Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ezra 4:1-7:28


Jerusalem's neighbors (the book of Ezra calls them "adversaries") offer to help build YHWH's temple in Jerusalem. The Judahites refuse the offer. This has always struck me as both churlish and unwise. I mean, who wouldn't want help with a major building project? The returned deportees were concerned with purity: purity of worship, ethnic purity, ritual purity. They had, after all, struggled to maintain their identity through 70 years of exile. They were in no mood to compromise now. Even if those adversary neighbors, the Samaritans, worshiped the same God, their presence, their practices, and even their help were not welcome.

Unsurprisingly the Samaritans take this rejection badly and petition Ahasuerus (a.k.a. Xerxes) to stop the construction. There is a 17 year delay.

Ezra 4:6-23 interrupts the chronological flow of the narrative. These verses tell of opposition to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Events here are grouped thematically rather than sequentially.

A curious feature of the book of Ezra is that the letters quoted are written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. Aramaic was an international language of diplomacy and trade in Ezra's time.

When the Judeans, urged on by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (whose words we will read later in the Old Testament), once again begin work on the temple, the Assyrian governor Tattenai writes to the Emperor Darius for advice. Darius has the royal archives searched. Cyrus's decree is found. Permission is granted to continue construction and the project is even funded and the necessities for worship supplied by the Babylonians. A rather nasty threat of impalement is leveled against anyone who interferes with construction.

The temple is completed. A dedication ceremony reminiscent of the one for Solomon's temple is celebrated. The Passover is observed.

Ezra, the book's namesake finally shows up in chapter 7. He is a priest of impeccable lineage. He is sent by king Artaxerxes from Babylon to Jerusalem and tasked with overseeing temple worship, teaching YHWH's law to the people, and setting up a judicial system.

The chapter ends with the start of a first person account in Ezra's own words.

Next: Ezra 8-10

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