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Ezra Chapters Two and Three

Week 3




When: The historical timeline of Ezra 2 is the same as we discussed in chapter one - 538 BC, when the people of God returned to Jerusalem.

What: In chapter 1, Ezra set out to define God’s role in initiating the call to His people to turn back home. Here in Ezra 2, the author will confirm that each returnee is indeed counted among God’s people. The second chapter of Ezra devotes 61 verses to list the names of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem.

Why: When Ezra penned his book, though the temple and the wall around Jerusalem were rebuilt, Israel had not become the conquering nation they had once been. Every individual who read Ezra’s book needed to be reassured that though their lives seemed different,  they are still God’s people and His promises are still their promises. Life looked different, Israel looked different, but their God was the same.  Each promise that Ezra confirmed in chapter one - redemption and restoration - still covered this group of returnees. In order to prove this, Ezra spells out, in exacting detail, that these returnees were indeed, still God’s people.


Read Chapter 2 once or twice and make a note of anything that arouses your curiosity or profoundly speaks to you. Think about the following questions while you're reading.

  1. How does Ezra first refer to the returning exiles? 

  2. Did you note (in chapter 1) that the leader of the Israelites was Sheshbazzar? By what name is he now referred to? 

  3. Why is the list of family names meticulously numbered? 




1.  The people are first referred to as Persians: The Israelites are first identified as “the people of the province” (2:1); the province refers to Persia. In Cyrus’ mind, the people were not free; they belonged to him. Believing content people are not likely to revolt against him and his government, Cyrus was merely tolerating their religion, not setting them free from his rule. No matter how the world identified them, “they were not cut off from the ancient promise of land and posterity made to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), they were the raw material from which God would now bring forth further fulfillments of that glorious promise”(Mark A. Throntveit). Even though God exiled them from Israel, He had not exiled them from His family and even if Cyrus thought they were Persians, Ezra will confirm shortly these are still Israelites, inheritors of God's blessings.  


2.  Sheshbazzar is now referred to as Zerubbabel: Ezra begins this list in Chapter 2 by also introducing us to the leader of the returning exiles, Zerubbabel (2:2).  We were actually introduced to Zerubbabel in chapter 1 by his Babylonian name and title, “Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah” (1:8).  That Babylonian-imposed identity would not work here, however. Zerubbabel was the grandson of King Jehoiachin of Judah (1 Chron. 3:17) and therefore a descendant of King David. It is likely that he served in the Babylonian administration overseeing Judah while in captivity which would account for his Babylonian name and title used in chapter one. Remember, Daniel’s  friends were also issued Chaldean names after being placed in the king's service - Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan 3:12). Here, however, Ezra introduced their leader by his Hebrew name, Zerubbabel, a descendent of their great king, David. Following Zerubbabel, Ezra named those accompanying him, including, Jeshua. Jeshua was a son of Jozadak the High Priest. The first two leaders Ezra identified were descendants of a King and a High Priest of Israel. These men will serve two purposes, the reconstruction of the Temple and Israel’s faith, and both, Ezra confirms, are descendants of God’s people.

3.  The list of family names is meticulously numbered:  Ezra’s list of names are not listed individually, but as family names because God’s faith is a faith of generations. God chose Abraham “so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord” (Gen. 18:19). God is the God of generations; the family names listed in Ezra 2 testify to the faithfulness of the God of generations. Though the family names are categorized in differing manners, each category was meticulously numbered. 

Chapter 3




Read Chapter 3 once or twice and make a note of anything that arouses your curiosity or profoundly speaks to you. Take your notes and compare them to my list below. 

What did you notice when you read Ezra chapter 3? This is my list:

  1. Ezra’s numerous mentions that the Israelites were obedient to follow God’s commands.

  2. The building project didn’t begin with the Temple; it began at the altar.

  3. The repetition of “burnt offering.”

  4. What brought praise from some of the Israelites, brought tears from others

1Ezra makes it clear that God’s people returned with a heart to follow hard after God. They began to offer sacrifices “as it is written” (v. 2); “they celebrated the Feast of Booths, as it is written and offered the fixed number of burnt offerings daily, according to the ordinance” (v. 4); they celebrated “all the fixed festivals” (the ones fixed by Moses in the law) (v. 5); and “the priests stood in their apparel … according to the directions of King David of Israel” (v. 10).  Ezra makes it clear that they understood their relationship should set a priority on obedience to God’s Word. Thus, each decision they make, they make according to what was written in Moses’ book. They turned to God with great eagerness and excitement. 

