Welcome to the Bible Reading Plan! We are so glad you are joining us for this journey through all ten chapters of Ezra over the next couple of weeks. Each day, you will read one chapter of the Bible followed by a short devotional, answer a few questions, and if you want, record any observations or insights using the interactive comments section. We believe God will use this resource to grow our knowledge and affection for Him. We know God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11). Sign up with a friend, your Life Group, or your family, and let’s dig in!
Make sure to download our Harris Creek App and turn on push notifications, or visit us at biblereadingplan.org and sign up to receive the BRP in your inbox. Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram (@harriscreek) for some fun, creative ways to interact with the readings.
Let’s Go, Church!
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, much like 1 and 2 Samuel, originally started off as one long story that was eventually split up into two separate books. Ezra, which came first, covers a span of roughly 90 years, beginning in 538 B.C. following the original destruction of the first Jewish temple. After decades of exile in Babylon, it was time for God’s people, the Israelites, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Enter Ezra and Nehemiah.
These two books fall under the category of a historical book, similar to Joshua or 1 and 2 Samuel. Ezra and Nehemiah are interesting reads because they tell us different parts of a story that can, at times, appear somewhat unresolved. While you read, parts may even feel anticlimactic. So why are these two books important? These books give us a guide to revival within God’s people. It’s far too common to let apathy and the desire to go through the motions creep into our lives, our small groups, and our churches. Ezra and Nehemiah both call the people of God towards spiritual revitalization, and there is much we can learn from their stories.
As we read, grab a journal and take good notes. What do these chapters teach you about God’s character? What does it teach you about humanity? What are the implications for you today? We have said it before, but it’s important to remember the significance of these Old Testament books. Too often we get confused by the Old Testament because some of the names sound funny and because we equate “old” with “irrelevant.” There are so many things we can learn about God and ourselves through the lens of this book. As we read the book of Ezra (and then Nehemiah), start each day with a prayer asking God to open your heart to what you need to learn today. Thanks for reading along with us!
Read Ezra 1
Cyrus Helps the Exiles to Return
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
2 “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. 4 And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”
5 Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. 6 All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.
7 Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god. 8 Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.
9 This was the inventory:
|10 gold bowls
|matching silver bowls
11 In all, there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver. Sheshbazzar brought all these along with the exiles when they came up from Babylon to Jerusalem.
Ezra 1 introduces us to a notable person and a notable group of people. While this book is named after Ezra, we won’t actually meet him until chapter 7. The first person we’re introduced to is King Cyrus, the new Persian king in the first year of his reign. The Jews had lived in exile for decades, and finally, the new king was allowing them to return home. Not only did King Cyrus allow them to return to Jerusalem, he also gave them an important instruction—go rebuild the temple.
The notable group of people we meet next are the Israelites—God’s people. For some, this was an answered prayer! For others, the news was met with a shrug. Many were comfortable with their new lives in their new lands. The idea of going to Jerusalem to build a temple wasn’t appealing—they would rather just stay where they were. But for some, Scripture tells us that their hearts were moved (v. 5). Those who were ready to go back to Jerusalem were a minority, but they were a faithful minority. As we have seen time and time again throughout Scripture, you can never underestimate what God can do through a faithful group of people. They loaded up their belongings and made the trek back to Jerusalem to begin working on the task at hand.
So, what can we learn from these faithful few? They were obedient when God started moving in their hearts. Oftentimes we feel that same stirring—our hearts are moved—yet we don’t respond with full obedience because it requires us to give up something. While exiled, Israelites built homes and established livelihoods. To return to Jerusalem meant sacrificing comfort and their new normal, but God stirred their hearts and the faithful responded with obedience. As we go about our day today, pay attention to those nudges from God. He could nudge us to pray for a person whose name comes to mind, to call or text a friend, or he could move our hearts to respond to a need. It may not be as drastic as uprooting your family (although it could be), but obedience is God’s expectation every time.
- Why do you think so many of the Israelites in exile didn’t want to go back to Jerusalem?
- When was the last time God moved your heart? How did you respond?
- What does this chapter teach you about God? What does it teach you about humanity?
Did You Know?
Curious why King Cyrus was so willing to send the Israelites home to Jerusalem? According to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, Cyrus was familiar with the prophecies about him found in Isaiah 44 and 45. Whether or not he was a follower of Yahweh we can’t know for sure, but he had seen enough evidence of God to implore God’s people to rebuild the temple.
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