IN THE DAYS OF RESTORATION FROM BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY
THE Lord through Jeremiah foretold that the Babylonian Captivity would last for seventy years. (See Jeremiah 25 and 29.) At the expiration of this time the Lord promised to restore Israel to her own land. He watches over His word to perform it. He is never ahead of time; neither is He one moment behind. Someone has well said that God has His man for every emergency in the right place and at the right time.
He promised that He would use Cyrus to restore the people of Israel to their own land. (Read Isaiah 44:24-45:13.) Isaiah lived approximately two hundred years before Cyrus came upon the stage of action. Yet, through this prophet the Lord foretold that He would use this heathen monarch to accomplish His purpose. He said concerning Cyrus, "He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built; and of the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid" (Isa. 44:28). Everyone who is willing to accept the Word of God at its face value must admit that, according to this prediction, Cyrus was the one who would cause the Jews to rebuild both their Temple and their city. The prophecy is plain and unmistakable. I am thoroughly convinced that Cyrus issued the decree for the Jews to do these two things. Cyrus reigned along with Darius the Mede over the mighty Medo-Persian Empire. The latter died, and Cyrus became sole ruler. In that year he issued the decree in favor of the Jews, which is found in Ezra 1:1-4. Only the Temple, however, is mentioned in this proclamation; but we must look at all the facts in the case before denying that Cyrus did what Isaiah foretold that he would do. The Jews armed with this document returned to their homeland and engaged in the work of restoration. Their enemies wrote to the Persian king saying, "Be it known unto the king, that the Jews that came up from thee are come to us unto Jerusalem; they are building the rebellious and the bad city, and have finished the walls, and repaired the foundations" (Ezra 4:12). This letter was written to Pseudo-Smerdis who at that time was on the throne. The authors stated that the Jews at the time were building Jerusalem, the rebellious city, and that they had finished the wall.
Later, in the days of Darius Hystaspes, others opposed the Jews and wrote to the king in order to stop their work in Jerusalem, reporting that the Jews claimed to have received authority from Cyrus to build "this house, and to finish this wall" (Ezra 5:3,9). Darius immediately by investigation discovered the document in the archives which granted to the Jews the privilege of building the Temple. Then he issued a decree that they should not be disturbed but should be assisted. These facts show that there was included in the permission to build the Temple authority to rebuild the city. This is a most important consideration for many weighty matters hang thereupon. (For a full discussion of these matters, see the book Messiah: His First Coming Scheduled.)
In chapter 1:5-11 we see the preparation that was made for those who wished to return to the land of the fathers. In the second chapter appears a list of those who returned with Zerubbabel. Upon reaching Jerusalem they set up the altar amid the ruins of the Temple and offered sacrifices and observed the Feast of Tabernacles (3:4).
In the second year of their return to Palestine the exiles began to lay the foundation for the Temple. This occurred in the second year of Cyrus. Immediately opposition was offered by enemies of the Jews. The work was thus hindered for fifteen years as is set forth in the fourth chapter of Ezra, which is a parenthesis in the narration, giving the cause for the delay in the work.
Finally, in the second year of Darius Hystaspes the prophets Haggai and Zechariah stirred the people to action. The Jews began rebuilding the Temple (5:1f). Again an effort was made to stop them. As stated above, when appeal was made to the Persians, Darius had the archives searched and found that Cyrus actually issued the decree for the Jews to rebuild their Temple. Thus he encouraged and assisted in every way possible. Finally, in his sixth year the Temple was completed (6:15). Then it was dedicated. The following year the passover was observed at the proper time (6:19-22).
About this time Ezra gathered a company of his countrymen and started out for Jerusalem. Here we see his genealogy traced back to Aaron. He was a man of the very highest type, for of him we are told that "Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of Jehovah, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances" (7:10). This should be the ideal of every teacher and minister of the Word.
Those who were intending to return with Ezra gathered at the river Ahava. Before starting the wearisome journey they humbled themselves, calling upon God to give them a safe and a prosperous journey. (See Ezra 8:21-23.) In these verses we feel the pulse of this great man of God who was used mightily of the Lord, among the returned exiles.
