Thursday, May 19

Book Overview: Ezra

The Book of Ezra, written after the Babylonian exile of the Jews, conveys the account of the Jewish return to Jerusalem and subsequent attempts at rebuilding the great city. The book itself is ten chapters long. The first half concerns the return of the exiles under Zerubbabel, and the latter half deals with the return of exiles under Ezra, the high priest. Ezra details the rebuilding of the Temple, as well as the revealing of the Law to the people, and the subsequent conviction and confession. (Photo credit: Marriage Papyrus - Diggings Online, Second Temple - Levitt)

This is the fifteenth Book Overview in a series of 66 Books. These overviews are written so that it may provide readers with details about the book, things that they may have missed, and will hopefully peak your interest so that you will read the book, the entire Bible in fact, as God wants us to do. If we do not stand on Biblical truth, our starting point for all areas of life. Now, onto the Book of Ezra.
Title: Book of Ezra (English). Ezra and Nehemiah were once one book, at an early stage. Since the time of Origen in the third century-BC, they were divided into two books, as we see them today. Also, the Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah theory states that Chronicles contains material that was set aside from the rest of the book of Ezra, which was canonized before Chronicles. Though heavily debated, some scholars believe that Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1st/2nd Chronicles were originally part of one work. It ought to be noted, however, that this view is not held by all, and many scholars believe this is highly improbable.
Marriage Papyrus
Authorship/Written: Ezra wrote the book of Ezra between 433-400 BC. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were both one book in the original Hebrew Bible, and as such, are really Ezra-Nehemiah. The evidence seems to indicate that Ezra the priest was the author of this book, and there is no reason to suggest otherwise. Much of Ezra (specifically Ezra 7:28-9:15) is written in first person (the "I" point of view). Also, when considering Nehemiah 1:1-7:5, we find itself quoting "the words of Nehemiah," no doubt compiled by the priest, Ezra, from the firsthand account of Nehemiah, as Ezra had access to records and documents in the library of Nehemiah, from which he could glean information and events which he was not there to witness. Ezra 1:1 connects itself with the final verse in 2nd Chronicles, which, as we illustrated in the previous book overview, was also written by Ezra. The vividness and continuity of both Ezra and Nehemiah tend to indicate the writer was Ezra. Lastly, the Jewish Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 15) credits Ezra as the author of this book. Ezra was likely the author of this book, though as with most Biblical accounts, scholars disagree on exactly who wrote it.


The book itself is post-exilic, indicating that it was written after the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, as this is the book's focus. Ezra arrived in Jerusalem after 458 BC, in the "seventh year of the king" (Ezra 7:8), and Nehemiah in 445 BC, which was the "twentieth year" (Nehemiah 1:1). Nehemiah returned to Babylon in the "thirty-second year" (Nehemiah 13:5), which is around 433 BC, providing that this book was likely written after 433 BC. Ezra and Nehemiah were written during the reigns of Artaxerxes I (Longimanus), who lived 464-423 BC, and Darius II (the Persian). He is not to be confused with Darius the Mede (Daniel 6) or Darius I (Hytaspes), who loved from 521-486 BC. The Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years, just as Jeremiah had predicted.


There is an objection raised typically regarding Nehemiah 12:11's mention of Jaddua, who Josephus (first century historian) mentions was priest during the time of Alexander the Great, ca. 330 BC. As author Norman L. Geisler points out, "There are two possible solutions: 1) Jaddua's name in Nehemiah 12:1 may be a later addition included in order to complete the genealogical listing. 2) If Jaddua was very young, say twenty, in 400 BC, then he would have been ninety in 330 BC. This is not an impossible age span. Note also that the 'Darius' mentioned in Nehemiah 12:22 was not the Darius of Alexander's day (c.330 BC), but Darius II (432-404 BC). Likewise, the phrase 'the days of Nehemiah' (Nehemiah 12:26) is not a reference to a long past event but an allusion by Ezra to the chief contemporaries of his day (the references to Joiakim, Ezra, and Zerubbabel in Neh. 12:26 are of the same manner). We conclude, therefore, that there is no substantial reason to doubt the evidence that Ezra wrote the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah before 400 BC." (Geisler, 160-161)

Summary: "Ezra tells of how God kept His promise to restore the Jews to their homeland. It records how the prophet Ezra led the first wave of Jews back to Israel and initiated the process of rebuilding their nation." (Source: NIV)

Overview 
Ezra 1-2 - The first exiles return to Jerusalem
Ezra 3-6 - The rebuilding of the Temple
Ezra 7-10 - The return of Ezra

Breakdown:
Ezra 1 - King Cyrus orders the exiles to return home after 70 years in captivity
Ezra 2 - A list of the exiles who returned
Ezra 3 - The temple's foundation is laid
Ezra 4 - Opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Work comes to a halt
Ezra 5-6 - Tattenai's letter to Darius, decree of Darius, completion and dedication of the Temple, Passover
Ezra 7 - More exiles return along with Ezra the priest
Ezra 8 - List of the heads of family returning with Ezra, the Return to Jerusalem
Ezra 9-10 - The mixed marriages among Israelites, Confession of sin


The message of Ezra is essentially the place and power of the Word of God among the religious, social, and civil life of His people. Ezra can be broken up into seven sections:
1) The Return of Israel
2) The Re-Erection of the Altar
3) The Rebuilding of the Temple
4) The Restoration of Temple Rituals
5) The Student of the Word of God
6) The Great Trembling
7) Repentance and Reform

