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Bible: What Does Ezra 1-6 Teach Us About the Jews' Post-Captivity Return to Israel?
Ezra the Scribe
THE BOOK OF EZRA
Verses 1-4 repeat and give a more complete account of Cyrus' edict than does Chronicles (cf. 2 Chron. 36: 22-23), thus providing a continuity between books.
Ezra stresses God's involvement in peoples' lives, reiterating the concept that He "stirs up" and "moves" the spirits of men, even those of the unsaved (Cyrus) [vv. 1, 5; cf. Isaiah 45].
As they anticipate the return to their homeland, the Jews receive gifts from Persia (v. 6).
Cyrus returns the temple articles to Sheshbazzar, prince of Judah, whose Hebrew name is Zerubbabel (vv. 7-11; cf. 2:2).
As the Hebrews "plundered" the Egyptians nine hundred years earlier, so their descendants now confiscate treasures from the Persians.
This chapter records the number of Israelites who returned from the Babylonian Exile, listed according to household (vv. 1-35).
[The priests and Levites have separate listings (vv. 36-40)].
The total returnees, including servants and singers, amount to forty-nine thousand eight hundred ninety-seven, far less than those who exited Egypt (vv. 64-65).
[See Nehemiah 7:6-73 for another listing.
What is/are the purpose/purposes of such a record?]
The Law of Moses
The Second Temple
The Israelites are a unified, though understandably xenophobic, community (vv. 1-3).
They build an altar, keep the Feast of Tabernacles according to the Law of Moses, and present many other offerings as well (vv. 2-5).
Since the foundation of the Second Temple is not yet laid (v. 6), the community leaders (Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and others) appoint the Levites to oversee this work (vv. 8, 9).
Upon its completion, the people worship; however, the old men, who had seen Solomon’s masterwork, weep (vv. 10-13).
[The context might imply their own personal sorrow, because they realized that the Second would not compare with the First.
Perhaps joy caused their weeping, since they never thought they would see their homeland again].
Cyrus and Darius
Proper interpretation of this chapter requires accuracy in assigning the right project to the right monarch.
Cyrus, king of Persia (558-529), commands specific Jews to rebuild the temple (v. 3).
The leaders, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, resist cooperation with opposing forces in the rebuilding project (vv. 1-3).
[Was the opposition consciously against the Jews prior to their being rejected?]
This struggle (vv. 4-5) continues until the second year of the reign of Darius (520 B.C.; cf. v. 24).
Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes
Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes
Verses 6-22 record a parenthetical example of opposition during the reign of Ahasuerus (485-464 B.C.).
During his rule, enemies accuse the Jews of rebuilding the walls and the city of Jerusalem, but not the temple (vv. 12, 13, 16).
These hatemongers do not succeed until the reign of Artaxerxes (465-424 B.C.) when they convince the king to suspend the work of the Jews (v. 23).
[Whether conflict with enemies occurred during the reign of Cyrus when the Jews wanted to rebuild the temple or during the reign of Artaxerxes when they desired to repair the walls, the people of God have faced frequent external opposition].
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The prophets Haggai and Zechariah encourage the government leaders Zerubbabel and Jeshua to rebuild the temple (vv. 1-2).
At the same time, they incur opposition from the governor of that region and others who inquire, in essence, “By whose authority are you Jews starting such a project?” (v. 3)
Therefore, Governor Tattenai sends a letter to Darius (vv. 6-17), advising him to seek out the decree of Cyrus (v. 17) to discover the truth.
Verses 11-16 contain the Jews' explanation of their recent history: from a mention of the first temple (v. 11), to the captivity (v. 12), to Cyrus's decree (vv. 13-15), to Sheshbazzar's obedience (v. 16).
[Their testimony before Tattenai regarding their God’s activity surely must have affected him].
The Capital of Media
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In Ecbatana, capital of Media, Darius' servants find Cyrus' decree that ordered both the temple to be rebuilt at his expense (vv. 1-4), and for the silver and gold booty to be returned to the Jews (v. 5).
Darius then commands both Tattenai and the Persians to leave the Jews alone (v. 6); in addition, the Persians should provide the Jews with whatever they needed for sacrificial purposes (vv. 9, 10).
Furthermore, the State should hang all troublemakers (v. 11).
The Jews complete the temple in the sixth year of Darius (v. 15), celebrate its dedication with sacrifices offered by a duly authorized priesthood (vv. 16-18), and later commemorate the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (vv. 19-22).
[God must have revealed to Cyrus Who He is for the king to take such action on behalf of the Jews].
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