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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[1 Esdr. 1]

THE prophet Jeremias had foretold that the captivity of Babylon would not last longer than seventy years, and that the Jews would then return to their own country. Daniel had renewed this consoling promise, and had added another prophecy of greater importance; namely, that from the day on which the order should be given to rebuild Jerusalem till the death of the Messias, there would remain only seventy weeks of years; that is, 490 years, so that the Jews knew not only the family from which the Saviour would spring, but also the city where He would be born, and the year in which He would die.

The severe sufferings of the captivity in Babylon, together with the exhortations of the prophets, particularly those of Daniel and Ezechiel, had brought the Jewish people to a sense of their duty. Wherefore it happened that in the seventieth year of their sad captivity, Cyrus, king of Persia, by a divine inspiration, issued an edict that all the Jews who were in his kingdom should go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple of the Lord.

He also restored to them the sacred vessels which Nabuchodonozor had carried away. Thereupon more than forty thousand Israelites, under the leadership of Prince Zorobabel and of the High Priest Josue, returned to Judæa, the name thenceforward given to the ancient kingdom of Juda, together with the remnants of the other ten tribes, which had joined themselves to Juda and Benjamin before the downfall of Israel. They immediately built an altar, and offered sacrifice every morning and evening.

One year after the return from captivity, the foundations of the new Temple were laid in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites were there with their trumpets and cymbals, as of old, singing to the Lord canticles of praise and thanksgiving, while the people all rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when, after many years, the Temple was completed, it was consecrated and dedicated with great solemnity.

Many of the old people who remembered the former Temple, wept to see that the new one did not equal the old in magnificence.

But the prophet Aggeus consoled them with the assurance that the second Temple would be more glorious than the first, because the Messias, the Desired of all nations, would be seen in it, and would honour it with His presence. The same prediction was made by the prophet Zacharias.

About eighty years after their return from captivity, the Jews, by command of the king of Persia, commenced to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The Samaritans opposed them and tried even by violence to prevent the people from rebuilding their city. But the Jews prayed to God to assist them, and in order to prevent surprise from the Samaritans, divided themselves into two great bodies.

Those who were most brave and courageous they placed on the outposts of the city, well armed, in order to keep off the enemy, while those who were skilled in masonry and other mechanical arts carried on the work. At the end of fifty-two days all the walls and ramparts were completed. The Samaritans, seeing that the hand of God was there, ceased to trouble their neighbours.

The Jews, understanding that they had been successful in rebuilding the Temple and walls of Jerusalem in spite of so many obstacles, returned sincere thanks to God. And Esdras, the High Priest, having publicly read the law of the Lord, they all promised, with tears, to be faithful to it. For they had received a new and strong proof that God had forgiven their own sins and the ingratitude of their fathers.

God’s Mercy to the people of Israel was very great. This faithless people had broken the covenant made with God, and had given themselves over to idolatry and a pagan way of living. God sent prophet after prophet to move them to repent, but the prophets were despised and persecuted, and Israel remained impenitent. At last the judgments threatened by God overtook His people. He punished them by letting them be carried off into captivity, but He punished them only for the purpose of converting them. When the Jews, full of mourning and sorrow, left their home, God gave them the comforting assurance: “When seventy years shall be accomplished, I will bring you again to this place. I think towards you thoughts of peace and not of affliction.” And after the Jews were converted to Him, and had renounced idolatry for good and all, He restored everything to them, their country, their temple, their worship, and their hope in the coming of the Messias. The whole history of the people of Israel is one continuous proof of God’s infinite goodness and mercy, one long chain of divine favours bestowed on a sinful nation, one long fight between divine mercy and human obduracy.

The Faithfulness of God is the ground of all our hope. He promised, through Jeremias, that His people should return to Jerusalem after a captivity of seventy years, and this promise was most literally fulfilled; for by a miracle God inclined the heart of king Cyrus towards the Jews, filling him with the fear of God, so that he issued an edict for the return of the Jews and the rebuilding of the Temple. This instance of the faithful fulfilment of God’s promises ought to give us a great confidence that He will perform everything that He has said.

The thirteenth promise of the Messias (through Aggeus) foretells the speedy coming of the Desired of all nations, and gives the assurance that on account of His Presence in it, the new Temple would be made more glorious than the splendid Temple of Solomon. Jesus Christ, God made Man, was presented in that Temple as a Child, stayed behind in it as a Boy of twelve years; and as a Man, He prayed and taught and worked miracles therein.

The fourteenth promise of the Messias. It might have been gathered from the prophecy of Aggeus about the glory which the Messias would shed on the Temple, that He would come with great majesty and pomp; but the prophecy of Zacharias made it plain, that, though the long-desired One would indeed be a king, He would not wield an earthly power, but would enter Jerusalem in poverty and simplicity (New Test. LX).

The fifteenth and last promise of the Messias is that of Malachias (2:11), where he prophesies that Christ shall be offered as a sacrifice and a clean oblation among the Gentiles in every place of the earth.

Unity is strength. The number of Jews who at first returned from Babylon was not very great, but they held faithfully together, and accomplished the rebuilding of the Temple and of the walls of Jerusalem.

APPLICATION. Are you not ungrateful to God, and very often lukewarm in His service, and negligent in prayer and in the receiving of the holy Sacraments? In truth you owe God much more gratitude than did the Jews!








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