How does one study a book of the Bible? It would seem that the study of an Old Testament book would be different in many ways from the study of a New Testament book. For example, the history will have to be taken into account. However, the history is not an end in itself. We cannot permit ourselves to get lost in the academics. History always provides a lesson. Let’s see if we can feed our souls as we consider the historical circumstances, the habits of the characters, the teaching found in the connections with other books in the Bible, and the confidence that heaven is in control.
The Book of Ezra is a record of the partial recovery of Judah. They rebelled against God and His Word in the land that God had given them and, as a consequence, had been taken captive by the Babylonians. Their two greatest sins in the land were their persistent idolatry and their failure to give the land its seventy sabbatical years of rest (Lev 25:2-7; 2Chron 36:21). In the book of Ezra, after the seventy years of captivity, a remnant of God’s people was returning to Jerusalem.
Are there lessons to be learned from these historical circumstances? We see that God is a God of retribution and reward in their being taken away. God will not be mocked: “Whatever a man sows that shall he also reap” (Gal 6:7). But our God is also a God of mercy and restoration. He is indeed the covenant-keeping God. With Him there is forgiveness (Ps 130:4). And God has decreed that, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt 5:18). The circumstances in the book confirm our confidence in the Scriptures.
The Connections and the Chronology
Consider the closing words of 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and notice that they are practically identical to the opening words of Ezra 1:1-3. Consider also: “And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer 25:11).
Consider the direct references in Nehemiah to the man Ezra (8:1-13, 12:1-36). Notice also that the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, were part of this remnant out of Babylon and that they prophesied in the land during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 5:1-2, 6:14). What do we conclude? A proper study of Ezra will be a rich study in itself, but how much richer will it be if we diligently study with it a block of other books: Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. And don’t forget that the Book of Esther quite likely took place between the sixth and seventh chapters of Ezra!
Studying the characters of the Bible is most instructive. We are not studying the character of Ezra for the sake of education. We are meditating on it for the purposes of edification and emulation. Consider what history tells us about Ezra. He is credited with introducing the Hebrew alphabet in square characters. (Contributing to the education of God’s people is no mean achievement). He evidently wrote the books of Chronicles, Nehemiah, and also the book which bears his name, Ezra. He is credited with having collected the Psalms and arranging them in their present order. He was known for his careful study, obedience, prayer, and worship.
Consider the pattern he set for others: “This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given” (7:6). Note his preparation of heart: “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (7:10). He pursued and perused it; he practiced it and he preached it. The order is significant as we see in the life of the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:1). Ezra did not present what had not touched his own heart and life!
Meditate on his priesthood. He is called Ezra the priest (7:11). Priestly persons are marked by supplications and sacrifices. Contemplate the parameters of his pedagogy. He considered the present and future generations: “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance” (8:21). See also his passion which is articulated in his benediction: “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem” (7:27).
Like the Lord Jesus, Ezra was passionate about the House (John 2:17). But a pastor often needs a pastor. “And Shechaniah said … ‘Yet now there is hope in Israel … Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it’” (10:2-4). Ezra needed someone, Shechaniah, to remind him that there was yet hope; that there were still those who trembled at the Word of God; and that he was to be of good courage as he persevered in the work.
The Celestial Control
There is another lesson in these chapters. For example, why was it that an Iranian (Persian) king gave a directive that the House of God in Jerusalem be rebuilt? (1:2). Why was it that the Medes and Persians had become the dominant world power, having defeated the Chaldeans? Why was it that at this time there were those in Babylon “whose spirit God had raised?” (1:5). Surely, God was sovereign in punishing His wayward people by allowing them to be taken away to Babylon. But He was also sovereign in preserving His people and in recovering a remnant at this time.
God has not relinquished His sovereignty or abandoned His promises. As we consider the difficult social, economic, and political times in which we live, let us be comforted and encouraged by the truth that “the heavens do rule.” Let us take heart in the prophetic certainties of the Word, which are as certain of literal fulfillment as were those of Jeremiah (Jer 25:12-13, 29:10, 33:10-14).
Surely, the book of Ezra shows us that God is in control.