Series: Thru the Bible
Return to rebuild – the Historical account of Ezra
The time period of Ezra directly follows the events in Daniel’s life. They are largely congruent with Nehemiah and include the events in the amazing and heroic life story of Esther.
Nehemiah served under Artaxerxes I whose administration lasted from 465-424 BC. It was this Artaxerxes who issued the command to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 B.C..
Ezra, on the other hand, was under Artaxerxes II, so that he arrived in 398 BC. I was personally unable to discover the duration of his participation in the restoration work, but all indicators seem to point to two years, thus completing his portion of the work in 396 BC.
I later amended this statement in the next lesson of ‘Thru the Bible‘ as well as in the first lesson on the book of Zechariah.
As it stands,I believe that both Ezra and Nehemiah lived during the reign of Artaxerxes I and that the difficulties introduced by the information in Ezra 4 have multiple solutions.
That having been said, these solutions have the unfortunate “appearance” of historical sleight of hand since in the western world of the 21 century we are unfamiliar with such writing techniques and cultural tendencies.
It was not in any way uncommon for Persian kings of this day to go by 2 or more names, often evoking the name of their predecessor. It is much like happens in Jewish writing at times when a man is called the “son” of someone who was actually his grandfather. We have a similar practice in English, but it serves a different purpose. We might say that of a boy that he is “the son of his great-grandpa [insert name]”. In saying this we are often saying that a primary character trait which was dominant in that great-grandpa is also dominant in him. So languages and cultures all have things which are unique to them and somewhat odd to others and this may be all there is to the difficulty of these names. As such it is “possible” that Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:6,7-23 were kings Cambyses (530-522B.C.) and Smerdis (522 B.C.) respectively. Both of these kings reigned before Darius I. Since Persian kings frequently had two or more names, it is not unfathomable to think that Cambyses and Smerdis also may have gone by the names Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes (see Wilson, 1996; see also Fausset, 1998). 1, 2
A secondary possibility and the one to which I currently subscribe is that these kings of Persia mentioned in Ezra 4 are grouped by topical theme rather than by chronological order. Meaning that rather than the data appearing in sequence according to chronology, verses 6-23 act as a type of parenthetical comment. That Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:6-7) are in fact Ahasuerus (486-465B.C.) and Artaxerxes I (465-424B.C.). Writers from antiquity sometimes recorded non-sequential information which they saw as relevant to the topic within the flow of an otherwise chronological narrative. Examples of this can be found in Genesis 10-11 and Matthew 28:1-7. In this case the writer would have been following a description of the difficulties rebuilding the temple (4:1-5) with information on a similar resistance the Jews encountered while rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (4:6-23). Today, this sort of thing can easily result in confusion, but if one takes a step away and examines the passage in this light the addition of this non-sequential information does fit the overall theme of the narrative.
In any case, I stand by my decision that I was in fact incorrect in this teaching that Ezra’s work was during the reign of Artaxerxes II and now believe it could not have been anything other than during the reign of Artaxerxes I.
My apologies for any confusion or misunderstandings.
Integral to all of this is the fulfillment of the prophetic word given to Daniel from Gabriel which would not be complete until the beginning of the 400 years of silence – where there is no record (written or otherwise) of God speaking to His people. This time period would be the beginning of the most troublesome and faith-trying times Israel ever knew and therefore would fit the last portion of Gabriel’s statement of the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem occurring in “troublesome times”.
From Nehemiah in 445 B.C. until the prophetic voice fell silent in Malachi which was in 396 B.C. was a total of 49 years! Precisely what Gabriel had told Daniel – 7 sets of 7 years for the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem.
Now, regarding the timing and work of Nehemiah and Ezra there are some arguments, but that we have it correct has strong support since Nehemiah’s initial mission is to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and Ezra 9:9 notes that Ezra found the walls in place when he arrived.
Also Nehemiah lists the returnees who came back with Zerubbabel, but he seemed to know nothing about the 5,000 or so who accompanied Ezra.
