Ezra: Return from Exile
Return from Exile
Returns under Zerubbabel and Ezra
Background: Ezra records returns from exile of 538 and 458 BC Theme: The LORD restores a remnant of Israel Outline: Returns under Zerubbabel and Ezra Key Verse "For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel." (Ezra 7:10, NIV)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Background Summary Questions Matching Quiz
From the time of Moses the LORD had warned His people Israel that blessing, in terms of a national homeland in Palestine, was conditional on the covenant with the LORD. Disobedience and worship of other gods had resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, with the Jews in exile. After seventy years of exile, Cyrus allows Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. The Book of Ezra is divided between the first return under Zerubbabel (Ch 1-6) and a second return under Ezra (Ch 7-10).
I. First return -- Zerubbabel (1-6)
1:1 Jeremiah had prophesied 70 years of exile, which are now at an end.
2:62-63 Perhaps the priest could use the Urim and Thummim to verify the acceptability of these families to serve as priests before the LORD. In the Northern Kingdom men had served as priests who were not of the lineage of Aaron or Levi. In the restored temple great care was taken to follow the Word and only have Aaron's descendants as priests.
4:2 These mixed people had a syncretistic worship, which means the LORD was one among a number of gods they worshipped. This was not much different, really, than the whole history of the Northern Kingdom before the exile. A similar problem exists for Bible-believing churches today. Christian organizations which do not believe the Bible is literally true (for instance they claim to worship Jesus but do not really believe he physically rose from the dead) want to work together with us as one larger body. Our response must be similar to that of Zerubbabel, "We worship the Jesus who victoriously rose from the dead!" We don't know who this other 'Jesus' is (the great teacher and prophet who somehow isn't worshipped as God) and have no reason to mix our worship of the true Lord with that of those who deny His resurrection (or his virgin birth, or his death on the cross as the price for our sins, or the truthfulness of the Bible, or other essential truths about our God). If this attitude brings on disapproval or persecution from the world, so be it.
4:5 Those opposing the temple hire lobbyists, similar to what special interest groups do today. The growing resentments between the Jews and the people who settled the land during the exile is still seen in the rivalry of Samaritans and Jews in the days of Jesus.
6:8 King Darius in effect punishes the people of Trans-Euphrates (the land across the Euphrates from the center of the Persian kingdom is Palestine) by using their taxes to pay for the building program.
II. Second Return -- Ezra (7-10)
7:6 Ezra was well versed in the Torah. Today we seek to be well versed in the whole Word.
7:10 This is a great verse to encourage us in our present study. May we, like Ezra, devote ourselves to study the Bible, obey the word of the Lord, and teach it to others. This is a great memory verse for the Book of Ezra.
7:24 Note the exclusion from taxes for the 'church'. This is similar to the exclusion from taxes of 'non-profit organizations' the U. S. Government allows today.
8:1-2 Outward sacrifice was fine, but only if accompanied by an inward conformity to the Word of God. How true this is today. It is common to see churches and outward worship in our communities today, but less common to see everyday devotion to the Lord. May we live every day in obedience to and worship of our Lord. Our measure of the success of our church must not be outward factors, such as increased attendance or increased offerings, but in changed lives and increasingly mature devotion and service to the Lord.
8:21-23 Traveling and carrying valuables (temple utensils, family belongings, and large sums of gold and silver) without an escort of soldiers would put the exiles at serious risk from bands of raiders. Ezra did not trust in horses or chariots (or pagan soldiers) but in the LORD.
8:28-30 Gold articles and coins were always weighed in ancient times. It would be easy to scrape or file minute amounts of metal off objects, which would not be missed unless weighed. This is why most coins today have serrated edges, a carry-over from when the actual metal of a coin was valuable. Our church officials today should not object to financial accountability -- the accountability demonstrates that an honest and careful handling of the funds has taken place and should result in glory to God. No one could ever accuse or even suspect that the 24 men had taken advantage of the custody of the valuables.
9:1,2 Already the people are breaking the Law of Moses by marrying the heathen in Palestine.
After the seventy years of exile decreed by Jeremiah, Cyrus allows Jews to return to Jerusalem. Under Zerubbabel, they rebuild the altar and temple foundations. The people who have settled the land in their absence at first want to join in their temple project, and when refused, oppose it. A protest and historical search of Jerusalem's history leads the King to issue a stop order, but the appeal by the Jews turns up the decree of Cyrus. Darius not only allows the building to go on, he also helps pay for it with taxes from the surrounding country.
Ezra, a dedicated teacher of the Torah, leads a second return. He finds that the Jews are marrying the local heathen, breaking the Law of the Lord. As the people gather and repent, a program of reform starts. Each case of intermarriage is investagated and dealt with.
1. Why did the Jews refuse help from the surrounding people who claimed to worship the same god?
2. Does a similar principle apply to Christians today?
3. What was wrong with marrying the locals?
4. Does a similar principle apply to Christians today?
5. Explain why some wept and some rejoiced at the laying of the temple foundations.
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Updated March 2012