Bible Study: Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther (Overview)

The Time

Although these three books are positioned in the first half of the OT, they really represent the end of Jewish history in the OT. These are often referred to as “post-captivity” books, along with the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. It should be borne in mind that one of the most important reasons for the return of the remnant to the land was for the fulfillment of Micah 5:2 – the birth of the Lord Jesus in Bethlehem. While the genealogical records of Ezra and Nehemiah may have as much appeal to you as reading through an old telephone directory, the listing of these names and families was essential to the Jewish people, and established lineage and, ultimately, the right to the throne of David.

The books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther (and even Haggai and Zechariah) are all interrelated. It is helpful to have a timeline in mind of all the events of these books before looking at any one of them.

The Timeline

Captivity (586 B.C.) – the city falls and Zedekiah, the last king, is taken and blinded

  • The sin of the people
  • Their stubbornness in refusing to hear the prophets

The decree to return (538 B.C.)

  • The movements of God – sovereign over nations
  • The moral challenge to the nation
  • The men who returned

First return under Zerubbabel and Jeshua (536 B.C.)

  • Feast of Tabernacles kept
  • Foundation of the temple laid
  • Foes that hindered the work
  • Furtherance by Haggai and Zechariah who rose up to stir up the people
  • Favor of the King – Darius’ letter of approval (approx. 519 B.C.)
  • Finishing the house

Events of Esther (483-473 B.C.)

  • Those who did not go up
    • The chief actors placed on the stage
    • The plot of Haman
    • The intervention by Esther
    • The ascendancy of Mordecai
  • The preservation of the nation
  • The picture of future events

Ezra and his exercise (Ezra 7, approx. 457 B.C.)

Journey to Jerusalem

  • The Report and the Repentance
  • The Restoration

Nehemiah and his exercise (446 B.C.)

  • Constructing the walls
  • Conflict and various forms of opposition
  • Conference (ch.8)
  • Covenant renewed
  • City inhabited
  • Nehemiah returns after an absence and rectifies evils
  • It is likely that the prophecy of Malachi occurs during this period

The Titles

  • Zerubbabel the Governor of Judah (Hag 1:1)
  • Mordecai the Jew (cf. Abram the Hebrew, Nathaniel the Israelite)
  • Ezra the priest (3x), the scribe (5x), the priest the scribe (5x); but never the scribe
  • the priest!
  • Jeshua the High Priest
  • Nehemiah the Tirshatha, the Governor
  • N.B., no one had the title of King

The Themes

  • Ezra – Return to the Land
  • Nehemiah – Rebuilding the Wall
  • Esther – Refuge in God’s Sovereignty
  • Haggai – Remonstrance for Indifference
  • Zechariah – Revelation of Future Glory

Traits that Marked the Return

The Size – It is likely that under Zerubbabel, about 50,000 Jews returned to the land. Considering the size of the nation when it went into captivity, this represents a very small remnant. Then under Ezra, the number is even smaller, perhaps only 5,000 or 6,000 who returned.

The Signs – In contrast to the exodus from Egypt, there are no miraculous signs accompanying the exodus from Babylon. In fact, Nehemiah has a royal escort of soldiers to accompany him and provide safety. There is no cloud nor pillar of fire.

Significant Men – There is no Moses or Joshua, no Aaron or Caleb. All the great names of the past were just that – names and heroes of the past.

Shortcomings – The book of Esther concerns those who had no interest in going up to Jerusalem. There may have been different reasons for their remaining in captivity. We should not be too quick to ascribe it all to a lack of exercise; age, bodily weakness, etc., may have played a part. God shows Himself faithful to His purposes in the book of Esther; the destruction of the people was another attempt by Satan to stamp out the royal seed and hinder the advent of Christ. Understanding and viewing these books not only as a picture of restoration and assemblies but as setting the stage for the first advent of the Lord Jesus is very helpful.

Sovereignty – The book of Ezra begins with the decree of Cyrus. Here is a reminder of God’s sovereignty, both in the fact that he had been named by Isaiah long before his birth, and that God could control the heart of a heathen monarch. The book of Esther reinforces this great truth upon the returned remnant.

Future articles will deal with each of these books individually.