The Second Book of the Chronicles The Book of Nehemiah


A famous priest and scribe who brought back part of the exiles from captivity (Ezra 7-10; Neh. 8; 12). The object of his mission was "to teach in Israel statutes and judgments." In 458 BC he obtained from Artaxerxes an important edict (Ezra 7:12-26) allowing him to take to Jerusalem any Jewish exiles who cared to go, along with offerings for the temple with which he was entrusted, and giving to the Jews various rights and privileges. He was also directed to appoint magistrates and judges. On arriving in Jerusalem his first reform was to cause the Jews to separate from their foreign wives, and a list is given of those who had offended in this way (Ezra 10). The later history of Ezra is found in the book of Nehemiah, which is a sequel to the book of Ezra. Along with Nehemiah he took steps to instruct the people in the Mosaic law (Neh. 8). Hitherto "the law" had been to a great extent the exclusive possession of the priests. It was now brought within the reach of every Jew. The open reading of "the book of the law" was a new departure and marked the law as the center of Jewish national life.

A good many traditions have gathered around the name of Ezra. He is said to have formed the canon of Hebrew scripture and to have established an important national council, called the Great Synagogue, over which he presided. But for none of these traditions is there trustworthy evidence. The Jews of later days were inclined to attribute to the influence of Ezra every religious development between the days of Nehemiah and the Maccabees.

The book of Ezra contains also an introductory section (Ezra 1-6) describing events that happened from 60 to 80 years before the arrival of Ezra in Jerusalem, that is, the decree of Cyrus, 537 BC, and the return of Jews under Zerubbabel; the attempt to build the temple and the hindrances due to the Samaritans; the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah and the completion of the temple, 516 BC. There is no record in the book of any events between this date and the mission of Ezra.

Religious values in the book of Ezra are found in the teaching that (1) the promises of the Lord through His prophets shall all be fulfilled (Ezra 1:1; see also Jer. 25:13; 29:10; D&C 1:37-38; 5:20); (2) discipline and patience are born of disappointment, as one expectation after another was frustrated; (3) there is eternal significance in everyday life; (4) preparation is needed for the rule of Messiah, the law being the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ.

Where Do the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah Fit in the Old Testament?

The books of the Bible do not fall into chronological order. Their position is determined usually by whether they are historical or prophetic books. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally part of a compilation that included 1 and 2 Chronicles. Ezra 1:1-3 and 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and are almost identical.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are actually the last two historical books of the Old Testament.

Zechariah and Haggai were prophets during this same period. Malachi is the only prophet known to have served in Israel between the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and the beginning of the New Testament.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of Israel's history from the first return to Jerusalem until the end of Nehemiah’s second term as governor of Judah (538 BC to shortly before 400 BC).

Esther's sojourn in Persia belongs to the time between the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem and Ezra's return (beginning in Ezra 7:1).

Ezra 1:1. What Was Jeremiah's Prophecy?

In Jeremiah 25:11-12 and 29:10 the prophet Jeremiah spoke of seventy years of Babylonian captivity. (See Enrichment J for biographical data on Cyrus the Great, the first king of the Persian Empire, and how the prophecy of Isaiah concerning Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28; 45 likely influenced his actions toward the Jews.)

Ezra 1:1-4. What did King Cyrus proclaim?

Ezra 1:3-4. Did All of the Jews Return?

Ezra 2:64-65 indicates that approximately fifty thousand people made the first trip back to Jerusalem. Ezra 1:4 tells of the responsibilities of the Jews who remained in Babylonia. By far, most of the expatriated Jews chose not to return to Jerusalem at this time, a decision that indicates how well they had been absorbed into the Babylonian way of life.

Ezra 1:5. Who went to Jerusalem?

Ezra 1:6. Vessels of Silver and Gold

The Lord saw to it that the exiles did not return empty handed; neither did the children of Israel at the time of the Exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 12:35-36). Precious items were collected to be used to adorn the temple as the Lord had specified. That Cyrus would allow such wealth to be gathered for the temple is an indication of how seriously he viewed the prophecy of Isaiah concerning him.

Ezra 1:6. Who helped them? How?

Ezra 1:7-11. What did Cyrus donate for the temple?

Ezra 1:8. Who Was Sheshbazzar?

Sheshbazzar is identified in Ezra 1:8 as the prince of Judah. Ezra 5:14 indicates that Cyrus made Sheshbazzar the governor, but his name is not mentioned in the list of the returning Jews. Haggai 2:2 identifies Zerubbabel as the governor of Judah (see Ezra 3:8). Many scholars have therefore identified Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel as the same person. The book of 1 Esdras 6:18 in the Apocrypha and other authorities say they are two people. The evidence seems to favor the idea of two separate persons. Both were of the royal line of Judah, and both were probably appointed by Cyrus. Zerubbabel has become the more famous in history because he outlived the older Sheshbazzar.

