After 70 years in exile, the people of Israel were coming back home. The new Persian emperor Cyrus had decreed that they return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of their God—which had lain in ruins the whole time (Ezr 1:1–4).
Zerubbabel and Jeshua, descendants of King David and Aaron the priest, answer the call to rebuild the house of God.
But the temple wasn’t the only thing that needed attention. Many of the returning Hebrews had forgotten God’s laws—and were disregarding them in front of the people. They needed to remember the covenant they’d made with God. They needed to remember why they were in their situation: why they had to go to Babylon (which you can read about in Kings and Chronicles), and why they’d been allowed to come back. The temple needed a new foundation, but the people needed to return to the foundations of their faith, too.
Ezra, the scribe, answers the call to teach Israel the ways of God again (Ezr 7:10).
The book of Ezra chronicles both stories: rebuilding the temple and remembering the law. This account weaves together several categories of written works.
- Historical narrative—events surrounding Israel’s return, temple reconstruction, and revival
- Official documents—letters and decrees sent to and from the Persian emperors during this time period
- Jewish records—names of individuals and families who returned to Israel
- Ezra’s autobiographical texts—prayers, reflections, and actions from Ezra’s point of view
These pieces come together to tell us how God began restoring Israel.
Theme verse of Ezra
“For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezr 9:9)
Ezra’s role in the Bible
Ezra begins a new story arc in Israel’s history:
- From Genesis to Deuteronomy, God calls out Israel as a special nation and teaches them His laws.
- From Joshua to 2 Chronicles, God gives Israel a land and a king, but Israel loses both when they consistently disobey God.
- From Ezra to Esther, God restores Israel from exile in their own land again.
Ezra and Nehemiah (the next book of the Bible) were originally considered two parts of one book. Ezra focuses on rebuilding the temple; Nehemiah focuses on rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. Both form the story of how God reestablishes Israel in the land He promised to her. The book of Ezra also references other biblical prophets, namely Haggai and Zechariah, whose messages stirred up the people to finish building the temple (Ezr 5:1).
Ezra calls attention to Israel’s covenant history with the Lord. God had made promises to Israel through Moses:
- If the people obeyed Him, they would enjoy a good land and prosperity.
- If the people disobeyed Him, they would face punishment and exile.
The people disobeyed, and God kept His promise (Ezr 9:7). However, God had made another promise: He would gather Israel back to her land after He had punished her (Dt 30:3). The book of Ezra shows us how God kept that promise.
Ezra is also traditionally credited with writing the books of First and Second Chronicles. If this is true, then Ezra is the second most prolific author of the Bible (after Moses).
Quick outline of Ezra
- Rebuilding the temple (Ezr 1–6)
- The remnant returns to Judah (Ezra 1–2)
- Judah lays the new temple foundations (Ezra 3)
- Judah’s adversaries stop temple work (Ezra 4)
- Judah resumes temple work (Ezra 5)
- The temple is completed (Ezra 6)
- Remembering the law (Ezr 7–10)
- Artaxerxes sends Ezra to teach the law in Jerusalem (Ezra 7–8)
- Ezra has the people put away their foreign wives (Ezra 9–10)