Nov 26 2017: Introducing Ezra

2017 Bible Reading Plan (click to download)

Introducing Ezra* 

1. Few books are better suited for calling us to the renewal of the church than the book of Ezra. Originally, in the Hebrew canon, Ezra was combined with Nehemiah as one book. They were divided in the Christian Bible around the end of the fourth century A.D. because of the main characters who carry the story line in each. Together, the two books cover about one century of history—from 539 to 433 B.C. 

2. First, a short recap of the historical background of the book of Ezra. Remember how the book of Kings end with the people of Judah being exiled in 586 B.C., when the Babylonian empire crushed Jerusalem. The Babylonians literally tore down the walls and carried tens of thousands of Jews away to Babylon. About fifty years then pass, during which time the Babylonian empire actually crumbles, almost from within, and the Persian empire eats it up. At the opening of Ezra, Cyrus is the great king over Persia, and among his subjects are the captive from Israel. In the first few verses, we read the decree Cyrus issued in 539 B.C. that released exiles to return to Judah. 

3. The book of Ezra describes a first wave of exiles who return to Judah under king Zerubbabel (the grandson of Jehoiachin, who was the king of Judah in the final wave of Babylonian conquest in 586) to rebuild the temple in the years 539-516 B.C., as well as the second wave who return with Ezra, more than fifty years later (around 458). Nehemiah rebuilds the walls a little more than ten years later (445-433 B.C.).

4. Ezra chapters 1—2 go on to describe the first exiles who return and some of the goods they bring back with them for rebuilding the temple. Then chapters 3—6 then describes the rebuilding of the temple. At the beginning of chapter 3, the altar is rebuilt and the people start offering sacrifices again. The foundation of the temple itself is then laid. In 4:1-5, some opposition to do this work arises, and the work ceases for about fifteen years. Then in chapter 5, the two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah begin to preach and the people start rebuilding again. The occurs sometime around 520 B.C. In spite of external and political hindrances eventually   the temple is completed and celebration is held in 516 B.C.

5. Then about fifty-year break follows, (which is when we think the events described in the book of Esther took place in Persia). Picking up again in chapter 7, the Persian emperor Artaxerxes, who reigned in the middle of the fifth century B.C., issues a decree sending Ezra the priest to Jerusalem. Chapter 8 lists some of the people who return with Ezra. In chapters 9—10, Ezra discovers that the Jews have already begun to intermarry with the idolatrous people of the land and he mourns over their sin. He then lead the people in repentance.

6. In sum the story of the book of Ezra can be seen as having three stages: 1) The people of God return to the land (chapters 1—6); 2) The people of God have their sins revealed (chapters 7—9); 3) The people of God repent of their sins (chapter 10). Or we can say like this: God’s hand restores, God’s Word reveals, and God’s people repent. That’s the story of Ezra; we pray that the Lord will meet us with his Word and do business with our soul this coming week as we read the book of Ezra.

*Adapted from The Message of the Old Testament by Mark Devor

 

This Week’s Bible Reading Schedule:

Monday: Ezra 1 Thursday: Ezra 4
Tuesday: Ezra 2 Friday: Ezra 5
Wednesday: Ezra 3 Saturday: Ezra 6

Column & Reading Plan by Pastor Rev. Charles Changsoo Lee
(Mississauga Campus Lead Pastor)