Reading 0,37 - 10 Chapters - 280 verses - 7,441 words

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Ezra and Nehemiah

Although the caption to Ne 1:1, "The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah," indicates that Ezra and Nehemiah were originally two separate compositions, they were combined as one very early . Josephus (c. A.D. 37-100) and the Jewish Talmud refer to the book of Ezra but not to a separate book of Nehemiah. The oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint (the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT) also treat Ezra and Nehemiah as one book.

Origen (c. A.D. 185-253 is the first writer know to distinguish between two books, which he called 1 Ezra and 2 Ezra. In translating the Latin Vulgata (c. A.D. 390-405), Jerome called Nehemiah the second book of Esdrae (Ezra). The English translation by Wycliffe (1382) and Coverdale (1535) also called Ezra "I Esdras" and Nehemiah "II Esdras." The same separation first appeared in a Hebrew manuscript in 1448.

Literary Form and Authorship

As in the closely related book of 1 and 2 Chronicles, one note the prominence of various lists in Ezra and NEhemiah, which have evidently been obtained from official sources. Included are lists of (1) the temple articles (Ezr 1:9-11), (2) the returned exiles (Ezr 2, which is virtually the same as Ne 7:6-73, (3) the genealogy of Ezra (Ezr 7:1-5), (4) the heads of the clans (Ezr 8:1-14), (5) those involved in mixed marriages (Ezr 10:18-43), (6) those who helped rebuild the wall (Ne 3), (7) those who sealed the covenant (Ne 10:1-27), (8) residents of Jerusalem and others towns (Ne 11:3-36) and (9) priests and Levites (Ne 12:1-26).

Also included in Ezra are seven official documents or letter )all in Aramaic except the first, which is in Hebrew): (1) the decree of Cyrus (1:2-4), (2) the accusation of Rehum and others against the Jews (4:11-16), (3) the reply of Artaxerxes I (4:17-22), (4) the report from Tattenai (5:7-17), (5) the memorandum of Cyrus's decree (6:2b-5), (6) Darius's reply to Tattenai (6:6-12) and (7) th authorization given by Artaxerxes I to Ezra (7:12-26). The documents are similar to contemporary non-Biblical documents of the Persian period.

Certain materials in Ezra are first-person extracts from his memoirs: 7:27-28; 8:1-34;9. Other sections are written in the third person: 7:1-26; 10; see also Ne 8. Linguistic analysis has shown that the first-person and third-person extracts resemble each other, marking it likely that the same author wrote both.

Most scholars conclude that the author/compiler of Ezra and Nehemiah was also author of 1, 2 Chronicles. This viewpoints is based on certain characteristics common to both Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. The verses at the end of Chronicles and at the beginning of Ezra are virtually identical. Both Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah exhibit a fondness for lists, for the description of religious festivals and for such phrases as "heads of families" and "the house of God." Especially striking in these books is the prominence of Levites and temple personnel. The words for "singer," "gatekeeper" and "temple servants" are used almost exclusively in Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles. See Introduction to 1 Chronicles: Author, Date and Sources.


The Ezra memoirs (7:28) may be dated c. 440 B.C. and the Nehemiah memoirs c. 430. These were then combined with others material somewhat later. See introduction to 1 Chronicles: Author, Date and Sources.

The Order of Ezra and Nehemiah

According to the traditional view, Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the seventh year (Ez 7:8) of Artaxerxes I (458 B.C.), followed by Nehemiah, who arrived in the king's 20th year (444; Ne 2:1,11).

Some have proposed a reverse order in which Nehemiah arrived in 444 B.C., while Ezra arrived in the seventh year of Artaxerxes II (398). By amending "seventh" (Ezr 7:8) to either "27th" or "37th," others place Ezra's arrival after Nehemiah's but still maintain that they were contemporaries.

These alternative views, however, present more problems than the traditional position. As the text stands, Ezra arrived before Nehemiah and they are found together in Ne 8:9 (at the reading of the Law) and Ne 12:26,36 (at the dedication of the wall).


Ezra and Nehemiah were written in a form of late Hebrew with the exception of Ezr 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26, which were written in Aramaic, the language of international diplomacy during the Persian period. Of these 67 Aramaic verses, 52 are in records or letters. Ezra evidently found these documents in Aramaic and copied them, inserting connecting verses in Aramaic.

