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When God needed a man of sterling character and strong conviction, He chose Ezra, whose name actually means "help," to lead the restoration of the remnant of the tribe of Judah on their return to Jerusalem after their 70-year captivity in Babylon.
God had warned the people of Judah if they didn't repent of their sinful, rebellious ways He would allow them to be conquered and taken from their homeland. When they refused to heed the warnings of the prophets, the Babylonians invaded and removed them through three major deportations (ca. 606, 597 and 587 B.C.). Their punishment was 70 years of captivity in a foreign land (Jeremiah 25:1-13).
Then, as God had promised, He restored the descendants of Judah to Israel. Zerubbabel headed the first wave of returnees to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1-6; ca. 536-516). Ezra then led a later group in 457, followed by Nehemiah, Ezra's contemporary, who rebuilt the shattered walls of Jerusalem in 444.
Nearly 50,000 people accompanied Zerubbabel back to Israel to rebuild the temple, but they got side-tracked, and focussed on building houses for themselves, until the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah corrected the problem, and the temple was finally completed around 516.
Five decades passed, but the people still lacked understanding, and were not wholeheartedly obedient. God then set His hand to begin to restore the spiritual temple, and He used Ezra, who was a direct descendant of the priestly family that included Eleazar, Phineas, Zadok and Aaron (Ezra 7:1-5), to accomplish this.
While in Babylon, Ezra had gained the favour of King Artaxerxes, who granted him permission to return to Jerusalem, ca. 457 B.C. The king also allowed all who wanted to accompany Ezra to return to Jerusalem, but only 1,754 chose to do so, compared with 49,897 who had returned with Zerubbabel.
Soon after his arrival Ezra discovered the settlers of Jerusalem had taken wives from neighbouring gentile nations. This was something God had expressly forbidden, as such marriages weakened their resolve to honour God, and tempted them to adopt pagan ways: "The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, with respect to the abominations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites" (Ezra 9:1).
Ezra then led the people in a confession to God, and urged them to put away their pagan wives. The majority agreed to do so and began to worship the true God, but they did not remain faithful.
The other ten tribes of Israel also had not repented and turned to God after Assyria removed them from their northern kingdom almost three centuries earlier (721-718). Many of the descendants of the kingdom of Judah are still identifiable as Jews and Israelis throughout the world, but the so-called lost 10 tribes of Israel disappeared from history after their captivity in Assyria, and are not as easily identified.
Ezra the priest is a forerunner of Jesus Christ, the High Priest of God the Father (Hebrews 7). Near the end of the present age of man Christ, our High Priest, will return to this earth and restore the truths of the Bible to the descendants of ancient Israel and the whole world. He will gather the descendants of Israel and Judah from the ends of the earth (Isaiah 11:10-12; Jeremiah 23:3-8; Ezekiel 36:1-38) and “Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God...I will not hide My face from them anymore…” (Ezekiel 39:28-29).
The Good News Magazine