Purpose of Ezra
Ezra was a priest, a scribe, and a great leader. His name means “help,” and his whole life was dedicated to serving God and God’s people. Tradition says that Ezra wrote most of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Psalm 119 and that he led the council of 120 men who formed the Old Testament canon. The narrative of the book of Ezra is centered on God and his promise that the Jews would return to their land, as prophesied by Jeremiah. This message formed the core of Ezra’s life. The last half of the book gives a very personal glimpse of Ezra. His knowledge of Scripture and his God-given wisdom were so obvious to the king that he appointed Ezra to lead the second emigration to Jerusalem, to teach the people God’s Word, and to administer national life (7:14-26).
Ezra not only knew God’s Word, he believed and obeyed it. Upon learning of the Israelites’ sins of intermarriage and idolatry, Ezra fell in humility before God and prayed for the nation (9:1-15). Their disobedience touched him deeply (10:1). His response helped lead the people back to God.
Second Chronicles ends with Cyrus, king of Persia, asking for volunteers to return to Jerusalem to build a house for God. Ezra continues this account (1:1-3 is almost identical to 2 Chronicles 36:22-23) as two caravans of God’s people were returning to Jerusalem. Zerubbabel, the leader of the first trip, was joined by 42,360 pilgrims who journeyed homeward (chapter 2). After arriving, they began to build the altar and the Temple foundations (chapter 3). But opposition arose from the local inhabitants, and a campaign of accusations and rumors temporarily halted the project (chapter 4).
During this time, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the people (chapter 5). Finally, Darius decreed that the work should proceed unhindered (chapter 6).
After a 58-year gap, Ezra led a group of Jews from Persia. Armed with decrees and authority from Artaxerxes I, Ezra’s task was to administer the affairs of the land (chapters 7–8). Upon arriving, he learned of intermarriage between God’s people and their pagan neighbors. He wept and prayed for the nation (chapter 9). Ezra’s example of humble confession led to national revival (chapter 10). Ezra, a man of God and a true hero, was a model for Israel, and he is a fitting model for us.
When the people become discouraged because of the enemies’ mockings, God faithfully raises up Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people to complete the task. Their encouragement proves successful (5:1, 2).
Finally, when the people stray from the truths of God’s word, He faithfully sends a devout priest who artfully instructs the people in the truth, calling them to confession of sin and repentance from their evil ways (chs. 9; 10).
God’s faithfulness is contrasted with the people’s unfaithfulness. In spite of their return and divine promises, they allow their enemies to discourage them and they temporarily give up (4:24). Then, having completed their task so they can worship in their own temple (6:16–18), the people become faithless to the commandments of God; an entire generation is raised up whose “iniquities have risen higher than our heads” (9:6). However, as noted above, God’s faithfulness triumphs in each situation.
The messages of Ezra are a constant reminder of how easily God’s people can lose heart and their distinctives. God is fulfilling His promises. In spite of this, covenant people easily forget His promises and the moral distinctives that are to characterize “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Pet. 2:9). When this happens God’s plans are delayed. Erring saints cannot totally thwart God’s sovereign plans, but they can delay or frustrate them. God is greater than we, and He does have ways of transcending our shortcomings. However, He wants us to walk in obedience so that His plans can be fulfilled as originally revealed.
Read Ezra, the book, and remember Ezra, the man—a humble, obedient helper. Commit yourself to serving God as he did, with your whole life.