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Introduction to Ezra

                             

Summary of the Book of Ezra

This summary of the book of Ezra provides information about the title author(s) date of writing chronology theme theology outline a brief overview and the chapters of the Book of Ezra.

Ezra and Nehemiah

Although the caption to Ne 1:1 "The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah " indicates that Ezra and Nehemiah were originally two separate compositions they were combined as one very early. Josephus (c. a.d. 37-100) and the Jewish Talmud refer to the book of Ezra but not to a separate book of Nehemiah. The oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint (the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT) also treat Ezra and Nehemiah as one book.

Origen (c. a.d. 185-253) is the first writer known to distinguish between two books which he called 1 Ezra and 2 Ezra. In translating the Latin Vulgate (c. a.d. 390-405) Jerome called Nehemiah the second book of Esdrae (Ezra). The English translations by Wycliffe (1382) and Coverdale (1535) also called Ezra "I Esdras" and Nehemiah "II Esdras." The same separation first appeared in a Hebrew manuscript in 1448.

Literary Form and Authorship

As in the closely related books of 1 and 2 Chronicles one notes the prominence of various lists in Ezra and Nehemiah which have evidently been obtained from official sources. Included are lists of (1) the temple articles (Ezr 1:9-11) (2) the returned exiles (Ezr 2 which is virtually the same as Ne 7:6-73) (3) the genealogy of Ezra (Ezr 7:1-5) (4) the heads of the clans (Ezr 8:1-14) (5) those involved in mixed marriages (Ezr 10:18-43) (6) those who helped rebuild the wall (Ne 3) (7) those who sealed the covenant (Ne 10:1-27) (8) residents of Jerusalem and other towns (Ne 11:3-36) and (9) priests and Levites (Ne 12:1-26).

Also included in Ezra are seven official documents or letters (all in Aramaic except the first which is in Hebrew): (1) the decree of Cyrus (1:2-4) (2) the accusation of Rehum and others against the Jews (4:11-16) (3) the reply of Artaxerxes I (4:17-22) (4) the report from Tattenai (5:7-17) (5) the memorandum of Cyrus's decree (6:2b-5) (6) Darius's reply to Tattenai (6:6-12) and (7) the authorization given by Artaxerxes I to Ezra (7:12-26). The documents are similar to contemporary non-Biblical documents of the Persian period.

Certain materials in Ezra are first-person extracts from his memoirs: 7:27-28; 8:1-34; 9. Other sections are written in the third person: 7:1-26; 10; see also Ne 8. Linguistic analysis has shown that the first-person and third-person extracts resemble each other making it likely that the same author wrote both.

Most scholars conclude that the author/compiler of Ezra and Nehemiah was also the author of 1 2 Chronicles. This viewpoint is based on certain characteristics common to both Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. The verses at the end of Chronicles and at the beginning of Ezra are virtually identical. Both Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah exhibit a fondness for lists for the description of religious festivals and for such phrases as "heads of families" and "the house of God." Especially striking in these books is the prominence of Levites and temple personnel. The words for "singer " "gatekeeper" and "temple servants" are used almost exclusively in Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles. See Introduction to 1 Chronicles: Author Date and Sources.

Date

The Ezra memoirs (see note on 7:28) may be dated c. 440 b.c. and the Nehemiah memoirs c. 430. These were then combined with other materials somewhat later. See Introduction to 1 Chronicles: Author Date and Sources.

The Order of Ezra and Nehemiah

According to the traditional view Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the seventh year (Ezr 7:8) of Artaxerxes I (458 b.c.) followed by Nehemiah who arrived in the king's 20th year (444; Ne 2:1 11).

Some have proposed a reverse order in which Nehemiah arrived in 444 b.c. while Ezra arrived in the seventh year of Artaxerxes II (398). By amending "seventh" (Ezr 7:8) to either "27th" or "37th " others place Ezra's arrival after Nehemiah's but still maintain that they were contemporaries.

