Ezra-The Jews return to Jerusalem
About the Book of Ezra
A Bible text and commentary on the book of Ezra. Written by Robert Bryce. July 2008.
There are many dates in this *introduction. These dates are the number of years before the time that Jesus Christ was born. Each date has the letters ‘*BC’ after it. The letters mean ‘before Christ’. This *introduction also refers to places in the Bible where you can read about these things.
The history of the *Jews before their *exile
These are the events that happened in Israel before the time of Ezra. This account will help us to understand the book of Ezra better. We can read about these events in Nehemiah 9:5-37.
The people in Israel do not obey God
God chose the nation called Israel to be his special people (Leviticus 20:26). He wanted the people to love him and to *worship him. And he wanted them to obey him. In the city called Jerusalem, which was their capital, they built a great *temple. The people *worshipped God and they gave *sacrifices to him in this *temple. Israel became a powerful nation.
But the people in Israel did not obey God (Nehemiah 9:16-18 and 9:26). They *worshipped the gods of the other nations. So God caused them to suffer trouble and difficulties.
The *Israelites continued to *sin against God (Nehemiah 9:28). God sent many *prophets to warn them about this. But often the *Israelites did not listen to these men and they continued to do bad things (Nehemiah 9:29-30). God loved his people, that is, the *Israelites. He did not want them to suffer. Often their troubles were the result of their own evil behaviour. But God still cared about the *Israelites. He wanted them to turn away from *sin and to obey him again.
The nation divided into two parts. The name of the northern part was Israel and people called the inhabitants *Israelites. The name of the southern part was Judah and people called the inhabitants *Jews. Jerusalem was in the southern part. The Book of Ezra is about the people from Judah. However, sometimes Ezra calls them ‘the *people of Israel’. God gave Jacob the name ‘Israel’ when he promised to make Jacob’s *descendants God’s special people (Genesis 32:28). Most of the families who returned from *exile were originally from Judah. But they were still God’s special people.
Assyria overcomes Israel
In 722 *BC God allowed a powerful nation, the *Assyrians, to overcome Israel. See 2 Kings 17:1-23. (Israel was the northern part of the country.) The *Assyrians forced many *Israelites to live in other countries (2 Kings 17:6; 18:10-11). And they brought other people to live in Israel (2 Kings 17:24). These other people *worshipped false gods. They also tried to *worship the real God, but they did not *worship him properly (2 Kings 17:25-41). People called them *Samaritans because their chief city was Samaria (2 Kings 17:24). Samaria was not far from Jerusalem. The journey between the two cities took about two days to walk. The *Samaritans became enemies of the *Jews who returned from *exile. One of their leaders was Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s chief enemy. (Jesus often spoke about the *Samaritans. We can read about his conversation with a *Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. He explained to her how people everywhere would *worship God properly. See John 4:23-24.)
The beginning of the *exile of the people from Judah
Many of the kings from Judah did not obey God. (Judah was the southern part of the country.) But some of them loved God and they encouraged the people to obey him. However, the people in Judah usually refused to obey God (Nehemiah 9:28-30), as the *Israelites had done. So, after many years, God had to punish them too.
In 701 *BC Sennacherib, king of Assyria, overcame some of the cities of Judah (2 Kings 18:13). But he did not overcome Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:32-36). God saved the city on that occasion.
Many years later, the *Assyrian army became weak and the *Babylonians took control of Assyria. The *Babylonians were the *Jews’ enemies, as the *Assyrians had been. The king of the *Babylonians was Nebuchadnezzar. During his rule, the *Babylonian army overcame Judah. The soldiers took most of the *Jews to Babylonia and forced them to live there. This is called the *Babylonian *exile. It lasted for about 70 years.
God used a foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar, to punish the *Jews. Nebuchadnezzar took them away from the country that God had given to them. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar did not give honour to the real God. He gave honour to false gods. But God still used him to punish the *Jews. In Jeremiah 25:9 and Jeremiah 27:6, God said that Nebuchadnezzar was his servant. But Nebuchadnezzar did not know that. God also said that he would punish the *Babylonians 70 years later. They were wicked too (see Daniel 5:23). God is more powerful than any nation. He often uses people to carry out his purposes. He can even use people who do not know him.
The *Babylonians overcame Judah in three phases:
· In 605 *BC they took King Jehoiakim’s family and the people who served the king (2 Chronicles 36:5-7; Daniel 1:1-7). They forced them to go to Babylonia and to live there. Daniel was one of these people and he became a very important official in Babylonia (Daniel 1:17-21; 5:29-6.3; 6:28). He wrote the Book of Daniel.
· Then, 8 years later, the *Babylonians took Jehoiachin, the next king of Judah, to Babylonia. And they appointed his uncle, Zedekiah, to be king of Judah. They also took all the leaders, soldiers and skilled workmen. The *Babylonians also stole the beautiful and valuable things in the *temple and they took them to Babylonia (2 Kings 24:10-17).
· Later, in 586 *BC, the *Babylonians came again. They destroyed the *temple and the city called Jerusalem. They took King Zedekiah, and most of the people who remained in Judah, to Babylonia. They allowed only the poorest people to live in Judah (2 Kings 25:1-12).
God had warned his people about these terrible events. He would allow these events to happen if the people refused to obey him (Leviticus 26:27-39; Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:64-68; 2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Isaiah 39:6-7 and Micah 4:10). God waited for a long time for his people to confess their *sins and to obey him. But the people did not listen to him. They did more and more evil things and they gave honour to false gods.
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah are two parts of the same story. They tell us about the time when the *Jews returned from Babylonia to their own country, Judah. Babylonia was a long way from Judah. The journey between Babylonia and Judah took about 4 months to walk. The *Babylonians had defeated the people from Judah. They had forced most of the *Jews to go to Babylonia and to live there. After many years, the *Persians defeated the *Babylonians. Then Cyrus, the king of Persia, allowed the *Jews to return to Judah.
The Book of Ezra is the first part. It tells us about the first two groups of *Jews who returned to Judah. This happened about 70 years after the *Babylonians had taken the *Jews into *exile. The book also explains how the *Jews built their *temple again. Many years later a man called Ezra helped the *Jews. He helped them to know God’s commands and to obey them.
The Book of Nehemiah is the second part. It tells the story of a man whose name was Nehemiah. He was a very important official of the king of Persia. God sent him so that he could help the *Jews to build the walls of the city called Jerusalem again. He arrived in Judah about 13 years after Ezra went there. The king appointed Nehemiah to be the ruler of Judah. Nehemiah, like Ezra, helped the *Jews to obey God’s commands.
Notes to explain the book of Ezra
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