Introduction – The next three Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther cover the last century of Old Testament Jewish history (about 538-433 BC). Ezra picks up where 2 Chronicles left off — with the destruction of Jerusalem (including the Temple) and the people taken into exile in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. The name “Ezra” is short for “Azariah” which means “Yahweh has helped.” Ezra himself was a famous scribe and priest during Josiah’s reign. The Book itself is an historical journal that was most likely edited by a later hand, Ezra being the main one. Other possible contributors were Daniel, Nehemiah, Haggai, and maybe some unknowns. Like all OT Books, I believe they all are an accurate compilation dictated by God.

Ezra 1 – Seemingly out of nowhere, this king of Persia named Cyrus (559-530 BC) who was holding the Hebrews in captivity, set them free to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple in the year 538 BC. Isaiah had predicted this extraordinary event (44:28ff) and even stated the king by name before the man had been born. Cyrus’ decree happened about 190 years after Isaiah announced this prophecy. Josephus, the credible Jewish historian and non-Biblical source, recorded that Cyrus read Isaiah’s prophecy that he would send the Israelites back to Palestine to rebuild the temple and desired to fulfill it. Josephus also dated Isaiah’s prophecy 140 years before the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonians, namely, about 726 B.C. The Persian monarch had not even been born at this time. Cyrus was different than typical rulers of his time. Instead of crushing national sentiment by brutality and deportation, he allowed subjected peoples, as far as possible, to enjoy cultural autonomy within the framework of his empire believing that this would please them and would discourage them from rebelling. Not only did the Jews return, but Cyrus made sure they took back all the valuable articles of the Temple as well.

Note on the Ark of the Covenant (Indiana Jones is out of luck): There is no evidence that the Babylonians took the ark of the covenant to Babylon or that the returning Jews brought it with them back to the Promised Land. Most scholars speculate that the Babylonians broke it up when they sacked the temple. Josephus wrote that the ark was not in the Holy of Holies in the second temple. (Dr. Thomas L. Constable and Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible, 1973).

In the Book of Ezra, we are getting historically close to the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, it makes sense that God would bring the Jews back to Israel a few hundred years ahead of the Messiah’s timely earthly visitation in order to establish themselves in a place where Jesus could talk with them directly as well as teaching in the OT Temple (rebuilt, of course). Just think of the Messianic prophecies that could not be fulfilled by Jesus if the Jews were not back in Israel and the city of Jerusalem did not exist! How, for example, could He be born in Bethlehem in David’s lineage if no Jews lived there? How could He have been slain outside of the city if Jerusalem was not there? How could He have been crucified if the Romans were not oppressing the Jews (it was the Romans who “perfected” crucifixion, and this method was prophesied in Psalms 22, eight hundred years before its arrival in history). I’m sure the list goes on. It appears that God arranges history perhaps more than we realize. I do not believe, however, that He makes all things happen. Humans do have free-will choice regarding how to behave, but perhaps God creates the scenarios through which we find ourselves waddling.

Ezra 2 – This consists of a list of many Hebrews by name that came out of Babylon’s captivity. It is remarkably specific, including the number of relatives from each man and how many came from individual towns. Some, who claimed to be of the Levitical priesthood lineage, lost their family records and could not prove their credibility as bonafide priests. These could not serve as priests until an official priest used the Urim and Thummim* method of finding out truth from God whether or not they were really from the priesthood line.

*A method of finding God’s will. Most scholars believe these were objects that were tossed and interpreted by a priest. In Leviticus 16:8 the Lord told Aaron to “cast lots” to determine which goat was to be the scapegoat in order to atone for the people’s sins. So here we have God telling people to use this sort of method to choose something. The NT does not advocate their use, although it does state in a couple of places that they were employed. I am uncomfortable with this idea because it has the same appearance as what shamen and voodoo witch doctors do with bones and other objects. The apostles, however, performed some kind of “drawing of lots” to determine who God wanted to replace Judas (Acts 1:20). They claimed to be fulfilling the prophecy in Psalms 109:8 where it simply says that another man must take his place. It does not say how they were supposed to do this. So I assume they used lots because they were employed throughout OT times. I would think and hope that since we now have the Holy Spirit present, that we would not resort to this method but rather on God’s Word, and/or pastoral/elder counsel, and/or the strong inner voice of that Spirit to determine our decisions.

