Bible Highlights Ezra 1:1–10:44
Jehovah Fulfills His Promises!
Liberation! Restoration! How heartwarming this news must have been to Jewish exiles in Babylon! True to God’s promise, and after 70 years of bondage, the Jews were being restored to their homeland. (Jeremiah 25:12; Isaiah 44:28–45:7) Moreover, the items taken from Jehovah’s temple were being returned to their rightful place. What joy!
The Bible book of Ezra begins with these thrilling events. Written in Jerusalem by the copyist Ezra about 460 B.C.E., it covers some 70 years, from the Jews’ release to the completion of the second temple and the cleansing of the priesthood (537-c. 467 B.C.E.). Highlighted is the way that Jehovah fulfills his promises. The book also contains valuable lessons for Jehovah’s Witnesses today.
Please read Ezra 1:1–3:6. His spirit roused by Jehovah, Persian king Cyrus issues a proclamation: The temple at Jerusalem will be rebuilt, and Jehovah’s worship is to be restored there! All Israelites may have a share. Those who can do so are free to return to their homeland for rebuilding work. Others are urged to contribute freely toward the project. The utensils of the original temple, taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, are to be returned. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, almost 50,000 make the journey of nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) back to Jerusalem. They rebuild the sacred altar and offer up sacrifices to Jehovah. Next, in the fall of 537 B.C.E., they celebrate the Festival of Booths. The foretold 70 years of desolation end exactly on time!—Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10.
◆ 1:3-6—Were the Israelites remaining in Babylon unfaithful?
Not necessarily, although materialism and lack of appreciation may have been factors in some cases. Cyrus’ decree did not require that all return but made it a voluntary matter. Such circumstances as old age, infirmities, or family obligations may have prevented some from making the journey. But they were to give support to those who could return.
◆ 1:8—Who was Sheshbazzar?
Most likely, this was an official Chaldean court name given to Zerubbabel. (Compare Daniel 1:7.) What is attributed to Sheshbazzar is elsewhere credited to Zerubbabel. (Ezra 5:16; Zechariah 4:9) Both are given the title “governor.” (Ezra 5:14; Haggai 2:21) And at Ezra 2:2 and Ezr 3:1, 2, Zerubbabel is acknowledged as leading the returning exiles; so, fittingly, the name Sheshbazzar is not mentioned.
◆ 2:61-63—What were the Urim and the Thummim?
They are thought to have been sacred lots used when a question needed an answer from Jehovah. According to Jewish tradition, they disappeared when the temple was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. This is supported by the fact that claimants to priestly descent were barred from the priesthood and the eating of most holy things “until a priest stood up with Urim and Thummim.” But there is no record of their use then or thereafter.
Lesson for Us: A situation similar to that of the Jewish exiles exists with Jehovah’s Witnesses today. Not all are able to engage in the full-time ministry or leave their homes to serve where the need is greater. Yet they do all they can to advance the interests of clean worship by making voluntary contributions and giving encouragement to those who can engage in increased activity.
Read 3:7–4:24. With great rejoicing, the returned Jews lay the foundation of Jehovah’s house. But for years adversaries attempt to dishearten the temple builders. Finally, convincing the king that a “rebellious and bad city” is being rebuilt, these foes have the work stopped by royal command. The ban continues “until the second year of the reign of Darius the king of Persia.”
◆ 3:12—Why did these men weep?
These very old men could recall how gorgeous the divinely designed temple of Solomon had looked. What lay before their eyes now—a mere groundwork—was as nothing in comparison. Likely they were disheartened, doubting that their efforts would bring back the former glory.—Haggai 2:2, 3.
◆ 4:1-3—Why was the offer of help rejected?
These non-Jews, brought in by the king of Assyria to repopulate the land, were not true worshipers of God. (2 Kings 17:33, 41) Accepting their help would have meant compromising true worship, and Jehovah had specifically warned his people against any such interfaith movements. (Exodus 20:5; 34:12) Moreover, the account calls these non-Jews “adversaries.”
Lesson for Us: When confronted with hostility in serving God, we should imitate the resettling Jews who immediately gathered for worship as “one man.” Trusting in Jehovah and putting his worship first strengthened them to get the assigned work accomplished.—Ezra 3:1-12.
