EZRA OVERVIEW

 

Tonight we begin looking at the book of Ezra. This book picks right where 2 Chronicles left off and it will teach us about the return of the Jews from Babylon. One thing we need to realize is that the OT books are not in chronological order. For instance the book of Daniel, which is about 12 books away from Ezra, covers part of what happened while the children of Israel were in captivity. So, as we work our way through the Old Testament we will be jumping around the timeline. It also noteworthy to know that after the children of Israel returned the OT only records the next 100 years of their history. So, the events that occur in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) all occurred approximately between 536 B.C. and 430 B.C. At the end of this lesson I will give you a more detailed time line of the events that occur in Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.

 

The author is believed to be Ezra and some suggest that Ezra and Nehemiah used to be one book and were called I and II Ezra, while others maintain these are two separate books written by two separate authors. The name Ezra means help.

 

The key verses in this book are as follows,

 

Ezra 1:1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,2 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.3 Who is among you of all His people? May 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 God), which is in Jerusalem.

 

These verses show us how God worked through King Cyrus to fulfill His promise through Jeremiah. Another key verse is,

 

Ezra 7:9 On the first day of the first month he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.

 

This teaches us about Ezraís return to Jerusalem and how he had prepared heart to seek the Law of the Lord. This show that its important that we must have a prepared heart to serve God according to His Word because if we have not prepared our minds to do so, then we will not serve as we should.

 

The key chapter of Ezra is chapter 6 because the chapter records the completion and dedication of the temple under the encouragement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Also it teaches us king Darius ordered the governor not to oppose the Jews, but to help them with any material that they needed to complete the temple. Darius recognized the Jews God as the God of heaven. It also tells how they kept the Passover and purified themselves and even turned the heart of the King of Assyria toward them who was willing to help them with their work on the temple.

 

The purpose of this book is best described in this quote from Keil,

 

"To show the manner in which the Lord God, after the lapse of seventy years of exile, fulfilled his promise, as conveyed by the prophets, by the deliverance of his people from Babylon, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, the restoration of the temple worship according to the law, and the preservation of the restored community from fresh lapses into heathenism and idolatry by the dissolution of their marriages with Gentile women."

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This promise was prophesied by Jeremiah in,

 

Jeremiah 29:12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.14 I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.

 

The message of Ezra shows us the power of Godís Word and how He can work though evil nations to bring about His promises. When we read books like Ezra it should encourage us knowing that God always keeps His promises. The story of these Jews captivity and restoration can be written in 10 words that all begin with letter R.

 

  • Retribution
  • Remembrance
  • Repentance
  • Return
  • Resettlement
  • Rebuilding
  • Regression
  • Revival
  • Reformation
  • Relief

 

This book tells us about two returns of the Jews and the book of Nehemiah tells us about his return with an army. The first group of Jews that came back were around 50,000 strong (Ezra 2:64-65) They were lead back by Zerubbabel, the governor and Jeshua the priest around 536 B.C. The second group mentioned in chapter 8 who were all men, 1754 of them, came back with Ezra around 458 B.C.

 

This book tells us about the rebuilding of the temple, the Law of Moses being reestablished and Ezraís reforms. It coverers approximately 78 years from the beginning of King Cyrus reign to the eighth year of king Artaxerxes ar-tuh-zerk-sees (536 Ė 458 B.C.). Two sections of this book were written in Aramaic 4:8- 6:18 and 7:12-26, which caused some scholars to doubt the historicity of Ezra in the areas because they didnít believe that the Aramaic language existed back that far. However, archeology has proven these skeptics wrong once again. Please note what Burt Coffman says in regards to this,

 

Scholars earlier in this century rejected the fourth chapter of Ezra as "unhistorical"; but, "Once more a verdict against such radical critical views has now come to light in the famous Elephantine papyri.These letters are in Aramaic, the language of diplomacy and trade during the Persian period.They date between 500-400 B.C. They were written by Jews in the military colony on the island of Elephantine; and, discovered in 1903, they constitute the most important archaeological source for the books of Ezra and Nehemiah." They completely devastate the old critical dictum that the language did not fit the times.It did fit, exactly!

