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Introduction to the Book of Ezra

Table of Contents

General Info

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Brief Survey

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Key Verses

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.  Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them…  (1:1-3)

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel.  With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”  And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  (3:10-11)

So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo.  They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia.  The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.  Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy.  (6:14-16)

Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king.  He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him.  For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.  (7:8-10)

Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage.  He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia:  He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.  (9:9)

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Author and Date

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Historical Background

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For more Information:

See OT History Books for the position of the Exile and return to the land within the context of the OT historical periods.

See OT Historicity for Historicity of the OT History books.

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Timeline

See OT History and Monarchy Chronology for timeline of additional historical events.

The original Book of Ezra-Nehemiah spans a period of over 100 years from Cyrus’s capture of Babylon (539 BC) through Nehemiah’s reforms just prior to returning to Babylon (432 BC).  Most dates in this list can be accurately fixed within a year or so.

586 BC Fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, Exile of much of the Jewish Population
539 BC Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great) Captures Babylon and Establishes Persian Empire
538 BC First Return of Exiled Jews to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel
~ 516 BC Rebuilding of the Temple Completed
~ 478 BC Esther and Mordecai Foil a Plot to Exterminate Jews in Persia
458 BC Ezra and other Exiles Return to Jerusalem
445 BC Nehemiah Returns to Jerusalem, Begins Rebuilding the Walls
432 BC Nehemiah Recalled to Babylon
~400 BC Writing of the Last Books of OT - Possibly assembled by Ezra

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Themes, Purpose and Theology

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Interpretation Hints and Challenges

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Outline

The Book of Ezra can be divided into two sections.  The first six chapters record the return of the first exiles to the Land, and the rebuilding of the Temple.  Chapters 7-10 gives an account of Ezra leading the return of the second wave and, after arriving in Jerusalem, he instituted a series of religious reforms.

1:1 - 1:11 Cyrus’ Proclamation; First Return to Jerusalem of the Exiles
2:1 - 2:70 List of the First Exiles who Returned
3:1 - 3:13 Rebuilding of the Temple Begins
4:1 - 4:24 Opposition to the Rebuilding
5:1 - 6:22 Completion and Dedication of the Temple; Celebration of Passover
7:1 - 8:30 Return of Ezra and the Second Exiles to Jerusalem
9:1 - 10:44 Ezra’s Reforms

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