The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book in ancient times. They were possibly the work of a single author, and often seen as a continuation of 1 & 2 Chronicles. It is mainly a historical narrative covering Israel’s history from 538 BC to 433 BC.
The story brings us back to the period of Jewish exile in Babylon, when a decree of the Persian emperor Cyrus in 538 BC led to the return of 50,000 Jews to Jerusalem. (Jerusalem had been destroyed in 586 BC by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.) God had not forgotten His people, and had brought them back to their holy city. The books have sections written in the first person “I”, reflecting contributions from Ezra and Nehemiah.
Ezra-Nehemiah covers three successive missions to rebuild Jerusalem. Ezra 1–6 deals with the first group of returnees, who rebuilt the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel and the spiritual guidance of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Ezra 7–10 deals with the second group of returnees, who were led by the scribe Ezra in 458 BC and whose mission it was to teach the law and encourage the people to keep it faithfully. Nehemiah 1–6 records the rebuilding of the city walls under Nehemiah’s leadership in 445 BC, while Nehemiah 7–13 tells the story of the renewal of the covenant and some lingering problems in the community that Nehemiah had to deal with.
The Structure of Ezra & Nehemiah
The first return and rebuilding of the temple
Ezra’s mission to teach and establish the law
Nehemiah leads in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem
Building the covenantal community
Key Verse Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me. —Ezra 7:28
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