All of this conspires to indicate that Nehemiah came first and Ezra second – both under the reign of different Artaxerxes.
ALL three of these books are post-exilic books, though technically many of the Jewish people were still in exile and all of them are under pagan rule.
You remember that when we were looking at the word given to Daniel from Gabriel, that he told him to start counting from the time of the “issuing of the command to store and rebuild Jerusalem”.
After searching we discovered only 4 commands regarding Jerusalem and the temple. These were all recorded after Daniel’s encounter with Gabriel and only one of them fit the profile.
It was the fourth and final decree which was issued by Artaxerxes I and was given to Nehemiah in 445B.C. and is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-8. So we determined that the countdown had to begin in 445B.C.
You may also remember that MOST of the references we looked up for these decrees were found in this book of Ezra which we are beginning to work thru tonight.
Again, just further proof that the events covered in Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther all coincide with each other. In fact, some of the earliest evidence regarding Ezra and Nehemiah suggests that they were originally two parts of one written account.
They both describe important events in the rebuilding of the temple and finally of Jerusalem itself. These events began with an edict from Cyrus the Great in 539/538 BC.
Now, if you wanted to go back and refresh your memories and perhaps even walk away with a more complete picture of how all of this fits together you can start with our teaching on Sept. 21, 2022 entitled, ‘When a week lasts 7 years’ as well as the one on October 7, 2022 entitled, ‘Gabriel’s enigma & the Father’s love’.
In fact, some of what I am including in this introduction to Ezra, I simply lifted from those two teachings rather than reinventing the wheel all over again here.
As I said, the first decree happened in 538B.C. by Cyrus the Great. He commanded the Jews of the Babylonian exile to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
This is recorded in Ezra 1:1-8 and because we are beginning the book is Ezra tonight anyway I thought I’d go ahead and read this beginning small portion while I’ve already introduced it. It is also mentioned in chapter 5 but we will read that when we get there.
“(1) In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the LORD’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the LORD motivated King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his kingdom and also to put it in writing. It read: (2) “This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: “‘The LORD God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (3) Anyone of his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the LORD God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem. (4) Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.’” (5) Then the leaders of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and the Levites – all those whose mind God had stirred – got ready to go up in order to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem. (6) All their neighbors assisted them with silver utensils, gold, equipment, animals, and expensive gifts, not to mention all the voluntary offerings. (7) Then King Cyrus brought out the vessels of the LORD’s temple which Nebuchadnezzar had brought from Jerusalem and had displayed in the temple of his gods. (8) King Cyrus of Persia entrusted them to Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the leader of the Judahite exiles.”
The second decree was made by Darius who also was part of the Persian Empire. He commanded the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem in 517 BC which is recorded in Ezra 6:1-15, which we will read when we get there.
The third time a formal decree went out regarding the Jews and their home in Jerusalem was in 458 BC by Artaxerxes, who also was part of the Persian Empire and is recorded in Ezra 7:1, 10-28. Again we will read these when we get there.
The fourth and final decree was also issued by Artaxerxes and was given to Nehemiah in 445B.C. and is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-8,
Now this final decree is when Daniel was to start counting out the first of the 483 years of Gabriel’s enigma which was 7 sets of 7 years equalling 49 years.
What happened in that 49 year period is clearly referring to the restoration and repairing of Jerusalem as is indicated in the statement of Gabriel. Now, its pretty clear that this was not simply referring to the physical rebuilding of Jerusalem because it is a matter of historical record that much of the process was accomplished in just 52 days.
This initial, 52 day “rebuilding” was just preliminary – meaning it was a patchwork which would make the city secure, but was not a finished work.
Even still it is unlikely in the extreme that 49 years would be necessary to do a complete and final rebuilding, especially since all of the resources were being abundantly supplied to them by the King.
The command was to restore and rebuild. So if “rebuilding” was all they were to do then there was no need to say “restore”. The word restore is a Hebrew word meaning – to return, go back, accomplish again, to bring back, to reestablish.
