Jeffrey Kranz: After 70 years in exile, the people of Israel were coming back home. The new Persian emperor Cyrus had decreed that they return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of their God—which had lain in ruins the whole time (Ezr 1:1–4).
Zerubbabel and Jeshua, descendants of King David and Aaron the priest, answer the call to rebuild the house of God.
But the temple wasn’t the only thing that needed attention. Many of the returning Hebrews had forgotten God’s laws—and were disregarding them in front of the people. They needed to remember the covenant they’d made with God. They needed to remember why they were in their situation: why they had to go to Babylon (which you can read about in Kings and Chronicles), and why they’d been allowed to come back. The temple needed a new foundation, but the people needed to return to the foundations of their faith, too.
Ezra, the scribe, answers the call to teach Israel the ways of God again (Ezr 7:10).
The book of Ezra chronicles both stories: rebuilding the temple and remembering the law. This account weaves together several categories of written works.
Historical narrative—events surrounding Israel’s return, temple reconstruction, and revival
Official documents—letters and decrees sent to and from the Persian emperors during this time period
Jewish records—names of individuals and families who returned to Israel
Ezra’s autobiographical texts—prayers, reflections, and actions from Ezra’s point of view
These pieces come together to tell us how God began restoring Israel.
REBUILDING WORSHIP FOUNDATIONS REQUIRES A HEART REFORMATION INFORMED BY THE WORD OF GOD
Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statues and ordinances in Israel.”
Ezra 9:9 “For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia,
to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.”
I. (1:1 – 6:22) EXILES RETURN TO JERUSALEM TO REBUILD THE TEMPLE –
RESTORATION UNDER ZERUBBABEL
A. (1:1 – 2:70) THE RETURN
1. (1:1-11) Permission to Return Granted by King Cyrus –
Restoration of the Temple Initiated by the Sovereign Intervention of the Decree of Cyrus to Fulfil Covenantal Promises
2. (2:1-70) Roster of Returnees
B. (3:1 – 6:22) THE RESTORATION
1. (3:1-13) Restoration of Worship and Laying the Temple Foundation –
Revival Starts with Re-Establishing Obedience to God in Worship
2. (4:1-23) Opposition to God’s Work –
God’s Enemies Use Familiar Tactics to Oppose God’s Work and Achieve Temporary Victories
3. (4:24 – 6:22) Rebuilding of the Temple
II. (7:1 – 10:44) EZRA (WITH SECOND WAVE OF EXILES) RETURNS TO JERUSALEM TO REVIVE THE NATION BY TEACHING GOD’S LAW –
REFORMS UNDER EZRA
A. (7:1 – 8:36) THE RETURN
1. (7:1-28) Emphasis on God’s Hand of Blessing on the Leader —
The Key to Success in Serving God is Always God’s Hand of Blessing
2. (8:1-36) Emphasis on Shepherding the Workers and the Resources —
Successful Pioneering Mission Couples Effective Leadership with Dependence upon the Blessing of God –
6 Steps in Launching a Successful Rebuilding Mission for God
B. (9:1 – 10:44) THE REFORMS — HEARTBROKEN REPENTANCE MUST LEAD TO ACTIVE REPENTANCE
1. (9:1-15) Heartbroken Repentance Should Result from Exposure of Flagrant Sin
2. (10:1-44) Active Repentance Expresses Sorrow to God While Committing to Corrective Action
WHY STUDY THIS BOOK?
To see the faithfulness of God in not abandoning His elect nation, despite their disobedience resulting in discipline in captivity.
To view redemption in a fuller perspective as we read this account of a “second Exodus” where God brings His people out of captivity.
To deepen our conviction regarding the sovereignty of God who is able to move the hearts of pagan kings to provide support and resources for this rebuilding effort in Jerusalem.
To gain insight into effective spiritual leadership and the steps one must take to accomplish a successful pioneering work for God.
To learn how to combat opposition and discouragement in ministry and to continue to get up after setbacks and remain on course to fulfil God’s mission.
To see the importance of learning, applying and teaching the Word of God in laying the foundation for moral and spiritual reforms that will support genuine worship of God.
To appreciate how God answers the prayers of His people — providing necessary leaders, providing safety and protection during the dangerous journey to Jerusalem, and fulfilling all of His covenant promises.
To point us to the New Covenant and the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for sin which alone can give us the new heart we need to worship and obey God.
Chuck Swindoll: The book of Ezra provides a much-needed link in the historical record of the Israelite people. When their king was dethroned and captured and the people exiled to Babylon, Judah as an independent nation ceased to exist. The book of Ezra provides an account of the Jews’ regathering, of their struggle to survive and to rebuild what had been destroyed. Through his narrative, Ezra declared that they were still God’s people and that God had not forgotten them.
In the book of Ezra we witness the rebuilding of the new temple, the unification of the returning tribes as they shared common struggles and were challenged to work together. Later, after the original remnant had stopped work on the city walls and spiritual apathy ruled, Ezra arrived with another two thousand people and sparked a spiritual revival. By the end of the book, Israel had renewed its covenant with God and had begun acting in obedience to Him.
Thomas Constable: The purpose of Ezra was to give a historical account of the restoration of Israel to its land from the priestly (religious) point of view. Ezra was a priest as well as a scribe. He emphasized the re-establishment of the people in the land under the Mosaic Law. Return to the Mosaic Law, as well as to the Promised Land, is a major theme throughout this book. Overall, the main theme is the religious restoration of Israel.
This book is also a powerful revelation of how God deals with His chosen ones when they prove unfaithful to Him. He does not discard what He has chosen, but He fashions it anew when it fails.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown: The revival of the Jewish remnant in the book of Ezra bears seven characteristics:
• Consciousness of their own weakness (chapters 2 and 9)
• Obedience to the Word of God (chapter 7)
• Return to the God-given centre (chapter 3)
• Separation from the world (chapter 4)
• Spirit of commitment and sacrifice (chapter 2:68-69)
• Consciousness of unity of the people (chap. 3:1; 6:17; 8:35)
• Prophetic service and anticipation of the Messiah (chap. 5:1; 6:14)
Thomas Constable: Rhetorical studies of Ezra-Nehemiah have revealed a chiastic structure that supports the view
that these two books [Ezra and Nehemiah] were originally one.
A. Zerubbabel’s return and list of returnees (Ezra 1—2)
B. Building of the temple and opposition (Ezra 3—6)
C. Return of Ezra (Ezra 7—8)
D. Center: Purification of the people (Ezra 9—10)
C.’ Return of Nehemiah (Neh. 1—2)
B.’ Building of the walls and opposition (Neh. 3:1—7:3)
A.’ Zerubbabel’s return and list of returnees; final reforms (Neh. 7:4—13:31)
J. Sidlow Baxter: There is a noticeable parallelism between the two main parts of this Book of Ezra. In preference to an ordinary paragraph-by-paragraph analysis, we ought to get into our minds a picture of this book in this parallel form.