The Faith and Determination of Ezra
It's All About Rebuilding
Ezra's One-Way Ticket Out of Babylon
The Book of Ezra tells of a man who is the direct descendant of Moses' brother Aaron, the first high priest of the Hebrews. About 60 years after Jerusalem was destroyed and survivors taken to Babylon about 500 miles to the east, a new day was born when Cyrus, King of Persia, decided to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. This occurred at least fifteen generations after Moses and his brother Aaron led the Hebrews out of Egypt to the Promised Land of what is today Israel. Ezra, who led the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple lived in the Sixth Century BC.
Why did Cyrus decide to rebuild the temple? It was for the same reason that many leaders did things in ancient times. God told him to do it. It was done not for the God of Persia but for the God of Israel.
The Book of Ezra was written by Hebrew scholars. Some say it was written by God. It is not part of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, which tell of Moses and the journey to the Promised Land. Moses lived over 400 years before Ezra. Another 400 years before Moses was when Jacob (called "Israel") lived and immigrated into Egypt. Jacob descended from Isaac and Abraham. They descended from Noah and his family, who in turn had descended through the generations from Adam and Eve. This is why we can apply the word "ancient" to many of the happenings in the Bible even before the birth of Jesus, which itself was in ancient times.
The Hebrew captives returning from Babylon to Jerusalem numbered 42,360 people according to the Book of Ezra. Surrounding peoples in the lands outside Jerusalem wanted to participate in the rebuilding of the temple but were excluded from the task. Jealous and resentful, they retaliated by warning the Persian rulers that Jerusalem residents were rebellious troublemakers.
The Persian authorities governing the territory thereupon halted reconstruction of the temple. But when Darius became King of Persia, rebuilding resumed. The excluded outsiders again became angry and challenged Darius' authority to order the resumption of the building of the temple.
Darius searched for documents to prove that the reconstruction was according to the law. He found the original written orders of Cyrus to rebuild the temple. This settled the matter.
Then Ezra was chosen to come to Jerusalem from Babylon. He was a priest and a scribe. He was appointed to be the man in charge of the Jerusalem temple project. The temple was to be rebuilt just as beautifully as the original one. The journey of Ezra and his followers back to Jerusalem dramatizes the return of the Hebrews to their city in order to recapture their religious faith.
But separation from the surrounding non-Jewish people always seemed important to the ancient Hebrews. Intermarriage with Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorities was considered wrong. These were "pagans."
Ezra told those men who'd taken pagan wives to "put away" their wives (divorce them) because the "holy seed" of Hebrews should not be "mixed with other peoples."
The Book of Ezra affords a glimpse into the mind-set of ancient people who have created a view of God that adheres to western religions even to this day. But the segregationist attitudes fly in the face of modern progressive ideas.
The key to the importance of the Book of Ezra is that the rebuilding of something destroyed is symbolic of the continued vitality of the Hebrew people and their religion. The preservation of tradition is very important to the Hebrew people, carried forward into the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions that dominate western values. The temple in Jerusalem had to be rebuilt so that the manifestation of religion could be preserved.
Rebuilding World Trade Center
Reconstruction After War
In America, the period after the Civil War was referred to as "reconstruction," but the gist of that effort was more to reform society toward civil rights rather than to reconstruct the devastated buildings and farms of the South, which also was part of the Reconstruction Era.
In ancient Jerusalem, reconstruction done by Ezra was to rebuild the temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians.
Following the Second World War a lot of rebuilding had to take place because of the destruction of the bombings of famous cities. The magnitude was far greater than Jerusalem in the time of Ezra. The world war cost 60 million lives. But the reconstruction of the cities was done with the same heart and soul that it took to reconstruct the temple.
America rebuilt the World Trade Center area after it was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.
The United Nations is dedicated to rebuilding nations that suffer war and destruction, especially in Africa and Latin America. Again, as with Ezra, the impulse is to help war-torn societies and rebuild so that the spirit of the people can be restored. The United Nations believes that by rebuilding a sustainable nation, future wars will be deterred.
Violence has a terrible effect not only on the structures in the war-torn cities, but on the economy of a nation and the morale of its society, as it did when Babylon desecrated Jerusalem.
But Jerusalem was brought "out of the ashes" by Ezra, just as modern cities have been reconstructed to become thriving metropolises where economic opportunity and individual rights prevail. Looking at modern comparisons to events of the Old Testament makes the power of faith, humanity, and religion seem all the more obvious.