After seventy long years spread across the Babylonian Empire, God’s people had finally finished their time out. The Persian Empire had taken over the Babylonian Empire and God touched the heart of the king of Persia, Cyrus.
“I have an official decree!” Cyrus declared. “The Lord God of heaven, who is the God the Israelites worship, has given me the power I have. I need to build a temple for Him in Jerusalem. Any Israelites who want to go back and rebuild the temple that had been destroyed may go.”
God’s people glorified the Lord and sang songs of praise and thanks.
“The Lord is good! His faithful love for Israel will last forever,” they cried out.
When they arrived in Jerusalem, they immediately began building the temple again. The young people who grew up in Babylon shouted for joy. But the older people who had seen the first temple in their youth cried, remembering all that had happened. The noise of the shouting and crying was so loud that it all just blended together.
But then a new king took over: Xerxes. The people from neighboring countries that had moved in when the Israelites were taken away did not like seeing them return. They wrote a letter to the king telling him what a terrible decision Cyrus had made.
“Your Majesty,” they began. “We are your subjects from the western part of your empire. Those Jews have moved back here from Babylon. They are rebuilding not just the temple but the whole city of Jerusalem, which Nebuchadnezzar’s army had destroyed. Once they finish building, just watch out! They will certainly refuse to pay you any more taxes and will want to be independent.”
The Israelites had to stop for a time, but then the next king, Darius, ordered someone to go through the old records kept in Babylonia. He found a scroll that said Cyrus had given orders to rebuild God’s temple in Jerusalem. So he told the governor in charge of the western part of his empire that the Jewish people who had returned had permission to rebuild and shouldn’t be bothered anymore.
“In fact,” he added, “I want you to help them, so they can finish even faster. Use the tax money to pay for their expenses.”
When the rebuilding was finished, Ezra, the priest, gathered with Nehemiah, the governor. Ezra read the writings passed down to them from Moses, hundreds of years before. It took hours to read all that had been written. The people cried listening to the words which tore at their hearts. They realized how much God’s Word had been ignored, and that their decades in Babylon had been the result of this. “Today is a special day,” Ezra and Nehemiah told them. “Let’s be happy that we are finally home. Let’s move forward and serve God with all our hearts!”