Return and Rebuild the Temple
Tod KennedySunday, August, 2004
History around the time of Ezra
(I have taken most of this history introduction from notes by Dr. Harold Hoehner of Dallas Theological Seminary).
Six Gentile kings dominated the Israelites during Ezra’s lifetime.
- Cyrus, 559-530 BC (Ezra 1:1-4, 7, 8; Ezra 3:7; 4:3, 5; 5:13, 14, 17; 6.3, 14). See Cyrus below.
- Cambyses, Cyrus’ son, 530-522 BC. He killed his brother Bardiya (Smerdis) in 525 and then led an expedition against the Egyptians. While he was gone, Gaumata (Bardiya-Smerdis imposter), in 622, took the throne. When Cambyses heard of the successful plot, he may have committed suicide.
- Gaumata or Pseudo Smerdis (who posed as Smerdis, the brother of Cambyses whom Cambyses had killed in 525), ruled 6 months in 522 BC.
- Darius I, 522-486 BC. He killed Pseudo-Smerdis and took power. After he had consolidated his power, he studied law, which was significant for what was to follow. Remember that when Tattenai of Syria interfered with the Jew’s rebuilding project, Darius ordered the search for Cyrus’ decree. After he read the decree, he ordered Tattenai to stay away from Jerusalem and leave the work on the temple alone. In fact, Darius ordered Tattenai to provide the money and supplies necessary (Ezra 4:5; 4:24; 5:5, 6, 7; 6:1, 12, 13, 14, 15).
- Xerxes, 486-465 BC, Darius’ son, and king during Esther’s life (Ezra 4.6).
- Artaxerxes I, 465-423 BC, Xerxes’ son and the king under whom Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and did their work (Ezra 4:7, 8, 11, 23; 6:14; 7:1, 7, 11, 12, 21; 8:1
Cyrus, King of Persia and Babylon, decreed in 538 BC that the Jews could return to Judah from exile and rebuild the city and the temple.
- Cyrus succeeded his father as king of Anshan, a vassal kingdom of Media, in 559 BC.
- In 550 BC, Cyrus rebelled against his maternal grandfather, Astyages, the king of the Medes. He took Ecbatana, the capitol, without a fight when Harpagus, one of Astyages’ generals deserted with his army to Cyrus. Cyrus was now king of the Medes and Persians.
- In 539 BC, Belshazzar was regent in Babylon for his father, Nabonidus, who had gone to Tema in Arabia in 553 BC. Nabonidus returned to Babylon in April of 539 BC.
- In September-October, 539 BC, Cyrus defeated the Babylonians at Opis on the Tigris River. He then defeated Sippar, which was across the river, on October 10, 539 BC.
- On October 12, 539 BC, Ugbaru, the commander of Cyrus’ armies defeated Babylon without a fight. He diverted the Euphrates River, which ran through the center of the city, and the troops entered by the river bed. Belshazzar was killed (Daniel 5:30) and Nabonidus was taken prisoner.
- Cyrus appointed Darius the Mede (539-525) ruler of Babylon, Syria, and Palestine. Darius then appointed governors to rule under him (Daniel 5:30-6:3).
- Cyrus allowed the conquered people to take their gods and return to their homes. Furthermore, he decreed that the Jewish people could return home and rebuild their temple (Ezra 1; Ezra 6:3-5; 2 Chronicles 36:21-23)
The Jewish people returned to their land in three groups. This was similar to the three groups Babylon exiled (606 BC, 597 BC, and 586 BC.
- The first group returned to Judah in 536 BC. Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel led them. Cyrus was king of Persia. They completed the temple in 515 BC, during the reign of Darius I (Ezra 1-6).
- The second group returned in 458 BC. Ezra led them. Artaxerxes was king of Persia (Ezra 7-10).
- The third group returned in 444 BC. Nehemiah led them. Artaxerxes was king of Persia (Nehemiah 1-2).
Ezra is most likely the author of the book that bears his name.
- Ezra is the main person of the book that bears his name. He used official sources and wrote at times as an eyewitness (e.g. Ezra 7:27-28).
- The author wrote the narrative sections in Hebrew and copied the official documents in the original Aramaic (Ezra 4.8-6.18 and 7.12-26), the official language of government and commerce in Persia at that time. (e.g. Ezra 6.2-12).
- Ezra was written around 450 BC.
The prophets Haggai (520 BC), Zechariah (520-518 BC), and Malachi (450-430 BC) taught and wrote God’s word during this time period. The events of Esther also unfolded during the reign of Xerxes (485-465 BC).
Pagan religious founders lived at this time.
- Gautama Buddha (about 550-480 BC) in India.
- Confucius (551-479 BC) in China.
- Socrates (470-399 BC) in Greece
Key Verse: Ezra 9:9
- “For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.”
- Return and Rebuild the Temple. God’s imposed 70 year captivity and exile has finished. He stirred Cyrus, King of Media and Persia, to decree that the Jews may return to their land and rebuild their temple. The people returned in three groups. Though they faced opposition from the pagans living in their land, God moved kings and peoples to ensure their success. God sent Ezra to teach God’s word and to lead much needed spiritual, moral, and social reforms among the restored remnant.
- Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel led the first return from Babylon (now Persian) in 538 BC (Ezra 1-6).
- Ezra lad the second return from Babylon (now Persia) in 458 BC (Ezra 7-8).
- Ezra brought about religious reforms for the returnees (Ezra 9-10).
