Ezra 1-10: Return and Rebuilding


1. Summary

• God delivered the exiles from Babylon

• Zerubbabel led the people into God’s blessings by rebuilding the temple.

• Ezra led the people into God’s blessings by rebuilding their lives

2. Structure

-The return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 1-6)
-The return of Ezra and the rebuilding of the community (Ezra 7-10)[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 694.[/footnote]

I. Return of Exiles and Rebuilding of Temple (Ezra 1-6)

A. General Analysis

-Return of the exiles (Ezra 1-2)
-Rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3-6)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Return and rebuilding (Ezra 1-6)

a Hebrew version of Cyrus Edict to rebuild temple (Ez.1:1-11)

b List of returnees (Ez.2:1-70)

c Worship altar/temple begun (Ez.3:1-4:3)

d Surrounding enemies conspire to stop building temple (Ez.4:1-5a)

e Opposition to building walls from times of Xerxes/Artaxerxes (Ez.4:6-23)

d’ Building stops (Ez.4:24)

c’ Temple building resumes (Ez.5:1-2)

b’ Demand for list of returnees authorized to build temple (Ez.5:3-17)

a’ Aramaic version of Cyrus Edict, temple rebuilt (Ez.6:1-22)[footnote]B Waltke, Lectures on Judges to Poets (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]

2. Cyrus’ Decree

a. Political motivation
It is often asked what motivated Cyrus to release the captives when he did. Some have speculated that perhaps he was shown the prophecies of Isaiah which predicted that a future Cyrus would deliver Israel (Isa.41:2; 44:28; 45:1, 13). Others think that perhaps he was aware of Jeremiah’s prophecy of a 70 year exile (Jer.25:11-12; 29:10). It is more likely however that his motivation was political. The Persian empire had problems with Egypt on its Western flank. It was, therefore, in his interests to restore Israel and build a strong military alliance with her.
The 70 year captivity is either from the first deportation of the captives (605) to Cyrus’s decree (538) or Fall of Jerusalem (587) to rebuilding of temple (516). Precisely 70 years after its destruction the temple was once again ready for worship and celebration. Seventy years was a standard Near Eastern way of describing a period of divine judgment. It was roughly equivalent to a lifetime (Ps.90:10).
The difference between the two biblical versions of the decree relate to the first being a public address to the Hebrews while the second is the official record which was kept with the State documents. Another version of the decree survives in Cyrus’ own cylinder inscription, dated to 536 BC. In it, Cyrus gives credit to Marduk, his adopted Babylonian god. The Bible tells us that he gave credit to “the Lord, the God of heaven”(2 Chron.36:23 ; Ez.1:2). This discrepancy may show that Cyrus was a good “politician,” adopting the god of whatever peoples he was dealing with, no doubt with the hope that their “god” would return the favor. The text on the Cyrus Cylinder may represent the general decree, and the text in the Bible may represent a version that was sent to the Jews.
b. Divine Authorization
Although Cyrus had his own selfish motivation, the Lord used it to further His redemptive purposes. The Cyrus edict is related in such a way as to demonstrate clear divine authorization of the restoration program (Ez.1:1,2)

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah (Ez.1:1-2).

Later in the book the Lord approves of the returnees actions repeatedly (eg. Ex.1:5; 7:9; 7:27).

God’s faithfulness is seen in the way He sovereignly protects His people in the midst of a powerful empire while they are in captivity. They prosper in their exile, and God raises up pagan kings who are sympathetic to their cause and encourage them to rebuild their homeland. God also provides zealous and capable leaders who direct the return and the rebuilding.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

The Chronicler’s Message: Not only Cyrus, but God Himself authorized the restoration program

3. Continuity with the past

Though the Israel that emerged from the crucible of exile was not the same as the nation that had gone before, the institutions that were slowly developing sought to mediate the same promise and heritage that nurtured Israel of old. Continuity was the underlying theme.
a. Ez.1:1-3a is virtually identical with 2Chr.36:23
b. Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem (Ez.1:7). This was the clearest expression of the continuity of the exiles with Israel’s past. The exiles had the temple!
c. List of the exiles who returned (Ez.2:1-70):

