Sorry it took so long to post this; finally, the foray into the Exilic period begins! I’ll get the other four parts (chapters 3 through 10) up ASAP. Enjoy!
Here, we begin the book of Ezra, which begins after the 70 years of exile are completed.
Ezra picks up where the book of 2nd Chronicles trailed off, with the end of the Exile and Cyrus the Persian’s proclamation that any Jews who were willing should return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding the Temple. It’s unclear how Cyrus came to know of it, but we can be sure that either the prophet Daniel or another Jewish student of prophecy was watching carefully during the Babylonian Captivity for the sign of the return. That sign – and Cyrus’ part in it – can be found in Isaiah chapters 44 and 45. Just as He revealed the future to Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel through visions, Yahweh was actively moving in it as well, bringing His promises to pass.
Unlike his Babylonian predecessors, Cyrus recognized Yahweh’s authority right off; that he should do so makes him an even more sympathetic figure for the Jews in this book. He further shows his generosity in two other ways: in his proclamation, Cyrus orders that everyone not going to Jerusalem donate to the cause (as they are able) and he opens the royal treasure rooms, returning the precious Temple tools that the Babylonians took as spoil when they conquered Jerusalem.
The leader of the expedition is listed as Sheshbazzar, “prince of Judah;” the most prominent figure of the book besides Ezra is Zerubbabel. Some theorize that the two men are either related or simply two names for the same man. Whichever the case, the leader of the expedition is a descendent of King David through Jeconiah, the boy-king who went into exile about 11 years before Jerusalem’s fall. This is, perhaps, a sign of Cyrus’ trust; he is giving them a leader from the line of their kings, trusting that they will not rebel against him and that Yahweh has established his throne. If only we might have seen such faith in Jeroboam, the first king of Israel under the Divided Kingdom.
Ezra 2 may seem somewhat tedious at first glance, but it’s important on multiple levels to understand why they are listed as they are.
First, the Jews have remained as a nation precisely because they put such emphasis on their ancestry, and they kept it carefully recorded to ensure that they would not absorb or be absorbed by any Gentile blood. They placed high value on their bloodline because they were the LORD’s chosen people, set apart from the other nations for a special purpose.
Another reason these names are so significant is because they were the obedient to both GOD’s and Cyrus’ call. Of all the Jews who were alive at the time, only a fraction returned to their ancestral home in the Promised Land, and so to be among these faithful few would be a high honor for those who would follow them.
Lastly, by tracing their family lineage, everyone who came knew exactly what their purpose/job would be in Judah’s return to nationhood. Among those listed are priests, tribal leaders, Levites, various Temple functionaries, royal servants, and others; everyone had a special task to perform, and now that GOD had blessed them with an opportunity for renewal, they would perform it as their predecessors in exile never could. Theirs would be lives of purpose and faith, as opposed to languishing in foreign lands.