Summary: Introducting the book of Ezra


I. The Author of the Book.


(Aramaic or Chaldee, ‏עֶזְרָא‎, ʿezrāʾ, "help"; a hypocoristicon, or shortened form of Azariah, "Yahweh has helped." The Hebrew spells the name ‏עֶזְרָה‎, ʿezrāh, as in 1 Chron. 4:17, or uses the Aramaic spelling of the name, as in Ezra 7:1. The Greek form is Esdras):

(1) A priest who returned with Zerubbabel from Babylon (Neh. 12:1). In Neh. 10:2, Azariah, the full form of the name, is found.

(2) A descendant of Judah and father of Jethro and other sons (1 Chron. 4:17).

(3) The distinguished priest who is the hero of the Book of Ezra and co-worker with Nehemiah.

1. Family:

The genealogy of Ezra is given in Ezra 7:1-6, where it appears that he was the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the high priest. Since Seraiah, according to the Book of Kings, was killed by Nebuchadrezzar at Riblah (2 Kings 25:18-21), and since he was the father of Jehozadak, the high priest who was carried into captivity by Nebuchadrezzar (1 Chron. 6:14-15 (Hebrew 5 40), etc.) in 588 BC, and since the return under Ezra took place in 458 BC, the word "son" must be used in Ezra 7:2 in the sense of descendant. Since, moreover, Joshua, or Jeshua, the high priest, who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel, was the son of Jehozadak and the grandson of Seraiah, Ezra was probably the great-grandson or great-great-grandson of Seraiah. Inasmuch as Jehozadak is never mentioned as one of his forefathers, Ezra was probably not descended from Jehozadak, but from a younger brother. He would thus not be a high priest, though he was of high-priestly descent as far as Seraiah. For the sake of shortening the list of names, six names are omitted in Ezra 7:2-7 between Azariah and Meraioth, and one between Shallum and Ahitub from the corresponding list found in 1 Chron. 6:4-14 (Hebrew 5 30-40).

Being a priest by birth, it is to be supposed that Ezra would have performed the ordinary functions of a member of his order, if he had been born and had lived in Palestine.

2. Occupation:

Josephus, indeed, says that he was high priest of his brethren in Babylon, a statement that in view of the revelation of the Elephantine papyri may not be without a foundation in fact. According to the Scriptures and Jewish tradition, however, Ezra was pre-eminently a scribe, and especially a scribe of the law of Moses. He is called "a ready scribe in the law of Moses," a "scribe of the words of the commandments of Yahweh, and of his statutes to Israel," "the scribe of the law of the God of heaven." As early as the time of Jeremiah (compare Jeremiah 8:8), "scribe" had already attained the meaning of one learned in the Scriptures, one who had made the written law a subject of investigation. Ezra is the first who is called by the title of "the scribe," the title by which Artaxerxes designates him in his letter of instructions in Ezra 7:6, 11.

3. His Commission:

In the 7th year of Artaxerxes I (459-458 BC) Ezra requested permission of the king to go up to Jerusalem; for "Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of Yahweh, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances." Artaxerxes granted his request, and gave him a letter permitting as many of the people of Israel and of the priests and Levites as so desired to accompany him to Jerusalem, and commissioning him to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, and to carry a gift of money from the king and his counselors, and all the money to be found in the province of Babylon, and the freewill offerings of the people and priests, with which to buy offerings to offer upon the altar of the house of God which was in Jerusalem. He was commissioned also to carry vessels for the service of the house of God, and to do at the expense of the royal treasury whatever was needful for the house of God. The king decreed, moreover, that the treasurers of the king should assist Ezra with a tribute of wheat, wine, oil and salt, and that they should impose no tribute, custom or toll upon any of those employed in the service of the house of God. Moreover, Ezra was authorized to appoint judges to judge the people according to the law of God and the law of the king, and to inflict punishments upon all who would not obey these laws.

Ascribing this marvelous letter of the king to the lovingkindness of his God, and strengthened by this evidence of God's power, Ezra proceeded to gather together out of Israel the chief men and teachers and ministers of the house to go up with him to Jerusalem. He gathered these men in camp at Casiphia, on the river Ahava. Here he proclaimed a time of fasting and prayer, that God might prosper their journey (Ezra 8:15-23). Then, having delivered the treasures into the hands of the priests, the assembled company departed for Jerusalem, where by the help of God they arrived in safety, delivered over the money and gifts by number and weight, offered burnt offerings and sin offerings, delivered the king's commissions and furthered the people and the house of God.

