The Third in a Series on Ezra-Nehemiah
At Christ Reformed Church, we often focus upon the fact that God keeps his promises–we do this because we focus upon redemptive history as the basis for our teaching and preaching. Redemptive history is the outworking of God’s plan to redeem sinners, unfolding across time in the pages of Holy Scripture. God promised to redeem his people from sin and the curse immediately after the fall of our race into sin (cf. Genesis 3:15), and throughout the Bible we see a series of such promises find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In Ezra chapter 3, we witness one of the great moments in the story of our redemption, when 42,360 Jewish exiles return to Jerusalem from Babylon, fulfilling God’s promise that his people would be exiled from the promised land, only to return seventy years later. When the Israelites do return, they begin rebuilding their temple, their capital city (Jerusalem), and then seek re-establish themselves in the land given them by God. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah recount this tumultuous period in Israel’s history.
It is easy to imagine the overwhelming and simultaneous sense of joy and loss the people of Israel felt when they returned home to Judah and began to survey what remained of their beloved city and its temple. We can understand the sense of loss they felt upon returning to their homes and finding everything in ruins. We understand the joy they felt when they first began to see progress at the temple site. We can imagine the hope of loss restored, and the rekindling or their faith brought about by witnessing YHWH’s covenant promises come to pass before their very eyes. In their story, we too find hope in the midst of our own struggles and difficult circumstances as we witness, in the people of Israel, now back in their land, God keeping promises made to his ancient people (Israel). God’s people will possess the land promised to them once again, they will rebuild their city and their temple, and then they will once again worship YHWH (the true and living God) in his temple as a testimony to the pagan peoples around them. Ezra’s account reminds us that God always keeps his promises made to his people–even when the circumstances seem to indicate otherwise.
As we continue with our series on the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we come to Ezra 3 and the account of God’s exile people, back in their land, struggling to start over after seventy years in captivity. Their nation had been divided centuries before, and scattered families from both kingdoms (the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah) remained in the land to greet the exiles when they returned. But even as those who remained in the land greeted them, so did the realization that their magnificent temple, “the house of God” which was originally built by Solomon, now lay in ruins. Their beloved city of Jerusalem was desolate and sparsely populated since most of the city’s inhabitants had been rounded-up and hauled off into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar.
Things were a far cry from the glory days when Israel’s kingdom (under David and Solomon) extended as far to the northeast as the River Euphrates (in what is now Iraq), as far east as the Arabian desert (Jordan), and as far to the southwest as the River of Egypt (Gaza). In 587 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah, fell to the Babylonians, who took between twenty-two and two hundred thousand Jews into captivity in Babylon. But as Ezra reports, there has been a complete reversal of fortune. In 538, the Persian king Cyrus–stirred by YHWH’s mighty hand–set free the captive Jews, who, with Cyrus’s help, returned to the promised land in what Ezra describes as a second Exodus.
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