Some Scripture-Digging Tips
Outline the backstory.
Read the introduction to Ezra in your Bible and do any additional research to form an outline of the book’s author, its audience, and the time of its writing.
Consider the context.
Don’t just read the text immediately before and after your passage, you also want to dig into the cross-references!
Identify the key verse.
Hint: Find the author’s emphasis by looking for repeated words and ideas throughout the text.
If you flip back a page in your Bible and read a couple of chapters before Ezra, you will see that 2 Chronicles ends with Jerusalem’s fall. When that happened, the Babylonians removed all the articles from the house of God and took them to Babylon. They burned the temple, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces, and destroyed all its possessions. And those who weren’t killed in the process? They were taken captive for 70 years to fulfill the word of the Lord in Jeremiah 25:9-12. That 70-year exile covers the books of Daniel and Ezekiel (compare Daniel 1:21 with Ezra 1:1). Then comes Ezra.
The book of Ezra details two separate returns of God’s people from Babylon. The first (Ezra 1-6), led by Zerubbabel, rebuilt the temple. The second (Ezra 7-10), led by Ezra, rebuilt the spiritual condition of the people. Between the two sits a 60-year gap in which you can insert the book of Esther.
Look up the meaning of Cyrus’ name, and you’ll see four words of particular interest in light of Daniel’s side-by-side timeline of Ezra’s story: possess thou the furnace. Now, the furnace. In the ancient, mid-East would have implications of wrath, punishment, revenge, and terror. It’s everything that you see (and all that you can imagine) happening to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego under Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (who took over the throne after Cyrus’ reign ended) in Daniel 3.
But, back to the meaning of Cyrus’ name: while he reigned, he had control of the furnace. Rather than using it, he turns God’s people loose. Not only does he free them, he also sends them back home with everything stolen from the temple more than half a century earlier – 5,400 articles of gold and silver that the people of God brought back to Jerusalem with them to restore to the temple.
Let’s Get Personal
As I read this first chapter of Ezra, one detail sat with me for a couple of weeks. The words of it seared in my mind on repeat in a way that I couldn’t shake. It was all those wildly valuable pieces of gold and silver – they came to Jerusalem with the captives.
At the time, I had (still have) a big dream of something I want to do for God that I wasn’t exactly quiet about. I shared the idea all over social media, bringing people along in the process from the color selection all the way through to prototype creation with the manufacturer. And then, we stalled. And my big dream is laid out there for all the world to see, pick up, copy, and carry away to produce all on their own.
As the anxiety sat with me, this fear of a stolen dream, God quietly pointed back to that one simple verse of Ezra 1:11. The most basic truth of it? They carried those articles out in the open, where anyone could ambush and steal them, for 500 vulnerable miles from Babylon back to Jerusalem. And they weren’t chintzy pieces, either. A quick glance over at Ezra 8:26 gives you the weight of everything that went back into the temple in addition to those 5,400 gold and silver pieces. The market value of everything today? A whopping $217 million. There were no armored trucks, no protected convoys. No, it was just a bunch of recently-freed captives and their divinely-protected riches, safely walking for 500 miles. Nobody stole even a piece of it. When I saw it, I breathed deep, making that detail my prayer as I wait for God’s perfect timing to launch my dream product.
Friend, that’s the beauty of Spirit-driven Scripture-digging. It’s that God can use any detail of any story to speak into your own if you’re still enough to listen.