The lists assured the restoration community that they had not arrived upon the scene from out of the blue but were in fact solidly established upon their ancestral roots as emphasized by their family pedigrees and upon their ancestral home. They were not cut off from the promise to Abraham of land and posterity. They were the raw material from which God would continue salvation history.[footnote]B Waltke, Lectures on Judges to Poets (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]

d. Sacrifices and festivals in accordance with the Law of Moses (Ez.3:2ff).
e. The account is presented to show deliberate parallels and contrasts with First Temple. Cedar logs by sea (Ez.3:7; 1 Chron.22:4; 2 Chron.2:8) to show restoration is a continuation of the past. Similarly the masons and carpenters are from Sidon and Tyre (1Chron.22:4) and their food and oil is provided in the same way (2Chron.2:10). Work begins on same day as the First temple (Ez.3:8, 1 Kings 6:1). As prescribed by David (Ez.3:11) again emphasizes continuity with past.
f. The community was a mere remnant, but now purified and chastened because they recognized the sin that forced those who had worshiped at Solomon’s temple into captivity (Ez.5:12). They now agree with the pre-exilic prophets. The crucible of the exile had served its purpose.
Chronicler’s Message: Post-exilic Israel is to inherit the promises and privileges sinned away by pre-exilic Israel.

4. Second exodus (Ez.1:5-11)

Isaiah predicted a return of the exiles in terms which portrayed a second exodus (Isa.43:14-21; 48:20-21; 51:10; 52:12). The verb used by Ezra and translated “go up” in 1:3 is the same as that used to describe how the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt (Ex.32:1, 4, 7, 8, 23).
a. Similarities
• People received gifts and supplies from their captors (Ez.1:6; Exod 3:31ff; 11:2; 12:35;)
• Temple vessels restored and returned to Jerusalem (Ez.1:7–11), reminding of original use in Tabernacle
• Jews gave offerings for Temple building (Ez.2:68–69), as with the Tabernacle building (Ex. 35:20–29).
• They celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (Ez.3:4), commemorating first Exodus (Lev 23:42-43).

Appropriately the first feast they celebrated together was the Feast of Tabernacles. This would be significant for them since it had been instituted hundreds of years earlier to remind the Israelites of their long journey from Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the promised land (Lev. 23:34-43). These exiles returning from Babylon had travelled over 700 miles across another difficult wilderness. They too wanted to express their gratitude to the Lord.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 387.[/footnote]

b. Differences
• No oppression
• No flight
• No haste
• Only a remnant leaves
The exiles returned to Jerusalem (Ez.1:11) with the articles for the Temple. The Lord kept His promise that after chastening Israel for covenant breaking He would return them to the Promised Land (Dt.30:1-5)
Chronicler’s Message: Restored Israel is to leave exile behind and re-occupy the Promised Land in accordance with God’s redemptive purposes and promises.

5. List of Returnees (Ez.2:1-70)

The comprehensive census list is intended to unite various parts of Judean society as one people in the Promised Land. All members of the community assist in building. There is an especial emphasis on groups associated with the Temple service (Ez.2:36-58).
Chronicler’s Message: All Israel have a responsibility to rebuild and restore the Temple services.

6. First things first (Ez.3:1-4:5)

Zerubbabel first restored the altar of the temple so that sacrifices could be offered to God. This shows the people’s concern to keep the covenant mediated by Moses. The sacrificial system was essential for maintaining Israel’s covenant with God. As soon as the first sacrifices had been offered they began to rebuild the temple. Although the new temple was not identical with Solomon’s, there are many thematic and verbal parallels that suggest it was indeed a continuation of it. There is also a reference to David’s original instructions (Ez.3:10)

There is a clear attempt, in the interests of continuity, to duplicate the dedication of Solomon’s temple, since the rededication of Ezra 3 takes place at the Feast of Tabernacles (Ez.3:4-6), the period at which the first temple was dedicated. Ezra 3 makes it clear that the author is bent upon establishing continuity with Solomon’s temple, arguing that it was no new temple that was to be rebuilt, but simply the Solomonic temple re-erected on its original site (Ezra 3:3).[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 313.[/footnote]

Construction of the second temple was started in 536 BC on the Solomonic foundations leveled a half-century before by the Babylonians. People who remembered the earlier temple wept at the comparison (Ez.3:12). Not until 516 BC was the temple finally completed at the urging of Haggai and Zechariah (Ez.6:13-15).
Chronicler’s Message: The Temple and its services must be built upon the foundation of atoning sacrifice.

7. Opposition to rebuilding

Rebuilding begins (Ez.3:7-13)

-Opposition to rebuilding (Ez.4:1-24)

Rebuilding resumed (Ez.5:1-2)

-Opposition to rebuilding (Ez.5:3-6:12)

Rebuilding completed (Ez.6:13-22)[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 694.[/footnote]
Critics often highlight Ez.4:6-23 as “out of place.” These verses refer to events taking place in the time of Ahasuerus (Xerxes, 485-465 BC) and Artarxerxes I. Verse 24 then narrates events that took place much earlier, in the time of Darius. The answer lies in the author’s prioritizing of literary purpose over chronological sequence.

