Jehovah’s Word Is Alive
Highlights From the Book of Ezra
THE Bible book of Ezra picks up where Second Chronicles leaves off. Its writer, Ezra the priest, begins the account with the issuing of a decree by King Cyrus of Persia that allows a remnant of the Jews exiled in Babylon to return to their homeland. The narrative ends with Ezra’s taking measures to cleanse those who have defiled themselves with the people of the land. All in all, the book covers a period of 70 years
In writing the book, Ezra has a clear objective: to show how Jehovah fulfilled His promise to free His people from exile in Babylon and to restore true worship in Jerusalem. Hence, Ezra focuses only on the events that pertain to this purpose. The book of Ezra is an account of how the temple was rebuilt and how Jehovah’s worship was reestablished despite opposition and the imperfection of God’s people. The account is of great interest to us because we too are living in a time of restoration. Many are streaming to “the mountain of Jehovah,” and the entire earth is about to be “filled with the knowing of the glory of Jehovah.”
THE TEMPLE IS REBUILT
In response to Cyrus’ liberation decree, about 50,000 Jewish exiles return to Jerusalem under the leadership of Governor Zerubbabel, or Sheshbazzar. The returnees promptly set up the altar on its site and begin to offer sacrifices to Jehovah.
The following year the Israelites lay the foundation of the house of Jehovah. Enemies keep interfering with the rebuilding work and eventually succeed in getting a royal command issued to halt the work. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah stir up the people so that they resume the temple construction despite the ban. The fear of opposing an unalterable Persian decree originally issued by Cyrus keeps their adversaries at bay. An official investigation brings to light Cyrus’ order “concerning the house of God in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 6:3) The work progresses well and comes to completion.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
3:8-10; 4:23, 24; 6:15, 16
4:8–6:18 (4:8, footnote)
Lessons for Us:
1:2. What Isaiah prophesied some 200 years earlier came true. (Isaiah 44:28) Prophecies in Jehovah’s Word never fail.
1:3-6. Like some of the Israelites who remained in Babylon, many of Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot take up the full-time ministry or serve where the need is greater. Yet, they support and encourage those who can and make voluntary donations to further the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work.
3:1-6. In the seventh month of 537 B.C.E. (Tishri, corresponding to September/October), the faithful returnees offered their first sacrifice. The Babylonians had entered Jerusalem in the fifth month (Ab, corresponding to July/August) of 607 B.C.E., and two months later the city’s desolation was complete. (2 Kings 25:8-17, 22-26) As foretold, Jerusalem’s 70-year desolation ended right on time. (Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10) Anything Jehovah’s Word foretells always comes true.
4:1-3. The faithful remnant rejected an offer that would have meant forming a religious alliance with false worshippers. (Exodus 20:5; 34:12) Jehovah’s worshippers today similarly take no part in any interfaith movements.
5:1-7; 6:1-12. Jehovah can maneuver matters for the success of his people.
6:14, 22. Zealously sharing in Jehovah’s work brings his approval and blessing.
6:21. Witnessing the progress of Jehovah’s work moved Samaritans who then lived in the Jewish homeland and returnees who had succumbed to pagan influences to make needed changes in their lives. Should we not enthusiastically participate in our God-assigned work, including the Kingdom-proclamation work?
EZRA COMES TO JERUSALEM
Fifty years have elapsed since the rebuilt house of Jehovah was inaugurated. The year is 468 B.C.E. Taking along with him a remnant of God’s people and contributed funds, Ezra goes from Babylon to Jerusalem. What does he find there?
The princes tell Ezra: “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands as regards their detestable things.” Moreover, “the hand of the princes and the deputy rulers has proved to be foremost in this unfaithfulness.” (Ezra 9:1, 2) Ezra is shocked. He is encouraged to “be strong and act.” (Ezra 10:4) Ezra takes corrective measures, and the people respond favorably.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
7:1, 7, 11
Lessons for Us:
7:10. As a diligent student and effective teacher of God’s Word, Ezra set an example for us. He prayerfully prepared his heart to consult the Law of Jehovah. As he consulted it, Ezra gave his utmost attention to what Jehovah was saying. Ezra applied what he learned and exerted himself in teaching others.
7:13. Jehovah wants willing servants.
7:27, 28; 8:21-23. Ezra gave credit to Jehovah, made sincere entreaty to him before making a long and dangerous trip to Jerusalem, and was willing to risk personal safety for the sake of God’s glory. He thus set a fine example for us.
9:2. We must take seriously the admonition to marry “only in the Lord.”
9:14, 15. Bad associations can lead to Jehovah’s disapproval.
10:2-12, 44. The people who had taken foreign wives humbly repented and corrected their erroneous ways. Their attitude and action were exemplary.
Jehovah Keeps His Promises
How valuable the book of Ezra is to us! Right on time, Jehovah fulfilled his promise to free his people from Babylonian exile and restore true worship in Jerusalem. Does that not strengthen our faith in Jehovah and his promises?
Think of the examples the book of Ezra provides. Exemplary devotion to God was shown by Ezra and the remnant who returned to have a share in the restoration of pure worship in Jerusalem. This book also highlights the faith of godly foreigners and the humble attitude of repentant wrongdoers. Indeed, Ezra’s inspired words furnish clear proof that “the word of God is alive and exerts power.”
[Chart/Picture on page 18]
PERSIAN KINGS FROM 537 TO 467 B.C.E.
Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1) died in 530 B.C.E.
Cambyses, or Ahasuerus (Ezra 4:6) 530-22 B.C.E.
or Gaumata reigning only seven months)
Darius I (Ezra 4:24) 522-486 B.C.E.
Xerxes, or Ahasuerus * 486-75 B.C.E. (Ruled as
coregent with Darius I from
Artaxerxes Longimanus (Ezra 7:1) 475-24 B.C.E.
^ par. 50 Xerxes is not mentioned in the book of Ezra. He is referred to as Ahasuerus in the Bible book of Esther.
[Picture on page 17]
[Picture on page 17]
The Cyrus Cylinder stated the policy of returning captives to their homelands
Cylinder: Photograph taken by courtesy of the British Museum
[Picture on page 20]
Do you know what made Ezra an effective teacher?