As I was saying, Cyrus, the King of Persia, decided that he needed to build a temple to God in Jerusalem (God moved him to do this, obviously). The Persians get a bad rap, because the 300 was an awesome movie, but as far as ancient warmongers go, they were actually pretty cool. They would totally conquer the shit out of you, but then they would let you live pretty much the way you had lived before. No getting carried off into slavery, being forced into worshipping/living like the Persians, or other stuff like that (for the most part).
Cyrus asked that those surviving Israelites who wished to go home and build the temple give any gold or other rich stuff that they had to the cause. It was to go to the temple, not to Cyrus or Persia. Aaaaaaand theres a huge list of those who returned to Israel, including those who were eligible to re-enter the priesthood. Any priests who had lost track of their family record could no longer be priests, as they couldn’t prove that they were Levites.
Once the Israelites had been given time to settle back into their homes, they all met in Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the temple. They began by building the altar in the same spot it had stood before. And they immediately began offering animal sacrifices and worshipping God as the Laws of Moses instructed.
Before long, the first stone was laid for the new temple. Everybody cried, shouted, and just made a lot of noise in general (happy noises). As the Israelites built the new temple, some of the neighboring people tried to discourage the Israelites and trick them into giving up their endeavor, but they weren’t having it. They kept building.
Over time, tensions mounted, and during the reign of Artaxerxes of Persia, someone in a community neighoring Jerusalem sent a letter to the Persian king. It said that the king ought to put an end to the rebuilding of the city. The writer says that the city has been a rebellious and troublesome city since ancient times, which is why it was sacked in the first place and ought not to be allowed to rebuild. I mean really, can you disagree? How many wars did these people get into? (This letter also includes the first use of the word “Jews” I’ve seen so far.) At which point, Artaxerxes looked into the history of Jerusalem and realized that whomever had written the letter was right. The city had a history of causing trouble. In the King’s response, he asks the writers of the original letter to go to Jerusalem and order the “Jews” to stop building until further notice.
The Israelites followed orders for quite some time, until some heard-headed elders began rebuilding again without permission. At this point Artaxerxes was dead and Darius was king of Persia. The same group that wrote the original letter found out that the Israelites had continued work and sent another letter to Darius. In it, the writer talks about how the Israelites had been questioned about why they had resumed work and by whose command. The Israelites response was that Cyrus had decreed that the temple be rebuilt, and they were doing so under his orders.
So, Darius decided to look into this. In the Babylonian archives ( I wanna go!!!!!!) they found a decree from King Cyrus. In it, he says that the temple is to be rebuilt. Not only that but all of the riches taken form the temple by the Babylonians is to be returned to their rightful places, the royal treasury will foot the bill, and Persia will also supply animals for the sacrifices. Anything and everything possible is to be done if it will aid the Israelites in completing the temple.
Since that’s pretty straight forward, Darius commanded that Israelites be allowed to finish the temple. And they did. Guess what happened then? You guessed it. Dead animals. Everywhere. Then the priests were placed and the whole place organized to fit with the Laws of Moses, and they held Passover. More dead animals.
During Artaxerxes’ reign, an Israelite named Ezra made his way to Jerusalem. He had dedicated his life to studying the Laws of Moses and was well versed. Artaxerxes, of course, was the guy who put a hold on the temple-building fun. So you might surprised that he sent a bunch more Jews (including Ezra) back to Jerusalem with a letter stating that they could use the royal coffers for all of their needs. The letter also gave Ezra the go ahead to appoint officials and punish wrong doers.
Insert another list of names returning to Jerusalem here.
On the way back to Jerusalem, Ezra did not request any bodyguards or fighting men to go with his people and keep them safe. He understood that he needed to trust in God for those needs, not in other people. Hear that, gun lovers? Put the gun down and trust in God. Relying on anything but Him to protect you is a grievous sin. Anyway, it worked and everyone got back to Jerusalem safely.
When Ezra got there, he had to do some serious robe tearing. The Israelites were already totally screwing up in the eyes of God. They had (even the priests and officials) already begun intermarrying with outsiders, spoiling their holy blood. Ezra immediately fell to his knees and prayed to God about how badly the people had screwed up.
While Ezra was blubbering about on the ground, he gained quite a crowd of spectators. After a while, the crowd began to cry and pray as well. It was quickly decided that this matter of intermarrying needed to be taken care of ASAP. So, Ezra and other officials brought the heads of house in one at a time and heard their cases. Anyone guilty of intermarriage had to send his wife and children away, never to be seen again. Seems fair to the women and children left with nothing in the middle of the desert, having done nothing but not be Jewish.
Insert list of naughty intermarriers. (There were a lot of them.)
The end. Up next, Nehemiah.