Shortly after Ezra's arrival at Jerusalem, the princes accused the people, the priests, and the Levites of having intermarried with the peoples of the land, even asserting that the princes and rulers had been leaders in the trespass. Upon hearing this, Ezra was confounded, rent his garments, plucked off his hair, fell upon his knees and prayed a prayer of confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God. While he prayed the people assembled and wept, acknowledged their sin and promised to do according to the law. The whole people were then assembled in counsel, and in spite of some opposition the strange wives were put away.

In Neh. 8, Ezra appears again upon the scene at the Feast of Tabernacles as the chief scribe of the law of Moses, the leader of the priests and Levites who read and explained the law to the people. On his advice the people ceased from their mourning and celebrated the festival according to the law of Moses with joy and thanksgiving and giving of gifts, dwelling also in booths in commemoration of the manner of their fathers' sojourning while in the wilderness.

4. Traditions:

The traditions with regard to Ezra found in Josephus and in the Talmud are so discrepant that it is impossible to place reliance upon any of their statements which are not found also in the canonical Scriptures.

—R. Dick Wilson

II. The Aim of the book.

• To demonstrate the fulfillment of God’s Word through Jeremiah concerning the return of the Jews at the end of the 70 year captivity.

• To teach that God fulfills all of His promises, whether they are positive or negative. He promised negatively they would be removed; and positively they would return.

• To attest to God’s faithfulness to the Nation of Israel, in spite of their chronic unfaithfulness.

• To rebuild the temple and restore the people.

• To show that Yahweh is not just a local God, working through Israel but the only true God who is sovereignly running the entire universe – Jews and Gentiles.

• To cure Israel of Idolatry.

• To keep the Nation of Israel alive, so that the Lord Jesus might come

III. The historical Account of what’s going on.

• God warned as part of the Mosaic Cov., that disobedience would result in Israel being temporarily deported from the Promised Land (Ex. 20:3-23:33/Lev.26:14-39/Deut. 30:15-20).

“God told His people that if they chose to break their covenant with Him, He would again allow other nations to take them into slavery (Jer. 2:14-25). In spite of repeated warnings from the months of His prophets, Israel and Judah chose to reject their Lord and to participate in the worship of foreign gods (2 Ki. 17:7-18/ Jer. 2:7-13). True to His promise, God brought the Assyrians and Babylonians to issue His chastisement upon wayward Israel and Judah.’ [MacArthur]

• Israel was united under Saul, David, and Solomon, after which it split into two kingdom – the Northern Kingdom, consisting of 10 tribes; and the Southern Kingdom, consisting of 2 tribes.

• The Northern Kingdom related to her disobedience to God, was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC

ASSYR´IA (a-sir´ι-ya). The name of a country and the mighty empire that dominated the ancient biblical world from the ninth to the seventh century B.C.

The Land. Assyria lay along the middle Tigris between the Kurdish Taurus Mountains and Jebel Hamrin and formed an area about the size of the state of Connecticut. On the W bank of the Tigris lay a single plain, while on the E bank the country was divided into three sections: the area between the mountains and the Great Zab, the sector between the Great and Lesser Zab rivers, and the region between the Lesser Zab and the mountain Jebel Hamrin. The land is fertile and undulating and has enough rainfall to support dry farming. Assyria had abundant supplies of limestone and alabaster and some marble.

The major cities were Ashur on the W bank of the Tigris and Arrapkha, Erbil, Nineveh, and Calah to the E of the Tigris. Most of the population lived in country towns. In time the Assyrians were able to build a sizable empire that stretched from Egypt on the W to Persia on the E and from the Persian Gulf on the S to Anatolia on the N.

The People. The people who inhabited Assyria belonged to the great Semitic race. They had come originally, so it appears, from Babylonia to settle as colonists. They were not a pure race, for there had already been an intermixture of blood with the Sumerian people, who were the original inhabitants of the land. After this immigration the Babylonians continued the process of intermixture with successive invading peoples from Elam, Arabia, and elsewhere, but the Assyrians intermarried little with neighboring peoples and held it a subject for much boasting that they were of purer blood than the Babylonians. However, during the height of the Assyrian Empire (c. 725-635), the Assyrians deported large numbers of people from conquered lands and settled them in their homeland, with the result that by the fall of Nineveh in 612 the population of Assyria was greatly diluted. In stature the Assyrians were of average modern European height and were well built. Their complexion was dark, the nose prominent, the hair, eyebrows, and beard thick and bushy. They were apparently of cheerful disposition, given to mirth and feasting, but of implacable cruelty. The pages of history are nowhere more bloody than in the records of their wars. It may be argued, however, that the Assyrians were not much more cruel than other peoples of the ancient Near East but merely kept better records. As cases in point, Egyptian monuments occasionally show mounds of body parts, demonstrating that the Egyptians mutilated their enemies; and even the Hebrews were known to have hacked away at those whom they had vanquished (e.g., 1 Samuel 18:25, 27).

