The Rest of the Story –

Story 19: The Return Home

Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 3: Daniel 5:26-31, Cyrus takes Babylon
Ezra 1:1-11
Ezra 3:1-13
Haggai 1:1-15
Ezra 4:1-24
Ezra 5:1-5; Ezra 6:1-1

More of The Rest of the Story

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Random Readings in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 3: Daniel 5:26-31, Cyrus takes Babylon (3/4/15)

Some scholars have debated the meaning of the words “MENE,” “TEKEL,” and “PARES.” (This has always struck as a little peculiar, since Daniel interprets the meanings as he reads them.) Apparently they are Chaldean words, that is, words in the language of King Belshazzar’s court. So why couldn’t he read them? Because they were written in Hebrew characters, not Chaldean characters. According to John Wesley, the writing reads literally in Chaldean, “He is numbered, he is numbered; he is weighed; they are divided.” Daniel, a well-educated Hebrew who by this time had been a member of the royal household for many years, easily read the Chaldean words from the Hebrew script, and applied them to the king.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. Today we have another woodcut by Gustave Doré, this one showing the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian. Since King Belshazzar and his entire court were at best thrown into confusion by Daniel’s prophecy, and at worst drunk from partying, they lost and the king was killed. The woodcut shows sinking ships (left center), dying men, captive women and looted property (lower right), more cherubs (lower left), and the stepped Babylonian towers called ziggurats. Doré’s version is more detailed and exciting than vss. 30-31.

The book of Daniel seems to be popular with artists. In four Bibles we've used so far, two have illustrations of the handwriting on the wall, one has Cyrus taking Babylon, and one has Daniel in the lions’ den.

Previous Step. Next Step.

The conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian. Click to enlarge.
"Cyrus Takes Babylon" by Gustave Doré, from the Thomas Family Bible, now in a private collection of a family member.

Ezra 1:1-11 (1/28/13)

The Old Testament ends on a high note with the return of the Jews to Judah and Jerusalem. Cyrus the Persian even returned many of the gold and silver items that had been looted by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. The number of Jews who returned from the Exile was relatively small. Not only had many people died in the siege, and presumably on the march to Babylon, but many of the survivors had assimilated into the eastern culture or had other reasons for not going back. Both the Exodus and the Exile are watershed moments in the history of the Jews.

Ezra 3:1-13 (1/29/13)

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is often one of the very earliest organizations to arrive and one of the very latest to leave after any sort of natural or man-made disaster. For example, UMCOR is still in Haiti, three years after the earthquake. The three most important things to do after a disaster seem to be getting people into shelters, getting supplies, and maintaining civil order. It also seems that houses of worship are always very high on the do-list, often built by volunteers using donated materials.

The people of Israel were dealing with a disaster after they returned to Judah. They had no houses of worship, no city walls, and no building supplies. Nevertheless, their first order of business was to get a system in place for making offerings, using funding provided by King Cyrus and by the Jews who had stayed behind in Babylon. They also had to get a governmental system of some sort going, which relied on the priests and Levites and on the descendants of David, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his kinsmen. If you look at Matthew 1:11-12, you see that Shealtiel and Zerubbabel are listed in the ancestry of Jesus. If Judah had had a king, Zerubbabel would have been he. Shortly afterwards, the repatriates started reconstructing the Temple.

Haggai 1:1-15 (1/31/13)

The prophet Haggai brought God's word that those who returned from the Exile needed to get started on rebuilding the Temple.

Today’s passage has only four hard names: Zerubbabel, Shealtiel, Jehozadak, and Haggai, but tomorrow’s passage has about a dozen hard names. Fellow-reader Barbara F. says that it’s difficult to concentrate on what’s happening because of all the unpronounceable names. Yes indeed, it is. So here’s a pronunciation guide. Look up a name like “Jehozadak” or “Artaxerxes,” and it will say it out loud for you.

Now here’s the important thing. Your first goal is to be able to read the names silently without getting confused. If you can already do that, no problem. If saying the name in your head would be helpful – and it might very well be helpful – use the website. After you look up a dozen or two, you will probably get the hang of it and not need to use it as often.

Your second goal is to be able to read these passages out loud and impress the socks off all your friends! However, you could do this more easily just by reading the names with confidence, no matter whether you are reading them “correctly” or not. Your friends don’t know how to pronounce them either! All you really want to know is who is doing what to whom. Pronunciation of obsolete names is secondary.

Ezra 4:1-24 (1/30/13)

What I enjoy most about the book of Ezra are the copies of the letters sent back and forth between the residents of Palestine and the government officials in Persia. It has been said that all bureaucracies are interchangeable, and certainly the letters we read today support that position.

Another idea demonstrated by our reading is that it wouldn’t hurt to at least try to find some common ground with people you disagree with. During the Exile, the Jews had gotten real clear on the concept of separation: don’t associate with other ethnic groups, lest you get dragged into worshipping their gods. Unfortunately, the Jews were set back in their building program primarily because they rebuffed the Samaritans out of hand when the latter wanted to join them.

Ezra 5:1-5; Ezra 6:1-15 (2/1/13)

Once enacted, the laws of the Medes and Persians could never be repealed. When King Darius had his bureaucrats look in the records to see what the story was on the new buildings that the Jews were putting up in Jerusalem, they discovered that King Cyrus had told them to go for it. So Darius wrote back to the people who were trying to stop the Jews and told them to let the Jews alone. And for good measure, he told them to help pay for the project!

More of The Rest of the Story
Week 1. Beginning of Life As We Know It
Week 1. More on the Beginning of Life As We Know It
Week 2. God Builds a Nation – Abraham … But Not Lot
Week 2. God Builds a Nation – Isaac…But not Ishmael or the sons of Keturah
Week 2. God Builds a Nation – Jacob…But not Esau
Week 3. Joseph Preserves Two Nations
Week 4. Deliverance
Week 4. More on Deliverance
Week 5. New Commands and a New Covenant
Week 6. Wandering
Week 6. More on the Wandering
Week 7. The Battle Begins
Week 8. A Few Good Men...and Women
Week 9. The Faith of a Foreign Woman
Week 10. Standing Tall, Falling Hard
Week 11. From Shepherd to King
Week 12. The Trials of a King
Week 13. The King Who Had It All
Week 14. A Kingdom Torn in Two
Weeks 15 and 16. God's Messengers and The Beginning of the End
Week 17. The Kingdoms' Fall
Jeremiah, Prophet of the Exile
Story 19. The Return Home
Apocalyptic writings in the Old Testament
Story 21. Rebuilding the Walls
Story 22. The Birth of the King
Story 23. Jesus’ Ministry Begins
Story 24. No Ordinary Man
Story 25. Jesus, the Son of God
Story 26. The Hour of Darkness
Story 27. The Resurrection
Story 28. New Beginnings
James, Brother of the Lord
John and Jude
Story 31. The End of Time

Copyright 2013, 2015, 2016 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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