“The book of Ezra is a history of the early days of the return of the Jewish people from their 70 years of captivity in Babylon. The book covers the period from 538 B.C. to around 456 B.C. Two principal units make up the book. The first is Ezra1-6, which describes the return under the leadership of Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. The second is Ezra 7-10, referred to as the Ezra Memoir since it is Ezra’s own account of his activities as priest and scribe to order the life of the returned Jewish community according to biblical standards. The last verses of 2 Chronicles and the first verses of Ezra are nearly identical. This literary bond casts the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as sequels to the events described in Chronicles. The unity of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is so evident that it is common to hear them referred to as a single work: Ezra/Nehemiah. This is the work of a single individual who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recognized the hand of God at work in this community’s restoration and wrote a history of its emergence, using primary source materials to accentuate the credibility of his work.” (HCSB) As I read through the book of Ezra, I came across two main themes, which are worship and government involvement and I have documented them accordingly in this commentary.

In 2:63, God had specified the use of Urim and Thummim for discerning His will. This practice does not persist in the church since all believers now have the Holy Spirit indwelling them and also have the complete written revelation of God’s will in the Bible to help them discern God’s will. In 3:6, the people began to offer sacrifices to God before they built the temple. Relationship with God does not depend on a building or any other religious structure. The institutions of worship may facilitate worship but they can never substitute for it. In 3:11, “All the people gave a great shout of praise.” Worship is not reserved for the professional clergy. All believers may, and are expected to, engage in worship. Worship comes in many styles, from subdued to exuberant, and when done in the right spirit according to biblical standards, they are all pleasing to God. 5:9, 11: “So we questioned the elders and asked, ‘Who gave you the order to rebuild this temple and finish this structure?’ This is the reply they gave us, ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth and are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished.’ Spiritual holiness was expected of those who worshiped God. Today’s church could learn from this early community. Church discipline has fallen by the wayside as contemporary congregations attempt to shed their image of exclusivity. However, God expects to be served by a holy people. The church today must demand that church members conduct themselves according to certain spiritual standards that honor the faith community and God.

In regards to 5:1, the government had the power to prevent continued work on the temple, but this constituted an improper intrusion of government in religion. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah opposed this intrusion and called the people back to the work. This episode provides a good example of the need for a sound policy of separation of church and state. The state should not have the power to dictate to the church. God created both institutions, but He gave them separate responsibilities. While it is preferable not to take government money for ministry activities, verse 6:8 reveals that the Bible does not condemn such assistance. However, a ministry must be very careful if it chooses to take government funding to assist its work, for it is always possible that government intrusion will follow government investment.

7:10: “The gracious hand his God was on him, because Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the LORD, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel.” It is important to note that Ezra was a religious as well as a civil leader. His service in both of these spheres provides important guidance on the appropriate role of believers in public life. It is completely acceptable for people of faith to serve in government positions. Membership in the spiritual household does not disqualify someone from service in the public sector. Other biblical examples of believers who served in public positions are Joseph, Daniel, and Esther.

In 7:26, Artaxerxes allowed the requirements of religious law to become state law in Israel. This was appropriate since Israel was both a religious and a political entity. It would be inappropriate to apply the religious laws of the church to the state in the same way today since the church is not a political entity. It is important to realize that the United States has this type of freedom for people to choose whether or not to obey God’s laws as well as the laws of the public sector. In the Middle East, people do not have such freedoms because their religious laws are the public laws and the penalty of disobedience is usually stricter there than it is in the States. People cannot live any way they choose without consequences. The judgment of God is a reality. His judgment may come immediately, or He may choose to delay His judgment, but no one should think that God is indifferent to sin. God’s people are held to this standard as well. In fact, it is likely that God expects more from His people who have been given the truth of His will.

I found Ezra’s prayer in chapter 9 to be insightful and admirable, which is why I have decided to close this commentary with it. The prayer highlights how sin affects our lives and sets an example of how we all should pray in regards to community as well as our country, world, and ourselves. We have all sinned in some way or another and deserve unimaginable discipline. Fortunately for us, Jesus Christ paid the price at the cross and provides courage for us to pray directly to God as Father and we can ask that our shame and embarrassment be left at the foot of the cross and our guilt will be lifted from us so that we may learn to continue on with our lives and remember to do so uprightly.

9:6-15: “My God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face toward You, my God, because our iniquities are higher than our heads and our guilt is as high as the heavens. Our guild has been terrible from the days of our fathers until the present. Because of our iniquities we have been handed over, along with our kings and priests, to the surrounding kings, and to the sword, captivity, plundering, and open shame, as it is today. But now, for a brief moment, grace has come from the LORD our God to preserve a remnant for us and give us a stake in His holy place. Even in our slavery, God has given us new life and light to our eyes. Though we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our slavery. He has extended grace to us in the presence of the Persian kings, giving us new life, so that we can rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. Now, our God, what can we say in light of this? For we have abandoned the commandments You gave through Your servants the prophets, saying: ‘The land you are entering to possess is an impure land. The surrounding peoples have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness by their impurity and detestable practices. So do not give your daughters to their sons in marriage or take their daughters for your sons. Never seek their peace or prosperity, so that you will be strong, eat the good things of the land, and leave it as an inheritance to your sons forever.’ After all that has happened to us because of our evil deeds and terrible guilt—though You, our God, have punished us less than our sins deserve and have allowed us to survive—should we break Your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who commit these detestable practices? Wouldn’t You become so angry with us that You would destroy us, leaving no survivors? LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we survive as a remnant today. Here we are before You with our guilt, though no one can stand in Your presence because of this.”