In Section 2 we take an in-depth look at Yeshua’s life in the context of this culture which we have seen develop in the centuries leading up to His birth.
As we have seen, there were many wonderful, and many problematic, ways in which Judaism had been developing. Through it all the expectation of a coming Messiah and messianic age had continued growing in the general population. Those who had been counting knew that it was getting close to Daniel’s 69th ‘seven’, during which Messiah would be revealed.
They needed deliverance from Roman occupation, and Hellenising influences, which clashed with maintaining the purity of the Jewish people and their religious practice. Not long before they had needed deliverance from self-rule, which had degenerated under the Hasmonaean dynasty into such bitter conflict that all sides had called for Roman intervention. Yet still there were many who glorified in the Maccabean revolt and engaged in guerrilla warfare, seeking to re-live such a victory in their day and hoping that their courage in battle would induce Messiah to come to their rescue and supernaturally destroy the Roman army and all heathens in the way of establishing their glorious kingdom.
Messianic hopes and expectations were many and varied. The religious practice of much of the population was fervent and genuine. The wall the Pharisees were building around the Torah was becoming ever higher and thicker and governed every conceivable aspect of devout Jewish life. These were a people in need of seeing the reality of their God.
In Section 2 we take an in-depth look at Yeshua‘s life in the context of this culture which we have seen develop in the centuries leading up to His birth.
As with all Bible studies and commentaries, what is presented here is not infallible, that designation belongs to scripture alone. While every effort has been made through years of research to present as accurate an account as possible, there are many things that we do not know and many areas that even the best Bible scholars, and historians, disagree on. If you disagree with anything written in these blogs please feel free to do so, but don’t dismiss what I have written until you have first searched the scriptures afresh to see what God has to say on it – then please share with us what He reveals to you through His word. The purpose of this work is not to establish doctrine, a standard by which other works are judged, but to provide a perspective that broadens and deepens your understanding of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Messiah / the anointed one) so as to grow in your love for Him, in your discipleship of Him, and in your effectiveness in discipling others in Christ Jesus.
As language is an essential part of culture, names will often be written in their original Hebrew (along with the English translations that most of us are more familiar with).
We also have a grouping of seven blogs (in the section ‘INTERLUDE‘) on the authors of each of the four gospel accounts. Again, the purpose of studying such is to help deepen our understanding and appreciation of our wonderful Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Rome was now expanding towards the east, and in the year 64 BC Pompey entered Damascus. The Jews sent three delegations: first from Hyrcanus with gifts to try to secure Roman allegiance for his rule; then from Aristobulus with gifts to try to secure Roman allegiance for his rule; and then from the Sanhedrin, who requested Pompey ignore both brothers and appoint the Sanhedrin to run the country. All three groups apparently agreed that some type of Roman intervention would be welcomed, which emboldened Pompey in his conquest.
The fourth beast was so unlike any of the others that it is not even described as being like any animal but simply described as terrifying, frightening and very powerful with large iron teeth that “crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.” (Daniel 7:7 NIV). In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the fourth kingdom is described as “legs of iron” (Daniel 2:33a).
The fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, because iron breaks in pieces and subdues all things; and as iron that crushes all these, shall it break in pieces and crush. Daniel 2:40 WEB
Another distinctive of this fourth kingdom is that none of Daniel’s visions name it. Nebuchadnezzar is clearly named as ruler over the first kingdom (Daniel 2:37-38). The second is named as the kings of Media and Persia in Daniel 8:20. The third is named as Greece in Daniel 8:21-22 and Daniel 10:20. But none of Daniel’s visions name who this fourth kingdom will be – that is left to the speculation of the reader. And much speculation there was among Jews who eagerly searched the scriptures for the time of the coming of their Messiah. Historically we can look back and see that the fourth kingdom to rule over Jerusalem was Rome, but when the differing Jewish factions invited the Romans to come, take over and settle their dispute in 64BC, they did not have the benefit of hindsight to see that they were inviting the rule of this brutal fourth kingdom.
