Scriptures

Complete Study Of The Book Of Ezra

Introduction

The seventy years of Israel’s captivity had now come to an end, exactly as Jeremiah said it would, Jeremiah 29:1-14, and so, the Book of Ezra covers the events of the Jews returning from their Babylonian captivity. In the year 538 B.C. the Medes and Persians took over from the Babylonians and became the ruling power of the world.

All the prisoners, including those from Israel, who were formally under the subjection of Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian king were now under the control of Cyrus, the Medo-Persian king.

Isaiah also prophesied the end of Israel’s captivity, he even names Cyrus and tells us that he would be the king who would help Israel rebuild the temple and Jerusalem, Isaiah 44:28-45:7.

Cyrus was a different kind of king, as he believed that all his prisoners would be more loyal to him if they were free, rather than being slaves. He and the other kings who followed, helped the people to return home and rebuild their temples. Because the people were free to practice their religion, this is turn promoted loyalty to the kings.

Author

It’s generally agreed that Ezra, who was a scribe and priest, wrote the Book of Ezra and many commentators also believe that Ezra wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles and Psalm 119. We know that the first Jewish synagogue begun when the Jews were in captivity, and we know that the Sanhedrin court begun in captivity and Jewish tradition suggests that these were established by Ezra.

The name Ezra means ‘help’ and he was born among the Babylonian exiles and raised in Babylon, Ezra 7:6. He was the great grandson of Hilkiah who was the high priest during the reign of Josiah, Ezra 7:1-5. He was also a descendant of Aaron because he was a Levitical priest.

Because he was a scribe, he was held in high esteem among the Medo-Persian officials. He was a highly educated man, especially in regards to God’s laws and teaching God’s laws, Ezra 7:6. He loved God and His Word and knew what obedience to God was all about, Ezra 7:10. He taught God’s Word not only to those who were in captivity, but also to those who had returned from captivity, Nehemiah 8:1-8.

The Stages Of The Return

The return of Judah took place in three stages and may be summarised as follows.

Stage 1

This first stage was by the decree of Cyrus for the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple to God in 538 B.C. Ezra 1-6. The political leader of the Jews who returned at this time was an individual named Zerubbabel, while the Levitical religious leader who returned with him was an individual name Joshua.

Approximately 50,000 people returned at this time, 42,360 Jews plus 8,000 servants and 200 singing men. The purpose of this return was to rebuild the temple, which was completed in 516 B.C. It was during this time that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah ministered.

The work of temple rebuilding was well begun under Zerubbabel and Joshua, the altar was established on October 5th 537 B.C., and the foundations of the second temple were completed in May/June of 536 B.C.

However the people grew selfish and careless and the work lay dormant for several years. God raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah to rebuke and encourage the people, and the temple was finally completed in February/March of 516 B.C.

Stage 2

The religious leader of this return was Ezra the scribe, 458 B.C. Ezra 7-10. This was a much smaller return as only about 2,000 Jews returned at this time. The purpose of this return was to purify the worship services. Pagan wives had been taken and squatters were in the temple.

Stage 3

It was at this time that Nehemiah was allowed to return to the land in order to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and enable the people to re-inhabit the city, 445/444 B.C. Nehemiah 1:1-13. The Old Testament prophet that ministered at this time was Malachi.

Meanwhile in the year 479 B.C. Esther, married King Ahasuerus and became queen of the Medo-Persian Empire, Esther 2:17. It was during this period that the remaining Jews who hadn’t returned to Palestine but remained on the outside of Persian territory were protected from the murderous scheme of Haman.

Life During The Return

Very little had changed from the time of the exile. The Jews were living previously in Babylon, modern day Iraq, during the exile. But, we find them in the land of Persia, modern day Iran, and returning to their homeland of Israel during the period of the return.

The land of Persia or modern day Iran is a large plateau between the plain of the Tigris on the west and the Indus River valley to the east. On the south it is bordered by the Persian Gulf leading to the Indian Ocean. To the north of the plateau is the Caspian Sea and the chains of mountains that extend from the south end of the Caspian Sea.

Cyrus conquered territories he emphasized winning the favour of the gods, the priesthoods and their followers in those lands. Thus he would reverse the deportation policies of Assyria and Babylon, allowing people to return to their homelands and thus gaining their loyalty.

The Persian people were polytheistic, but at this time there seems to have been the beginnings of Zoroastrianism. To be sure, Darius and Xerxes exalted Ahuramazda, the god Zoraster preached, but they do not mention Zoraster. Cyrus, however, comes across very tolerant of various religions, making him simply a typical Persian polytheist.

Zoroastrianism contains a dualism, a contradiction of good and evil, a Good Spirit and an Evil Spirit with his demon henchmen. The Good Spirit represents light, fire, summer, fertile land, and health. While the Evil Spirit represents darkness, winter, drought, sickness, and death.

In later Zoroastrianism, individuals were judged by whether their good deeds, outweighed their evil deeds. Fire was used as a symbol of the god Ahuramazda, the god worshipped in Zoroastrianism.

All other aspects of life, dress, diet, etc, was the same as the period of the exile. Obviously those who stayed in Persia lived a wealthier lifestyle than those who returned to the land. Those that returned would have a more basic lifestyle for a while until houses were rebuilt, city walls put up and crops re-grown.

Date

If Ezra was the writer of the book, it was probably written sometime between 440 B.C. and 400 B.C.

Outline

The Exiles Return From Babylon. Ezra 1:1-2:70
The Ordination of Cyrus. Ezra 1:1-4
Preparations for the journey. Ezra 1:5-11
Those who returned. Ezra 2:1-70
Temple Building Began. Ezra 3:1-4:24
The altar and the foundations. Ezra 3:1-13
Opposition to the work. Ezra 4:1-24
The Building Completed. Ezra 5:1-6:22
Work resumed. Ezra 5:1-5
Tattenai’s letter to Darius. Ezra 5:6-17
The Ordinations of Cyrus and Darius. Ezra 6:1-12
The temple finished. Ezra 6:13-22
Ezra’s Journey To Jerusalem. Ezra 7:1-8:36
Ezra introduced. Ezra 7:1-10
Letter of Artaxerxes to Ezra. Ezra 7:11-28
The journey to Jerusalem. Ezra 8:1-36
The Great Reformation. Ezra 9:1-10:44
The tragic report and Ezra’s prayer. Ezra 9:1-15
The abandonment of mixed marriages. Ezra 10:1-17
List of those with foreign wives. Ezra 10:18-44

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Complete Study Of The Book Of Ezra  

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