Following the 70 years of exile from their lands, the Jews were granted permission by Cyrus, king of the Persians, to return to their land and rebuild their temple and walls. Their cities and land had been destroyed when they were taken away by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and then overtaken by the Persians as well, dispersing the people of Judah and Israel. The book of Ezra opens by telling us that in order for Jeremiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled, the Lord stirred the spirit of Cyrus to rebuild His Temple. He calls for all those willing to go and for others to contribute to the cause of their brethren. The Jews give willingly and freely to Ezra and to the people who will be returning with Cyrus’ blessing as they re-realize their faith and return to God. These people had a burden to restore not just a sense of nationalism but also the worship and godliness that had been lost, causing their situation in the first place. All in all, a force of 42,360 people return alongside Ezra and Joshua the High Priest.
Fulfilling the words of Haggai and Zechariah, the prophets, Joshua as High Priest had great influence and support during the reconstruction of the Temple because of his position. It began the return of the order of the High Priest to the promised land. With Ezra acting as the politician to keep favor up for their efforts in the King’s court and Joshua as the spiritual leader, they began to rebuild the Altar and started laying the foundation for the new Temple. Their first step in restoration was to separate out the Levites of true heritage to work there and to set up the offerings upon the altar.
In fear of the hostile countries around them, the Jews offered up burnt offerings morning and evening. They kept also the feast of the tabernacles as it is written and offered daily burnt-offerings by number according to custom as the duty of every day required. Afterward they offered the continual burnt offering both of the new moons and of all the set feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, everyone willingly gave the freewill offering,” (Ex 23:16/Lev 23:33-43/Num 29:12). The people then gathered to keep the Passover for the first time since diaspora. In celebration of the Lord changing the attitude of the King of Assyria towards them, they feasted for seven days as the Assyrians came to help them build the Temple. Once more, as they restored themselves to God, He extended blessings and protections over His people.
When Ezra comes to join them, following his time in the King’s court, he brings even more people with him but finds the people there continuing to break the laws set forth by God through Moses and reinstated by Joshua the High Priest. Ezra finds the people having issues though following some of the ordinances and has to call for a time of confession. The people had failed to fully separate themselves from the neighboring nations and had once again taken wives from them, so they are forced to confess and separate themselves once again.
The Jews had been restored to their land by the efforts of Ezra and Joshua and began to rebuild the Temple and their walls with God’s protections over them. They began again the long journey to restoring the covenant between them that marks them as the chosen people, through festivals, offerings, and obedience to God’s laws, with the Levites again tending to the Temple. Though they sinned again and again, God forgave them and gave them another chance to restore their land and their covenant as they followed his laws and commands.