Ezra takes us into Bible history territory that is often unfamiliar to us. These are stories that don’t often get told.
Though the people of Judah were taken captive by the Babylonians, in 539 B.C., the Babylonians were defeated by Cyrus, king of Persia. Cyrus allowed all the Babylonian captives to return to their ancestral homes, and that included God’s people.
Ezra 1-3 recounted the story of Judah’s return. The first thing they want to do is rebuild the temple. They begin, but find themselves opposed by people of the land.
In chapter 4, some of the people of the land, descendants of the Northern Kingdom, asked to join Judah in rebuilding, but Judah refused. They correctly felt their captivity in Babylon was because of compromise, and these native people had gone even further in compromise. They would not allow their participation. So . . . the remnants of Israel opposed them.
But just here there’s a chronological problem. Chapter four begins with the rebuilding of the temple and the opposition that was endured. The frustration and stalled building program continues to the reign of Darius, King of Persia – nearly twenty years (verse 5).
Then the writer, in verse 6, moves nearly a hundred years later to the days of Xerxes and Artaxerxes. He notes there was opposition during those days too, but it is not to the rebuilding of the temple, but the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem wall. It’s much like a parenthesis. The purpose is to say that “This isn’t the only opposition God’s people faced.”
In verse 24, the parenthesis closes and the writer turns back to the days of Darius and the temple. Chapters 5 and 6 continue the story of the rebuilding of the temple.
The relevant Kings of Persia are as follows:
Cyrus (539-530 B.C.)
Cambyses (unmentioned in Ezra – 530-522 B.C.)
Darius I (521-486 B.C.)
Xerxes (486-465 B.C.)
Artaxerxes I (464-423 B.C.).