Date: Fifth Century B.C.
When the northern kingdom was destroyed in 722 B.C., its inhabitants were scattered throughout the ancient world and were lost track of. The land was filled by the Assyrians with foreigners, who became the Samaritans of Jesus’ day. When the southern kingdom fell in 587 B.C., its prisoners were almost all taken and settled in one place by the Babylonians. As a result they did not lose their national consciousness. Although life in exile was hard for them, thoughts of Jerusalem sustained them over the many years that passed until they were allowed to return home by Cyrus, king of Persia. Psalm 137 is a beautiful but melancholy reflection on those days.
The book of Ezra picks up with the decree of Cyrus to let the people of Judah return home. Ezra was to be one of those who led a group of refugees back to establish the Jews in the land once more.
The first wave of settlers, who arrived in Palestine during the 530s B.C., did not find things easy going. Cities had to be rebuilt, farms plowed, walls constructed for protection, homes built, lives reestablished, and a new life begun. All of it was done in the face of opposition by enemy forces. The temple was also rebuilt and dedicated in 516 B.C. Ezra then led a new wave of refugees and was appalled to find the people so demoralized. A revival took place, and life was more tolerable for a while.
Theological Themes in the Book of Ezra
The religious value of this book is to show us that although life is never easy, it can be lived with God’s help. The struggles of God’s people seemed overwhelming, but day by day they made it through. Their strength came from the Lord. If we could learn this lesson, we could make it through as well. No one ever knows what difficulties a day may bring, but reflection on Ezra and his times can bring renewed confidence. God has not changed, even if the way he accomplishes his purposes is different today.
Outline for the Book of Ezra
- The decree of Cyrus Ezra 1:1-11
- The census of the people Ezra 2:1-70
- The rebuilding of the temple Ezra 3:1-6:22
- Ezra’s return Ezra 7:1-10:44