Ezra Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Meaning of name: My court of God
When and where he lived: Ezra lived during the end of the exile period. The story of the Israelite’s second return from Babylon takes place in about 458 BC. At that time Ezra resided in Babylon and then made the trek leading a group of just under two thousand male adults (perhaps 7000 total) Jews back to Jerusalem. One group of almost fifty thousand Jews had already returned under Zerb. Many Jews didn’t return either of those times and never went back. They had found new and sometimes rich/prosperous lives in Babylon and around the Empire. However, they did support those who returned back to Jerusalem materially with gold, silver, and animals. The state of the homeland was very poor. There was a lot of opposition to the Jews from some of the other people who lived there, especially to building the temple. The Jews also started marrying the foreign pagan women. However, the hand of God was with them and the prophecies about a remnant returning were fulfilled. See Isaiah 44:24-28 for an example of a prophecy about the return and the decision by Cyrus to allow the temple to be rebuilt.
More Historical Info: Events in Ezra and Nehemiah occurred during the period of the Jews’ return from Babylonian captivity. When the Babylonians had captured Jerusalem and overthrown the nation of Judah, they took the Jews into captivity away from Palestine into Babylon (see 2 Chronicles 36:11-21). But the Medes and Persians later overthrew the Babylonians and began a policy of allowing the Jews to return to Palestine.
There were actually three groups that returned. The first group returned in 536 BC under leadership of Zerubbabel, the second group in 458 BC led by Ezra, and the third group in 445 BC led by Nehemiah.
Consider the history of the period according to the reigns of several great Persian kings (note 4:3-7):
Cyrus — He overthrew Babylon in 538 BC. The first group of Jews returned to Palestine under Zerubbabel’s leadership in 536 BC.
Darius the “Great” — During his lifetime, the temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt.
Xerxes — This is the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. He eventually chose Esther as his queen, and by her influence the Jews were saved from destruction.
Artaxerxes — This man was son of Xerxes and stepson of Esther. He ruled from about 465-423 BC. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were written during his reign.
Ezra’s record begins with the first group that returned under Cyrus. But Ezra himself be-came personally involved in the story during the 7th year of the reign of Araxerxes, when Ezra led a group of Jews back to Palestine (458 BC). In the 21st year of the reign, Nehemiah led an-other group of Jews to return, and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.
Training and occupation: Scribe. 7:5, 10. As a scribe, Ezra had spent years studying the law of Moses. Basically he was a PHD in theology. Scribes would be expected to be able to answer questions relating to the Law and how to apply it to daily life. According to tradition, Ezra had memorized the entire law of Moses and could write it down from memory. We don’t know if this is true or not, but we do know that he set his heart to study the law. This is obviously the first step that has to take place before one can teach it to others. Ezra was also in the lineage of Aaron, showing us that he was qualified to be, and sometimes called, a priest.
Place in history: Ezra was one of the most important leaders of Judah during the time when the remnant returned to Jerusalem. Nehemiah and Zerb were the other two most influential leaders at the time. Ezra received permission from the king to return to Jerusalem and also carry with him many goods from the government to use for temple affairs. When Ezra returned, he used his authority to challenge the people to serve God in purity. Ezra is also believed by many Biblical scholars to be the author of 1st and 2nd Chronicles and maybe some Psalms, including Psalms 119.
Weaknesses: None recorded.
Had a strong personal relationship with God, which he drew from to lead the people. 7:10. In other words, Ezra was authentic. He practiced what he preached. What four steps can you see Ezra take in this verse? How can we set our hearts to study God’s Word and make it foundational to our lives? Proverbs 4:23 shows us that the heart is important as the center of our very being.
Bold to ask the king for all of this help AND to 7:6, 8:22-23 preach to the king about God’s goodness. Trusted in God to protect him, not the king or his horses or soldiers. Romans 8:31. Why might they especially needed protection on this trip? They carried a lot of goods including silver and gold, which would have made them a target to thieves and bands of marauders.
Turned to the Lord in prayer continuously (notice how God keeps using people who turn to Him in prayer, 8:21-23, 9:5-10:1. Besides prayer, what other spiritual discipline did Ezra practice? Fasting. What is the purpose of fasting? Should we still fast today? Do we? Matthew 6:16-18.
Gave thanks and praise to God where it belonged, not just the king, 7:27-28
Led wisely and carefully, for example was transparent and had an accountability system for the transport and measuring of the various gold and silver to make sure all of it was accounted for and not “misplaced” or used for himself. 8:24-30, 33-34. Note how this illustrates the concept of stewardship. These men were in charge of something that did not belong to them; in fact, it belonged to God’s work. They were in charge of it, but could not do with it just whatever they chose. They were to care for it and use it properly, but then they were to give account for what they did with it. They prayed for God’s protection, but at the same time they did all that was in their power to protect it. Also see 7:24-26, The king then decreed that those who served in the temple should not have to pay any form of taxes (see v7 regarding Nethinim). And he authorized Ezra to set up judges and other rulers to make sure God’s law was properly enforced. This required judges to know God’s law, and Ezra was to teach it to those who did not know it (it could also be that he was to teach the people the law – 2 Chron. 17:7; Malachi 2:7). Cf. Exodus 18:21,22; Deut. 16:18.