The purpose of Ezra is to trace the history of opposition to the building in its entirety. Hence, we are told (Ez.4:1-5) that this opposition appeared throughout the reigns of Cyrus and Darius. The writer then continues by saying that this opposition was found even during the days of Xerxes. More than that it reached its culmination in the time of Artaxerxes I, when a letter of complaint was sent unto the king, and Artaxerxes commanded that the work of building should cease. This was the whole history of the controversy. The writer then reverts to the time of Cyrus and states that the work ceased until the time of Darius. Chapter Five continues with the subject. When the purpose of the writer is taken into account, namely, to finish one subject before going on to the next, even at the expense of chronological sequence, how can objection be legitimately raised? When the text is carefully read, the alleged confusion disappears.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 372-373.[/footnote]

The parenthesis serves three purposes. (1) It justifies the reference to the Samaritans in v1 as “enemies.” (2) It shows that the opposition was not a brief and passing problem but a foretaste of the prolonged opposition to be endured by the people of God in rebuilding the kingdom. (3) It links the rebuilding of the Temple and the rebuilding of the wall as one continuous construction project.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 701.[/footnote]

The rebuilding stalled because the people became discouraged by political opposition and forgot their vision. An offer of help came from the Samaritans in the north. They were polytheistic descendants of the mixed marriages between Israelites and various groups moved into Samaria by the Assyrians after Israel fell in 722 BC. Israel refused their offer of help, partly because mixing with other idolatrous peoples was one of the causes of their exile (2Ki.17:18-23). After their offer of help was refused they did everything to hinder the re-building work, revealing the true intents of their hearts (Ez.4:1-5). Between the founding of the altar (537/6 BC) and the building of the temple (520-516 B.C.) the temple building ceased and the defeated community turned instead to building their own houses. From 520 BC Haggai and Zechariah preached against their spiritual apathy and their preferences to build their own houses rather than re-build God’s (Ez.5:1-2; 6:14-15). This restarted the work again. The work was completed in 515/6 BC 20 years after the building began and almost exactly 70 years after the destruction of the Solomon Temple in 586 BC.
Chronicler’s Message: Rebuilding will face and must overcome opposition.

8. Aramaic decree (Ez.6:3-12)

The use of Aramaic, the language of international correspondence, lent a sense of authenticity to Ezra’s work by presenting documents in the language of original composition.

The author was showing by his command of Aramaic in his own narrative framework that he did indeed understand the Aramaic of the documents he was passing along. This would have functioned to authenticate him as an authoritative interpreter of the materials. As to why the author returned to Hebrew for the last four verses of the first major section of his book (6:19–22), it seems that when the subject returns to religious matters as prescribed by the law (as it does here), specifically “as it is written in the book of Moses” (6:18), the natural language in which to proceed was the language in which those instructions had been given, namely, Hebrew.[footnote]D M Howard, An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]


9. Celebrating the Passover (Ez.6:19-22)

The religious leaders and the community were now purified and the paschal lamb is eaten to signify a new beginning. The exile is in the past and a hoped-for bright future is beginning.

And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat, and kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel (Ezra 6:21-22).

A bright note of gladness is emphasized in the concluding message of this section.

The prophet-historian began this act with the sovereign work of grace sending the exiles back and concludes with the sovereign work of grace of filling the whole restored community with joy because the Sovereign changed the heart of the Gentile king.[footnote]B Waltke, Lectures on Judges to Poets (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]

Passover festivities (Ez.6:19-22), which speak for the redemption of Israel once again in its land, appropriately follow the dedication. The festival was designed to exhibit the unity of the new Israel, a product of the returnees and those who remained in the land but who had separated themselves from pollution (Ez.6:21).[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 314-315.[/footnote]

Chronicler’s Message: Rebuilding of the Temple and restoration of its services leads to national unity and joy.

10. Silent Years

There is a gap of 58 years between Ezra 6&7 during which little or nothing is known of the Jews in Judea. However, judging by the need and nature of Ezra’s ministry, they were probably years of spiritual decline.
The events of Esther in the Persian capital took place between chapters 6 and 7.

