THURSDAY, MAY 21
SCRIPTURE: Ezra overview
Author: Jeremy Witt
Ezra is a book of the Old Testament that was originally together with the book of Nehemiah as one book. Most likely both Ezra and Nehemiah wrote the book together, and was written in the first person in many places. It is also possible that they each wrote their respective sections. However, authorship is debated today. Regardless, both accounts give an account of the return of the Jewish exiles who had been taken to Babylon and returning to Jerusalem. For the sake of this devotional, we will first focus on Ezra and then move to Nehemiah as we reach that part. The prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are contemporaries of Ezra and Nehemiah. Reading alongside would add to our understanding as many of the prophecies came during the reconstruction.
Ezra’s name means “help”, and he is a priest who led the people back to Jerusalem with the blessing and financial support of Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia. This will fulfill a prophecy by the prophet Jeremiah that exiles would one day return to Jerusalem. Another example of God being faithful and true.
If you remember your world history, the Medes-Persian took over control from Babylon in 539 BC and established an empire centered in modern-day Iran and extending from Greece to Egypt and to the western edge of modern-day India.
Some important names to know as we read Ezra are Cyrus the Great, Zerubbabel, Haggai, Zechariah, Darius 1, Artaxerxes 1, and Ezra. Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah will help rebuild the Temple, the city, and the walls of Jerusalem.
As one would expect, Ezra the priest will focus upon the Law. Zerubbabel was responsible for the rebuilding of the Temple. Ezra’s role was to reestablish worship at the Temple and observing the Law or the Torah. Nehemiah will focus upon the rebuilding of the wall and will help bring back a national spirit in Jerusalem. Written approximately 450 BC and possibly started while in exile and then finished in Jerusalem. Ezra follows closely to 2 Chronicles in its account of the return. The Jewish exiles have been in exile for approximately 50 years when Ezra leads a small group back to Jerusalem.
(*Extra credit information – 1 & 2 Chronicles was at the end of the Jewish Bible to be a summary of all of Judah/Israel’s history. Its placement in our bibles seems odd as Chronicles and 1 & 2 Kings have similar information.)
In chapters 1-6, Zerubbabel (the name means “planted in Babylon”) will work towards the rebuilding of the Temple. He will lead the original wave of exiles returning to Jerusalem. He will build the altar first and then the Temple in chapters 3-6. The older exiles who saw the previous Temple weep for it paled in comparison to the original. The newer exiles cheered. (See Leviticus 9 and 1 Kings 8 for Temple dedications for comparison, especially for the clear sign of God’s presence which was absent in Ezra.)
Chapters 7-8 introduce us to Ezra who is a priest serving as a teacher of the Law. He is appointed by Artaxerxes to lead another wave of people back to Jerusalem. Ezra sought to bring people to spiritual renewal and worship. Ezra finds out that many had married non-Jews and leads the people to renewal, but also to renounce these marriages (divorce) based on the Law. Needless to say, this was not easy and would be very non-politically correct today. (The purpose was to be pure and set apart for God in every aspect of their lives.) God never told Ezra to do this, but Ezra was pressured by leaders to do this. Malachi the prophet speaks towards in his letter on this issue that God hates divorce. (Malachi 2:13-16)