In 63 BC Pompey arrived in Jerusalem and took Aristobulus captive to Rome. After two months the Romans broke through the Jerusalem citadel and massacred some 12,000 Jews who were defending the Temple. Pompey reinstated Hyrcanus as High Priest and ruler under Roman command. Judea became a client kingdom of Rome. Before he left, Pompey had the walls of Jerusalem levelled, making it defenceless. He also imposed harsh taxes, but left the political governance of the Sanhedrin intact.
Six years later, in 57 BC, Pompey appointed a governor in Syria, Gabinius, who would have ultimate control of the affairs in Judea. Gabinius (57-55 BC) deemed it prudent to divide the Sanhedrin’s authority with two other local bodies which he established in Judaea. (1)
48 BC saw the two great Roman generals, Pompey and Caesar, battling for control of the empire. Hyrcanus had been an official ally of Pompey but after Pompey’s defeat at the Battle of Pharsalus, and subsequent assassination in Egypt where he sought refuge, the shrewd Antipater advised Hyrcanus to switch sides and declare his allegiance to Caesar. They then committed over 3,000 Jewish soldiers to an expeditionary force that invaded Egypt and helped raise the siege of Alexandria where Pompey’s remaining army was held up. Caesar showed the Jews his gratitude for their help by revoking the harsh decrees and burdensome taxation imposed by Pompey. He also allowed the walls and fortifications of Jerusalem to be rebuilt and restored Jaffa, as well as a number of other coastal cities, to Jewish governance under Roman rule. Caesar retained Hyrcanus in the position of High Priest and head of the Sanhedrin, which also had its political power restored over the whole area, but not for long.
In 47 BC Caesar stripped the high priesthood of its political power once again and appointed the ambitious and skilled Antipater to Procurator (Roman Governor) of Judea. Antipater appointed his son Herodas to be Prefect over Galilee. Herod’s first act was to capture and, contrary to Jewish law which granted everyone the right to trial by the Sanhedrin, executed a Hasidim named Hezekiah who had been leading a band of rebels in attacking gentile outposts in Galilee. Some sources report that Herod executed Hezekiah’s whole gang. As the court of the day, the Sanhedrin summoned Herod to Jerusalem to stand trial for carrying out an execution without their permission – the punishment for which was death. The High Priest, Hyrcanus, fearful of Roman retribution should they execute the procurator’s son, managed to persuade most the Sanhedrin to absolve Herod of this crime and allow him to go free. (2)
Shemayah and Abtalion were the Zugos at this time. They had reportedly been converts to Judaism in Alexandria and referred to themselves as “descendants of the heathen, who do the work of Aaron”, claiming that the descendants of Aaron were no longer “doing the work of Aaron”.
Shemayah’s noted saying was: “Love work and hate to attain superiority, and see to it that your name be not known to the government.” (Avot 1:9)
Abtalion was wont to say: “Ye wise be guarded in your words; lest you load upon yourselves the penalty of exile and be exiled to the place of evil waters; and the disciples that come after you may drink and die, and the name of Heaven be profaned.” (Avot 1:10)
It is reported that when Herod appeared before the Sanhedrin to face trial, all lost courage except Shemayah, who predicted that if they failed to pronounce judgment on him now, he would execute them later.
Ten years later Abtalion used his considerable influence with the people in persuading the men of Jerusalem, in the year 37 BCE, to open the gates of their city to Herod the Great. The king was not ungrateful and rewarded Abtalion. Thus ended the pharisaic tradition, begun in response to Aristobulus in 104 BCE, of rebelling against unrighteous leaders, to be replace by a new tradition of peaceful cooperation with the ruler regardless of how unsuitable one deemed them for governing the nation. Thereby, the Pharisees became part of the establishment and secured their place on the Sanhedrin through the rest of its existence. (3) (4) (5) (6)
The Rise of the Zealots…
With the pharisaic leadership no longer willing to lead, or sanction, rebellion against unrighteous rulers, a new political group, the Zealots¸ arose from the Hasidim to take up this role in their stead.
