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by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE BOOK OF EZRA
In the Hebrew Bible the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are placed at the close of the third division of the Jewish canon, which is called “Ketubim.” In the Talmud, the Massorah, the Septuagint, and in the writings of Josephus, Ezra and Nehemiah are treated as one book. It is claimed that originally Chronicles with Ezra and Nehemiah formed one book. The last two verses with which Second Chronicles closes are repeated in the opening chapter of Ezra.
(The order of the books in the Hebrew Bible is as follows: I. Tora (the law) Genesis--2 Kings, except Ruth; II. Nevijin (the prophets) Isaiah--Malachi, except Lamentations and Daniel; III. Ketubim (the Writings) Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles.)
Ezra, the Author of the Book
No valid proof can be given that the Jewish and early Christian view, that Ezra is the author of the book which bears his name, is incorrect. He was a pious, deeply spiritual man. His genealogy is found in chapter 7:1-6. We learn that he was a lineal descendant of Phineas, the son Of Eleazar, the son of Aaron; and therefore Ezra was a priest. (See chapter 7:11; 10:10, 16.) He was also a scribe--”a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given” (7:6); “a scribe of the words of the commandments and of the statutes of Israel” (7:11). We find him first mentioned in the seventh chapter. The record is given that he went up to Babylon ... “and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD God upon him.” He received permission from King Artaxerxes I (Longimanus) in the seventh year of his reign (458 B.C.) to lead a number of the people back to Jerusalem. His beautiful, godly character may be seen in the three last chapters of the book, in which he is the principal actor. He was a great man of prayer and worship, with a childlike trust in the LORD, with great zeal for God and an intense interest in His people and their welfare. Much is said of Ezra in talmudical literature, where his greatness and worthiness is celebrated. According to these traditions he was in meekness and godliness like Moses. It is said that he first introduced the Hebrew alphabet in square characters, and that he made the Massorah and punctuation of the Scriptures. He is also considered to be the author of the Jewish canon, and to have rewritten the whole of the Old Testament from memory. most likely he wrote Chronicles besides the record contained in this book. It is more than likely that he collected the Psalms in a book and arranged them under the guidance of the Spirit of God in the order in which we possess them now. His great reformation work we shall point out in the annotations.
The Story of the Book
The book of Ezra records chronologically the return of the remnant to Jerusalem and the events which took place after their return. The rebuilding of the temple and its dedication are fully described, while Nehemiah records the rebuilding of the wall and the city. The edict of Cyrus permitting the Jews to return and urging the rebuilding of the temple is followed by the list of names of those who returned under Zerubbabel, a son of David, to Jerusalem. The given number is 42,360. After their reestablishment they proceeded with the building and dedication of the altar, after which the foundation of the temple was laid. Then the mongrel race, the Samaritans, came offering their fellowship in the building of the temple; their cooperation was positively rejected. Then the adversaries troubled them, hired counsellors against them, and for a number of years the work stopped. A letter addressed to the king of Persia is inserted in chapter 4 and is written in Aramaic (Chaldean). (The Aramaic portions of Ezra are chapters 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26.) Then appeared in the midst of the discouraged remnant, when the work had ceased, the two great post-exilic prophets, Haggai and Zechariah. As a result of the fiery exhortations of Haggai and the glorious visions of Zechariah, a revival took place and under Zerubbabel with Joshua the high priest, the prophets helping, the building of the house began. Next the governor Tatnai appeared, attempting to stop their work; but he did not succeed. He appealed to the king in a letter which is also given in full in Aramaic; he was confident that he would succeed in ending the work of the remnant. Ezra had access to these documents and reports them in the Chaldean language in which they were written. But when Darius the king instituted a search there was found in Achmetha, in the palace of Media, a roll with the record of Cyrus, which Tatnai the governor had insinuated was a falsehood, used by the remnant to continue the work. Then Darius made a decree by which Tatnai and his companions were commanded not to interfere any more with the work of the house of God, but that the Jews should build the house. The decree also appointed a generous contribution day by day from the king’s goods for the Jews. The hostile governor was forced to carry out the decree of the king. After that the temple was completed and dedicated. They kept the feast of Passover and unleavened bread. This concludes the first section of the book.
Many years after these events had taken place, Ezra comes upon the scene. Ezra’s work is described, and how, authorized by the decree of Artaxerxes, he headed an expedition of exiles, who returned to Jerusalem. Artaxerxes’ letter is given in full in the language used by the Chaldeans (Aramaic). Ezra’s outburst of praise follows the decree of the king. A list of all who joined Ezra in the return is found in the beginning of the eighth chapter. They gathered at the river Ahava, encamping there for three days. Ezra discovered that none of the sons of Levi were in the company. A number of these were soon added to the returning exiles. Before the journey was started there was a fast and humiliation before God; they looked to Him for a straight way and for protection. They departed from Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month and reached Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, the LORD graciously protecting them from robbers. After that follows the great reformation work in which Ezra dealt with the deplorable moral conditions into which the people had fallen.
The Spiritual and Dispensational Application
This interesting historical account of a return of a remnant from Babylon contains a message for us. Divine principles are revealed in this book, which find their application to God’s people at all times. These spiritual and dispensational lessons will be pointed out in the annotations.
The Division of the Book of Ezra
This book is divided into two sections. After the edict of Cyrus there is a return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel, the rebuilding of the temple and its dedication. Then after sixty years the return under Ezra took place.
I. THE RETURN UNDER ZERUBBABEL AND THE REBUILDING OF THE TEMPLE (Ezra1-6)
II. THE RETURN UNDER EZRA AND HIS REFORMATION (Ezra7-10)
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26