Developments in Judaism under Persian Occupation (430 – 332 BC)

Read Nehemiah 8-13

Nehemiah was written around 430 BC.  Persian kings continued to rule over the Jewish people for the next hundred years.  During this time there were concerted efforts to re-establish Jerusalem as the centre of Jewish religious life.  To this end, groups of Torah scholars were set up in Jerusalem to help establish it as the hub of Torah authority, as well as the epicentre of the sacrificial system. They let it be known that all important questions of Jewish law should be sent to Jerusalem and there is historical evidence of a faraway group of the Jewish diaspora writing to the High Priest with questions about how they should practise the Torah (1).   

The elaborate garments worn by the priests are described in Exodus 28, and again in Exodus 39:1–31. Four of these garments are worn exclusively by the High Priest. They alone are called בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ, the holy garments. The ephod’s precious stones, inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes, are said to serve as אַבְנֵי זִכָּרוֹן “stones of reminder” to remind God of Israel, and the same is true of the twelve stones on the breastplate. Thus by his very person, the High Priest personifies the whole of the Israelite people לִפְנֵי ה’ “before YHWH,” (Exodus 28:12, 29; 39:7). The Urim and Thummim, connected with the breastplate, enable the High Priest, each time he enters the sanctuary, to inquire of God for His judgment on matters (Exodus 28:30). The robe is “worn” for its bells, their sound alerting the divine presence to the High Priest’s approach as he enters the sanctuary “so that he not die” (Exodus 28:35). Finally the diadem on Aaron’s head is said to remove from God’s abode any wrongdoing connected with Israel’s offerings and to ensure, by means of the inscription proclaiming that Israel’s worship is קֹדֶשׁ לַה’ “Holy to Yhwh,” that God graciously accept their sacrifices (Exodus 28:38). Thus the High Priest’s garments transform him who “wears” them into a walking embodiment of the whole nation of Israel, and they play indispensable roles in the worship that he enacts on Israel’s behalf. Having such a High-Priest, we come boldly to the throne of grace.

There remained, however, significant Torah schools in Babylon and the role of the synagogue in Jewish life did not diminish with the re-establishment of temple worship.   Jews now had two centres of spiritual authority and worship – the central authority of the temple in Jerusalem and the local authority of the synagogue. Influencing both of these were the Torah schools in both Babylon and Jerusalem.

Several of the innovations of the Babylonian exile were continued and built upon in Jerusalem, and throughout the diaspora, after the temple was rebuilt. These were attributed to Ezra’s highly respected leadership in Torah study and teaching. Being a scribe, Ezra also produced copies of the Torah and other Jewish religious books (notably the Nev’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings) that would come to be accepted as part of the Hebrew Scriptures). The practises further developed during this period included the prominent use of the singing of Psalms, prayer and instruction as part of the Synagogue service. Synagogue worship and rabbinical teaching continued to operate alongside the temple worship and reading of Torah (2). Formalised prayers that had been developed to replace temple worship during the exile continued to be used and a universal Jewish prayer service was established (3).  To give these prayers a clear framework the wording of the Shemoneh Esrei, Eighteen Blessings, was standardised as well as the blessings before and after food, before and after performing a mitzvah (good deed done within a religious duty and keeping of the commandments), and before and after the Sabbath (Kiddush and Havdalah) (4).

During this period the Levites translated the Torah into the Aramaic vernacular and explained it so the people could understand.

“The Levites … instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.  They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” Nehemiah 8:7–8  

This made it much more accessible to the diaspora for many of whom Aramaic was now their mother tongue.  For those in Judea, and especially in Jerusalem, Hebrew was emphasised even though many still used Aramaic as a trade language.  Everything in the Temple and synagogues of Judea was in Hebrew, as was the learning in the synagogue schools. (5)

Origins of the Sanhedrin and Recognising the inspiration of all the TaNaKh (OT)…

Ezra is credited by rabbinical Judaism with having brought like-minded Torah scholars together for what became called the “Great Synagogue” or Sanhedrin following on from the Nehemiah 8-10 gathering, although there is no historical evidence of a Sanhedrin existing at this time. Ezra certainly engendered a grass-roots movement of Torah study and public Torah reading and explanation, which was much needed because many of the population were now Aramaic speakers who lacked understanding of the finer nuances of the Hebrew language.  With like-minded scholars and students he is said to be responsible for the canonisation of the Prophets (Nev’im), and Writings (K’tuvim) into the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible – what Christians refer to as the Old Testament). (6) (7) (8).   

TaNaKh is an acronym referring to the traditional Jewish division of the Bible into Torah (Teaching), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Kituvim (Writings). The Tanakh that Ezra and his disciples compiled, and that Yeshua and all the original apostles grew up with, and is still used by Jews today, consists of twenty-four books.  This is less than the usual Christian count of thirty-nine because each of the following are considered to be a single book: 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, the twelve Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi), Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles.  The order, groupings and names of books are also different to the Christian Bible.  The TaNaKh is divided into:
1. Torah (Law/ Teachings) – consisting of the five books of Moses;
2. Nevi’im (Prophets) – consisting of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel & the twelve minor prophets;
3. K’tuvim (Writings) – consisting of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles. 

In Christian Bibles, following Greek tradition, the books are named according to their main theme, but in Jewish Bibles the books were named according to their first words.  What we call Exodus (the book about the Jewish exodus from Egypt) the Tanakh calls Sh’mot (Names), because it starts with “These are the names…”.  Hence we do not see Yeshua or the B’rit Hadasha (New Testament) writers using the same referencing of the Tanakh as Christians do today.

Not all priests were in agreement with the Canonisation of the Nevi’im and K’tuvim, giving them the same status as the Torah, although they generally saw great spiritual value in these works.  Thus a division started appearing in Jewish religious thought and practise between those who believed that their lives should be based just on the Torah or just the Torah and the Nevi’im, and those who believed that their lives should be based on the whole Tanakh.

Yeshua would endorse all three sections of the Tanakh in Luke 24:44 “that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Torah of Moses and the Nev’im (Prophets) Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (by “Psalms” Yeshua was using the Jewish convention of stating the first to refer to the whole. The K’tuvim (Writings) section in the Tanakh begins with the book of Psalms, not Job as in the OT).  It was not until much later that the dispute was settled unequivocally in Jewish circles. Only after the Sadducees had lost all power and influence with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple did Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakki convene the Council of Yavneh, in about 90 C.E., to conduct a final Jewish review of the canon where the whole Tanakh at last was confirmed as the Jewish canon.

The Jewish “Oral Law”…

Halakhah also continued to be developed and passed down orally from sage (rabbi) to talmidim (disciple / student) after the restoration of the temple and sacrifices. They taught: “Be deliberate in judgment; raise many disciples; and make a fence around the Torah” (Avos 1:1). This fence around the Torah consisted of rules and practises deemed necessary to keep the people from straying away from Torah observance, or their cultural heritage, and becoming in any way like their heathen neighbours.   

Halakhah – הֲלָכָה, the Way – is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from both the “written Torah” and the “oral Torah”.  As such it consists of:
* Mitzvot D’Oraita (an Aramaic word meaning “from the Torah”) – the 613 commandments (mitzvot מִצְווֹת, plural of mitzvah מִצְוָה) that Jewish rabbis and sages had reasoned from the Torah; and
* Mitzvot D’rabbanan (Aramaic for “from the rabbis”) all three categories of rabbinic commandments, which also became known as the “Oral Torah” and came to be attributed to Moses’ revelation on Mount Sinai, thus giving them, according to many pharisees, the same status as the Written Torah (ie. books of Moses, first 5 books in the Bible). :
~ Gezeirahlaws instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from accidently violating a Torah Mitzvot.  Commonly referred to as a ‘fence’ around the Torah.
~ Takkanotlaws unrelated to the Biblical commandments that were created by the rabbis for the public welfare, to ‘make the world a better place’. 
~ Minhag – all long-standing customs of the community.

An example of how this developed is in one of the dietary laws.  The Torah states: “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 34:26).  The Mitzvot D’Oraita derived from that verse decrees: “Do not eat flesh with milk” – the 164th commandment in their list of 613 commandments “from the Torah”.  This is then explained by the rabbis to be a prohibition on consuming any meat with any dairy products – a cheeseburger would be “illegal” for an observant Jew to eat.   Then, to prevent the people from accidently consuming any meat and cheese together Gezeirah were instituted which included declaring that any utensils, pots and pans with which they are cooked, plates and flatware from which they are eaten, and anything used in cleaning such as the towels with which the utensils that have come in contact with meat are dried, cannot be used with dairy, and vice versa.   The only “safe” way to run the household is to have two sets of pots, pans and dishes – one for meat and one for dairy.  In addition to all that, one must wait a significant amount of time between eating meat and dairy (different schools dictated different amounts of time) because fatty residues or meat particles could cling to the mouth and therefore still be present when the dairy was consumed if enough time had not lapsed between the two.

These rabbinical teachings came to be considered of equal authority to the Torah and by around 100 BC were starting to be referred to by some scholars as the Oral Law.   This elevation of cultural practises and rabbinic reasonings to the same status as the Torah was again not accepted by all priests or Torah scholars.  Among those who espoused the Oral Law there was considerable debate over what the correct practises, interpretations and laws were. (4). Even the mitzvot d’oraita (Torah commandments) contained differences in listings of commandments between the different schools (9).

There was, however, little dispute over the number of commandments (mitzvoth) because of the significance attached to the number 613.  The Talmud notes that the Hebrew numerical value (gematria) of the word “Torah” is 611, and there’s a midrash that says the first two of the Ten Commandments were heard by the Jewish people directly from God, so 611+2 = 613. These are divided into 365 negative commandments (do not do) “like the number of days of the sun”; and 248 positive commandments (do this) “like the parts of a person”. Other significances have also been given to the numbers 613, 365 and 248, all pointing to the overriding importance placed on the keeping of mitzvot d’oraita. (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) 

Many of the mitzvot cannot be observed apart from the temple in Jerusalem, although they still retain religious significance. According to one standard reckoning, out of the total 613 mitzvoth, there are 77 positive and 194 negative commandments that can be observed today, of which 26 apply only within the Land of Israel. (15) (16)

Development of the Permanent Jewish Calendar…

A major accomplishment of the Torah scholars of this period was the development of a permanent Jewish calendar.  The Jewish calendar is based on the cycle of the moon. However, if it were a strict lunar calendar then every year would be 11¼ days less than the solar year. The problem then would be that in three years an entire month would be lost.   Therefore, the Jewish sages added a leap month to the Jewish year. The solar and lunar years line up exactly every 19 years so seven times every nineteen years an entire month, Adar I, is added.

Jewish leadership under the Persians…

Torah scholars who gained renown were generally referred to as sages during this period, but sometimes the term of honour, rabbi (‘master/teacher’), was used – this term gained increasing popularity over the centuries that followed.

