“A Restoration Movement”
HOST: Michael Whitworth
In ancient times, Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book. They were not divided until the Middle Age, but since they each have their own main character, we will treat them separately. Along with Nehemiah, the book of Ezra deals with the final events of the OT story from the decree of Cyrus allowing all of the Jews to return to Jerusalem (c. 536 BC) to the rebuilding efforts of Nehemiah about a century later. The story of Ezra particularly deals with the initial return of the exiles, their struggles in rebuilding the Temple, the arrival of Ezra to establish a strong and vibrant religious community, and the reforms that Ezra brought to Israel. The book addresses how God’s people can rise above obstacles and the discouragement of others to accomplish God’s will.
Jewish tradition held that Ezra was the author of the book that bears his name, especially given that he speaks in the first person in chapters 8-10. But recent scholarship has moved towards a view that an editor compiled the memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah into one book. This editor, according to the theory, might have also been the author of Chronicles. The first six chapters serve as prologue to Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem. We are thus left to speculate that Ezra contributed to the book that bears his name, but may not have been the sole author. The finished product was likely the work of an inspired editor.
Date & Audience
Ezra’s mission to Jerusalem has been dated c. 458 BC, so anytime towards the end of the fifth century BC is a likely date of composition for this book. Some arguments exist that the book did not achieve its present form until a century later (c. 300 BC), but this seems a bit late for it to have been included in the OT canon (the LXX, including Ezra-Nehemiah was translated in the third century).
Chronicles & the NT
It is difficult to read the initial chapters of Ezra and not think of that great moment in the future when all of God’s people exiled to this earth will be able to return home to his glorious presence. The story of Ezra, and its emphasis on the rebuilding of the Temple, also looks forward to the day when God would no longer dwell in temples made by our hands (Acts 17:24), but would dwell instead in our hearts through his Spirit (Rom. 5:5; 8:9, 11).
Keys to Reading
- Pay attention to key themes: the sovereignty of God (he orchestrates no miracles, but imperial decrees are attributed to his hand), the remnant of his people (their purity and continuity with historical Israel), and the ascendancy of prayer in spiritual living
- Be aware that the book begins c. 536 BC with the Jews’ return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple, but then skips ahead in chapter 7 to the story of Ezra 80 years later. He came to Jerusalem along with others in an effort to rebuild the religious community.
- The author of Ezra is very much concerned with fostering and maintaining purity in Israel’s faith in God. The people of Israel in Ezra’s time were beset with spiritual struggles such as inter-marriage (Ezra 9-10). These relationships were seen as toxic to Israel’s spiritual future because this was believed to have contributed to Israel being led into exile in the first place.
- Israel’s struggle to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem is one event that dominates most of the book. This is also the thrust of two prophetic books: Haggai and Zechariah. As is true for all of the prophet books, the writings of these two men give a different (but important) perspective to what was going on, particularly from God’s vantage point.
- God is faithful AND sovereign.
- Strong leadership is crucial.
- Internal threats are always more serious than external ones.
- Restoration is a means to an end, not the end itself.
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