Temple Testimonies- Tuesday, 25th week in ordinary time – Ezra 6:7-8, 12B, 14-20

The book of Ezra outlines the return of the people of Israel from the Babylonian captivity. For seventy years they lived in the hope that one day they would go back to their homeland and temple. All that came to pass when the Persians defeated the Babylonians.

The Persian King Cyrus decreed the return of the exiled Jews back to their homeland. This return took place in a phased manner spanning three trips. The first group of Jews who returned were led by Zerubbabel, a descendant of King David, the second batch of exiles returned under Ezra the priest, in 458 BC and the third group to return were led by Nehemiah in 444 B.C.

Each one of these three leaders had an important job to do in rebuilding the nation of Judah. The temple of God was rebuilt under Zerubbabel’s leadership. Ezra reorganized the temple worship and Nehemiah, who was a “cup-bearer” to King Artaxerxes of Persia, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the history of God’s people during the rule of the Persian Empire. Ezra was a priest. His great-grandfather was Hilkiah, the high priest when Josiah was king. It is likely that Ezra’s parents were among those who were taken to Babylon. Therefore, he must have been born in Babylon.

Returning to Jerusalem was hard for all. The land had remained untilled and therefore unproductive. The city was in ruins but more than anything, the heart of every Jew was broken when they returned, for the temple was destroyed. Within seven months of their return, the Jews began to work on the altar of the temple.

King Cyrus was followed by King Cambyses under whom the work on the temple comes to a grinding halt. It was in this period that Samaritans, the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin, desired to help with the rebuilding of the temple. This offer was flatly denied by Zerubbabel, leading to complaints to the king. As a result, the work on the temple was suspended during the reign of King Cambyses.

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