The High Priests during this period included men of noble character and those corrupted by power and greed. Although the First Temple saw only 18 High Priests throughout its 400 years, over 300 served during the Second Temple’s 420 years! Several were righteous, and their combined service accounts for around 141 of those years. Soon after Nehemiah the position of governor faded from view and the High Priest was left as the single governing authority over Judea under the Persians.

After Eliashib, who was High Priest during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, his son Joiada (Nehemiah 12:10) held this position from 433-410 BC.  As the sole leadership position, the High Priesthood ceased to be determined purely on a religious hereditary basis and became subject to Persian appointment.  Joiada’s son, Joshua, was promised the High Priesthood by Bagoses, general of Artaxerxes II.  He was killed by his brother, Johanan, in the temple during a quarrel.  Bagoses, being horrified that Johanan as a priest would perpetrate murder in the temple, forbade him from entering its holy precincts again.  Johanan justified his act, took up the High Priest’s office and entered the temple for the duties of that office from 410-371 BCE. Bagoses had the Persians respond by attacking the temple and imposing a tribute on the Jews. 

Johanan’s son Jaddua (also known as Shimon Ha Tzaddik / Simion the Just) served as High Priest from 371-320 BCE.  He restored the temple, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and earned the respect of all.  Tradition has it that Simion met Alexander the Great on his way to attack the Temple. Alexander prostrated himself and promised to treat the Jews benignly, explaining that before every battle he would see a vision of Simeon leading his troops to victory. Simion is also traditionally considered to be one of the last members of the Great Assembly, and there are claims that after his death men ceased to utter the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) aloud. (17) (18) (19)

Developing Messianic Expectations…

This was also a time of developing Messianic expectations in the aftermath of exile and cessation of the Davidic dynasty.  In the light of what God had promised King David, hope arose that He would someday restore a godly king to Israel: 

Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”          2 Samuel 7:16 NASB

 “I will save my flock; they will no longer be prey; and I will judge between sheep and other sheep. I will raise up one shepherd to be in charge of them, and he will let them feed — my servant David. He will pasture them and be their shepherd. I, Adonai, will be their God; and my servant David will be prince among them. I, Adonai, have spoken.”                                Ezekiel 34:22-24 CJB

For many, the expectation went beyond just a godly Davidic descendant to reign over Israel and extended to one who would also rule justly over all the gentile nations.  Such expectations were fuelled by scriptures such as these that hinted that the coming anointed one, the Messiah, would be God Himself:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might,the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord – and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth.  He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist.   Isaiah 11:1-5 NIV

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.  Daniel 7:9-14 NIV

Other scriptures that were interpreted in the light of the Messianic hope during this period included (20):

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.  Genesis 49:10 NIV

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.   Numbers 24:17 NIV

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.    Zechariah 9:9 NIV

Developing Understanding of the World to Come…

Associated with this development of doctrines of the Messiah were also those of Olam Ha-Ba (The World to Come), which included immortality of the soul and resurrection of the dead in an age to come.  While the focus of Judaism remained on living and doing the best in the here and now, the present troubles and injustices were not seen the end of the story; there was a reward, an inheritance, still to come for those who lived in obedience to Yahweh.  As Daniel had prophesied that so many troubles would come to the Jewish people in the foreseeable future, it was comforting to know that was not all there was to come.(21)           

As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”    Daniel 12:13 NIV

Your dead will live, my corpses will rise; awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust; for your dew is like the morning dew, and the earth will bring the ghosts to life.   Isaiah 26:19 CJB

At that time, your people will be delivered, everyone whose name is found written in the book. Many of those sleeping in the dust of the earth will awaken, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame and abhorrence. But those who can discern will shine like the brightness of heaven’s dome, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:1b-3 CJB

 These doctrines were not developed in any systematic way during this period, as it was before the systematic thinking of Hellenization had impacted this part of the world and the Torah scholars were organic rather than systematic thinkers.  The general picture that emerged was firstly of the state of the soul in heaven after the death of the body, followed by the Messianic age here on earth “at the end of days” and then the resurrection of the dead which embraced a nationalistic hope of the resurrection of all Israel. (21)

Enlightened by these revelations in the Nev’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings), many sages and scholars also saw evidence of existence after death in the Torah.   Several noteworthy people are referred to as being “gathered to their people”, which they understood as a separate event from the physical death of the body or the burial.  Examples included: Gen. 25:8 (Abraham), 25:17 (Ishmael), 35:29 (Isaac), 49:33 (Jacob), Deut. 32:50 (Moses and Aaron), and II Kings 22:20 (King Josiah).  Genesis 17:14 and Exodus 31:14 refer to sins for which the punishment is being kareit “cut off from his people”, which they saw as referring to the soul losing their position in Olam Ha-Ba (The World to Come). (22)                     

Reference List

1. Jewish History.org. The Men of the Great Assembly. Jewish History. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-men-of-the-great-assembly/.
2. Dell Markey, Demand Media. What Effects Did the Babylonian Exile Have on the Jewish Religion? The Classroom. [Online] 18 Aug 2016. http://classroom.synonym.com/effects-did-babylonian-exile-jewish-religion-7222.html.
3. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The Beginning of the Second Commonwealth. Jewish History.org. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-beginning-2nd-commonwealth/.
4. The Sanhedrin English. Historical Overview. The Sanhedrin. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug 2016.] http://www.thesanhedrin.org/en/index.php?title=Historical_Overview.
5. Keyser, John D. Hebrew and Aramaic – Languages of First Century Israel. Hope of Israel. [Online] [Cited: 25th Aug 2016.] http://www.hope-of-israel.org/h&a.html.
6. Encyclopedia Judaica: The Great Synagogue. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0019_0_19428.html.
7. Hirsch, Emil G. Ezra the Scribe. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5967-ezra-the-scribe.
8. Mindel, Nissan. Ezra the Scribe. Chabad.org. [Online] Kehot Publication Society. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111905/jewish/Ezra-the-Scribe.htm.
9. Levine, Jason. Judaism: The 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 29th Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/613_mitzvot.html.
10. Hartman, Osher Chaim Levene & Rabbi Yehoshua. 613: Your Wish is My Command. Aish. [Online] [Cited: 28th Sept. 2016.] http://www.aish.com/h/sh/se/613-Your-Wish-is-My-Command.html.
11. dlevy. Lies We Were Taught in Hebrew School, or why 613 is a Meaningless Number. Jewschool – Progressive Jews & Views. [Online] [Cited: 28th Sept. 2016.] https://jewschool.com/2009/05/16277/lies-we-were-taught-in-hebrew-school-or-why-613-is-a-meaningless-number/.
12. The Number 613: Properties and Meanings. VirtueScience. [Online] [Cited: 28th Sept. 2016.] http://www.virtuescience.com/613.html.
13. McGough, Richard Amiel. The Number 613. The Bible Wheel. [Online] [Cited: 29th Sept. 2016.] http://www.biblewheel.com/GR/GR_613.php.
14. Rich, Tracey R. A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). Judaism 101. [Online] [Cited: 29th Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm.
15. Chaim, Chofetz. Sefer HaMitzvot HaKatzar (in Hebrew). Jerusalem : Feldheim., 1990.
16. HaCohen, Yisrael Meir. The Concise Book of Mitzvoth: The Commandments which can be Observed Today. s.l. : Feldheim, 1990.
17. God’s Secret. 2nd Temple History and More – Persian and Hellenistic Periods (538-142 BCE). [Online] 19th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 19th Sept. 2016.] https://godssecret.wordpress.com/2008/09/19/what-do-you-want-know-who-you-stand-before/.
18. The Jewish Temples – High Priests of the Second Temple Period (516 BCE – 70CE). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] AICE. [Cited: 14th March 2020.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/high-priests-of-the-second-temple-period.
19. Gniwisch, Leibel. The High Priest in Jewish Tradition. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 14th March 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4195084/jewish/The-High-Priest-in-Jewish-Tradition.htm.
20. Evans, Craig A. A Closer Look: Messianic Expectations. Christianity Today. [Online] 7th March 2012. [Cited: 5th Nov. 2016.] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/march/closer-look-messianic-expectations.html.
21. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. Jewish Resurrection of the Dead. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 6th Nov. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-resurrection-of-the-dead/.
22. Rich, Tracey R. Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife. Judaism 101. [Online] [Cited: 6th Nov. 2016.] http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and some of the following questions…

* What were some of the changes in Judaism during this time?
* What happened with the high priests became both the civic and spiritual leaders of the Jewish community?
* How can we prevent church leaders becoming corrupted by money and/or power?
* What are some of the similarities and differences between Jewish culture during this, and your culture?
* What “oral laws” has your community, church or denomination developed?
* What did the OT scriptures say about the coming Messiah?

Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem (486 – 430 B.C.)

Read Esther; Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-7; Daniel 9
& Malachi

God protected His people, and the fulfilment of His word, through an orphaned young Jewish woman…

One of Darius’ sons, Xerxes, succeeded him in 486 BCE. He had little talent for economics and revelled too much in court pleasures and in lavish building projects. His treatment of subjugated peoples was also brutal, contrary to the habits of his predecessors (1).  In 483 BCE. Xerxes held a one hundred and eighty day feast for his officials, followed immediately by a seven day feast for all the people in the citadel of Susa (fortified part of the capitol city of Persia where his palace was located), at the end of which Queen Vashti refused to obey his command to come so he could show off her beauty. Her punishment was to be banished forever from Xerxes’ presence and stripped of her royal position (Esther 1).  

Xerxes then went to quell rebellions in Egypt and Greece, initially accomplishing great exploits but suffered a humiliating naval defeat against the Greeks in 480 BCE.  So he returned to his magnificent feasts and desired once again to have a queen.  All the most beautiful virgins in the empire were brought together for six months of beauty treatments and preparations and from these Esther was chosen (Esther 2).  She kept her Jewish identity secret and they were married at the end of 479 BCE.  

Four decades after the temple was built the work of rebuilding Jerusalem hadn’t progressed much further than that and now all was under threat with Haman’s murderous plot to have all the Jews in all the provinces of Persia killed, destroyed and annihilated.  This time their salvation came not from a mighty warrior or a foreign army, but from a young Jewish woman whom God had placed as queen for such a time as this. 

Awareness of the plot, and fasting and prayers of the Jewish people to avert it, took place not in the temple in Jerusalem but in the Persian city of Susa (2).  The Jewish diaspora was now large not only in Babylon but throughout the Persian empire, and particularly in the main centres of power like Susa. The Jewish people were saved and empowered to destroy their enemies (Esther 9:1-19).  Mordecai then wrote letters to all the Jews in all the provinces of Persia to establish a new yearly celebration feast, Purim, commemorating their sorrow being turned to joy. This innovation did not come from the religious establishment in Jerusalem, but it was accepted and adopted throughout Judaism.   Purim continues to be the most joyous Jewish celebration. 