Before starting the journey, Ezra turned over to the chiefs of the priests the silver, the gold, and the vessels that belonged to the divine service in order that they might take care of them. Everything was open and aboveboard. Notwithstanding the enemies along the way they were prospered and reached Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month. Ezra attributed their safe arrival to the good hand of their God upon them. Immediately they offered the proper sacrifices through gratitude to God for their safe arrival.
During the twenty years following the return under Zerubbabel and Joshua, many evil practices had crept into the community. Ezra, sensing the situation, learned what the trouble was. He discovered that the people had not separated themselves from the colonists who were living in the Land. Instead of doing as they should, they mingled with foreigners and formed marriages with them. Ezra, stricken with grieffor he realized that such was an abomination in the sight of Godrent his robes, and sat down confounded. Those who trembled at the Word of God gathered around him until the time of the evening oblation. At that time he fell upon his face and poured out his soul and heart to God for the people, in confession of sin and in imploring divine mercy. This marvelous petition is recorded in Ezra 9:5-15. Those who were really seeking God gathered around him and promised to correct the evils. This brought about a great reformation in Israel.
Ezra's return to Jerusalem and his reforms were in the seventh year of Darius Hystaspes, the account of which brings us to the close of the Book of Ezra. In the first chapter of Nehemiah we are in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. Who was this monarch? The word Artaxerxes simply means "Great Shah" or "prince" in the Persian language. We are in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes or Darius Hystaspes when we come to the first chapter of Nehemiah. We were in his seventh year in the seventh chapter of Ezra. About this position there can be no question. There is however a great debate between two schools of thought as to who is meant by the person Artaxerxes. Personally, I belong to that school which is convinced by the absolute positive evidence that he was Darius Hystaspes whose reign began in 521 B.C. or 3604 A.H. The opposing school of thought interprets this ruler as Artaxerxes Longimanus, who according to the Ptolemaic chronology mounted the Persian throne in 464 B.C. His seventh year was therefore 458 B.C. Both of these positions cannot be correct. I have presented in the volume Messiah: His First Coming Scheduled the overwhelming testimony which proves conclusively that the Artaxerxes of Ezra 7 and of the Book of Nehemiah was Darius Hystaspes who, as stated above, came to the Persian throne in 521 B.C. For the proof thereof, procure the volume just referred to.
Nehemiah, upon hearing of the conditions in Jerusalem, was sad. He was cupbearer to the king, who noted upon one occasion his dejected looks. Upon learning what the trouble was, the king graciously permitted him the privilege of returning to the land of his fathers for the purpose of rectifying the wrongs. (See Nehemiah 1:1-2:11.)
We have already learned that the Jews upon their return from Babylon rebuilt the Temple and finished the wall by the sixth year of Darius Hystaspes. By his twentieth yearfourteen years latersome calamity had occurred: the wall of the city had been thrown down or gaps had been made in it. The walls were certainly not completely destroyed, for in 52 days Nehemiah completed the repairs upon them. The account is found in Nehemiah 2:12-6:19. In chapter 7 we find a list of the returned exiles similar to the one in Ezra 2.
In chapters 8:1-13:31 we read of the great reforms and the revival which was brought about by Ezra and Nehemiah, who read the Word of God to the people and gave them the understanding of it. A marvelous and a wonderful work was wrought by the Lord through them.
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah continue the history found in the Books of Chronicles. They, like Chronicles, give the spiritual interpretation of history. One sees the invisible hand of God upon those who are faithful and true to Him. If a person is looking for just such teaching and wishes a real spiritual uplift, he should study carefully the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The Book of Esther, in which the name of God does not appear (but the one who has spiritual vision can see the God of Israel at work all the time and in everything), is probably an appendix to the historical books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. In the volume, Messiah: His First Coming Schedule I have given absolute proof that Esther was the wife of Artaxerxes who was none other than Darius Hystaspes. If one wishes his faith strengthened in God's providential care of His people, he should by all means read the Book of Esther.