Ezra is an important character in the Bible. Some people know that a book in the Old Testament has the title Ezra, but they don’t know much more about him. God called Ezra to a critical ministry at a significant time in Israel’s history. Learning more about Ezra will help today’s readers understand the Old Testament and encourage them to follow God and devote themselves to the Bible.
Ezra, a descendant of Moses’ brother Aaron, was an Israelite priest who faithfully served God and ministered to people in the 5th century B.C. After the exile, King Artaxerxes of Persia sent Ezra and others to Jerusalem to reestablish worship, including teaching and promoting Scripture.
What roles did Ezra have in Israel? What does Scripture say was his heart’s desire? What did Ezra do when he realized many Israelites had married people who worshipped other gods? How did Ezra pray for the guilty? How did they respond? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Erza: Priest, Scribe, and Lover of God’s Word
In the Old Testament, readers can find the book of Ezra at the end of the section of historical books (i.e., Joshua to Esther), after the book of 2 Chronicles, and before Nehemiah. The book is ten chapters long. Most scholars and readers see a two-part division in the book, chapters 1-6 and 7-10.
Ezra isn’t mentioned in the book’s first half, about the Israelites’ return from exile under Zerubbabel (Ch. 1-2) and the temple’s reconstruction (Ch. 3-6), though many scholars believe he wrote it. Nehemiah also mentions Ezra in chapters 8 to 12 of his book. The New Testament doesn’t mention him at all.
Ezra was a priest
The beginning of Ezra 7 establishes him as a priest, tracing his family tree from his father, Seraiah, to Aaron, Moses’ brother (Ezra 7:1-5). Then, the text refers to him as one who had favor with God: “He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him” (Ezra 7:6, ESV).
Bible scholar Gary Smith writes, “Growing up in the family of priests, Ezra had a rich spiritual upbringing that was heavily influenced by the various roles of the priests. Ezra was not a common Israelite living in Babylon; he was a diligent scribe who studied the Scriptures to prepare for service to God and the Jewish community.” 
Ezra was a scribe
Ezra was zealous for Scripture. He was passionate about reading, understanding, and teaching it. Ezra 7:10 says that he loved Bible study: Ezra “had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Though the original Hebrew uses the word for “heart” (from lebab, לֵבָב), some translations choose to reflect the meaning of the expression for their readers.
|NIV||For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.|
|NLT||This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the LORD and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.|
|NET||Now Ezra had dedicated himself to the study of the law of the LORD, to its observance, and to teaching its statutes and judgments in Israel.|
One Bible scholar explains that scribes were important at the time of the exile: A scribe was a “person trained in writing skills and used to record events and decisions (Jer. 36:26; 1 Chron. 24:6; Est. 3:12). During the exile in Babylon, educated scribes apparently became the experts in God’s written word, copying, preserving, and teaching it. Ezra was a scribe in this sense.” 
What is Ezra Known For?
Besides being a priest, scribe, and lover of Scripture, Ezra is also known for certain events during his ministry. Three things Ezra is known for are: (1) dealing with religiously mixed marriages, (2) God answering his prayer about people in mixed marriages, and (3) reading the Law to the Israelites.
Ezra deals with religiously mixed marriages
After Ezra returned to Jerusalem, officials informed him of a widespread problem. Many Israelites, including some in leadership, had married people who followed other gods (Ezra 9:1-2). These acts of unfaithfulness saddened Ezra, who mourned deeply before turning to God in prayer (Ezra 9:3-5).
Old Testament scholar F. Charles Fensham explains, “By intermingling with foreign nations and being contaminated with their idol worship, the true religion was in danger of losing its pure character.” 
Ezra prayed, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). It’s noteworthy that Ezra intercedes for the people using the word “our” even though he wasn’t guilty of marrying idolators.
He later says God has “punished us less than our iniquities deserved,” adding, “shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations?” (Ezra 9:14).
God answers Ezra’s prayer
As Ezra prayed, the “Israelites “people wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1). One confessed, “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this” (Ezra 10:2).
Ezra then gathered the Israelites to Jerusalem and said, “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives” (Ezra 10:11). Then, those in religiously mixed marriages dissolved the relationships (Ezra 10:17).
Ezra reads the Law to the Israelites
Nehemiah records the time when Ezra read the Law, i.e., the first five books of Moses, to the men and women of Israel. He read from it “from early morning until midday” (Neh. 8:3).
In Ezra’s ministry, Scripture had authority. “And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose” (Neh. 8:4), and he “opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood” (Neh. 8:5).
This moment led people to worship God. “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground'” (Neh. 8:6).
Israel’s leaders read Scripture to the people and ensured its meaning was clear. “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8).
 Ezra-Nehemiah by Gary V. Smith. ZECOT. p. 181.
 Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. p. 1421.
 The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah by F. Charles Fensham. NICOT. p. 125.
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