Pastor's Ponderings: Bible Study Introduction on Old Testament book of Ezra (October 5, 2023)
Good morning in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the blessings of the Light of Christ guard and guide you every day of your life.
Today I am going to give you background of the First Testament (Old Testament) as the author and theologian John Goldingay likes to call the Hebrew Scriptures. What is really important for us to acknowledge is that these are the texts that Jesus was accustomed to using. In His time they were hardly "old", they were then, and continue to be today, God's Truth for all people, though Jesus often enlightens them in ways that the religious leaders could not. They were steeped in the many generations who had used those books to guide God's elect. The problem is that they missed the point of God's call on this people to be a light to the world. So lets do a kind of quick calendar of dates and event which might help us all to put Ezra into the place where he fits.
1200's: BCE (Before the Common Era / the new title for BC) Moses, the exodus, Joshua
1100's: The time of the Judges
1000's: Saul , the first King of the Hebrews, followed by Saul's son briefly, and then David becomes the king
900's: Solomon; the nations splits into two - Israel on the north and Judah and Jerusalem on the south.
800's: Elijah, Elisha
700's: Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah; Assyria is the super power of the time and defeats and exiles the people and their leaders in the northern kingdom, Israel
600's: Jeremiah, King Josiah (the last great faithful Jewish King); Babylon is the super power
500's: Ezekiel; the fall of Judah ; Persia is the super power; under King Cyrus Judahites are free to return home
400's: Ezra, Nehemiah
300's: Greece is the super power
200's: Syria and Egypt are both regional super powers pulling Judah one way or the other
100's: Judah's rebellion against Syrian power and gain of independence
000's: Rome is the super power, and as we know, they overrun Judah and Jerusalem
Please know that there are historically more specific dates for many of these happenings, but for the purpose of our study, these are close enough.
In Hebrew manuscripts, Ezra and Nehemiah form one book of scripture. Together they tell an unfolding story after the return of the Jews to Judah after their exile. Against the opposition of neighboring nations, the Jews return to rebuild the Temple. In Nehemiah we find Ezra and Nehemiah present at the same time during the temple restoration and rebuilding. The real heroes of the return of the Jews from Persia to Judah were Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel (both leaders who we might choose to call "governors", the priestly leader Jeshua (Joshua, not the person from 700 years earlier), the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Their time of presence was after 539BCE when Babylon was over powered by the Persians. This is the time in the book of Ezra in chapters 1-6 that we are told about how the Persians encouraged the Jews to return home. As we consider the return we must remember that nearly everyone who had been taken into exile had died, and there was no large number of Jews who knew about, or wanted anything to do with heading back to Judah. Many Jews had already assimilated into the Persian culture, where their families, businesses, and homes had already been for quite a while.
The next section of Ezra, 7-10, Perhaps Ezra's grandfather was born at the beginning of this time 458BCE, so Ezra was not even around when the return from exile took place. Ezra returns to Judah some 80 years after the first return. Upon his return Ezra finds a community of Jews who do not live in accordance with the Pentateuch, the first five books which the Jews name the books of Law, and with him, Ezra has a copy of the Torah (the Law). He also finds that there has been, as we would expect, a lot of inter marriage between the Jews and the local non-Jewish tribes. The people of the other tribes neither worshiped the Jewish God, nor did they believe in Him. So Ezra sets about the process of getting the people to repent.
All of this is the story in a compressed form, so in two weeks we will begin to dig into the text of Ezra in this bible study. With this background we will have a better idea of what has already happened, and what Ezra accomplishes through his presence in Judah and at the Temple. Please remember that the dating which I have shared with you is not always exact, but is based on the scholarship of our time about these events.
I will be back with you in two weeks on October 19th. Thanks for sharing with me today.
In Christ Love for us all, Pastor Kim Taylor