Ezra 1:3 (Historical): Return of the Captives from Babylon
The captives in Babylon had been encouraged by promises that they should some day go back to their own land. The time came when Cyrus, king of Persia, took Babylon, and soon after gave the Jews leave to go home. He told them to rebuild the temple which had been in ruins many years, and gave them back the gold and silver dishes and instruments which had been taken from the temple and brought to Babylon. Not all the captives went. Many of them were living comfortably in Babylon and preferred to stay. But a large company went, and many who did not go helped those who went with gifts.
They came to Jerusalem, and what a dreary sight it was - the city and temple still in ruins. When they started to build, they were hindered by other people of the land. There was a long delay in getting to work upon the temple. But they built the altar and began once more to make offerings on it. Do you remember the large altar in the court before the temple, where the fire was always burning and where offerings were made? At last the foundation of the temple was laid. There was rejoicing, and there was loud weeping by the old men who remembered the beautiful temple before it was destroyed.
After a time, the people in Jerusalem were helped by the coming of others from Babylon. One company was led by Ezra. He had made much study of the Scriptures and the law, and helped the people with the temple and the worship. The book called Ezra tells about the hard work and the dangers of the people trying to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, and about Ezra's coming to help them. Tell the children what you find in Ezra 1, and read to them Ezra 3:10-13. Tell also about the setting out and journey of Ezra and his company, as you find it in Ezra 8:15, 21-23, 31-32. I find in Ezra the names of two prophets of the Lord: Haggai and Zechariah, who encouraged the people in their rebuilding of the temple and the city. Sometime soon we must find the words of these prophets in the Bible and see what they spoke from the Lord.
What promises do you remember which cheered the captives in Babylon with the hope of coming back some day to their own land? There are such promises in Isa. 40, Jer. 29, and Ezek. 34, and many more. The time had come for the deliverance. We have learned already in a prophecy the name of the deliverer. (Isa. 44:28; 45:1) We learn some facts about the return of the captives and about the hard work which they had in rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple, in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Today, we learn what we can from Ezra about the return and the rebuilding.
Who is Cyrus, who is mentioned in the first verse of Ezra, and in the prophecy of Isaiah? We have met his name also in Dan. 1:21. Cyrus was the ruler of Media and Persia, who took Babylon and gave the Jews permission to return to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. The very language of the decree of Cyrus is given us in Ezra 6:1-6, for the decree had been kept among the rolls, and when search was made by King Darius, it was found. The later verses of Ezra 1 tell about precious vessels from the temple in Jerusalem. We read in 2 Kings 24:13 and 25:1 of the taking of these vessels by Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers. We read in Dan. 5:1-4 of the irreverent use of the holy dishes; and now we read that Cyrus gave them to the captives to take back to the temple. Those who went carried other treasures given to help them by Jews who preferred to stay in Babylon. Picture the desolation that they found on coming to Jerusalem. How long had it been in ruins? The first thing rebuilt was the altar, so that offerings could be made. Then the foundation of the temple was laid. Ezra tells us of the rejoicing and the weeping of the people. (Ezra 3:10-13) Why the weeping? Compare Hag. 2:3, 9.
Besides the great labor of rebuilding the ruined temple and city, there was hindrance in the work from people of the land, chiefly from the district of Samaria. Remember that many people of that district were brought by the Assyrians from distant places. The Jews never recognized them as brethren. (2 Kings 17:24-34) You see in Ezra 4:2, 9-10, that these were the people who chiefly made the trouble. When the Jewish captives returned, these people offered to help them. Their help was refused, and then they hindered the Jews in their rebuilding in every way they could, especially by sending complaints to the Persian king. You can read in Ezra 6 how such complaints were settled when Darius had search made among the records and found the original decree of Cyrus. Darius confirmed it, and gave the people further aid.
There were hindrances, but there were also helps to the rebuilding. Two prophets are mentioned in Ezra 5:1, who brought strength and courage from the Lord. Also two men came with help from Babylon: Ezra the scribe, of whom we are learning especially today, and Nehemiah the statesman, of whom we shall learn next Sunday. Read the account in Ezra 1 of the first return of the captives; and read in Ezra 8:15, 21-23, 31-32, of Ezra's own coming with more helpers.
We read more in Neh. 8 of Ezra's public teaching of the laws of worship, after the city wall was built and order was established by Nehemiah.
We are taking two lessons from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which are not books of the Divine Word. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are regarded by scholars as belonging with the Chronicles, which also are not part of the Word. The lack of spiritual and religious quality in Ezra and Nehemiah is noticed by many readers, but they have an interest, for they help to connect the earlier history of the Jews with the history to follow, and they give a background which helps in the understanding of the later prophets, especially Haggai and Zechariah. Besides reading for this historical help which Ezra gives, it may be useful with this lesson to turn over the pages of the Old Testament, noting books which are of the Lordís Word and books which are not. Make sure also that we understand the principle by which in the New Church the two classes of books are distinguished, namely, that books of the Word have a continuous spiritual sense, and in fact infinite depths of meaning which other books have not. "The books of the Word are all those which have an internal sense: but they which have not, are not the Word." The books of the Word in the Old Testament are the five books of Moses, the book of Joshua, the book of Judges, the two books of Samuel, the two books of Kings, the Psalms of David, the four major and twelve minor Prophets; and in the New Testament, the four Gospels and the Revelation. (A. 10325)
In our glance at the books of the Old Testament, some question may have arisen in regard to the book of Job. Swedenborg calls it a book of the Ancient Church, and he quotes it often as illustrating correspondences and the use of natural symbols to express spiritual ideas. It shows the knowledge of correspondences that was familiar to the Ancient Church and the use of correspondences which they made in their writings, but there is not the continuous spiritual meaning relating to Divine things that marks a book of the Divine Word. See statements in regard to Job in A. 3540; E. 543, 740, which throw much light upon the distinction between books of the Word and books not of the Word.
Should we use the terms "Word" and "Bible" with precisely the same meaning?