Judas Maccabeus recalls the past aid to their ancestors (2 Macc 8:19-8:20)

“Moreover, Judas Maccabeus told them of the occasions when help came to their ancestors. There was once in the time of Sennacherib, when one hundred eighty-five thousand people perished. There was the time of the battle against the Galatians that took place in Babylonia, when eight thousand Jews fought along with four thousand Macedonians. When the Macedonians were hard pressed, the eight thousand, by the help that came to them from heaven, destroyed one hundred twenty thousand people. They took a great amount of booty.”

Judas Maccabeus recalled the great moments in Israelite battles. First there was the classic victory in 2 Kings, chapter 19, when King Hezekiah of Judah defeated and killed 185,000 troops of the Assyrian King Sennacherib, who was attacking Jerusalem around 700 BCE. This incident is often cited. However, the 2nd story about 8,000 Jews helping the Macedonians against the Galatians in Babylonia is only found here. Apparently the Galatians were mercenary troops in Asia. Apparently these Jewish troops helped King Antiochus III to defeat the Galatians in the time frame between 223-187 BCE. So that would have been only about a half-century earlier than Judas Maccabeus.

The letter of King Artaxerxes outlining the mission of Ezra (Ezra 7:12-7:20)

“Artaxerxes, king of kings, to the priest Ezra, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven: Peace! Now I decree that any one of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. You are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God, which is in your hand. You are to convey the silver and gold that the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem. You are to bring all the silver and gold that you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia. Any freewill offerings of the people and the priests can be given willingly for the house of their God in Jerusalem. With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings. You shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem.  Whatever seems good to you and your colleagues to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God. The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. Whatever else is required for the house of your God, which you are responsible for providing, you may provide out of the king’s treasury.”

The Persian kings seem to refer to the God of heaven. Apparently King Artaxerxes had 7 counselors with him. In some sense, Ezra is a personal envoy of the king and his counselors to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem. He was to bring silver and gold from the king and his counselors for the house of the God of Israel in Jerusalem. He could collect free willing offerings to buy animals for sacrifice at the Temple. They may do whatever they want with the money left over. If they need more money, the king’s treasury is available. The Persian king is very generous to Ezra and his group. All this assumes that the Temple had been built already. This is more about the upkeep and the sacrifices at the Temple. In fact, it almost seems like a state supported religion. The king seems to know a lot about the kind of sacrifices that will take place in the house of the God of Jerusalem. Slowly Yahweh is becoming the God of Jerusalem.

 

The reply of the elders at Jerusalem (Ezra 5:11-5:16)

“This was their reply to us. ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth. We are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. But because our ancestors had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia. However, King Cyrus of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt. Moreover, the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which King Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem and had brought into the temple of Babylon, these King Cyrus took out of the temple of Babylon. They were delivered to a man named Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor. He said to him. ‘Take these vessels! Go and put them in the temple in Jerusalem! Let the house of God be rebuilt on its site!’ Then this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem. From that time until now it has been under construction. It is not yet finished.’”

Governor Tattenai gave the Jewish side of the story, explaining why they were doing such a thing as building a house of God. They were rebuilding the house of God on the same spot where the Temple used to be. Their ancestors had angered God, so that the Chaldeans with King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple and took the people into captivity. Then King Cyrus issued a decree that the Temple be built again. In fact, he gave the gold and silver vessels that originally came from Jerusalem that were in the Babylonian temple to Sheshbazzar, who was the governor in Jerusalem. Thus for the last few years, they have been building this unfinished Temple.