The captivity was over and many of the Jews were permitted by King Cyrus of Persia in 538 B.C. to return to their homeland. One of the first things they did was to begin the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. Like many people, the workers on this project started off with great enthusiasm that waned over time due to obstacles and discouragement.
Ezra, who wrote the book that bears his name, was the contemporary of Nehemiah. He was of the line of Aaron and his attention to detail prove that he was a scholarly and dedicated priest. His volume is divided into two separate time frames, the first being the historical background given about the return of the first group under Zerubbabel, and the second containing events contemporary to his own time.
As for the timeline, the first 6 chapters describe the conditions from 538 to 516 B.C. The next 4 chapters describe Ezra's own ministry around the time of 458 B.C. I have divided the book further in our reading schedule to show where Queen Esther fit into the timeline as well (more on her book in a couple of weeks).
According to the notes in The New Open Bible Study Edition (KJV) the post-exilic events can be divided in this way:
- 538-515 B.C. - The first return under Zerubbabel. (As covered by Ezra chapters 1-6)
- 483-473 - The events of the book of Esther*
- 457 B.C. - The second return under Ezra. (As covered by Ezra chapters 7-10)
- 444-425 B.C. - The third return and events found in the book of Nehemiah.
* I have since come to believe that the date stated above is in error! The name "Ahasuerus" is a title, not a name. It is the same as saying, "The Shah of Iran." As such any of the men in the list can be called Ahasuerus. In the case of Esther, by examining evidence, including but not limited to one of my favorite timeline books, The Chronology of the Old Testament, by Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones (Master Books) and doing the math and plotting it with known records from world history, I have reached the conclusion that the events found in the book of Esther probably occurred about 518-508 B.C. That would make her husband Darius I Hystapsis, the "Ahasuerus" who ruled over 127 provinces!
Also found in the notes is a helpful list of the kings of Persia:
- Cyrus (539-530 B.C.) * Note: Date was corrected to denote his 9 year reign, not 29!
- Cambyses (530-522 B.C.)
- Smerdis (522 B.C.)
- Darius I Hystapsis (521-486 B.C.) *The husband of Esther
- Ahasuerus (486-464 B.C.)
- Artaxerxes I (464-423 B.C.)
- Darius II (423-404 B.C.)
Fast forward a few years and a few verses past those previously quoted in Ezra 4 to describe the work stoppage to Ezra 5:1 where we will find the names of Haggai and Zechariah, the prophets that God raised up to get things moving again. God is definitely the God of precision! In Haggai 1:1 the exact date is given of the day when Haggai spoke to Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest, telling them to get their crew back on the job. (The notes in my Bible state that the 2nd year, 6th month, and 1st day of that month of the reign of Darius correspond to September 1, 520 B.C. That may or may not be accurate.) I have since come to the conclusion that this is the husband of Esther, the Jewess!
At the same time that Haggai delivered his message, Zechariah, a prophet of the priestly line, delivered his own message from God. Notice that his commenced two months after the start of Haggai's.
The work on the Temple was completed within four years of the return to work of Zerubbabel and Company. Commentaries suggest that Zechariah prophecied many years beyond the Temple rebuilding and that the prophecies given in chapters 9 through 14 concerning the coming Messiah were delivered between 480 and 470 B.C. If that be the case they were preached during the reign of Ahasuerus, the son of Esther's husband.
Just as our year is coming to a close, so is our Bible timeline. We have just three more historical books and one poetical book left to highlight. I trust that seeing how scriptural events "fit" in time have helped you to appreciate more fully our God, the Eternal One that humbled himself and became part of earth's history!