The Man Who Penned It
It is generally accepted that the history of the events chronicled in Ezra should be attributed to the man whose name graces the book, even though he does not make an appearance until chapter seven.
The Movements in the Age in Which He Lived
469 B.C. – Birth of Socrates
460 B.C. – Birth of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine
460 B.C. – Birth of Thucydides (historian)
457 B.C. – First Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta
447 B.C. – The construction of the Parthenon begins
429 B.C. – Birth of Plato
Scripture passes over all these events and tells us about a small remnant who returned to the land of Judea to rebuild a temple for God.
The Main Divisions of the Book
The Response to the Proclamation (chs.1-6)
- The Decree of Cyrus
- Zerubbabel Takes the Lead
- Temple Vessels Returned
- The Temple Foundation Laid
- The Ministry of Haggai and Zechariah
- Temple Completed
The Result of a Burden (chs.7-10)
- The Decree of Artaxerxes
- Ezra Takes the Lead
- More Vessels Returned
- The Fast and the Journey
- The People Sanctified – a people fit for the Temple
The Men Highlighted
He is called the Tirshatha (2:63), or the governor. He likely was born in Babylon (suggested by his name). He is also called Sheshbazzar (5:14). Zerubbabel was in the line of the Davidic kings (Mat 1:11-13) and an heir to the throne. In him we learn:
- Sovereignty of God who preserved Davidic line
- Responsibility of Men – Response of Zerubbabel to the moral challenge – led the first contingent to return to the land
- Accountability for Servants – Consecration to the work of God; in chapter 3, set the altar on its base, kept Feast of Tabernacles, laid foundation for the Temple, refused the overtures of adversaries, finished the House
Ezra is introduced in chapter 7, some 80 years after the return under Zerubbabel. He is one of the most remarkable men in the OT. In his life we see:
- Preparation – Heart preparation – reality and depth of his interest
- Consecration – To seek the law of the Lord – not merely accepting the standards of the day or the compromises of the past
- Observation – And to do it – a man whose life was consistent with what he was going to teach; stands in contrast to the scribes in the NT
- Obligation (Moral) – Sought to live consistent with his testimony and with what he knew of God – does not ask for an escort (8:15-23)
- Aspiration – A man with a ministry – He had spent silent years in the Word of God that he might be God’s instrument when the need arose. He was limited – a priest without a Temple. He chose to do what he could to honor God and be a blessing to His people. Note how often “the hand of the Lord” is mentioned in his life; we read of God’s hand upon him (7:6,9,28; 8:18,22,31); we also read of the hand of Ezra (7:14,25).
The book of Ezra begins with a repeating of the decree of Cyrus. Three major prophets are shown to have been accurate in the very beginning of the book. Isaiah had predicted the coming of Cyrus 200 years earlier. Daniel, who was in Babylon, was interceding on behalf of the nation and God’s timetable. Jeremiah had spoken of seventy years for Babylon and God’s time had come. The fulfillment of these prophecies must have been an overwhelming confirmation to the people of the care and interest of God.
The Moral Challenge
When the decree of Cyrus was issued, it was essentially a moral challenge to the nation: “Who is there among you of all the people? Let him go up to Jerusalem.” The sad reality is that only about 50,000 responded to the challenge while the majority stayed comfortably in the land of their captors.
The Constant Conflict
Ezra teaches us that those who build for God will face many hindrances, both internal and external. The prophecy of Haggai addresses most of the internal barriers to building. In Ezra we are given insights into the external hindrances which arrayed themselves against those who would rise up to build. The tactics employed include fear and intimidation, false accusation and feigned cooperation.
The Unforeseen Consequences
The man who sought to teach in Israel “statutes and judgments”(7:10) ends up “furthering the people,” beautifying the house of the Lord (8:36). An individual has no concept of the ultimate results of his devotion and consecration to God. Deeds of devotion always accomplish far more than originally intended by the individual.
Ezra had little idea when in Persia of how needed and timely his ministry would be. The words of Shechaniah about the problem of the mixed marriages seem to put into perspective these truths: “Arise, for this matter belongeth unto thee … be of good courage, and do it” (10:4). God had been preparing His servant in some lonely garret in Persia to address the crisis in Jerusalem.
- The man who set out to teach the law ended by beautifying the house (7:27).
- The man who caused grief caused very great gladness (Neh 8:17).
- The man who set out to teach the law of God ensured the purity of the holy seed (9:2; 10:4) – the line to the Messiah.
- The man who set out to teach truth recovered more truth (Neh 8:14).