These alternative views however present more problems than the traditional position. As the text stands Ezra arrived before Nehemiah and they are found together in Ne 8:9 (at the reading of the Law) and Ne 12:26 36 (at the dedication of the wall).

Languages

Ezra and Nehemiah were written in a form of late Hebrew with the exception of Ezr 4:8 -- 6:18; 7:12 -- 26 which were written in Aramaic the language of international diplomacy during the Persian period. Of these 67 Aramaic verses 52 are in records or letters. Ezra evidently found these documents in Aramaic and copied them inserting connecting verses in Aramaic.

Major Theological Themes

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah relate how God's covenant people were restored from Babylonian exile to the covenant land as a theocratic (kingdom of God) community even while continuing under Gentile rule. The major theological themes of this account are:

Outline

I.           First Return from Exile and Rebuilding of the Temple (chs. 1-6)

A.   First Return of the Exiles (ch. 1)

B.   List of Returning Exiles (ch. 2)

D.   Opposition to Rebuilding (4:1-23)

E.   Completion of the Temple (4:24;6:22)

                                    II.   Ezra's Return and Reforms (chs. 7-10)

──New International Version

 

Introduction to Ezra

The history of this book is the accomplishment of Jeremiah's prophecy concerning the return of the Jews out of Babylon. From its contents we especially learn that every good work will meet with opposition from enemies and be hurt by the misconduct of friends; but that God will make his cause to prevail notwithstanding all obstacles and adversaries. The restoration of the Jews was an event of the highest consequence tending to preserve religion in the world and preparing the way for the appearance of the Great Deliverer the Lord Jesus Christ.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Ezra

 

00 Overview

 

EZRA

INTRODUCTION

That the Book of Ezra is a continuation of the Books of Chronicles is evident from the fact that the last verses of “Chronicles” are repeated as the first verses of Ezra. There is also the most marked similarity in the literary style and method.


The Authorship of the Book

There is no reasonable ground for denying that Ezra was the author of the book that now bears his name. But the admission must be made that the present form of the work may be due to the editorial labours of the Great Synagogue in the early days of the Grecian ascendancy. It is quite possible that Ezra was rather a collector than an organiser and that what he left at his death was rather a mass of material than a completely edited history. These materials may have come into the hands of a later editor who had the historical genius and he has put them into the shape with which we are familiar making necessary editorial corrections and editions.


Date of the Book

There seems to be some uncertainty as to whether the Jewish literary “renaissance” is to be dated the time of Ezra or between one and two centuries later when the nation felt the inspiration of contact with Greek culture. We should have no doubt about its identification with the later period but we must be willing to admit that the revived literary interest and the new standards must have materially influenced the re-editing of the ancient Scripture records.


An Unfinished Fragment

The Book of Ezra as it stands is an evidently unfinished fragment; and some would find the natural continuation in Nehemiah chap. 8. The object of the compiler is evidently the same as that which gives character and tone to the Books of Chronicles. The mission upon which Ezra’s whole heart was set was the full re-establishment of the old Mosaic ritual; the reassertion of the old Mosaic social laws; and the revival of religion of that formal type which is always dear to the heart of the priest.


The Personality of Ezra

It may greatly help to a right understanding of the Book of Ezra if some effort is made to form a fair estimate of the personality of this scribe and to notice how the circumstances of his age found a fitting sphere for the intense expression of his personality.

