Welcome to the book of Ezra!
This book is named for the principle character, Ezra, but it does not state its author. Whoever it was may also helped compile the book of Nehemiah and perhaps 1 and 2 Chronicles. Originally the book of Ezra was one book with Nehemiah. The book’s theme: the restoration of Israel after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. This is accomplished through the help of three Persian kings (Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes I).
The traditional view is that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the 7th year of the reign of Artaxerxes I (458 BC) and Nehemiah in the 20th year of the reign (445 BC). God is shown using Jewish leaders and Persian kings to bless and discipline His people. Ezra is often seen as the “father of Judaism” because he promotes a way of life renewed by and centered on unswerving allegiance to the Torah. You may notice that beginning with this book, the nation of Israel becomes more like a church or religious group rather than a nation. Remember they no longer have political independence but will cling to Old Testament Scriptures and temple worship.
As to how to read and study this book? Several highly emotional events are described. Yet it reads like a historical report, citing official documents, letters and list written over an 80-year span. A dry and confusing read at times. Take the time to imagine how the scenes must have looked and to reflect on how the people must have felt.
Scripture Text:(click to open in a new window or tab)
1. What historical events here most scattered or restored your family? War? Civil Rights Act? Amnesty? Economic opportunity? Emigration? Persecution? Baby Boom?
2. In reference to Question #1, where do you fit in this?
3. How does Cyrus’ decree strike you?
- Deja vu (see 2 Chronicles 36:22, 23)?
- Legally binding?
- Predictable (see Jeremiah 25:11, 12; Jeremiah 29:10)?
- In what sense is Jeremiah’s prophecy fulfilled by King Cyrus? By “the people any place” (verse 4)? By their neighbors? By God? Who moves whom to do what?
5. Compare this decree (chapter 1:2 – 4) with its “memo” version (chapter 6:3 – 5). What do you make of the variation?
6. What do you make of the missing or uncounted articles in verses 7 – 11a (see 2 Kings 25:13 – 15)?
7. What factors from Cyrus’ story have also shaped who you are?
- building projects?
- mercy toward others?
- service offerings?
- family ties?
- God moves hearts of kings and families alike to do His will. How has God “moved your heart” (verses 1, 5)?
9. If you must wait, as Israel did, for God to restore your place in His service, are you content to do so? Or pushing for change? How so?