Understanding that historically, God’s design is NEVER simply physical, His concerns are those of the heart. So this turning back and bringing back to a state of reestablishment would indicate social and moral reform as well.
Also, anyone who has ever been involved in restoring old architecture is a LOT more than a simple patch job. The artwork and detail of the temple had to be restored and this would take time. You know the Sistine chapel was not made in a day and its restoration which began in 1980 wasn’t completed until 14 years later!
The two major players involved in this rebuild and restore effort were Nehemiah and Ezra.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, reveal God’s work of restoring and renewing His people. They both describe the hard work that went into that effort, but as is true in all of scripture there is a greater, more spiritual story being told within the very narratives of the physical labor.
Ezra and Nehemiah were called to lead in the restoration of the city and temple of God in Jerusalem, which were physical representations of God’s immaterial and spiritual kingdom. All of this was being done in a hostile environment of pagan rule, in which they nevertheless were given unprecedented favor with the world.
Not to leave out the pivotal person, work and book of Esther, it too plays a part in this story. In particular, her story takes place between chapters 6 and 7 of Ezra. Between the events of these chapters there is a 60-year gap during which the events of the book of Esther took place under the reign of the Persian King Xerxes, who ruled from 486-465 BC.
Approximately 80 years after the first exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem, Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, allowed Ezra and a second group of exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem. They returned in the winter of 458 BC.
Unlike Ezra and Nehemiah, the book of Esther does not focus upon the restoration of Jerusalem, but on treacherous events occurring in Persia when Xerxes was king (485-465 BC). Just to keep you in the timeline, the Artaxerxes which Nehemiah was serving was the son of this king Xerxes to whom Esther became married in her saving of the Jews.
While the sovereign work and hand of God are CLEARLY seen in the book of Esther, curiously enough, God is actually never specifically mentioned.
So now that you are better acquainted with the biblical figures who were part of these events and time, as well as what God was doing in His sovereign power for His people. We will continue on in Ezra where we left off earlier in Chapter 1 verse 8.
“(8) King Cyrus of Persia entrusted them to Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the leader of the Judahite exiles. (9) The inventory of these items was as follows: 30 gold basins, 1,000 silver basins, 29 silver utensils, (10) 30 gold bowls, 410 other silver bowls, and 1,000 other vessels. (11) All these gold and silver vessels totaled 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought them all along when the captives were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem.”
“(1) These are the people of the province who were going up, from the captives of the exile whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had forced into exile in Babylon. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own city.
(2) They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah. The number of Israelites was as follows:
(3) the descendants of Parosh: 2,172;
(4) the descendants of Shephatiah: 372;
(5) the descendants of Arah: 775;
(6) the descendants of Pahath–Moab (from the line of Jeshua and Joab): 2,812;
(7) the descendants of Elam: 1,254;
(8) the descendants of Zattu: 945;
(9) the descendants of Zaccai: 760;
(10) the descendants of Bani: 642;
(11) the descendants of Bebai: 623;
(12) the descendants of Azgad: 1,222;
(13) the descendants of Adonikam: 666;
(14) the descendants of Bigvai: 2,056;
(15) the descendants of Adin: 454;
(16) the descendants of Ater (through Hezekiah): 98;
(17) the descendants of Bezai: 323;
(18) the descendants of Jorah: 112;
(19) the descendants of Hashum: 223;
(20) the descendants of Gibbar: 95.
(21) The men of Bethlehem: 123;
(22) the men of Netophah: 56;
(23) the men of Anathoth: 128;
(24) the men of the family of Azmaveth: 42;
(25) the men of Kiriath Jearim, Kephirah and Beeroth: 743;
(26) the men of Ramah and Geba: 621;
(27) the men of Micmash: 122;
(28) the men of Bethel and Ai: 223;
(29) the descendants of Nebo: 52;
(30) the descendants of Magbish: 156;
(31) the descendants of the other Elam: 1,254;
(32) the descendants of Harim: 320;
(33) the men of Lod, Hadid, and Ono: 725;
(34) the men of Jericho: 345;
(35) the descendants of Senaah: 3,630.
