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book of ezra Summary and Overview

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book of ezra in Smith's Bible Dictionary

is a continuation of the books of Chronicles. The period covered by the book is eighty years, from the first of Cyrus, B.C. 536, to the beginning of the eighth of Artaxerxes, B.C. 456. It consist of the contemporary historical journals kept from time to time, containing, chs. 1-12, and account of the return of the captives under Zerubbabel, and the rebuilding of the temple in the reign of Cyrus and Cambyses. Most of the book is written in Hebrew, but from chs. 4:8 to 6:19 it is written in Chaldee. The last four chapters, beginning with ch. 7, continue the history after a gap of fifty-eight years --from the sixth of Darius to the seventh of Artaxerxes-- narrating his visit to Jerusalem, and giving an account of the reforms there accomplished, referred to under EZRA. Much of the book was written by Ezra himself, though the first chapter was probably written by Daniel; and other hands are evident.

book of ezra in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Hilary of Poitiers calls Ezra a continuation of Chronicles. The first part of Ezra (Ezra 1-6) describes the return from the captivity under Joshua and Zerubbabel, and the building of the temple; the enemy's obstructions; its advance through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1-2; Ezra 6:14), and its completion in Darius Hystaspes' sixth year, 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15.) A long interval follows; and the second part of the book (Ezra 7-10) passes to Ezra's journey from Persia to Jerusalem in Artaxerxes Longimanus' seventh year, 458-457 B.C. (Ezra 7:1; Ezra 7:7); the details are given in Ezra 7; 8. Ezra's numerous caravan bringing fresh strength to the weak colony (Ezra 8). And his work in Ezra 9-10, restoring the theocratic nationality and removing foreign wives. The book ends with the names of those who had married them. The second part combined with Nehemiah is a complete historical picture. But the distinct title to Nehemiah shows it is a separate book. ESTHER fills up the interval between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7. The first part (Ezra 1-6) period (536-516 B.C.) is the time of prince Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua aided by Haggai and Zechariah. The second (Ezra 7-10) is that of the priest Ezra and the governor Nehemiah, aided by the prophet Malachi. In both royal, priestly, and prophetical men lead God's people. The first is the period of building the temple, a religious restoration; the second that of restoring the people and rebuilding the city, a political combined with a religious restoration. The things of God first, then the things of men. Only 50,000 settled with Joshua and Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:64, etc.); and these intermingled with the pagan, and were in "affliction and reproach" (Ezra 9:6-15; Nehemiah 1:3). Hence the need of restoring the holy nationality, as well as the temple, under Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra the priest took charge of the inner restoration, by purging out paganism and bringing back the law; Nehemiah the governor did the outer work, restoring the city and its polity. Ezra is therefore rightly accounted by the Jews as a second Moses. Ezra received permission to go to Jerusalem in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus (Ezra 7:6-26); Nehemiah in the 20th year (Nehemiah 2:1). Ezra is supposed by some to have used the Babylonian era, Nehemiah the Persian. The 70 weeks (490 years) of Daniel 9:24-25 probably date from this seventh year of Artaxerxes, when Ezra received leave to restore the temple and the people and the holy city (457 B.C.), because the re-establishment of the theocracy then began, though the actual rebuilding was not until 13 years later under Nehemiah. Ezra's placing of Daniel in the canon immediately before his own book and Nehemiah's implies that his commission began the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy; Christ's 30th year in beginning His ministry would be A.D. 26-27 (the A.D. dates three or four years later than Christ's actual birth), and His crucifixion A.D. 30. So that "He was cut off" and "caused the sacrifice to cease in the midst of the week," the last week beginning with His ministry to the Jews, A.D. 26-27, and ending with that exclusive ministry to them for three and a half years after His crucifixion, ceasing through their own rejection of Him when preached by the apostles and evangelists (Acts 7-8). Thus the 490 years or 70 weeks consist of (1) seven weeks (49 years) of revelation, from 457 to 407 B.C., the probable date of Malachi's prophecy and Nehemiah's work, which the prophet supported, ending; then (2) 62 weeks (434 years) of no revelation; then seven years of special and brightest revelation to Israel, first by Messiah in person, then by His still more powerful presence by the Holy Spirit, in the middle of which week His one sacrifice supersedes all other sacrifices. The succession of Persian monarchs in Ezra is Cyrus, Ahasuerus (the Cam byses of secular history), Artaxerxes (Pseudo-Smerdis, the Magian, an usurper), Darius (the Ahasuerus of Esther or Xerxes of secular history comes in here, in the interval between Ezra 6 and 7), Artaxerxes. Ezra's account