Ezra 1-2: The Return

There is nothing quite like going home... but sometimes things are not how we remember them. 

Written by Mike Biolsi on .


We have been studying the history of Israel. One way to do this is to use the reign of the kings as your timeline. You can use both kings of Israel and kings of other countries. We have covered Saul, David, Solomon and others. A few weeks ago we looked at the most famous of the kings of Judah, Hezekiah.

Hezekiah reigned from 715 to 687 BC and God told him that because of his faithfulness, Judah would not go into exile during his lifetime. Judah went into exile in 587/586 BC. That is over 100 years later!

All of this was recorded in the book of 2 Chronicles.

As a matter of fact, if you want to trace the history of Israel through the kings of Israel, you can actually got through 1 & 2 Chronicles because that is what they are all about!

Let’s do a high speed scan of what happened after Hezekiah:

2 Chron 33 - King Manasseh (Hezekiah's son) 55 year reign 😠

2 Chron 33:21 - King Amon (Manasseh’s son) 2 year reign 😠

2 Chron 34 - King Josiah (Amon’s son) 31 year reign starting at age 8 😄

2 Chronicles 34:1–3 CSB

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. He did what was right in the Lord’s sight and walked in the ways of his ancestor David; he did not turn aside to the right or the left. In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still a youth, Josiah began to seek the God of his ancestor David, and in the twelfth year he began to cleanse Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherah poles, the carved images, and the cast images.

This story should sound familiar, eh? This is the story of Hezekiah all over again! It is a leader who decides to follow God and get rid of the things that displease God.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many themes like this repeated over and over in the Bible? Because each man, woman and child must choose whom they will serve and live for - themselves or God.

As Josiah’s people cleaned out the temple they came across the book of the law that God had given to Moses.

2 Chronicles 34:19–21 CSB

When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes. Then he commanded Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, the court secretary Shaphan, and the king’s servant Asaiah, “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for those remaining in Israel and Judah, concerning the words of the book that was found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is poured out on us because our ancestors have not kept the word of the Lord in order to do everything written in this book.”

When those men went to speak to the prophetess, Huldah. She told the messengers of the destruction that was going to come to Judah, but then said this:

2 Chronicles 34:26–28 CSB

Say this to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the Lord: ‘This is what the Lord God of Israel says: As for the words that you heard, because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before me, and you tore your clothes and wept before me, I myself have heard’—this is the Lord’s declaration. ‘I will indeed gather you to your ancestors, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster that I am bringing on this place and on its inhabitants.’ ” Then they reported to the king.

Josiah does some really amazing things, like hosting a national Passover celebration like none that had ever happened before. But eventually, Josiah dies and his son took over.

2 Chron 36 - King Jehoahaz (son of Josiah - appointed by the common people) 3 month reign. This is the first time we hear of the “common people” appointing a king. Previously, this was something done by the prophets as directed by God. Perhaps this was a final culmination of their departure from trusting God and seeking him?

2 Chron 36:4 - King Eliakim (brother of Jehoahaz - appointed by King Neco of Egypt who changed his name to Jehoiakim) 11 year reign 😠 King Nebuchadnezzar attacked him and carried him off to Babylon.

2 Chron 36:9 - King Jehoiachin (son of Eliakim/Jehoiakim) 3 months, 10 day reign 😠

2 Chron 36:11 - King Zedekiah (Jehoiachin’s brother appointed by Nebuchadnezzar) 11 year reign 😠

2 Chronicles 36:11–14 CSB

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God and did not humble himself before the prophet Jeremiah at the Lord’s command. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar who had made him swear allegiance by God. He became obstinate and hardened his heart against returning to the Lord, the God of Israel. All the leaders of the priests and the people multiplied their unfaithful deeds, imitating all the detestable practices of the nations, and they defiled the Lord’s temple that he had consecrated in Jerusalem.

IF YOU ADD ALL THAT UP, it is approximately 111 years from the time of Hezekiah’s death.

2 Chronicles 36:15–18 CSB

But the Lord, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of his messengers, sending them time and time again, for he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against his people that there was no remedy. So he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their fit young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary. He had no pity on young men or young women, elderly or aged; he handed them all over to him. He took everything to Babylon—all the articles of God’s temple, large and small, the treasures of the Lord’s temple, and the treasures of the king and his officials.

THIS passage is one you will hear quite a bit about in the NT! It is not quoted word for word but the concept of ignoring the prophets sent by God.

