The book of Ezra, along with the book of Nehemiah, spans about one hundred years of Israel’s history, from the time of Cyrus’ edict in 538 BC that allowed the Jews to return to their homeland of Jerusalem and Judah, to the time of Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem in 433–432 BC. Events cluster around two main periods within this one-hundred-year span—538–515 BC (Ezra 1–6) and 458–433 BC (Ezra 7–Neh. 13). The former period centers on the rebuilding of the temple. The latter period centers on the reformation of the people by way of the Law under Ezra’s leadership and the rebuilding of the wall under Nehemiah’s leadership. These times continued moving the covenant story forward and prepared the world for the arrival of the Promised One, Jesus Christ.
When you think about the book of Ezra, here are three things you should know.
1. There is a greater and more gracious King than Cyrus who has proclaimed the year of liberty for God’s people.
In the beginning chapters of Ezra, we learn about a time in the lives of God’s people when they have been displaced from their land for seventy years because of their sin. But God stirred up the heart of a Persian king to set them free and stirred up the hearts of His people to return home to rebuild the temple of God that had been destroyed by a pagan king seventy years earlier. It is an amazing story, one full of catastrophe and covenant promise; disaster and delight; fear and faith; hard circumstances and hope; roadblocks and redemption; suffering and salvation; trembling and trust; worry and wonder.
The same Lord who stirred up Cyrus and the returnees in His perfect time also sent His Son in His perfect timing “to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19). He is also over your circumstances today. He has you in the right place at the right time. You can look to the future with hope, knowing that even now He is using your difficulties to draw you to Himself and to magnify His great name. Let us respond to our freedom in Christ with a heart turned toward willing service and sacrificial giving. Let us show our love for God by worshiping Him and working for His glory.
2. The rebuilt temple was only a shadow of the true temple to come, Jesus Christ, and the opposition that God’s people faced in rebuilding it anticipated the greater opposition that Christ would face during His life and ministry.
The book of Ezra comforts God’s people by reminding them of God’s faithfulness to His promises. It also challenges God’s people to remain faithful to God in tough times. Through tears and discouragement, we look to our Savior who suffered for us by following in His footsteps and looking for Him to return in glory. The valley of despair will one day be turned into an eternal mountain of delight where we will worship our Lord and Savior forever in the city that is to come. Believers should expect suffering as they work for the glory of God and depend upon Him in discouraging times. We should cheerfully give our resources to those doing the Lord’s work, join together with God’s people to serve in the name of Christ, pray for persecuted believers who have been forced to stop kingdom work, and encourage those engaged in gospel work.
3. God providentially orchestrates all things for His glory and redemptive purposes.
The returned exiles had stopped work on the temple due to discouraging circumstances. But the prophets of God reminded them of the word of God. Within four years God had providentially orchestrated things so that His temple was completed, and worship reinstituted. It is a story of amazing grace, providence, and joy. As such, it reminds us that when we are discouraged and tempted to stop the work to which God has called us, we must turn to the Word of God for truth, rest in Christ and walk in His ways in order to experience fullness of joy, and trust God’s providential purposes to bring all things together for our good and His glory. Our fullness of joy comes from our union with Christ and our obedience to His Word. In light of this, we should support others in kingdom work with the words of Scripture and prayer, work diligently in the places God has called us, teach others that abiding in Christ results in joy, and regularly engage in corporate worship.
Hundreds of years after Ezra the priest made the return journey to Jerusalem, another priest made a journey to Jerusalem. But this priest came from heaven to earth in order to secure the redemption of God’s people with the sacrifice of Himself. Because His sacrifice was perfect and final on the cross, you and I can approach the throne of grace with confidence, boldly imploring our God to protect us, provide for us, and fulfill His purposes for us. The book of Ezra encourages us to continue the good work our Priest and King has called us to do while relying on His providential preparation, protection, and provision.
This article is part of the Every Book of the Bible: 3 Things to Know collection.