication of the restored temple.
2. Chs. 7 to 10. The ministry of Ezra.
FROM THE DECREE OF CYRUS TO THE DEDICATION OF THE RESTORED TEMPLE.
Cyrus, king of Persia, is mentioned by name in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1, before his birth, and over two hundred years before he made the decree which ended the seventy years captivity in the land of Babylon. Because of his friendly attitude toward the Jews, a company of almost fifty thousand returned with Zerubbabel. In the second year after their arrival, the temple foundations were laid in mingled joy and mourning, Ch. 5:11-13. To the younger generation it was a time of rejoicing, but there were those among the number whose eyes had seen the former temple in all its glory, and they felt how much poorer the new one was in comparison.
The local people surrounding Jerusalem, who had been sent by the king of Assyria to colonize the land, offered to help in the building of the temple. Because they were not of purely Jewish origin Zerubbabel refused their offer. This caused ill feelings and they petitioned the kind of Persia, of which a new one was now on the throne, to stop the work. The king acted on their advice and for sixteen years building operations ceased, Ch. 4:23-24. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were moved by God to stir up the people, and though the outward circumstances were unchanged they began building again, and eventually through the friendliness of Darius, king of Persia, the work was completed, Ch. 5:1; 6:15.
THE MINISTRY OF EZRA.
Ezra was a direct descendant of Aaron the high priest, Ch. 7:1-5. He had the reputation of being a ready scribe in the law of Moses, and was evidently held in high esteem by the king of Persia, v6. This king made a decree granting the privilege to all those whose hearts moved them to return with Ezra to their homeland, vs.12-13. Much gold and silver was given to him, and also the vessels of the temple were committed to his care. Ch.3 tells of those who accompanied Ezra, and how he proclaimed a fast that the party might obtain Divine protection for their dangerous journey, vs. 21-23. Ezra stands out in the Word of God as an example of how to attend to the business of the church. We are told to “provide things honest in the sight of all men”, Romans 12:17. The money and other valuables were carefully weighed before and after their journey, vs. 24-30.
After reaching Jerusalem, Ezra found a condition of backsliding among the returned remnant, which distressed him greatly, Ch. 9:3-4. He prayed and confessed the sins of the people, vs. 5-15, and then urged them to get right with God, Ch. 10:5-12. The response was good and a solemn promise was made by the people to give up their wicked ways, put away their strange wives, and return to the way of the Lord.