Ezra 1-3 Return to the Ruins

Psalm 65:6-13 Rejoicing in the God of Power
Ps 65:6 “(5 By awesome deeds of righteousness, you answer us, God of our salvation. You who are the hope of all the ends of the earth) 6 Who by his power forms the mountains, having armed yourself with strength; 7 who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. 8 They also who dwell in faraway places are afraid at your wonders. You call the morning’s dawn and the evening with songs of joy. 9 You visit the earth, and water it. You greatly enrich it. The river of God is full of water. You provide them grain, for so you have ordained it. 10 You drench its furrows. You level its ridges. You soften it with showers. You bless it with a crop. 11 You crown the year with your bounty. Your carts overflow with abundance. 12 The wilderness grasslands overflow. The hills are clothed with gladness. 13 The pastures are covered with flocks. The valleys also are clothed with grain. They shout for joy! They also sing."

Observations: 65:1-5 See post on Judges 6 for vv 1-5, in which David rejoices over the blessing of forgiveness and a relationship with God.
65:6-13 Being forgiven and restored to a relationship with God opens the door to prayer and experiencing His answers and blessings. David elaborates on the power of God which cause the nations to be awed, and the creation to rejoice in His provision.

Application: The God whom the nations fear and earth praises, desires a personal and intimate relationship with you; there is nothing He can't do for those rightly related to Him; don't forget to ask.

Prayer: Lord, thanks that You invite me to come into Your presence and access Your infinite power; may I experience Your divine protection and provision as I trust You. Thanks again. Amen.

Proverbs 17:8-9 Prosperity and Friends
Pr 17:8 “A bribe/gift is a precious stone in the eyes of him who gives it; wherever he turns, he prospers. 9 He who covers an offense promotes love; but he who repeats a matter separates best friends.”

Observations: 17:8 The one who gives gifts tends to prosper (as David does in 1Sam 30 below). It can be viewed as an expression of other-centeredness when done with a pure motive. A bribe on the other hand, is a gift given to induce someone to do something unjust or illegal, which cuts off the giver and receiver from God's blessing, a self-centered and selfish act.
17:9 Covering over an offense by not repeating it promotes love. Repeating it separates friends. So who's doing the covering and who the repeating? Usually understood as the offended party doesn't bring up, tell or gossip about the sin of another in desire to protect the reputation or feelings of their friend. It could also mean that the offender makes the effort to not make the same error twice so as to hurt their friend again. This understanding is closest to the meaning of repeat, or “do again”. It's remotely possible that the proverb applies to a third party gossiping, but less likely. If we want to preserve a friendship, it's good to avoid both offenses and their repetition, either in deed or word.

Application: We prosper in our relationships by being other-centered in word and deed.

Prayer: God, help me think of the needs and interests of others so I may benefit them, and influence them for You. Amen.


Ezra 1-3 Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are the last Historical books of the Old Testament, describing the return from Exile and rebuilding of the temple and nation. Historically, they are followed by about 400 years of “silence” until the New Testament opens. In the Bible, they are followed by the books of Poetry and Prophecy, which occurred in the timeframes before (ie, Isaiah and Jeremiah), during (ie, Ezekiel and Daniel), and after (ie, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi), the exile. See the chart*, noting that the dates the books were written don't always match the time period they describe.

The book of Ezra was written to encourage the returning exiles to persevere in the pure worship of Yahweh. Chapters 9-10 are considered the central highlight of the book (see under Digging Deeper), when the people separate themselves from the sin what would lead them astray again. The chapters in this post describe the first of three returns from Babylon to Israel, in which Zerubbabel rebuilds the rubble of the temple. In the next return, Ezra will rebuild the people. In the third return, Nehemiah will rebuild the wall.


Ezra 1 Return to the Ruins
1:1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Yahweh stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, 2 "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘Yahweh, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he has commanded me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of Yahweh, the God of Israel (he is God), which is in Jerusalem. 4 Whoever is left, in any place where he lives, let the men of his place help him with silver, with gold, with goods, and with animals, besides the freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.’"
5 Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, even all whose spirit God had stirred to go up rose up to build the house of Yahweh which is in Jerusalem. 6 All those who were around them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with animals, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered. 7 Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of Yahweh, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought out of Jerusalem, and had put in the house of his gods; 8 even those, Cyrus king of Persia brought out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. 9 This is the number of them: thirty platters of gold, one thousand platters of silver, twenty-nine knives, 10 thirty bowls of gold, silver bowls of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels one thousand. 11 All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. Sheshbazzar/Zerubbabel brought all these up, when the captives were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem.

