Thursday, September 19, 2013

CLXXVII - Ezra - Chapters 1-2

First, just a brief review of the History from the Creation up to the captivity.  Some of the the dates are approximate, but the timeline itself is in proper order.  These next few paragraphs of an Historic overview may seem tedious but nonetheless necessary for a complete understanding of the Old Testament.

>  Approx. 4000 BC - Creation
>  Approx. 2300 BC - The Flood
>  Approx. 2000 BC - Abraham
>  Approx. 1900 BC - Israel settles in Egypt
>  1800 BC - Death of Joseph
>  1780-1380 - Egyptian Bondage/Slavery
>  1380 BC - Moses - The Exodus
>  1380-1340 BC - Wandering in the Wilderness
>  1340-1300 BC - Joshua Enters and Conquers the Promised Land / Twelve tribes allotted land
>  1300-1050 BC - The Judges
>  1050 BC - The Israelites insisted on having a king like other nations, against Samuel's objections
>  1050 BC - Saul is made king of all twelve tribes of Israel
>  1010 BC - David conquers the land for the kingdom
>  970-930 BC - Solomon is the last king of the united Israel
>  930 BC - The nation Israel is divided
>  930 BC - Jeroboam is king of ten tribes (Israel) and Rehoboam is king of two tribes (Judah)
>  722 BC - Israel falls and is taken captive by Assyrians
>  586 BC - Judah falls and is taken captive by Babylonians

This is where we are thus far in our study, as we concluded the two books of Chronicles.  Now before I proceed with the book of Ezra, I must share the following timeline of world powers, which is necessary as we begin Ezra.  Noteworthy is that although Egypt is not listed below, they were always powerful enough militarily that they were never challenged by a foreign nation.  But the rest of the civilized world was vulnerable to be consumed by these sometimes aggressive superpowers.

900 - 607 BC - Assyrian Empire
607 - 539 BC - Babylonian Empire
539 - 330 BC - Persian Empire
330 BC - 363 AD - Roman Empire

As we've studied, Judah had fallen to Nebachudnessar and the Babylonians, and were taken captive.  But as you can see above, the Babylonians were unable to retain their dominance for barely more than a single generation.  Cyrus the Great and the Persians easily defeated the Babylonians in only one battle just east of Babylon, before marching into Babylon without resistance, ending the Babylonian Empire.  Cyrus the Great is famous as a triumphant conqueror, a superb warrior, and the founder of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.  The Persian empire was considered by many as "the greatest" because of the way Cyrus established the treatment of its citizens and the compassion with which he considered his conquered enemies.  He is mentioned twenty-two times in the Bible, and always favorably.  His kindness and generosity to the Israelites was unmatched by any recorded character.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book.  The author is uncertain although traditionally considered to be Nehemiah himself.  The two books cover three events, all of which are groups of Israelites returning to Jerusalem from Babylon where they had been in captivity for more than sixty years.  The first group was led by Zerubbabel, the second was led by Ezra, and the third was led by Nehemiah.  I could continue to add background, but it could be exhaustive.  If you should have any questions or are confused by any part, please share and I will do my best to clarify.

The Book of Ezra, Chapter 1

Verse 1 - This verse says a lot.  Cyrus wasted no time in liberating the Israelites from bondage, having heard the words of the great prophet Jeremiah.  Having observed what was happening in Babylon under the cruel leadership of Nebachudnessar, Cyrus must have made it a high priority to "right some wrongs".  Also it tells us that Cyrus had a willing heart to receive the moving of the Spirit of God, thus making him a willing vessel.  {Have you had people in your life that God used as a vessel through which He blessed you?  Those people are not always believers, but have open hearts.  God can work through anybody He chooses.}  Cyrus then puts his wishes in writing (vss 2-4) in the form of a proclamation.  This was necessary, as the people who had the Israelites as their servants in Babylon would have needed more than "word of mouth" to give up these servants they grew up with.  Note in his proclamation that he acknowledges the Lord as God.  He goes on in his proclamation to give any and all Israelites the permission to leave Babylon and return to their home land in Judah.  He also expresses the mandate by God to have the Temple rebuilt and encourages all people (both Israelites and Babylonian citizens) to contribute gold, silver, and livestock to help those who were leaving to accomplish their goal.  Verse 5 states that the family heads of Judah and Benjamin plus the Levites and "everyone whose heart God had moved", prepared for the long journey back to the Promised Land.  This group of people were showered with provender and gifts for their journey.  In verse 7, Cyrus collected all of the articles from the Temple that Nebachudessar had stolen and gave them to the priests so
they could be put back in their proper place in the rebuilt Temple.  In verse 9 an inventory was taken of all the Temple's items, totaling 5400 articles.

Chapter 2 provides names of those people who had decided to go back to Jerusalem.  Recording names and keeping accurate records was important to these people.  As stated in verse 62, some family records were lost, but it was denoted as such.  Verse 64 says that there was a total of 49,897 people plus 8136 head of livestock.  {Imagine if you can, the size of this group.  Zerubbabel must have been a good organizer.}

Next post  -  Rebuilding the Altar and the Temple

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