At the end of 2Chronicles, the southern kingdom of Judah finds itself in Babylonian exile for covenantal unfaithfulness. In Chronicles 36:15-17b, we read these words: “The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy………….God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar.” The Babylonians probably thought their gods were stronger than Israel’s God. But as the last part of verse 17 sizes up the situation, the LORD handed Judah over to the Babylonians because of their unfaithfulness to Him.
The Book of Ezra appears right after 2Chronicles in our Bibles, but it occurs 70 years after the events which close 2Chronicles. The Jewish people spend these 70 years in Babylonian exile just like Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 25:8-12;29:10. The new Persian king, Cyrus, who’s army defeated the Babylonians, allows the Israelites to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:2-4). This was Cyrus’ policy with all of nations that the Babylonians had sent into exile. In God’s providence, the heart of Cyrus was moved to send the Jewish people back to Judah (Ezra 1:1).
The returning Jewish exiles find it hard slugging when they get back to Promised Land. The existing inhabitants of the Land, the Samaritans, first ask to help the Jews in rebuilding the Temple, but when refused, they oppose the Israelites and are able to stop the reconstruction of the Temple (Ezra 4). The LORD then raises up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage and strengthen the Jewish remnant (Ezra 5:1,2). Their ministry proves to be effective and under the leadership of Zerubbabel and the Priest, Jeshua, the Jerusalem Temple is rebuilt (Ezra 6).
The LORD then brought back to Judah the priest-scribe Ezra, who had devoted his life to studying and teaching the Torah (Ezra 7:8-10). The hand of the LORD was on him and he instructs and reforms the religious life of the Israelites. One of the threats to the well-being of the Jews was compromise within the community. Some of the Jews, including its leaders, had intermarried with the surrounding foreign women. Ezra courageously called the people to repentance and the people responded to his ministry.
On a superficial reading of Ezra’s actions here, it seems he may have been a tad over zealous. But the reader needs to be aware that the whole reason why Judah was exiled in the 1st place was because of idolatry. This compromised worship found its root in the examples of its leaders such as King Solomon who married many (and I mean many) foreign wives who worshiped other gods. Here in the Book of Ezra, the Jews are re-establishing their communal life and they need to do it on the foundation of proper worship.
I am reminded of God’s severe dealing with Ananias and Sapphira in the early Church (Acts 5:1-11). The LORD struck dead this husband and wife for lying . This seems a severe consequence for lying. But Peter makes it clear that they were lying to God and were testing the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:4,9). The Church age was just beginning and God’s Spirit was really moving and convicting people of sin. Many were being brought to saving faith in Jesus. The LORD took drastic measures to protect His new work. Let us not test the LORD by tolerating sin and playing with sin in our lives. In Christ’s love and service, Pastor John