7.3 Exile and Return -- First Return
The story of the first wave of returnees, led by Sheshbazzar, with Zerubbabel as governor and Joshua the high priest, is told in Ezra 1-4, Ezra 5-6. In 537 the Jews built an altar and restored sacrificial worship. They also laid the foundation of a new Temple (Ezra 3:1-13). Then their mixed-race "Samaritan" neighbors, people brought from Mesopotamia and Aram and resettled in the northern territories by the kings of Assyria offered to help build (NIV Study Bible, p. 679). On being told that they had no part in the people of God, their cooperation turned to opposition, perhaps a combination of military and political intimidation (Ezra 4:1-5).
"Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia" (Ezra 4:24).
Darius I of Persia (sometimes called Darius the Great, not to be confused with "Darius the Mede" in Daniel) reigned from 522 to 486. He was an army officer who seized the throne in the midst of a power struggle.
"But Darius’ victory, far from establishing him in his position, set off a veritable orgy of revolt all over the empire. . . . As nationalistic feeling exploded everywhere a tense excitement was created from which the little community in Judah was by no means immune. Dormant hopes were awakened. Perhaps the awaited hour, the hour of the overturn of the nations and the triumphant establishment of Yahweh’s rule, had come at last!" (Bright, pp. 369-70).
This time of political uncertainty gave the Jews an opportunity to continue their building projects. Zerubbabel and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah seized the opportunity to restart work on the Temple (Ezra 5:1-2). When the non-Jews protested to the King, Darius not only authorized completion of the Temple, but also paid for offerings. The Temple was completed in 516 BC. However, following this notable achievement, the returned community went into hibernation -- nothing more was heard about them for nearly 60 years, until the arrival of Ezra.