An Old Testament priest and scribe who brought some of the Jews back to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity (Ezra 7–10; Neh. 8; 12). In 458 B.C. he obtained permission from Artaxerxes, king of Persia, to take to Jerusalem any Jewish exiles who cared to go (Ezra 7:12–26).
Before Ezra’s time, the priests had almost total control over reading the collection of written scriptures called the “law.” Ezra helped make the scriptures available to every Jew. The open reading of “the book of the law” eventually became the center of Jewish national life. Perhaps Ezra’s greatest teaching came from his own example of preparing his heart to seek the Lord’s law, to obey it, and to teach it to others (Ezra 7:10).
Chapters 1–6 describe events that happened from sixty to eighty years before Ezra arrived in Jerusalem—the decree of Cyrus in 537 B.C. and the return of the Jews under Zerubbabel. Chapters 7–10 show how Ezra went to Jerusalem. He, with his company, fasted and prayed for protection. At Jerusalem they found many Jewish people who had gone to Jerusalem earlier under Zerubbabel and had married women out of the covenant and thus defiled themselves. Ezra prayed for them and placed them under covenant to divorce those wives. The later history of Ezra is found in the book of Nehemiah.