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Ezra was conscientious and a man of judgment, who faithfully taught God's truth (Ezra 7:10). He sought spiritual strength through prayer and fasting, and willingly sacrificed his own needs in order to honor God.
The name ‘Ezra’ means “help,” and God used Ezra to help bring His people back to obedience to Him. When Judah refused to repent of their sinful, rebellious ways, after repeated warnings from the prophets, God allowed the Babylonians to remove them from their homeland via three major deportations (ca. 606, 597 and 587 B.C.). As Jeremiah had prophesied, their punishment was 70 years of captivity in a foreign land (Jeremiah 25:11).
When the 70 years was up God honored His promise to restore the descendants of Judah. Zerubbabel headed the first return and rebuilt the temple (ca. 536-516 B. C.). Ezra then led a later group in 457 B. C. and Nehemiah, Ezra's contemporary, returned to rebuild the shattered walls of Jerusalem in 444 B. C.
Zerubbabel, a prince of Judah, led nearly 50,000 of his countrymen back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. They faced considerable opposition and eventually became sidetracked, shifting their focus to building houses for themselves. Eventually they heeded the exhortations of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and Zerubbabel and his workmen completed the temple around 516 B. C. But, although the people had rebuilt the physical temple, they were still in poor spiritual condition. Then Ezra entered the picture.
Ezra was a direct descendant of the priestly family descended from Aaron (Ezra 7:1-5) and "a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses..[who] had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD… and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel" (Ezra 7:6-10).
But when King Artaxerxes granted Ezra the commission to return to Jerusalem (ca. 457 B.C.), only 1,754 of the captives chose to make the journey with him, compared to the 49,897 who had returned with Zerubbabel 79 years earlier. Ezra was also surprised no Levites had agreed to return to Jerusalem with him and so he made sure some Levites were included for service in the temple (Ezra 8:15-17).
Ezra also realized he needed protection on the long journey back to Jerusalem, and he proclaimed a fast, asking God to safeguard them on the dangerous trek (Ezra 8:21-23). As a result, the journey was safe and uneventful. Then after they had made their offerings to God the leaders of the remnant of Judah came to Ezra and told him that many Israelite men were married to foreign wives, making the prospect of God’s people being seduced into worshiping false gods much more likely.
Ezra prayed to God and admonished them to put away their pagan wives. The majority agreed to obey God and do so, removing a major source of sin (Ezra 10:10-12). But, although faithful Ezra had helped the remnant of Judah to return to God, they did not remain faithful. Neither had the other tribes of Israel repented and turned to God after Assyria removed them from their northern kingdom almost three centuries earlier (721-718 B.C).
Ezra, the priest, was a forerunner of Jesus Christ. Many prophecies show that at Jesus Christ's second coming He will gather the descendants of Israel and Judah from the ends of the earth (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:3-8) and teach them to follow God. "Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their land…And I will not hide My face from them anymore, for I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel…” (Ezekiel 39:28-29).
The Good News magazine (Mar-Apr 1999)