1:1-2:70 ZERUBBABEL’S RETURN
Cyrus had been ruler of Persia for some time before he conquered Babylon in 539 BC. His policy was, when he conquered a nation, to allow any people held captive by that nation to return to their homeland. Therefore, soon after he conquered Babylon (i.e. in his first year as the Jews’ new ruler) he gave permission for the Jews to return to Jerusalem (1:1-4). Jeremiah’s prophecy made seventy years earlier had come true: the Jews were released from Babylon’s power to return to Palestine and rebuild their nation (Jer 25:1,12; 29:10).
Although all had permission to return, many chose to remain in Babylon. They were reasonably well settled and secure in Babylon, and did not want to face the risks and hardships of a new life in Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, they assisted those who returned by giving them money and goods. Cyrus also gave some assistance, giving back the temple treasures and handing over a gift of money from the royal treasury to help finance the reconstruction of Jerusalem (5-11; see also 3:7; 6:4).
At first the leader of the returning exiles was Sheshbazzar (see 1:8, 5:14), but for some reason not recorded he was soon replaced by the joint leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua (see 3:2; 5:2; Hag 1:1; 2:2). Alternatively, Sheshbazzar may have been another name for Zerubbabel.
The record of those who returned to Jerusalem begins by listing the chief men who were to assist Zerubbabel and Joshua (2:1-2). (The person named
Nehemiah in this list is not the person we meet later in the book of Nehemiah.) The total number who returned was about 50,000. Some were classified according to their families (3-19), others according to the towns their families originally came from (20-35). The priests, Levites and temple servants were all listed separately (36-58). Others could not be fitted into any category (59-63). On arrival in Jerusalem, some made offerings of money towards the building of the temple. All the people were then settled in and around Jerusalem (64-70).