Ezra 1; Jeremiah 25:1–14; 29:10–14
In one sense, Ezra is a simple history. “Ezra is . . . so simple as scarcely to require an ‘Introduction.’ It is a plain and straightforward account of one of the most important events in Jewish history—the return of God’s people from the Babylonian captivity” (Pulpit Commentary, 7.i). That very simplicity, however, might be the cause for misreading the message. Since the Bible is God’s Word, we always need to begin by asking, “What is God doing?” Already in the opening lines, we notice that the one doing the action, the one bringing about the events, is none other God Himself. We do not meet Ezra, the secondary author, until we reach Ezra 7:1. We know, from Lesson 1, that Cyrus is a chosen servant, anointed by God, to bring to fruition the promises that God had made through Isaiah and Jeremiah.
As we progress through the book of Ezra, I want to encourage everyone to treat it like a diamond mine. On the surface a diamond mine looks like a field of dirt and stones and boulders. I’ve been at a diamond mine in South Africa and thought the place looked most uninviting. There was nothing attractive lying around to draw us to the place, except the evidence that people had found many diamonds there, enough to warrant years and years of intense labor. In the process of mining for diamonds, remember that there are veins running through the earth that will be the concentration points of the diamonds that we are seeking. In the case of this book, there are dominant themes that ought to catch our eyes and guide us in our searches. One of those themes is God’s use of secular government and of pagan kings to carry out His will. God is intent on fulfilling His own promises to His people and of carrying on His special covenant relationship.
Based on the first verse of Ezra 1, who is the primary person or character about whom this book is written? Is it about Ezra? Is it about Cyrus? Or, is it about God? Why?
Now look at Ezra 2. Is this a chapter that you will probably want to skip? Is a book full of names of any interest to a Christian in the twenty-first century? Why would God, the primary author of Scripture, want to include long lists of names in a book that is primarily a revelation of Himself (see 2 Tim. 3:15–17)?
Should Christians, as they strive to build the kingdom of Jesus Christ, expect resistance and hostility? What forms does that opposition often take? Do those who oppose the kingdom take to themselves an aura of righteousness, pretending to be on the lookout for the general welfare (see Gen. 3:15; Matt. 7:15; Rev. 12)?
Look at Ezra 4, 5, and 6. It appears here that the pages of Holy Writ are filled with letters from the archives of Persian emperors. What might the good news of the kingdom have to do with pagan kings and emperors?
When we get to Ezra 7, we are finally introduced to Ezra. We also discover that we are now “in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia” (Ezra 7:1). A large segment of time has passed, with no reference to the decades that have elapsed since the end of Ezra 6. Is this little book a comprehensive history or a very selective history? Is not the historian supposed to include all the significant details?
What is the nature of history? How is history analogous to a road map? Are all of the important events of a given culture or society included in its history? Are all of the highways, streets, and roads included on a map of your state or region? Does the exclusion of some invalidate the map? Does the exclusion of some events from a historical record invalidate the history and cast aspersions of bias on the historian?
Do the purposes or intentions of the historian affect his selection of events? Does purpose or end always precede implementation? Does my intent alter my action? Does such prioritizing of intent or purpose invalidate my inclusion or exclusion of historical events?
Ezra is classified as a history book. God, as the primary author of the Bible, is the primary historian. What might be His purposes for including this little book in His canon? Why would God want us to know the history of His people as they return from exile in Babylon?
Look quickly at Ezra 9 and 10. The primary focus of these chapters is on intermarriage between believers and pagans. Those who were guilty of intermarriage experience strong censure and penalties. Why would God be so concerned about that? Is this a message that will play well in your church or your community? Does our culture want to emphasize exclusion or inclusion?
Dr. Norman De Jong is a semi-retired pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.