Ezra 2:1. Who are listed in Ezra 2?

Ezra 2:2. Who Was Zerubbabel?

Zerubbabel was a descendant of Jehoiachin, the king who was carried away captive into Babylon (see Enrichments A and G), which descent means he was of the royal Davidic line. Zerubbabel was also an ancestor of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 1:12; Zorobabel is the Greek form). Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah (see Haggai 2:2). The second temple in Jerusalem is often called the temple of Zerubbabel. Haggai and Zechariah prophesied favorably about the role and trustworthiness of Zerubbabel (see Haggai 2:4, 21-23; Zechariah 4:6-9).

Ezra 2:2. Who Was Jeshua?

The name Jeshua appears in the book of Ezra but is also spelled Joshua in Haggai. This man, Jeshua, was the high priest (see Haggai 1:1). Zerubbabel and Jeshua, being motivated by the prophetic inspiration of Haggai and Zechariah, together directed the rebuilding of the temple (see Ezra 6:14; Haggai 1:12-14; Zechariah 4:9).

Ezra 2:43. Who Were the Nethinims?

Nethinims, meaning "given" or "appointed" in Hebrew, was the name given the servants in the temple who attended the Levites in their sacred services (see Nehemiah 7:60).

Ezra 2:62. They Reckoned Their Genealogy

"This passage (Ezra 2:62-63) has reference to those who returned from the captivity who had intermarried among peoples who were not entitled to the blessings of the priesthood" (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:165). By marrying out of the covenant, some Israelites lost the right to have their descendants officiate in the priesthood. This experience of old was referred to directly in the Doctrine and Covenants as a warning to modern priesthood bearers who take it upon themselves to set aside the decreed order of God (see D&C 85:11-12; 121:16-22).

Ezra 2:62-63. How long would those whose genealogy was lost have to wait to have the priesthood?

Ezra 2:63. Who Was the Tirshatha?

The Tirshatha was the title of the governor of Judæa under the Persians. This title was perhaps derived from the Persian root meaning "stern" or "severe." (See also Nehemiah 7:65; 8:9; 10:1.)

Ezra 2:64-65. How many people returned from captivity?

Ezra 2:68-69. What did some of the "chief of the fathers" do when they arrived in Jerusalem? (v. 68)

Ezra 3:1-6. The Altar Was Rebuilt First

Jeshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel, the governor, cooperated to direct the rebuilding of the temple. The reconstruction began with the very heart of Israel's religious facilities, the altar of the temple, which was placed on the very site where the temple formerly had stood. The altar was necessary so that worship and sacrifice could begin again according to the pattern laid down by Moses (see Leviticus 1-7). The altar was made ready for the sacrifices of the week of Succoth (feast of Tabernacles) and for other high holy days.

Ezra 3:2. What did Jeshua, the priests, and Zerubbabel and he brethren build?

Ezra 3:4. Which feast did the people observe?

Ezra 3:7. What came from Lebanon for the temple?

Ezra 3:10-11. They Praised the Lord after the Ordinance of King David

The shouting and singing in praise of the Lord that accompanied the laying of the foundation of the temple was performed according to the custom established by David (see 1 Chronicles 25). Two choirs, or a choir and soloist, sang alternately. It is likely that the shout was similar to the Hosanna Shout used in connection with modern solemn assemblies. (See Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, pp. 433-34.)

Ezra 3:11-13. What did the people do when the foundation of the temple was laid?

Ezra 3:12-13. Why Did the Older Priests Weep?

Josephus explained that the remembrance of the former temple caused the old priests to weep. The temple of Solomon had been beautiful and sumptuously adorned. Now, because of the extreme poverty of the returning exiles, the second temple was greatly inferior to the first. "Hereupon they were disconsolate, and not able to contain their grief, and proceeded so far as to lament and shed tears on those accounts" (Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 11, chap. 4, par. 2).

Ezra 4:1-10. Who Were the Samaritans Who Hindered the Work on the Temple?

"At the final captivity of Israel by Shalmaneser, ... the cities of Samaria were ... depopulated of their inhabitants in BC 721, and ... they remained in this desolated state until, in the words of 2 Kings 17:24, 'the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava (Ivah, 2 Kings 18:34), and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.' Thus the new Samaritans were Assyrians by birth or subjugation." (William Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. "Samaritans.")