of (See CYRUS accords with his character, celebrated for clemency. A Zoroastrian, a worshipper of Ormuzd, the great God, he hated idolatry and the shameless licentiousness of the Babylonian worship, and so was disposed to patronize the Jews, whose religion so much resembled his own. Hence his edicts for restoring the Jews, though an act unparalleled in history, harmonize with the facts concerning him in the Bible and in secular history (Ezra 1:2-4; Ezra 6:3-5). He identifies "the Lord God of heaven" with the Jehovah of the Jews. His restoring them in his first year immediately (Ezra 1:1), and his words "the Lord God of heaven has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem," plainly show he bad heard of God's words by Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28), "Cyrus is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure, even saying to Jerusalem, thou shalt be built, and to the temple, thy foundation shall be laid." Daniel would necessarily, as just made "third ruler in the kingdom," and having foretold its transfer to "the Medes and Persians" (Daniel 5:28-29), come under Cyrus' notice immediately on the capture of Babylon; moreover, it is stated "he prospered in the reign of Cyrus the Persian" (Daniel 6:28), he would therefore be sure to mention to Cyrus Isaiah's prophecy. Cyrus' pious confession that he received all his dominions from Him accords with the spirit of the old Persian religion. His returning the golden vessels (Ezra 1:7-11; Ezra 6:5), his allowing the whole expense of rebuilding from the royal revenue (Ezra 6:4), his directing all Persians to help with silver, etc. (Ezra 1:4), agree with his known munificence. An undesigned coincidence, and therefore mark of genuineness, is that when Ezra wrote, a century later than Cyrus, the Persian kings usually lived at Susa or Babylon, where the archives were kept, and there Ezra would naturally have placed Cyrus' roll had he been forging. But Ezra says Cyrus' decree was found at Achmetha (Ecbatana), Ezra 6:2. Herodotus (i. 153) and Ctesias (Exc. Per., 2-4) confirm this by mentioning that Cyrus held his court permanently at Ecbatana, and so would have his archives there. (See ARTAXERXES.) (Ezra 4:7) Artaxerxes or Smerdis, as a Magian, whose worship was antagonistic to Zoroastrianism (compare Herodotus iii. 61, Ctes. Exc. Pers., 10, Justin, 1:9, and Darius' inscription at Behistun, as to Smerdis' special portion), would naturally reverse the policy of Cyrus and Ahasuerus (Cambyses, who did not act on the accusation of the Jews' enemies: Ezra 4:6); accordingly, his harsh edict expresses no faith in the supreme God, whom Cyrus' edict honored (Ezra 4:17-22). Darius, a zealous Zoroastrian, succeeded; his Behistun inscription tells us he "rebuilt the temples the Magian had destroyed, and restored the chants and worship he had abolished." This explains the strange boldness of the Jews (Ezra 5:1-2) in treating Smerdis' edict as void, and without waiting for Darius' warrant resuming the work under Zerubbabel and Jeshua, with Zechariah and Haggai. Their enemies, hoping Smerdis had destroyed Cyrus' edict, wrote to king Darius (Ezra 5:6) that they were building again on the plea of Cyrus' edict, and that search should be made at Babylon whether there were any such edict of Cyrus. Their mention of Babylon was either to mislead the king as to the real repository of the decree, or more probably from ignorance of Cyrus' habit of living at Ecbatana, which ignorance Providence overruled to save the roll from their destroying hands under Smerdis. The language of Darius' edict on finding it accords with his character and circumstances. The Jewish temple he calls "the house of God," and Jehovah "the God of heaven"; he approves as a Zoroastrian of sacrifices to the Supreme Being, desires their prayers for himself and "his sons" (Herodotus i. 132, confirms Ezra that Darius had "sons" already, though he had but just ascended the throne), mentions the "tribute" (Ezra 6:8) which (Herodotus, 3:89) he was the first to impose on the provinces, and threatens the refractory with impaling, his usual mode of punishment (Ezra 6:11; Behistun inscription; Herodotus, 3:159). The three books Ezra, frontCHRONICLES , probably compiled by Ezra, and Nehemiah have many phrases in common, peculiar to them, and that mixture of Chaldee and Hebrew which we should expect if the three were written at the new epoch in Jewish literature, when its writers were men brought up in Babylon and restored to Judaea. All three abound in genealogies, which were then needed in order to restore the old system as to property, families, and national purity of blood free from alien admixture. Details as to the priests and Levites characterize all three; for these were essential to the restoration of the theocracy, which was the primary object. After Ezra had carried through the extreme but needful measure of divorcing all alien wives, which probably caused him some loss of popularity, he gave place to a new agent of God, Nehemiah, the nation's political restorer as Ezra was its religious reformer. Ezra still cooperated with Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8) in ministering the word of God. Nehemiah marks his book as distinct from Ezra by the opening. Two portions of Ezra are in Chaldee (Ezra 4:8 -6:18; Exr 7:12-26), for in those portions he embodies extracts from state documents m that language; of course