 

There are 2 main divisions in this book.

1. Chapter 1-6 deals with Zerubbabelís work and how he was authorized by King Cyrus to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The foundation of the temple was laid, but when the Samaritans were not allowed to help in the reconstruction they did every thing they could to hinder it being rebuilt and they were successful for a time, but under King Darius the construction resumed and Haggai and Zechariah helped encourage the Jews to finish their task and 20 years later from the time it construction began it was finished.

 

2. Chapter 7 -10 deals with Ezraís work. Ezra returned to Jerusalem by the authority of king Artaxerxes ar-tuh-zerk-sees 58 years after the temple had been rebuilt. It covers Ezraís prayer and confession for the people, his reforms including the Jews separating themselves from their foreign wives.

 

Now letís take a closer look at Ezraís character and work. Ezra was a scribe and a priest (Neh. 12:26,36). He was a descendant of Hilkiah the high priest of Josiahís reign who found the Law of Moses and in the house of God, which lead to the great reform of Josiah. Tradition says that Ezra was the organizer of the synagogue and president of the Great Synagogue, which compiled the Old Testament canon. We can certainly see that he was a man that prepared to serve God with His whole being because,

 

Ezra 7:10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.

 

Ezra was a courageous and faithful servant of God because he put his trust in God. You can see his courage and zeal to get back to Godís Word when he talked to the priest and the head of the families and called for them send their foreign wives and children away. Godís Law did not allow the Jews to intermarry with Gentiles. Through this process, Ezra shows how serious he takes Godís word because it grieved him that his people had allowed themselves to break Godís Law this way.

 

He honored God by reading and teaching his Word and transcribing it. His greatest desire was to restore the Word of God in the hearts and lives of his people.

 

As we will learn when we get to the book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah built the wall around Jerusalem to protect them from their enemies, but Ezra was building the people up spiritually from the inside to instruct and protect them from sin. Ezra reform was powerful and caused the people to renew themselves to following Godís Word and even though these Jews would eventually corrupt their ways one thing they never did again was to worship false idols.

 

Now let take a look at 5 great lessons that we can learn from the book of Ezra.

 

1. We learn what happens when we fail to study and obey Godís Word. The Jews had failed miserably in this area and this is why they had were taken into captivity as,

 

Isaiah 5:13 Therefore my people have gone into captivity, Because they have no knowledge;

 

Godís people are falling into the same trap today. Far too many people are not studying Godís Word as they should and they are allowing themselves to be fooled in to believing all kind of different doctrines. Whenever you and I put Godís truth into our hearts Jesus said,

 

John 8:31-32 "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.32 "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

 

However, the more we listen to others instead of God, we begin to make ourselves slaves of sin once again. Friends, we must have the attitude of Ezra and prepare our hearts to seek the Law of the Lord because if we donít we find ourselves repeating the children Israelís mistakes, but instead of being taken in captivity by a foreign nation, we will become captives of Satan, who has no intentions of letting us go. So, I hope we can learn from Ezra to diligent seek after God by studying His word and by obeying it.

 

2. We can learn another valuable lesson from how some of these Jews married outside the family of God. God had a reason he wanted them to only marry other Jews and that was because God knows how much a wife or husband can influence each other. This was Solomonís downfall. Not only did he break the Law by marrying more than one woman, He also married foreign women and they brought along with them all their pagan beliefs. Even though Solomon had been given wisdom from God, his wisdom didnít keep him from being corrupted from these foreign women.

 

This should teach us today the importance of marrying someone one that has the same conviction as we do about serving the Lord. I canít even begin to count the number of people I know that either stopped going to church or starting going to a domination because of the influence of their mate.

 

Now, I am not saying that a person has to date a Christian because I know of several non-Christians that became Christians during the dating process, but when it comes to spending the rest of your life with that person its important that both of you agree on your faith because if you do not it most likely cause problems in your marriage. You should never be confident that you will convert that person after you married because that doesnít happen very often. If you mate is staying at home while you go to church all the time it can become a real test to your faithfulness and while some are able to remain faithful others lose it and choose to stay home with their mate. Paul tells us,

 

1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits."

