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Ezra

Author: Unknown

Date Written: 440-350 BC

Date of Narrative: 538-457 BC

 

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are regarded as a single book in the Hebrew Bible.  They describe the era in Jewish history: the Restoration.  The Restoration is the time period in which the Babylonian exile ends and the Jews return to the Holy Land to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem.  Both books are written by the same author who compiled their content in late biblical Hebrew with a few sections in Aramaic

 

The events in the book of Ezra take place during the rule of Cyrus, the Persian king who took over the Babylonian Empire and the whole mid-east region.  Cyrus institutes an empire-wide policy of religious toleration, sending people groups back to their native lands and funding the reconstruction of their holy places.  This policy benefited the Jews greatly, allowing them to return to the Holy Land in 537 BC.

 

Sheshbazzar leads the first group of exiles home (2).  Scholars do not agree on his exact identity, but it is clear that he was of the royal line of David (1:8).  Zerubbabel, also of the royal line, succeeds him as the leader of the returning exiles.

 

The Jews first build an altar and celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.  When they lay the Temple foundation, people groups in the land want to join the effort.  But Zerubbabel does not allow them to participate because they are not Jewish and they worship many gods.  After this, the groups oppose the Temple's reconstruction and for about 10 years, the Jews made no progress on the Temple.  Finally, with the prophetic encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel takes up the project again.  This time the opposition is overruled by the new Persian king, Darius.  The Jews complete the Temple in 516 BC, celebrating its dedication and the Passover.

 

Ezra does not appear in the book until Ch. 7 when Artaxerxes I, the current ruler of Persia sends him to Judah in about 458 BC.  Ezra is a scribe, a Persian official and a Levitical priest.  He leads a group of exiles back to Judah (8).  The lists of exiles in Ch. 2 and 8 show that the continuity of the exiles with their Jewish forefathers was essential to their preservation of the covenant.  Their covenant faithfulness to the Lord hinges on their identity as the people of God.  They therefore took great care to preserve their family histories in these lists.

 

Zerubbabel's refusal to let the "people of the land" join in reconstructing the Temple indicates the importance of Jewish identity in relation to the covenant (4:3).  These non-Jewish polytheists in the land are not part of the same covenant as the Jews.  Likewise the last two chapters of Ezra emphasize the importance of Jewish identity. Some of the men who stayed behind in Judah during the exile intermarried with non-Jewish women in the land.  This act was against the covenant, since the Law of Moses forbade intermarriage with other people groups which had led many Israelite ancestors to worship foreign gods (Deut 7:3).  After much prayer, deliberation and mourning over the crisis, Ezra and the Jewish leaders require the men who had intermarried to divorce their foreign wives (10).

 

Spiritually, we see in Ezra that God fulfills his promises and yet sometimes his plan of fulfillment includes serious effort on our part in the face of opposition.

 

By Mark Giszczak

 

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