Yet another reason to take care that the divisions in the Bible do not effect our reading and understanding is seen in the arbitrary split of Ezra and Nehemiah. After completing Ezra, you will see that it ends abruptly. This is because up until the third century (AD), Ezra and Nehemiah were one book. The books were initially split by Origen, a Biblical scholar from Alexandria. When Jerome constructed the Latin Vulgate, which had a major influence on our modern translations, he followed Origen's example.
- Themes and Purpose
- Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
- Interesting Facts
- Kings of Persia
- Cyrus' Cylinder
- Lessons Learned: Decrees & Edicts
- Important People
- Other Posts Related to Ezra
- References & Footnotes
Ezra is a mixture of narratives, letters, and prayers. It almost reads like a scrapbook, where someone inserted news clippings and letters amongst personal reflections. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 all contain references to the first person, which is rare in the Bible. The original text also mixes languages, preferring Aramaic for the official documents. Aramaic was the official language of Persia, which means decrees and proclamations would have been issued in Aramaic as shown by the author.
The Aramaic present in the book is very similar to that of a Jewish community dated to 5th century bc, which is used to support the theory that the book was written during that time period. Presumably, Ezra authored the book before Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem in 444 BC.
Themes and Purpose
Each book of the Bible has a specific purpose. Even great secular writers will tell you, everything in a your writing should be necessary. If it doesn't serve a purpose, leave it out. God's Word was given to us for a purpose, and it is up to us to decipher that purpose for each book.
Ezra covers three main events: the return/restoration of the Jews, opposition to the construction of the Temple, and the sending away of foreign wives among Israelite men. Within these events, we are introduced to Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra. The events in the book of Esther take place in between chapters 6 and 7 (chronologically). The return to Jerusalem fulfills a prophecy given by Jeremiah 29. Further, the proclamation to rebuild the city fulfills the prophecy of Daniel 9. The prophecy in Daniel 9 helps us identify Jesus as the Messiah!
Chapter by Chapter Breakdown
Kings of Persia
The kings of Persia are heavily referenced in the book of Ezra, as it is by their decrees that the Israelites are able to to rebuild the Temple or told to cease reconstruction. As such it is important to look at the timeline of Persian kings before reading Ezra or Nehemiah.
📅 Reign (BC)
📝 Bible Reference
Cyrus is mentioned in 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Daniel, and Isaiah. He is the one who issues the proclamation that Israel can return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.
Darius is mentioned in Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Haggai, and Zechariah. It is during his reign that construction of the Temple continues
Xerxes I is considered a possibility for the identity of Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6 and Esther.
Artaxerxes is discussed in Ezra and Nehemiah; Ezra's mission is usually interpreted as occurring during his reign.
Possibly referenced in Nehemiah 12:22
Those who do not believe Ezra's mission occurred during Artaxerxes I's reign, place it in Araxerxes II' reign.
When Israel was in Egypt, God had to force Pharaoh's hand to let the people go, yet Cyrus decreed they could go home and rebuild the Temple without a big production from God. Many people find this hard to believe, but an ancient artifact known as Cyrus' Cylinder, fully supports this chain of events. Cyrus' Cylinder is currently in the British Museum. This cylinder contains an account of Cyrus' rule, including his restoration of various temples that had been previously destroyed by Babylon.
Lessons Learned: Decrees & Edicts
Ezra starts out with the decree from Cyrus II, king of Persia, that called for the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their Temple. The beginning of Ezra is identical to the end of 2 Chronicles.
Jeremiah 29 foretold that the Jews would be in captivity for 70 years and 2 Chronicles 36 repeats this number. Cyrus' proclamation gives us insight on this prophecy. Nebuchadnezzar started taking people from Judah in 605 BC and the foundation of the second Temple was laid in 535 BC, which is how some people count those 70 years. Others count from the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC until the completion of the Temple in 516 BC. Either way, the total of 70 years still holds.
Not only does Cyrus authorize the Jews to return and rebuild the Temple of God, he gives back items from the Temple that were stolen by Nebuchadnezzar. The returned items include 1030 charges (30 of the which were gold, 1000 were silver), 29 knives, and 440 basins (30 made of gold). In total, Cyrus returned 5400 items to Sheshbazzar, a prince of Judah.
Other Posts Related to Ezra
References & Footnotes
- Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible, pg. 789-794. 2014
- "List of monarchs of Persia". Wikipedia; visited March 2017
- "Origen". Christianity Today; visited March 2017
- William MacDonald. Believer's Bible Commentary, pg. 471-474. 1995
- "The Cyrus Cylinder". The British Museum; visited March 2017