Comment: Anytime an historical record contains extreme detail as the Bible does in several passages, it lends to its authenticity. Fairy tales and folk lore never contain specifics to the degree that the Bible does.

Ezra 3 – The Hebrews were afraid of the surrounding heathen nations so they dedicated themselves back to the Lord and resumed all the proper sacrifices and worship. As the foundation for the Temple was laid, they rejoiced loudly, although the older ones wept because it reminded them of the beauty of Solomon’s Temple.

Ezra 4 – The devil does not waste time. Enemies rose up against the rebuilding of the Temple and they convinced King Artaxerxes to make them stop the work because the enemies claimed the Jews would get too strong, revolt, and not pay tribute to the king.

Application for Today: Any time God begins a great work on earth, the devil inspires people to resist it. Therefore, if you are involved with a Christian endeavor and it meets strong opposition, this is usually a good sign because the devil does not waste time on unfruitful projects or deeds.

Ezra 5 & 6 – A new king named Darius allowed the Jews to start working on the Temple again and it was completed. The Jews returned to their land and began observing Passover.

Ezra 7 – Esther saves Ezra and Nehemiah. Nearly 60 years had passed from the end of Chapter 6 to the beginning of this chapter. During this time, Esther had inadvertently saved the lives of both Ezra and Nehemiah via her power of the “queen influence.” Ezra reveals his lineage all the way back to Aaron, Moses’ right hand man. He is given an official sanction from King Artaxerxes to teach the Mosaic Law and appoint temple officials. Money is also given for him to do what was needed.

Ezra 8 – Ezra and about 1700 Jews had to take a long journey to Jerusalem, and he had boasted to the king that God would protect him. Then he had second thoughts knowing that the territory was riddled with danger and enemies that could easily ambush them. Since he had proclaimed the protection of God to the king, he was too embarrassed to ask him for an escort (even though he probably would have done so). So he called for a fast before the Lord and God heard and gave them all the protection they needed on their journey.

Application for Today: Humbling ourselves before God is always a step toward success.

Ezra 9 – After they returned to their promised land, the priests and Levites intermarried with pagan families. When told of this major breach in God’s Law, Ezra was beside himself and lamented, and then pleaded with God for forgiveness on the behalf of the Hebrew nation. This Law from Deuteronomy 7:1-5, was not born out of racial prejudice but rather a protection from turning to idolatry.

Ezra 10 – So after much repenting and praying, Ezra ordered all the people to gather together regarding this sin of intermarriage. It was the rainy season and this day was raining quite heavily, but they still assembled and all agreed to divorce their pagan wives and let their children go with them away from their land. Only four people opposed this. The chapter ends with a list of names who had intermarried against the Law of God.

Application for Today: Nowhere in the Bible does God condemn interracial marriages. In OT times, He was concerned with keeping some assemblage of people holy and good throughout the generations that would prove His existence and goodness, and eventually produce the Messiah. Race obviously was never a factor but rather what people believed and practiced in life was the issue. Ruth, who was a pagan Moabite woman (and they had especially bad reputations), was a great example of God accepting someone who was not of the Jewish lineage. So much so that she played a part in the Messianic lineage. Should a Christian, however, marry a non-Christian? I would say no based on 2 Corinthians 6:14 which says, “Do not be bound (unequally yoked) with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” Perhaps in rare cases this type of marriage has worked for the best because of God’s grace and the unsaved partner got saved later. That being said, I would still never affirm this sort of mixed marriage, but this obviously has nothing to do with race.