2 Chronicles 36:19 CSB

Then the Chaldeans burned God’s temple. They tore down Jerusalem’s wall, burned all its palaces, and destroyed all its valuable articles.

So, this king of the Chaldeans who utterly destroyed anyone who could fight. He burned the temple, tore down the walls and burned it palaces.

2 Chronicles 36:20–21 CSB

He deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah, and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until seventy years were fulfilled.

WHOA.... time out. What was the message of Jeremiah?

Jeremiah 25:11 CSB

This whole land will become a desolate ruin, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years.

Jeremiah proclaimed this message during his ministry which was from 627-586 BC - right into the Babylonian exile in 587/586 BC.

We should note that the Northern Kingdom was taken over by Assyrian in 722 BC, so they had been in exile for about 136 years BEFORE the Babylonian exile began. Add 70 years to that and it is over 200 years in exile.

If you have been tracking the prophets with us, you should be familiar with the concept of punishment and hope. They are conjoined. They belong together. The punishment must happen but the mercy of God and faithfulness to HIS promises and HIS mission of restoring mankind provide hope for the future.

When we looked at Jeremiah together, we referenced this famous coffee mug verse:

Jeremiah 29:10–14 CSB

For this is what the Lord says: “When seventy years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm my promise concerning you to restore you to this place. For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. I will be found by you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place from which I deported you.”

Notice the words, “attend”, “confirm”, “restore”, well-being”, “future”, “hope”. The word RESTORE shows up 3 times. God’s punishment was meant to bring about restoration and healing. Though the destruction was brutal and the deportation vast, the hope of a remnant, the hope of return was always in view.

“I will restore you to the place from which I deported you.”

The end of the book of 2 Chronicles is the same as the beginning of the book of Ezra. This was a way of linking scrolls together. We are familiar with this literary method as we use it with TV series all the time: “Previously on this show...”

Here is how 2 Chronicles ends

2 Chronicles 36:22–23 CSB

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and also to put it in writing: This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: The Lord, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a temple at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord his God be with him.

Ezra 1:1–4 CSB

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing: This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. Let every survivor, wherever he resides, be assisted by the men of that region with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.”

This book of Ezra is the beginning of the record of the people being restored to the land, after exile. Ezra is really the next historical narrative after 2 Chronicles - at least chronologically speaking.

There are some things that should make us pause:

It was Cyrus, king of Persia that was hearing the voice of God, not a prophet.

the king of Persia who was commissioned to build the house of Yahweh. David could not because he was a man of war, but this pagan king could?

The king of Persia acknowledged God’s sovereignty over all kingdoms of the earth, which is something that the kings of Israel, and most of the kings of Judah failed to do. It is also something Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, failed to do - which we looked at when we studied Daniel.

The king of Persia allowed the people to return to their land. This is a totally unique style of leadership for conquering kingdoms. Israel would still be subject to Persian, but the people would be free to live on their land and even worship their God.

The king of Persia helped to fund the rebuilding of the temple! Not only does he give resources, he commands the people around them to give resources.

The King of Persia makes sure they are provided with the resources to make their offerings to Yahweh. “Freewill offerings” were something very specific to the Jews. The fact that this king knew about them and provided for them is quite spectacular.

NOTE: while some tend to make this an Exodus parallel, there is really not much that is similar. There is not an oppressive leader, but one who acknowledges God. The gifts are given to honor God, not out of fear of death by God. They are not leaving servitude.

As a matter of fact, they are entering a new era where they will be a people among the nations, separated by beliefs, convictions and practices and not necessarily by walls and a military. They will be a light to the nations from among the nations.

Ezra 1:5–11 CSB

So the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and Levites—everyone whose spirit God had roused—prepared to go up and rebuild the Lord’s house in Jerusalem. All their neighbors supported them with silver articles, gold, goods, livestock, and valuables, in addition to all that was given as a freewill offering. King Cyrus also brought out the articles of the Lord’s house that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and had placed in the house of his gods. King Cyrus of Persia had them brought out under the supervision of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. This was the inventory: 30 gold basins, 1,000 silver basins, 29 silver knives, 30 gold bowls, 410 various silver bowls, and 1,000 other articles. The gold and silver articles totaled 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought all of them when the exiles went up from Babylon to Jerusalem.

Did you notice who went back? The 2 southern kingdoms. The 10 northern tribes are still in exile. But people from Benjamin & Judah go back to their land where the temple was to rebuild it. Oh, and some Levites.

