The book of Ezra is only 10 chapters. I like that. I can read the whole book in a day and feel I've read a nice, neat little part of the Bible. Like Ruth. The two other aspects of Ezra I like are:
1. This is the first book in the Bible written in the first person.
"And I was strengthened as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me," -- Ezra 7:28
It's a very different tone when the author narrates in the first person. It's more personal.
2. This book begins with such hope. Cyrus, king of Persia, allows the Jews not only to return to Jerusalem, their homeland, but encourages anyone staying behind to send them on their way with gold and silver and animals for sacrificing to God. Time goes by, however, and the Persian officials forget about Cyrus's decree and start harassing the Jews about their building and make them stop. But then King Darius finds Cyrus's written statement and agrees it should continue, that the Jews should be allowed to continue their building of the temple of God, with an added bonus of it being paid for with Persian funds. Good news in Jerusalem, and the temple is finally completed (though not to quite the same awe-inspiring standard as the first one).
But then there's some more bad stuff. Ezra, an expert in Jewish law, is sent by the latest Persian king, Artaxerxes, to find out how things are going in Judea. Not so good, as it turns out. While the Judeans/Jews are happily doing their thing and worshipping God at the new temple, they get chastized by Ezra for having taken foreign wives in the last few generations. Now, I'm no biblical scholar or historian, so I know there must have been some really great transgression in marrying a foreigner (who evidently couldn't be shown the light and converted to Judaism) but I just don't fully understand why Ezra freaks out (tearing his clothes and his hair out!) and orders all these men (hundreds of them) to divorce their wives AND their children. Basically Ezra is saying that to keep the traditions and the holiness of the people, they have to get rid of the impure members that have been integrated into their society and their family. To me this seems racist and closed-minded. And in a case of incredible irony, smacks of a terrible event that took place in Europe in the last century.
Anyway, something else to learn more about when I can sit down with a rabbi or priest or at least a biblical scholar to get the answers to the questions that burn in my mind as I read this weighty tome.