Language and Literature. The language of Assyria was closely akin to that of Babylonia and may properly be regarded as practically the same language. It belongs to the Semitic family of languages and is, therefore, akin to Arab., Aramaean, and Heb. Unlike these three kindred languages, the Assyrian never developed an alphabet, though it did develop a few alphabetic characters. During its entire history the Assyrian language was prevailingly ideographic and syllabic. It expressed words by means of signs that represented the idea; thus there was a single sign for sun, another for city, another for wood, another for hand. These are called ideograms and originated in considerable measure out of pictures, or pictographs, of the objects themselves. But besides these ideograms the language also possessed numerous syllabic signs such as ab, ib, ub, ba, bi, bu. By means of these, words could be spelled out. Clumsy though this appears to be, the Assyrians were able to develop it far enough to make it a wonderfully accurate and sufficiently flexible tool. The materials on which they wrote were clay and stone, the use of which had come from Babylonia. In writing upon stone the characters were chiseled deeply into the surface, in regular lines, sometimes over raised figures of gods or kings. Writings thus executed were of monumental character and could not be used for business or literary purposes. The great bulk of Assyrian literature has come down to us upon clay and not upon stone. The clay tablets, as they are called, vary greatly in size. Some are shaped like pillows, two inches in length by an inch and a quarter in width. Others are flat and sometimes reach sixteen inches in length by nine or ten inches in width. The clay is also sometimes shaped like barrels, varying in height from five to nine inches, or like cylinders or prisms, which are found sometimes sixteen inches in height. When the soft clay had been formed into one of these shapes, the characters were formed by pressing into the surface a small metallic tool with a triangularly pointed end. Each pressure formed a wedge-shaped, or cuneiform, depression, and by repeated indentations the characters were made. On these clay tablets the Assyrians wrote a varied literature. We now have in our possession vast stores of this literature, representing widely differing phases. There are historical inscriptions, narrating in annalistic form the deeds of Assyrian monarchs; public documents, royal and private letters and dispatches; lists of taxes; innumerable business documents, such as receipts and bills of sale; religious documents, such as hymns, prayers, incantations, and lists of omens; linguistic documents, such as lists of signs and of words with explanations; astronomical lists of eclipses and the like; tables of square and cube roots; and medical treatises and lists of recipes for the healing of disease. Only a small part of this vast literature has been published in facsimile or made accessible in translations in European languages. When they are made thus accessible they will give an insight into the whole life of these people such as we are able to obtain of very few peoples of antiquity.

Religion. The people of Assyria derived their religious ideas from Babylonia and during all their history had constant contact with the mother country in this matter, as in others. The faith was polytheistic and never shows in any text yet found any approach to monotheism. The god who stood at the head of the Assyrian pantheon was the great god Ashur, always honored as the divine founder of the nation. After him and below him were the gods Anu, Bel, and Ea, the middle of whom, under slightly varying names and with changes of titles, was worshiped in Babylonia and even far westward among other Semitic peoples. Besides this great triad, there was another consisting of the moon god Sin, the sun-god Shamash, whose name appears in royal names so frequently, and Ishtar, the goddess of the crescent moon and the queen of the stars, though her place in this triad is often taken by Ramman, the “thunderer,” god of rain, of tempests, and of storms. These gods are invoked in phrases that seem to raise each in turn to a position of supremacy over the others. Early students of religious texts sometimes mistakenly supposed that these ascriptions of praise and honor were in reality tokens of monotheism. This is now well known to be a false inference. Monotheism was unknown, henotheism seems at times to have been reached, but polytheism was the prevailing, as it was always the popular, belief. Besides these great triads of gods there were large numbers of minor deities, as well as countless spirits of heaven, earth, and sea.

