Ezra and Nehemiah were great leaders that recorded the history of post-exilic Jews. This history occurred during the first half of the Persian Empire, which continued from 539 b.c., when Babylon was conquered by Cyrus, until, the death of Darius III in 331 b.c., when the empire fell and was succeeded by Alexander the Great. The history began “in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia” (Ezra 1:1), who was a wise and sympathetic ruler.
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The Jews’ Return From the Exile
When Cyrus conquered Babylon, he got the chance to meet the aged Daniel. For Nebuchadnezzar loved Daniel and make him his trusted counselor. It is very likely that Daniel revealed to Cyrus Isaiah’s prophecies concerning him and his heavenly appointed role in restoring God’s people to their land (Isaiah 44:21 to 45:13). Consequently, Cyrus gave the Jews the permission to go back to their land and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:2).
When the Jews returned to Babylon, they were faced with hostile neighbors such as the Samaritans. And because Cyrus was busy uniting his wide spread empire, these enemies triumphed in deterring the Jews in their work of rebuilding the Temple. Cyrus died in a crusade against the eastern tribes after 9 years from the fall of Babylon. And his eldest son did not actively assist the Jews in rebuilding the Temple. Also, the rule of the false Smerdis was another setback for the Jews and the temple work stopped due to the Samaritans.
The Ministry of Ezra and Nehemiah
The era of Darius the Great was famous for its success and order. For he permitted continuation of the work in the temple. Therefore, a new foundation were laid for it. And the Jews prospered during his wise and stable reign. Finally, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah finished the building of the Temple and dedicated it in the sixth regnal year of Darius, 515 b.c.
Ezra gave no record of the next nearly 60 years. Then, in 457 b.c., King Artaxerxes sent Ezra back to Judea, with more authority to restructure the nation’s government after Moses’ law. So, Ezra recorded his return and some of his reforms. But again, he doesn’t record for more than ten years, till Nehemiah became a governor, and he reported his own actions in his book.
When Darius decided to invade Greece, the empire experienced instability. The next two kings, Xerxes and Artaxerxes I, were weak. It was during a serious rebellion in Egypt (463–454 b.c.) that Ezra received major concessions for the Jews, for Artaxerxes needed their good will in this unstable period.
Later, when the ruler to which Judea belonged rebelled (after 450 b.c.), Artaxerxes supported the Samaritans and he authorized the ruler to stop the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. But when order was restored, Nehemiah, succeeded in obtaining a royal appointment as governor of Judea, and completed the rebuilding of the city wall in spite of the opposition. He served as governor for two terms and was a successful and religious leader.
God gave the Jews another opportunity to fulfill His eternal purposes as a nation. And He fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah (ch. 44:21 to 45:13) and Jeremiah (ch. 25:11-12 ; 29:10). Thus, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah show how a few people can do great things for God when they are led by godly, brave, and dedicated leaders.
In His service,