The narrative of Ezra embraces two distinct events spanning between 538–440BC: it commences at the conquest of Babylon by the Persians and leads us quickly to Jerusalem, the major focus being the reconstruction of the Temple.
The juxtaposition of the text at the end of 2 Chronicles to the beginning of Ezra 1 allows us to assume that the scribe versed in the law of his God (Ezra 7:6) is the author of the two books of Chronicles, along with this book that carries his name. They were written around 440BC to show that in all circumstances God is in control.
Fulfilment of Prophecies
Before the taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah had announced that the deportation of the Jews would be for 70 years.
There are three overlapping periods of 70 years mentioned in the prophets:
- 70 years exile of Judah 606–536BC Jeremiah 25:8-14; 29:10; Daniel 9:2 (Daniel 1:1 3rd year of Jehoiakim = 606BC, the first deportation of the Jews from their land to Babylon 2 Kings 24:14-16)
- 70 years desecration of the Temple 590–520BC Jeremiah 52:12-13 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar to the 2nd year of Darius Ezra 4:24; Zechariah 1:12; Haggai 2:10,15,18-20
- 70 years desolation of the land 586–516BC Jeremiah 52:30 23rd year of Nebuchadnezzar to the 6th year of Darius Ezra 6:15; 2 Chronicles 36:20-21; Daniel 9:12; Zechariah 7:5.
The edict of Cyrus, the Persian Emperor, authorised the Jews to return to their land. Isaiah the prophet had even announced the name of Cyrus well before his birth, Isaiah 44:28; 45:1,3,13; so in “stirring up the spirit of Cyrus” Ezra 1:1, God permitted this pagan king to become His servant to accomplish His will Isaiah 45:1-4 and to fulfil prophecies cp 1 Kings 8:46-48.
Characteristics of the Book
A great spiritual awakening characterised the return of the Jews from exile and the resulting reconstruction of the Temple (the principal subject of the book of Ezra) and the building of the walls of Jerusalem (the principal subject of the book of Nehemiah) are evidenced.
Section 1 Chapters 1–6 The Return under Zerubbabel
As the return of the Jews from their exile takes place in two stages, the book of Ezra focuses on two distinct periods. Firstly, it recounts the return of the first deportees from exile to Jerusalem. Assisted by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, Ezra 5:1, the governor Zerubbabel leads the work of the Jewish people in the reconstruction of His Temple (538–533BC). Despite the opposition from eminent locals and Persian Emperors (532–520BC), the Temple is completed in 516BC thanks to the imperial intervention of Darius I, (which was four years earlier 520BC Ezra 6:1-12).
Section 2 Chapters 7–10 The Return under Ezra
More than 50 years pass and around the year 460BC we have recorded the second return of deportees to Jerusalem, this time under Ezra. Ezra’s role is then teaching (Ezra 7:10) and intercession for the people (Ezra 9).