Israel’s Return

The book of Ezra

In Cyrus’ first year of reign in Babylon, he makes a proclamation to permit the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Among the thousands who return is Ezra, a priest and descendant of Aaron.

The Samaritans, having been refused their offer to help, make trouble for the Israelites, and Artaxerxes commands the Israelites to stop their building work. Encouraged by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Israelites resume building the temple and Darius issues a fresh decree enabling the works to be completed over the next four years.

Having returned to Babylon at some point, Ezra, supported by a decree from Artaxerxes, along with the provision of finances, prepares to go to Jerusalem for a second time to teach and re-establish the priestly system of judges and God’s laws. Israel is now able to return to their full way of spiritual life.

Many of the Israelites had married foreign wives, expressly forbidden by their law. Ezra is grieved and confesses their sins to God with shame and embarrassment. A proposal is made that those who have married foreign wives should divorce them and separate themselves from them and their children. Those who separate from their foreign wives and children are recorded in the book of Ezra.

The book of Esther

Around this time, Ahasuerus, king of Persia, holds a great feast for all the dignitaries of his kingdom. Queen Vashti refuses his request to appear unveiled and is consequently deposed. A new queen is sought and twelve months later Esther is chosen. From her position as queen, she is able to foil a plot by Haman to exterminate the Israelites, resulting in Haman’s execution.

A new decree is made giving the Israelites authority to defend themselves and even to slay those that rise against them, enabling them to survive the plot.

This is celebrated today by the Jews as the festival of Purim.

The book of Nehemiah

About eleven years after Ezra had gone to Jerusalem, its walls and gates are still in the same condition as when Nebuchadnezzer had left them. Artaxerxes gives Nehemiah, his cup bearer, permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild them.

The wall and gates now being completed, Ezra reads the book of the law from a pulpit along with thirteen Levites.

Nehemiah governs Jerusalem for about twelve years before returning to the court of Artaxerxes in Babylon. Some time later he comes back to Jerusalem and has to adopt strong measures to deal with abuses that have arisen.