Ezra 1-6 deals with the return under Zerubbabel, with about 50,000 people, and Ezra 7-10 deals with the return under Ezra, along with about 2,000 people. From the end of chapter six until the start of chapter seven there is a blank spanning about sixty years. Zerubbabel was heavily influenced by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and thus resumed the building of the Temple with the permission of king Darius. The temple was complete in 515 BC, under Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel and the high priest Jeshua are both mentioned in Haggai and Zechariah, in both of which Jeshua is called Joshua. When Ezra came to Jerusalem, as mentioned, it was about sixty years later.
Points: Ezra was actually a descendant of Hilkiah, who was the high priest during the reign of King Josiah. Hilkiah was the one who found a copy of God's Law (see 2nd Chronicles 34:12). Ezra himself was not able to exercise his priestly duties during the captivity in Babylon, but instead gave himself to the study of the Word of God. Ezra read and expounded upon the Word of God to the Israelites after he had returned. The law was utilized by Ezra as a platform to discipline the Israelites and at the same time, provide them with something tangible to cling to in times of trial and tribulation.


Though the book of Ezra is not quoted in the New Testament, it is still considered canonical, as it pasts all Scriptural tests.


Geisler points out, "One of the main teachings of these books is the faithfulness of God to His covenatal promises to Judah. God had promised them a land and religious center in Jerusalem as well as a return after seventy years of captivity (Jer. 25), and He kept His promises. Further, as in Chronicles, Ezra the priest reflects here the centrality of the Temple worship to the whole life of the Jewish nation. Another obvious lesson in these books is the power of prayer (Ezra 9; Neh. 9) and of the Word of God (Neh. 8)" (Geisler, 161).


A simple reading of the book of Malachi reveals that there was much social and moral abuse abounding in this period. Stealing, divorce, foreign marriages, violence, and cheating occurred frequently. However, when Ezra exposed the people to the Law by the Word of God, the people were convicted, and subsequently confessed and repented. This led to a revival in the Jewish nation, and served as a platform for social and spiritual change.


Model of the Second Temple
The Jews were under five Persian rulers between the decree of Cyrus and the time of the restoration of the Temple: Cyrus (559-530 BC), who decreed that the Jews return to Jerusalem, and lived at the end of Daniel's life. Next came Cambyses (530-522), but is not mentioned in either Ezra or Nehemiah. Darius I (522-486 BC) followed, reigning while the temple was rebuilt. Haggai and Zechariah were prophesying during his reign. Xerxes I (Ahasuerus, 486-465 BC) was the next king of Persia. He was the king who made Esther his wife and Mordecai his gran vizier. He was succeeded by Artaxerxes I (465-423 BC), who sponsored the return of Ezra and Nehemiah to Jerusalem. During his reign, Jerusalem's walls were rebuilt, reforms were made, and Malachi was prophesying during his reign.


Clifford Wilson illustrates how archaeology supports Ezra (and Nehemiah), "1. Elephantine papyri, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Targums of Job, etc., show that Aramaic was then in use, as Ezra indicates. 2. Sanballat was, as the Governor of Samaria (Nehemiah 4 and 6), though it was claimed by many writers that Sanballat was much later than Nehemiah. Several Sanballats are now known, and recovered letters even refer to Johanan (Nehemiah 12:13). Geshem the Arab (Nehemiah 6) is also known. Despite longstanding criticisms, Ezra and Nehemiah are accurate records of an actual historical situation. 3. The letters about Sanballat clear up a dating point regarding Nehemiah. Nehemiah's time was with Artaxerxes who ruled from 465 to 423 BC, not Artaxerxes II. This illustrates the preciseness with which the Old Testament dating is very often established by modern research."


Archaeology-wise, there are also several other evidences that support Ezra. For example, the decree of Cyrus found at both the end of 2nd Chronicles and beginning of Ezra can be verified through an object called the Cyrus Cylinder. In fact, the tomb of Cyrus the Great has also been found. He was buried in a gabled stone tomb outside of the captial, Pasargadae, in what is now modern Iran. According to the historian Strabo, this inscription once graced the structure, "Oh man, I am Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, who founded the empire of Persia, and was king of Asia. Grudge me not therefore this monument" (Geography xv.3.7). The likeness of King Xerxes I of Persia has also been found, further lending credence to the Biblical account. Excavations at the southeast corner of the Temple have also shown stonework which allegedly dates to the time of Zerubbabel, who led the first group of exiles.


Ezra details the rebuilding of the Temple, yet there was still much work to accomplish within Jerusalem itself. Without the rebuilding of walls, Jerusalem would be wide open to enemy attacks and invasion. It was Nehemiah's job to step up and see this task carried out...


Next Book Overview: Book of Nehemiah
Previous Book Overview: Book of 2nd Chronicles

Sources:
Geisler, Norman L. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1978. 159-163. Print. 

Various. Zondervan Handbook To The Bible. Zondervan, 1999. 3rd ed. 329-333. Print.

Kohlenberger III, John R. "Read Through The Bible In a Year." Moody Publishers, 1986. 45-46. Print.

Wilson, Clifford and Ham, Ken. The New Answers Book 1. 12 ed. Master Books Books, 2006. 316. Print.

Lee, Robert. "The Outlined Bible." London Pickering & Inglis LTD. 1st ed. 15. Print.

Metzger, Bruce M., and Michael D. Coogan. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. 1st ed. New York City, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 219-221. Print.

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