(36) The priests: the descendants of Jedaiah (through the family of Jeshua): 973;
(37) the descendants of Immer: 1,052;
(38) the descendants of Pashhur: 1,247;
(39) the descendants of Harim: 1,017.
(40) The Levites: the descendants of Jeshua and Kadmiel (through the line of Hodaviah): 74.
(41) The singers: the descendants of Asaph: 128.
(42) The gatekeepers: the descendants of Shallum, the descendants of Ater, the descendants of Talmon, the descendants of Akkub, the descendants of Hatita, and the descendants of Shobai: 139.
(43) The temple servants: the descendants of Ziha, the descendants of Hasupha, the descendants of Tabbaoth, (44) the descendants of Keros, the descendants of Siaha, the descendants of Padon, (45) the descendants of Lebanah, the descendants of Hagabah, the descendants of Akkub, (46) the descendants of Hagab, the descendants of Shalmai, the descendants of Hanan, (47) the descendants of Giddel, the descendants of Gahar, the descendants of Reaiah, (48) the descendants of Rezin, the descendants of Nekoda, the descendants of Gazzam, (49) the descendants of Uzzah, the descendants of Paseah, the descendants of Besai, (50) the descendants of Asnah, the descendants of Meunim, the descendants of Nephussim, (51) the descendants of Bakbuk, the descendants of Hakupha, the descendants of Harhur, (52) the descendants of Bazluth, the descendants of Mehida, the descendants of Harsha, (53) the descendants of Barkos, the descendants of Sisera, the descendants of Temah, (54) the descendants of Neziah, and the descendants of Hatipha.
(55) The descendants of the servants of Solomon: the descendants of Sotai, the descendants of Hassophereth, the descendants of Peruda, (56) the descendants of Jaala, the descendants of Darkon, the descendants of Giddel, (57) the descendants of Shephatiah, the descendants of Hattil, the descendants of Pokereth–Hazzebaim, and the descendants of Ami. (58) All the temple servants and the descendants of the servants of Solomon: 392.
(59) These are the ones that came up from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon, and Immer (although they were unable to certify their family connection or their ancestry, as to whether they really were from Israel): (60) the descendants of Delaiah, the descendants of Tobiah, and the descendants of Nekoda: 652.
(61) And from among the priests: the descendants of Hobaiah, the descendants of Hakkoz, and the descendants of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name). (62) They searched for their records in the genealogical materials, but did not find them. They were therefore excluded from the priesthood. (63) The governor instructed them not to eat any of the sacred food until there was a priest who could consult the Urim and Thummim. (64) The entire group numbered 42,360, (65) not counting their male and female servants, who numbered 7,337.
They also had 200 male and female singers (66) and 736 horses, 245 mules, (67) 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys.
(68) When they came to the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, some of the family leaders offered voluntary offerings for the temple of God in order to rebuild it on its site.
(69) As they were able, they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 drachmas of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priestly robes.
(70) The priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel lived in their towns.”
“(1) When the seventh month arrived and the Israelites were living in their towns, the people assembled in Jerusalem. (2) Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his priestly colleagues and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his colleagues started to build the altar of the God of Israel so they could offer burnt offerings on it as required by the law of Moses the man of God.
(3) They established the altar on its foundations, even though they were in terror of the local peoples, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and the evening offerings.
(4) They observed the Feast of Shelters as required and offered the proper number of daily burnt offerings according to the requirement for each day.
(5) Afterward they offered the continual burnt offerings and those for the new moons and those for all the holy assemblies of the LORD and all those that were being voluntarily offered to the LORD.
(6) From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD. However, the LORD’s temple was not at that time established.
(7) So they provided money for the masons and carpenters, and food, beverages, and olive oil for the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar timber from Lebanon to the seaport at Joppa, in accord with the edict of King Cyrus of Persia.
(8) In the second year after they had come to the temple of God in Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak initiated the work, along with the rest of their associates, the priests and the Levites, and all those who were coming to Jerusalem from the exile.
