We have been studying the history of Israel as it has moved from Abraham to the beginning of the twelve tribes of Israel. They were delivered from the hand of the Egyptians and settled in the land of Canaan as the LORD had promised. After the conquering and division of the promised land the people were governed by a series of Judges, until the people rebelled and asked to be ruled by a king like the nations around them. Because of the rebellion of Solomon the kingdom was divided into the ten northern tribes called Israel and the two southern tribes called Judah. The northern tribes quickly turned away from the LORD and were destroyed by the Assyrian empire. The southern tribes continued to worship the LORD half-heartedly, over time falling further into idolatry. Finally, because of their sin, the LORD allowed the Babylonians to take the kingdom of Judah into captivity, and destroy the temple and the city of Jerusalem. The majority of the people were killed or led away as captives to dwell in a foreign land.

The books we have left to study belong to what is known as the post-exilic period (Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi). All of these books remind us how the LORD kept His many promises to bring about the Savior of the world through His people the Jews. They show us how the LORD controlled the history of great empires to serve His purposes, and used great kings of the ancient world to bring about His will.

The history recorded in the book of Ezra can be divided into two separate parts. The book begins in 539 B.C. as the seventy years of Judah’s captivity are coming to a close. It was in that year that King Cyrus captured Babylon, and then allowed Zerubbabel to lead a group of exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. While the foundation of the temple was laid, problems were encountered from the surrounding nations, and the building of the temple was halted until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged them to continue. Finally permission was granted by King Darius for the building to continue, and about four years later, the temple was completed.

The second part of the book deals with a second return of Jews from Babylon to Judah under the leadership of Ezra. These chapters also tell of the religious reforms which Ezra carried out in the land of Judah after his return.

The Holy Writer

Along with Chronicles, tradition has accepted the authorship of this book to be by Ezra the priest (cf. The Holy Writer & Time of Writing for Chronicles) for many reasons. A cursory reading of these books will reveal that there are many similarities and ties between the books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. Some of the similarities include: The common use of lists and genealogies (1:9-11; 2:2-58, 64-70; 7:1-5; 8:2-14, 26-27; 10:20-44), the description of religious festivals (3:2-5; 6:16-22; 8:21-23, 35), words and phrases common to them all (for example “heads of families,” “the house of God,” “singer,” “gatekeeper,” and “temple servants”), and the prominence of the Levites and other temple personnel.

Ezra was a priest (a direct descendant of Aaron) and a learned scribe (7:1-6) chosen by God to lead the second group of exiles back to the land of Judah in 458 B.C. Because of his leadership and his efforts to restore the true worship of God during this time in history, he has been called by some the “Second Moses”. Ezra himself indicates that he wrote the book, as he uses the first person for the accounts which he was personally involved in (chapters 8ff). Ezra lived in the mid 5th century, but his book begins with Cyrus’ decree in 536 B.C. which happened before Ezra’s leadership. So, like the records of Chronicles, the accounts recorded in the first part of the book were gathered by the holy writer from other sources, and written as a narration, and not in the first person.

Purpose and Theme

The Book of Ezra continues the narrative right where Chronicles leaves off. Ezra traces the history of the Jews during the years following the decree of Cyrus to let the Jewish exiles return to their homeland. The book is a reminder of God’s promise to deliver His people and to restore them to their fatherland in preparation for the fulfillment of the promised Messiah who would be born in Bethlehem. Like Chronicles, Ezra is written from a priestly or religious standpoint. It describes the restoration of the temple worship, the correction of mixed marriages, and in general Ezra’s task of reforming the people of Judah to a proper understanding of the LORD and His will.

Another main purpose of the book is to contrast the Grace of God with human sinfulness. God had restored His people to the land of promise, and how did they respond? They neglected the rebuilding of the temple and began intermarrying with their heathen neighbors. For that reason the LORD sent Haggai, Zechariah and Ezra to get the people back on track.

The book of Ezra offers hope and comfort for the people of God today as well. This book reminds us that it is through instruction in God’s Word that His people are strengthened, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). It also helps us to overcome discouragement as we carry out the work of God, because it shows us that nothing can stop us when we seek to do the will of God (cf. chapters 4-5).


I. Restoration under Zerubbabel (1-6)

A. The First Return of the Exiles (1:1-2:70)

                        1. Decree of Cyrus (1:1-11)

                        2. Listing of the Exiles (2:1-70)

            B. Restoration of Public Worship (3:1-6:22)

II. Reforms under Ezra (7-10)

            A. The Second Return of the Exiles (7:1-8:36)

            B. The Dissolution of Mixed Marriages (9:1-10:44)

Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew