Page:A Brief Bible History (Boyd and Machen, 1922).djvu/50

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44
TEACHING THE TEACHER

seven years. However, the interesting story of Esther belongs in these years, for the Ahasuerus of the Bible is the Xerxes of Greek history — that vain, fickle, and voluptuous monarch who was beaten at Salamis and Platæa. The Jews must have been a part of the vast host with which he crossed from Asia to Europe. But the drama unfolded in the book of Esther was played far from Palestine, at Susa, the Persian capital.

With the seventh year of the next reign — that of Artaxerxes I — the curtain rises again on Judea, as we accompany thither the little band of Jews whom Ezra, the priestly "scribe," brought back with him from Babylonia to Jerusalem. This account is found in the last four chapters of the book of Ezra, most of it in the form of personal reminiscences covering less than one year.

The curtain falls again abruptly at the end of Ezra's memoirs, and rises as abruptly on Nehemiah's memoirs at the beginning of the book which bears his name. But there is every reason to believe that the letters exchanged between the Samaritans and the Persian court, preserved in the fourth chapter of Ezra, belong to this interval of thirteen years between the two books of Ezra and Nehemiah. For this alone can explain two riddles: first, who are "the men that came up from thee unto Jerusalem," Ezra 4:12, if they are not Ezra and his company, ch. 7? And second, what else could explain the desolate condition of Jerusalem and Nehemiah's emotion on learning of it, Neh. 1:3, if not the mischief wrought by the Jews' enemies when "they went in haste to Jerusalem," armed with a royal injunction, and "made them to cease by force and power"? Ezra 4:23.

Some persons are inclined to date the prophet Malachi at just this time also, shortly before Nehemiah's arrival. But it is probably better to place the ministry of this last of the Old Testament prophets at the end of Nehemiah's administration. Nehemiah's points of contact with Malachi are most numerous in his last chapter, ch. 13, in which he writes of his later visit to Jerusalem. Compare Neh. 13:6 with ch. 1:1.

In Cyrus' reign the great Return was followed immediately by the erection of an altar and the resumption of sacrifice. Preparations for rebuilding the Temple, however, and even the laying of the cornerstone, proved a vain beginning, as the Samaritans, jealous of the newcomers and angered by their own rebuff as fellow worshipers with the Jews, succeeded in hindering the prosecution of the work for many years. Ezra 3:1 to 4:5.