Key Word: The Word of the Lord; Key Verse: (7:10).
The Books of Chronicles, Ezra, Esther and Nehemiah, are ecclesiastical history. Until the third century A.D. the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were treated as one book according to the Church Fathers.
Jewish and Christian teaching, as well as the voice of tradition assign Ezra as the author, however, he is spoken of in the third person in various parts of the record. It is a compilation of letters, decrees, genealogy, excerpts and prayers engaged almost exclusively with the institutional religion of Judah. The decrees of Ezra have to do with the Temple, thus moral history. The decrees of Nehemiah have to do with the city of Jerusalem, thus civic history.
The Setting of the Book is most important. Cyrus, became King of Babylon in 536 B.C., and died in 528 B.C. Darius became King in 521 B.C., and reigned 36 years and died in 485 B.C. Artaxerxes (called Longimanus) because one hand was longer than the other, began to reign in 465 B.C. and died in December 425 B.C. or in January 424 B.C.
The Clock of God’s providence may seem at times slow, but it always strikes at the proper minute. Nebuchadnezzar had reigned 45 years, his son Evilmerodach, 23 years and his grandson Belshazzar three years which add up to 70 years. The accession of Cyrus to the throne was in fulfillment of prophecy (Isa. 44:28) — mentioned 150 years before.
The Seventy Years’ Captivity foretold by Jeremiah — (Jer. 25:11; 25:12, 29:10) had run its course. Now the One of whom Isaiah spoke as God’s Shepherd and God’s Anointed (Isa. 44:28; 45:1) was to perform God’s pleasure. History is the outworking of God’s purposes, over-ruling the action of kings to His Glory. History is the Burning Bush aflame with the Mysterious Presence.
Cyrus in the first year of his reign is stirred up by God to rebuild His House of Jerusalem. Note the first two verses are the same as the last two verses of Chronicles. Cyrus offered the Jews their liberty, and many under the leadership of Zerubbabel availed themselves of the privilege, their record being in Ezra 2. About 50,000 of the most earnest and devout exiles responded to the call to build up their city and re-establish its institutions.
The first thing this noble army of individuals did was to build the Altar (ch. 2), for the atonement of Christ was the foundation of worship as evidenced in the Restoration of the Temple. The work was hindered, but God raised up two men to act as bulwarks for the people, Haggai and Zechariah. Their combined ministries and practical help were inspirational. Twenty years after the return from Babylon the Temple was completed (6:14) 516 B.C.
Between chapters 6, 7, there is a period of about 58 years, 516 B.C. 458 B.C., to which belong the story of Esther. During this period the great battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis; also the deaths of Confucius of China, and Buddha of India took place.
The Second Division of the Book (ch. 7-10) had to do with the personal history of Ezra and his trip to Jerusalem with the edict of Xerxes in 458 B.C., and is noted for reform rather than rebuilding. This was in the seventh year of the reign of Xerxes (Ezra 7:7,8), that is 78 years after the decree of Cyrus set forth in Ezra 1-6. Daniel was still alive in the third year of Cyrus (Dan. 10:1) but the matter of old age prevented him from making the trip from Babylon to Jerusalem.
The life of Ezra dominates the latter portion of the Book and his life and character is a great incentive to faith and work.
(1) His Priestly Origin (Ezra 7:1-5). He was the descendant of Hilkiah, High Priest in the reign of Josiah who found the copy of the law. 2 Chron. xxxiv. 14).
(2) His Preparation: As a captive he was not able to exercise priestly rites, so he gave himself to the Word. He was a student of Scripture, a lover of God’s Book and gave himself to search it, practise it, and proclaim it (7:10). How he sought the law —even to this day ranked next to Moses in Jewish traditions (Prov. 16:1 RV.).
(3) His Prominence: The Hand of God was upon him — (v.6), and the King supplied with every need even to 22,000. Think of this life soaffecting the king (7:6, 21, 22) (Phil. 4:19).
(4) His Prosperity: God greatly honoured this man of God in teaching (7:25) and in protection (8:21,22). How suggestive this last insight of Ezra, to preach faith in God, and then cater to the ungodly is to make the name of Christ stink in the nostrils of a reasonable man. All through His life He sought to honour the Word. Through him and his reform wonders were wrought in the land in religious, social and civil life. He paved the way for the revival of Bible Study and its fruit is with us to this day though 2,500 years have passed on. Ezra is believed to have written (Ps. 119), also 1 and 2 Chronicles. (1) He treasured God’s Word. (2) He trembled at God’s Word. (3) He taught God’s Word. (i.1; iii.2; vi.14, 18; vii. 6, 10, 14; ix. 7, x. 3:5). (4) Testimony of God’s Word:
Separation from Babylon (1:1)
Separation from Worldly Help (iv.)
Separation from Flesh (viii.)
Separation from Sinful alliances (x.10-11).
The Return From Captivity Under Zerubbabel. (I-IV).
(1) Restoration of the Jews (i).
(2) Registration of the Jews (ii).
(3) Reconstruction of the Temple
(4) Interruption of the Work (iv).
(5) Investigation of the Work (v).
(6) Dedication of the Temple (vi).
Time: 20 years
The Return From Captivity Under Ezra. (VII-X).
(1) The Decree of Artaxerxes (vii).
(2) The Deliverance of the Jews (viii).
(3) The Devotion of Ezra (ix).
(4) The Dedication of the People (x).
Time: 1 year