Seekers Sunday Schoool
Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church
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The Return of Captives to Jerusalem Under Zerubbabel
The Decree of Cyrus
Preparations and Provisions
Register of Those Who Returned
Rebuilding The Alter
Rebuilding The Temple
Opposition To Rebuilding The Temple
Later Opposition Under Xerxes and Artaxerxes
Haggai and Zechariah's Encouragement to Rebuild
Opposition During the Reign of Darius
The Decree of Darius
Completion and Dedication of the Temple
The Passover
The Return of Captives to Jerusalem Under Ezra

The Return To Jerusalem Led By Zerubbabel
Ezra 1:1-6:22

The Decree of Cyrus

Ezra 1:1-4

  • The first three verses of Ezra duplicate the last two verses of 2 Chronicles.
  • In the first year of King Cyrus' reign, Cyrus made a proclamation that was the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy (see Jeremiah 29:10 and Isaiah 44:28-45:6). (v. 1)
  • The prophesy in Isaiah was written over a century earlier.
  • These events are in 538 or 359 BC, about 48 years after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, defeated the southern kingdom of Judah, and carried the Jews away to Babylon as captives. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562, and because his successors were not strong, Babylon was overthrown by Persia in 539, just prior to the events recorded in Ezra. Both the Babylonians and the Persians had a relaxed policy toward their captives, allowing them to own land and homes and take ordinary jobs.
  • In Ezra 1:2-4, we have an official document, presented by Cyrus to the Jews.
  • Cyrus probably gained his knowledge about God through Daniel.
  • Cyrus declares that the Lord has appointed him to build a Temple in Jerusalem. (v. 2)
  • In verse 2, note that God is referred to as "the God of heaven." This is a unique designation given to him in the post captivity books (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel). The reason is that God can no longer be identified with the Temple, because the temple had been destroyed.
  • Cyrus gives permission for all of the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. (v. 3)
  • Cyrus encouraged all the Jews to contribute to the expenses of rebuilding the Temple. (v. 4)
  • Cyrus was not a Jew, but God worked through him to return the exiled Jews to their homeland. He gave the proclamation allowing their return, and he gave them protection, money and the Temple articles taken by Nebuchadnezzar. A lesson for is is that when we face difficult situations and feel surrounded, outnumbered, overpowered, or outclassed, remember that God's power is not limited to our own resources. He is able to use anyone to carry out his plans.

Preparations and Provisions

Ezra 1:5-11

  • God stirred the hearts of the Jews from the tribe of Judah and Benjamin to return to Jerusalem. (v. 5)
  • Although the decree went out to all 12 tribes of Israel, only Judah and Benjamin responded. Most likely, the other 10 tribes of the northern kingdom had been so fractured and dispersed by Assyria, and so much time had elapsed since their captivity, that many have been unsure of their real heritage. (Life Application Bible notes)
  • Many Jews chose to go to Jerusalem, but many more chose to remain in Babylon rather than return to their homeland. The journey back to Jerusalem was difficult, dangerous, and expensive, lasting over four months. Travel conditions were poor; Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside were in ruins; and the people living in the area were hostile. Persian records indicate that many Jews in captivity had accumulated great wealth. Returning to Jerusalem would have meant giving up everything they had and starting over. Many people couldn't bring themselves to do that; they preferred wealth and security to the sacrifice that God's work would require. Compare with Mark 4:18-19 -- their priorities were upside-down. We must not let our comfort, security, or material possessions prevent us from doing what God wants. (Life Application Bible notes)
  • The neighbors of the Jews contributed supplies for the journey. (v. 6)
  • When God calls his people to move, only a portion will respond.
  • Those who don't respond should support those who do. Think, for example, of missionaries. Not everyone is called to be a foreign missionary, but we are all called to support the missionaries - if not in direct, tangible ways, then through other ways such as prayer.
  • King Cyrus even brought out the items that had been previously taken from the Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar. (v. 7-11)
  • Note how God works here - first He stirs Cyrus' spirit, then he stirs the peoples' spirits. The lesson for us is that God often acts by stirring our spirits, which causes us to act.

