In Ezra, why did most of the Jews refuse to return to Jerusalem?

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The return to Jerusalem

Ezra recorded that King Cyrus of Persia granted the Jews in exile the permission to return to Jerusalem. And in response to the King’s decree, “the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings” (Ezra 1:5–6).

The Jews were in Babylon for 70 years but only a relative minority of the exiles returned. The original company, consisted of patriots and zealots. These were willing to risk all for their nation and God. Also, maybe some returned who had nothing more to lose by relocating and who could only advance their life by the move.

The ones that returned were part of God’s design to rebuild the city and restart temple worship in fulfillment of God’s promises as spoken by Jeremiah. For he said, “For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10).

Reasons for not returning

The trip back to Jerusalem was about 900 miles away. Therefore, some might have feared that they will not be able to endure the journey because of their infants, elderly or the disabled. Others feared for their safety. Even Ezra prayed and fasted for the safety of those that traveled back (Ezra 8:24–36). “The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way” (v. 31).

Many had come to value the wealth in Babylon, as cuneiform reveal. And they were not ready to leave all they had assimilated in exchange for an unknown future in deserted Judea. Some of them have even reached high positions during the reign of Cyrus. And they didn’t want to leave their posts. These refused to leave the comforts of Babylon.

Some who remained behind may have justified their decision by quoting Jeremiah’s instructions of more than half a century earlier, that to build houses, plant fields, found families, and take a dynamic interest in the welfare of their land of exile (Jeremiah 29:4–7). However, Jeremiah’s prophecy was given for a limited time – the duration of exile period. Also, others didn’t have a spiritual concern. They didn’t wish to be troubled with rebuilding God’s temple and be part of His work.

In any case, those that remained had to at some point face the persecution by the Persians at the time of Queen Esther. It is for these reasons, that later further attempts were again taken to lead back to Judea many who had remained behind in the original return movement (Ezra 7:7; Zechariah 6:10).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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