The Word Made Fresh
1During the first year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the LORD’s promise through the prophet Jeremiah, King Cyrus was inspired by the LORD to send a messenger throughout his kingdom with this written declaration:
2“This is the word of King Cyrus of Persia: The LORD God of heaven has placed in my hands all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me to build a temple at Jerusalem in Judah. 3Any of those who belong to the LORD are now given permission to go to Jerusalem in Judah and rebuild the temple of the LORD God of Israel, whose residence is in Jerusalem. May your God be with you! 4Let all those who return, from wherever they are, be assisted by those who reside around them with gifts of silver and gold, with provisions and animals, and with freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”
5Then the heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and Levites, all whom the spirit of God encouraged, prepared to go and rebuild the LORD’s house in Jerusalem. 6Their neighbors helped them with gifts of silver pots, gold, supplies, and provisions including animals, and other gifts in addition to free offerings. 7King Cyrus personally brought out all the furnishings of the LORD’s house that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and placed in the temple of his gods. 8King Cyrus turned them over to Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.
9This is the list of the things they brought out: thirty gold basins; one thousand silver basins; twenty-nine carving knives; 10thirty gold containers; four hundred ten additional silver containers; one thousand other vessels. 11Sheshbazzar thus brought a total of five thousand four hundred gold and silver containers with the exiles who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon.
1-4: The first 4 verses of Ezra repeat the last 2 verses of 2 Chronicles with the added information that Cyrus’ decree also charged the neighbors of whoever wants to return to Judah with providing financial assistance for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
5-11: Many of the Jews prepared to return to Jerusalem, and those who were not returning gave them gifts to help rebuild the city. The scene sort of reminds me of the scene in Egypt where the Egyptians give the Hebrews gifts to hurry them out of the country (Exodus 12:33-36). This time, however, the ruler of the country, Cyrus himself, participates in their endeavor by restoring to them all the things that have been taken from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. The inventory is entrusted to Sheshbazzar, who is called “the prince of Judah.” The title indicates that he is of royal lineage. There is much disagreement among scholars as to his exact identity. Some evidence suggests that Sheshbazzar is the Babylonian name of Zerubbabel, who appears in the next chapter. Others believe Sheshbazzar is an uncle of Zerubbabel. In any case, the name Sheshbazzar occurs only 4 times in Ezra (1:8, 1:11, 5:14, and 5:16), and nowhere else in the Bible, whereas Zerubbabel is much more frequently mentioned (in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah) and is even named in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:12 and 1:13, Luke 3:27).
In a surprising turn of events, God actually uses a pagan ruler to allow the former residents of Jerusalem and Judah to return, and specifically to rebuild the temple of the LORD. To Cyrus, the LORD God of Israel is just another deity worshiped by a particular group of people. Cyrus issues the decree, and the exiled people begin to plan their return to Jerusalem, assisted by their relatives who, for whatever reasons, decide not to return with them. After all, they have lived in exile for seventy years. Few of them will remember anything at all about their homeland. After being away for seventy years, what will they find when they return?