Israel 60 Years photo by FaceMePLS on Flickr.
By Lisa Nordell-Detres
The book of Ezra chronicles the beginning of the return of the Jewish exiles from captivity in Babylon back to Israel and Judah. King Cyrus of Persia was moved by God to not just allow over 42,000 Jewish captives to return to their homeland, but to finance the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. He even returned much of the gold and silver articles that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple during the original conquest of Jerusalem.
As the Temple was being rebuilt, Ezra 3:11-13 describes the scene of younger people praising God and rejoicing while the older folks who remembered the previous Temple crying out loud in sorrow for what had been lost over the years. The noise was heard from far away, but the voices mingled into a loud roar indiscernible whether it was joyous or sorrowful.
The construction of the Temple was met with resistance from those who were enemies of Israel and they were successful in stopping the progress until several years later. The succession of Persian kings from Cyrus to Ahasuerus (Xerxes, who married Esther), Artaxerxes and then Darius (mentioned in Daniel) is discussed in chapters 4-7, with a gap of over 50 years between chapters 6 and 7. King Darius got the ball rolling again and the Temple was finally completed in the sixth year of Darius’ reign. (Ezra 6:15) In the chapters that follow,
Ezra the prophet leads the people back to Israel/Judah with hearts of repentance and humility before God.
Chapter 9 explains that when the genealogies were reviewed, it was found that many of the Jews had married Babylonians against God’s separation commandment in Deuteronomy 7:3-4:
“Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so that the anger of the LORD will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.” (NKJV)
Despite the claims of some, this prohibition was never a call for racism (they were all Semites) and the reason is explained in verse 4. At the time, the Jews were the only people to whom God had personally revealed Himself. As it turned out, when the Jews intermarried with their pagan neighbors, they did indeed turn away from their faith in God. Ezra and the exiles understood very clearly the reason for the 70 year captivity and begged God’s forgiveness for them and their ancestors.
The events that followed in chapter 10 are indeed sorrowful. Many of the Jews who had married Babylonians sent their spouses and children away (presumably back to Persia) in an extreme act of devotion to God. I really have trouble reading this chapter, knowing how much God hates divorce. In Matthew 10:37-39, Jesus laid it out that we need to love God above all else, including family, should it come down to that. This is the reason we taught our children to date only Christians; there is no call in the Bible for “Missionary Dating.” For those who are already married to non-believers, I Corinthians 7:12-16 persuades believers to remain in the marriage if the non-believing spouse is willing to stay in the marriage.
Proverbs 4:23 simplifies the whole matter by encouraging us:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV)
Lisa Nordell-Detres is a mother of four, grandma to three boys, a pastor’s wife and has worked in the garment and customer service industries in southern California. Besides writing, Lisa enjoys cooking, sewing, organic gardening, hiking, skiing and doing most anything outside. Lisa is a member of the Central Oregon Writers Guild.
Lisa was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, studied Christian Apologetics at Simon Greenleaf University, holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Fashion Design from Woodbury University and an MBA from California State University at Northridge. Lisa, her husband and their youngest child now live in central Oregon.