The divine providence shown to the Jews during the reign of Xerxes, predecessor of Artaxerxes, may have influenced Artarxerxes to show favor to the Jews during his reign, such as encouraging them to return to their homeland (Ez.7:11-26).[footnote]I L Jensen, Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), 231.[/footnote]

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Zerubbabel

Ezra’s work was based on Zerubbabel’s, the royal descendant of David (Hag.1-2; Zech.1-8). Although Zerubbabel proved not to be the promised Messiah, Jesus descended from his line (Mat.1:12-16) and received the promises given to the house of David.

2. The Temple of God

As with the Tabernacle and the first Temple, the second Temple foreshadowed Christ. He not only purged the temple (Mt 21:12-13), He actually was the temple (Jn 2:19-22).

He established the church as the temple of God (1 Co.3:16-17; 2 Co.6:16) and now ministers in the heavenly temple (Heb.9:11-12,24). When he returns, Christ will bring the new Jerusalem from heaven to the earth to make the new heavens and the new earth the holy city of God, with himself and the Father as its temple (Rev.21:22).[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 693.[/footnote]


3. The Samaritans

The Jewish/Samaritan hostility forms an important part of the New Testament background (Jn.4:1-42). Jesus shows how the New Testament dispensation is not about racial groups but about spiritual worship.

II. Return of Ezra and Rebuilding of Community (Ezra 7-10)

A. General Analysis

The return of Ezra (Ezra 7-8)
The rebuilding of the Community (Ezra 9-10)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Comparison between Ezra Part 1 (ch1-6) and Ezra Part 2 (ch 7-10)


Chs. 1–6





Chs. 7–10
Decree of Cyrus
Led by Zerubbabel
Main Issue: The Sanctuary
Encouragers: Haggai & Zechariah
Outcome: Temple Built
Decree of Artaxerxes
Led by Ezra
Main Issue: Sanctification
Encourager: Ezra
Outcome: People Separated

[footnote]J E Smith, The Books of History (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
Part 2 of Ezra is focused on only one year. In 458 BC Ezra led a smaller group of Jews back to Judea to enforce God’s law among the returnees. Attention shifts from the initial construction effort under Zerubbabel to the work of Ezra.

2. Return under Ezra (Ezra 7-8)

a Journey to Jerusalem (Ez.7:1-10)

b Commissioning of Ezra by Artaxerxes to found community on Law (Ez.7:11-26)

c Praise for commissioning (Ez.7:27-28a)

d Leaders gathered for journey (Ez.7:28b)

e Israel Reunited: families who join Ezra in return (Ez.8:1-14)

d’ Leaders gathered for journey (Ez.8:15-20)

c’ Prayer and fasting for safe journey (Ez.8:21-23)

b’ Commissioning of Vessel Bearers (Ez.8:24-30)

a’ Journey to Jerusalem (Ez.8:31-36)[footnote]B Waltke, Lectures on Judges to Poets (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]
a. Genealogical credentials (Ez.7:1-5)
Ezra’s priestly lineage is traced back through sixteen generations (including Zadok, priest in David’s day) to Aaron, the high priest. This genealogy serves to show him genuinely qualified for the task at hand. His blessed intimacy with the Law of Moses (Ez.7:6, 10, 11) also qualified him for the King’s commission to re-institute the sacrificial system and to teach the people the law.
b. Artaxerxes letter (Ez.7:11-26)
The king grants permission to all the people to go up with Ezra, authorizes him to inquire as to how Judah is keeping the law of God (Ez.7:14), provides for the care and upkeep of the Temple (Ez.7:15-24), and authorizes Ezra to appoint judges who will punish any who transgress God’s law (Ez.7:25-26). This shows how Ezra’s mission was twofold – physical and spiritual.
c. God’s Providence (Ez.7:27-28)
As with Cyrus, Artaxerxes’ actions are traced back to God’s sovereignty in order to show the divine authorization for Ezra’s reforms. “Good favor” (Ez.7:28) translates the Hebrew word hesed the word used to describe God’s covenant loyalty and love. The King’s hesed was thereby traced back to God’s hesed to His people. Ezra’s awareness of God’s superintending hand was a great encouragement to him.
d. Unity of Israel (Ez.8:1-30)
The emphasis on this section is on the gathering together of various families and their leaders to present a picture of the unity of the returnees. Ezra was especially concerned for a greater return of Temple personnel and successfully persuaded a good number to return.
e. Journey and Arrival (Ez.8:31-36)
Little attention is paid to the journey to Jerusalem. However, once they arrive the gifts for the Temple are handed over and the people join in united sacrifice and worship for what God had done for them.
Chronicler’s Message: God controls and moves heathen kings to work all things together for the good of Israel.