Ezra was a priest with an unusually valuable pedigree of which he would be sure to think much and to make much. He was descended from Hilkiah and traced his line back to Aaron. And he “magnified his office.” How he had gained his position of influence at the Persian Court we do not know but we may be sure that his residence at Babylon made him familiar with the Chaldee language which he introduces in some portions of his work (see Ezra 4:8; Ezra 6:18; Ezra 7:12-26). In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus Ezra was granted a commission to lead a second body of Jews back to Jerusalem to take upon himself the administration of public affairs and to correct those social abuses which had arisen among the returned exiles and of which serious news had reached Babylon. This commission Ezra carried out but in the spirit of the priest rather than in the spirit of the statesman. He showed himself to be a ruler with a very narrow one-sided and exaggerated point of view. The reformation that he effected proved to be the beginning of mischiefs as serious as the evils which he so violently rooted out. The healthy and lasting reformation always has its basis in some spiritual truth either freshly revealed or quickened to the view of men by the vivid apprehension of some reformer. Ezra was strong on duty but he had no revelation or inspiration of truth at the back of the demands he made. He forced men to do what he thought right and men only await the relief of the “force” to turn back to their wrong again.

Ezra’s first visit to Jerusalem was not prolonged. He returned a second time apparently a short time after Nehemiah’s appointment as governor and he was able to render to him valuable assistance. Ezra’s life-work appears to cover a period of about eighty years; but no account of the place or date of his death is given in Scripture. It is generally assigned to 432 or 481 b.c. but as Josephus says that he died a very old man Rawlinson prefers the date 420-410 b.c. Traditions assign him a grave near Samara after his return to dwell in Persia; and is said to have lived to be 120 years old.

G. Rawlinson says of Ezra: “He comes before us in so many capacities and is revealed to us in such brief and hurried flashes that we can with difficulty form any distinct conception of his personality. He was student critic linguist antiquary historian teacher and preacher judge governor reformer of a religious system second founder of a political community. We cannot call him a person of brilliant genius or of great originality; but yet we have to acknowledge in him one of the born leaders of men one of those who have exercised on the world a vast influence and an influence almost entirely good . . . It may be true that his aims were ‘narrow ’ and his methods ‘rigid.’ But he achieved a great success. In temperament Ezra was passionate and emotional.”

Dr. Geikie says: “Intensely earnest he had the absolute confidence of a zealot in his own definitions of the requirements of the law. To enforce the Levitical holiness of Israel had become his one idea and no Puritan was ever more energetic or stern in pressing his will on others as that of God.”

Dr. W. B. Pope says: “There is no character in the Old Testament more perfect and complete than that of Ezra. We see him as a servant and as a master; as a student of the law and as its administrator as supreme in authority and as subordinate in public and in private uniformly and always the same devout disinterested patriotic lover of his people and friend of God.”

Dean Stanley says: “Ezra and Nehemiah (for in some respects they are inseparable) are the very impersonations of the impenetrable toughness and persistency which constituted them the reformers of their people. Reformers in the noblest sense of that word they were not.”

As to the Contents of the Book of Ezra it may be noted that they are divided into two periods (a third period is treated by Nehemiah). The first period is anterior to the time of Ezra and extends over twenty-three years from the first return of the exiles in 538 b.c. up to the completion of the temple in the sixth year of the reign of Darius 515 b.c. The books of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah shed light on this period. The second period begins with the eighth chapter of Ezra and extends to the close of the book.

One of the difficulties felt in dealing with the work of Ezra arises from the fact that some sections are written in the first person and some in the third person. The most simple and natural explanation of this peculiarity may be found in the habit of Ezra in inserting his extracts bodily just as he found them.

Regarding Ezra and Nehemiah as one book Dean Stanley writes: “In this one book is discoverable the agglomeration of four distinct elements; which is instructive as an undoubted instance of the composite structure shared by other books of the Old and New Testaments where it is not so distinctly traceable. These component parts are as follows:

a. The portions written by the chronicler--the same as the compiler of the Book of Chronicles (comp. Ezra 1:1-2; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23)-- Ezra 1:3-6.; Nehemiah 13:1-20.

b. Ezra’s own narrative Ezra 7:1-28; Ezra 8:1-36; Ezra 9:1-15; Ezra 10:1-44.

c. Nehemiah’s own narrative Nehemiah 1-7:5; Neh_8-11:2; Neh_12:27-47; Neh_13:1-31.

