“Re-Building God’s Temple”
Subject: Historical Background:
Scripture Reading: Ezra and Nehemiah
The following dates can help supply an overview of the historical period of Ezra and Nehemiah: 722 B.C. The ten northern tribes of Israel were taken into captivity in Assyria. 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and began taking part of the Jews into Babylonian captivity. This deportation included Daniel and Ezekiel. 586 B.C. – Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple, carrying more Jews into Babylonian captivity. 539 B.C. – The Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon. 538 B.C. – Cyrus, king of Persia (550 to 530 B.C.) authorized the first return of the Jews to Palestine under the leadership of Zerubbabel, governor of Judah. 516 B.C. – The rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem, begun under Zerubbabel, was completed. This was authorized by an edict of Darius, king of Persia (521 to 486 B.C.). (Note: There is a time-gap in the book of Ezra of about 58 years, between chapters 6 and 7, occurring from the time of the rebuilding of the temple to the time of the second return of the Jews from Babylon under Ezra.) 458 B.C. – The second return of exiled Jews from Babylon to Judea began under the leadership of Ezra, authorized by Artaxerxes, king of Persia (464 to 423 B.C.). The spiritual restoration of the Jews in Jerusalem was led by Ezra. 444 B.C. – Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and led the rebuilding of the city’s walls. The walls of Jerusalem were dedicated, followed by Israel’s spiritual renewal under Ezra and Nehemiah. The 70 years of Babylonian captivity prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11-12) are reckoned in two ways: either as beginning in 605 B.C. with the first deportation of the Jews to Babylon and ending in 536 B.C. with the first return of the Jews to their homeland under Zerubbabel, or beginning with the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and the completion of the rebuilding of the same in 516 B.C. Either time-period has its supporters.
Ezra and Nehemiah are part of the grouping of Scripture called “the post-captivity historical books” which also includes the book of Esther. There is also a grouping called “the post-captivity prophetic books” which includes Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Haggai and Zechariah very clearly overlap the stories in Ezra and Nehemiah and we’ll pull some material out of each during our study of the years of rebuilding. While not specifically labeled as “post-captivity books”, there are also some bits of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel that have some overlap in time with these books or relate to them, and the demolition of the Temple and the capture and deportation of the people of Judah is detailed at the end of 2nd Chronicles and 2nd Kings. Also of note, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, separate in our Bible’s today, were one book in the earliest Hebrew manuscripts. Through time, the book of Nehemiah has at times been called “Ezra II” and “the second book of Esdrae” or “2nd Esdras”. The NIV Study Bible suggests the following timeline: Ezra was written around 440 B.C. and Nehemiah around 430 B.C., and Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the seventh year of the rule of Artaxerxes I (458 B.C.) while Nehemiah arrived in the king’s 20th year (445 B.C.). Ezra: According to the introduction to Ezra in the NLT Study Bible, Ezra was a very impressive person. They say this: “Tradition says that Ezra wrote most of 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Psalm 119 and that he led the council of 120 men who formed the Old Testament canon.” Babylonia, Persia, and the important foreign names… Babylon was in the southern part of Mesopotamia, about 50 miles south of modern Bagdad. Babylonia and its northern neighbor, Assyria, were the power centers throughout the Old Testament. Nebuchadnezzar II followed his father, Nabopolassar, who ushered in Babylonia’s golden age when he freed Babylonia from Assyria by destroying Nineveh. It was Nebuchadnezzar II who sacked Jerusalem in 587-586 B.C. After several lesser Babylonian kings, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylonia in 540 B.C. Cyrus was known for respecting the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. Doing so led stability to his rule. Cyrus is mentioned in several books, including Ezra and Isaiah. After Cyrus’s 2 eldest sons were killed, Darius I (the Great) took the throne in 522 B.C. Darius replicated Cyrus’ policy of benevolence to non-Persian religions in his conquered territories. Darius is referred to in the book of Daniel. That was just a bit to get us started with this new study on (Ezra and Nehemiah “Building God’s Temple”). I believe this is a good study for our relationship with the God.
Outlines for Ezra and Nehemiah: God Restores His people to their Homeland:
- The first return under Zerubbabel and the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1-6).
- The second return under Ezra and the spiritual restoration of the people (Ezra 7-10).
- The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1-7)
- The spiritual renewed of God’s people under Ezra and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8-13).
WEEK # 2 QUESTIONS:
Questions for Review
- Into which section of the OT were the books Ezra and Nehemiah originally placed?
- Why do you suppose they were linked so closely together as one book?
- In what respect did the offices of the two men differ?
- What did both men undertake as leaders?
- Who possibly compiled both books?
- Identify the following dates:
– 605 B.C.
– 586 B.C.
– 539 B.C.
– 516 B.C.
– 458 B.C.
– 444 B.C.
7. In which two differing ways are the 70 years of Babylonian captivity reckoned?
8. Under which leader was the following undertaken:
– The first return of exiles?
– The second return of exiles?
– The rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem?
– The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem?
-The spiritual renewals of the Jews in Jerusalem?
9. Under which Persian kings did the above events occur?
10. Give the basic outline for Ezra and Nehemiah with chapter divisions.
Weekly Word # 2: Holy of Holies
Our weekly reading for this week: Ezra 4-6