The Assyrian foreigners were idolaters and had no desire to serve Jehovah or worship rightfully in the temple. Later when these foreign Samaritans intermarried with some of the Israelites, both a mixed race of Samaritans and a variant form of the worship of Jehovah developed. Such were the circumstances in the New Testament times. This variant religion was heavily intermingled with pagan and other unauthorized religious practices, which the Jews saw as highly offensive. When Zerubbabel refused their help, the Samaritans were understandably angry and sought revenge by writing to the king of Persia and accusing the Jews of rebellion.

Elder James E. Talmage explained: "The claim was made that of old the people of Judah had been a trouble to other nations, and that with the restoration of their Temple they would again become seditious" (The House of the Lord, p. 41; see also Ezra 4:19).

Eventually the Jews proved that they had received permission to rebuild the temple and the problem was resolved, but this incident reveals the foundations of the tremendous bitterness between the Samaritans and the Jews so evident in Christ's time.

Ezra 4:4-8. How did the Samaritans first try to stop the building of the temple? (See also Ezra 4:4a)

Ezra 4:7. What Was the Syrian Tongue?

Aramaic is the language referred to as "the Syrian tongue" in Ezra 4:7. It was the international diplomatic language of the Persian Empire.

Ezra 4:10. What Was "This Side of the River"?

The words "this side" in Ezra 4:10 mean west of the Euphrates River (see also Ezra 5:3; 6:13). Asnappar is the Aramaic version of Ashurbanipal, the name of the province that included Judæa and Syria.

Ezra 4:11-16. List four accusations the Samaritans made in the letter to Artaxerxes, king of Persia.

Ezra 4:13. They Will Not Pay Toll, Tribute, or Custom

The text in Ezra 4:13 would read more clearly if "will they not" were rendered "they will not."

Ezra 4:17-22. What did the king reply?

Ezra 4:12-24. What happened to the work on the temple? by what means?

Ezra 4:24. Why Was the Temple Building Halted for So Long?

The work on the temple ceased for fifteen to seventeen years because of the interference of the Samaritans (see Enrichment J).

Ezra 5:1-2. Who helped the Jews build the temple?

Ezra 5:1-5. The Hand of the Lord Intervened in the Building of the Temple

After many years, prophets of God appeared in Jerusalem to provide the inspired direction and incentive to continue the temple building. In the first year of the reign of King Darius, the prophet Daniel petitioned the Lord about Jeremiah's prophecy of the seventy years (see Daniel 9:1-2). Zerubbabel had returned to Jerusalem about sixteen years previously and had been frustrated in his temple building project.

Daniel 9:17-19 shows Daniel's prayerful concern for the sanctuary (temple) and the city Jerusalem. The Lord answered Daniel and raised up two prophets in Jerusalem: Haggai and Zechariah. Haggai 1:1-5, 12-14; Zechariah 4:9; and Ezra 6:14 show how these two prophets inspired Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the people to complete the holy temple in spite of persecution, hard times, and governmental red tape, much as prophets in this dispensation have inspired the Saints to sacrifice much to build temples.

Ezra 5:6-17. What did Tatnai, the governor, write to King Darius? (See also Ezra 5:3a)

Ezra 5:17; 6:12. Why Would Darius Honor the Decree of Cyrus?

Darius recognized the role of God in human affairs. During his reign, Darius adopted the religion of Zoroastrianism for the Persian Empire. Darius probably thought that the god he worshiped also wanted the temple of Judah rebuilt. And, the decrees of one king were often honored by his successors.

Ezra 6:1-5. What was written on the roll at Achmetha?

Ezra 6:6-12. What were Tatnai and his companions told to do?

Ezra 6:11. What was to happen to those who interrupted the building of the temple?

Ezra 6:13. What did Tatnai and his companions do?

Ezra 6:13-15. How Did the Temple of Zerubbabel Compare to the Temple of Solomon?

The second temple in Jerusalem was completed in 516 BC, exactly seventy years after the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. Thus, Jeremiah's prophecy was fulfilled (see Jeremiah 29:10-14).

"It is known in history as the Temple of Zerubbabel. In general plan it was patterned after the Temple of Solomon, though in many of its dimensions it exceeded its prototype. The court was divided into a section for priests only and another for the public; according to Josephus the division was effected by a wooden railing. An altar of unhewn stone was erected in place of the great brazen altar of old. The Holy Place was graced by but one candlestick instead of ten; and by a single table for the shew-bread instead of the ten tables overlaid with gold which stood in the first Temple. We read also of a golden altar of incense, and of some minor appurtenances. The Most Holy Place was empty, for the Ark of the Covenant had not been known after the people had gone into captivity.