Each new generation needs to be led back to God…

Xerxes was assassinated in 465 BC, and after the lead assassin was killed Artaxerxes succeeded to the Persian throne in 464 BC.  In the seventh year of his reign, 457 BC, Artaxerxes permitted the Jewish scribe and priest, Ezra, to lead an expedition of about 5,000 Jews back to Jerusalem to settle there, teach the people the Law of Moses (Torah) and present offerings to God from Artaxerxes, and gifts for the temple (Ezra 7-8).   What Ezra found when he arrived was that the initial fervour of the returned captives had faded, the work of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem had seen little progress since the temple was rebuilt, 60 years before, and this next generation, from the priests and leaders down, had forsaken much of the Torah

The lessons of the Babylonian captivity appeared to have been so quickly lost, and Haman’s threat of annihilation the decade before left no positive effect in the Promised Land.  While the Jews in Babylon had continued working hard to maintain their distinct identity as the people of God through observance of Torah and customs, the next generation of those who had returned to the land of Judah quickly became complacent with their identity secured in their land and temple.

Money so easily corrupts, and when that happens in the spiritual leaders…

The high priest, Eliashib, had himself become compromised so the priesthood was corrupted and the reading of the Torah to the people ceased.  Eliashib was allied with Tobiah the Ammonite who, along with Sanballat the Horonite, sought to keep the children of Israel weak and the city of Jerusalem without a wall.  Eliashib’s wealth suggests that it may have been some form of business partnership. 

Without guidance from the Torah, many had taken foreign wives and started participating in the abominations of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.      To Ezra’s horror, even some of the priests had taken foreign wives who continued living and raising their children as pagans with all the practises that God abhorred.  

True Leadership Vs Self-Interested Leaders who Hinder God’s work…

Ezra wept bitterly in identificational repentance before the house of God until the men, women and children of Israel gradually joined him in weeping and repentance prayer.   What Haman’s attempt at annihilation failed to do, the priest’s tears accomplished – God’s people in Jerusalem repented and returned to Him (Ezra 10:1-6).  

Ezra weeping over the sins of his people
Ezra praying, by Gustave Doré (colour added later)

Ezra gathered some of the heads of households and together they questioned all the men who had taken pagan wives until each one promised they would put away those wives and bring a trespass offering to Yahweh (Ezra 10:16-44).  However, this was only half the problem and the rebuilding of Jerusalem remained stalled because key leaders of the community such as Shechaniah, who had married his daughter to Tobiah, and Meshullam, who had married his daughter to Tobiah’s son, remained allied to their enemies even as the high priest was.  One of the high priest’s grandsons had married the daughter of Sanballat.

Godly Leadership Needed in both Church and State…

Ezra exemplified the Torah and prophets’ ideal of priest. He is credited with being the “Father of Judaism” and founder of the modern Jewish religion (3).  Yet there was only so much he could accomplish with both the civic and religious leaders of the land aligned to their enemies.  Ezra’s purity of life and teaching of the people appeared to have little impact on their leaders.  But God heard his prayers.  Thirteen years after Ezra’s arrival, in 444 BCE, Artaxerxes gave his Jewish cupbearer, Nehemiah, letters of authority to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.  Under Nehemiah the walls of Jerusalem, which had remained desolate for the last 93 years of Jewish habitation, were repaired in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). 

Nehemiah directing the building of the walls of Jerusalem

Countdown to Messiah begins…

Here Daniel’s fourth vision’s countdown of sevens to Messiah begins:

“Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.”   Daniel 9:25-26 NIV

Daniel was clearly told when the 69 sevens would begin their countdown until the Anointed One / Messiah would come, and be put to death. The first seven sevens would begin with a decree involving the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem.  So there was to be another ‘seven sevens’ (49 years) and then ‘sixty-two sevens’ (434 years) before the Anointed One was to come, and would be put to death, a total of 483 years – time for more kingdoms to rise and fall.

What it takes to Repair Spiritual Walls…

As the physical walls of the city were repaired, so were the spiritual walls. Nehemiah gathered all the people together for Ezra to read the Scroll of the Law of Moses (Torah) to them.  They listened intently and followed God’s directions for the Feast of Tabernacles with great joy.  All the people came together again in response to the reading of the Law, this time with fasting confessing their sins and the iniquities of their fathers then uniting in a great prayer of worship, repentance and covenant commitment to walk in God’s law and obey everything in the Torah (Nehemiah 9&10).  This has become known as “The Covenant of Faith”. (4)  What Ezra had begun 13 years before was now coming to fulfilment. 

Ezra reading the Torah scroll to the people

Godly Leaders Care for the Poor…

Nehemiah was a very rare and exceptional leader who walked in the fear of God, unlike the governors before or after him.  He served as governor in the land of Judah for 12 years at his own expense because of his concern that the ordinary people were already too poor and heavily burdened even though there was a very wealthy upper class in Judea.  He called a great assembly of the people to shame the wealthy into ceasing their unbiblical practises of charging their brothers interest, selling them and their families as slaves, and selling their land as repayment for debts (Nehemiah 5).  He demonstrated a much greater commitment to both the Torah and the temple worship than the High Priest Eliashib, who served only his own interests.

When Nehemiah returned from his promised time back with the king of Persia he found this corruption had manifest itself again and took decisive action to set things back in order both in the temple and in the people’s obedience to Torah, removing Tobiah the Ammonite from his residence in the temple storeroom, re-instituting the Levitical worship and cleansing them of everything pagan (Neh. 13).

To the end of the OT Prophets…

Malachi was also written during the first period of seven ‘sevens’ (49 years since the decree to rebuild the walls and city of Jerusalem).  Like Ezra and Nehemiah, he rebukes corruption in the priesthood and the infidelity of the people, calling for repentance. Like Daniel, he elicits Messianic expectations:

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts”  Malachi 3:1

References

1. Stevenson, John T. Israel After The Exile. John Stevenson Bible Study Page. [Online] 2000. [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/14ezra.html.
2. Goldberg, G. J. Esther: Her Point of View Josephus’ Version with Commentary. Thematic Concerdance of the Works of Josephus. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://josephus.org/Esther.htm.
3. Carlson, Thomas. Exile to Babylon and Diaspora. Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug 2016.] http://www.religion.ucsb.edu/faculty/thomas/classes/rgst116b/JewishHistory.html.
4. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. Ezra and Nehemiah. Jewish History.org. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/ezra-and-nehemiah/.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on some of the following questions…

* What are some of the things we can learn from Esther’s story?
* How had the Jews in Israel, who could attend the Temple and participate in sacrifice and worship there, become less faithful to God than the Jews in the Persian cities?
* How can you help your people keep fervently focused on God and not backslide like the Jews in Israel had done?
* How are you reaching the next generation?
* What were the sins of the Jewish leaders and how can we avoid being seduced by such sins?
* What qualities did Ezra and Nehemiah have that made them good leaders?
* What have you seen happen in your nation when gifted leaders lack godly character?

Rebuilding the Temple (539 – 517 BC)

Read Ezra 1-6; Ezekiel 40-48; Daniel 9-12; Haggai
& Zechariah
Those who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple were vitally concerned with religious and ethnic purity, carefully obeying the laws of Moses and checking each person’s genealogy to verify their claim to Jewish heritage. A deeply religious society, intolerant of others, was being built.

Response to prophetic promises – prayer and repentance on behalf of the people…

Jeremiah had prophesied that Israel would be desolate for 70 years then God would destroy forever the Babylonian empire and cause the captives in Babylon to return to their land (Jer.25:12; 29:10; 2 Chron.36:21; Dan.9:2 & Zech.7:6).   Isaiah had prophesied:

See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold.                                                              Isaiah 13:17 NIV

Daniel records: 

Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.          Daniel 5:30-31 NIV

The “Babylonian Chronicles” tell us the exact date which Babylon fell, October 13, 539 B.C.  Darius the Mede (Gubaru) led the division of Medo-Persian troops that conquered Babylon.  He was born in 601 B.C. which would make him 62 years old when he invaded Babylon and was appointed by the Persian king, Cyrus, to be ruler in Babylon. Historians believe that the name Darius was not a proper name at all, but a title of honour meaning “Holder of the Sceptre.”  Hence Gubaru was called Darius “The Scepter Holder (King) of the Medes.” (1)   

After the fall of Babylon Daniel went back to Jeremiah’s letters and this time as he read them he realised that the 70 years prophesied for the Jews’ exile in Babylon was almost finished (Jeremiah 25:10-14 & 29:10-14), and so prayed for his people and confessed their sins with messianic expectations of not only a return to their land but also of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), of a new spirit within his people (Ezekiel 11:19) and of God’s glory filling the earth (Hab.2:14).  In response Daniel received a fourth vision, in which the angel Gabriel brought revelation about a coming 70 ‘sevens’ (Daniel 9). The context makes it clear that a ‘seven’ was a period of 7 years. 

Seventy sevens to accomplish six purposes…

The scope and purpose of what was to come was described in this fourth vision:

Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.” Daniel 9:24 NIV

Gabriel’s prophetic revelation to Daniel in this fourth vision began with the words, “Seventy sevens are decreed …” (Daniel 9:24a).  Many English versions have translated the phrase to read “seventy weeks.” But this translation is not totally accurate and has caused some confusion about the meaning of the passage.  Most Jews know the Hebrew for “weeks” because of the observance of the Feast of Weeks, and that Hebrew word is Shavuot.  However, the word that appears in the Hebrew text is shavuim, which means “sevens.” The word refers to a “seven” of anything, and the context determines the content of the seven.  Here it is obvious that Daniel had been thinking in terms of years—specifically the 70 years of captivity. Daniel had assumed that the kingdom of God would be established when the captivity ended, after the 70 years prophesied by Jeremiah. But here Gabriel was using a play upon words in the Hebrew text, pointing out that insofar as Messiah‘s kingdom was concerned, it was not “70 years,” but “70 sevens of years,” a total of 490 years (seventy times seven – interestingly, the same response that Yeshua gave in Matthew 18:22 when asked how many times we are to forgive others).

This period of 70 x 7 years had been “decreed” over the Jewish people and over the holy city of Jerusalem. The Hebrew word translated “decreed” literally means “to cut off” or “to determine.” In chapters 2, 7 and 8, God revealed to Daniel the course of future world history in which gentiles would have a dominion over the Jewish people. This lengthy period, which began with the Babylonian Empire, was to continue until the establishment of Messiah‘s kingdom.  It is for that reason often referred to as the “Times of the Gentiles.”  Now Daniel was told that a total of 490 years was to be “cut out” of the ‘Times of the Gentiles’, and a 490-year period had been “determined” or “decreed” for the accomplishment of the final restoration of Israel and the establishment of Messiah‘s kingdom.