*© 1994-1999.Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, Inc
Observations: 1:1-4 Cyrus conquers Babylon, and God prompts him to issue a decree for the Jews to return and rebuild the temple. On the Cyrus Cylinder, he gives credit to Marduk for the capture of Babylon. Perhaps he was an opportunistic polytheist. The Persian empire differed from the Assyrian and Babylonian empires in that it didn't try to destroy cultural identities through deportation and repression. Instead, the Persians built a network of vassal states, exercising oversight and employing military force when necessary.
1:5-11 God also stirred up the spirit of Yahweh's people to return and rebuild, encouraging them with resources from those around them, similar to the offerings for the Tabernacle and Temple. Cyrus orders the restoration of all the vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken. Zerubbabel was a Davidic descendant, and ancestor of the Messiah (Matthew 1:12), who functioned as a governor (not king) of the people, under the authority of Cyrus. It wasn't easy to pull up roots and move back to the ruins of Jerusalem, especially in light of the history of Israel there.

Application: God's Spirit works to cause the willingness/desire and the doing of His good pleasure. All we have to do is respond in obedience.
Philippians 2:12 "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."
Prayer: God, may I be sensitive to Your Spirit, to drop whatever I'm doing, to do Your pleasure, for that is why I exist. Amen.

Ezra 2 Zerubbabel Rebuilds the Rubble of the Temple
2:1 Now these are the children of the province, who went up out of the captivity of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his city; 2 who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah...61 Of the children of the priests...62 These sought their place among those who were registered by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they deemed polluted and put from the priesthood. 63 The governor said to them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, until there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim. 64 The whole assembly together was forty-two thousand three hundred sixty, 65 besides their male servants and their female servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty-seven: and they had two hundred singing men and singing women. 66 Their horses were seven hundred thirty-six; their mules, two hundred forty-five; 67 their camels, four hundred thirty-five; their donkeys, six thousand seven hundred and twenty. 68 Some of the heads of fathers’ households, when they came to the house of Yahweh which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to set it up in its place: 69 they gave after their ability into the treasury of the work sixty-one thousand darics of gold, and five thousand minas of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments. 70 So the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinim, lived in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.

Observations: 2:1-70 This time the nation is doing things “by the Book.” There is no mention of Israel engaging in idol worship after the captivity. There are lots of names. Those among the priesthood who couldn't prove their genealogy were considered unclean until a decision could be made using the Urim and Thummin. The listing of servants, singers, animals, and wealth indicate that some had prospered during the captivity. Only male singers were listed in previous temple service accounts. The amount of gold and silver listed is a small fraction of that used for Solomon's temple. See next chapter.

Ezra 3 Weeping and Joy
3:1 When the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brothers, and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set the altar on its base; for fear was on them because of the peoples of the countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon to Yahweh, even burnt offerings morning and evening. 4 They kept the feast of tents, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the ordinance, as the duty of every day required; 5 and afterward the continual burnt offering, and the offerings of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of Yahweh that were consecrated, and of everyone who willingly offered a freewill offering to Yahweh. 6 From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings to Yahweh: but the foundation of the temple of Yahweh was not yet laid. 7 They gave money also to the masons, and to the carpenters; and food, and drink, and oil, to them of Sidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.
8 Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest...oversight of the work of the house of Yahweh. 10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Yahweh, they set the priests in their clothing with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Yahweh, after the order of David king of Israel. 11 They sang one to another in praising and giving thanks to Yahweh, "For he is good, for his hesed/loyal covenantal love endures forever toward Israel." All the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised Yahweh, because the foundation of the house of Yahweh was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: 13 so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.

Observations: 3:1-7 The first order of business was building an altar and reinstating the Levitical sacrifices specified in the law, according to the book. A listed motivation is fear of the surrounding peoples. So they are trusting in Yahweh to protect them.
3:8-13 When the foundation of the temple was laid, the young people shouted for joy, but the older folks wept when they saw it in comparison to Solomon's temple. The sin of the people had diminished the glory of the temple. People were now living in Plan B, having forfeited Plan A. Plan B might not be as great as Plan A, but is far better than Plan C, D, E...
God gives a message of encouragement through Haggai the prophet, saying that the glory of this smaller temple will be greater than that of Solomon's, because it would be to this temple that the Messiah, the desire of nations, would come, and peace would be given.
Haggai 2:3 ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Isn’t it in your eyes as nothing? 4 Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says Yahweh. ‘Be strong, Joshua, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ says Yahweh, ‘and work, for I am with you,’ says Yahweh of Hosts. 5 This is the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, and my Spirit lived among you. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ 6 For this is what Yahweh of Hosts says: ‘Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the dry land; 7 and I will shake all nations. The desire of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory, says Yahweh of Hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,’ says Yahweh of Hosts. 9 ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says Yahweh of Hosts; ‘and in this place will I give peace,’ says Yahweh of Hosts."
Application: Sin has enduring consequences, among them, loss of glory and joy.

