The Old Testament | The Books of History


Things to know
Where does the book begin?

The book begins where 2 Chronicles ends. The King of Persia told the people of Judah to return to their land.

Where does the book end?

The book ends after the people rebuilt the temple* and obeyed God’s law again.

People to know


Places to go

The people returned to the land.

Ezra 1:1-5
The people began to rebuild the temple*.

Ezra 3:8-13
The temple* was finished.

Ezra 6:13-18
Ezra prayed.

Ezra 9:1-15
The people repented*.

Ezra 10:7-17

The Story of Ezra

The book of Ezra begins with the words of the king of Persia. He told the people from Judah that they could go home to their land. This was just what the prophet* Jeremiah had said would happen.[1] He said that Babylon would take Israel* from the land. They would have to live there for 70 years. Then, they would return to the land. Ezra tells the story of how they returned.

Cyrus told the people that they could go back to the land. So a man named Zerubbabel and a priest named Joshua led them. The first group was from the family of Judah and Benjamin. But the book reminds us that it was not only Cyrus or the people who were doing this. God was the one who was doing this. God ‘stirred up the heart’ of Cyrus to allow the Jews to return. God stirred up the heart’ of the people to want to leave Babylon and return to the land.[2] Ezra told the story this way so that the people would remember that God is the one who is powerful. God is the one who is in control.

When they got to the land, their first job was to fix the temple*. Remember that the temple* was the centre of worship* for the people of Judah. So, when the people put down the bottom stones for that building, they were very happy. They stopped to give thanks to God for his help to them.[3] But not everyone was happy. Some people cried. They were sad that this temple* was not as good as the one that Solomon built. The people were glad that God was helping them, but they still wanted something more.

But building a temple* was not easy. Some people tried to stop them from building. Other people tried to make them afraid. So they stopped building for a short while. Then, a new king began to rule Persia. He heard about the trouble in Jerusalem. He decided that the work should start again. After that, the people finished the temple*.[4]

Soon, new priests started working there. They took care of the altar*. They helped the people worship* God. The people remembered how God had brought them out of Egypt long ago. So they ate the Passover* together. This was a time of great joy for the people. But the people still did not follow all the ways that Moses had taught them.

The last part of the book tells the story of a priest named Ezra. He was from the family of Aaron. He knew the laws of Moses and taught them to the people. When he came back to Judah, he called them to turn from their bad ways and to turn back to God. But this would not be easy. The people built the temple* with their hands. But their hearts were still very far from God.

When the people went back to the temple*, they remembered what Moses had told them. They knew they were not following the laws Moses gave them. The leaders came to Ezra to confess* what they were doing. They knew that God hated the bad ways of the nations near them. But they were doing the same things. They had married wives from those nations. And those wives did not follow God. They followed false gods.

The leaders were very sad about this. They knew that they were doing wrong. And the priest had done these wrong things too.

When Ezra heard this, he tore his clothes. He fell down on his knees. He raised up his hands to God. And he prayed.

Here is part of Ezra’s prayer.[5]

‘I am filled with shame, my God. I can hardly look to you and pray. That’s because our sins are piled up above our heads. Our guilt* reaches all the way to the heavens. We are filled with it. It has been like that ever since the days of our people who lived long ago. Kings of other countries have killed many of us and our kings and priests with their swords. All these things have happened to us because we have done so many sins. And that’s how things still are to this day.

 But you are the Lord*our God. Now you have shown us your kindness for a short time. That’s because you have allowed a few of us to remain here. Your temple* has given us new hope*. You have not turned away from us. You have been kind to us. The kings of Persia have seen it. You have given us new life to repair your temple. You have given us a place of safety in Judah and Jerusalem.

You are our God. What can we say after the way you have blessed us? We have turned away from your commands.  You gave us your commands through your servants the prophets. You said, ‘You are entering the land to take it as your own. The sinful* practices of its people. The Lord hates all their practices. So do not let your daughters marry their sons. And do not let their daughters marry your sons. Then you will be strong. You will eat the good things the land produces. And you will leave all of it to your children as their share.

Lord, you are the God of Israel. You are holy. You always do what is right. Today you have left many of your people alive. Here we are with all our guilt. You see the guilt of our sin. Because we have sinned, not one of us can stand in front of you.’[6]

When the leaders heard Ezra’s prayer, they were very sad. But they knew what they had to do. They agreed with Ezra.[7] So they began to change their ways. They turned back to God. And they turned away from the evil* practices of the nations near them.

  • [1] Jeremiah 25:8-10
  • [2] Ezra 1:1-5
  • [3] Ezra 3:10-13
  • [4] Ezra 6:15-18
  • [5] Ezra 9:6-15
  • [6] Ezra 9:6-15
  • [7] Ezra 10:12

The Old Testament | The Books of History