These seventy sevens were to accomplish six purposes (Daniel 9:24b). The first was ‘to finish transgression’. The Hebrew word translated “to finish” means “to restrain completely” or “to bring to completion.” The Hebrew word translated “transgression” is a very strong word for sin and more literally means “to rebel.”  The Hebrew text has this word with the definite article, so literally it means “the transgression,” or “the rebellion.”  Some specific act of Jewish rebellion is finally going to be completely restrained and brought to an end. This concurs with Isaiah 59:

“A Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from disobedience in Jacob,” says Yahweh.               Isaiah 59:20 WEB

The second purpose of the seventy sevens is ‘to put an end to sin’. The Hebrew word translated “to put an end” literally means “to seal up” or “to shut up in prison.” It means to be securely kept, locked up, not allowed to roam at random. The Hebrew word translated as “sin” literally means “to miss the mark.”  These sins are also to be put to an end. This, too, concurs with predictions by other Jewish prophets that proclaim that in the Messianic kingdom, sinning would cease from Israel (Isaiah 27:9, Ezekiel 36:25-27, 37:23, Jeremiah 31:31-34), they would no longer miss the mark.

The third purpose is ‘to atone for wickedness’. The Hebrew word translated “to atone” is “kaphar,” which has the same root meaning as the word “kippur,” as in Yom Kippur (the Hebrew ‘Day of Atonement’), with the verb form being “kaphar” which means “to cover, purge, make reconciliation.”
The word translated “wickedness” refers to inward sin. This has sometimes been referred to as the sin nature, or perhaps a more common term among Jewish people would be yetzer hara, the evil inclination.” The third purpose, then, is to cover and purge human sinful nature so as to reconcile us to our holy God.  Thus, it is by means of this atonement that the first two purposes will also be accomplished, that of finishing the transgression (rebellion) and putting an end to sin (missing the mark).

The fourth purpose of the 70 sevens is ‘to bring in everlasting righteousness’.  More literally this could be translated “to bring in an age of righteousness,” since the Hebrew “olam” is better translated as “age” rather than as “everlasting.” This age of righteousness is to be the Messianic kingdom spoken of in the Prophets (Isaiah 1:26, 11:2-5, 32:17; Jeremiah 23:5-6, 33:15-18). It is this very age that Daniel had been expecting to see established after the 70 years of captivity, but now he is told that it will not be until after 70 sevens of years.

The fifth purpose is ‘to seal up vision and prophecy’.  Here Daniel used a word which means “to affix a seal” or “to certify by making a seal imprint”.   The Hebrew word translated ‘vision’ here refers to ‘divine communication that requires response; and the one translated ‘prophesy’refers to ‘speaking God’s message’ or ‘speaking God’s mind’.  Divine communication that requires response and God’s message are to be certified and completely fulfilled.

The final purpose of the seventy sevens is ‘to anoint the Most Holy Place’.  This is a reference to the Jewish temple which is to be rebuilt when Messiah comes.  It refers to the same temple that Daniel‘s contemporary, Ezekiel, described in great detail (Ezekiel 40-48).  (2)

Daniel acted with total integrity in fulfilling all his duties – no wrongdoing, corruption or negligence, and could not be deterred from prayer …

Darius installed governors in Babylon, including Daniel.  Once again Daniel, who was now about 82yo, distinguished himself among the administrators and the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.  At this the other administrators and leaders sought to discredit Daniel but could find no wrongdoing, no corruption or negligence of any of his duties.  So they tricked king Darius into issuing an edict forbidding prayer to any god during the next thirty days with the punishment for breaking such being thrown into the lion’s den.   Daniel was unmoved, he continued getting down on his knees facing Jerusalem three times a day and praying, giving thanks to God and asking Him for help.   Darius could find no way to repeal his law so the aged Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den and a large stone placed over the mouth of the den.  God sent His angel and shut the mouths of the lions and prevented Daniel from being hurt by them so Darius ordered that those who had schemed to get rid of Daniel be thrown to the lions and decreed that everyone in his kingdom fear and reverence the God of Daniel.  Thus, Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Jeremiah’s prophesy fulfilled…

Darius died after only a year’s rule.  Following Darius’ death Cyrus took over being ‘king of Babylon’ as well as ‘king of Lands’. (3) (4) (5).

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia – in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah – the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,  “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up.'”
(2 Chronicles 36:22-23)      For the full decree see Ezra 1:2-4.

Some suggest that this was in response to reading Isaiah’s prophesy:

Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure,’ even saying of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built;’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.                       Isaiah 44:28 WEB

In 537 BCE, 70 years after the first Babylonian invasion and captivity, the first company of Jews returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel and his uncle, Sheshbazzar, descendants of the royal family of David through Solomon.  To Sheshbazzar was given the remaining articles of the house of the LORD, but this did not include the Ark of the Covenant which, just as Jeremiah had prophesied (Jer. 3:16) was lost and neither remembered nor remade.  Cyrus sent the Jews home for religious purposes – to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Judah was re-established so Yahweh could be worshipped, and the Jews were sent to Judah for the express purpose of building the temple and worshiping Yahweh. Before the Exile, Judah and Israel were kingdoms; now Judah was a theological state within the Persian Empire. (6); (7)

Most of the Jewish people, however, chose not to return to the Promised Land as they had now built comfortable lives for themselves in Babylon. With many becoming wealthy and rising to positions of prominence, Babylon had come to feel like home and they reasoned that Abraham had come from there; so a tradition built up, which was later affirmed in the Talmud, that living in Babylon was as though they were living in the Land of Israel with all the spiritual benefits thereof (8). Most had no desire to uproot and move back to the desolation that had been the homeland of their ancestors (5).  For much of the Jewish population the desperate longing of Psalm 137 had faded into a nice ideal.   Of what was probably a million Jews living in the Persian Empire, only 42,360 went back (Ezra 2:64), while the vast majority chose to stay in Babylon (9).

Those who did return included the heads of the houses of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and the Levites. They all returned to their former cities but gave for the work of rebuilding the temple and gathered together in Jerusalem for the important first task of building the altar of Yahweh so the regular burnt offerings could once again be made to the Lord. This daily sacrificial system was considered of such importance that it, and the keeping of the feasts, was commenced even before the foundation for the Temple (BethHamikdosh) was laid. 

Sacrifices offered even before the foundation of the temple was laid.

In the second year construction began on the temple. Those who returned were vitally concerned with religious and ethnic purity, carefully obeying all the laws of Moses and searching their genealogies to verify each person’s claim to Jewish heritage.  A deeply religious society, intolerant of others, was being built. 

When Cyrus overcame the Babylonians, the Achaemenids (first Persian Empire) accepted the dominance of Aramaic and made it the official language of Syria and Palestine (Ezra 4:7), thus permitting a special Imperial Aramaic to develop.  So even after they returned to the land of Israel, the Jewish people continued to speak Aramaic. Hebrew remained the language of Jewish religious practice, but Aramaic became the generally spoken language of Palestine (10).

Daniel’s last vision…

535 BC, in the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia, after three weeks of mourning and fasting for his people, Daniel had his last recorded and most impacting vision.  This fifth vision was of a man whose face was like lightening and eyes like flaming torches who told of four kings to come and the time of the end (Daniel 10-12).  

Daniel's vision of a man whose face was like lightening and eyes like flaming torches.

In this vision Daniel is warned about a coming prince of Greece, but before him were to be more Persian rulers to come after Cyrus: “Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than them all” (WEB).  It is interesting that Daniel’s last vision emphasized the reign of the fourth king, whom we now know was Xerxes whom Esther married and during whose reign the Jews were delivered from a threat of extermination.  Daniel’s five visions covered the whole time-frame from the Babylonian conquest to, what far into the future would be Roman rule, and profoundly impacted Jewish hopes and Messianic expectations throughout this period.

Work on the temple halted…

Cyrus died in 530 B.C and during the reign of his son, Cambyses (Ahasuerus), work on the Temple was halted by royal decree.

God sent two prophets with His word to resume the work of rebuilding the temple – obedience opened the door and brought unexpected blessings…

Cambyses died in 522 B.C. and after a few months his distant cousin Darius was able to take the throne and restore peace to the Persian Empire.  Haggai and Zechariah both prophesied during the second year of the reign of Darius (Ezra 5:1; Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1).  At their urging, Zerubbabel resumed the work of rebuilding the Temple.  When challenged by the Persian officials, he made claim to the permission that had originally been granted by Cyrus (Ezra 5:13).  When this was reported to Darius he called for a search to be made of the royal records at Babylon and Ecbatana. Cyrus’ edict was found so Darius ordered it to be followed and even decreed that the Temple project be funded by the royal treasury of Persia (Ezra 6:2-12). As a result, the Temple was completed in the 6th year of Darius. 

In 517 BCE, 70 years after its destruction, the people celebrated the dedication of this house of God with great joy and the priests and Levites were assigned to their temple functions as instructed in the Torah

The first Passover celebrated after the dedication of the temple was a joyous event.  The piety of the returned children of Israel and God’s blessing on them had impacted others in the land who responded by separating themselves from the filth of the nations in order to seek Yahweh, God of Israel.  The priests and Levites had purified themselves according to Torah and sacrificed the Passover lambs for all the children of Israel who had returned from captivity.   They ate together with all who had separated themselves to seek Yahweh. All were filled with the joy of the Lord throughout the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Reference List

1. Historical Evidence Belshazzar & Darius the Mede. Bible History. [Online] 2013. [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] http://www.biblehistory.net/newsletter/belshazzar_darius_mede.htm.
2. Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. The Messianic Time Table According to Daniel the Prophet. Jews for Jesus. [Online] [Cited: 20th Oct. 2016.] http://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/v05-n01/timetable.
3. Shea, William H. Darius the Mede: an Update. Andrews University. [Online] Andrews University Press. , 1982. [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] https://www.andrews.edu/library/car/cardigital/Periodicals/AUSS/1982-3/1982-3-04.pdf.
4. Cyrus King Of Persia aka King Darius The Mede, Son of Ahasuerus. Power of Prayer, Praise and the Word of God. [Online] 17th July 2010. [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] https://pppministries.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/cyrus-king-of-persia-aka-king-darius-the-mede-son-of-ahasuerus/
5. Stevenson, John T. Israel After The Exile. John Stevenson Bible Study Page. [Online] 2000. [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/14ezra.html.
6. Bible Timeline. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.] http://biblehub.com/timeline/.
7. Hooker, Richard. The Jewish Temples: After the Babylonian Exile (538 – 332 BCE). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Exile1.html.
8. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. Babylon and Beyond. Jewish History.org We bring Jewish History to life. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/babylon-and-beyond/.
9. Spiro, Rabbi Ken. History Crash Course #43: The Jews of Babylon. aish.com. [Online] 1st September 2001. [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48949881.html.
10. Keyser, John D. Hebrew and Aramaic – Languages of First Century Israel. Hope of Israel. [Online] [Cited: 25th Aug 2016.] http://www.hope-of-israel.org/h&a.html

In the comments section below share your thoughts on some of the following questions…

* What can we learn from Daniel’s example?
* What was Daniel’s response to reading the prophesies concerning his time?
* How can we repent on behalf of our nation?
* How can we discern if a prophesy is from God?
* What was the purpose of the “seventy sevens” that God told Daniel about, and how has that been fulfilled?
* What is yet to be fulfilled from Daniel’s visions?