“everyone whose spirit God had roused”

The only way anything great is done for God is when it is prompted by the spirit of God. God stirred the heart of Cyrus. God stirred the spirit of the people. God orchestrated the events and moved in the lives of humans.

And the journey back to Jerusalem began… which would take a LONG time on foot!

I asked David to read chapter 2 for us, but then decided that though it would be entertaining, it might not be beneficial. Chapter 2 lists the groups of people that returned in this first wave. There are some things to note:

They are only from Judah, Benjamin and Levi (the Levites had no land but were the caretakers of the temple.

Over 4,000 priests (descendants of Aaron) returned but only 74 Levites! That would be like having 4,000 NCOs and 74 soldiers. Think about that. There were more singers than Levites and almost twice as many gatekeepers!

Some of the priests could not prove their ancestry so they were disqualified. This attention genealogy is very significant as we will see when we study the gospel of Matthew together later this year.

Ezra 2:64–65 NLT

So a total of 42,360 people returned to Judah, in addition to 7,337 servants and 200 singers, both men and women.

That is a total of 49,897 people.

That is not really a lot of people when you think of the size of the nation of Israel prior to deportation, but it is a significant amount!

  • Fort Drum: 13,000 people
  • Watertown: 25,000 people
  • Carthage: 3,000 people
  • Lowville: 3,000 people
  • Croghan: 600
  • Black River: 1,300
  • Calcium: 3,500
  • TOTAL = 49,400 people

Ezra 2:68–70 CSB

After they arrived at the Lord’s house in Jerusalem, some of the family heads gave freewill offerings for the house of God in order to have it rebuilt on its original site. Based on what they could give, they gave 61,000 gold coins, 6,250 pounds of silver, and 100 priestly garments to the treasury for the project. The priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants, and some of the people settled in their towns, and the rest of Israel settled in their towns.

We end chapter 3 with a very mixed bag of emotions. There must have been joy in the return home, and yet how depressing it must have been to walk through the rubble from the walls and ashes from the gates. How disheartening to see the spectacular dwelling place of God in ruins.

The Jews return to their land and see a tarnished and scarred version of the original. The original beauty is gone forever, but there is a beauty that can rise even out of the ashes. It will not be the same as the original though it will be an image of it. Yet, it will provide hope and a reminder of the future, when things will be restored, and all things made new again.

THIS is glimpse of the meta narrative of the Bible. It is what God sees when he views the beauty of his creation, marred by the destruction of sin. While this creation (you and me) can still be made beautiful and our lives rebuilt, we will still show signs of the destruction and tarnish from work of sin. However, someday we will experience a re-creation and we will be the people of God the way He intended from the beginning.

So, as we come to the book of Ezra what have we learned? Nothing NEW! That’s for sure! The story plays itself out over and over and over again. In each and every case we are reminded:

  • God is in control of all things, including earthly kingdoms
  • God can use the most unlikely people to accomplish his plans
  • God is merciful and compassionate - he will punish but chooses not to when people repent
  • God keeps his promises
  • Every man, woman and child must choose for themselves whom they will serve - there is no passing it along like an inheritance.


You might think that God sure did take his time with this exile! 110 (ish) years after Hezekiah’s death? And what about Israel who was taken captive years before that?

We are reminded the God’s delays are for our benefit.

God gave Israel chance after chance to repent, but they did not, so they faced his judgement with hopes that they would return to him. God still shows his mercy this way. Someday, perhaps very soon, Jesus will return and God will judge all people, all nations. He said he would return about 2,000 years ago, so why hasn’t it happened?

2 Peter 3:9 NLT

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

Some listening to this message will be stubborn like Israel and try to do things in their own power and their own way, believing themselves to be better gods than THE God. Others will be like Hezekiah and Josiah - choosing to follow the God who created us and enjoying the blessing of knowing God personally and experiencing his blessing and not his wrath.

Still today, each generation, every man, woman and child must choose to follow God. Choosing God is as easy as allowing HIM to be the king of your life - submitting to his rule (and rules) and entering his kingdom by accepting the gift of forgiveness through Jesus.


Ezra 1-2: The Return

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North Country Fellowship Church
NCF was started in 1987 to minister to the growing population of Fort Drum and Jefferson County. Located in Carthage, just minutes away from Ft Drum, Lowville and Watertown, it is a blended congregation of local and military folks, single soldiers, young families and grandparents.