The book of Ezra (Ezra 1)

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Ezra, the priest who returned to Jerusalem with a group of Babylonian exiles in 458 B.C., is assumed to have authored this book, presumably from Jerusalem, around 440 B.C- He is also thought to have written the book of Nehemiah, around 430 B.C. Originally two separate compositors, the two were combined into one book, titled Ezra, prior to A.D. 100. The oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint also treated Nehemiah and Ezra as one book. Origen (ca. A.D. 185-253) was the first writer to make a distinction between the two, which he called 1 Ezra and 2 Ezra. Wycliffe’s English translation (1382) also separated the two books, as did Coverdale’s (1535).

Generations od Israelites after the return of the exiles from Babylon read this book. Ezra clearly wanted his readers to recognize, in various historical events, the power and love of God demonstrated toward His chosen people and, in return, their covenant responsibilities toward Him.

In 539 B.C. Cyrus, king of Persia, decreed that Jewish exiles could return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel’s leadership. Many did undertake the journey and began rebuilding the temple and offering sacrifices to God. By the time Ezra returned with a second group of exiles, God’s people had experienced many blessings:

  • The temple had been rebuilt.
  • The Persians had gifted the returning exiles with silver, gold, supplies, livestock and even offerings for God’s temple.
  • King Cyrus had returned 5,400 articles of gold and silver that king Nebuchadnezzar had removed from God’s temple.
  • Many of the exiles had returned to the towns from which their ancestors had come.
  • Priests once again offered sacrifices to God in the temple.

As you read, try to imagine the joy that Ezra and his fellow returnees must have experienced as they set foot upon their home soil. God had been working miracles on their behalf: mellowing the hearts of kings, protecting the vulnerable returnees from fierce neighbours, enabling the temple to be rebuilt after initial work had been forcibly halted and overseeing every aspect of the restoration. Some of the returning Jews no doubt even reconnected with friends and relatives. Ezra, whose every wish had been granted by Artaxerxes, began teaching Moses’ Law to the people, re-establishing it as the only authoritative guide for loving, and temple services began in earnest. All things considered, life for the Jewish remnant was going along pretty well. Or was it?

Watch how unfalteringly Ezra, a committed follower and teacher of Moses’ Law, focused upon temple worship. Imagine the people’s shock as they discovered, many perhaps for the first time, the reality of their sin and their need to become God’s holy people, who would once again be set apart from neighbouring idol-worshippers. Experience vicariously Ezra’s anger and sorrow after learning that certain Jewish men had married Canaanite women and were practicing other religions. Pay close attention to the far-reaching consequences of the priest’s response to the people’s sinfulness.

Did you know that a shekel (about 11,34 g of silver) was the average wage for a month’s work? Thus a mina would have been the equivalent of five years’ wages and a talent of 300 years’ wages (Ezra 2:69). Did you know that Tattenai  and his associates were part of the elaborate system of informers and spies used by Nera Eastern kings? Two officials who reported to the Persian monarch were known as “the king’s eye” and “the king’s ear” (5:3-5). Did you know that Persian kings consistently helped to restore sanctuaries in their empire (6:3-5)? Did you know that the returning exiles were not uncompromising separatists but were willing to accept any who would disconnect themselves from the paganism of the foreigners introduced into the area by the Assyrians (6:19-21)? Did you know that the story of Esther, the queen who saved the Jewish people from massacre, fits into the interval of nearly 60 years that separates Ezra 7:1 from 6:22? Did you know that in ancient societies mothers were given custody of their children when marriages were dissolved? In Babylon divorced women were granted their children and had to wait for them to grow up before remarrying (10:3).


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