- Chapter 1: Cyrus’ decree
- Chapter 2: Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel lead first return
- Chapter 3: Temple foundation laid
- Chapter 4: Tattenai, Darius, Artaxerxes stop work
- Chapter 5: Tattenai complains to Darius
- Chapter 6: Darius decrees for work. Temple completed
- Chapter 7: Artaxerxes decrees for Ezra and work
- Chapter 8: Ezra leads second return
- Chapter 9: Ezra prays
- Chapter 10: Divorce pagan wives
Trace the Theme: Return and Temple.
- Cyrus decrees and Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel lead the first return (Ezra 1-3).
- The leaders organize and begin the work on the temple (Ezra 4).
- Once the Jews begin to establish themselves, the Samaritans around them attempted by various means to discourage, cause compromise, intimidate, and even attempted to use law to stop the Jews from working on the temple. Darius and Ataxerxes temporarily stopped the work, but upon research of the facts they both decreed that the Jews were right; the work must continue (4-6).
- Ezra the scribe received authorization from Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem. He gave much needed spiritual leadership to the Jews (Ezra 7-8).
- When Ezra got to Jerusalem, he saw that the people of Israel had not followed God’s word. One of the problems was that many of the men had married pagan wives. This was a violation of God’s word. This mixed marriage brought paganism into the national life of the new Jewish commonwealth. Ezra prayed and confessed to the Lord, and sought God’s guidance about what he should do (Ezra 9).
- While Ezra prayed, a group of men came with God’s answer. The men were to divorce their pagan wives for the sake of God’s honor and Israel’s spiritual survival and spiritual purity. Ezra organized and administered the divorce procedure (10).
- Sheshbazzar. The leader or ruler of the Judeans—prince of Judah (Ezra 1.8; 5.14). He led the first return to Judah. There is a question as to whether he is Zerubbabel under another name or a different person. Eugene Merrill (493) and John Bright (7) think that Sheshbazzar a distinct person and likely the same as Shenazzar a son of Johoiachin (1 Chronicles 3:18). Zerubbabel is then his nephew and successor.
- Zerubbabel. He is prominent in the first return to Israel. He is the grandson of King Johoiachin and son of Shealtiel (Ezra 3:2, 8; Ezra 5:2) and the son of Pedaiah (Hebrew text of 1 Chronicles 3:19), possibly by Levirate marriage. He is likely the nephew of Sheshbazzar. Zerubbabel and Jeshua were active leaders in the putting down the temple foundation (Ezra 3:2-3). They also led the renewed building of the temple after their enemies had stopped their work (Ezra 5:2). Haggai identifies him as governor of Judah in Haggai 1:1 and 2:2.
- Ezra. He was comparable to Secretary of State for Jewish Affairs under Artaxerxes (465-423 BC), King of Persia. King Artaxerxes favored Ezra and as a result allowed him to return to Jerusalem in July-August of 458 BC take care of problems. Ezra was a priest and a scribe; he traced his linage back to Aaron. As a scribe he studied and taught God’s word to the Israelites. Because many Jewish men, including priests and Levites, had married pagan wives, the spiritual life of the new community was threatened. Ezra sought God’s sought God’s guidance through prayer. While he was praying, Shecaniah with a contingent of Jews came to him with the plan to divorce the pagan wives. They carried out this plan (Ezra 9-10). Later on, Ezra apparently returned to Babylon, and then in 444 BC went back to Judah at the time Jerusalem’s walls were completed. At that time he and Nehemiah participated in the dedication of the walls (Nehemiah 12, especially Nehemiah 12:26-37).
- Cyrus, Darius I, Xerxes (Ahasuerus), and Artaxerxes ruled Persia during these events.
Key Words Used
- Temple, 24X (Ezra 2:43; Ezra 2:58; Ezra 2:70; Ezra 3:6; Ezra 3:9; Ezra 3:10; Ezra 3:12; Ezra 4:1; Ezra 5:3; Ezra 5:9; Ezra 5:11; Ezra 5:12; Ezra 5:14; Ezra 5:15; Ezra 6:3; Ezra 6:5; Ezra 6:15; Ezra 6:17; Ezra 7:7; Ezra 8:17; Ezra 8:20).
- Law of God, Lord, Moses, 7X (Ezra 3:2; 7:6, 10, 12, 14, 21, 26).
- God keeps His word to his people (Ezra 1:1; Ezra 9:8-9).
- God has the right and power to rule any and all political rulers (Cyrus, Ezra 1:1; Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, Ezra 6:14).
- God can and does stir people or impress people to do what He wants them to do (Ezra 1:5).
- Enemies of a nation will attempt to take over that nation by intimidating propaganda, promoting false compromises, deceitful attacks on the leadership and policies, and appeals to other nations and groups (Ezra 4:1-6; 5:3,6).
- The spiritual leader studies, teaches, and applies God’s word to the people under his leadership (Ezra 3:1-3; 7:10; 9:10; 10:9-11).
- Leaders also must make critical decision in times of spiritual danger to the people (Ezra 7:21-24; Ezra 9-10).
Lessons for Today
- God moves within people to accomplish his purpose. This is divine guidance for believers. We see his overruling will, directive will, and permissive will.
- If God kept his word to a rebellious Israel, he also keeps his word to church age believers.
- Spiritual leaders are important for a congregation of believers. Their job is to study and teach God’s word, to provide leadership for the congregation, and make necessary decisions for the protection and welfare of people under his spiritual authority.
- Unequal (believer-unbeliever; interested believer and disinterested believer) marriages will undermine the spiritual lives and welfare of families and nations.