Ezra wrote the book that bears his name approximately 450 BC. Similar to Luke’s writing of Luke-Acts, Ezra writes history in the third person and then shifts to first person when he is part of the story (cf. Ezra 7:27–28). Ezra 1:1–3a echoes 2 Chronicles 36:22–23, indicating that he perhaps wrote the Chronicles. He likely wrote Nehemiah as well.
As to its contents, Ezra is a story of rebuilding and reform. Chapters 1–6 recall how Israel rebuilt the temple. Cyrus decreed it (Ezra 1:1–4), provided the resources for it (Ezra 1:5–11), and allowed people to go do it (Ezra 2:1–70). These people were led by Zerubbabel and made up the first return from Babylon to Jerusalem (538 BC). From roughly 536–516 BC, they built the temple in spite of opposition (Ezra 3:1–6:12) and celebrated its completion (Ezra 6:13–22).
Chapters 7–10 tell of reformation. Ezra led the second return from Babylon to Jerusalem in 458 BC (Ezra 7:1–8:36), and once there, the people already present confronted Ezra with the problem of Jews having married pagan wives. This sin included priests and Levites. This unique situation required a unique solution (putting these wives and children away), and Ezra brought about reform (Ezra 9:1–10:44).
Theologically, Ezra is an amazing story of the faithfulness of God. Based upon His promises to Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:1–7), God sustained the nation and returned to the land those who were willing to come. Based upon specific promises through Isaiah, God raised up Cyrus to repopulate Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its temple (Isaiah 48:24–45:13).
Ezra is also a story of the sovereignty of God. In showing Himself faithful to Israel, God turned the hearts of the Persian kings Cyrus and Darius to give decrees to help His nation (Ezra 1:1; 6:22; cf. Proverbs 21:1). He stirred the spirits of his servants and the people as a whole (Haggai 1:14). “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” was how the Israelites completed the temple (Zechariah 4:5; cf. Ezra 6:13–22).
Ezra is also a story of the mercy of God. Israel’s first deportation to Babylon took place in 605 BC. Two more would take place in 597 and 586 BC. Jerusalem would be destroyed, its temple razed, and its people taken away (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:15–23). In keeping with the prophecy of Jeremiah (Ezra 1:1; cf. Jer 25:11–12; 29:10), God ended Israel’s exile and began to return His people to their land after seventy years of exile were over.
In the Bible as a whole, the Abrahamic Covenant promised help to Israel, and Isaiah anticipated Cyrus and his decree. Sadly, however, Israel murdered her Messiah. Nonetheless, a happy ending will come. Just as God in Christ is faithful to us in our salvation, so also “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26; cf. Romans 9–11). When all is said and done, the Father and Son will be the temple in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22), and Israelites and believers from every tribe and language and people and nation will worship God forevermore.
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