What does it say?
With Ezra we enter the century of Jewish history following Media-Persia’s defeat of the Babylonian empire. Ezra begins as 2 Chronicles 36 ends, and is a companion book to Nehemiah and Esther. Together they span the reigns of five Persian kings. In Jewish Bibles Ezra and Nehemiah originally appear as a single book.
We saw that Babylon deported conquered peoples as they did with the Jews. As conqueror of Babylon, Cyrus now seeks to reverse that practice by repatriating exiled peoples. Ezra 1 opens with the story of the first group of Jewish exiles returning to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. and covers the next 92 years of history. As happened in Exodus, the Jews do not return to the land empty-handed (1:6).
Ezra 2 gives a list of the people that return under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Most of the people have precise records of their ancestors and those who were among the Levites, priests and temple servants. Those of doubtful ancestry were also allowed to accompany them. In addition to resources provided by the Persians, the people also freely gave toward the restoration of the temple and city.
Chapter 3 records the rebuilding of the altar, the very symbolic first act of restoration. Following, the Jews lay temple’s foundation as some of the older people mix joy with weeping as they remember the glory of the temple that was destroyed.
What does it mean?
Themes of spirituality are prominent in these books. Not all the Jews return, but had become comfortable in Babylon. Those who do return face adversity and spiritual darkness with prayer, fasting, public scripture reading and sacrifice.
Today we may puzzle over the importance of the names and ancestry emphasis in chapter two. For many cultures even today, family ancestry is one of life’s most important components, and some can easily recite family ancestry going back centuries. Seeing such ancestries in the Bible lends credibility to the Bible’s story.
How will I respond?
How do I typically respond to adversity? Is it with prayer, fasting, scripture reading and sacrifice? Am I facing adversity now? What can I learn and apply from this passage?