Book of Ezra

Introduction to the Book of Ezra

Book of Ezra
Ezra praying, by Gustave Doré. Culture Club / Contributor / Getty Images

Book of Ezra:

The book of Ezra recounts Israel's final years of exile in Babylon, including accounts of two returning groups as they are restored to their homeland after 70 years in captivity. Israel's struggles to resist foreign influences and to rebuild the temple are spotlighted in the book.

The book of Ezra is part of the Historical Books of the Bible. It is closely linked to 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah. In fact, Ezra and Nehemiah were originally regarded as one book by ancient Jewish and early Christian scribes. 

The first group of returning Jews was led by Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel under the decree of Cyrus, king of Persia, to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Some scholars believe Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel were one in the same, but it's more likely that Zerubbabel was the active leader, while Sheshbazzar was more of a figurehead.

This initial group numbered about 50,000. As they set to rebuilding the temple, severe opposition arose. Eventually the building was complete, but only after a 20-year struggle, with the work coming to halt for several years.

The second group of returning Jews was sent by Artaxerxes I under Ezra’s leadership some 60 years later. When Ezra arrived back in Jerusalem with another 2,000 men and their families, he discovered that God's people had compromised their faith by intermarrying with pagan neighbors. This practice was forbidden because it tainted the pure, covenant relationship they shared with God and it placed the future of the nation in danger.  

Deeply burdened and humbled, Ezra fell to his knees weeping and praying for the people (Ezra 9:3–15). His prayer moved the Israelites to tears and they confessed their sins to God. Then Ezra guided the people in renewing their covenant with God and separating from pagans. 

Author of the Book of Ezra:

Hebrew tradition credits Ezra as author of the book. Relatively unknown, Ezra was a priest in the line of Aaron, a skilled scribe and a great leader worthy to stand among the Bible's heroes.

Date Written:

Although the actual date is debated and difficult to pinpoint since the events in the book span about a century (538-450 BC), most scholars suggest Ezra was written around BC 450-400.

Written To:

The Israelites in Jerusalem after returning from exile and to all future readers of Scripture.

Landscape of the Book of Ezra:

Ezra is set in Babylon and Jerusalem.

Themes in the Book of Ezra:

God's Word and Worship - Ezra was devoted to God's Word. As a scribe, he gained knowledge and wisdom through intense study of the Scriptures. Obeying God's commands became the guiding force of Ezra's life and he set the pattern for the rest of God's people through his spiritual zeal and dedication to prayer and fasting.

Opposition and Faith - The returning exiles were discouraged when they faced opposition to the building project. They feared attacks from surrounding enemies who wanted to prevent Israel from growing strong again. Eventually discouragement got the best of them, and the work was abandoned for a time.

Through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, God encouraged the people with his Word. Their faith and enthusiasm were reestablished and the work of the temple resumed. It was subsequently completed in just four years.

We can expect opposition from unbelievers and spiritual forces when we do the Lord's work. If we prepare ahead of time, we are better equipped to face opposition. By faith we won't let road blocks stop our progress.

The book of Ezra offers a great reminder that discouragement and fear are two of the biggest obstacles to fulfilling God's plan for our lives.

Restoration and Rededication - When Ezra saw the disobedience of God's people it moved him deeply. God used Ezra as an example to restore the people back to God, physically by returning them to their homeland, and spiritually through repentance from sin.

Even today God is in the business of restoring lives long held captive by sin. God desires his followers to live pure and holy lives, set apart from the sinful world. His mercy and compassion extend to all who repent and return to him.

God's Sovereignty - God moved on the hearts of foreign kings to bring about Israel's restoration and fulfill his plans. Ezra beautifully illustrates how God is sovereign over this world and its leaders. He will accomplish his purposes in the lives of his people.

Key Characters in the Book of Ezra:

King Cyrus, Zerubbabel, Haggai, Zechariah, Darius, Artaxerxes I and Ezra.

Key Verses:

Ezra 6:16
And the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. (ESV)

Ezra 10:1-3
While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah ... addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. ‎Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law." (ESV)

Outline of the Book of Ezra:

  • Cyrus permits the first group of exiles led by Zerubbabel to return to their land and rebuild the temple - Ezra 1-2.
  • Rebuilding the temple - Ezra 3.
  • Opposition to the rebuilding - Ezra 4.
  • Renewal of the temple - Ezra 5-6.
  • The return of exiles led by Ezra - Ezra 7-8.
  • Ezra and the people deal with the problem of mixed marriages - Ezra 9-10.
  • Old Testament Books of the Bible (Index)
  • New Testament Books of the Bible (Index)
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Your Citation
Fairchild, Mary. "Book of Ezra." Learn Religions, Sep. 16, 2021, Fairchild, Mary. (2021, September 16). Book of Ezra. Retrieved from Fairchild, Mary. "Book of Ezra." Learn Religions. (accessed June 5, 2023).