They appointed the Levites who were at least twenty years old to take charge of the work on the LORD’s temple.
(9) So Jeshua appointed both his sons and his relatives, Kadmiel and his sons (the sons of Yehudah), to take charge of the workers in the temple of God, along with the sons of Henadad, their sons, and their relatives the Levites.
(10) When the builders established the LORD’s temple, the priests, ceremonially attired and with their clarions, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with their cymbals, stood to praise the LORD according to the instructions left by King David of Israel.
(11) With antiphonal response they sang, praising and glorifying the LORD: “For He is good; His loyal love toward Israel is forever.” All the people gave a loud shout as they praised the LORD when the temple of the LORD was established.
(12) Many of the priests, the Levites, and the leaders – older people who had seen with their own eyes the former temple while it was still established – were weeping loudly, and many others raised their voice in a joyous shout.
(13) People were unable to tell the difference between the sound of joyous shouting and the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people were shouting so loudly that the sound was heard a long way off.”
“(1) When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin learned that the former exiles were building a temple for the LORD God of Israel, (2) they came to Zerubbabel and the leaders and said to them, “Let us help you build, for like you we seek your God and we have been sacrificing to Him from the time of King Esarhaddon of Assyria, who brought us here.”
(3) But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the leaders of Israel said to them, “You have no right to help us build the temple of our God. We will build it by ourselves for the LORD God of Israel, just as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, has commanded us.”
(4) Then the local people began to discourage the people of Judah and to dishearten them from building.
(5) They were hiring advisers to oppose them, so as to frustrate their plans, throughout the time of King Cyrus of Persia until the reign of King Darius of Persia.
(6) At the beginning of the reign of Ahasuerus they filed an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. (7) And during the reign of Artaxerxes, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their colleagues wrote to King Artaxerxes of Persia.
This letter was first written in Aramaic but then translated. [Aramaic:] (8) Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter concerning Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes as follows:
(9) From Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues – the judges, the rulers, the officials, the secretaries, the Erechites, the Babylonians, the people of Susa (that is, the Elamites), (10) and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and other places in Trans–Euphrates.
(11) (This is a copy of the letter they sent to him:) “To King Artaxerxes, from your servants in Trans–Euphrates: (12) Now let the king be aware that the Jews who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and odious city. They are completing its walls and repairing its foundations. (13) Let the king also be aware that if this city is built and its walls are completed, no more tax, custom, or toll will be paid, and the royal treasury will suffer loss.
(14) In light of the fact that we are loyal to the king, and since it does not seem appropriate to us that the king should sustain damage, we are sending the king this information (15) so that he may initiate a search of the records of his predecessors and discover in those records that this city is rebellious and injurious to both kings and provinces, producing internal revolts from long ago. It is for this very reason that this city was destroyed.
(16) We therefore are informing the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, you will not retain control of this portion of Trans–Euphrates.”
(17) The king sent the following response:
“To Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues who live in Samaria and other parts of Trans–Euphrates: Greetings!
(18) The letter you sent to us has been translated and read in my presence. (19) So I gave orders, and it was determined that this city from long ago has been engaging in insurrection against kings. It has continually engaged in rebellion and revolt.
(20) Powerful kings have been over Jerusalem who ruled throughout the entire Trans–Euphrates and who were the beneficiaries of tribute, custom, and toll.
(21) Now give orders that these men cease their work and that this city not be rebuilt until such time as I so instruct.
(22) Exercise appropriate caution so that there is no negligence in this matter. Why should danger increase to the point that kings sustain damage?”
(23) Then, as soon as the copy of the letter from King Artaxerxes was read in the presence of Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their colleagues, they proceeded promptly to the Jews in Jerusalem and stopped them with threat of armed force.
(24) So the work on the temple of God in Jerusalem came to a halt. It remained halted until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia.”
- Fausset, A.R. (1998), Fausset’s Bible Dictionary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
- Wilson, R. Dick (1996), “Artaxerxes,” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).