» See: Nergal

The religious ceremonies of the Assyrians, with their sacrifices morning and evening and their offerings of wine, milk, honey, and cakes, was similar to that of Babylonia but is not yet satisfactorily known, save in outline.

Archaeology. It is clear that the origin of the Assyrian commonwealth is to be found among Babylonian colonists (Genesis 10:11). Archaeology also points to this fact, and the Assyrians themselves looked back to Babylonia as the motherland.

A full account of Assyrian archaeology would fill volumes. There is room here for only a few brief references. Paul Emil Botta began the archaeological history of Assyria in 1842 with significant success at Khorsabad, capital of Sargon II; Victor Place succeeded him there (1851-55). Austen Henry Layard launched English excavations in Assyria, making significant finds at biblical Calah (1846-47) and at Calah and Nineveh (1849-51). At the latter he uncovered much of the great palace of Sennacherib. Layard’s associate, Hormuzd Rassam, continued work at Nineveh (1852-54) and had the good fortune to locate Ashurbanipal’s palace and the major part of his library. M. E. L. Mallowan led a British School of Archaeology dig at Calah from 1949 to 1961, completing the excavation of Ashurnasirpal’s palace and excavating the great fort of Shalmaneser III. R. Campbell Thompson’s work at Nineveh (1927-32) was especially responsible for bringing order out of the chronology of the site and establishing the history from its destruction in 612 B.C. back almost to 5000 B.C. Edward Chiera and Henri Frankfort led a University of Chicago excavation at Khorsabad (1929-36) and reexamined the entire palace area and the city. André Parrot of the Louvre excavated at Mari in the middle Euphrates (1933 to 1939 and 1951-56), finding the great royal palace and the archive of more than twenty thousand cuneiform tablets, providing contextual information for biblical studies. And an American Schools of Oriental Research excavation at Nuzi in northeastern Iraq (1925-31) likewise recovered some twenty thousand cuneiform tablets that throw light on patriarchal customs.

History. Under Shamshi-Adad I (c. 1748-1716 B.C.) Assyria began to spread as a great city-state, with strong fortifications and a splendid temple to house its national god, Ashur. As the political powers of Babylonia declined, Assyria entered its Old Kingdom period, c. 1700 to 1100 B.C. By the fourteenth century B.C. Assyria had risen to a position of power comparable to Egypt on the Nile and the Hittite Empire in Asia Minor. Among the Amarna Tablets is a letter written by Ashur-uballit (“Ashur has given life,” c. 1362-1327) to Amenhotep IV of Egypt, in which the Assyrian monarch speaks as a royal equal. With Tiglath-pileser I (c. 1114-1076) Assyria entered the period of empire, extending from c. 1100 to 633 B.C. This great conqueror was able to push Assyrian power westward to the Mediterranean Sea and northward to the region of Lake Van and the mountains of Armenia. The next two centuries, however, marked a period of retrogression for Assyria until the rise of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859) who made his land a formidable fighting machine and who swept everything before his ruthless cruelty, as his annals tell. His son Shalmaneser III (858-824) inherited his father’s gigantic fighting machine and conducted numerous campaigns against Syria-Palestine, in one of which he fought against Ahab of Israel at Qarqar on the Orontes River in 853 B.C. and in another received tribute from “Jehu, son of Omri.” Shalmaneser III called himself “the mighty king, king of the universe, the king without a rival, the autocrat, the powerful one of the four regions of the world, who shatters the might of the princes of the whole world, who has smashed all of his foes as pots” (D. D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, vol. 1, sec. 674). Despite his boasts Shalmaneser III died amid revolts that his son Shamsi-Adad V (823-811) also had to face. Adad-nirari III (810-783) kept Assyrian power aggressive, but under Shalmaneser IV (782-773), Ashur-dan III (772-755), and Ashur-nirari V (754-745) declension set in. Then the throne was seized by a great warrior and statesman, Tiglath-pileser III, who assumed the name of the illustrious conqueror Tiglath-pileser I of the eleventh century B.C. and brought back the empire to its glory, even conquering Babylon, where he was known as Pulu (cf. 2 Kings 15:19). This great warrior overran Israel, took tribute from Menahem, and transported his conquered peoples to distant sections of his empire. Soon after the death of Tiglath-pileser, Hoshea of Israel attempted to revolt against Assyria. The new emperor, Shalmaneser V (726-722), thereupon laid siege to the Israelite capital of Samaria. Before the fall of the city had been fully consummated a new leader had seized the reins of power. He was Sharrukin II or Sargon II (721-705), whose new regime was inaugurated by the fall of the city. Sargon is mentioned but once in Scripture (Isaiah 20:1), but as the result of the excavation of his splendid palace at Dur Sharrukin, or Khorsabad, he is now one of the best known of Assyrian emperors. In 704 B.C. he was succeeded by his son Sennacherib, who ruled Assyria until 681 B.C. and was succeeded in turn by his son Esarhaddon (680-669), one of the greatest Assyrian conquerors. He added Egypt to the empire. Esarhaddon’s son, Ashurbanipal (668-633), also campaigned in Egypt and seems to have been a great warrior; but he is especially known for his cultural interests. The great royal library, in existence at least since 700 B.C., was especially his creation. He sent scribes all over Mesopotamia to copy texts on a variety of subjects. After Esarhaddon, the Assyrian stranglehold on the ancient world began to give way. In the intervening years till 612 B.C., when Nineveh fell and Assyrian civilization was suddenly snuffed out, there were several undistinguished rulers. The neo-Babylonian Empire arose on the ruins of Assyria, and a new historical epoch dawned.” The New Unger's Bible Dictionary.