A New Judaism – without Land or Temple (586 – 537 BC)

Read Exodus 19-35:3; Leviticus 7:22-27, 11-20, 23-27;
Deuteronomy 4-26; Jeremiah42-52; Ezekiel 29-34
& Daniel 3-8
The Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s temple, and the city of Jerusalem, with fire. This destruction, and later disasters in Jewish history, are mourned with fasting by the Jews every year on 9th Av. This day of mourning is called Tisha B’Av. (Image from an 1850 painting by David Roberts).

Judgment brought repentance and renewed religious fervour…

The loss of the temple and sacrificial system left a vacuum in Jewish religious life and identity that had to be filled with something.  Sin (failure to keep Torah) had brought this destruction upon them, but there was no more sacrifice for sin without the temple where such sacrifices had to be made.  So how could the people find any redemption?

There was only one thing they could do, seek redemption through repentance and obedience to the commands of the Torah that could be followed outside of the temple, such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, purity laws, and dietary prescriptions (1). The captives set about purifying their religion by rejecting all foreign gods and practices, focusing on that which God had commanded through Moses (2).  They gave up all idolatry and were never again led into its evil practices as they been wont to do before.  A vital sense of repentance was created and private devotion and prayer encouraged.  Their elaborate nation-wide ceremonials, great festivals and temple sacrifices were replaced with local community prayer, fasting and Sabbath observances.  The latter included assembling the people together for prayer and the reading of the scripture (3). Study of the Torah became the focus of practice, with weekly meetings in public study houses (1).  The result was the rise of the Synagogue among the Jews dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire (4).   Having Jewish life in the dispersion revolve around the Synagogue, and the teachings of the Synagogue, protected the Jews from the integration that had caused the northern kingdom of Israel to disappear into the melting pot of nations.

Priestly role of teaching Torah now open to all men…

This rise of the Synagogue in turn resulted in a significant shift in the role of teaching the people the meaning and practice of the Torah. From Moses until the end of the first temple period the Levitical priesthood had been responsible for the whole sacrificial system; maintenance of the tabernacle and then the temple; ministering to God through music, song, prayer and incense; and with teaching the people Torah observance, reading the books of Moses to them and explaining the meaning (Deut. 17:18-20; 28:58-63; Deut. 30:9-10; Deut. 31:24-26; Joshua 1:8; Joshua 23:6; 2 Kings 22:13; 2 Kings 23:3; 2 Kings 23:21; 1 Chr. 16:37-40; 2 Chron. 18; 2 Chron. 31:2-3; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 8; Neh. 10:28-29; Neh. 13:1 & Daniel 9:13).   Jewish religion had centred on the Temple and the Temple was the domain of the Levitical priests, only they were qualified to serve in its precincts.

There were no such restrictions on service in the Synagogue.   As Synagogues were established wherever ten Jewish families could gather, many of them did not have any Levites as members, so the reading of Torah and leading of the services often fell to those of other tribes.  Thus a new class arose as scholar, teacher and spiritual leader to explain God’s expectations to the common people – the Rabbi (4).  Although not an official title until after the destruction of the second temple, the function of rabbi began to develop during the Babylonian captivity. 

Aramaic was the international language of the ancient Near East. It is a Semitic language, closely related to Hebrew. The Jews in Babylon quickly adopted the Aramaic language as they started businesses, traded with their neighbours and rose to positions of political power and social influence.  The language of the Torah remained Hebrew. As increasing numbers of Jews, particularly the younger generations, spoke Aramaic in their everyday lives, the Synagogue Torah reading increasingly included explanation of the meaning of the text in Aramaic. (5) 

From repentance, to observance, to legalism…

The necessity of remaining as a distinct people while scattered throughout the Babylonian empire expanded the rabbinical role from just reading and explaining the Torah to ‘building a fence’ around the Torah, legislating additional laws and enforcing cultural traditions and customs to keep the Jews separate from all other peoples (6).  Thus began the development of oral traditions added to the Torah to explain its meaning in practice as a minority in a pagan society (7).  Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah, plus additional laws instituted by the rabbis, plus the customs of the community, became jointly known as halakhah and all became binding on every member of the community as Jewish Law or “the path that one walks / the way” (8).  Whereas the prophets speaking God’s heart to His people made it easy for the most simple person to understand what God requires of us; “to act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8), the teachers of the law made it so intricate and complicated that only highly trained scholars had any hope of understanding all the requirements they attributed to God.

Halakhah  הֲלָכָה, is often translated as “Jewish Law” although a more literal (and more appropriate) translation is “The Way” or “the path that one walks”.  The word is derived from the Hebrew root ‘Hei-Lamed-Kaf‘, meaning to go, to walk, or to travel. Halachah is “the way” for a Jew to walk through life, “the way” a Jew is directed to behave in every aspect of life; encompassing civil, criminal and religious law.

During the Babylonian captivity teachings began to emerge in connection to the Torah that were not in the text. These involved interpreting, modifying and enacting rules of conduct for every aspect of Jewish life. This body of teaching continued to be developed over the following centuries so that it was quite extensive, dictating every aspect of Jewish life, by the time of Christ.

Halakhah was developed from three sources:
1) Mitzvot D’Oraita (Commandments from the Torah)- the 613 mitzvot (commandments) that were developed by the rabbis from what God gave the Jewish people in the Written Torah. Some are direct quotes from scripture but others have a fairly tenuous relationship to what is written in the Torah. These 613 mitzvot are subdivided into 248 positive commandments, “mitzvot aseh” (commandments to do), and 365 negative commandments, “mitzvot lo ta’aseh” (commandments not to do).
2) Mitzvot D’Rabbanan (Laws Instituted by the Rabbis) – these rabbinic laws are also referred to as mitzvot (commandments) and are considered to be as binding as Mitzvot D’Oraita. Mitzvot d’rabbanan are commonly divided into three categories: gezeirah, takkanah and minhag.
…..a) Gezeirah (literally “fence”) are the fence rabbis built around the Torah – laws instituted to prevent people from accidentally violating a Torah mitzvah. For example, a gezeirah commands Jews on the Sabbath (Shabbat) not to even handle an implement that could be used to perform ‘prohibited work’ (such as a pencil, money, or a hammer), because someone holding the implement might forget that it was Shabbat and perform prohibited work.
…..b) Takkanah (literally remedy or fixing) is a rule unrelated to biblical laws that was created by the rabbis for the public welfare. For example, the “mitzvah” to light candles on Chanukkah, a Jewish holiday instituted after the OT was written.
3) Minhag Mitzvot are customs that developed for worthy religious reasons and had continued long enough to become a binding religious practice, often referred to in the NT as “traditions of the elders“. These ‘traditions of the elders‘ are considered a binding part of halakhah (the ‘Oral Law’ / the ‘Way’), just like a mitzvah, a takkanah or a gezeirah. (8, 9)
The word “minhag” is also used in a looser sense, to indicate a community or an individual’s customary way of doing some religious thing. For example, it may be the minhag in one synagogue to stand while reciting a certain prayer, while in another synagogue it is the minhag to sit during that prayer.

Imagine how audacious it would have sounded when Yeshua (Jesus) came and claimed to be “the Way” (John 14:6).   Instead of following “the law” of the community, He was the embodiment of “the law” of God. He challenged the culture of His people with the culture of His kingdom.

“…the God we serve is able to save usBut even if He does not

585 BC King Nebuchadnezzar celebrated his conquests by making an image of gold, thirty metres high and three meters wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  Then he summoned the provincial officials to the dedication of his image, among them were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who would now have been in their thirties and spent half their lives in Babylon.   These three refused to fall down and worship the image of gold that Nebuchadnezzar had set up and so were tied up and thrown into a blazing furnace that had been heated seven times hotter than usual in the king’s rage.    The soldiers who threw them in were consumed by the flames, as were the ropes that bound them, but Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were walking around unharmed in the furnace with a fourth man whom Nebuchadnezzar described as looking like a son of the gods.  Such was the impact of this that Nebuchadnezzar promoted these three faithful ones and decreed that anyone who spoke against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses turned into piles of rubble. (Daniel 3)

A true friend urges repentance…

Three years later Nebuchadnezzar had another dream which greatly disturbed him.  Again, none had the wisdom or courage to give the king the interpretation of his dream except Daniel.  The dream contained a warning that Nebuchadnezzar would be cut down and appear destroyed, left wandering with the wild animals and eating grass like cattle for seven “times” until he acknowledges that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men, at which time his kingdom would be restored to him.  Daniel pleaded with Nebuchadnezzar to repent and renounce his sins by doing what is right and being kind to the oppressed.  Twelve months later, as Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was lifted up in pride declaring: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my power and for the glory of my majesty,” God’s judgment fell upon him and he became so insane that he was driven away from people and lived out in the open eating grass.   In due season Nebuchadnezzar repented of his pride, raised his eyes toward heaven and his sanity was restored, and with that his kingdom as well. (Daniel 4)

Wrongdoing brings fear, which brings rebellion…

Back in Judah, the Babylonians had allowed some of the poorer survivors of their conquests to remain to tend the land and placed Jedediah, a grandson of Josiah, over them (2 Kings 25:22). He was soon murdered (2 Kings 25:25) and the people, fearing that Nebuchadnezzar would avenge his death, decided to flee into Egypt (2 Kings 25:26). Jeremiah had warned them against taking this decision (Jer.42:9-22.) but was overruled and, along with his scribe Baruch, was dragged along with them (Jer.43:6-7). They settled in the Egyptian town of Tahpanhee (Jer.44:1), and built a Jewish community there, keeping many of the customs of their heritage but continuing in disobedience to God and every direction He gave them through the prophet Jeremiah.   Tradition has it that they eventually stoned Jeremiah to death (13) (14) (15).  In 569 BC Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt in fulfilment of Jeremiah 43:8-13; 46:13-26 and Ezekiel 29:19, taking captives back to Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 BC and was succeeded by his son, Evil Merodach in 561 BC.  Just five years later Evil Merodach was succeeded by Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law Nabonidus. Then in 553 BC Nabonidus left his son, Belshazzar, to reign as coregent in Babylon while he travelled west into Arabia to gain more land and rebuild temples in the Assyrian city of Harran. (13)    Neither Nabonidus nor Belshazzar were popular with the people, having alienated the priests, politicians and military alike.

The historic/prophetic context of Messiah’s coming…

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel, who was now about 67yo, had a prophetic vision while lying on his bed.  Scripture records five interwoven prophetic visions which Daniel received over a period of 68 years.  These fuelled Jewish Messianic expectations and speculations.  The first, as we had seen, was back in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, 604 BC, when as a teenager Daniel had a vision of the king’s dream of a great statue with golden head, silver chest, middle and thighs of bronze and legs of iron that was struck by a stone that became a great mountain which filled the whole earth (Daniel 2).   In Daniel’s second recorded vision, 52 years later, the great sea of humanity was stirred and four different beasts came up out of it (Dan. 7:2). These were four kings (Dan. 7:17) who correlated to the four kingdoms depicted in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:31-41).  

