December 8, 2015.
Daily Reading: Ezra 1-4.
Background: The book of Ezra was originally combined with the book of Nehemiah until it was divided into two books by Christians around the third century. The story records the story of the exile’s return from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple, as per Cyrus’ decree that is recorded both at the beginning of Ezra and at the end of II Chronicles. It spans a time period from 538 BC to no earlier than 450 BC. In Ezra, we see the beginning of the rebuilding of the temple, persecution and delaying of the work, the completion of the temple and finally Ezra the priest leading a large group of exiles back to Jerusalem and purifying them from their sinful marriages. We find strong leaders throughout the book, such as Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest and Ezra the scribe and priest, and find that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah are contemporaries in this time period, charging and encouraging the returning exiles. The book is unique in the way it records many letter correspondences between different people and the ruling kings of Persia at the time. At the end of the book of Ezra, the people renew their covenant with God and once again follow Him.
Concepts and Connections.
Cyrus’ proclamation: The book of Ezra begins with a proclamation that is also recorded at the end of II Chronicles, when the Lord stirred up King Cyrus of Persia to release the children of Israel from exile, ending the 70 years of Babylonian captivity as prophesied by Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 25:12-13, 19:10), charing any who would to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the house of the Lord that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar (see II Kings 24-25). Cyrus also brought the vessels of the house of the Lord out of the house of the gods of Nebuchadnezzar and returned them to Jerusalem. A portion and exiles and the vessels were brought from Babylonia to Jerusalem to begin the rebuilding of the house of the Lord.
The returning exiles: This chapter gives a record of the returning exiles that had been brought into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar after he had successfully laid siege against Jerusalem (see II Kings 24-25). this text is repeated in Nehemiah 7:6-73. The people are numbered by their returning families, and the leaders of the people are listed first: Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah. Mordecai would play a substantial role in the book of Ester. The Levites are numbered after the other tribes and finally those who returned but could not prove their lineage are listed last. This last group was excluded from the priesthood and could not partake of the holy food until a priest was able to consult Urim and Thummim, two objects that were used to determine truth from the Lord (see Exodus 28:30, I Samuel 14:36-42). All together, the assembly numbered 42,360, aside from their male and female servants. Their livestock is also numbered as well as the freewill offering that was made for the house of the Lord.
Beginning the rebuilding: In this chapter, we see the children of Israel gather together as one man, being led by Jeshua the son of Jozadak and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel to build the altar of the God of Israel and offer burnt offerings on it as was written in the book of Moses. They also keep the feast of booths here from the first day of the seventh month (see Exodus 23:16 and Leviticus 23:34). However, the foundation for the house of the Lord had yet to be laid, so they hired the masons and carpenters to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to begin the foundation. Finally, in the second year after the return of the exiles, Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the people began the work on the house of the Lord, appointing certain Levites to supervise the project. At the laying of the foundation, there was a great noise of instruments and singing of praise to the Lord and His steadfast love that endures forever. Along with this great shout, those who were old enough to have seen the original house before it was destroyed cried tears of joy when the say the laying of the foundation once again. Their cry was so loud that it couldn’t be distinguished from the shouts of joy to the Lord. The sound was heard from far away. Great was the joy in Jerusalem.
Adversaries arise: As the rebuilding of the temple continued, adversaries arose agains the children of Israel. First, they tried to stop the work on the house of the Lord by trickery, claiming to worship the Lord God of Israel and offering to help with the rebuilding of the house of the Lord. Zerubbabel and the heads of the father’s houses were wise to their tricks, however, and they would not allow them to help with the rebuilding. When their first tactic failed, they discouraged the people and sent a letter to the king at the time, Artaxerxes, claiming that if the children of Israel were allowed to complete the house of the Lord and the wall of Jerusalem, then they would no longer be subject to the king of Persia, nor would they pay tribute. They asked the king to look up in the records the history of the Israelites and see that they were a “rebellious” city, thus why they were destroyed. The adversaries made it seem like they were writing this letter out of good will toward the king, saying that they relied on his success. Artaxerxes sent word back that he had indeed looked up the records as requested and saw that they had a history or rebellion and sedition and he ordered the work to stop immediately. The work of the house of the Lord would indeed stop until the second year of Darius, when Haggai would stir up the people to start again (see Haggai 1).
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 132-134.
Work for the Lord.