About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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ch. 1:1 - 11

My Commentary On The Book Of Ezra




This commentary is based on the 1984 edition of the New International Bible.  Chapter titles in this commentary are based on the chapter titles of the NIV for easy study purposes.


Ezra was a Jewish priest. He is the writer of this historical account.  He wrote this little book around 450 B.C..  He was a contemporary with Nehemiah, who also wrote a book.  He was also a contemporary of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The book of Ruth was also written about the same time.  The prophet Malachi wrote his prophetic book about 80 to 100 years later.


 If there is any question that Ezra didn’t write this account, chapter 7 verse 28 makes it clear that he did.  It is also likely that Ezra wrote first and second Chronicles as well, along with putting together the Psalms.  So he was an pretty important person in Jewish history and in the Bible.    


He had come from Babylon once King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland from exile.  About 50,000 Jews made the trip home.  Most Jews decided to stay in Babylon.  Seventy years of captivity had transpired as the prophets prophesied would happen.  God judged Israel in the first place by allowing the Babylonians to overtake Jerusalem and destroy the Jewish homeland.


You must remember that many of these Jews who were living in Babylon were born in captivity.  They did not know Jerusalem on a first hand basis.  They would have only been told the stories of Jerusalem by their parents.  Babylon was a very beautiful city.  It they were going to return to Jerusalem, they’d have to go to a desolate place and begin life all over in a very hard existence.


As noted above, Cyrus was the King who gave the edict to allow the Jews to return to their homeland.  He and the Persian  armies defeated the Babylonians and became the next world super-power. If you read Isa. 44:24 to 28 you will see that Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus would release the Jews some two hundred years before it actually happened. Isaiah even mentions Cyrus by name.  This clearly shows us the power of Biblical prophecy.


It is thus clear that God does work behind the scenes with world leaders even though the leaders may not be godly or devoted to Him.  This is still the case today.


So 50,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and to rebuild the temple.  They found it a very difficult task and got distracted from their mission.  They strayed from following the precepts of their God as they had in the past, and as we still do today as Christians.  This is the setting in which Ezra and Nehemiah was written.  You might well want to consider the church as being very similar to the state of the Jews back then.  Like the Jews, Christians tend to wander from their Lord and get side-tracked from their mission at hand.  How God felt about the Jews in Ezra’s day, He might well feel about the church in our day.


Cyrus Helps The Exiles To Return (ch. 1:1 - 11)


The first phrase of Ezra’s account says, “in the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia”.  This gives us the time line to this account.  This dates what is about to take place.  It was in Cyrus’ first year of being ruler that he sent out the decree to set the Jews free.


Cyrus put a proclamation in writing for all to see.  Ezra says that the Lord moved on the heart of Cyrus to do this.  Once again, it is clear that God works with leaders of nations, even though they may not be godly people.  We can see about God moving in Cyrus’ heart that was prophesied by Isaiah in chapter 44 verse one.  God calls Cyrus, who was a Gentile, “His anointed”.  Cyrus  was truly called and moved by God to be an instrument of God.


Ezra gives the specific reason why Cyrus made this decree. It was to fulfill the prophecy spoken of by Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 25:11-12, 29:10-14)  I believe from what Cyrus says in that he knew very well the God of the Jews had called him to be king of the known world, and that it was his job to set the Jews free.  Daniel was still alive in Cyrus’ first year of reign, and might well have spoken to Cyrus about Jeremiah’s and Isaiah’s prophecy to free the Jews.  


We see the contents of Cyrus’ decree in verse 2 to 4.  In verse 2 Cyrus claims that God has given him all the kingdoms of the world.  We should note that the world here means “known world”.  Cyrus was in charge of the known world of that day.  But what about his claim that it was God who gave him the power, even though he was a Gentile pagan?


I believe Scripture is pretty clear on the answer. I do believe that God gave all the kingdoms of the world to Cyrus.  As noted before in Isaiah 44:24 to 28 and 45:13 and 45:13, it  clearly states this to be so in the case of Cyrus. Yet beyond this, I think there are sufficient passages in the Bible that shows us that God is behind the rise and fall of nations.


Also Cyrus says that God “has appointed him” to build the temple for the Jews in Jerusalem.  Once again, you can read that in Isa. 44:24 to 28. God used a secular man to help build His temple of worship. God still uses secular people today for His own particular purpose.


In verse 3 we see that Cyrus didn’t actually go and help build the temple.  Instead, he allowed or set free those Jews who felt the need to go and rebuild the temple.  By this, Cyrus played a big role in the return of the Jews to rebuild God’s temple. 


Cyrus did not demand or decree that every Jew had to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem. He only said for those to return who felt deep within them to make the trip and rebuild the temple.  You might well call this a “calling from God’.  Those who were called would return.  Those who had the vision would return.  And it would have to be a strong feeling of calling within the person because it would not be an easy road to go on.  As we know, even though those who left Babylon for Jerusalem might well have felt the calling, they slowly wandered from this calling, not unlike Christians in our day and age.


Also in verse 3 we see that Cyrus recognizes the God of Israel.  He calls God, the God of Israel.  He also personalizes this by saying “his God”, which refers to the individual Jew who would make the trip back to Jerusalem.  God is both the God to an individual, and also to the nation of Israel.


In verse 4 we see part of the decree that states how the trip to Jerusalem and the building project would be financed.  Those who remained behind in Jerusalem were told to help those leaving with silver, goods, and livestock.  Beyond this, they were to give a free will offering for the building of the temple.


In verse 5 we clearly see that those who went on the trip to Jerusalem were called by God.  Ezra puts it this way.  He says that those in whom “God had moved in their hearts” left for Jerusalem.  Clearly the trip home for these people was God’s will for them.  They were called by God to perform a certain task.  I’m sure all of those who left on the trip had great aspirations and felt the presence of their God, but as earlier stated, these aspirations were not realized and these Jews wandered from their God.


Even though the text says that these people  went “up to the house of the Lord”, they did not go up geographically.  It’s actually more down and across.  The Bible always refers to Jerusalem as up, but in the sense of elevation, not direction.  Jerusalem is situated on hills, and therefore it is up.


Verse 6 confirms that which Cyrus decreed for the remaining Jews to help the leaving Jews.  The remaining Jews helped with money and material as they were told to do.


Verse 7 also tells us that Cyrus himself helped out.  King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took the spoils of the temple when he demolished Jerusalem and put them in the temple of his gods.  Cyrus took these things out of that temple and returned them to the Jews so they could put them back in their temple once it had been built.  We need to note that not all things were carried back to Babylon when the Babylonians devastated the temple. Only some things were taken and these are listed in verse 9 and 10.


In verse 9 we see the name “Sheshbazzar”.  He was prince of Judah, meaning he was governor, or the one in charge of the Jews in Babylon.


Verse 11 tells us that there were  5400 articles carried back to Jerusalem for the temple that had been stored in the Babylonian pagan temple.

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