“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:5
What’s Going On?
The northern kingdom of Israel has already fallen to Assyria and the last ten chapters of 2 Chronicles show us the decline of the nation of Judah and how it eventually was overtaken by the nation of Babylon. What had once been the triumphant Kingdom of Israel has now ceased to exist. We get one final glimpse of the glory days under King Hezekiah, but the nation was too weak to fight off the Babylonians and at the end of 2 Chronicles we see the people of Judah being deported to be resettled in other parts of the Babylonian Kingdom. This is the beginning of the era of EXILE. The very last verses of 2 Chronicles are almost identical to the first verses in Ezra and hint at a time to come when some of the Israelites will be allowed to resettle back in their homeland, a time known as the RETURN, which will not happen all at once, but in waves.
If you remember the “food chain” from middle school science class, you remember the image of a fish being eater by a larger fish, then that fish being eaten by an even larger fish, and so on. We can begin to think of Israel as the smallest fish. The first bigger fish to come along and consume it was Assyria, who conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Then a bigger fish came along – the Babylonians – and ate the Assyrian fish plus a larger portion of land, including the southern Kingdom of Judah. This week we’ll see a larger fish, Persia, chomp up all of the Babylonian kingdom.
As each new “fish” controls the land, the people who had been living there are removed and replanted in a different area of that fish’s kingdom and new people are carted in to take over the land they left behind. This repopulation was very effective in creating larger and larger kingdoms, each with their own laws, currency, beliefs, language, etc. With each change, which would be every couple of hundred years, new generations were brought up into the new era of that kingdom. At the end of the Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra, the land becomes part of the Persian Empire. This is actually great news for the displaced Israelites because the Persian King Cyrus wants a peaceful empire and begins to allow people to go back to their homelands and areas of their heritage. Each kingdom gets progressively larger and more powerful. And there are more fish out there just waiting for the opportunity to eat up the Persians, who ate the Babylonians, who ate the Assyrians, who ate Israel.
While we don’t read much about the actual time of the Exile here which lasted about seventy years, we’ll get to read more about that time period when we study the Prophets. Here in the book of Ezra we read about two waves of returning exiles and there is another wave which we’ll read about next week in the book of Nehemiah. The first wave will occur under Persia’s King Cyrus and will be led by Zerubbabel (Sheshbazzar). Zerubbabel is the grandson of Jehoiachin, one of the last kings who ruled in Judah before the exile, and is the legitimate heir to the throne. The second wave will happen under Persia’s King Darius and will be led by Ezra the priest who will lead the Israelites in a renewed commitment to their heritage as the People of God.
When and Where Are We?
The Israelites will live in Exile until Cyrus allows the first group to go back and resettle in and around Jerusalem in 538 BC. A second group will join them, including Ezra himself, about 458 BC.
- Amaziah, Azariah/Uzziah, Jotham – Good kings of Judah
- Ahaz – REALLY bad king who desecrated the Temple and joined forces with Assyria
- Hezekiah– Great King who rid Judah of the false gods and idols and reinstates Passover celebration
- Zerubbabel – leader for the first group that returns to Jerusalem, sets up a new Temple
- Ezra – priest, leader for the second group that returns to Jerusalem
Weekly Reading Assignment:
- Monday: 2 Chronicles 25-28
- Tuesday: 2 Chronicles 29-32
- Wednesday: 2 Chronicles 33-35
- Thursday: Ezra 1-3
- Friday: Ezra 4-6
- Saturday: Ezra 7-10