The significance of these four beasts was that they were Gentile kings whose kingdoms would rule over Israel one after another until the coming of Messiah

As in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, they were judged by the Ancient of Days who gave everlasting dominion and glory and a Kingdom to “One like the Son of Man” (Daniel 7).   These first two visions both began with a depiction of what already was ruling over the Jews – the Babylonian Empire.

First Beast – Head of Gold –
Babylonian Empire

The first beast in Daniel’s vision was “like a lion and had eagles’ wings” (Dan 7:4).  The lion is used as a symbol for Babylon in the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:7; 49:19; 50:17), and eagles symbolize Babylonian armies (Jeremiah 49:22).   This correlates with the head of fine gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s image, whom Daniel had identified as Nebuchadnezzar, to whom God had given the kingdom of Babylon (Dan. 2:37-38).  Nebuchadnezzar was the Babylonian ruler who had conquered the Jews in his expansion of the empire. (14)  “Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it.” (Dan. 7:4).   This could be referring to Nebuchadnezzar’s mental break and restoration (Dan. 4:19-37) or just to the weakening of the kingdom after his death.  

Daniel’s third vision, just two years later and still under Belshazzar’s rule, was of a ram and a goat and the fierce king who would arise in the latter time of the goat’s kingdom (Daniel 8).  This was depicting the next two kingdoms that were yet to rule over Israel, and correlated with the next two beasts of Daniel’s earlier vision.

In 539 BC, the first major event predicted in these prophetic visions took place, Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians.   Belshazzar sought to display his greatness by holding a massive feast for a thousand of the Babylonian nobles, gave orders that the gold and silver vessels from the temple in Jerusalem be used for the wine as they praised the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone.  The sudden appearance of a hand writing on the wall revealed what they had been too busy revelling to notice – God’s judgment had arrived and the kingdom of Babylon had been given to the Medes and Persians.  That same night Belshazzar was slain by the Medo-Persian army who had diverted the Euphrates River so they could enter under the city wall through the lowered water.

Second Beast – Chest & Arms of Silver – Ram with Long and Longer Horns Medo-Persian Empire

The second beast was like a bear (Dan. 7:5).  The second kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had been the chest and arms of silver, which would arise after Babylon (Dan. 2:39a).  This kingdom is seen in Daniel’s third vision as a ram with two long horns, one longer than the other, and none could stand against him as he came from the east butting westward, southward and northward (Dan. 8:3-4). That ram is identified as the kings of Media and Persia in Daniel 8:20.  The bear of Daniel 7 is described as being “raised up on one side”, just as the ram had one horn longer than the other, and Persia was stronger than Media. The combined strength of the Persians and the Medes led to the conquest of Babylon in 539 BC with the resulting extension of their empire over much of the Middle East, including Israel. Isaiah had prophesied the Medes overthrow of Babylon 175 years before (Isaiah 13:17-20), noting their disdain for silver and gold, the very gods that Belshazzar was worshipping when they broke into the city, overran it and killed him (Daniel 5). (15) Jeremiah had also prophesied that God would raise up the Medes to destroy Babylon (Jer. 51:11, 28-31).

As we continue on our journey towards Messiah’s birth we will see how accurately Daniel’s prophesies foretold what was to come and how each historical fulfilment increased the expectation that God would send their Messiah.

References

1. Thomas, Christine M. Exile to Babylon and Diaspora. Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. [Online] Winter Quarter 2006. [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.religion.ucsb.edu/faculty/thomas/classes/rgst116b/JewishHistory.html.
2. Hooker, Richard. The Jewish Temples: After the Babylonian Exile (538 – 332 BCE). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Exile1.html.
3. Tidwell, Josiah Blake. The Captivity of Judah. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://biblehub.com/library/tidwell/the_bible_period_by_period/chapter_xv_the_captivity_of.htm.
4. Dell Markey, Demand Media. What Effects Did the Babylonian Exile Have on the Jewish Religion? The Classroom. [Online] 18 Aug 2016. http://classroom.synonym.com/effects-did-babylonian-exile-jewish-religion-7222.html.
5. Spiro, Ken. Babylonian Exile. SimpleTo Remember.com Judaism Online. [Online] [Cited: 16th Aug 2016.] http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/babylonian_exile/.
6. Landis, Brad. A Hedge Around the Law. Bradlis7. [Online] 9th October 2013. [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://s.bradlis7.com/2013/10/a-hedge-around-the-law/.
7. Jacobs, Louis. Encyclopedia Judaica: Halakhah. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0008_0_08206.html.
8. Rich, Tracey R. Halakhah: Jewish Law. Judaism 101. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewfaq.org/halakhah.htm.
9. MJL. Halacha: The Laws of Jewish Life. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 7th March 2020] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/halakhah-the-laws-of-jewish-life/
10. Emil G. Hirsch, Victor Ryssel, Solomon Schechter, Louis Ginzberg. Jeremiah. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8586-jeremiah.
11. Bible Pages. The prophet Jeremiah – where did he die? Bible Pages. [Online] 28th July 2016. [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://www.biblepages.net/eya124.htm.
12. Sacred Texts. Chapter XXXII Of The Death of the Prophets; How They Died, and (where) Each One Was Buried. Sacred Texts. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/bb/bb32.htm.
13. Timeline for the Life and Times of Jeremiah. Generation Word. [Online] [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] http://www.generationword.com/notes/jeremiah/prelim-notes.pdf
14. Rashi. Daniel – Chapter 7. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16490/jewish/Chapter-7.htm#showrashi=true.
15. Walvoord, John F. 6. The Medes And The Persians. Bible.org. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.] https://bible.org/seriespage/6-medes-and-persians.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and consider the following questions…

* What is your response to difficulty and hardship?
* What has God taught you through the troubled times in your life?
* What were some of the healthy responses that the Jews had to their great losses?
* What were some of the unhealthy responses that they had to their losses?
* In seeking to live wholeheartedly for God, how can we avoid becoming legalistic or judgmental?
* Has your church made up extra rules to try to make your people pure and righteous?
* What are the customs in your church? How do those customs strengthen your community? Do any of those customs cause any problems?

Judah Taken Captive to Babylon & the Temple Destroyed (627 – 586 BC)

Read 2 Kings 18-25; 2 Chronicles 29-36;
Isaiah; Zephaniah; Habakkuk; Jeremiah; Ezekiel 1-24
& Daniel 1-2
Just as God had warned, Israel had been captured and exiled by the growing Assyrian empire – their land now filled with the peoples who would become the Samaritans – but still Judah refused to heed God’s warnings to them, confident that His presence in their Temple would protect them.

All their religious structures and practices did not purify the hearts of the people…

Although Judah had Solomon’s temple, the Levitical priesthood, several godly kings who governed righteously under Yahweh, and fiery prophets calling them to repentance, many Jews continued seeking after the gods of other nations, worshipping idols, taking advantage of the poor, engaging in cultic practices forbidden by God and just about every other form of evil practiced by the surrounding peoples. 

Josiah (641-609 BC) was the last king to bring revival to the nation and lead them back to worship of Yahweh. He became king at eight years of age and began to seek after God at 15yo. At age 19, Josiah undertook reforms to remove idol worship and the evils associated with it from Judea.  In 627 BC, during the fourteenth year of his reign (when Josiah was 22yo) Jeremiah, the son of a priest, received his call to be a prophet to the nations and he began to see visions and receive revelations from God (Jeremiah 1). Jeremiah was given a message denouncing Judah’s sins, warning of impending judgments and calling to repentance (Jer. 1-6).  

At age 25 Josiah decided to repair the temple and while clearing it out the workmen found a copy of the Torah which was brought and read to Josiah. As Josiah heard the Word of God for the first time he realised how terribly they had been sinning against Yahweh for generations and feared God’s judgments must be imminent.  The priests sought the prophetess Huldah, who confirmed that God’s judgment was indeed hanging over Judah for all their sin but would be stayed during Josiah’s lifetime because of his repentant attitude (2 Kings 22 & 2 Chron.34).  Although Josiah had been fervently cleansing the land of their idols, God knew the hearts of the people – that many still lusted after those idols, were proud, deceitful and oppressive – so He continued calling Judah to repentance through Jeremiah (Jer. 7-19).  

Zephaniah was also raised up to prophesy to Judah at this time. He was the prophet of the approaching ‘Day of the Lord’ and of revival:

Seek Yahweh, all you humble of the land, you who do what He commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of Yahweh’s anger”                               Zeph. 2:3CJB

When pride is done away with God’s people serve Him “schechem ehad” – shoulder to shoulder / in concert / with one mind …

God will one day “purify the lips of the peoples” and “the remnant of Israel will do no wrong, they will speak no lies” (Zeph. 3:9,13). Contained in these verses is also the vision of mankind one day serving the Lord “with one mind” — in Hebrew ‘shechem ehad’, ‘shoulder to shoulder’ (NIV), or ‘in concert’.  The understanding that grew in Jewish tradition concerning the promise in Zephaniah 3:11 that God will “remove from this city those who rejoice in their pride“, and that “Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill“, was that: “The Son of David will not come until boasting has ceased in Israel and until God takes away the people’s pride… and leaves a miserable and troubled people” (Sanhedrin 98a). (1)  Once again prophesies of God’s judgment were interwoven with hopes and expectation of His people eventually being prepared for Messiah.

Messiah is a transliteration of the Hebrew word משיח (mashiach), which means “Anointed One“.  In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) this Hebrew word was translated with the Greek word “christos“, which is transliterated into English as “Christ“.  So, the words Messiah and Christ have the same meaning. The root word is the Hebrew verb mashach meaning “to anoint“.  This referred to the Biblical practice of pouring oil on the head of one who was being given a position of authority.  The priests, kings and prophets of Israel were the mashiyach of Israel, the ones who were anointed as men of authority.  The promised Messiah to come would be anointed to have authority over all the earth and bring it under subjection to the Kingdom of God.

God’s judgments began, but still His warnings were not heeded…

609 BC saw Josiah killed in battle and Jeremiah lamented his death (Jeremiah 22 & 2 Chronicle 35).  His son, Jehoahaz, was made king but his reign only lasted three months before he was taken prisoner to Egypt by Pharaoh Neco, who also imposed a heavy levy on Judah (2 Kings 23).  God’s judgments had begun, but still Jeremiah’s warnings were not heeded.  Neco then placed Jehoahaz’s brother Eliakim on the throne of Judah and re-named him Jehoikim.

Despite the pleadings of God’s prophets, the kings, priests and people of Judah forsook God and descended back into their evil practices (2).  As in Israel, only a minority, a remnant, remained true to Yahweh.