Register of Those Who Returned

Ezra 2:1-70

  • Chapter 2 lists the numbers of the people who returned.
  • The governor excluded people from priestly duties whose ancestry could not be traced. Remember that the Lord has set up specific rules and guidelines for who is eligible to serve in a priestly capacity. (v. 62)
  • About 50,000 people returned to Jerusalem. This is a small fraction of those who had been carried away. Throughout history, God has saved a "remnant" of his people. (v. 64-67)
  • The priest, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and Temple servants, and some of the common people settled near Jerusalem. The rest of the people returned to the various towns in Judah. (v. 70)
  • Notice that the priests were among the first people to return.
  • One of the main themes in Ezra is the return of the Jews. By returning to the land of Israel from Babylon, the Jews showed their faith in God's promise to restore them as a people. They returned not only to their homeland but also to the place where their forefathers had promised to follow God. This important because it shows that God shows his mercy to every generation. He compassionately restores his people. No matter how difficult our present "captivity," we are never far from his love and mercy. He restores us when w return to him.
  • The people collected offerings for the rebuilding of the Temple. Even though the offerings were generous, the amount of money that David had gathered for the original building was a thousand times more.

Rebuilding The Alter

Ezra 3:1-6

  • In the seventh month, after the Israelites had settled in the towns, the people assembled in Jerusalem. (v. 1)
  • During the time between the return and beginning to rebuild the Temple, we know that the people rebuilt their houses, because latter Haggai rebukes them for rebuilding their homes and neglecting the Temple. (Haggai 1:9)
  • Jeshua, Zerubbabel and their associates began to build the alter in order to be able to offer the sacrifices that were required according to the Law of Moses. (v. 2)
  • They built the alter, even though they were afraid of neighboring cultures. The people showed their trust in the Lord to protect them from their adversaries by honoring Him in rebuilding the alter and reinstituting the sacrifices. (v. 3)
  • Notice that the alter was built in one day - they were offering sacrifices on the first day of the seventh month. (v. 6)
  • After the alter was built, they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles and began the regular offerings. (v. 4-6)
  • They made the offerings, even though the foundation for the Temple had not yet been laid.
  • Notice that the first order of business for the returned Israelites, after regaining their bearings, is to resume worship practices.
  • In addition to returning to their land, the Israelites returned to the Scripture and the prescribed worship practices. The application for us is that what people think is not nearly as important as what the Bible says. This is one of the things that I find so exciting about the method of study we employ in our class - we are constantly going straight to the source.
  • A wonderful example the Israelites provide for us is their unity in rebuilding the Temple. How often do we find ourselves "bickering" within the church family - either in our own congregation or amongst other congregations or denominations. Just like all of the Israelites were united in their zeal to rebuild the Temple, as Christians we should all be united in our faith in Christ.

Rebuilding The Temple

Ezra 3:7-13

  • The Israelites paid the skilled workers and material suppliers for rebuilding the Temple. (v. 7)
  • When Solomon build the first Temple, he also exchanged food and olive oil for wood from Tyre and Sidon.
  • In the second month of the second year after the return of the Israelites (536 BC), Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the people began work on rebuilding the Temple. (v. 8)
  • The people began rebuilding the Temple before rebuilding the city walls. This shows that their reliance was on God, as the Temple was the spiritual center of their society.
  • Ezra waited for the second year post-exile before doing what he wanted. How patient are you (with self, God, others) when waiting for a new beginning?
  • When the builders laid the foundation of the temple, there was a great celebration of praise and thanksgiving, led by the priests and Levites. (v. 10-11)
  • The sentiment in verse 11 (God's love to Israel endures forever) is a them that is often repeated throughout the Bible.
  • While most of the people celebrated the rebuilding of the Temple, the older people - people who had seen the original Temple - wept because the new Temple paled in comparison. (v. 11-12)
  • See Haggai 2:1-5 for both a comparison of the old Temple with the new Temple and for words from the prophet to encourage the people to build the Temple.
  • The sound of the celebration and the weeping was very loud. (v. 13)
  • The rebuilding of the Temple started between fifty and seventy years after its destruction.
  • Even though the second Temple was obviously less glorious than the first Temple, God is concerned with the attitude of the people. When we concentrate on style, we are using our own standards. But when we concentrate on attitude, we use God's standards. The substance of our worship is much more important than the style.
  • Do we have people that act like these "old-timers" today who discourage other's enthusiasm? How? How should we respond?