• A century later, God began to raise up Babylon to serve as His instrument of judgment on the Southern Kingdom. The Judeans were taken into exile in the years.

605 BC [Dan. 1:1-3], Nebuchadnezzar first invaded the land and took away Jehoiakim and the leading nobles including Daniel.

597 BC [2 Ki. 24:10-16], a second Babylonian invasion took place, and King Jehoiachin was carried away into captivity together with most of the people of important, including Ezekiel.

586 BC [2 Ki. 25:1-12], the final destruction of Jerusalem took place. Zedekiah, the king of Judah, breaking his oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, had entered into an alliance with Egypt to throw off the Babylonian yoke. The Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and terrible scenes took place. At last the city was sacked the temple burned, and the final deportation effected.

Psalms 137:1-4 (NKJV)

1 By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion.

2 We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it.

3 For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

4 How shall we sing the LORD'S song In a foreign land?

James asks, “Is anyone cheerful?” Let him sing psalms.” (5:13). The captivity period was a time without a song!

“The Exile was the Great Divide in Hebrew history. It was at once the most terrible and most transforming experience that befell ancient Israel.” [William Irwin]

“The society in Judah had utterly disintegrated following the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The deaths caused by the Babylonian invasion, the destruction of the temple, gutted Judah of all institutions that had held society together. Judah’s population plummeted 90% following the disaster. Thus, the exiles in Babylon could not look to their past for any hope.”

“Judah experienced a time of great tragedy when Jerusalem was destroyed and nearly all of Judah’s leaders were taken into exile in Babylon. It was a time of despair in Judah’s relationship with Yahweh. Prior to the Babylonian exile, they had been an independent, political state, to some extent secured by military power, and with a God-ordained Davidic King on the throne. Now, none of these conditions existed. They were a powerless, subjected people in a great empire whose rulers thought Yahweh was only one petty god among many.

With their lives now controlled by the Babylonians, the Judeans experienced tremendous temptation to surrender all their previous claims to having an exclusive relationship from God. In addition, they were tempted to surrender those behaviors which had been designed to separate them from surrounding pagan cultures. Thus, there was a real danger that they would become assimilated into those cultures, preserving some Judean customs but surrendering the covenants God had made with them.

That this did not happen was largely due to the labors of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; the priest Ezra; and the governor Nehemiah. Each of these made it possible for the Jews to come to a new understanding of themselves.”

• The promised return from Babylon took place in three phrases, in 583 BC, led by Zerubbabel in 458 BC, led by Ezra, and in 445 BC, lead by Nehemiah.

IV. An Array dates, charts, and things:

V. An Acceptable outline:

A. Rebuilding of the Temple. Ezra 1L1-6:22

Under Zereubbabel [22 years]

1. The Confirmation of God’s promise. 1:1-2:70

a. How was it Possible? 1:1-11

b. How many People? 2:1-70

2. The Construction. 3:1-13

3. The Cessation. 4:1-24

4. The Continuation. 5:1-17

5. The Completion. 6:1-22

B. Restoring of the People. 7:1-10:44

[Under Ezra 1 year, some 80 years later]

1. The Clergyperson. 7:1-28

2. The Coalition. 8:1-36

3. The Confession. 9:1-15

4. The Consecration. 10:1-44

Johnny Palmer Jr.