Zealots – A Radical New Jewish Sect
The term “zealot”, in Hebrew kanai (קנאי, frequently used in plural form, קנאים – kana’im), means one who is zealous on behalf of God.
Hezekiah’s son, Judas, motivated by the Sanhedrin’s weakness in failing to convict Herod for the murder of his father and Herod’s subsequent appointment as king of Judea, went about stirring up religious fervour and expectation of another successful revolt against pagan rule as the Maccabees had done. There was strong religious feeling that it was an intolerable sacrilege for Gentiles to pollute the Holy Land and exercise lordship over the chosen people of Yahweh.
Messianic hopes and expectations were high for a Davidic descendant who would lead the people to a supernatural victory over their enemies and rule the whole world from Jerusalem in accord with Daniel’s prophesy (Daniel 7). The Zealots were convinced they could help hasten this day by heroic efforts to deliver the Jews from heathen rule and purge their land from the pollution of heathen peoples. Theirs was a violent struggle. Rome would have called them “terrorists” if such a term were in vogue back then.
Although their leaders were fearful of the impact on the Jewish nation of Roman reprisals for the Zealots’ actions, many of the Pharisees had sympathies for this group who shared their passion for the purity of the land and their zeal for ridding it of all pagans and pagan influences. Some of the Pharisees joined the Zealots out of their passion for the Law. They were particularly active in the Galilean region where the people were deeply religious and clung more closely to a traditional way of life. (7) (8) (9)
Herod’s Brutal Rise to Power…
Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. and Antipater was poisoned in 43 B.C. Mark Anthony now ruled Rome and appointed Antipater’s
two sons Herod and
Phasael as tetrarchs over Galilee and Jerusalem respectively. Herod won favour with the Romans by
brutally crushing a Galilean uprising.
There had been some attempt within the Hasmonaean dynasty to reconcile the two halves of the family by marrying Hyrcanus II’s daughter, Alexandra, to Aristobulus II’s son, Alexander. When Herod, at that time tetrarch, entered Jerusalem in triumph in 42 B.C., Alexandra sought to bring about the marriage of their daughter Mariamne to him, hoping thus to avoid the ruin of her house. Herod welcomed this opportunity to help legitimise his reign by marrying into the royal family and took Princess Mariamne as his second wife, having divorced and imprisoned his Edomite wife, Doris, and their son, Antipater II, in order to do so. (10) (11) (12) (13)
As Roman control of the eastern
provinces waned, the Parthians invaded Syria, including Judea, in 40 B.C. Phasael was taken in an ambush and
forced to commit suicide. Antigonus II, the surviving son of Aristobulus II and last of the Hasmonaean dynasty, had allied with the
Parthians and captured Hyrcanus. Antigonus now proclaimed himself High
Priest and king of Judea. He exiled Hyrcanus
to Babylon and maimed him (some sources say cut off his ears, others say
castrated) to make him there-after ineligible for the office of High Priest.
Herod was as ambitious as his father had been and as capable of reading the political climate and positioning himself for power. So successful was he at this, and with his massive building programs, that he became known as Herod the Great. In 39 B.C. the Roman Senate declared Herod king of Judea and Herod promptly set out to remove Antigonus. Aided by Roman soldiers, Herod fought his way through the Jewish army and at last laid siege to Jerusalem, which after several months fell to the Romans in 37 B.C. For some days the Roman troops indulged in murdering and pillaging until Herod was able to restrain them. He succeeded in capturing Antigonus, after only three years’ reign, and put him to death.
Sanhedrin Stacked with Those Who Would do Herod’s Bidding…
Next Herod took revenge on the Sanhedrin, for attempting to call him to account ten years earlier, by murdering most of them just as Shemayah had predicted. Only the Zugos, Shemayah and Abtalion, are reported to have survived the slaughter and retained their positions in the Sanhedrin. Herod replaced those slaughtered with members who would do his bidding.
