15 – EZRA; The Returning Exiles

Ezra – The Returning Exiles

Key Text: Ezra 1:5

Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.

Authorship

The Jews believed that Ezra was not only the author of the Ezra but of Nehemiah, Chronicles and possibly Psalm 119. There is certainly strong strong internal evidence that Ezra penned the volume that bears his name. From Chapter 7:28 – Chapter 9 the words are written in the first person indicating that he was the author. Ezra himself is highly regarded as one of the most influential figures in Jewish history. He is credited with preserving the inspired volumes written before this period and of playing a huge role, under God in establishing the Old Testament Canon. The Jews regarded Ezra and Nehemiah as one volume. Certainly Ezra appears as a godly spiritual leader in both books who played a pivotal role in spiritual revival.

Historical Setting

Ezra belongs to what is known as the Post-Exilic Period. This is the first of three historical books telling the story of the Jewish people after their captivity in Babylon (the other two books are Nehemiah and Esther). The story of these years is also told by the Post-Exilic Prophets who ministered during these years; Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.

Ezra the Man

1: His Pedigree; Chapter 7:1-5

He was sent by God as a priestly leader who was a direct successor to Aaron.

2: His Preparation; Chapter 7:6,10

He was well versed in the scriptures being a “ready” or skilful scribe.

3: His Purpose; Chapter 7:6. 11-28

To leave Babylon where he appears to have had some influence and success and return to the land of his Fathers. He was given authority from Artaxerxes to not only be a spiritual but a civil leader also.

4: His Prayerfulness; Chapter 7:21-23, Chapters 9 and 10

Before leaving he prayed with those who would accompany him. He was blessed with companions of the highest order (7:18). When arriving in Judea and discovering sin among God’s people his intercessory prayer is one of the finest examples that we can discover anywhere in the scriptures. This prayer was the catalyst for revival.

Key Events and Outline

1: The Decree of Cyrus; Chapter 1

A different political dynamic was at work since Jerusalem fell. The Babylonian Empire had fallen and now Cyrus the Persian was the great world leader. He saw himself as a one mandated by God to permit the Jewish people to re-establish themselves in their homeland once again (1:1-4). Cyrus’ role in history had already been foretold by Isaiah in Chapter 45:1-4. Jeremiah also had prophesied that the Lord would cause his people to return to the land of their fathers (Chapter 29:10). All of this emphasises the sovereignty of God in world affairs teaching us never to despair.

2: The Return under Zerubbabel; Chapter 2

Zerubbabel was God’s appointed leader for the enormous task of rebuilding a nation. He belonged to the royal line and was an ancestor of the Messiah making him supremely suited to the task (Matthew 1:12). Only 42,360 Jews responded to the appeal. Millions chose to remain in Babylon where they had become well established and prosperous.

3: Rebuilding the Temple; Chapters 3-6

Zerubbabel’s ministry concerned the rebuilding of the temple. This was highly commendable. There was land to reclaim and buildings to erect but this man saw the re-establishment of spiritual worship in Jerusalem as the reason why they they were given this opportunity. The altar was rebuilt first of all. At the heart of spiritual worship is the offering of  sacrifices. For decades no sacrifice had been presented. Now the people united to provide the funds to reinstate the altar and they were blessed by the offerings that were presented. Even the enemies of the Jews became afraid recognising the symbolism of what was happening in Jerusalem once again. When the foundation of the temple was laid the reaction was mixed. Some of the people rejoiced but others wept because this temple would not be as glorious as Solomon’s. The older people were responsible for discouraging the younger because they harked back to days which never would return. At this time the enemies of the Jews hindered and frustrated the rebuilding of the temple. They appealed to Emperor Ahasuerus, who now presided, making accusations that the Jewish people had in the past been rebellious and difficult. As a result the rebuilding of the temple ceased. Even when everything is arrayed against the people of God there is still work to be done but Zerubbabel for ten years through discouragement did nothing. It was Zechariah and Haggai who reminded him and the Jews of their high calling and of the work to be done. After an appeal was issued to Emperor Darius the work resumed. Finally 20 years after the construction began the temple was completed. This caused joy and gratitude which climaxed in a memorable Passover celebration.

4: The Return under Ezra; Chapters 7-8

Zerubbabel’s work and ministry was complete. It was time for God to prepare the heart of a new leader. God’s man was found in Ezra who had remained with the Jews in captivity. He had a burden for the word of God, a desire to teach truth and he had a commission from Emperor Artaxerxes to return to Judea. In Chapter 7:1-10 we are given a clear insight into the spiritual credentials of this man of God. 58 years after the completion of the temple Ezra arrives with a group of Jews.

5: The Problem of Intermarriage; Chapters 9-10

On arriving he was shocked to discover that the people had intermarried with the Gentiles in the region. His prayer for the people is one of the great example of intercessory prayer to be found anywhere in scripture. His prayer confessed the sins of the people and expressed a fear that God could turn his face from the Jews as he did in the past. His major concern, however was that the “holy seed” had been polluted (Chapter 9:2). The Jewish seed was holy because it would supply the line out of which the Messiah would spring. Satan’s strategy throughout Old Testament time was bent on destroying the holy seed so that the Messiah’s coming would be prevented. Ezra sensed this and so he prayed for divine intervention. His sights were clearly on Christ. His spirituality was infectious because many people prayed and wept with him. He is an example of one man who turned the spiritual tide of a nation. The men who took wives of the Gentiles were named, dealt with and persuaded to put away the women they had married against the law of God.

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