3. The Rebuilding of the Community (Ezra 9-10)

-Ezra hears, grieves, confesses (Ez.9:1-15)
-The people hear, grieve, confess (Ez.10:1-44)
a. The Problem (Ez.9:1-4)
When Ezra returned he found that contrary to God’s law (Ex.34:15-16; Deut.7:1-3) many of the earlier returnees had intermarried heathen non-Israelites and adopted their religious practices. This was the central crisis of this return.

For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass. And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied (Ezra 9:2-3).

The concern in verse 2 is that the “holy seed” has been polluted. This recalls phrases describing Israel as a “holy nation” (Ex. 19:6) and a “godly seed” (Mal. 2:15), and especially Isaiah 6:13, where this precise term occurs again (“holy seed”), the only other place in the Old Testament where the term occurs.
b. The Prayer (Ez.9:5-15)
Ezra saw inter-marriage as a threat to the identity and blessing of God’s people. He reacted by fasting, tearing out his hair and crying out in a public prayer of covenant-centered confession. Doing nothing would have meant the end of God’s Temple (Ez.9:8) and God’s people (Ez.9:14). Though he was not guilty of these sins, he identified himself with them in this prayer.
c. The Penitence (Ez.10:1-4).
The people began to follow Ezra’s example and repent in hope of the covenant mercy of God (Ez.10:2-3).
d. The Propitiation (Ez.10:5-44)
The story of Ezra ends by showing how the sin of mixed marriages was dealt with, and how peace with God was thereby restored. All the people of Judah are gathered together and a resolution is made to separate all foreign wives from their community. For three months Ezra and the appointed magistrates hear and resolve individual cases. 113 cases of mixed marriage are identified and a strict separation enacted. The list of offenders started with religious officials (Ez.10:18–24) and finished with the laity (Ez.10:25–43).
Some have criticized the ethics of this “mass divorce decree” as being harsh on the women and their children. The first thing to say is that the most urgent concern was the protection of Israel’s religious identity. Also, knowing as we do Ezra’s concern for the Pentateuch, we can be confident that he would have adhered to the laws of provision for widows, orphans, and aliens within Israel (e.g., Ex. 22:21–24; Deut. 14:29; 16:11, 14; 24:17) and guaranteed that they were cared for in some way.
Chronicler’s Message: Israel must be separate from the world if it is to be a blessing to the world.

4. Separation and Unity

Only by separating from the heathen could the unity of Israel be preserved. The unity of Israel is one of Ezra’s great concerns.

One must not lose sight of the all-Israelite character of Ezra’s activities. The point has been made that within the narratives concerning Ezra personally, the term “Israel” is used more than twenty times, while Judah” occurs only four times (Ez.7:14; 9:9; 10:7, 9, all geographical references). Ezra is sent, as the terms of his commission make clear, to “all the people in the province Beyond the River (Ez.7:25), that is, to virtually the entire population of the older Jordanian boundaries of the Davidic empire. This all-Israel tone in Ezra (and Nehemiah) sustains prophetic concerns, and cautions us from construing action taken during this period as anti-Samaritan. This emphasis on the purpose of Ezra’s return follows hard upon earlier material treating the unsuccessful character of the first return under Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, and Joshua (chaps. 1-6). The material may have been designed, therefore, to contrast what was achieved under the leadership of these two returns. We are probably being encouraged by this all-lsraelitism to view the results of the Ezra mission as more determinative for the final shape of the community than results in 537 BC.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 317-318.[/footnote]

Chronicler’s Message: National unity can only be preserved by moral and spiritual separation from heathen nations and their practices.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Mixed Marriages

The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord (1Cor.7:39).

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2Cor.6:14).


2. Moral Reforms

The moral reforms that Ezra and Nehemiah brought to the nation also find ultimate fulfillment in Christ. Christ also called God’s covenant people to return to the Lord and his law (Mt.5:17-19). In fact, through his death, his resurrection and the empowerment of his Spirit, he cleanses those who believe in him from unrighteousness and leads them into faithful living (1Jn.1:7-9), so they may inherit the blessings of God (Mt. 25:34-40; Rom.6:1-23; l Peter 3:9-12).[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 694.[/footnote]


III. The Message

Original Message: Despite trouble from within and without, the restored community must centre itself upon the new temple and use marriage in accordance with God’s Word.
Present Message: Despite trouble from within and without, the Christian community must centre itself upon the Church and look to Biblical marriages to strengthen the Church from within.