Prayer: God, help me see where I might be going off the path of blessing, so that I can quickly repent, and not lose out on the blessings You've planned. And where I've blown it, and am living in Plan B, give me grace to live it abundantly, for Your glory. Amen.


Digging Deeper:
Ezra and Nehemiah were originally considered one book, as indicated by the following chiastic arrangement. (Merrill, The Old Testament Explorer)

A. Zerubbabel's return and list of returnees (Ezra 1-2)
 B. Building of the temple and opposition (Ezra 3-6)
  C. Return of Ezra (Ezra 7-8)
    D. Center: Purification of the people (Ezra 9-10)
  C.' Return of Nehemiah (Neh 1-2)
 B.' Building of the walls and opposition (Neh 3:1-7:3)
A.' Zerubbabel's return and list of returnees; final reforms (Neh 7:4-13:31)

In the Scriptures, these books are arranged more topically (above) than chronologically. For a consideration of the chronological order, see Bullinger's Companion Bible, page 617 which places the dedication of the temple at the center of the material in the two books; and Appendix 58, which gives historical dates for the events in both books.

God in a nutshell: God is faithful to His promises, and will move pagan kings, and His people to accomplish His purposes. Those who cooperate with Him will be blessed, those who don't will suffer. God preserves and protects His people, even when they are not living in the center of His will, in order to fulfill His promises. He invites people to serve Him, and those who do will find both difficulties and resources to meet their needs. God provides both material and spiritual encouragement to those who are seeking to serve Him. Correct worship (response to revelation, not singing on key) is at the heart of restoring spiritual life.

Us in a nutshell: We are given an opportunity to serve God, as long as we do it His way, by the book. Failure to trust and obey has a cost, forfeiting the glory and blessings of Plan A. Plan B, God's second best, might not have all the glory of Plan A, but if we respond correctly to God, He can make it more fulfilling than any other path we could take.

Where to Go for More:
Ezra 1-3 (complete text)
Ezra 1
1:1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Yahweh stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, 2 "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘Yahweh, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he has commanded me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of Yahweh, the God of Israel (he is God), which is in Jerusalem. 4 Whoever is left, in any place where he lives, let the men of his place help him with silver, with gold, with goods, and with animals, besides the freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.’"
5 Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, even all whose spirit God had stirred to go up rose up to build the house of Yahweh which is in Jerusalem. 6 All those who were around them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with animals, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered. 7 Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of Yahweh, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought out of Jerusalem, and had put in the house of his gods; 8 even those, Cyrus king of Persia brought out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. 9 This is the number of them: thirty platters of gold, one thousand platters of silver, twenty-nine knives, 10 thirty bowls of gold, silver bowls of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels one thousand.
11 All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. Sheshbazzar brought all these up, when the captives were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem.

