In this week’s study of the Old Testament focusing on Ezra and Nehemiah, we learn about the mercies of God and His willingness to forgive His people when they are ready to turn again to Him.
The events in these chapters take place approximately 70 years after the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, as well as carrying away many inhabitants captive into Babylon.
(The Come Follow Me lesson for this section focuses on Ezra Chapter 1, 3-7, and Nehemiah 2, 4-6, and 8.)
Who’s Who in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah
There were many individuals inspired to help the Jewish people return to their homeland.
Cyrus the Great
In Ezra 1, we read that Cyrus, the king of Persia and it’s conquered realms including Babylon, was told by the Lord to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem:
“Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah…Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem…And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”Ezra 1:2-4
Cyrus was a military genius and successfully united most of the middle east under his rule.
Being inspired by the Lord, he allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland and even gave them the treasures that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from the temple, which included about 5,400 vessels of gold and silver.
To learn more about Cyrus the great, check out this article by WorldHistory.org.
Zerubbabel and Jeshua
Zerubbabel and Jeshua were priests of the Aaronic lineage who came out of Babylon to help rebuild the temple.
The temple which they helped to rebuild was named after Zerubbabel and stood for 500 years until the time of King Herod.
In Ezra chapter 3, the alter is repaired and burnt offerings are once again performed at the temple.
The people even start to observe the ceremonial feasts including the feast of tabernacles.
When the foundation for the temple was laid during their second year back, a ceremony was held which included many sacrifices and days of ceremony.
Remarkably, there were still some older individuals who had personally seen the original temple before it was destroyed, and wept with joy to see the new temple being built.
The Jewish people were not the only ones excited by the prospect of a new temple being built.
The Samaritans who were members of the northern tribes who had intermarried with the people’s brought down by the Assyrians were excited to see the temple being rebuilt.
However, when they offered to help in the reconstruction of the temple, they were told that they had no business with the temple and that only the Jewish people could help in its reconstruction and participation in ceremonies.
This caused some very hurt feelings for the Samaritans.
Since they weren’t allowed to help, the did everything they could to hinder the building of the temple, including hiring counsellors (lobbyists) to complain to Cyrus every day about the situation.
They even sent letters declaring that the Jewish people were preparing to rebel against Persia, and that if they were allowed to rebuild the city they would be moved to sedition.
The letter made it’s intended impact, and the Jewish people were told to stop rebuilding the city until further notice, which didn’t occur until the second year of the reign of Darius.
Haggai and Zachariah
Haggai and Zechariah were prophets who taught the Jewish people in Judah.
The Second Temple Is Complete
In Ezra chapter 5, we read that Zerubbabel and Jeshua begin building the temple again with the help of the prophets.
Meanwhile, Tatnai, the governor on their side of the river asked them who gave them permission to work on the temple and on the wall that encircled the city.
However, they kept on working up to the point when the issue made it to Darius, who was now the king of Persia.
A letter was sent to him detailing the construction efforts of the Jews, and how progress was going fast “and propsereth in their hands”.
When asked who had given them permission, the Jews said that:
“We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up…But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.”Ezra 5:11-12
Darius then renews the decree of Cyrus to finish the temple and tells the Samaritans and their paid lobbyists to leave the Jews alone and let them finish their temple.
The work on the temple goes by quickly and a large dedication ceremony is had and a Passover feast was kept.
Ezra and Nehemiah
The kingdom of Persia eventually had a new king, Artaxerxes who was very open to helping the Jewish people.
Ezra was a scribe, and specialized in the law of Moses.
The Lord had made it so he had found favor in the eyes of the king, so that everything that Ezra requested was granted by the king .
Ezra went down to Jerusalem to teach the people god’s commandments.
The king allowed anyone, according to their own freewill to return to Jerusalem and to take the silver and gold that the Babylonians had stolen with them.
The king even went as far as to let Ezra determine who the magistrates and judges should be over the Jewish people.
The book of Nehemiah is slightly different than other books in the Old Testament, because it is written in a first person format.
He was king Artaxerxes’ cup bearer, which was a position of great trust and prestige.
One day the king notices that Nehemiah was sad and asked him what was bothering him.
Nehemiah tells the king that he was sad because Jerusalem was destroyed and still in ruins.
The king then asks Nehemiah what he would like, and Nehemiah asks to be allowed to go to Jerusalem and permission an means to obtain supplies to help build it up again.
Nehemiah is allowed to go to Jerusalem and begins working on the walls, but their enemies try to stop them, mocking them and harassing them so much that the workers have to be armed at all times.
Despite all of the obstacles, the wall around Jerusalem is finished and Jerusalem once again is the home of the Jewish people.