OLD TESTAMENT TIMES
It was not until the second year of Darius' reign, 520, nearly two decades later, that the little community, spurred out of their selfishness and lethargy by Haggai and Zechariah, arose and completed the new Temple, in the face of local opposition but with royal support. Ch. 4:24 to 6:15.
Fifty-seven years later, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, 458, came Ezra with some fifteen hundred men, large treasures, and sweeping privileges confirmed by a royal edict, the text of which he has preserved in the seventh chapter of his book. He was given the king's support in introducing the Law of God as the law of the land, binding upon all its inhabitants, whom he was to teach its contents and punish for infractions of it. How Ezra used his exceptional powers in carrying out the reform he judged most needed — the dissolution of mixed marriages between Jew and Gentile forbidden by the Law — is told in detail in his own vivid language in chs. 9, 10. It helps us to understand Malachi's zeal in this same matter. Mai. 2:11. And the difficulty of this reform appears also from Nehemiah's memoirs, since the same abuse persisted twenty-five years after Ezra fought it. Neh. 13:23-27.
After the failure to fortify Jerusalem recorded in Ezra 4:8-23, Nehemiah, a Jew in high station and favor at Artaxerxes' court, obtained from his king a personal letter, appointing him governor of Judea for a limited time, with the special commission to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem. The same bitter hostility which the Samaritans and other neighbors in Palestine throughout had shown toward the returned Jews, reached its climax in the efforts of Sanballat and others in public and private station to hinder Nehemiah's purpose. But with great energy and bravery, and with a personal appeal and example that swept all into the common stream of patriotic service, Nehemiah built the ruined walls and gates in fifty-two days, instituted social reforms, ch. 5, and imposed a covenant on all the people to obey the Law which Ezra read and expounded. Chs. 8 to 10. Elements in the little nation that joined with his enemies to discredit and even to assassinate him were banished or curbed. The origin of the peculiar sect of the Samaritan is connected with Nehemiah through his rigor in banishing a grandson of the high priest who had married Sanballat's daughter. This disloyalty of the priesthood is also one of Malachi's chief indictments against his nation, and the basis of his promise that a great reformer, an "Elijah," should arise to prepare the sinful people for the coming of their God.