INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF EZRA

 

TITLE OF THE BOOK

This book in named after the person who appears in chapters 7-10 of the book. Both the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Greek Septuagint use Ezra (or Esdras) for the title.

In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Ezra was joined to the book of Nehemiah. This was done so that the number of the books of the Hebrew Bible would number 22, corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The Jews had a three-fold division of their Scriptures:

Torah

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Prophets

1. Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings.

2. Latter Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Writings

Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra/Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Chronicles

The Hebrews placed Ezra-Nehemiah in the Writings just after Daniel and just before the books of Chronicles.

Jerome divided the books into two separate books in his Latin Vulgate and our English Bibles follow this tradition. There seems to be some evidence that they were originally written as two separate books. Ezra 2 is repeated in Nehemiah 6:7-70 and this likely would not have been the case had they been written together.

The Septuagint included the books which we know as the Apocrypha. These were books which were reckoned by the Jews not to have the same authority as those which had been written by the prophets. The Septuagint contains an Apocryphal book of Esdras while the Latin Vulgate contains two such additional books.

Protestant Bibles

Septuagint

Latin Vulgate

Ezra

2nd Esdras

1st Esdras

Nehemiah

3rd Esdras

2nd Esdras

-

1st Esdras

3rd Esdras

-

-

4th Esdras

      1. First Esdras seems to date to the 2nd century B.C. and is an addendum to the book of Ezra. It deals with events from Josiah to Ezra.
      2. Second Esdras was written in the late first century A.D. and contains no connection with our book of Ezra (it is apocalyptic in nature, made up of seven visions and set in the days of the Persian Empire). All of our copies are in Latin and no Greek manuscript has thus far been located.

 

AUTHOR

Jewish tradition attributed this book to Ezra. From Ezra 7:28 to 8:34 and again in chapter 9, Ezra speaks in the first person, much as Luke does in certain portions of the book of Acts.

Ezra is described as a scribe in Ezra 7:21, so he would have had ample ability to write this book.

 

SCOPE

This book spans 92 years of Jewish history from the decree of Cyrus allowing the Jews to return to the land (539 B.C.) to the decree of Artaxerxes which halted the work of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem (446 B.C.).

539

 

515

Ezra 1-6

Cyrus the Great

Cambyses

539 Edict to return to land

520 Haggai

Zechariah

515 Temple completed

482

473

Esther

Xerxes

458

Ezra 7-10

Artaxerxes

458 Second return under Ezra

445

420

Nehemiah

444 Nehemiah rebuilds walls

432 Malachi

Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther all deal with the story of Israel following the Babylonian Captivity. Nebuchadnezzarís Babylon did not long outlive that king. It was soon replaced by the empire of the Persians.

The Persians had a different method of maintaining their empire. They determined that a happy and prosperous people made better taxpayers, so they permitted dispossessed peoples to return to their homelands. Under the Persian rule, there were three specific returns of Jews to the land of Judah.

The story of Esther takes place in the interim between Ezra and Nehemiah. However it is a separate narrative as its focus is not upon the land of Judah but deals with the Jews throughout the Persian Empire.

 

LIFE LESSONS

1. The Sovereignty of God.

The Lord is seen to be directing the events of history as He moves pagan kings to do His will (Proverbs 21:1).

2. The Continuing Need for a Land.

Godís plan called for a return of the Jews to the land. They had been taken away as a punishment for their idolatry. They are now brought back so that they might serve Him and worship them in the land. This would be necessary so that the Messiah could be born in Bethlehem.

3. The Grace of God.

God is a God of second chances. He was bringing the people back into the land to give them a second chance to serve Him and to follow Him. They had formerly sinned in their idolatry. Now there is a call to renewed purity.

This is a book of covenant renewal. The people return to their covenant relationship with God and renew their promises to follow Him.

 

OUTLINE OF EZRA

1

First Return under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel

Return from Babylon

The Edict of Cyrus

2

The Exiles who returned

3

Rebuilding of the Temple

Construction begun

4

Construction opposed

5

Construction delayed

6

Construction completed

7

Second Return under Ezra

Return from Babylon

Decree of Artaxerxes

8

The Journey

9

Restoration of the People

Problem of mixed marriages

10

Solution to the problem

As can be seen from the above outline, Ezra is a book about returning and rebuilding and restoring oneís relationship with the Lord. Such a journey is not necessarily an easy one. It can be fraught with pitfalls and temptations. But the journey home is worth the effort. Are you headed for home? There is a message in this book for you.


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