“Introduction to Ezra,” Old Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2014)
“Ezra,” Old Testament Study Guide
The book of Ezra provides an account of the return of two groups of Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem, where they rebuilt the temple and their community. As you study the book of Ezra, you can learn about how the Lord enables His people to overcome opposition and accomplish His will. You can also learn about the importance of not repeating the sins of previous generations.
Although the book of Ezra contains some material that is written as a first-person memoir (see Ezra 7–9), we do not know who ultimately combined this material with the rest of the narrative. Many scholars believe that the person who compiled the book of Ezra also compiled or wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah.
We do not know when or where the book of Ezra was written. Estimates regarding when the book of Ezra was written generally range from 440 B.C. to 300 B.C. Although most of the book was written in Hebrew, portions of it (Ezra 4:8–6:18; 7:12–26) were written in Aramaic, the language of the Persian Empire. The inclusion of Aramaic may indicate that parts of the book of Ezra were written during or after the period when the Persian Empire ruled Israel (approximately 530–334 B.C.).
One of the most notable events described in the book of Ezra is the completion of the temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed many years earlier by the Babylonians. Ezra 1–6 contains an account of the return of the first group of Jews to Jerusalem in approximately 537 B.C. and their efforts to rebuild the temple. Ezra 7–10 contains an account of Ezra’s return to Jerusalem in approximately 458 B.C. and his efforts to help the Jews living there keep the Lord’s commandment to not marry outside of the covenant.
Ezra 1. In fulfillment of prophecy, King Cyrus of Persia allows the Jews living in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. The first group of Jews returns under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (he also may have been known as Zerubbabel; see Bible Dictionary, “Zerubbabel”).
Ezra 2–4. Returning exiles are listed. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the Jewish leader of the region, and Jeshua, the high priest, the Jews first rebuild the altar at the temple. They begin rebuilding the temple, but they are forced to stop because of the Samaritans’ complaints about them to the king of Persia.
Ezra 5–6. After many years of not working on the temple, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah lead the effort to resume rebuilding the temple. Darius, the king of Persia at the time, reconfirms the Jews’ commission from King Cyrus to rebuild the temple. The temple is completed and dedicated.
Ezra 7–10. Ezra is commissioned by King Artaxerxes to lead another group of Jews to Jerusalem. He discovers that many Jews, including leaders, have disobeyed the Lord by intermarrying with non-Israelites who practice idolatry. Those who are guilty confess their sin and separate from their foreign wives.