The Book of Ezra
|Chapter 1 here||Chapter 2 here|
|Chapter 3 here||Chapter 4 here|
|Chapter 5 here||Chapter 6 here|
|Chapter 7 here||Chapter 8 here|
|Chapter 9 here||Chapter 10 here|
Just as Babylon was weakened by internal dissension, a new threat emerged on the scene of world history. Cyrus the Persian had managed to unify warring tribes and by 550 had conquered the Median Empire. With the Medes and Persians now united, Cyrus launched an ambitious campaign to expand his holdings to the west. In spite of a Babylonian alliance with Egypt, Cyrus drove around the northern edges of Babylonian territory and pushed through Asia Minor to the Aegean Sea, shifting those areas from Babylonian to Persian control. Cyrus then returned to campaign to the east and south, and within a few years left Babylon surrounded and helpless.
The end of Babylon came in no great battle, almost without a murmur. The Babylonians were so disaffected by the policies of Nabonidus that they had little will to fight. A Babylonian general, Gobryas, defected to the Persians and began insurgency against Babylon. In a desperate attempt to rally support, Nabonidus attempted to reinstate the worship of Marduk and brought the gods of the outlying provinces to Babylon to inspire the people. But the effort backfired because it did nothing but further anger and demoralize the people from whom the gods had been taken. After an early engagement in which the Babylonians were soundly defeated, in 539 Gobryas took the city of Babylon without a fight. Cyrus was now in control of all of the former Babylonian Empire and unchallenged master of that part of the world. Within a year, he would control all of the Middle East except Egypt.
Persian rule was charitable, especially compared with the policies of Assyria or even of Babylon. In Babylon, the people were tired of internal conflict and the hated policies of Nabonidus, so Cyrus was welcomed as a liberator. He reciprocated by treating the people generously. Since the country had been taken without any large scale fighting, the nation was spared most of the ravages of war and Cyrus sought no reprisals from the people or cities. He encouraged the restoration of the worship of Marduk and even participated in the rituals himself. He returned the gods to their places, forbade his troops from persecuting the people, and reversed some of the more odious practices of Nabonidus. This policy of toleration and acceptance of diverse cultures and beliefs would characterize Cyrus’ reign. It was this policy of toleration that likely gave the exilic prophets hope that God might work through these events to restore them to the land (e.g., Isa 41:1-3, 25, 44:28-45:4).
Following his policy of allowing a great deal of freedom among conquered peoples, in 538 Cyrus issued the edict that allowed the Israelite’s to return home. He not only allowed those who wanted to return to do so, he ordered the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, the vessels that had been looted from the Temple returned, and even committed funds from his treasury to aid the project.
(Ezra 1:2-11, 6:3-5).
Later when King Xerxes’ fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her. 2 Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. 3 Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. 4 Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.
5 Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, 6 who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin[a] king of Judah.7 Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.
8 When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. 9 She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem.
10 Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. 11 Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.
12 Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. 13 And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. 14 In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.
15 When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her. 16 She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
17 Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.
19 When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 20 But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.
21 During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana[b]and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. 22 But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. 23 And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.