d. Archives; Ezra 2:1-70.; Nehemiah 7:6-73; Nehemiah 11:8-36. In the divisions a. b. c. it may be questioned whether Ezra 7:1-26; Ezra 10:1-44; Nehemiah 8:1-18; Nehemiah 9:1-38; Nehemiah 10:1-39; Nehemiah 11:1-2; Nehemiah 7:27-73; Nehemiah 8:1-18; Nehemiah 9:1-38; Nehemiah 10:1-39; Nehemiah 11:1-36; Nehemiah 12:1-47; Nehemiah 13:1-3 (in which Ezra and Nehemiah are described in the third person) belong to another narrative interwoven by the chronicler who compiled the whole book.”

As a general conclusion it may be said that there is no sufficient reason for distrusting the uniform tradition that the materials of the book were provided by Ezra.


 

EZRA

INTRODUCTION

That the Book of Ezra is a continuation of the Books of Chronicles is evident from the fact that the last verses of “Chronicles” are repeated as the first verses of Ezra. There is also the most marked similarity in the literary style and method.


The Authorship of the Book

There is no reasonable ground for denying that Ezra was the author of the book that now bears his name. But the admission must be made that the present form of the work may be due to the editorial labours of the Great Synagogue in the early days of the Grecian ascendancy. It is quite possible that Ezra was rather a collector than an organiser and that what he left at his death was rather a mass of material than a completely edited history. These materials may have come into the hands of a later editor who had the historical genius and he has put them into the shape with which we are familiar making necessary editorial corrections and editions.


Date of the Book

There seems to be some uncertainty as to whether the Jewish literary “renaissance” is to be dated the time of Ezra or between one and two centuries later when the nation felt the inspiration of contact with Greek culture. We should have no doubt about its identification with the later period but we must be willing to admit that the revived literary interest and the new standards must have materially influenced the re-editing of the ancient Scripture records.


An Unfinished Fragment

The Book of Ezra as it stands is an evidently unfinished fragment; and some would find the natural continuation in Nehemiah chap. 8. The object of the compiler is evidently the same as that which gives character and tone to the Books of Chronicles. The mission upon which Ezra’s whole heart was set was the full re-establishment of the old Mosaic ritual; the reassertion of the old Mosaic social laws; and the revival of religion of that formal type which is always dear to the heart of the priest.


The Personality of Ezra

It may greatly help to a right understanding of the Book of Ezra if some effort is made to form a fair estimate of the personality of this scribe and to notice how the circumstances of his age found a fitting sphere for the intense expression of his personality.

Ezra was a priest with an unusually valuable pedigree of which he would be sure to think much and to make much. He was descended from Hilkiah and traced his line back to Aaron. And he “magnified his office.” How he had gained his position of influence at the Persian Court we do not know but we may be sure that his residence at Babylon made him familiar with the Chaldee language which he introduces in some portions of his work (see Ezra 4:8; Ezra 6:18; Ezra 7:12-26). In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus Ezra was granted a commission to lead a second body of Jews back to Jerusalem to take upon himself the administration of public affairs and to correct those social abuses which had arisen among the returned exiles and of which serious news had reached Babylon. This commission Ezra carried out but in the spirit of the priest rather than in the spirit of the statesman. He showed himself to be a ruler with a very narrow one-sided and exaggerated point of view. The reformation that he effected proved to be the beginning of mischiefs as serious as the evils which he so violently rooted out. The healthy and lasting reformation always has its basis in some spiritual truth either freshly revealed or quickened to the view of men by the vivid apprehension of some reformer. Ezra was strong on duty but he had no revelation or inspiration of truth at the back of the demands he made. He forced men to do what he thought right and men only await the relief of the “force” to turn back to their wrong again.

