Monday, September 23, 2013

CLXXVIII - Ezra 3 - 6

We saw in the last post that Cyrus the Great of Persia released the Israelites from bondage in Babylon.  They were free to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  This was the first colony of Judeans to return to Jerusalem.  There were almost 50,000 of them, including men, women, and children.  It does not tell how long their journey back to Jerusalem took, but we can assume it was a long and tiring journey.

This brings us to chapter 3

Upon their arrival to Judah, those Israelites settled in their various towns that were in the vacinity of Jerusalem.  After they had been there seven months it was time to assemble themselves together in Jerusalem to begin the work that was assigned them.  They must first build an altar on which to make sacrifices unto God.  The Scripture makes it clear that Zerubbabel was the leader, not only in their journey, but also in their activities once they arrived in Judah.  As you read verses 1-6, its plain to see that Zerubbabel had been very careful to read and understand the Mosaic Law.  The sacrifices and observance of the "Feasts" were in strict adherence to the Law as found in Deuteronomy.  All of this time Zerubbabel was gathering the necessary materials to rebuild the Temple.  Verse 7 tells us that Zerubbabel made every effort to rebuild the Temple exactly like Solomon did, even using materials from the same locations.  The actual work in laying the foundation for the Temple started fourteen months after their arrival in Jerusalem.  {Bear in mind that, although we cannot tell how many builders there were, we can assume that it did not compare with the thousands that Solomon had at his disposal.}  Verses 10-13 tells us that the completion of the foundation was cause for a great celebration.  

Chapter 4  -  The Oppostion

It is difficult to tell exactly who this "opposition" was.  It says they were enemies of Judah and Benjamin, who were residents of Jerusalem before the Israelites returned from Babylon.  In verse 2 is our best clue as to the identity of these people who would offer so much resistance to Zerubbabel and those who followed him.  It says that Esarhaddon king of Assyria brought them to Jerusalem.  {Esarhaddon was the son of Sennacherib, who was the king of Assyria to whom King Hezekiah of Judah paid to withdraw Assyrian troops from attacking Jerusalem.  This tells me that after the Babylonians carried off all the Israelites from Jerusalem, the Assyrian king wanted to re-populate the city.  I would think that these people who were sent to settle in Jerusalem were not of Israelite descent, although I'm not certain.  But whoever they were, they had probably established themselves and their culture and religion in Jerusalem, and felt that their very existence was being threatened by the activities of these Israelites who migrated back to what they considered their homeland.  Sound familiar?  It should.  We've read about the Palistinians' resistance to the Jews re-settling in the Promised Land since 1948.}  Now we must understand the politics of this period.  These people were sent to Judah by the king of Assyria.  Assyria no longer enjoyed military dominance.  The Persian Empire had conquered Assyria and had absolute authority all over the civilized world, except for Egypt.  And these occupants of Jerusalem realized that King Cyrus of Persia granted these Israelites permission to rebuild the Temple.  Thus these opponents had a problem.  These opponents first offered to help, but Zerubbabel did not accept their help, which is another reason why I don't think these people were of Israelite descent.  God led Zerubbabel in his decision to decline their help (vs 3).  In verse 4 we see that these people tried anything they could think of to disrupt the project of rebuilding the Temple.

Fast-forward to verse 6  -  The opposition had badgered the builders for years.  Cyrus was no longer king of the Persian Empire.  There had been three kings of Persia since Cyrus, and now Xerxes was king and the opposition was still trying to overt the building of the Temple.

Fast-forward to verse 7, and we see that these people must have felt that Xerxes's son Artaxerxes had become king and showed signs of perhaps being sympathetic to the opposition's cause.  So they wrote a
letter to King Artexerxes(vss 12-16).  As you read this letter, you will see that the main theme is that the Israelites have a History of being rebellious and a large nuisance to kings who had authority over them.  This must have struck a nerve.  Artaxerxes researched this and found evidence that what they were saying might be true.  {Kings don't like rebellions.}  Therefore he sent a return letter (vss 17-22) stopping construction of the Temple.

Chapter 5  -  Enter the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah

The project of building the Temple being stopped aroused all Godly people.  The prophets Haggai and Zechariah spoke on this subject and must have encouraged Zerubbabel to continue the work that God had assigned him.  This work drew the attention of the "Trans-Euphrates Governor" Tattenai.  {The Persian Empire was so large that governors were assigned to territories to see to it that everything that was happening was in the best interest of Persia.  Trans-Euphrates would have been all territory west of the Euphrates River to the Mediteranean Sea, which included Israel.}  Those opposing the project probably tattled to Tattenai that Zerubbabel and the Levite builders were breaking the law as handed down by the empire.  When Tattenai approached Zerubbabel, he told the governor that Cyrus the Great had not only granted them permission, but actually made it a mandate to rebuild the Temple.  Being a careful diplomat, Tettanai sent the problem to the empire's king Darius to have the dispute settled.  Darius had the matter researched in the archives of the empire and found the decree of Cyrus to be exactly as Zerubbabel had said.

Chapter 6  -  Darius Honors the Decree of Cyrus

Darius not only allowed Zerubbabel to continue with the building project, but actually mandated that additional materials would be provided at the cost of the empire, in efforts to speed up the project.  He went on to forbid any interference to the project and said that any interference would be considered a crime, punishable by total annihilation of the offenders family and properties.  Vss 13--> The work continued with no further obstructions, and was finished about five years later.  A great celebration took place and a dedication ceremony took place according to the Book of Moses.  Vss 19--> The first Passover after the completion of the Temple was celebrated.  If you're not careful you might miss the very last verse of this chapter which says that the king of Assyria actually helped them finish the project.  {A bit puzzling, but not important enough to research the conflicting timing.}

Next Post  -  Ezra Comes to Jerusalem

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