2 Chronicles ends with a description of Babylon ransacking Jerusalem, and we know that they destroyed Solomon’s temple in 570 BC. Not too many years later, in 539 BC, the Persians would defeat the Babylonians, and the very Cyrus we read about today is the victorious Persian king. When we begin with Cyrus’ desire to build a new temple in Jerusalem, we can historically locate Ezra’s narrative very easily: in 538 BC Cyrus freed many Hebrews to return to Zion. Those that were in their 20’s and 30’s when the Babylonian captivity occurred are now in their 50’s and 60’s. God is graciously working in the heart of a foreign king to show kindness to the chosen people.
Ezra is a book about God’s continuing favor on His people even after all seems lost. Still, there are many obstacles internally and externally for Israel to overcome in the days after the exile. Those post-exilic obstacles will be the major focus of the next three books we read, including Ezra.