“Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore.” –Ezra 10:1
King Cyrus of Persia had hoped that the prophecy by Jeremiah might be fulfilled, so he made a proclamation, which involved building a house at Jerusalem (in Judah). The chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, as well as the priests and Levites, went to go build the house of the Lord. Vessels were brought and placed in the house of his gods. When the seventh month came, people gathered themselves as one in Jerusalem, and an altar was built to offer burnt offerings as it is written in the Law of Moses. They praised and worshiped God in the house.
The prophecy was that King Cyrus would be a shepherd performing His pleasure, to which, he shall say to Jerusalem be built, and to the Temple would the foundation be laid. He is to also subdue nations before him, and the power of kings will be weakened so that he is made to be conqueror.
In chapter 7, we see Ezra’s genealogy. We also see the priests, Levites, and Ezra going up to Jerusalem, which involves the commission of Artaxerxes to Ezra. Ezra also blesses God for his favor to the people. In chapter 8, we see Ezra’s companions returning from Babylon. He sends Levites to Iddo to be ministers for the Temple, keeps a fast at Ahava (for a safe and prosperous journey), and committed the treasures to the custody of the priests. After Ahava, they go to Jerusalem, where the treasure is weighed in the Temple. Lastly, the commission is delivered to their adversaries, and they further the house of God (by making sacrifices).
After Ezra prayed and confessed, it was proposed by Shechaniah that those who had married strange wives should put them away with their children – to which, they had sworn to do so. A proclamation is made through the land for a meeting at Jerusalem in three days – to which, they attended. At exhortation from Ezra, all had agreed to do it, and there were persons set up to see it done. The work was completed in three months, and a list of names of them are given who married strangely and now put away – which were of the priests, Levites, and other Israelites.
The Book of Ezra, written by Ezra himself around 450-420 BC, is a continuation of where Second Chronicles left off. This book deals with the first return of the exiles to Jerusalem resulting from King Cyrus, and the second return of the exiles to Jerusalem led by Ezra. Many main events that occurred involved the return of the exiles, restoration of the temple/reconstruction, and Ezra’s work.
Cyrus ruled in Persia for a while before conquering Babylon in 539 BC. After this conquest, he gave the Jew permission to return to Jerusalem. The Jews, according to Jeremiah’s prophecy, were released from the Babylonian captivity and were allowed to return and rebuild their nation. Many people had chosen to remain in Babylon; it appears, however, Cyrus wanted as many to return as possible. He even provided for many of the exiles to return, and helped people rebuild their lives overall, it seems.
The primary leaders were Zerubbabel and Joshua over the returned exiles. The total number returned was around 50,000. Many people, when returned, contributed to the rebuilding of the temple. So then, the temple work began for rebuilding, where the Jews got the provisions and got to work right away. However, a halt was placed on the rebuilding, even though much of it was complete – for Artaxerxes thought that it was necessary to postpone it.
Next, we find that the temple rebuilding continued, after not being worked on for about sixteen years. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the work to re-begin for the temple work. Although some rejected the idea, others caught on and completed the temple rebuilding and rededication within four years. A while after the dedication, a new annual festival was to be held in the temple. This was the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread. Celebrations were held for the restoration of their homeland.
Now, the return of Ezra is detailed, as the temple being completed in 516 BC, Ezra came back around 458 BC. This was a time when Artaxerxes I was still reigning. Ezra had big plans to reform, as he was both a priest and scribe. He had much knowledge of Jewish Law, it seems, and had the ability and funds to be able to conduct a reform. Ezra could also appoint judges to set up courts and carry out punishments as necessary. So, under this mission, authorized by the king, a journey was conducted for Ezra and others that accompanied him to Jerusalem. The journey was set to take around four months, and Ezra was fully intent on this reform.
Ezra went to the Persian officials and presented the documents that authorized him to take control of the Jewish homeland. Therefore, being allowed to do so, Ezra began his reformation as planned. Ezra was quite grieved; it appears, at mixed marriages. Israelite men married non-Israelite women; making families by them. Ezra was aware that this could destroy the religion of Israel, and therefore, he wanted this changed first. Ezra confessed sin on behalf of the nation, before presenting his case.
People heard and met with Ezra, confessed their troubles, and made an oath that it would be corrected. The work of this, though, took around three months to complete. People, though, were intent on relieving the grief of Ezra, confessing their sins, and making sacrifices as necessary. Ezra was successful in this reformation, and was great leader who had influenced many in the Israelite region.