Encountering the Old Testament, 3rd Edition

A Christian Survey

series: Encountering Biblical Studies


18. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther: A Time to Rebuild

Chapter Intro Video

Chapter Objectives

  • Explain the benefits of studying Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther together
  • Outline the basic content of the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
  • Compare the literary styles used in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther
  • Discuss the question of the authorship of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther
  • Explain the chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah
  • Identify the theological themes in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther

Chapter Summary

  1. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther have a common origin in the Persian period of Jewish history.
  2. King Cyrus of Persia captured Babylon and issued a decree that released the Jews.
  3. The Jews were able to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, but because of numerous problems, it was not completed until 516 BC.
  4. Ezra was an important scribe in the community of Jews that returned from Babylon.
  5. Nehemiah was concerned that the walls of Jerusalem were in ruins. He was able to motivate the people to rebuild them.
  6. Ezra and Nehemiah led the people in the renewal of the covenant.
  7. Ezra and Nehemiah are unique in that they contain first-person accounts.
  8. The book of Esther is a romantic novel that is written as a short story.
  9. The exclusive worship of God was a critical matter for the Jews during the rule of the Persian Empire. The book of Esther shows how God’s people should respond in a pluralistic society.
  10. The Jewish Feast of Purim originated because of the way God saved the Jews thanks to Mordecai and Esther.

Study Questions


  1. What period of time is covered in the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther?
  2. Discuss some of the important differences among these books. How do these differences make the books complement one another?
  3. Why are Ezra and Nehemiah often studied as one continuous work?
  4. What role did Ezra play among the returning exiles?
  5. What is the all-consuming question faced by the people at this time?
  6. Discuss the concept of Israelite Yahwism as exclusivistic.
  7. Why were the mixed marriages found in the book of Ezra a threat to God’s people at this time?
  8. With what events is the book of Nehemiah concerned?
  9. What social problems are found among the Israelites at this time?
  10. Discuss the problems of authorship and chronology connected to Ezra and Nehemiah.
  11. What are some of the theological themes of Ezra and Nehemiah?


  1. What unusual feature does the book of Esther have?
  2. What is the theme of this book?
  3. Discuss the subtleties of this book and how they affect the story being told.
  4. Who is the main character of Esther?
  5. What does the book of Esther teach about life in a pluralistic and multireligious society?