Study Notes

Ezra 1:1-2:70


As we finished 2Kings and began the book of Daniel, we saw that the Jews were taken into captivity by the invading Babylonians. Daniel took us from the beginning to the end of the captivity. Tonight, we begin our study of the book that chronicles the events of the end of the Babylonian captivity, as the Jews return to the land of Israel and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem: Ezra.

Questions have arisen as to who wrote the book of Ezra. Without getting into a bunch of textual criticism and analysis, I simply offer to you the simple fact that much of the book is written in the first person, "I said," "I did," "I was," etc. To me, the most obvious interpretation of the facts is that Ezra wrote the book of Ezra. In short, Ezra was a scribe and a priest. But we will discuss him in more detail when he is introduced to us in chapter seven.

For now, let's jump into the book and see what we can learn.

1:1-4 First Year Of Cyrus

If you look at the previous page in your Bible, you'll see that these first two verses are almost word-for-word the same as the last two verses of the book of 2Chronicles (2Chron. 36:22-23). This has led many to believe that Ezra also wrote the book of Chronicles.

Cyrus King Of Persia

It was the first year that Cyrus was king, which we know to be 538BC. This was the king who, along with Darius the Mede, conquered Babylon at the end of Daniel 5. By diverting the Euphrates River that ran into the city of Babylon, he was able to send troops in and easily capture the city and kill King Bale-shats-TSAR, who had just that evening seen a hand writing on his wall, announcing his judgment.

He Sent A Proclamation

Cyrus sent a proclamation throughout the Persian Empire, giving glory to the true and living God, saying that he had been called to build God's temple in Jerusalem. He announced that the Jews who desired to go back to Israel were free to go and perform this work. He even commanded that the neighbors of the Jews should help finance their trip home! What a strange turn of events!

Now why in the world would a secular king do such a thing? After all, releasing tens of thousands of captives and giving glory to a God that his people do not know is neither politically expedient nor rationally practical.

The short answer to this is that God stirred up his spirit. The long answer is even more exciting. You see, God had planned this from the beginning. Almost two hundred years before Cyrus was born, God mentioned him by name through the prophet Isaiah, and gave him a message. He said,

Isa. 44:28 "It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,' and of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.'"

Regarding God's communication with Cyrus, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote,

This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision: "My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple." This was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written... (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 11.2).

Cyrus saw that this was a God Who knew the future, and knew him! This was a God Who was calling him by name and giving him a divine commission! The command that the Lord spoke to Cyrus directly through His Word was very specific:

Isa. 45:1-6 Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him, and to loose the loins of kings; To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze, and cut through their iron bars. And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden wealth of secret places, in order that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen {one} , I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me...

God was telling Cyrus that his rise to power and wealth had been divinely directed. Cyrus had been put into place so that he would facilitate the rebuilding of Jerusalem's temple, and God would receive glory.

By The Mouth Of Jeremiah

Notice that Ezra notes this was to fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah. If we just saw that it was Isaiah that gave the prophecy, why is Jeremiah credited with it?

Actually, if you'll notice, Isaiah gave the prophecy which was spoken to Cyrus. But the prophecy that was fulfilled by Cyrus' actions was in fact from Jeremiah. It was the same prophecy that Daniel read, prompting him to pray in Daniel 9. This prophecy stated,

Jer. 29:10 "For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.'"

It was 538BC, the seventieth year after the first deportation to Babylon. God had promised to return the Jews to their homeland, and He was accomplishing it through Cyrus.

1:5-6 Everyone Whose Spirit God Had Stirred

God had stirred Cyrus' spirit, and now He stirred the spirits of some of the Jews to return. Throughout the Scripture, God is credited with stirring people's spirits to accomplish His plan, whether for captivity or release.

He stirred up the spirit of the king of Assyria to carry some of Jews away into exile (1Chr. 5:26). He stirred up the spirits of the Philistines against Judah to invade it (2Chr. 21:16-17). And He stirred up the Medes to destroy the Babylonians (Jer. 51:1, 11).

But now He is stirring up release from captivity. The king's spirit is stirred to make the decree. Some of the people's spirits are stirred to make the trip (see also Hag. 1:14).

You see, God is sovereign, and His plan will be accomplished. Whether it is preparing a great fish to take Jonah to Nineveh, or causing Caesar Augustus to issue a decree for a census that would take a very pregnant virgin named Mary to Bethlehem, God is in control.

