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Ezra 1-3 Listen
An introduction to Ezra
Here's the setting for the Book of Ezra: Assyria conquered Babylon (in modern-day Iraq) and was the conquering empire to whom the Northern Kingdom fell in 721 B.C. However, Assyria subsequently fell to the Babylonian Empire in 606 B.C., and it was Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonian Empire who later brought Jerusalem to its final demise in 586 B.C., deporting its influential inhabitants. Less than five decades later, Babylon fell to Cyrus of Persia in 538 B.C. (roughly modern-day Iran).
Know your empires. If you're keeping score, here's how it worked. Cyrus was the founder of the Persian Empire; he reigned over the Persians from 559 until 530 B.C. The seat of the Persian Empire was in the territory that roughly equates to modern-day Iran, just east of Babylon, the seat of the Babylonian Empire (modern-day Iraq). Cyrus established Persian dominance over the short-lived empire of the Medes (today's southwestern Russia, Georgia) in 550, and captured Babylon in 539. At that point the Persian (aka Medo-Persian) Empire encompassed all of the territory previously claimed by the Babylonian Empire which preceded it and the Assyrian Empire before that.
Incidentally, a portion of Ezra is written in Aramaic instead of Hebrew. It was the common language of the Persian Empire and was used in both the Babylonian and Assyrian empires that preceded as a diplomatic and commercial language. In the entire Old Testament, only Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Jeremiah 10:11; and Daniel 2:4-7:28 were written in Aramaic.
We take up the story in Ezra with Cyrus, the Persian King in 538 B.C.
1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
2 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.
3 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.
4 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.
5 Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.
6 And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.
7 Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods;
8 Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.
9 And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives,
10 Thirty basons of gold, silver basons of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand.
11 All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem.
Jeremiah had prophesied in Jeremiah 25:1-12 (see notes) and Jeremiah 29:10 (see notes) that Judah would be cut off from its land for 70 years. Jeremiah was the resident prophet at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (II Kings 24, see notes). So here's the decree from Cyrus for the Jews to come back home and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Cyrus even gives them a little seed treasure to get started - some of the treasures taken by Nebuchadnezzar at the fall. The first exiles had been deported from Judah bound for Babylon in 605/604 B.C. Seventy years later (per Jeremiah's prophecy) brings us here to 535 B.C.
How 'bout that Cyrus! Notice verse 2, "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." Giving such high esteem to "The LORD God of heaven" is quite a departure from previous conquering rulers. The name "LORD" is the Hebrew word "Jehovah" (aka "Yahweh"), which was Israel's special name for the one true God. Finally...here's a ruler that is sympathetic to the past atrocities against Israel and seeks to set everything straight.
Who's Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah, in verse 8? It is believed by most that this is the Babylonian name for Zerubbabel (see below). He's the man to whom Cyrus entrusts the treasures of Jerusalem and the temple for the purpose of the exiles' return to Jerusalem.
1 Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city;
2 Which came with Zerubbabel: Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel:
3 The children of Parosh, two thousand an hundred seventy and two.
4 The children of Shephatiah, three hundred seventy and two.
5 The children of Arah, seven hundred seventy and five.
6 The children of Pahathmoab, of the children of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand eight hundred and twelve.
7 The children of Elam, a thousand two hundred fifty and four.
8 The children of Zattu, nine hundred forty and five.
9 The children of Zaccai, seven hundred and threescore.
10 The children of Bani, six hundred forty and two.
11 The children of Bebai, six hundred twenty and three.
12 The children of Azgad, a thousand two hundred twenty and two.
13 The children of Adonikam, six hundred sixty and six.
14 The children of Bigvai, two thousand fifty and six.
15 The children of Adin, four hundred fifty and four.
16 The children of Ater of Hezekiah, ninety and eight.
17 The children of Bezai, three hundred twenty and three.
18 The children of Jorah, an hundred and twelve.
19 The children of Hashum, two hundred twenty and three.
20 The children of Gibbar, ninety and five.
21 The children of Bethlehem, an hundred twenty and three.
22 The men of Netophah, fifty and six.
23 The men of Anathoth, an hundred twenty and eight.
24 The children of Azmaveth, forty and two.
25 The children of Kirjatharim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred and forty and three.
26 The children of Ramah and Gaba, six hundred twenty and one.
27 The men of Michmas, an hundred twenty and two.
28 The men of Bethel and Ai, two hundred twenty and three.
29 The children of Nebo, fifty and two.
30 The children of Magbish, an hundred fifty and six.
31 The children of the other Elam, a thousand two hundred fifty and four.
32 The children of Harim, three hundred and twenty.
33 The children of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred twenty and five.
34 The children of Jericho, three hundred forty and five.
35 The children of Senaah, three thousand and six hundred and thirty.
36 The priests: the children of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred seventy and three.
37 The children of Immer, a thousand fifty and two.
38 The children of Pashur, a thousand two hundred forty and seven.
39 The children of Harim, a thousand and seventeen.
40 The Levites: the children of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the children of Hodaviah, seventy and four.
41 The singers: the children of Asaph, an hundred twenty and eight.
42 The children of the porters: the children of Shallum, the children of Ater, the children of Talmon, the children of Akkub, the children of Hatita, the children of Shobai, in all an hundred thirty and nine.