2.  The building project didn’t begin with the Temple; it began at the altar. Though it was set before them to rebuild the temple that God might dwell among them, how could this be possible unless they first acknowledged the spiritual necessity of dealing with sin? Therefore, the people rebuilt the altar so they could offer sacrifices, an act of atonement offering the blood of animals. The Israelites began at the altar because they understood that repentance is paramount to worship.  

3.  The repetition of “burnt offerings” (3:2, 3, 4, 5, and 6). In Greek, holokautoma (from which we get the English word “holocaust”), the burnt offering was consumed totally by the fire; no part of it was eaten by either he who brought the sacrifice or the priest (Lev. 1:1-17). In other words, the burnt offering was given wholly to God as the first act of atonement - submission of heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

4.  What brought praise from some of the Israelites, brought tears from others. Ezra 3 ends eight months later. After the altar was built, the exiles began work on the foundation of the temple (3:11). Yet, in the midst of of the singing, praising, and giving thanks,  “many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice” (3:12). Like the Cross for us, the sight of the Temple’s foundation was an occasion for both grief and joy: grief because they were responsible for the atrocity that had happened there, and joy that God was now using that accursed place to show His love for them. 










The people of God, with hearts bent on obedience, quickly came together to build God’s house. However, they started first at the altar of God, where, as the Law directed, they made atonement and worshipped God for His faithfulness. After laying the foundation of the Temple and celebrating the feasts appointed by God, the people shouted with joy because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Nevertheless, some of the people wept with regret. 

The Israelites knew that to draw near to God, they must first atone for the sin that separated them from God. Therefore, the Israelites set the altar on its foundation so that they might sacrifice the burnt offering, the offering of redemption. They rejoiced in God’s glory; however, they also grieved over the numerous ways they fell short of that glory. In both of these things, in joy and repentance, they drew near to Him in worship at His altar.

The Israelites arrived in Jerusalem in the seventh month; that would mean the final month of their journey back to the Promised Land took place during the sixth month, Elul. Elul was the month of Teshuvah or repentance. For forty days, (30 days of Elul and 10 days of Tishri until Yom Kippur began), the Israelites were “turn toward God” in repentance. Do 40 days of repentance seem a bit excessive to you? 


Martin Luther, in his Ninety-Five Theses, said, “our Lord and Master Jesus Christ . . . willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” (Thesis 1.) And not because God is a tyrant dictator who abides on shame. God knows a lifestyle of repentance keeps our hearts turned to Him and sets us free from the bondage of being our own god. It’s a sin we’ve been tempted with since Adam and Eve chose to live a life under their own control, but God wants us to live under the freedom of repentance. 


We can present our true hearts to God in worship - both in joyful gratitude and tearful repentance - because we know that our God is a God of mercy. And we know this because we see Him act with mercy again and again with Israel. He never let their sin change His heart; He never allowed their rejection to move Him to reject them. Israel knew they could approach Him (were eager to approach Him) at the altar because they fully anticipated His forgiveness - they were His people and He was their God.  (Jer. 30:22). They were confident in their identity - despite the sins of their forefathers.

We can draw near to Him in worship with the same confidence. Though we might  naturally be discouraged and downcast by our sins, we should not let sin keep us from drawing near to God at His altar of worship. The more we accept, trust, and apply God’s mercy to our lives, the greater our worship should grow. The greater our worship - the greater we live to display God’s glory and the louder we might weep for disparaging that glory. Our relationship with God will lead us to mourn over sin, but it will also allow us to rejoice over our merciful Redeemer who bore our sins; “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3:16b). Christ offered the last mandatory atoning sacrifice and then “sat down at the right hand of God … by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:12, 14). 


But the kind of relationship that acknowledges the need for, longs for, and anticipates mercy - is not built upon a foundation of good works, nor of hiddenness. “One who conceals his wrongdoings will not prosper, but one who confesses and abandons them will find compassion” (Prov. 28:13); the more we draw near to Him, the more we trust Him with our whole hearts and the more we discover His compassion. 

The Israelites knew He was a God of mercy; do you know Him the same way?  If you don’t, finding joy in your faith journey of faith will be nearly impossible. Trust, dependence, and worship of the God of mercy is the greatest foundation upon which to build your life. And we can find no greater joy than building our lives on such a “sure foundation,” because “joy is not a mere option alongside worship. It is an essential component of worship” (Lewis). 

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Then work on the house of God in Jerusalem was discontinued, and it was stopped until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Ezra 4:24

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