I take great solace in that fact. When no one is on our side, when only wickedness is in the land, God's plan will still unfold. He will do whatever is necessary to fulfill His promises.

1:7-11 Articles Of The Temple Returned

This amazes me: Cyrus not only allowed the Jews to return home, but also gave back the priceless treasures from the temple! This really was a work of God!

When someone seems to make a commitment to Jesus Christ, it always interests me to watch the fruit of that new walk with God. Many times I will know that it is real by the uncommon fruit that is borne in their lives.

Very often, those changes affect their view of money. I think of Zaccheus' reaction to meeting Christ. He said,

Luke 19:8 ..."Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much."

Zaccheus' view of money had changed when he met Christ. Cyrus had the same reaction - when you're dealing with God, the things of this world lose the hold on you that they once had - even money.

The guy put in charge of all of these articles of gold and silver was a man named Shaysh-bats-TSAR. He will be the one to lay the foundation of the temple.

2:1 Those Who Returned

We actually won't be reading most of this chapter, as it contains lists of names of people who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, to the cities that they had been forcibly removed from seventy years before.

(2:2-35) The Men Of The People

Verses 2 through 35 list the men that went back to Israel from the captivity.

(2:36-39) The Priests

The next four verses list the priests that went; A total of 4,289 men.

(2:40) The Levites

Verse 40 tells us about the 74 Levites that also came up out of Babylon. Of course, there were many more, but these are the Levites that could not be classified as singers, gatekeepers, or temple servants.

(2:41) The Singers

There were 128 singers, descendants of Asaph, the man who wrote twelve of the Psalms, and had been appointed by David as the head of the temple worship team.

1Chr. 16:7 Then on that day David first assigned Asaph and his relatives to give thanks to the LORD.

1Chr. 25:1 ...who {were} to prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals...

(2:42) The Sons Of The Gatekeepers

The gatekeepers had been the ones who would be stationed at the gates of the temple as guards (1Chr. 9). The chief gatekeepers were also in charge of the temple's chambers and treasuries (1Chr. 9:26).

(2:43-54) The Temple Servants

These twelve verses list the temple servants that left for Israel.

(2:55-58) The Sons Of Solomon's Servants

Solomon's servants are thought by most to be the Canaanites who were levied as forced laborers (1Kings 9:21). These four verses list those that were returning to the land.

2:59-63 Not Able To Prove Their Ancestry

Ezra 2:59-63 Now these are those who came up from Tale MEH-lakh, Tale Khar-SHAW, Ker-OOB, Ad-DAWN, and Im-MARE, but they were not able to give evidence of their fathers' households, and their descendants, whether they were of Israel: the sons of Del-aw-YAW, the sons of To-bee-YAW, the sons of Nek-o-DAW, 652. And of the sons of the priests: the sons of Khab-ah-YAW, the sons of Kotse, the sons of Bar-zil-LAH-ee, who took a wife from the daughters of Bar-zil-LAH-ee the Gileadite, and he was called by their name. These searched {among} their ancestral registration, but they could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean {and excluded} from the priesthood. And the governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest stood up with Oo-REEM and Toom-MEEM.

So there were some Jews that had come out of the Babylonian captivity who had lost their family trees - they couldn't prove their ancestral roots. Over the seventy years, their forefathers' names had been forgotten. This proved to be a difficult problem, since all of the land of Israel was divided into ownership by tribes, clans, and families.

Urim And Thummim

Some of those who couldn't trace their ancestry claimed to be of priestly descent. These men would not be allowed to serve in the temple until a priest discerned God's knowledge with the use of the Oo-REEM and Toom-MEEM, or "Lights and Perfection."

Although what they really were has been lost in history, it is thought that they might have been stones for drawing lots to determine God's commands. We do know that they were kept in the high priest's breastpiece.

However, they were never recovered after the captivity. Thus, these men who should have been priests were disqualified from serving because they had lost their ancestry.

2:64-67 Accounting Of People And Animals

Just about 50,000 people came up out of Babylon to return to Israel.

2:68-70 Gave According To Their Ability

Throughout Scripture, the people of God are called to finance the building of the house of God. There are a certain number of people who complain with excuses like, "I'm not under the Law," and "tithing isn't a New Testament concept." But those weak arguments don't supercede the fact that we are called to fiance the house of God. I praise God for the giving church body He has raised up here, and pray that each of you is counted among those that give.

Next week, we will cover chapter three, as they begin the work of rebuilding God's temple in Jerusalem.

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