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Ezra 1-3     Listen Podcast

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.

Cyrus fulfills a prophecy of Jeremiah (Ezra 1)

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, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,
2 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.
3 Who is among you of all His people? May 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 God), which is in Jerusalem.
4 And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.
5 ¶ Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.
6 And all those who were around them encouraged them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered.
7 ¶ King Cyrus also brought out the articles of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and put in the temple of his gods;
8 and Cyrus king of Persia brought them out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.
9 This is the number of them: thirty gold platters, one thousand silver platters, twenty-nine knives,
10 thirty gold basins, four hundred and ten silver basins of a similar kind, and one thousand other articles.
11 All the articles of gold and silver were five thousand four hundred. All these Sheshbazzar took with the captives who were brought from Babylon to 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 says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a 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.'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.

Let's everybody go home (Ezra 2:1-70)

1 Now these are the people of the province who came back from the captivity, of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his own city.
2 ¶ Those who came with Zerubbabel were Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel:
3 the people of Parosh, two thousand one hundred and seventy-two;
4 the people of Shephatiah, three hundred and seventy-two;
5 the people of Arah, seven hundred and seventy-five;
6 the people of Pahath-moab, of the people of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand eight hundred and twelve;
7 the people of Elam, one thousand two hundred and fifty-four;
8 the people of Zattu, nine hundred and forty-five;
9 the people of Zaccai, seven hundred and sixty;
10 the people of Bani, six hundred and forty-two;
11 the people of Bebai, six hundred and twenty-three;
12 the people of Azgad, one thousand two hundred and twenty-two;
13 the people of Adonikam, six hundred and sixty-six;
14 the people of Bigvai, two thousand and fifty-six;
15 the people of Adin, four hundred and fifty-four;
16 the people of Ater of Hezekiah, ninety-eight;
17 the people of Bezai, three hundred and twenty-three;
18 the people of Jorah, one hundred and twelve;
19 the people of Hashum, two hundred and twenty-three;
20 the people of Gibbar, ninety-five;
21 the people of Bethlehem, one hundred and twenty-three;
22 the men of Netophah, fifty-six;
23 the men of Anathoth, one hundred and twenty-eight;
24 the people of Azmaveth, forty-two;
25 the people of Kirjath Arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred and forty-three;
26 the people of Ramah and Geba, six hundred and twenty-one;
27 the men of Michmas, one hundred and twenty-two;
28 the men of Bethel and Ai, two hundred and twenty-three;
29 the people of Nebo, fifty-two;
30 the people of Magbish, one hundred and fifty-six;
31 the people of the other Elam, one thousand two hundred and fifty-four;
32 the people of Harim, three hundred and twenty;
33 the people of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred and twenty-five;
34 the people of Jericho, three hundred and forty-five;
35 the people of Senaah, three thousand six hundred and thirty.
36 ¶ The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred and seventy-three;
37 the sons of Immer, one thousand and fifty-two;
38 the sons of Pashhur, one thousand two hundred and forty-seven;
39 the sons of Harim, one thousand and seventeen.
40 ¶ The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, seventy-four.
41 ¶ The singers: the sons of Asaph, one hundred and twenty-eight.
42 ¶ The sons of the gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, and the sons of Shobai, one hundred and thirty-nine in all.
43 ¶ The Nethinim: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth,
44 the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon,
45 the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub,
46 the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shalmai, the sons of Hanan,
47 the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah,
48 the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam,
49 the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai,
50 the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephusim,
51 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur,
52 the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha,
53 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Tamah,
54 the sons of Neziah, and the sons of Hatipha.
55 ¶ The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Sophereth, the sons of Peruda,
56 the sons of Jaala, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel,
57 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth of Zebaim, and the sons of Ami.
58 All the Nethinim and the children of Solomon’s servants were three hundred and ninety-two.
59 ¶ And these were the ones who came up from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer; but they could not identify their father’s house or their genealogy, whether they were of Israel:
60 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, and the sons of Nekoda, six hundred and fifty-two;
61 and of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Koz, and the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name.
62 These sought their listing among those who were registered by genealogy, but they were not found; therefore they were excluded from the priesthood as defiled.
63 And the governor said to them that they should not eat of the most holy things till a priest could consult with the Urim and Thummim.
64 ¶ The whole assembly together was forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty,
65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred and thirty-seven; and they had two hundred men and women singers.
66 Their horses were seven hundred and thirty-six, their mules two hundred and forty-five,
67 their camels four hundred and thirty-five, and their donkeys six thousand seven hundred and twenty.
68 ¶ Some of the heads of the fathers’ houses, when they came to the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God, to erect it in its place:
69 According to their ability, they gave to the treasury for the work sixty-one thousand gold drachmas, five thousand minas of silver, and one hundred priestly garments.
70 ¶ So the priests and the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim, 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 Zerubbabel 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 you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over 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.

We're back, and we're sacrificing! (Ezra 3:1-6)

1 And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem.
2 Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.
3 Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening burnt offerings.
4 They also kept the Feast of Tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings in the number required by ordinance for each day.
5 Afterwards they offered the regular burnt offering, and those for New Moons and for all the appointed feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and those of everyone who willingly offered a freewill offering to the LORD.
6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, although the foundation of the temple of the LORD had not been 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 Year’s 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.

Now, how about that Temple (Ezra 3:7-13)

7 They also gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre to bring cedar logs from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the permission which they had from Cyrus king of Persia.
8 ¶ Now in the second month of the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all those who had come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, began work and appointed the Levites from twenty years old and above to oversee the work of the house of the LORD.
9 Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers, Kadmiel with his sons, and the sons of Judah, arose as one to oversee those working on the house of God: the sons of Henadad with their sons and their brethren the Levites.
10 ¶ When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel.
11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD:
“For He is good,
For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Then 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 heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet 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 sound 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.