What is in Ezra?
Ezra is the 15th book of the Bible, which is about the Israelite’s return to Jerusalem.
In the first year of King Cyrus, he decreed that the Israelites should go back to Jerusalem and rebuild God’s temple. A first wave of exiles, along with the returned vessels that King Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from the temple back when the Babylonians first exiled the people, made their way back to Jerusalem and rebuilt the altar. Eventually, the foreign people around them learned the temple was being rebuilt and tried to stop it by writing a letter to King Artexerxes. King Artexerxes, remembering the powerful Israel of old, orders a stop to the work, which lasts until King Darius’s reign, after the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encourage the people. Darius, remembering Cyrus’s decree, allows the work to continue. Eventually, the people of Israel finish rebuilding the temple.
Many years later, Ezra, a priest who had studied the Law set by the Lord, went forth to establish the Law in Jerusalem with the blessing of King Artexerxes. Ezra finds that the returned exiles have married and mixed with other peoples like the Caananites, which, as he knew from studying the law, was not good. He makes the people aware of this, and some dismiss their foreign spouses and any children who had been born in these relationships (see Other Notes for more on this).
Who wrote it?
The two books of Ezra and Nehemiah were once one book, but it is unknown who wrote most of the book. Chapters 7-10 are partially in the first person, so it is not hard to make an educated guess at Ezra writing at least that part of the book. In a similar fashion, though, parts of Nehemiah are also in the first person (referring to Nehemiah).
When does it take place?
The book of Ezra takes place in two different time periods. Chapters 1-6 cover the return of the exiles from Babylon in 538 B.C. The temple was completed in 516 B.C. Chapters 7-10 take place when Ezra is in Jerusalem, which begins much later in 458 B.C.
How does Ezra apply to me today?
Ezra is about a displaced people returning to their original land and the importance of being faithful to the Lord and setting themselves back up in the correct way so they don’t go astray again. Since I’m writing this on January 2nd, after many people have made new year’s resolutions for themselves, I see a parallel between Ezra and New Year’s in re-establishment and re-dedication in the Lord. If you happen to be a nonbeliever browsing this site, perhaps make a resolution to seriously check out the claims of Christianity, as well as those of whatever belief you currently hold, be it another religion or no religion at all (in which case you should still have beliefs about the nature of the universe). If you are a believer, use the opportunity to double down on your faith. Can you provide an answer to why you believe what you do that’s not ‘I was born into it’? Are you advancing your personal relationship with God and using your gifts for His will? Think and pray about that, and make your faith goals accordingly.
Ezra’s commands that Israel must get rid of their foreign wives should be read with a few bits of context. It is true that the Mosaic law required Israel to not marry outside their own people (as the Israelites were to be a race set apart). If the Israelites took on the ways of foreigners including their gods, Israel could backslide yet again, so Ezra’s concern was warranted. Yet, God did not command Ezra to do this, nor can we apply this today based on race. The new covenant broke the bounds of Israel alone, so that today’s church encompasses believers from every nation and race. Neither is this intended to be a validation of divorce. 1 Corinthians 7 explains that Christians should not separate from unbelieving spouses.
As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.
The Bible Project video on Ezra (also covers Nehemiah)
Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0