Where 2 Chronicles leaves off with a hopeful glimpse of the exiles returning from captivity, the book of Ezra provides a picture of how that occurs. God’s faithfulness is on display as this book details how His promise in Deuteronomy 30:3 is fulfilled. The book of Ezra is divided into two sections. Chapters 1-6 cover a span of twenty-three years as Zerubbabel leads the first group from Babylon (now Persia) to begin rebuilding physical Jerusalem, namely the temple. Chapters 7-10 occur some sixty years later, as Ezra leads another group of exiles home to Israel and teaches them the need to rebuild spiritually (Ez. 7:10).
In previous books, the negative qualities of the Israelites have been emphasized: lack of faith to enter the Promised Land, complaining, apostasy, idolatry, and the list goes on. While God’s character and His hand in the process is fully evident in the book of Ezra, what is also refreshing are the strong characteristics exhibited in His people! Notice these as you study:
Perseverance: When people set their minds to do what is right, there is never a shortage of adversaries. As God’s people worked to rebuild, there were many who aimed to thwart their plans (4:4-5). Fear, frustration, discouragement, and even apathy were hurdles that severely lengthened the building process. No, God’s people were not flawless in their response, and they required some intense motivation to keep going (Side note: When you get to Ezra chapter 5, stop and read Haggai before you continue). However, the goal of building the temple was still accomplished and their efforts to sanctify themselves before God took great strides. It’s a beautiful reminder to us, that while God is looking for perseverance in His people, He does not expect perfection!
Generosity: A LOT of food, currency, and raw materials were required to sustain them for the journey from captivity, life upon arrival in Jerusalem, and the construction. While some were stirred by God (1:1), others perhaps gave out of compulsion, but many gave freely and generously! “And all those who were around them encouraged them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered” (Ezra 1:6). It begs the question, who have I encouraged (literally: to strengthen their hands) lately with my generous giving?
Integrity: Is it really that important for us to know the exact number and weight of the precious gifts carried by the priests and Levites for the temple (8:24-30)? Maybe not, but what is important is the testimony that it gave to their integrity. It was their responsibility to transport these items (when it would have been so easy to keep just a little for themselves), and they did so without fail (8:33-34). As Christians, God has charged us with some precious things (2 Cor. 4:7). How seriously am I taking my task?
Holiness and Humility: The last two chapters of Ezra contain some heavy teaching regarding purity and sanctification in marriage. The leaders of the exiles wanted their nation to stand holy in the sight of God and follow His laws…even those given hundreds of years before (Deu. 7:3-4). The decision to obey God in this instance was no doubt agonizing. Ultimately, chapter 10 closes with a list of those who responded in humility. When obedience to God in my life becomes an incredibly difficult decision, will my answer also be: “As you have said, so we must do” (Ez. 10:12).
Diligence: The Aramaic word ocparna is the challenge word for this study. It occurs in 7 verses in the Bible, all of them in the book of Ezra. It means speedily, thoroughly, and diligently. For each of these great characteristics displayed, diligence was required to achieve them. As you study, use your favorite Bible software to find the instances of this word. Look for the repeated phrase “according to the…”. Which people were diligent to do what was commanded (Ez. 6:13-14)? Spend time evaluating the characteristics of your Christian walk. Has greed overtaken generosity? Distraction over diligence? Try your hand at being a scribe like Ezra. Physically write his great intercessory prayer in 9:6-15, and then pray your own prayer of confession. You will probably see some other great characteristics of God’s people in this book, but the most important question to ask, is “Can they be seen in me?”