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"Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and [put it] also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which [is] in Judah. Who [is there] among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which [is] in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he [is] the God,) which [is] in Jerusalem."
- Ezra 1:1-3
The Return from Babylon
The people of Judah were horribly distressed. They lost their home, their city, their pride, their Temple, the ark of the covenant, and they were taken as prisoners to Babylon, the homeland of idolatry. But God raised up great men to remind them of Jeremiah's prophesies, that they would only be there for 70 years. Babylon would not be their home:
Jer 29:10-14 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. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.
They would return and the temple would be rebuilt, and the Messiah would still come. Daniel and Ezekiel sought to keep the true faith alive.
The Decree of Cyrus
By 538 BC. Babylon had passed into history and the Medo-Persian Empire took its place. Cyrus the Persian issued a decree to allow the Jews to go back to their land, and with the blessing of The Persian Empire. The Jews were hardly moved. Babylon was their home. Only a portion returned (Neh 7) and only 74 of the Levites, who were supposed to be known for their dedication to the things of God.
The first move back to Palestine was led by Zerubbabel, of the house of David. He was the only one of royal blood to pay any attention to the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 2). When he returned, he found just rubble. No temple, torn down walls, and a mixed breed of corrupt Jews (Samaritans) living there. In 536 BC. he laid the foundations for a new temple, built an altar and worshipped the Lord. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah helped urge the Jews on. They finished the work on the Temple in 516 BC. (exactly 70 years).
Ezra and Nehemiah
58 years later (458 BC) more Jews returned (Ezra 7) under the leadership of Ezra. 12 years later, Nehemiah, received permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and to govern Judea. He arrived in 444 BC. Despite much opposition, Nehemiah completed this seemingly hopeless task in 52 days. Then a revival followed. Ezra and Nehemiah canonized the books of the Old Testament. They read aloud to the people and gave interpretation. About 40 years later, the prophet Malachi condemned the people for slipping back into their sinful ways.