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Old Testament Survey

Ezra




Key Verses

1:3
2:1
6:21, 22
7:10


Key Chapters

Chapter 1-3
Chapter 6-9


Key Concepts

Jerusalem
Temple
Return


Thoughts for Reading

How important was the Temple to Israel?
How important is one’s roots?


Ezra 1:3
Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.

Ezra / Nehemiah as a Unit

Ezra 1:1-4 repeats the decree of Cyrus used to close 2 Chronicles.

It seems that in the Hebrew canon Ezra and Nehemiah were one book (Ezra-Nehemiah). The Masoretic text provides statistical data for the unit rather than for the individual books. Some speculate that the Chronicles - Ezra - Nehemiah combination formed a first and second volume of Jewish history. It was not until 1448 that the Hebrew canon divided these into two separate books. The Septuagint originally grouped these two books together, titling them as 2 Esdras or 2 Ezra. However, by the time of Origen (2nd Century), the Septuagint was treating the two books as individual volumes. Likewise, Jerome’s Vulgate divided the books into two separate volumes.

Remember, Ezra is credited with starting the Great Synagogue which collected and compiled the Jewish Bible.

Tradition and internal evidence strongly supports the contention that Ezra is the author of Ezra and Nehemiah is the author of Nehemiah, although at some date a third party may have edited the volumes.

Jewish tradition holds that Ezra wrote the Chronicles as well as the Ezra-Nehemiah unit. The first person is used in Ezra 7:27-9:15 supporting most of this contention. However, the first person is used extensively in Nehemiah strongly suggesting that Nehemiah himself is the author of the volume bearing his name. It is possible that Ezra is the original compiler of the unit, incorporating the writings of Nehemiah with his own.

Ezra

The term “Jew” apparently came into use during the captivity. Until then, the Israelites were called Judaens, a name shortened to “Jew.”

Ezra&s arrival in Jerusalem was probably in 458/457 B.C. This is dated as the fifth month of the seventh year of the king (Artazerxes I Longimanus, 464-423 B.C.). Nehemiah 8:2 appears to identify Ezra as a contemporary. Ezra, as a priest, has returned to provide the people with spiritual guidance. To accomplish this, Ezra’s primary task is to oversee the rebuilding and restoration of the Temple, a structure that laid dormant during the seventy years of captivity.

Nehemiah&s first arrival in Jerusalem was probably in 445/444 B.C., the twelfth year of the reign of Artazerxes and twelve-to-thirteen years after Ezra (Neh 1:2; 2:1). Nehemiah returns at some point to Babylon and then returns to Jerusalem in 433/432 B.C. (Neh 13:6, 7).

Many Jews, mainly those who had become established, remained in Babylon. Was this a sin? God’s directions through Jeremiah were to be ready to return.

The prophets Haggai & Zechariah fall at Ezra 5:1

God’s prophecy through Jeremiah (2 Chron 36:21; Jer 25:11,12; 29:10) was that the captivity would last 70 years, one year for each Sabbath year the people had failed to observe. Just as Isaiah had prophesied (Isa 44:28; 45:1-4), the Babylonians fell to the Persians, led by Cyrus. This came about in 540 B.C. Ezra begins in the first year of Cyrus’ reign (1:1). Cyrus was a forward looking leader, allowing the exiles of many countries to return to their homelands and to practice their own religions. This would tend to keep the people peaceful and help Cyrus maintain rule. By 536 B.C., the Jews began to return home, with the Temple articles (1:7). Notice, however, that only 42, 360 persons returned.

Jerusalem, as well as the Temple, lay in ruins. To return to this situation was a tremendous undertaking for the Jewish people. Safety, as well as every day needs like food and shelter were pressing problems (3:1-7). Yet, the people laid the foundation for the Temple during the second year of their return. Still, fourteen years pass between foundation laying and the actual work on the Temple (Ezra 4). Much opposition arose against the Jews, especially from the Samaritans. The work on the Temple was finished in the sixth year of the reign of Darius, 516 B.C. (Ezra 6).

In the period between Ezra 6 and 7 falls the story of Esther.

Ezra’s actual arrival to Jerusalem comes 82 years after Cyrus took position of Babylon. Ezra is a priest who loved the Lord and desires to teach the people about God. Notice that this is the true task of the priesthood. Ezra was a learned man who lived up to his training and position in life.

Ezra 7:10
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

The sins of Solomon revisited?

One of the major problems Ezra faced with that of intermarriage between Jew and non-Jew, a clear violation of the Levitical law (Deut 7:1-4). Ezra responded to this situation with intense public grief and prayer. This produced a positive response on the part of the people. The men of Israel combined to renounce their sins and to separate themselves from their foreign wives (10:7-17).

The Ezra-Nehemiah unit provides the continued historical record of the nation of Israel. The unit demonstrates the reconstruction of the present upon the physical and spiritual roots of the past. The covenant given to the nation is renewed and emphasized. The continuity of the nation is stressed around the covenant and the Temple. God’s faithfulness is seen through the rebuilding of the Temple.

A simple outline of the book is:

One of the positions of many cults is that they represent the “lost” tribes of Israel. This position arises due to the historical facts that 1) Assyria carried off the Northern Tribes and Babylon only carried off Judah and Benjamin and 2) it is a return from Babylon recorded in Scripture. Such a position misses several key points:

Ezra reflects that “all of Israel” returns (1:3-5; 2:10; 6:17; 8:29).

The genealogies of 1 Chronicles covers all of the Tribes. This would not have been necessary if Ezra knew only two tribes were returning.

Revelation reflects the existence of all the tribes (cf. Rev 7).

The promises of the prophets is that the entire nation will return.

The assumption that only two tribes were carried away into captivity by Babylon is wrong since the Levities were living in Judah and were carried into captivity along with the other people.

God is faithful and will not leave His people “behind.” There are no “lost” tribes. The emphasis in Ezra / Nehemiah upon Judah arises from the importance in these books of the Davidic covenant. And – notice the importance of the Levities as well. More than two tribes returned.

Jesus in Ezra

Jesus is seem more implicitly than explicitly in this book. The promises of the covenant, particularly the line of descendants being kept alive for Messiah, as the Son of David, find their continued fulfillment in the restoration of the people to the land. As a priest, Ezra keeps the emphasis on God and on the Temple worship, which to the Jewish nation, was the proper way to worship God.

Ezra 6:21-22
And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat, 22And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

What roots do you look back upon?

 

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December 7, 2019

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