Cyrus the Great, king of the Persian Empire writes a letter:
Hey, folks, Cyrus here…
Your God, Yahweh, has made me king of kings over all the kingdoms of the Earth and has moved me to let you guys rebuild your temple in Jerusalem. So any Jews who are willing to go, can go, and folks are to provide you with gold, silver, goods, and livestock to support the effort and offer to Yahweh.
(The Persians were actually one of the more ‘liberal’ kinds of empire in the ancient world. They wanted your allegiance, but as long as you gave that and paid your taxes and helped out with the army when called upon, you could keep your land, your system of government, and your gods. If you rebelled, all bets were off, but if you played along with them, they’d mostly leave you be.)
So the elders of Judah and Benjamin and the priestly families gathered up their stuff and headed back to Jerusalem. Their neighbors who aren’t going to go donate to the cause, and King Cyrus gives back the loot that Nebuchadnezzar took from Solomon’s Temple and has an invoice written up.
Aren’t you glad God included an invoice in this book? I’m sure that’s profitable for instruction somehow… like, always get a receipt, I guess? That’s a good lesson, right?
Here’s a list of all the Jewish families that went along with the number of people in their family. It includes descendants of priests, temple servants, Solomon’s servants, and a bunch of other people that won’t be mentioned again, so… I guess this chapter’s lesson is that when you’re arranging travel plans for 42,000 people, it’s good to have a customer database? Sure… we’ll go with that.
Learn SQL, people. It’s God’s will for your life.
Okay, so they all arrive in Jerusalem, and Joshua (not the original Joshua) and Zerubabbel and their friends rebuild the altar of the Lord and restart the practice of killing critters on it in the morning and evening.
Then they hold a feast of Tabernacles and kill some more critters on it, as God wanted.
And they started this before they laid the foundation of the new Temple.
Once the sacrifices are up and running again, they focus on building the Temple. They pay for foreign materials, Joshua and Zerubabbel appoint some Levites to oversee the Temple reconstruction. And when they were done laying the foundations, they sang a song. But some of the older priests and people who remembered Solomon’s Temple were sad because the foundation for this Temple wasn’t quite as big, so you had this big group of people half of whom were singing praise songs and half of whom were moaning and wailing.
Lesson… uh… kill some animals? No, no… don’t kill any animals… uh… gotta be honest, I’ve got nothing here… oh, if old people start crying at your worship service, keep singing… they’re old… maybe they just found out that Matlock got canceled.