Opposition to Rebuilding the Temple

Ezra 4:1-5

  • When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard about the rebuilding project, they came and asked to be part of it. (v. 1-2)
  • The adversaries of Judah and Benjamin mentioned in verse 1 were descendants of colonists from other countries who had been planted in the land when Assyria took the northern kingdom into captivity. These colonists had intermarried with the Jews who remained in the land, and their offspring became known as Samaritans.
  • Their offer to help was an attempt to infiltrate and disrupt the project. They wanted to keep a close eye on what the Jews were doing and prevent them from becoming a dominant power again.
  • Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the people refused to allow them to help. (v. 3)
  • The enemies set out to discourage and frustrate the building. This lasted throughout the entire reign of Cyrus (29 years). (v. 4-5)
  • Christians should expect to run into opposition when we try to do God's work. If we expect the opposition and prepare ourselves for it, we will be able to overcome the opposition.

Later Opposition Under Xerxes and Artaxerxes

Ezra 4:6-24

  • From Ezra 4:8 to Ezra 6:18, the text is in Aramaic.
  • The enemies of the Israelites lodged a complaint with King Artaxerxes against the Jews. (v. 7)
  • Rehum sent the letter against Jerusalem. (v. 8)
  • Ezra 4:11-16 is an official letter, as is Ezra 4:17-22. Again, we see how the author of Ezra is incorporating historical records along with narrative to tell the story of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the challenges that were encountered. These letters were written after the Temple was completed and are in reference to the rebuilding of the city. They show the general opposition that the Jews faced in their rebuilding projects.
  • The letter indicated that the Jews were rebuilding the city of Jerusalem, including fortifying its walls. (v. 12)
  • The letter also warned that when the Jews were able to fortify Jerusalem, they would quit paying taxes. (v. 13)
  • The letter encouraged the king to search the archives to verify that Jerusalem has a history of rebellion. (v. 15)
  • The king replied to the letter with a letter of his own. (v. 17)
  • The king's letter says that a search of the archives confirmed that Jerusalem has a history of rebellion. (v. 18-20)
  • The king's letter orders Rehum to stop the rebuilding of Jerusalem until the king gives the order that it can resume. (v. 21)
  • As soon as the letter was delivered, Rehum and the other enemies of Jerusalem forced the Jews to quit rebuilding. (v. 23)
  • Because of this exchange of letters, the rebuilding of the Temple came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius. (v. 24)
  • Temple construction ceased in 534 BC. This was after two years of construction.

Haggai and Zechariah's Encouragement to Rebuild

Ezra 5:1-2

  • Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to the Jews, encouraging them to work on the Temple. (v. 1)
  • Haggai spoke to the people's consience. Zechariah spoke to their heart.
  • Zerubbabel resumed work on the Temple. (v. 2)
  • Temple construction resumed in 520 BC, 14 years after it had ceased in 534 BC.
  • Notice that the construction resumed by the authority of the Holy Spirit, through the prophets, not by a decree from a king.