Ezra 2
2:1 Now these are the children of the province, who went up out of the captivity of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his city; 2 who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel: 3 The children of Parosh, two thousand one hundred seventy-two. 4 The children of Shephatiah, three hundred seventy-two. 5 The children of Arah, seven hundred seventy-five. 6 The children of Pahathmoab, of the children of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand eight hundred twelve. 7 The children of Elam, one thousand two hundred fifty-four. 8 The children of Zattu, nine hundred forty-five. 9 The children of Zaccai, seven hundred sixty. 10 The children of Bani, six hundred forty-two. 11 The children of Bebai, six hundred twenty-three. 12 The children of Azgad, one thousand two hundred twenty-two. 13 The children of Adonikam, six hundred sixty-six. 14 The children of Bigvai, two thousand fifty-six. 15 The children of Adin, four hundred fifty-four. 16 The children of Ater, of Hezekiah, ninety-eight. 17 The children of Bezai, three hundred twenty-three. 18 The children of Jorah, one hundred twelve. 19 The children of Hashum, two hundred twenty-three. 20 The children of Gibbar, ninety-five. 21 The children of Bethlehem, one hundred twenty-three. 22 The men of Netophah, fifty-six. 23 The men of Anathoth, one hundred twenty-eight. 24 The children of Azmaveth, forty-two. 25 The children of Kiriath Arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred forty-three. 26 The children of Ramah and Geba, six hundred twenty-one. 27 The men of Michmas, one hundred twenty-two. 28 The men of Bethel and Ai, two hundred twenty-three. 29 The children of Nebo, fifty-two. 30 The children of Magbish, one hundred fifty-six. 31 The children of the other Elam, one thousand two hundred fifty-four. 32 The children of Harim, three hundred twenty. 33 The children of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred twenty-five. 34 The children of Jericho, three hundred forty-five. 35 The children of Senaah, three thousand six hundred thirty.
36 The priests: the children of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred seventy-three. 37 The children of Immer, one thousand fifty-two. 38 The children of Pashhur, one thousand two hundred forty-seven. 39 The children of Harim, one thousand seventeen. 40 The Levites: the children of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the children of Hodaviah, seventy-four. 41 The singers: the children of Asaph, one hundred twenty-eight. 42 The children of the porters: the children of Shallum, the children of Ater, the children of Talmon, the children of Akkub, the children of Hatita, the children of Shobai, in all one hundred thirty-nine. 43 The Nethinim: the children of Ziha, the children of Hasupha, the children of Tabbaoth, 44 the children of Keros, the children of Siaha, the children of Padon, 45 the children of Lebanah, the children of Hagabah, the children of Akkub, 46 the children of Hagab, the children of Shamlai, the children of Hanan, 47 the children of Giddel, the children of Gahar, the children of Reaiah, 48 the children of Rezin, the children of Nekoda, the children of Gazzam, 49 the children of Uzza, the children of Paseah, the children of Besai, 50 the children of Asnah, the children of Meunim, the children of Nephisim, 51 the children of Bakbuk, the children of Hakupha, the children of Harhur, 52 the children of Bazluth, the children of Mehida, the children of Harsha, 53 the children of Barkos, the children of Sisera, the children of Temah, 54 the children of Neziah, the children of Hatipha. 55 The children of Solomon’s servants: the children of Sotai, the children of Hassophereth, the children of Peruda, 56 the children of Jaalah, the children of Darkon, the children of Giddel, 57 the children of Shephatiah, the children of Hattil, the children of Pochereth Hazzebaim, the children of Ami. 58 All the Nethinim, and the children of Solomon’s servants, were three hundred ninety-two. 59 These were those who went up from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer; but they could not show their fathers’ houses, and their seed, whether they were of Israel: 60 the children of Delaiah, the children of Tobiah, the children of Nekoda, six hundred fifty-two. 61 Of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Hakkoz, the children of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name. 62 These sought their place among those who were registered by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they deemed polluted and put from the priesthood. 63 The governor said to them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, until there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim.
64 The whole assembly together was forty-two thousand three hundred sixty, 65 besides their male servants and their female servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty-seven: and they had two hundred singing men and singing women. 66 Their horses were seven hundred thirty-six; their mules, two hundred forty-five; 67 their camels, four hundred thirty-five; their donkeys, six thousand seven hundred and twenty. 68 Some of the heads of fathers’ households, when they came to the house of Yahweh which is in Jerusalem, offered willingly for the house of God to set it up in its place: 69 they gave after their ability into the treasury of the work sixty-one thousand darics of gold, and five thousand minas of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments. 70 So the priests, and the Levites, and some of the people, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinim, lived in their cities, and all Israel in their cities.

Ezra 3
3:1 When the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brothers, and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set the altar on its base; for fear was on them because of the peoples of the countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon to Yahweh, even burnt offerings morning and evening. 4 They kept the feast of tents, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the ordinance, as the duty of every day required; 5 and afterward the continual burnt offering, and the offerings of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of Yahweh that were consecrated, and of everyone who willingly offered a freewill offering to Yahweh. 6 From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings to Yahweh: but the foundation of the temple of Yahweh was not yet laid. 7 They gave money also to the masons, and to the carpenters; and food, and drink, and oil, to them of Sidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.
8 Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all those who were come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work of the house of Yahweh. 9 Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to have the oversight of the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brothers the Levites. 10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Yahweh, they set the priests in their clothing with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Yahweh, after the order of David king of Israel. 11 They sang one to another in praising and giving thanks to Yahweh, "For he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever toward Israel." All the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised Yahweh, because the foundation of the house of Yahweh was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: 13 so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.