II Chron. 36:22, 23; Ez. 1:1-2:70
For many years, God’s prophets had relayed His words to kings and to the common people as well. The prophecies regarding the fall of Israel and Judah had come to pass as had been predicted. Prophecies foretelling the return of God’s people to their homeland that He had provided for them in Canaan began to be fulfilled.
Cyrus, king of Persia overthrew Babylon. That event, including the name of Cyrus had been prophesied two-hundred years earlier by the prophet, Isaiah. Conquering kings would take the citizens of the defeated kingdom into captivity and enslave them. However, Cyrus would allow conquered subjects to remain in their land to continue with their normal lives. That encouraged loyalty to the new king. Remaining captives from other kingdoms would be allowed to return to their previous homeland.
Soon after defeating the Babylonians, Cyrus sent out a proclamation allowing the release of Israel/Judah from their exile and stating that God had commanded him to build Him a house at Jerusalem. With that decree given, all who desired began the move back home.
Nebuchadnezzar had taken the various articles from the temple and had placed them in the temple of his gods. Cyrus sent those items back with Sheshbazzar.
Genealogy was important to the Israelites. It was especially important that the priests have the proper family lineage from the original priest, Aaron. Census numbers were also important as the number of people choosing to return to Judah was documented according to families and cities. There were some who chose to return that could not determine their genealogy. They along with the other families who were not Levites were forbidden to be involved with the priesthood.
One may think of their return as being simply going home. However, they had left about seventy years earlier. Many of those people had been born during that period of time and would be strangers in a land about seven hundred miles from their birthplace. Their move with their cattle and other personal possessions would be a long and difficult adventure. Another problem facing them was the general condition of the destroyed cities after seventy years, even though they had been occupied by a remnant who had avoided the exile along with others. There would be conflicts with those who had remained because they had established themselves in the land during those years.
Upon arrival, a generous offering according to their ability was taken to support the rebuilding of the temple. God’s people had returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel.