Friday, June 3, 2016

What's in the Book of Ezra? Part 1

The fifteenth book of the Old Testament is Ezra and was written by the prophet Ezra, recording the return to Palestine under Zerubbabel of a Jewish remnant that laid the temple foundations (536 BC).

The Scriptures record the return of three groups of exiles to Jerusalem from Babylon. The first group came in 536 BC, the second in 457 BC under Ezra and the third in 444 BC under Nehemiah. The book of Ezra tells of the first two groups. At the time of the writing, for historical perspective, Confucius and Buddha were alive and within a century Sophocles and Socrates would be alive. 

A quick look at chapter 1 tells us some interesting things: first,
King Cyrus gives God credit for his success, but he was a respecter of all religions and was just covering his back. God used him, though. Second, Ezra includes an inventory of the thousands of items that God kept safe all those years until they could be returned to their rightful place.

The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah are two parts of the same story. They tell us about the time when the Jews returned from Babylonia to their own country, Judah. The journey between Babylonia and Judah took about 4 months to walk. The Babylonians had defeated the people from Judah. They had forced most of the Jews to go to Babylonia and to live there. After many years, the Persians defeated the Babylonians. Then Cyrus, the king of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to Judah.

The Book of Ezra tells us about the first two groups of Jews who returned to Judah. This happened about 70 years after the Babylonians had taken the Jews into exile. The book also explains how the Jews built their temple again.

Read chapter 2 and note that the people are listed as leaders, families, towns, priests, Levites, temple servants, descendants of the servants of Solomon and those who couldn’t verify their genealogy. All in all, God is telling us that He knows His people personally and that the common people were important to this rebuilding and also that they were still keeping track of racial purity. Chapter 3 tells us that they began rebuilding the altar first and then the temple. They started in the 7th month because that is the month with 3 Jewish feasts including the Feast of Tabernacles. They gathered together, worshiped together, celebrated together and worked together, and sang and praised God together. Look at 3:11-13:

11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD:
   “He is good;
   his love toward Israel endures forever.”
   And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. 13 No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Imagine the noise! Some shouted praise while the older priests and Levites wept aloud. Why? Why would they weep? For one thing, the foundation was smaller than the previous temple. These older people who are weeping were children before the exile, children who saw the glory and wonder and lavish splendor of King Solomon’s temple. They are upset that the new one is not as awesome. (In the O.T. book of Haggai, which was written at this same time, God assures them that the glory of this house will be greater than the former. Haggai 2:9.)

So, the foundation is laid but there’s a setback which we’ll look at next week in part 2.

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