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.
To compound matters, the Judeans themselves struggled to make a living. The land that they came back to, was desolate and the prophet Haggai tells us that their labours had met with failure. Poverty was also one of the reasons why the work on the temple made little progress.
Things changed with the accession of the third Persian monarch Darius I in 522 BC. The temple was completed in five years and dedicated on the Sabbath, in the month of Adar, the last month of the Jewish calendar. The temple was dedicated on March 12, 515.
The first reading of today describes the sacrifice made in the temple in the day of dedication. The offerings were poor, when compared with Solomon’s ‘two and twenty thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep’. But this was understandable. The fact that they achieved this much itself was praise worthy.
The book of Ezra can be divided into two parts. Today’s reading brings to a close the first part which focuses on the return from exile (1:1–6:22). Our lectionary has just three reading, this week taken from the book of Ezra. The third and final reading will be tomorrow and is taken from the second part of the book of Ezra which deals with the work of Ezra (7:1–10:44) which is often referred to as the ‘Ezra memoirs’ for he speaks in the first person. This is the only source of the person and the work of this prophet.
Fr Warner D’Souza
Compiled from various sources.
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