The history of Israel after the captivity is generally overlooked in Bible study, except for true Bible scholars. While most Hebrews were forced to march to the north, others were left in place. They were the dregs of society that even the Assyrians and Babylonians didn’t want. Both empires encouraged their people to take the vacated lands, resulting in some mixing of Assyrians, Babylonians, Israelis, and Judeans.
Many of the more “pure-minded” Assyrians and Babylonians returned north as the Hebrews began to return home. The return began in the range of 539-38 BCE. Ezra was part of the early migration. This return seems to have been somewhat like the white Americans moving west after the Civil War; small bands making the trek over decades.
It’s also worth remembering that Ezra and Nehemiah were written as one untitled book, but since it took two scrolls to record the whole story, the names of the prominent prophets in each scroll where unofficially attached to the scrolls.
As you might imagine, the returnees had all they could handle trying to reestablish themselves in the land; claiming land, building homes, etc. It’s likely that none of them had ever seen the Homeland.
Ezra served as a cheerleader, sage, advisor, prophet, and unofficial governor. As we see him here in chapter 8, he is getting set to teach the people about the Law of Moses. Forget the Ten Commandments. The Law of Moses is the Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers.
The platform Ezra stood on was likely set up on the Temple Mount, the Temple itself having been destroyed. The water gate was nearby, but the exact location is not yet determined for sure. The leading expert on the Temple today, Leen Ritmeyer, believes this is it.
The importance of the gate is that it represents the Water of Life. Ezra fed the people the Word of God alongside the life-giving water gate. Women and older children joined the men in standing in the presence of the Word of God. The date is the first day of the seventh month, later to be called Rosh Ha-Shanah—the New Year.
Why were all these people willing to stand for hours listening to Ezra read the text for the day? They understood that they needed to do better than their parents and grandparents at following the Teaching, the Law of Moses. Most of them did not know the Teaching and were eager to learn. Five centuries before Jesus time the people of God vowed to get it right.
Synagogues were created to aid in remembering the Teaching, and people dedicated themselves to the study of the Teaching; they came to be known as rabbis. When Yeshua began his ministry, the Jews were more loyal than they had ever been.
Yet, there were gaps in their understanding; gaps Yeshua came to fill. His Teaching is:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn. ESV Isaiah 61:1-2
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.