 

2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

So, we need to learn from this how important it as Christians that we choose a mate that will help us to get to heaven instead of hindering us.

 

3. Another thing we learn from Ezra is that the only way restoration back to God will occur is when courageous men are willing to stand up and preach Godís Word and nothing else. If Ezra wanted to do things his way, he may have never said a thing about the Jews separating themselves from these foreign woman and children because he wasnít heartless. He knew how difficult this would be with all the human emotions involved, but he was not concerned about his personal feelings. Instead, he boldly proclaimed Godís truth on this matter and this is the same attitude that preachers must have today.

 

Preachers are human and they understand human emotion and when it come to the area marriage, divorce and remarriage most preachers would probably leave this topic alone if it was up to them, but just as Ezra taught the truth in matters like these preachers must preach the truth marriage, divorce and remarriage because Godís Word is our guide and we must go by it no matter how many human emotions are involved because God knows best. So, ever preacher and teacher must follow the command that was given to Timothy in,

 

2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

 

4. The fourth lesson we learn from Ezra is the sorrow that sin brings and God willingness to forgive us of our sins when we count the cost of discipleship and repent and conform our lives to His word. Ezra said,

Ezra 9:13 "And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this,14 "should we again break Your commandments, and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations? Would You not be angry with us until You had consumed us, so that there would be no remnant or survivor?15 "O LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day. Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!"

 

Because of the sin they had committed against God is caused Ezra to be sorrowful and to rip his garments and he said,

 

Ezra 9:6 O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.

 

Ezra understood that the wages of sin was death as Paul said in Rom. 6:23. This is talking about spiritual death which is far worse than physical death. Even though repenting would mean that some families would be separated notice what,

 

Ezra 10:2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, "We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this.3 "Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.4 "Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it."

 

Notice they would have hope if they did this and they were going to do it because it was what the Law demanded and they were encouraged to do it and be of good courage.

 

This teaches us the important of getting the sin out of our life no matter how difficult it may be and we can know that God will forgive us of that sin and will be there to help us find a way of an escape as Paul teaches us in,

 

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

 

5. The fifth and finally lesson we learn from Ezra is the divine providence of God. Jeremiah had prophesied about the return of the remnant after 70 years captivity in Jer. 25:12; 29:10). Isaiah named Cyrus almost 200 years before the ruler was born as the king that would make it possible for the Jews to return back to Jerusalem (Isa 44:28; 45:1). We can see how God used the Persian kings to bring about His promise. Just as God worked His providence in non-miraculous way, He does the same for us today as Paul said in,

 

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

 

Every Christians should learn from these 5 great lessons in the book Ezra and use them to strengthen your faithfulness to God. The last thing I want to share with you a more detailed timeline of the events that occur in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.

 

536 B.C. - Cyrus released Israel; Zerubbabel and Jeshua led the fallen nation back to their homeland

535 B.C. - Work began on the reconstruction of the temple, but they were "troubled" in building (Ezra 4:4)

529 B.C. - The work on the temple (such as it was) ceased (Ezra 4:24)

520 B.C. - Haggai and Zechariah stirred up the people to rebuild the temple. They were again "troubled" but received Darius' permission to continue.

516 B.C. - The people completed the reconstruction of the temple (Ezra 6:15) (Ezra 1--6, Haggai, Zechariah)

485 B.C. - Ahasuerus became king

483 B.C. Ė Queen Vashti was deposed

479 B.C. - Ahasuerus was defeated at Thermopylae and Salamis

479 B.C. - Esther became queen

474 B.C. - Esther saved her nation (Esther)

457 B.C. - Ezra returned (Ezra 7--10)

444 B.C. - Nehemiah returned to build the wall

432 B.C. Ė Nehemiah returns again from Babylon and the marriage problem was resolved (Nehemiah and Malachi)