Scripture reading – Ezra 1; Ezra 2

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Our chronological study of the Scriptures continues, focusing on the Book of Ezra. Although we will not be introduced to Ezra until chapter 7, he has given us a record of Judah’s return from Babylonian captivity to the Promised Land.

A Historical Perspective

If you are a history student, you know it is a miracle for any people to return from captivity and be restored as a nation. Apart from Israel, I can give no example of an ancient people who recovered from the desolation Israel suffered. The Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Amalekites, Phoenicians, Hittites, and Amorites no longer exist. The great empires of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome are mere footnotes in the history of humanity. Yet, there is one populace identifiable as an ancient people in our world today – the Jews.

Israel was a powerful, influential nation during the reigns of David and Solomon, though geographically, it was no more than a sliver of land on the Mediterranean Sea. Never a great population or known for military conquests of other nations, the Jews, beloved and despised, continue to exist. Of all ancient peoples, why have the Jews continued as a distinctive people?

The presence of people who identify as Jewish in the 21st century is a testimony of the LORD’s enduring covenant promises to Abraham. God’s promise to bless Abraham and his seed as the stars of heaven is a promise that continues to this day (Genesis 22:17). Not only has the LORD been faithful to His covenant promises with Abraham, but He has also been faithful to His promises to all who by faith in Christ, become sons of Abraham. The apostle Paul wrote of those, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).

King Cyrus’ Proclamation (Ezra 1:1-2)

Ezra 1

King Cyrus’ Proclamation (Ezra 1:1-2)

The Book of Ezra opened with a statement that sets the date and timeline of our study. We read: “1Now 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, 2Thus 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” (Ezra 1:1-2).

The proclamation was issued about 538 B.C. when Daniel, though aged, was still God’s prophet to the Jews living in Babylon. The old prophet was near the end of his ministry and life, having been captive in Babylon for 70 years. Already, the LORD had chosen a young priest named Ezra to serve Him and His people. Daniel had ministered to a generation that suffered the consequences of their sins. Ezra, however, would be a priest to a new generation that would return to Israel and rebuild their lives and nation.

What an exciting time! The introductory verses of Ezra remind us the God of Israel is Sovereign over heaven and earth (Ezra 1:1-2). King Cyrus of Persia, having conquered Babylon, declared the God of heaven had moved his heart to build His Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-2). In Solomon’s words: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will (Proverbs 21:1),

 

The Challenge to Return Home (Ezra 1:3-11)

Cyrus fulfilled the LORD’s promise to restore Israel and Judah to their land and granted the Jews liberty to return home. The king challenged the Jews and asked, “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” (Ezra 1:3).

Understanding the formidable hardships they would face, for Jerusalem was in ruins and the Temple destroyed, only a small number (estimated 50,000) responded to the call. Those who chose not to return to Israel were challenged to support those returning financially. They were invited to give their silver, gold, goods, and beasts “beside the free offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:4).

Those Willing to Leave Babylon (Ezra 1:5)

Only two of the twelve tribes (Judah and Benjamin) responded to the challenge to return and rebuild Jerusalem, and the Temple (Ezra 1:5). The Spirit of God also stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites, who were moved “to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5).

 

The Restoration of the Temple Vessels (Ezra 1:6-11)

As Cyrus commanded, those Jews who remained in Babylon gave of their wealth and possessions to support those returning to Israel (Ezra 1:8). Also, King Cyrus retrieved the gold and silver vessels of the Temple that were taken by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezra 1:8). After accounting for the number of vessels, the king sent them with those going “up from Babylon unto Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:11).

A Census of Families Returning to Israel

Ezra 2 – A Census of Families Returning to Israel

The Leadership (Ezra 2:1-2)

A census was then taken of those departing Babylon and returning to Israel. The names of families and households were forever recorded in the Word of God, and we will briefly consider them by their occupations. Two men were principal leaders of those returning: Zerubbabel represented the civic leadership of the people (Ezra 2:2; Haggai 1:14), while Jeshua denoted the spiritual leadership (Ezra 2:2; Ezra 3:2; Haggai 1:14).

A Census of Families Returning to Israel (Ezra 2:3-63)

Individual families were also recorded (Ezra 2:3-20), as well as the villages and cities of their lineage (Ezra 2:21-35). There were priests (Ezra 2:36-39), Levites (identified as singers and gatekeepers, Ezra 2:41-42), and servants who oversaw the menial tasks of the Temple (Ezra 2:43-54). Families were also identified as “the children of Solomon’s servants” (Ezra 2:55-58).

Some accompanied and identified with the children of Israel; however, when the records were examined, there was no record of their lineage (Ezra 2:59-60). Some aspired to be priests, but when it was found there was no genealogical record of their lineage, they were put out of the priesthood (Ezra 2:61-63).

Closing thoughts (Ezra 2:64-70)

The total number of those who returned to Jerusalem was 42,360; however, it is believed that the number did not include children 12 years and younger. Altogether, I suppose there were little more than 50,000 who left behind the comforts and pleasures of Babylon and embraced God’s covenant promises by faith.

Sadly, I fear the same is true of many who identify with the 21st-century church. Many profess to be “Christian,” but I fear only a minority have left Babylon to walk by faith, trust the LORD, and obey the principles and precepts of His Word.

Have you left Babylon? Are you numbered among those who live by faith, love the LORD, and obey His Word?

Copyright © 2024 – Travis D. Smith 

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