Major Theological Themes

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah relate how God's covenant people were restored from Babylonian exile to the covenant land as a theocratic (kingdom of God) community even while continuing under Gentile rule. The major theological themes of this account are:

1. The restoration of Israel from exile was God's doing. He moved the hearts of Persian emperors, he moved the hearts of the repatriates and those who supported them; he raised up prophets to prod and support the repatriates; he protected them on the way and delivered them from their opponents; he stirred up Ezra and Nehemiah to perform their separate ministries; he prospered the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem.

2. The restoration of the covenant community was complete - even though political independence was not attained. "All Israel" was repatriated through a representative; the temple was rebuilt and its service (daily sacrifices, priestly ministries, Levitical praise, annual feasts) revived in accordance with the law of Moses and the regulations instituted by David; the Law was reestablished as regulative for the life of the community; the "holy city" (Jerusalem) was rebuilt and inhabited; the people were purged; the covenant was renewed.

3. Just as God used the world powers to judge his people, so he used them to restore his people to their land; imperial action and authority directly and indirectly initiated, protected and sustained every aspect of the restoration.

4. Israel's restoration evoked fierce opposition, but that opposition was thwarted at every turn.

5. The restored community was a chastened people, yet they were also in need of frequent rebuke and reformation, Israel remained a wayward people. They still awaited the "new covenant" of which Jeremiah had spoken (ch.31) and the renewal to be effected by God's Spirit as announced by Joel (ch. 1) and Ezekiel (ch. 36).

Ezra Interpretive Challenges

1. First, how do the post Exilic historical book of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther relate to the post-Exilic prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi? 7:1. The two books of Chronicles were written by Ezra as a reminder of the promised Davidic Kingship, the Aaronic priesthood, and appropriate temple worship. Haggai and Zechariah prophesied in the period of Ezra 4-6 when temple construction was resumed. Malachi wrote during Nehemiah’s revisit to Persia (c.f. Ne 13:6).

2. Second, what purpose does the book serve? Ezra historical reports the first two of three post-Exilic returns to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity. The fist return (chaps. 1-6) was under Zerubbabel (ca. 538 B.C.) and the second (chaps. 7-10) was led by Ezra himself (ca. 458 B.C.). Spiritually, Ezra reestablished the importance of the Aaronic priesthood by tracing his ancestry to Eleazar, Phinehas, and Zadok (cf. Ezr 7:1-5). He reported on the rebuilding of the second temple (chaps. 3-6). How he dealt with the gross sin of intermarriage with foreigners is presented in chaps. 9-10. Most importantly, he reports how the sovereign hand of God moved kings and overcame varied opposition to reestablish Israel as Abraham’s seed, notionally and individually, in the land promised to Abraham, David, and Jeremiah.

3. Third, the temple was built during the reign of Cyrus. Mention of Xerxes (a.k.a. Ahasuerus 4:6) and Artaxerxes (4:7- 23) might lead one to conclude that the temple could also have been built during their reigns. Such a conclusión, however, violates history. Ezra was not writing about the construction accomplishments of Xerxes or Artaxerxes, but rather he continued to chronicle their oppositions after the temple was built, which continued even to Ezra’s day. It is apparent, then, that Ezr 4:1-5 and 4:24-5:2 deal with rebuilding the temple under Zerubbabel, while 4:6-23 is a parenthesis recounting the history of opposition in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah.

4. Fourth, the interpreter must decide where Esther fits in to the time of Ezra. A careful examination indicates it took place between the events of chaps. 6 and 7. Fifth, how does divorce in Ezr 10 correlate the fact that God hates divorce (Mal 2:16)? Ezra does not establish the norm, but rather deals with a special case in history. It seems to have been decided (Ezr 10:3) on the principle that the lesser wrong (divorce) would be preferable to the greater wrong of the Jewish race being polluted by intermarriage, so that the nation and the messianic line of David would not be ended by being mingled with Gentiles. To solve the problem this way magnifies the mercy of God in that the only other solution would have been to kill all of those involved (husband, wives, and children) by stoning, as was done during the first Exodus at Shittim (Nu 25:1-9).


Ezra Horizontal

God' character en Ezra

  1. God is good - 8:18

  2. God is powerful - 8:22

  3. God is righteous - 9:15

  4. God is wise - 7:25

  5. God is wrathful - 8:22

Christ in Ezra

Israel's return to the land of promise illustrates the unconditional forgiveness ultimately offered through Christ. God's protection of His people reinforced His covenant with David to preserve his line. Jesus, a direct descendant from the line of David, would later come to bring salvation to the whole world.