Saturday, May 3. 2 Chronicles 36 – Ezra 2

By 539 B.C., the Persian King Cyrus had conquered the Babylonians and, as God had promised, he permitted the Jews to return to their homeland. Ezra begins to chronicle that return, but he himself does not make an appearance until chapter 7.

When Cyrus began his rule, he issued a decree, much like the one recounted in Ezra 1. Evidently, this decree appeared in several forms. Among them one discovered in 1879 in the ruins of Babylon is known today as the “Cyrus Cylinder” (pictured here and now housed in the British Museum).

Cyrus Cylinder
The Cyrus Cylinder inscription begins with a denouncing of the Babylonian king he conquered, moves to a genealogy of Cyrus himself, and exalts him as a popular and much beloved ruler. Then, more important for our text, he refers to the nations conquered by the Babylonians and writes: “I returned to [their] sanctuaries of which have been in ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered their former inhabitants and returned to them their habitations.”

It’s not exactly what is written in chapter one, but you would not expect the same decree for everyone. Each would have to be politically sensitive. The gist of the point remains the same.

While Ezra presents historical information, its purpose was not to simply present history. The writer has a point to make. Note that the first six chapters deal with six specific events over a 23 year period. Seventy-three years then lapse without a record between chapter six and chapter seven. The final four chapters deal with Ezra’s return and what he found.

One authority makes this point: “From the viewpoint of ordinary human beings, life appears governed by power and wealth, by international relationships built on confusing alliances of greed and self-interest, and by policies that come and go without enduring purpose. It probably seemed so to those who lived around the Mediterranean Sea and throughout Palestine after Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire crumbled under the strength of Persia’s king Cyrus. One empire rose only to fall to another, ruthless men conquered and subdued smaller nations, and decrees were issued and withdrawn according to political advantage.

“But in the opening verses of the Book of Ezra, we are given a different perspective. We are taken from ground level, with its distortions and limited vision, and given a view from above. At this clarifying distance we see that life on earth is not directed by the whim of rulers or the might of armies but by the determination of God.

“Viewpoint makes all the difference in the world.”

Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, May 4. Ezra 1-3

    For 400 years, the Jewish people lived under the rule of “Judges.”  After that – about 1000 B.C. –  they were ruled by kings: first by Saul, then David, then Solomon.  At Solomon’s death, the kingdom was divided into two parts: a north called “Israel,” and a south called “Judah.”  From Solomon’s death until 722 B.C., nineteen kings ruled in the north and 13 ruled in the south.  Both empires had great difficulty remaining true to God, and Israel found it most difficult – so much so that in 722 B.C., God had the northern empire destroyed because of their sinfulness.

    The southern kingdom of Judah continued a history of spotty faithfulness to God.  Seven more kings ruled until 586 B.C. when the nation was overcome by the Babylonians and displaced to Mesopotamia (this period is covered by both the book of Kings and the book of Chronicles).  Centuries before, God warned Judah this would happen (Isaiah 39:5-7).  He also promised their captivity would last seventy years and afterward, they would be released (Jeremiah 29:10-14).

    By 539 B.C., the Persian King Cyrus had conquered the Babylonians and, as God had promised, he permitted the Jews to return to their homeland.  Ezra (the book) begins to chronicle that return.  Nearly 50,000 people made the first migration back to Judea and they immediately set about rebuilding the temple the Babylonians had destroyed half a century earlier.  It was tough going.  Facing outside opposition, overcome by materialism and a flagging interest in God, it took nearly 20 years to complete the rebuilding.  Possession of a temple, however, will not make a spiritual people.  What they needed was a spiritual leader.  This book is named for that leader, whose name was “Ezra.”  Ezra himself does not appear in the book until chapter 7 – about 457 B.C. – eighty years after the first return.