This article starts a series of lessons from the book of Ezra. Rather than jumping straight to chapter 6 (which is where the starting text from Ezra for this series is found), though, it’s probably good to set up some context for the book, starting with chapter 1. Today’s article is something of a “research paper”, as we look at what some others have said about this, being sure to check back with the Scripture itself along the way.
I think that the Lookout (cited below) summarizes the context pretty well, here:
“God had planned from eternity past to get his people back home and give them a fresh start. After all, the Messiah and the good news of the gospel would come out of Zion. The people had been exiled in Babylon due to their idolatry (2 Chronicles 36:17-21). While in Babylon, they had lost all of their song (Psalm 137). But the time had come for them to go home and dream again of being God’s special possession (Psalm 126).”
“Ezra and Nehemiah tell of this new start (these books were once combined as one). The minor prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi assisted this great Bible teacher (Ezra) and the former cupbearer turned governor (Nehemiah). God’s people would come home in three waves. The first and largest wave would come with Zerubbabel, followed by a much smaller wave with Ezra (he does not even arrive in Jerusalem until chapter 7 of his book), and finally a medium-size wave under Nehemiah”
When I looked up the NIV introduction to the book of Ezra, it said…“See the Invitation to Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah.” So, I had to go over to the introduction to 1 Chronicles, where the NIV has a more extensive introduction, including the statement that,
“These books [referring to ‘the books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah’] are really one long book, telling a continuous story…”
In fact, the events that the book of Ezra starts with are also discussed in the last couple of verses of 2 Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). That last section of 2 Chronicles describes Nebuchadnezzar (a Babylonian king) killing a lot of Jewish people, and carting off the rest – along with valuables from the temple – to Babylon. In addition, the temple and palace are burned, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken.
However, 2 Chronicles 36:21 reminds us that God did not forget his promises.
The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.
2 Chronicles 36:21 NIV
God’s faithfulness held strong, despite some who may have doubted during the seventy years from Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem to Cyrus’s decree for the people to return. (Note that Cyrus was a Persian king, since the Persians had overthrown the Babylonians.)
Later, the NIV introduction says,
“The memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, leaders of the second generation of returned Judeans, are incorporated into the history.” (emphasis added)
It also puts the return of exiles from Judah in “the fifth century BC”.
So, I’d like for you to put yourself in the mindset of Judean exiles (and possibly other exiled Israelites from the Northern Kingdom [ref. Schoville, p.42]), about 2500 years ago, who are being allowed to return to their homeland: the Promised Land that their ancestors had been given after the exodus from slavery in Egypt (after 40 years in the wilderness, that is, since they messed up their first chance to enter).
An initial “wave” of exiles had returned previously, but Ezra and Nehemiah are associated with a second “wave” of returnees. Things get pretty interesting in their accounts, so I encourage you to read through these two books of the Bible for yourself, and stick around as we look into some of their messages in more detail, through upcoming articles.
However, if you’re in the situation of the Jewish exiles before they were able to return to their homeland, stand strong on God’s promises. His timing doesn’t always match our own (see 2 Peter 3:8-10), but He is always faithful to His word.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 8, 2023
- The Lookout, January 1, 2023, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville. © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.