Book of Ezra


Authorship, date, and background The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were at one time considered a single book under the title The Book of Ezra in the Hebrew Bible. Both must be related to the books of Chronicles as well as to the book of Esther. The authorship of Ezra and Nehemiah has never been finally resolved. Gleason L. Archer says that "Ezra himself undoubtedly wrote most of the book named after him…But he evidently incorporated into the final edition the personal memoirs of Nehemiah (i.e., the book of Nehemiah), including even his form of the list of the returnees."

Ezra returned to the land in 458 or 457 B.C. during the reign of Artaxerxes (465-424 B.C) Nehemiah returned twelve years later, in 445 B.C. Nehemiah's first governorship started in 445 B.C., his second one in 433 B.C. Ezra was the son of Jozadak, whose genealogy went back to Aaron. He was a ready scribe of the Law of Moses. He led the return of the second group of immigrants, totalling approximately 5000 people. The temple had been finished years ago (516 B.C.) but the walls of the city had not been rebuilt. It was to be the labours of Ezra and Nehemiah which brought this to fruition. Ezra, upon his return to the land, was given a blank check by the king. As a priest of the line of Zadock he was expected to teach the Law. There is no record of his acting in the political office of governor as was true of Nehemiah.

Characteristics and content Ezra traces the return of the Jews to the land following the edict of Cyrus, who reversed the policy of the Chaldeans. He describes the preparations for the return, lists the various family groups, and notes that upon their return they went to the site of the former temple and contributed offerings of approximately five hundred thousand dollars for its rebuilding. Then follows the story of the rebuilding of the temple and the restoration of worship there. It is hampered by the malicious attacks of the Samaritans but, after a careful investigation, Darius gives order to continue the work of the rebuilding. When it is completed, the feasts of the Passover and Unleavened Bread are celebrated.

Ezra, a patriotic Jew, secures permission to return to the land himself and does so. He describes the details of his return and poignantly notes that he refused to ask for armed protection, since his trust was in the Lord God. Ezra's anger knows no bounds when he discovers that the first group of returnees have intermarried with the heathen. He says, "I rent my garment and my mantle and plucked off the hair of my head and my beard and sat down astonied" (9:3). He prays, lies on the ground weeping, and forcefully insists that this evil must be remedied. As a result, many marriages contracted by priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and ordinary citizens are annulled.