“As his name is, so is he.” Whilst this statement was made in an unfortunate context by Abigail about her foolish husband Nabal, the same statement is remarkably applicable and far more encouraging when applied to the great man Ezra – the writer and one of the main subjects of the book which bears his name. For Ezra’s name means “Help” – a role he performed with distinction to the remnants that returned from Babylon to rebuild the nation of Israel in their land.

Background to the book

Commencing in BC 536, the book of Ezra stretches a period of more than twenty years, describing the return of the Jews to the land of Israel after seventy years of captivity in Babylon. The first six chapters cover the first return under Zerubbabel, whilst Ezra is not introduced to us until chapter 7, when he leads the second return back to the land.

This was a telling time for faithful Israelites. Whilst the captives taken into Babylon initially longed to return, as time passed they became comfortable in the worldly environment. Tragically, when the prophesied time for their return arrived, there were very few ready to act in faith as their father Abraham had done, and re-trace his steps to the Promised Land.

This reluctance is clearly seen by the luke-warm response of the Levites to Ezra’s initial call. In chapter 8 Ezra discovered the absence of teachers. Knowing the importance of the role they should play, he stopped the whole travelling caravan while another call went out targeting Levites – and waited until sufficient numbers arrived (Ezra 8:15–19). Ezra’s clear actions in this chapter provide an insight into his thinking, and are consistent with his own example and the legacy he left the nation.

Background to the man

Ezra came from a prominent family within Israel as outlined in his genealogy in chapter 7:1–5. His ancestry included the faithful High Priest Hilkiah in the reign of Josiah as well as Phinehas the grandson of Aaron. He was therefore of the priestly family, and while not the High Priest, personally felt the need to educate the people in Godly ways.

Ezra is uniquely described as “a ready scribe”. The word “ready” means to be quick and hence skilful, and comes from a root meaning to be liquid or flow easily. His skills in the Law of Moses only came through his consistent, dedicated effort to understand.

So powerful was Ezra’s influence on the people, that he established an order of scribes who followed in his footsteps. It is unfortunate that this group ultimately degenerated to the hypocritical Scribes and Pharisees (who were anything but “helpers”) of the Lord’s day. They studied to serve themselves; Ezra studied to serve God and his people.

Helpers with Ezra

Ezra was contemporary with a number of other key Biblical personalities.

It is likely that he knew Daniel (both Daniel and Ezra were known to the Persian kings), although he would have been younger than Daniel.

Ezra played an important role within the nation of Israel until late in his life, including rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Whilst there is no record of Ezra placing a single physical brick in the wall, he built a far more substantial wall within the ecclesia of this time. It was Ezra that stood on the pulpit of wood and led the teaching of the people – ensuring that the book of the law of God was read distinctly, and the sense and understanding were made clear (Neh 8:8). He was also chosen to lead one of the groups of singers around one half of the wall when it was completed and dedicated (Neh 12:36); Nehemiah led the other group. It is fitting that the last picture we have of Ezra is him standing on the new wall, surrounded by faithful men and women, singing and praising God, so that the “joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off”.

Ideas to make the readings live

The book of Ezra is exciting to read and there are many different ways of helping children to not only enjoy the readings but gain their own knowledge of the law of our God. Some things you may wish to try:

  • Trace the route taken by Ezra when he led the return of people back to the land
  • Colour in references to “his God” or “thy God” (referring to Ezra) throughout chapter 7 in particular. This gives a good indication as to what motivated this man, and how he was perceived by those around him including the king of Persia!!

An idea for the more advanced:

  • Mark out on a timeline the key Biblical books and personalities associated with the period of the captivity and the time of the return. Include people from the books of Daniel, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra and Nehemiah. Why has God caused so much of this history to be recorded as part of His Holy Scriptures for us to read and learn from?