"In many respects the Temple of Zerubbabel appeared poor in comparison with its splendid predecessor and in certain particulars, indeed, it ranked lower than the ancient Tabernacle of the Congregation -- the sanctuary of the nomadic tribes. Critical scholars specify the following features characteristic of the Temple of Solomon and lacking in the Temple of Zerubbabel: (1) the Ark of the Covenant; (2) the sacred fire; (3) the Shekinah, or glory of the Lord, manifested of old as the Divine Presence; (4) the Urim and Thummim, by which Jehovah made plain His will to the priests of the Aaronic order; (5) the genius or spirit of prophecy, indicative of the closest communion between mortals and their God. Notwithstanding these differences the Temple of Zerubbabel was recognized of God and was undoubtedly the site or seat of Divine revelation to duly constituted prophets." (Talmage, House of the Lord, pp. 42-43.)

It was the temple of Zerubbabel that King Herod refurbished and made very beautiful. He added many courtyards and surrounding buildings that made it one of the wonders of the world at the time of Jesus.

Ezra 6:14. What did the elders of the Jews do?

Ezra 6:16-18. What did the children of Israel do when the temple was built?

Ezra 6:19-21. Who ate the passover meal?

Ezra 6:22. Who Was the King of Assyria?

The king of Assyria was the Persian monarch, the king of what was once Assyrian territory.

Ezra 6:22; 7:1. A Gap in the History

"Nearly 60 years separate 7:1 from 6:22, during which time Esther is able to avert a complete massacre of the Jewish people and, indirectly, to save the lives of Ezra and Nehemiah. Artaxerxes is favourably disposed towards the Jews, and Ezra the scholar and teacher (direct descendant of the high priests) is given official sanction to teach the law and appoint magistrates in his homeland, to offer sacrifices and beautify the temple. (Ezra's own memoirs, written in Hebrew, begin at verse 27.)" (David Alexander and Pat Alexander, eds., Eerdmans' Handbook to the Bible, pp. 307-8.)

Ezra 7. What Was Ezra's Background and What Was His Assignment from the Persian Emperor?

Josephus spoke of the circumstances in Jerusalem at the time of Ezra and how he was assigned to correct the situation (Ezra is known as Esdras in the Josephus account). Ezra was a man of great faith, and one moved by the Spirit of the Lord. He petitioned King Xerxes for permission to return with more Jews. Xerxes agreed and wrote a letter to the governors of Judah. Josephus wrote:

"When Esdras had received this epistle, he was very joyful, and began to worship God, and confessed that he had been the cause of the king's great favour to him, and that for the same reason he gave all the thanks to God ... So he gathered those that were in the captivity together beyond Euphrates, and staid there three days, and ordained a fast for them, that they might make their prayers to God for their preservation, that they might suffer no misfortunes by the way, either from their enemies, or from any other ill accident; for Esdras had said beforehand, that he had told the king how God would preserve them ...

"Now these things were truly done under the conduct of Esdras; and he succeeded in them, because God esteemed him worthy of the success of his conduct, on account of his goodness and righteousness." (Antiquities, bk. 11, chap. 5, par. 3.)

Ezra 7:5. Who was the chief priest Ezra was a descendent of?

Ezra 7:6. What had the king granted to Ezra? Why?

Ezra 7:6, 11-12. Ezra, the Scribe

In addition to being a priest, Ezra was "a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel" (Ezra 7:11). Ezra, the scribe of the law, was charged by the Persian king to teach the people in Jerusalem of the law and then set up a judgment system for the lawbreakers (see Ezra 7:25-26).

Elder James E. Talmage explained the system of scribes set up by Ezra and the consequences of that system in future generations: "As early as four score years after the return from the Babylonian exile, and we know not with accuracy how much earlier, there had come to be recognized, as men having authority, certain scholars afterward known as scribes, and honored as rabbis or teachers. In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah these specialists in the law constituted a titled class, to whom deference and honor were paid. Ezra is designated 'the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel.' The scribes of those days did valuable service under Ezra, and later under Nehemiah, in compiling the sacred writings then extant; and in Jewish usage those appointed as guardians and expounders of the law came to be known as members of the Great Synagog, or Great Assembly, concerning which we have little information through canonical channels. According to Talmudic record, the organization consisted of one hundred and twenty eminent scholars. The scope of their labors, according to the admonition traditionally perpetuated by themselves, is thus expressed: Be careful in judgment; set up many scholars, and make a hedge about the law. They followed this behest by much study and careful consideration of all traditional details in administration; by multiplying scribes and rabbis unto themselves; and, as some of them interpreted the requirement of setting up many scholars, by writing many books and tractates; moreover, they made a fence or hedge about the law by adding numerous rules, which prescribed with great exactness the officially established proprieties for every occasion." (Jesus the Christ, pp. 63-64.)

