Ezra was the second of three key  leaders to leave Babylon for the reconstruction of Jerusalem. Zerubbabel  reconstructed the temple (Ezra 3:8),  Nehemiah rebuilt the walls (Nehemiah chapters 1 and 2) and Ezra restored the  worship. Ezra was a scribe and priest sent with religious and political powers  by the Persian King Artaxerxes to lead a group of Jewish exiles from Babylon to  Jerusalem (Ezra 7:8, 12). Ezra condemned mixed  marriages and encouraged Jews to divorce and banish their foreign wives. The  most dramatic part of the book is the crisis over marriages between Jewish  leaders and women from the peoples of the lands (Ezra 9:2). Ezra  renewed the celebration of festivals and supported the rededication of the  temple and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall. Ezra 7:10 describes a shaping of the community in accordance with the Torah. Ezra’s goal  was to implement the Torah, and his impeccable priestly and scribal credentials  allowed him to remain the model leader.

The book of Ezra continues from  where 2 Chronicles ends, with Cyrus, king of Persia, issuing a decree which  permits the Jews of his kingdom to return to Jerusalem after seventy years of  captivity. God is universally sovereign and can use a polytheistic king of  Persia to make possible His people’s release. He used Artaxerxes, another  Persian king, to authorize and finance the trip and Ezra to teach God’s people  His Law. This same king also helped Nehemiah restore some measure of  respectability to God’s holy city.

Ezra’s effective ministry included  teaching the Word of God, initiating reforms, restoring worship and leading  spiritual revival in Jerusalem. These reforms magnified the need for a genuine  concern for reputation and for public image. What must the world think of God’s  people with dilapidated city walls? What would distinguish God’s people who were  guilty of intermarriage with those not in proper covenant relationship with the  one true God? Nehemiah and Ezra were then, and are now, an encouragement to  God’s people to magnify worship as their top priority, to emphasize the need for  and use of God’s Word as the only authoritative rule for living, and to be  concerned about the image God’s people show to the world.

Ezra came back  from captivity in Babylon expecting to find the people serving the Lord with  gladness, but upon his return to Jerusalem, he found the opposite. He was  frustrated and sorrowful. His heart ached, but he still trusted the Lord. He  wanted the Lord to change the situation and blamed himself for not being able to  change the people’s hearts. He wanted the people to know how important and  essential the Word of God was. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were written to  fulfill the Word of God. Nothing must supersede worship of God, and obedience is  not optional. The Sovereign God looks over and protects His children, always  keeping His promises and providing encouragement through those He sends (Ezra 5:1). Even when His plan  seems to be interrupted, as with the rebuilding of Jerusalem, God steps in at  the appropriate time to continue His plan.

God is as intimately involved  in our lives as He was with Ezra’s life, and like Ezra we are sometimes enabled  to do the impossible. Ezra did the impossible, for the hand the Lord his God was  on him (Ezra 7:8).  Every believer is a living temple (1  Corinthians 6:19) in which the Holy Spirit dwells. The opposing forces in  Ezra’s day were people with evil in their hearts. The opposing force in our  Christian lives today is evil himself, Satan, who has come to destroy us and in  turn destroy God’s temple (John 10:10).  Our goals should be worthy in God’s eyes as well as our own. Yesterday’s sorrows  can be today’s successes if the hand of the Lord is upon us. Ezra’s goal was  worthy in God’s eyes, and he effectively used the returning Jews’ sorrows for  the success of rebuilding God’s city and restoring worship.