- Ezra 1:1-4:5
Now that Cyrus King of Persia ruled the former Babylonian Empire, he made a great decree, in accordance with what the LORD had said:
2 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. 3 Who 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 the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. 4 And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.
(Ezra 1:2-4 NKJV)
Recall that Isaiah had prophesied about Cyrus, by name, decades earlier:
1 “Thus says the LORD to His anointed, To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—To subdue nations before him And loose the armor of kings, To open before him the double doors, So that the gates will not be shut: 2 ‘I will go before you And make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze And cut the bars of iron. 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.
(Isa. 45:1-3 NKJV)
This was a joyous day, no doubt, for GOD's people who had lived in exile 70 years. Sadly, after 70 years, there was an entire generation of Jews who had never set foot in their homeland of Canaan. After 70 years they had homes and lives in Babylon, so many chose to stay behind and continue living there. But all the people whose hearts GOD had moved prepared to return to Jerusalem. Their neighbors gave them articles of silver, gold, goods and livestock and valuable gifts, in addition to the freewill offerings Cyrus had commanded. Cyrus also gave back the temple articles which Nebuchadnezzar had put in the temple of his idols—5,400 items of gold and silver.
In 538 B.C., 42,360 Israelites plus 7,337 servants, 200 singers, 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels and 6,270 donkeys made their way from Babylon to Jerusalem where the LORD's temple had previously stood. There they gave a freewill offering to start rebuilding GOD's house on its site. 1,150 pounds of gold were collected, along with 3 tons of silver and 100 priestly garments.
The priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers and temple servants all settled in their own towns along with all the other Israelites. When the seventh month came, the people assembled united at Jerusalem, and they began to build the altar of GOD to burn sacrifices upon it in accordance with the Law. The people around them oppressed them, but they continued and offered sacrifices in the morning and evening. They celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles and all of the LORD's appointed feasts.
They gathered cedar logs from Lebanon as authorized by Cyrus. In the second month of the second year after their return to Jerusalem, they began the work under Zerubbabel's lead of rebuilding the temple. When they laid the foundation, the priests with trumpets and the Levites with cymbals, took their place and praised the LORD as David had prescribed. All the people gave a great shout to the LORD because the temple foundations had been laid.
But it wasn't a happy occasion for all the Jews. The older priests, Levites, and family heads, who remembered the former temple Solomon had built, wept aloud because this one was much smaller and less glorious. In fact, the Bible says they wept so loud that no one could distinguish the weeping from the joyous shouting. But the noise was heard from very far away.
As the building continued, the people who had been living in the area did everything they could to frustrate and oppose the construction of the temple. This would be an ongoing problem that the returning Israelites would battle in the years ahead. These events are typical of life under the sun: rarely if ever do good deeds go without opposition from evil.