Ezra’s first visit to Jerusalem was not prolonged. He returned a second time apparently a short time after Nehemiah’s appointment as governor and he was able to render to him valuable assistance. Ezra’s life-work appears to cover a period of about eighty years; but no account of the place or date of his death is given in Scripture. It is generally assigned to 432 or 481 b.c. but as Josephus says that he died a very old man Rawlinson prefers the date 420-410 b.c. Traditions assign him a grave near Samara after his return to dwell in Persia; and is said to have lived to be 120 years old.

G. Rawlinson says of Ezra: “He comes before us in so many capacities and is revealed to us in such brief and hurried flashes that we can with difficulty form any distinct conception of his personality. He was student critic linguist antiquary historian teacher and preacher judge governor reformer of a religious system second founder of a political community. We cannot call him a person of brilliant genius or of great originality; but yet we have to acknowledge in him one of the born leaders of men one of those who have exercised on the world a vast influence and an influence almost entirely good . . . It may be true that his aims were ‘narrow ’ and his methods ‘rigid.’ But he achieved a great success. In temperament Ezra was passionate and emotional.”

Dr. Geikie says: “Intensely earnest he had the absolute confidence of a zealot in his own definitions of the requirements of the law. To enforce the Levitical holiness of Israel had become his one idea and no Puritan was ever more energetic or stern in pressing his will on others as that of God.”

Dr. W. B. Pope says: “There is no character in the Old Testament more perfect and complete than that of Ezra. We see him as a servant and as a master; as a student of the law and as its administrator as supreme in authority and as subordinate in public and in private uniformly and always the same devout disinterested patriotic lover of his people and friend of God.”

Dean Stanley says: “Ezra and Nehemiah (for in some respects they are inseparable) are the very impersonations of the impenetrable toughness and persistency which constituted them the reformers of their people. Reformers in the noblest sense of that word they were not.”

As to the Contents of the Book of Ezra it may be noted that they are divided into two periods (a third period is treated by Nehemiah). The first period is anterior to the time of Ezra and extends over twenty-three years from the first return of the exiles in 538 b.c. up to the completion of the temple in the sixth year of the reign of Darius 515 b.c. The books of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah shed light on this period. The second period begins with the eighth chapter of Ezra and extends to the close of the book.

One of the difficulties felt in dealing with the work of Ezra arises from the fact that some sections are written in the first person and some in the third person. The most simple and natural explanation of this peculiarity may be found in the habit of Ezra in inserting his extracts bodily just as he found them.

Regarding Ezra and Nehemiah as one book Dean Stanley writes: “In this one book is discoverable the agglomeration of four distinct elements; which is instructive as an undoubted instance of the composite structure shared by other books of the Old and New Testaments where it is not so distinctly traceable. These component parts are as follows:

a. The portions written by the chronicler--the same as the compiler of the Book of Chronicles (comp. Ezra 1:1-2; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23)-- Ezra 1:3-6.; Nehemiah 13:1-20.

b. Ezra’s own narrative Ezra 7:1-28; Ezra 8:1-36; Ezra 9:1-15; Ezra 10:1-44.

c. Nehemiah’s own narrative Nehemiah 1-7:5; Neh_8-11:2; Neh_12:27-47; Neh_13:1-31.

d. Archives; Ezra 2:1-70.; Nehemiah 7:6-73; Nehemiah 11:8-36. In the divisions a. b. c. it may be questioned whether Ezra 7:1-26; Ezra 10:1-44; Nehemiah 8:1-18; Nehemiah 9:1-38; Nehemiah 10:1-39; Nehemiah 11:1-2; Nehemiah 7:27-73; Nehemiah 8:1-18; Nehemiah 9:1-38; Nehemiah 10:1-39; Nehemiah 11:1-36; Nehemiah 12:1-47; Nehemiah 13:1-3 (in which Ezra and Nehemiah are described in the third person) belong to another narrative interwoven by the chronicler who compiled the whole book.”

As a general conclusion it may be said that there is no sufficient reason for distrusting the uniform tradition that the materials of the book were provided by Ezra.

──The Biblical Illustrator