Cyrus the Great, king of the Achaemenid Empire, was the monarch who ended the Babylonian captivity. In the first year of his reign, he was prompted by God to decree that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt and that Jews who wished to return to their homeland were free to do so.

The captivity formally ended in 538 B.C., when the Persian conqueror of Babylonia, Cyrus the Great, gave the Jews permission to return to Palestine.

1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:

2 This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:

“‘ The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem'” (Ezra 1:1-4 NIV).

With this command, the way home was eased. Anyone along the way was required to help them with money, goods, or any other need those journeying home might require.

After several emperors of Cyrus’ lineage had filled the throne, Artaxerxes became king in 465 B.C.

Meanwhile, Ezra the priest was still busy studying the Biblical Law while living in Persia. A disciple of Baruch ben Neriah, he favored study of the Law over the reconstruction of the Temple and thus because of his studies, he did not join the first party returning to Jerusalem in the reign of Cyrus. (Source)

Ezra the priest was still living in Babylon when in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I, king of Persia (c. 457 B.C.) the king SENT him to Jerusalem to teach the laws of God to any who did not know them.

Artaxerxes COMMISSIONS him to return to Jerusalem as governor, where he, Ezra, defies the opposition of Judah’s enemies on all sides—Samaritans, Ammonites, Arabs, and Philistines, same old enemies—to rebuild the walls. He enforces the cancellation of debts among the Jews, and rules with justice and righteousness” (source).

  1. Ezra 5:1. Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel who was over them.
  2. Ezra 6:14. So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia.
  3. Haggai 1:1. The Command to Rebuild the Temple. In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest
  4. Haggai 1:3. Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Is it now a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this [the temple] lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothes yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD” (Haggai 1:3-6 ESV).

This was a significant change. Their homes in Jerusalem had been built, but now it’s time to build the temple. But, there’s more the Lord has to say:

The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying: I am about to shake the heavens and the earth 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations and overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders shall fall, every one by the sword of a comrade. 23 On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the Lord, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts(Haggai 2:20-23 NRSVUE).

A signet ring was evidence of royalty. The signet ring provided evidence of royal authority and ownership. Like a king sealing legal documents with his ring, the Lord will set his authentic impression upon the world through his roy representative, Zerubbabel, a descendant of one previous discarded (Jeremiah 22:24-27), is the ring placed back on the hand of the divine King. God’s promise to bless his people and the whole world through the house of David still stands (Matthew 1:1).

The Lord rolls up his sleeves, reinstating the lineage of David for the throne in Jerusalem. All those years of captivity, of not knowing if they would ever go home again, if the lineage of David had been destroyed, if they would ever gain the chance to show their faithfulness to their God, well that is all passed.

Messianic Lineage.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:12-16 ESV).

All those years, there were lineages listed that contained the seed of Messiah. But now, at last, the lineage of Messiah is being restored as the crowned king of Judah, Zerubbabel.

The words of that prophesy apply: Zerubbabel is the man, the one whom God calls “my servant,” whom God says will be made “like a signet ring,” the ring wore by the king used to certify documents.

Why? Because God has chosen him. It is time for everything to change. Zerubbabel is the man. This is also a Messianic statement, for Messiah is the goal of this human lineage which Zerubbabel carries forward. And all that is stated here will be fulfilled at that time when Messiah reigns.

God loves His people. He made a way through first Cyrus the Persian, and then Artaxerxes I, ruler of Persia, for the Jewish people to return to rebuild their homeland with Ezra the priest leading them. The Lord has named a king for the people: Zerubbabel.

Ezra finally left Babylon after wrapping up his study of the Law. He led a large body of exiles back to Jerusalem. The journey from Babylon to Jerusalem took Ezra the priest and the caravan he was traveling with four months to traverse the newly excavated 900 miles of road (1,448 km). An army could have traveled much faster, but Ezra’s entourage probably included children and elderly people.5

Once in Jerusalem, he discovered that Jewish men there had been marrying non-Jewish women, which was forbidden. Then he rolled up his priestly sleeves and got busy.

With so many things going well, of course, there now was a challenge.

On their journey out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, while Israel had been staying at Shittim, “the people had begun to have sexual relations with the women of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.Thus Israel yoked itself to the Baal of Peor, and the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3 NRSVUE).

And now as they’re leaving Persia, the priests who had lived and grown up in Persia were repeating this — having sexual relations with non-Jewish women, inserting bits and pieces of these women’s paganism into the worship of God, thereby bringing Baal into their worship.

Malachi exposed the priest’s offenses and rebuked them for condoning these forbidden marriages, thereby violating the Lord’s covenant with Levi, which involved keeping the lineage of Israel pure for Messiah, and for their interactions with God to be pure, holy, and obedient.

Through Moses the Lord had spoken to the people who were leaving Egypt behind, saying: 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites. 12 Therefore say, ‘I hereby grant him my covenant of peace. 13 It shall be for him and for his descendants after him a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was zealous for his God and made atonement for the Israelites’” (Numbers 25:10-13 NRSVUE).

And now, on this second trip back to the Promised Land again, we see the failures of the priests to guide and to lead their people during their captivity, seventy years of living in a pagan culture surrounded by those who did not worship Yahweh, all while giving no guidance to the people.

God wants us to know: 

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?‘ (Malachi 1:6 NRSVUE).

Once more it’s the issue of Jacob have I loved.

The Lord has loved His people, the descendants of Jacob — Israel, keeping them a people group even through a captivity of seventy years in a foreign land, surrounded by many with pagan beliefs.

The Lord knows how the behavior of the priests can either turn the people toward Him or away from Him, and so…The Lord addresses the priests because they ought to be leaders in piety to the rest of the people, but instead, “they are rather the foremost in despising His name.”

The priests have failed in the purpose and their responsibility.

We don’t talk much about “reverential fear” of the LORD, but our love and commitment to Him enable us to recognize the need to respect and to exalt His holy Name.

Our God holds the power of life and of death. He is the Creator of the universe.

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