he would be as fluent in Chaldee, the language of his captivity, as in Hebrew, the language of his nation. The variation from the third person elsewhere to the first person in Ezra 7:27-9:15 is thus to be explained. The first six chapters refer to the time before Ezra in which he is not mentioned. Ezra 7, continuing the historic style down to Artaxerxes' decree, in naming him for the first time, uses the third person. But after that decree Ezra, in returning from its Chaldee to his own Hebrew, uses the first person in praising "the Lord God of our fathers" for having disposed the king's heart to beautify the Lord's house, and for having "extended mercy unto me before the king," etc. He continues the first person to Ezra 10, where the third person is resumed, to mark the narrative as a national not merely a personal history. The undoubted writing of Ezra (Ezra 7:27 -9:15) would be an unmeaning fragment unless prefaced by Ezra 7:1-11, and followed by Ezra 10. The transitions of first to third persons, and vice versa, are found in Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah; so Moses of old uses the third person of himself in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, but in the recapitulation in Deuteronomy the first. The lists of those who returned with Zerubbabel to Jerusalem in Ezra 2, also in Nehemiah 7:5, Ezra drew from existing documents. So the letters and royal decrees in the first Chaldee portion, Ezra 4:8-6:18; and Artaxerxes' edict, the second Chaldee portion, Ezra 7:12-26. In Ezra 7:27 Ezra recognizes the oneness of Artaxerxes' policy in helping "to beautify the Lord's house" with that of Cyrus and Darius long before. So in Ezra 9:9 "to give us a wall ... in Jerusalem" alludes to that part of Artaxerxes' decree which remained yet to be done, namely, the building of the wall by Nehemiah; this was implied virtually in his commission to Ezra, but expressed in his commission to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:5-8). The anxiety of the earlier returning exiles to keep the priesthood pure from alien blood, in Ezra 2, corresponds in spirit to the removal of alien wives in the closing part. The unity of plan lies in its passing over periods of time and history not appropriate to the main aim (these very transitions giving the fragmentary appearance alleged against the unity of the book), and dwelling only on the epochs which bring out features essential to the Israelite church's history (Ezra 2:70; Ezra 3:1 with Nehemiah 7:5; Nehemiah 7:73; Nehemiah 8:1; Nehemiah 12:1-26; Nehemiah 12:47). The king of Persia is called "king of Assyria" in Ezra 6:22, just as the king of Babylon is called so in 2 Kings 23:29, as having succeeded to the world-dominion formerly held by the king of Assyria. The order is chronological, though not continuous (the 31 closing years of Darius, the whole 21 of Xerxes, and the seven first of Artaxerxes, about 60 in all, being passed over between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7); the ministry of Ezra in restoring the theocracy being the main subject, the former work of Zerubbabel and Joshua being its precursory analogue. Lord A. Hervey conjectures Daniel was author of Ezra 1, which would supply the omission of Cyrus' decree in Daniel's own book (Daniel 1:21; Daniel 1:9; Daniel 1:10), where we might naturally have expected to find it. Ezra 1:1 refers to Jeremiah's prophecy, just as Daniel 9:2. The formula "in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia" answers to Daniel 1:1; Daniel 2:1; Daniel 10:1. The narrator (Ezra 1) evidently wrote in Babylon not in Jerusalem; and Ezra might think the portion at the close of 2 Chronicles and beginning of Ezra more suitably placed there than in Daniel. But all this is conjecture. A close connection of Ezra with Daniel is probable, and that Ezra wrote or compiled the former part of his book in Babylon. Ezra 2 is identical with Nehemiah 7:6-73, evidently drawn by both from a common document or list of the captives returning with Zerubbabel. Ezra 3:2-6:22 is drawn from some contemporary of Zerubbabel and eyewitness of his setting up the altar, etc.: possibly Haggai who supported him, for the title "the prophet" (Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14) is the one found also Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:3; Haggai 1:12; Haggai 2:1; Haggai 2:10; so whereas Zechariah names Zerubbabel and Jeshua separately and without addition, the formula in Ezra 3:2; Ezra 3:8; Ezra 5:2, as in Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:12; Haggai 1:14; Haggai 2:2; Haggai 2:4; Haggai 2:23, is "Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak"; compare also Ezra 5:1-2, with Haggai 1, also the older people's sorrowful regrets for the former temple in seeing the new one (Ezra 3:12; Haggai 2:3); both mark dates by the year of "Darius the king" (Ezra 4:24; Ezra 6:15; Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:15; Haggai 2:10); also the phrase "Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the remnant of their brethren" (Ezra 3:8; Haggai 1:12; Haggai 1:14); also Ezra 6:16 with Haggai 2:2; also "the work of the house of the Lord" (Ezra 3:8-9; Haggai 1:14); "the foundation of the temple was laid" (Ezra 3:6; Ezra 3:10-12; Haggai 2:18); "the house of the Lord" 25 times to six wherein Ezra uses "the temple of the Lord"; Haggai "the house" seven times to "the temple" twice.