43 The Nethinims: the children of Ziha, the children of Hasupha, the children of Tabbaoth,
44 The children of Keros, the children of Siaha, the children of Padon,
45 The children of Lebanah, the children of Hagabah, the children of Akkub,
46 The children of Hagab, the children of Shalmai, the children of Hanan,
47 The children of Giddel, the children of Gahar, the children of Reaiah,
48 The children of Rezin, the children of Nekoda, the children of Gazzam,
49 The children of Uzza, the children of Paseah, the children of Besai,
50 The children of Asnah, the children of Mehunim, the children of Nephusim,
51 The children of Bakbuk, the children of Hakupha, the children of Harhur,
52 The children of Bazluth, the children of Mehida, the children of Harsha,
53 The children of Barkos, the children of Sisera, the children of Thamah,
54 The children of Neziah, the children of Hatipha.
55 The children of Solomon’s servants: the children of Sotai, the children of Sophereth, the children of Peruda,
56 The children of Jaalah, the children of Darkon, the children of Giddel,
57 The children of Shephatiah, the children of Hattil, the children of Pochereth of Zebaim, the children of Ami.
58 All the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon’s servants, were three hundred ninety and two.
59 And these were they which went up from Telmelah, Telharsa, Cherub, Addan, and Immer: but they could not shew their father’s house, and their seed, whether they were of Israel:
60 The children of Delaiah, the children of Tobiah, the children of Nekoda, six hundred fifty and two.
61 And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name:
62 These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood.
63 And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim.
64 The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore,
65 Beside their servants and their maids, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven: and there were among them two hundred singing men and singing women.
66 Their horses were seven hundred thirty and six; their mules, two hundred forty and five;
67 Their camels, four hundred thirty and five; their asses, six thousand seven hundred and twenty.
68 And some of the chief of the fathers, when they came to the house of the LORD which is at Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God to set it up in his place:
69 They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work threescore and one thousand drams of gold, and five thousand pound of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments.
70 So the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.
Here's the list of returning exiles in verses 1-70 found again in Nehemiah 7:6-73 (see notes). Notice the man named Zerubbabel in verse 2. He's likely the same one found in 1:8 known as Sheshbazzar. He's also the Zorobabel of Matthew 1:12 (see notes).
As a descendant of David's royal line, he played an important part in the rebuilding and return of the exiles. He wasn't considered a king, but more like a governor over Israel. As a matter of fact, we generally speak of the historical temple in 3 different phases: Solomon's temple, Zerubbabel's temple and Herod's temple - the latter two being temple rebuilds. It is important to realize here that, while Cyrus decrees that the Jews be returned to their homeland, they DO NOT become an independent, autonomous nation - still under Persian control. Independence and autonomy for Israel was not established again until May 14, 1948. Pay close attention to the detail given in their pedigrees. You will observe that proof was required in establishing their lineages back to Israel prior to the fall of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. They were intent on recapturing the essence of what they had when Israel was united under a single king. Their number was 42,360 (verse 64) along with their servants totaling 7,337 (verse 65) - all arriving in Jerusalem from the east (Babylon) for a new start. Incidentally, this number is larger than the sum of the numbers for each family. The total number given here probably includes those from other tribes of Israel who accompanied them back to Jerusalem.
Incidentally, there's an issue with some so-called priests in verses 61-63. Nehemiah also mentions it in Nehemiah 7:63-65 (see notes). The ancestors of these men had married into the priesthood. That's unacceptable; it's gotta be in the genes. No more priesthood for these guys unless it can be proved that they, themselves, are in the bloodline of priestly families! They might be able resume when they get an official word from a high priest with the "Urim and Thummim." Our first reference to the Urim and Thummim is found in Exodus 28:30 (see notes), "And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aarons heart, when he goeth in before the LORD: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually." We're not sure what these two items looked like, and they are only mentioned seven times in the Old Testament. They obviously had much to do with knowing God's will. These items were placed into the breastplate of the High Priest beginning with Aaron.
It's interesting to notice that not so many Levites returned (74) - especially when compared to the number of priests (4,289). Perhaps their inferior status as something less than priests who would be working in the rebuilt temple caused them to prefer their current living circumstances instead of returning back to Jerusalem. Also, notice the Nethinim of verse 43; these were temple servants of non-Levite descent. As a matter of fact, it is commonly believed that they and the servants of Solomon (verse 55) were non-Jewish slaves.
1 And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem.
2 Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.
3 And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening.
4 They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required;
5 And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the LORD.
6 From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid.
About three months after their arrival back in Jerusalem, they rebuild an altar for sacrifice. The 7th month, Tishri, is the big month of the Jewish year. The first day is New Years Day (Rosh Hashanah). It begins with the blowing of trumpets and a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:24). Ten days later, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is observed (Leviticus 23:27). From the 15th to the 22nd, the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth) is celebrated (Leviticus 23:34-36) - as I said, it's a big month. Sacrificing on the altar has been restored in Jerusalem! See the complete list of Jewish Festivals from Leviticus 23 by clicking here. The reference in verse 5 to "the new moons" refers to the sacrifices made at the beginning of each month. The Jews used an observational calendar based upon lunar cycles - all explained in the chart found with Leviticus 23 (see notes). The festivals here in the seventh month coincide with the fall of the year.
There's a little bit of concern here - area trouble makers. Notice the statement found in verse 3, "fear was upon them because of the people of those countries." As has always been the case, the heathen get upset when the righteous begin to serve God.
7 They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.
8 Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD.
9 Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites.
10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.
11 And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
12 But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy:
13 So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
It's spring now (second month), and they start the rebuilding of the temple with all the correctness of the ancestors - Levites wearing Levite-looking uniforms, singers, trumpets, cymbals. People began shouting for joy, and the old timers began weeping for joy when the foundation had been laid. It's obvious, there's something different...and very special about this building project. You will notice in verse 8 that they adopted the age minimum for tabernacle service of 20, patterned after that which was adopted in I Chronicles 23 (see notes). The age previously had been established at 30 back in Numbers 4 (see notes) by Moses. The minimum age of 25 was established later in Numbers 8 (see notes) when the Tabernacle was being dedicated as the required age for Levite service.
This was a significant day in Jewish history when sacrifice was restored in Jerusalem.