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Ezra

Ezra and Nehemiah are combined into one book titled "2 Esdras" in the Greek Bible.[2]

Ezra was a priest in exile in Babylon, who Cyrus permitted to return to Jerusalem to re-establish the worship. Unfortunately he ordered the returning exiles to banish their foreign wives, which must have caused much suffering. This painful episode is part of the story that must be told, but it is said that the books Ruth and Esther are included in the Bible to show that women with foreign heritage, titles and ways are fully part of God's world.

Ezra's politically incorrect approach is consistent with that of Joshua 23:11–16; both show the limitations of Old Testament religion. At that time, evil could only be destroyed by destroying the evildoer; but since Christ has come, we seek to convert the evildoer.

The book of Ezra is unusual in that it does not claim that God approved of anything that happened in it. It is a book about people trying to do God's will, but it is left to the reader to decide whether they succeeded. Some say that holiness is emphasized too much over mercy, and that the book actually describes the birth of Pharisaism.

Commentary

1:1–3

= 2 Chronicles 36:22–23.

1:7

It appears that the articles removed from the temple at the start of the exile were returned. The mystery of when the Ark and its contents were lost therefore remains unsolved, though see 1 Kings 8:9 and Ezra 5:13.

2

The long list of names seems boring to us, but it shows the importance attached by the Jews to their place within God's covenant people, on which hung each person's salvation. Christians should attach similar importance to their names being written in the "Book of Life" in Revelation 20:12, as Jesus taught in Luke 10:20.

2:63

See also Nehemiah 7:65. The Breast-piece was a square, one hand-span across, made of metal folded double (Exodus 28:16) making it like an envelope. As the Urim and Thummim for making decisions were to be stored in it (Exodus 28:30), they must have been thin and small. It seems that by the time the Jews were longing for a priest "with Urim and Thummim" to arise, they had been physically lost, so that decisions could not be made any longer by this method. Coggins[1 p.130] implies that they were deliberately suppressed in the time of the Kings because they threatened the King's right to make decisions.

3:1f

See Appendix 2 Temple.

3:12

Clearly, if some of those present remembered the former temple, these events did not take place 400 years after the exile started! Some of the last to be exiled must have been among the first to return, and rebuilding the temple was their first priority.

5:13

This verse indicates that it was the gold and silver items from the former temple that were returned after the exile. It is not clear whether this would include the Ark, which was made of wood but covered in gold, and the mementoes that it had contained. See Ezra 1:7.

5:15

Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

6:14

This verse appears to indicate that the prophets Zechariah and Haggai were contemporary with the rebuilding of the temple.

10:3

Usually the Bible shows God taking the initiative to reach out to humanity, but this verse describes people trying to initiate a covenant with God. One has to question whether God wanted this to happen at all.

10:32

Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

References:

  1. Coggins, R Introducing the Old Testament Oxford University Press, 2nd edition 2001
  2. NRSV Holy Bible New Revised Standard Version Anglicized Edition, 1998 Oxford: OUP, 1989 & 1995

© David Billin 2002–2021