Lesson 1 of5
In Progress

Summary of Ezra

SUMMARY

Ezra begins by seeing Cyrus’s decree to release the exiles as the fulfillment of God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:10 (Ezra 1:1-4). Three similarly structured episodes follow: return and reconstruction of the temple under Zerubbabel (Ezra 1:5–6:22); return and reconstruction of the community under Ezra (7-10); and then, under Nehemiah, return and reconstruction of the walls (Nehemiah 1:1–7:73a). In each episode, return and reconstruction authorized by the Persian throne meet with opposition eventually overcome with God’s help. The book of Ezra is concerned with the first two returns, the rebuilding of the temple, and Ezra’s dealing with the social and religious difficulties that faced the community.

SO WHAT?

Ezra and Nehemiah are our only narrative source for the history of the restoration, 538 to 430 B.C.E. The postexilic period witnessed the reestablishment of the Jewish religious community in Jerusalem and the implementation of the Torah. Though the situations we face are quite different from those encountered by the postexilic community, both Ezra and Nehemiah provide many examples of hard work coupled with prayer and an unshakable faith in God as a formula for successful problem solving that is as relevant today as it was then.

WHERE DO I FIND IT?

Ezra is the fifteenth book of the Old Testament, coming immediately after 2 Chronicles and before Nehemiah.

WHO WROTE IT?

Jewish tradition identifies Ezra as the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Today, many scholars believe that Ezra and Nehemiah come from a different hand than Chronicles and that various older traditions have been gathered together and edited by a postexilic editor, though these may include an autobiographical section written by Ezra (7:27–8:34; 9:15).

WHEN WAS IT WRITTEN?

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, separate works in English Bibles, appear as a single book in the earliest manuscripts, suggesting that they are best read and interpreted as a literary whole. The work was written in Judah, probably in Jerusalem after the return from Babylon, sometime during the Persian period (586-332 B.C.E.). Uncertain dates for Ezra and differing understandings of the compositional history of this material make precise dating impossible, though recent scholarship seems to favor a date somewhere in the first quarter of the fourth century B.C.E.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

As the remnant of Israel, the returned exiles rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, and struggle to remain faithful to the law of Moses in the midst of foreign peoples.

HOW DO I READ IT?

Ezra-Nehemiah looks like a history of the restoration. While important historical information is presented, Ezra-Nehemiah should be read as a theological, rather than a chronological, presentation of this formative period that saw the return of Israel from exile and the rebirth of God’s people in the promised land. This is seen in the theological ordering of the final form of the text: the rebuilding of the temple, followed by the purification of the people, and the rebuilding of the walls, climaxing in the reading of the law.

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