Those who would not obey the law were to be punished by whatever means was deemed best: death, banishment, confiscation of goods (as in a fine), or imprisonment. Note that laws must be enforced to be effective, and people must know the laws in order to be able to obey them. The duty of rulers is to teach people the law and to punish those who disobey. We today need judges who will diligently follow this pattern. Also see 8:15-20. When the group was about to set off for Judah, who was missing? Why was this important? What did Ezra do about it?
Identified himself with the people he was leading even when he hadn’t committed many of the sins they had, 9:5-10:1.
Genuinely grieved over sin, 9:1-4. Why did he grieve so much over sin? He saw it as God sees it. This sin was ripping Judah apart from God. People were falling into it because they were callous, disregarded God’s law, and let their own emotions and wisdom guide them instead of God. In general, those who don’t grieve over sin are indifferent to it. Those who are indifferent to it, will likely be living in it more. BTW, do you know how to boil frogs? Put them in cold water and slowly turn up the heat. The change will be so slow they may never notice it until it is too late. But if you put them directly into boiling water they will jump out. What is my point?
Challenged the people to make the costly sacrifices necessary to get rid of the evil influences among them, namely foreign/pagan wives, 10:1-17. What was Ezra doing (v1)? Who joined him?
A. Who confessed Israel’s sin? What did he say they had done?
B. What did he recommend should be done to resolve the problem?
C. Define repentance. How does the solution fit the meaning of repenting?
D. Application: What does the New Testament teach about people who divorce for a cause besides fornication then remarry? See Matt. 19:9; Rom. 7:2,3; 1 Cor. 7:10,11. How does this situation compare to Ezra 10? Note that repentance required giving up the wives, since the marriages themselves were illegitimate. They could not continue in the marriages, because they had no right to be in them. They were forbidden because the foreign wives would influence the men of Israel to worship idols and commit other pagan sins. So long as the marriages continued, the sin would continue. So the only solution was to get out of the marriages.
Application for today could include to return stolen property or make restitution when we damage something that belongs to someone else. For us today, I think we need to follow the teaching passage of 1 Corinthians 7, which instructs believers with unbelieving spouses to stay in this relationship if possible. 1 Peter 3 also tells wives who have unbelieving husbands how to live submissively and hopefully influence their husbands to believe in God. Believers today should:
1. If you are not already married, don’t marry an unbeliever. 2 Cor 6
2. If you are already married to an unbeliever, don’t seek a divorce. 1 Cor 7
This was a desperate time for the whole nation and desperate times call for desperate measures. The remnant was in danger of becoming lost, losing its identity, and wandering away from its covenant relationship with God. You could say it was almost on the verge of extinction. Be careful not to make narrative into gospel.
Lessons from his life:
God is not only just, but also merciful. Although he caused the Jews to be carried away into exile to judge them he planned for and brought about their eventual restoration. God’s discipline for his people has a purpose and will not last forever. He is always willing to forgive and restore us as individuals as well.
When God wants to do something, no king can stand in His way. Proverbs 21:1, 7:6,27-28. In fact, they will fully support God’s plan and His people. Governments, even evil ones, are under the ultimate control of God.
God seems to especially use men who dedicate themselves to His Word and also to prayer like Ezra. We should ask ourselves if we set our hearts to study the Word or if we pray as earnestly as Ezra did. Are we really concerned with the things of God or are we focusing on worldly things like many of the other Jews were before Ezra challenged them?
Sin always comes with consequences. Sin is always tragic. Serious consequences so often follow. This is true of all sins, even sins by those who make no claim to be God’s people. But sin is especially tragic when it is committed by the people of God, because they are the ones who have professed allegiance to God and who therefore ought to be most faithful. Worst of all is when the leaders of God’s people are involved. When the leaders go astray, they often lead the other people astray, setting a bad example, and failing to demand purity of the people. Elders, preachers, teachers, and mature Christians need to learn this lesson. See Acts 20:28-30; 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Peter 5:1-3. Just as we learned with Solomon, believers should avoid marrying unbelievers, Furthermore, there are many problems, dangers and temptations to one who marries a non-Christian. There may be conflicts over how to raise the kids, how much to give to the church, whether or not to attend all the services or whether to attend a denomination, what moral stan-dards we will follow, who our closest friends will be, even where we will live (in a town with no faithful church?), etc.
And even if there is no direct conflict in these matters, still the one who is not a Christian does not share that which is most important in life to the Christian – a relationship with God. The Christian must live with the daily knowledge that the dearest person on earth to him/her is destined for eternal punishment, and the non-Christian’s example works against the Christian in raising the children and teaching the lost, etc. Surely we can see that a Christian would be foolish to put himself in such a situation, yet it happens time and time again.