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2 Chronicles 36, Ezra 1-4
2 Chronicles ends with a list of the last kings of The Southern Kingdom of "Judah" (from which comes the abbreviation "Jew"). By that time, The Northern Kingdom of "Israel" had long-before become "the lost ten tribes" (see The Galilee Captivity) i.e. Israel was conquered and taken into exile by the Assyrians (see Ancient Empires - Assyria), then, over a century later (see Kings of Israel and Judah for approximate dates), Judah was conquered and taken into exile by the Babylonians (see Ancient Empires - Babylon). While all Jews are Israelites, not all Israelites are Jews (to understand about their coming future re-uniting, see The Gathering of Israel and Judah).
For the most part, the last kings of Judah were merely installed political puppets of the Egyptians, then the Babylonians. While Jehoahaz was obedient to the king of Egypt, he was "permitted" to be king of Judah; when the king of Egypt became displeased with Jehoahaz, he deposed him at whim (see also Regime Change).
"Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign; and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. Then the king of Egypt deposed him in Jerusalem and laid upon the land a tribute [see Custom and Tribute] of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. And the king of Egypt made Eliakim his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem, and changed his name to Jehoiakim; but Neco took Jehoahaz his brother and carried him to Egypt." (2 Chronicles 36:2-4 RSV)
The king of Egypt replaced Jehoahaz with his brother Eliakim as "king" of Judah. Apparently a man of detail toward his conquered subjects, the king of Egypt even changed Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim (verse quoted above). The Lord had not only been allowing Judah's national subjugation and humiliation to happen, He actually made it happen because of Judah's gross disobedience toward Him. The Babylonians were then allowed to take their turn as the agents of God's wrath upon Judah and their corrupt kings, men who were blaspheming the ultimate King of Israel who will inherit that throne upon His return (see the Fact Finder question below).
"Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of The Lord his God. Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon [see also Nebuchadnezzar's Dream and Nebuchadnezzar's Conversion], and bound him in fetters to take him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also carried part of the vessels of the house of The Lord to Babylon and put them in his palace in Babylon. Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and the abominations which he did, and what was found against him, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah; and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his stead." (2 Chronicles 36:5-8 RSV)
Jehoiachin was the next to dance from Nebuchadnezzar's political puppet strings because "He did what was evil in the sight of The Lord." Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin with "his brother Zedekiah" after only three months and ten days.
"Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of The Lord.
To his credit, Zedekiah rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, but it was too late. Zedekiah was then little more than a captain ordering the firing of all of his sinking ship's weapons against an enemy that had blown his hull full of holes. But Judah was not destroyed by the Babylonians; they were destroyed by themselves because of their evil behavior and refusal to repent after they were given fair warning by The Lord (see Why Babylon?).
"Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of The Lord his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet [see Jeremiah and Baruch], who spoke from the mouth of The Lord. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God; he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to The Lord, the God of Israel. All the leading priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations; and they polluted the house of The Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem." (2 Chronicles 36:11-14 RSV)
The city of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians; most, but not all (see Raiders Of The Lost Ark) of the Temple "treasures" were looted and taken to Babylon.
"The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, till the wrath of The Lord rose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged; he gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of The Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. And they burned the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels." (2 Chronicles 36:15-19 RSV)
While "the lost ten tribes" have not yet returned (again, see the future The Gathering of Israel and Judah), the people of Judah would be allowed to return before long. By that time, the Babylonian empire would itself fall, to the Persian empire (see Ancient Empires - Persia) so that a Persian (Persia is known today as Iran) king, Cyrus, would have the people of Judah return home, exactly as prophesied.
"He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfil the word of The Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.
Ezra Chapter 1
After seventy years of captivity, the people of Judah were made (made, not merely permitted) to return to Jerusalem, by The Lord, through the Perisan king Cyrus who ruled a vast area from (what is today) Iran to Egypt.
"In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of The Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
And so the people of Judah returned along with the looted items from the Temple. Note that even if the The Ark Of The Covenant had been looted by the Babylonians, which it wasn't (see Raiders Of The Lost Ark; also How Does The Ark Get To Heaven?), the Scriptures plainly say that it would have been returned to the people of Judah then i.e. "Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of The Lord which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away ... Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah."
"Then rose up the heads of the fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, every one whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of The Lord which is in Jerusalem; and all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of The Lord which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Shesh-bazzar the prince of Judah." (Ezra 1:5-8 RSV)
Ezra Chapter 2
The return was orderly and in accordance with ancestral properties (after 70 years in exile, it's unlikely that many of the owners at the time of the captivity were still alive).
"Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia; they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town." (Ezra 2:1 RSV)
The king of Persia also provided the financial means for the rebuilding (it seems that a captive people would not likely have been able to have much wealth of themselves).
"Some of the heads of families, when they came to the house of The Lord which is in Jerusalem, made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site; according to their ability they gave to the treasury of the work sixty-one thousand darics [see The Daric] of gold, five thousand minas of silver, and one hundred priests' garments.
Ezra Chapter 3
Christ's true Holy Days (see Christ's Passover, Christ's Feast of Unleavened Bread, Christ's Pentecost, Christ's Feast of Trumpets, Christ's Day Of Atonement, Christ's Feast of Tabernacles and Christ's Eighth Day) were also restored by the people of Judah at that time, beginning with the Feast of Tabernacles ("the feast of booths'), since it was the seventh month when they had order re-established.
"When the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings upon it, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. They set the altar in its place, for fear was upon them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings upon it to The Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. And they kept the feast of booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as each day required, and after that the continual burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of The Lord, and the offerings of every one who made a freewill offering to The Lord." (Ezra 3:1-5 RSV)
"Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their brethren, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work of the house of The Lord [see also Temples]. And Jeshua with his sons and his kinsmen, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together took the oversight of the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and kinsmen." (Ezra 3:8-9 RSV)
Ezra Chapter 4
Just as they later did to the The Samaritans Of Israel, the people of Judah refused an offer of help from the non-Israelite people who had been brought in to replace the people of Judah. Whether they were actually "adversaries" at that time is debatable; what is certain is that they became adversaries after the people of Judah snubbed them.
"Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to The Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers' houses and said to them, "Let us build with you; for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here."
The "people of the land" thereafter became a serious threat to the people of Judah and "made them afraid to build."
"Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and made them afraid to build, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia." (Ezra 4:4-5 RSV)
Further opposition to the rebuilding came from a later king of Persia, Artaxerxes. The result was that the restoration was halted until a succeeding king of Persia, Darius, came to power.
"Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God which is in Jerusalem stopped; and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius [see also Darius The Mede] king of Persia." (Ezra 4:23-24 RSV)
Fact Finder: (a) What is the ultimate purpose and meaning of "Israel"? (b) What is the ultimate purpose and meaning of the king of Israel?