The prophet Habakkuk was also active during this time. He “stood at his watch”, “observed” and then made his complaint about the degradation of the people of Judah (Hab. 1). (1) God’s answer in Habakkuk 2 includes not only impending woes for those continuing in their sin but also words of comfort and hope for those seeking Him.  The words of Habakkuk 2:4 “the righteous will live by his faith” have had a profound impact on believers through the generations.  In the midst of confronting sin and pronouncing judgments, hope for the coming kingdom of God was woven in:

But [the time is coming when] the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”          Habakkuk 2:14 AMP

Jeremiah also continued prophesying throughout this time, mostly to a very ungrateful audience who shunned, rejected and persecuted him.  Jeremiah was a Jewish reformer but the Jews, like most peoples, refused to be reformed.   Instead, they responded by: snubbing him (Jer. 7:25, 17:23); plotting to kill him (Jer. 11:19, 21-23, 18:23, 38:4); shunning him socially, mocking and ridiculing him (Jer.16:8, 20:7-10,); a leading priest had him beaten and put in stocks (Jer. 20:2); he was forbidden to go into the temple (Jer. 36:5); he was accused of treason, beaten and imprisoned in the dungeon (Jer. 37); he was also lowered down into a muddy cistern and left starving in the mud (Jer. 38).  Despite all this Jeremiah’s message was not without hope as God also affirmed His everlasting love for Israel and declared that after their judgments He would restore them (Jer. 30-31).   After affirming each person’s responsibility for their own sin, Jeremiah’s prophesy then speaks of a time to come when God would make a new covenant with Israel:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them” declares the Lord.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 NIV

Judgement delayed is not judgment averted and mercy is not acquittal…

God’s judgment on Judah did not come all at once, but incrementally over a couple of decades as He gave time between each of the invasions for the people to repent and avoid further catastrophe.  The leaders, however, were too busy pursuing their own plans and refused to heed the prophets’ warnings. 

In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar became King of Babylon and invaded Judah, taking the Judean king’s son, his officials, craftsmen and artisans (including Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah), along with treasures from the temple, back to Babylon with him (2 K.24:1, Jer.24, Dan.1:1-7).  Jeremiah wrote a message to the captives, declaring that they would be in Babylon for 70 years then God would defeat Babylon and bring them back to Israel (Jeremiah 29:1-14).  

No compromise – determined to honour God in the midst of a heathen nation…

The Babylonian officials gave their Hebrew captives Babylonian names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.  These four young men, who were probably 15-16yo, resolved not to defile themselves with the royal food and wine which had been offered to idols and so requested to be given nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.  As these young men determined to honour God even in the midst of this heathen nation, so God honoured them and they excelled in all their studies.  Daniel was also given a prophetic ability to understand dreams and visions, which would form the basis of his legacy to us all.

For the faithful, desperate situations can give way to unfathomed opportunities…

In the second year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which troubled him greatly so he asked his sacred scribes, conjurers who used enchantments to interpret mysteries, sorcerers and Chaldeans to tell him both the dream and the interpretation (Daniel 2).   When the Chaldeans protested that it was unreasonable to ask them to tell him his dream, Nebuchadnezzar became so furious that he ordered all the wise men to be killed.  This caused Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah to urgently seek God in prayer for revelation of that dream and God revealed it to Daniel in a night vision, thus beginning a prophetic ministry that would profoundly influence the Jew’s view of themselves and their place in world history, and fuel generations of Messianic expectations. 

It was a dream of a great statue with a head of gold, arms and chest of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet and toes of mingled iron and clay.   Then a great stone, not cut by human hands, struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and destroyed it, crushing every part such that the wind carried the tiny fragments away and not a trace of the statue was left, while the stone became a great mountain that filled the whole world.

Nebuchadnezzar's dream

The interpretation that God gave Daniel was of the successive world empires that would rule over the land of Israel and the Jewish people. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire were the head of gold and the first of these kingdoms to reign over the Jews.  The Babylonians would be followed by three progressively inferior but stronger kingdoms (silver, brass and iron).  Then there would be a divided kingdom of iron and clay.  This fifth kingdom would have some of the nature and structure of the brutally strong iron legs kingdom but there would be an attempt to mix this with the brittle weakness of clay.   It would not be until the time of this divided kingdom that God Himself would set up His Kingdom, like a stone cut out of the mountain without hands that crushed and did away with all the kingdoms of this world and became a great mountain that filled the whole earth. 

Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed with Daniel’s description of his dream and interpretation, that he invited the young man into the royal court and made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.  Nebuchadnezzar also appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon (Daniel 2:48-49).

Rejecting God’s word invites His wrath…

In 602 BC the Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Judah, warning of more impending judgments.  Jeremiah dictated God’s Word to his servant Baruch.  Since Jeremiah was banned from going to the temple he asked Baruch to take the scroll for him and read it to all the people when they gathered on a day of fasting (although the people were living contrary to God’s ways they still maintained a culture of attending to their ‘religious duties’).  In 601 BC Baruch read the words of Jeremiah in the house of the Lord as all the people were gathered.    King Jehoiakim, however, did not even so much as attend to any of the Jewish religious observances, so after the scroll was read to the people some of the officials took it to read to the king, who cut off each portion as it was read and threw it into the fire, inviting the wrath of God to come upon them (Jer. 36). 

Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and stopped paying his annual tribute, but Judah was no better off financially as raiders came from Chaldea, Aramea, Moab and Ammon to pillage and destroy (2 Kings 24:2-3).    Jehoiakim died in 598 BC and, just as Jeremiah had prophesied (Jer. 22:18-19), was thrown out over the city wall rather than properly buried.  Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, succeeded him as king (2 Kings 24:6-9) and Jeremiah prophesied God’s judgment on him (Jer. 22:20-30).

After a month long siege (2 Kings 24:10-16) Jerusalem was invaded a second time by Babylon in 597 BC. 10,000 more people, including king Jehoiachin, all the captains and warriors, craftsmen, smiths and all the remaining treasures from the temple and the kings’ palace were carried to Babylon (2 Chr. 36:9-10).  Among these were Ezekiel and one of the ancestors of Mordicai, the uncle of Esther (2 K.24:10-16; Eze.1:1-2; Est.2:5-6).  Nebuchadnezzar placed Josiah’s third son, Zedekiah, on the throne of Judah (2 Kings 24:15-18).  Jehoiachin died in Babylon as Jeremiah had foretold. God spoke to Jeremiah concerning those who had been taken captive and those left in Judea (Jeremiah 24).

False prophets give false hope that undermines God’s call to repentance…

While continuing to condemn the shepherds and prophets of Israel who were leading the people astray Jeremiah also brought Messianic hope to the people (Jer. 23).  He prophesied that there would be a third, and even more devastating conquest by Babylon and rebuked the false prophet Hananiah for uttering rebellion against the Lord and making the people trust in the lie that within two years they would be free from the yolk of Babylon (Jer. 27-28).  Yet Jeremiah also had a message for Babylon in 594 BC, to be taken and read to them, that the time wold come when God would judge Babylon for their destruction of Judah, they would be conquered by the Medes and destroyed, never to raise again. (Jer. 50-51) 

Four years after being taken captive to Babylon, 593 BC, the priest Ezekiel began having visions and revelations from God.  After having a vision of heaven (Ezekiel 1) and commissioning as a prophet to his people (Ezekiel 2-3) Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy concerning the city of Jerusalem about a terrible siege that was to come against it, causing devastating famine (Ezekiel 4-5), and then two more prophesies denouncing the sins of his people and God’s imminent judgments (Ezekiel 6-7).

God sees, and will reveal to all, what is done in the secret place…

The following year Ezekiel had another vision, this time of the evil being committed in Judea, even in the secret places and the temple courts, and the wrath that was going to come upon the people for this evil (Ezekiel 8-10), then at last a glimmer of hope as God said that the time would come when He would gather them from the nations and give them back the land of Israel (Ezekiel 11) and there He will “give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them” (Ez. 11:19).

After that Ezekiel was given more prophesies about the coming judgment on Judah and condemnation of the false prophets who were arguing against Jeremiah in Jerusalem and saying that all would be peace and safety there (Ezekiel 12-13). Ezekiel told the exiles in Babylon everything the Lord was showing him and the word spread until some of the elders of the people came and sat down in front of this priest and prophet of God. 

Ezekiel’s uncompromising message was of the need for reformation as God showed him that these men had set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces.  They were urged to repent, turn from their idols and renounce all their detestable practices (Ezekiel 14).  This call to repentance and Ezekiel 18’s admonition of personal responsibility …”Repent and live!” (Ez. 18:32) would at last find resonance in the hearts of the people after the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem, but for now they were not heeding the call (Ez. 15-19).

In 590 BC some of the elders of Israel came again to Ezekiel to enquire of the Lord, only to be told once again of why God’s judgment was coming on Judah (Ez. 20), but after their judgment God would bring them back to the land of Israel.  Then God gave Ezekiel more prophesies about the judgment coming on His people for their adulterous ways (Ezekiel 20-23).

Back in Jerusalem the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah warning the people that those who stayed in the city would die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence but those who surrendered to the Babylonians would live.

In mercy God delays and delays His judgments – but the day of judgment comes…

Then God spoke to Ezekielrecord this date, this very date, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day” (Ez. 24:2)During the final invasion and captivity in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar executed vengeance on the Jews who had rebelled against him and determined to make a show of what would happen to any nation that likewise defied his rule. Then the terrible day came when God spoke to Ezekiel, a man who was often required to live out his prophesies for his people; “I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes”  and that evening his wife died, a heart-wrenching sign that God’s temple was about to be destroyed and Jerusalem demolished (Ez. 24:16-27). After a two year siege, during which tens of thousands died of famine and pestilence, Jerusalem was conquered, its walls and palaces were destroyed and the remaining inhabitants not killed by sword or fire were carried away into exile (2 K.24:18; 24:1-27; 2 Chron.36:11-21; Jer.52:1-11).   All the bronze articles and pillars in the temple were broken to pieces and also taken to Babylon. On the ninth day of the month of Av the inconceivable happened, God allowed His holy temple to be totally destroyed, the Babylonians set fire to it and that fire blazed through the tenth day until it had destroyed everything that was left.  Such was the devastation and mourning at this loss that 9th Av became a fast day on the Jewish calendar (3) (4). 

Jewish culture, history, patriotism, religion, and hope alike pointed to Jerusalem and the Beth Hamikdosh (Temple) as the centre of Israel’s unity.   The Israelites had only one temple, and only one place allowed for the temple – Jerusalem.  They had now lost both.  From the time Solomon built it until the Babylonian destruction Jewish identity and religious life had revolved around their temple in Jerusalem.  It was the only place, according to the Scriptures, where the God-appointed Levitical priesthood could offer acceptable sacrifices, whether for forgiveness of sin or for fellowship with God.  This was where the very presence of God had been manifest. 