Ezra 7:10. What had Ezra preparedhis heart to do?

Ezra 7:11-26. List six things that King Artaxerxes wrote to Ezra to do.

Ezra 7:27-28. How was Ezra blessed?

Ezra 8. Those Who Accompanied Ezra and Their Reliance upon the Lord

"Ezra's party of over 1700 includes priests, people and, somewhat reluctantly, Levites. With them they take gifts valuing more than £1,000,000 [about $2,225,000]. Ezra is faced with a long and dangerous journey at a time of great unrest. And having boasted his confidence in God, he can hardly now apply to the king for an escort! His prayer is heartfelt, and his faith rewarded by God's own safe-conduct." (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans' Handbook, p. 308.)

Ezra 8:1. Who are listed in Ezra 8?

Ezra 8:15. Who Were the Sons of Levi?

Any male member of the tribe of Levi was a Levite, but a priest had to be a descendant of Aaron, who was also of the tribe of Levi. Priests were thus a subgroup of the Levites. The sons referred to in Ezra 8:15 are those of the Levites who were not priests, that is, those Levites who were not descendants of Aaron.

Ezra 8:21-23, 21b. Why did Ezra proclaim a fast at the river of Ahava? (See vv. 21-23, 21b)

Ezra 8:31. Why did Ezra write that "the hand of our God was upon us"? (v. 31)

Ezra 9-10. Ezra Directed Jews to Put Away Heathen Wives

Shortly after Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, he commenced his priestly duties of putting affairs in order. The priests and Levites in Jerusalem had allowed the temple service to seriously deteriorate. Many of them had gone out to make a living because the temple was not supported sufficiently to allow them to serve full time. Some of them had even taken wives of the pagan nations, as had many other Jewish citizens. All of this horrified Ezra and many of the faithful who had told him of the problem (see Ezra 9:1-4). Intermarriage with people from some of the surrounding nations was expressly forbidden by the Lord because it led to idolatry (see Deuteronomy 7:1-5). Idolatry had led to the downfall of the Israelite nation, but even the horrors of defeat and exile had not taught the people their lesson.

Ezra 10:3, 7, 10-12 shows how Ezra successfully called the people to Jerusalem to confess their transgressions and to covenant to put away their heathen wives. It was an important step for the people of Judah in preparing themselves to be worthy of the temple and the sacred land to which the Lord had prophesied they would return.

It appears that the covenant renewal led by Ezra and described in Nehemiah 8-10 occurred at about this same time. Compare Ezra's concern for the Jews' unrighteous intermarrying recorded in Ezra 9:1-15 with that of Nehemiah, the governor, recorded in Nehemiah 13:23-27.

Ezra 9:1-3. What did the princes say to Ezra that caused him to rend his garment?

Ezra 9:9. How had the Lord extended his mercy to his people?

Ezra 9:10-12. How had the people forsaken the commandments?

Ezra 9:15. Why were the people unable to stand before God at that time?

Ezra 10:2-4. What did Shechaniah suggest be done?

Ezra 10:9, 13. Heavy Rains

Ezra's instructions about the strange wives occurred at the time of heavy December rains in Jerusalem. It was cold and wet, and these conditions, along with the people's sorrow for their apostasy, caused them to tremble.

Ezra 10:7-8. What proclamation was made?

Ezra 10:10-11. What did Ezra say to the congregation?

Ezra 10:12-14. What did the congregation reply?

Ezra 10:19. Missing Passages in Ezra about the Savior

"According to a passage in Justin Martyr's dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, Ezra offered a paschal lamb on this occasion, and addressed the people thus: 'And Ezra said to the people, This passover is our Saviour and our Refuge; and if ye will be persuaded of it, and let it enter into your hearts, that we are to humble ourselves to him in a sign, and afterwards shall believe in him, this place shall not be destroyed for ever, saith the Lord of Hosts: but if ye will not believe in him, nor hearken to his preaching, ye shall be a laughing-stock to the Gentiles.' -- Dial. cum Tryphone, sec. 72.

"This passage, Justin says, the Jews, through their enmity to Christ, blotted out of the book of Ezra. He charges them with cancelling several other places through the same spirit of enmity and opposition." (Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible ... with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 2:752.)

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