Read 5:1–6:22. Stirred up by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the building work continues with renewed zeal. Unable to stop it, the adversaries again complain. King Darius investigates and finds Cyrus’ original decree. Not only are the opposers ordered to ‘cease and desist’ but they are also commanded to assist materially! With continued encouragement from Jehovah’s prophets, the temple is completed in 515 B.C.E. and is inaugurated. With joy it is dedicated to God, whose promises are fulfilled!
◆ 5:5—Why did the opposers not stop the building work?
Jehovah’s watchcare was upon his faithful servants. (2 Chronicles 16:9) Strengthened by God’s spirit, the elders refused to be intimidated. They referred to the long-forgotten decree of Cyrus. Since Persian law was unalterable, the adversaries feared opposing a royal decree. (Daniel 6:8, 15) Jehovah’s direction was evident, and the work continued.
◆ 6:21—Who separated “from the uncleanness of the nations”?
They may have been proselytes who returned with the Jews, Samaritans then inhabiting the land, or even Jewish returnees who had been corrupted by pagan influences. (Compare Ezra 9:1.) The progress of Jehovah’s pure worship in Jerusalem apparently moved them to make needed changes in their lives.
Lesson for Us: Christian elders today should also seek Jehovah’s guidance. He gives the insight needed when we face opposers.—Psalm 32:8.
Read 7:1–8:36. Time passes. In 468 B.C.E., King Artaxerxes grants Ezra “all his request,” enabling him to render aid in Jerusalem. The king’s order encourages all willing Jews to return also, and he grants silver and gold to provide for all necessities at Jehovah’s house. Ezra is empowered to appoint magistrates and judges, who will enforce the law of both Jehovah and the king. With trust in God’s backing, Ezra strengthens himself and sets out on the perilous journey. He does not request an armed escort, lest this be viewed as a lack of faith in Jehovah’s protective ability. With God’s backing, the Jews arrive safely.
This was the Persian king Artaxerxes I (Longimanus). In his 20th year, he granted Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls and gates. (Nehemiah 2:1-8) Ancient historians credit this Artaxerxes with a generally benign and generous disposition. Because of his large donation, he was included at Ezra 6:14 as one whose orders contributed to the finishing of the temple, although its construction was completed some 47 years earlier. He differs from the Artaxerxes who halted the rebuilding work. (Ezra 4:7-23) That one was Gaumata, who ruled but eight months in 522 B.C.E. “Artaxerxes” apparently was a throne name or title.
Lesson for Us: Ezra set a fine example for Jehovah’s servants today. A skilled copyist who diligently studied God’s Word, he gave all credit to the Most High and had more concern for Jehovah’s glory than for his personal safety.—Ezra 7:27, 28; 8:21-23.
Read 9:1–10:44. Ezra soon learns that many “have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands as regards their detestable things.” The Jews, including priests and Levites, have intermarried with the pagan Canaanites. Ezra is stunned. He prayerfully lays the matter before Jehovah, contritely confessing the nation’s errors. Under his leadership, the people repent and resolve to dismiss their foreign wives. The uncleanness is cleared out within about three months.
◆ 9:2—Why was such intermarriage a sin?
It posed a threat to the restoration of true worship. (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4) These were unbelieving, idol-worshiping women. Intermarriage with them could eventually have resulted in assimilation into the surrounding pagan nations, and pure worship might have vanished from the earth.
Young children usually need their mothers. Moreover, through the influence of the children, the dismissed wives may have returned in time. Pure worship of Jehovah had to take precedence.
Lesson for Us: Like faithful Jews of Ezra’s time, Jehovah’s Witnesses cling to God’s standards for marriage. They realize that they should marry “only in the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 7:39.
Jehovah kept his promise to have pure worship restored in ancient Jerusalem. Similarly, he will fulfill his promise to have his clean worship practiced earth wide. (Habakkuk 2:14) Will you be among his worshipers when the great Promise-Keeper brings peace and happiness to this earth?—Psalm 37:10, 11; Revelation 21:3, 4.