Psalm 137 expresses some of the devastation felt and longing for Jerusalem when the temple was completely destroyed in 586 BC and all but the poorest of the land taken captive into Babylon (2 Kings 25 & 2 Chron 36):  

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
Psalm 137:1-6


References

1. Santala, Risto. THE PROPHETS OF THE SOUTHERN KINGDOM, JUDAH . [Online] [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] http://www.ristosantala.com/rsla/OT/OT17.html.
2. The Bible Study Site. Kings of Israel and Judah. The Bible Study Site. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.biblestudy.org/prophecy/israel-kings.html.
3. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. Destruction of the First Temple. Jewish History.org We bring Jewish history to life. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/destruction-of-the-first-temple/.
4. Isaacs, Jacob. The Destruction of the Temple a historical background. Chabad.org. [Online] 1948. [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/106364/jewish/The-Destruction-of-the-Temple.htm.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on some of the following questions…

* What can purify the hearts of the people?
* “As Josiah heard the Word of God for the first time he realised how terribly they had been sinning against Yahweh for generations and feared God’s judgments must be imminent.” What is your response to hearing / reading the Word of God?
* Is the body of Christ in your area serving Him “schechem ehad” – shoulder to shoulder – or has pride caused divisions and competition between congregations and/or between the people in your congregation?
* What response do the people in your church have to hearing God’s word?
* Is evil being committed in your region, in the secret places, even in the churches?
* Have your people suffered great loss and grief?
* Are your people suffering persecution for following Christ?

Israel Replaced with Samaritans & the Kingdom of God Prophesied (931-627 BC)

Read 1 Kings:12-22; 2 Kings:1-17; 2 Chronicles 10- 28;
Amos & Hosea
Chart of Israel's history from Solomon until the Assyrian's conquered and replaced the people.
Elijah and Elisha were both sent by God to speak His word to the 10 rebellions tribes of the northern kingdom, Israel. (1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 13)

After the death of King Solomon the northern tribes of Israel rebelled against his son Rehoboam.  From this point on there would be two kingdoms of Hebrews, Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  These kingdoms were frequently at war with one another.  All the kings of Israel were evil and corrupt, leading their people in worship of other gods and governing poorly.  God raised up many prophets to call the leaders and people of Israel back to Himself.  These included Elijah (870-845BC) and Elisha (845-800 BC), but even the most promising responses to the prophets were only temporary. Israel’s leaders and most of her people, although not all, continued in the practices of the peoples God had removed from the land before them.

Be careful who you form an alliance with, do not be unequally yoked…

When Judah formed an alliance with Israel to stop their fighting against one another and jointly defend against their enemies, as Jehoshaphat did with Ahab, the results were not good.  The unequally yoked marriage between Jehoshaphat’s son and Ahab’s daughter led the young man far away from his father’s righteousness.  Instead of this unifying of the nation bringing wholeness, peace and prosperity, it opened the door for the sin of Israel to permeate throughout Judah and bring it down as well.

God’s last pleas to Israel to forsake her spiritual adultery came through Amos (765-754 BC) and then the lived prophesy of Hosea and his adulterous wife (758-725 BC); yet still they would not repent.   So in 722 BC God’s warnings through the prophets came to pass. The Assyrians conquered and decimated Israel (2 Kings 17:1-23).  Their king, Sargon, in an inscription found at Nineveh, wrote that he carried away into captivity 27,290 of the survivors (2). Those who had fled and those taken into captivity integrated into the surrounding nations and disappeared from history as a distinct people, although even today there are some who trace their roots back to these Israelites. 

Lions pave the way for evangelism…

After his conquest of Israel, the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath and Sepharvaim to repopulate the Israeli cities. The land was no longer called Israel, but re-named after its capital Samaria.  These newcomers had no knowledge or fear of God.  Yahweh sent lions among them, so they begged the king of Assyria to send them a priest from the land to teach them the rituals of the god of the land.  One of the Israeli priests who had been taken captive was sent and dwelt at Bethel to teach all the people how they should fear the LORD (2 Kings 17:24-41). The people in Samaria were soon worshipping Yahweh as well as their own gods. 

The First Two Names for God in Scripture

 Ĕlōhîm is the first word used for God in the scriptures: “In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.”  Genesis 1:1.  It is used 2,750 time in the Old Testament.  Ĕlōhîm is the plural of Eloah, the word construction is understood to be a plural of majesty and so means “supreme one” or “mighty one”, emphasising God’s greatness, power and prestige. This plurality also hints at the triune nature of the One true God: “Then Ĕlōhîm said, “Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26).

Yahweh יְהוָ֥הis the personal Hebrew name for God, and most significant name in the Old Testament, written 6,828 times; 1,820 of those in the Torah.  Because it consists of four Hebrew consonants (YHWH) it is called the Tetragrammaton.  This name is built on the word for “I am” and closely connected to God’s covenant with Israel.  Yahweh is the eternal self-existent One who enters covenant with His chosen, and as such His divine name should not be taken in vain (Exodus 20:7). After the destruction of the second Temple (AD 70) the doctrine developed in Judaism that God’s name Yahweh was too holy to be spoken.  Yahweh is therefore translated LORD (all caps) in most English versions of the Bible. (3) (4) 

Yahweh is first used as the name for God in Genesis 2:4 “…When the LORD God (Yahweh ĕlōhîm) made the earth and the heavens.” 

Proving more faithful…

Within a couple of centuries, the peoples in Samaria (the land that had belonged to the northern kingdom of Israel) would be worshipping Yahweh exclusively – proving more faithful than Israel had been. These Samaritans, who had intermarried with the poor Israelites who had been left in the fields, adopted almost all the Hebrew Torah and cultic practices but kept no genealogies like the people of Judah (Jews) to prove their ancestry.  The Samaritan Israelites called themselves “the sons of Israel”. They also referred to themselves as “Shomrim” (the keepers), considering themselves the be the keepers of the old ways, the ancient faith, the covenant promise. The Samaritans followed in the footsteps of the northern kingdom of Israel before them in opposing the worship of God in Jerusalem, convinced that the centre of Israel’s worship should be the mount of YHWH’s covenant blessing (Deuteronomy 27:12), Mount Gerizim, where they had built their own temple to Yahweh. They had a fourfold creed:

  1. One God – YHWH
  2. One Prophet – Moses
  3. One Book – Torah
  4. One Place – Mt Gerizim (8)

The Jews (Judean Israelites) and Samaritans each believed that they were the true worshippers of God and the others were heretics and imposters who had taken the wrong path when the two had separated after Solomon’s death. The Jews were angered that the Samaritans would dare to sacrifice to Yahweh outside of Jerusalem (5). 

The Torah
Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible.  They are sometimes called the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch.  In Hebrew, each of the five books is identified by its incipit (first words). In English the names for each book is derived from the Greek Septuagint (the first translation made into Greek) and reflect the theme of each book.

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (‘Pentecost’ in Greek) commemorates the anniversary of the day when Yahweh gave the Torah to the nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai 50 days after their exodus from Egyptian slavery.

God’s judgments are for our redemption…

During the time of Israel’s destruction God sent Isaiah (760-673 BC) and Micah (738-698 BC) to warn Judah that they would likewise be destroyed if they did not repent (Isaiah 1,3,5,13,22,29,30:1-17,31,57-59,65:1-12, Micah 1-3).  Although Assyria and Egypt would give Judah a taste of God’s judgments as a warning, it would be the Babylonians who would destroy the nation if they failed to heed the admonitions to repent with their whole hearts.  Yet God’s judgments would be for their redemption, His discipline would teach them to repent and honour Him so that His mercies could again be poured out on them. 

These prophets told not only of the coming judgment for Judah’s sin but also of their later restoration and then, even more wonderful, the coming of Messiah and the kingdom of God, a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 2, 4, 7:14, 9:1-7, 11-12, 14, 24:21-23, 25, 32:1-8, 35, 40, 42, 45, 52:7-56:8, 60-62, 65:17-66:2, Micah 4 & 5).  The Jews were failing to live as a kingdom of God on earth so God Himself would come and set up His kingdom to restore the earth to His intent and put His Spirit in them and give them new hearts to qualify them for citizenship.  Not only Judah, but God would gather all nations and all tongues to come and see His glory and serve Him (Isaiah 66:18-21).

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References

1. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.
2. Tidwell, Josiah Blake. The Captivity of Judah. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://biblehub.com/library/tidwell/the_bible_period_by_period/chapter_xv_the_captivity_of.htm.
3. Levine, Douglas Knight & Amy-Jill.The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us (1st ed). New York : HarperOne, 2011. 0062098594.
4. Gainotti, Charles R. The Meaning of the Divine Name YHWH. [book auth.] Roy B. Zuch. Vital Old Testament Issues: Examening Textual and Topical Questions. Oregon : Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012.
5. Hooker, Richard. The Jewish Temples: The Babylonian Exile. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Exile.html.
6. Santala, Risto. THE PROPHETS OF THE SOUTHERN KINGDOM, JUDAH . [Online] [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] http://www.ristosantala.com/rsla/OT/OT17.html
7. The Bible Study Site. Kings of Israel and Judah. The Bible Study Site. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.biblestudy.org/prophecy/israel-kings.html.
8. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg. The Samaritan woman RECONSIDERED. ISBN: 9781713300366. 2019

In the comments below share your thoughts on some of these questions:

* What does it mean to be faithful to God?
* What paved the way for evangelism in your nation or community?
* What do God’s names Ĕlōhîm, and Yahweh tell us about Him?
* Do you have clashes between different tribes or groups of people in your area? How can peace be brought to that conflict?
* What has God been saying to your nation?
* What has God been saying to the church in your nation?
* Is there something happening in your nation that you see as God’s judgment?

Setting the Stage ~ How Judaism Developed from Kingdom Division to Roman Occupation

As we travel through ancient Jewish history in Section 1 of our adventure, we will discover how the various groups we see in the New Testament – Samaritans, Pharisees, Sadducees, synagogues, and others – came to occupy that place in society and how Daniel’s prophecies ignighted such strong expectations of Messiah’s coming.

We begin our study of the life of Yeshua haNotzri (Jesus of Nazareth) by looking at the history of His people…

Yeshua was not born into a vacuum but into Jewish society that had been moulded not only by Moses and the prophets but also by their whole history.  To understand the original apostolic reformation, what Yeshua was fulfilling, affirming and critiquing in first century Judaism, we need some comprehension of how His society had been moulded and was functioning at this time.  The Jewish religion was not just a theoretical construct but intimately entwined with their history such that it has been stated that: “without their religion they had no history, and without their history no religion”. (1)  

Over the next few blogs we will see how prophesy was woven into Jewish history and how the latter books of the OT fit together chronologically.

Thus, we begin our study of the life of Yeshua haNotzri (Jesus of Nazareth) by looking at the history of His people, a history which led to fervent expectations of a coming Jewish Messiah.  It is the history of a stubborn and rebellious people whom God nonetheless continued loving and choosing to be His own.

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1. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.

Jewish History from Kingdom Division to Roman Occupation.
This is the period that we will be looking at in Section 1, so that we can understand the world that Jesus was born into.
The land occupied by the Divided Kingdoms, and their neighbours.

In the comments below share with us about the history and culture of your people…