Opposition During the Reign of Darius

Ezra 5:3-17

  • When the Jews started rebuilding the Temple, thew were challenged by the governer of the area. (v. 3-4)
  • God protected the building project and they continued to rebuild until a written reply from Darius could be received. (v. 5)
  • It looks like red tape is preventing the opposition from shutting down construction.
  • The governor of the area sent a report to Darius. (v. 6-7)
  • The report states that the Jews are building the Temple and making rapid progress. (v. 8)
  • The report states that the Jews were questioned as to by whose authority they were building the Temple and who was involved in the construction. (v. 9-10)
  • The report states that the Jews answered that they were servants of God and were rebuilding His Temple. (v. 11)
  • The Jews recounted their history of being sent to exile for their disobedience to God. (v. 12)
  • The Jews claim (correctly) that Cyrus issued a decree (19 years earlier) authorizing the rebuilding of the Temple and that he helped by returning furnishings from the Temple that had been taken. (v. 13-15)
  • The Jews state that they have been rebuilding the Temple under proper authority from God and man. (v. 16)
  • The report asks the king to search the records to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue such a decree. (v. 17)
  • The governor seems to be a fair man, asking for an investigation of the answer from the Jews instead of simply shutting them down. Or perhaps, he hoped to trap the Jews in a lie.

The Decree of Darius

Ezra 6:1-12

  • King Darius issued an order to search the archives. (v. 1)
  • A scroll was found in Achmetha, the city that used to be Cyrus' capital city. (v. 2)
  • Verses 3-5 contain the official document, a memo, from Cyrus related to the Temple rebuilding. Verses 6-12 contain the official decree from Darius which allowed the Temple construction to be completed.
  • The scroll contained Cyrus' decree that the Temple be rebuilt with money from the royal treasury and that the Temple articles be returned. (v. 3-5)
  • It's somewhat humorous that Darius would not have known of the official decree from Cyrus had not the enemies of the Jews insisted that a search in the archives take place.
  • The political structure of the time made it impossible for Darius to alter Cyrus' decree. Darius realized that it was a law of the Medes and Persians, and could not be altered or changed. So Darius makes a further decree.
  • Darius instructed the officials to not interfere with the rebuilding of the Temple. (v. 6-7)
  • Additionally, Darius instructed the officials to pay the building expenses out of the royal treasury and to provide for their sacrifices. (v. 8-10)
  • Finally, Darius imposed heavy penalties (death and destruction) for anyone who changes this edict. (v. 11-12)

Completion and Dedication of the Temple

Ezra 6:13-18

  • Because of Darius' decree, the officials carried out his wishes with dilligence. (v. 13)
  • The elders of the Jews were able to continue building the Temple, while Haggai and Zechariah preached. (v. 14)
  • They completed the Temple construction in 516 BC, 20 years after construction began. (v. 14-15)
  • There is a great lesson for us here - God works through humanity. The Jews did the physical work for the Temple. God also worked within the political system to allow the climate to be favorable for the Jews to rebuild the Temple. We cannot simply sit around and wait for God's will to happen - we have to take an active role in affecting His will.
  • There was a great celebration and dedication of the Temple. (v. 16-18)
  • This was a great celebration, but it should be no surprise that Solomon's dedication ceremony was bigger (see 1 Kings 8:63, e.g., to see that Solomon had more offernings). Fortunately, Ezra does not dwell on this, and neither should we. The important thing to note is the joy that the people had as they celebrated. Solomon was able to provide for more, and he did. These people were not able to provide for as much, but they celebrated with all their might. Again, God looks at the attitude of the worshiper, not necessarily the outward signs. So should we. Faith has to do with things unseen.
  • It is natural that the Jews have a great celebration at the dedication of the Temple. It was for the purpose of rebuilding the Temple and Jerusalem that they were brought out of exile. This is a major step in the reestablishment of Jerusalem, and the Jews had great reason to celebrate.

The Passover

Ezra 6:19-22

  • The exiles celebrated the Passover at the appropriate time. (v. 19)
  • This was just five weeks after the completion of the Temple.
  • The Jews celebrated with great joy because God changed the attitude of the king of Assyria, so that he assisted them in the building of the Temple. (v. 22)

Last update: July 6, 2003

© 2002-2003 Greg Cohoon

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