About 150 years before the time of Ezra, Isaiah the prophet prophesied of the work that Ezra was to accomplish. These prophecies did not refer to Ezra directly, but it did foretell his essential role in their fulfillment.
Here are the prophecies:
“Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him . . . (Isa. 45:1). ” . . . He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (Isa. 44:28). Cyrus, king of Persia and conqueror of the world of that day, was instrumental in the rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Ezra was the man who would carry out the task.
The Temple was destroyed when the Babylonians took the Jews into national captivity. The Jews remained in captivity for 70 years (2 Chr. 36:16-21).
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The LORD his God be with him, and let him go up. (2 Chr. 36:22-23)
Jeremiah had prophesied that the length of the captivity would be 70 years (Jer. 25:11-12). The proclamation by Cyrus set the stage for the work of Ezra and Nehemiah. Their work was essential to the restoration of the nation and of the Law of God, prior to the time Christ was born. The Messiah was born about 400 years later. By that time the Jews had long been firmly established as a nation (John 1:11). The proclamation of Cyrus stated: “Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:3). A prince of Judah-of the royal line-was chosen to lead the Jews to Jerusalem. His name was Zerubbabel, and he faced much difficulty in rebuilding the Temple. At one period of time the rebuilding was put on hold for 16 years. But the Temple was finally completed in 515 BC, during the reign of Darius. About 50 years later Ezra came on the scene.
Keep in mind the Temple was essential to the character of the nation. Restoration of the nation could not fully take place until the Temple was rebuilt, but even with the establishment of the Temple the people refused to honor God by obeying Him. If this continued the nation would soon be in the same predicament it was in before the Jews were sent into national captivity. It was paramount that the true worship of God be restored along with the national government. This is where Ezra was instrumental, and this is where he fits into the fulfillment of the prophecies.
Ezra was not only a priest. His responsibilities gave him jurisdiction over the law of the land. He thus had administrative authority-though not as powerful as a governor. Ezra was a descendant of Aaron, a very learned man from the Aaronic line of priests. Legally, he had every right to act in an official capacity. “This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him” (Ezra 7:6). A number of Jews accompanied Ezra on his return to Jerusalem, which took place in the seventh year of king Artaxerxes.
Why did Ezra go to Jerusalem? Ezra 7:10 tells us: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” He taught the Law of God orally to the people (Neh. 8:2-3). Ezra was a man of deep humility and self-denial. The best interests of the people took precedence above his own desires. After arriving in Jerusalem he saw what was a mortal danger to the integrity of the nation. Many of the Jews had intermarried with the heathen people of the land. This was the same sin that was so influential in leading Israel and Judah into sin many years earlier.
. . . the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass. And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied. Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice. And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God, And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as it is this day . . . . Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping? (Ezra 9:1-7, 14)
As a result of his words an assembly was called.
Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore. And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. (Ezra 10:1-3)
Ezra was so stressed by the sins of his people that “. . . he did eat no bread, nor drink water: for he mourned because of the transgression of them that had been carried away” (Ezra 10:6). Ezra fully well understood the consequences of sin, something that many of the people failed to grasp. They could not relate to the past and what had happened to them because of their national sins. Ezra, a ready scribe versed in the law, was the leading theologian of that time, and was determined to restore Judah to a proper relationship with God.
An example of his faith and dedication to God is seen in his trip from Babylon to Jerusalem. The risk of banditry and plundering was great along the way. He could have had a military escort, but he refused. Instead, we read:
Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us. (Ezra 8:21-23)
Ezra and the people fasted and prayed for God’s blessing and protection, which He graciously gave.
Ezra was an able administrator and was given complete judicial power. His instruction from King Artaxerxes was:
And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment. (Ezra 7:25-26)
Ezra, the reformer, took a decisive hand in restoring the Law of God to the nation of Judah. The Temple had been rebuilt, but the people were not really obeying God. When the sin of marrying heathen wives was made known to the people by the hand of Ezra, ” . . . they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem . . . . And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives . . . . And the children of the captivity did so. . . ” (Ezra 10:7, 10-11, 16).
The importance and work of Ezra in restoring the Law of God to the nation of Judah should not be underestimated.