The Jewish people, however, were not well disposed to having someone of Edomite decent who rules so brutally being called king of Judea. Messianic longings and expectations continued increasing.
Political Games with the role of High Priest…
Herod sought to undermine the last of the Hasmonaean dynasty’s claim to power and help legitimise his role as king of Judea by returning to the traditional practice of placing one of Aaron’s descendants from the Zadokite family, Ananel (Hananiel) as High Priest. Ananel was descended from Onias IV who had fled to Egypt after his father, the rightful High Priest, had been murdered. Herod also brought the aged and maimed Hyrcanus II back to Jerusalem, assigning to him the first place at his table and the presidency of the state council. (14)
Alexandra, Hyrcanus’ daughter and Herod’s mother-in-law, was most upset at this intrusion on the Hasmonean line by returning to a Zadokite high priesthood. In her mind it had been well established over generations that the only high priestly family line was her own. Alexandra wielded considerable power through Mark Anthony’s lover Cleopatra of Egypt and in 35 B.C. had Herod forced to remove Ananel and make her 17yo son, Aristobulus, High Priest in his stead. Even though, according to the different rabbinical traditions, the age of eligibility to this office was either 20yo or 30yo, and in the past when the son had been too young for the high priest’s office another relative had been appointed in his stead. It seemed that with every decision Herod made he increased someone’s hatred of him. (15) (16) (17) (18)
Within a year of being made High Priest the young Aristobulus drowned in suspicious circumstances and many concluded that Herod had him killed. Ananel was reinstated as High Priest but retained the position for only three years. There were now no males left in the Hasmonaean line apart from Herod’s own sons to Mariamne. The next High Priest, another Jew from the Egyptian diaspora and descendant of Onias IV, Joshua ben Fabus, held the position for 7 years.
Herod’s Work on the Temple – as a monument to himself…
Herod the Great reigned with an iron
fist and engaged in massive building programs, including the cities of Sebaste
and Caesarea, an amphitheatre and hippodrome in Jerusalem, to display his glory
and power. Herod also built temples to the Roman emperors and to other gods in
cities outside Jerusalem, including a temple to Apollo and even one to
Of all Herod’s building operations, however, the most magnificent was the restoration and refurbishment of the Jew’s Temple in Jerusalem, which he began in the 18th year of his reign (20-19 BC) and finished in just a year and a half, although work on out-buildings, courts and external walls continued for another 80 years. Herod’s rebuilding of the Second Temple was done so that he would “have a capitol city worthy of his dignity and grandeur.” (19)
To comply with religious law, Herod employed 1,000 priests as masons and carpenters for the building, which was even larger and grander than Solomon’s temple had been, with a massive court of the gentiles to attract tourists from all the surrounding peoples. Filled with gold and marble there was no building that could compare with this huge and incredible masterpiece. Many Jews prided in Herod’s accomplishment, until he placed a huge Roman eagle over the most important gate of the newly refurbished temple. This symbol of Roman rule even over their holy place stirred deep anger in many pious Jews.
The temple hierarchy under Herod lacked the beauty of the building of their domain. Composed of an aristocracy who compromised whatever they needed to in order to keep their positions of power and wealth, along with their lives, they were corrupted and devoid of the beauty of holiness. There were, however, still many priests who humbly served in the temple out of their devotion to God. (20) (21) (22)
Two Strongly Opposed Schools of Pharisees are Founded…
The last of the Zugos were Hillel and Shammai. Hillel was born in Babylon, a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin on his father’s side, and from the family of David on his mother’s side. He was proclaimed Nasi in 32 BC. A significant shift was to occur, from Nasi being appointed by their peers or sages, to it becoming an inherited position within Pharisaic Judaism. Although Shammai held the position for a time after Hillel’s death, thereafter the spiritual leadership of the people would be in the hands of Hillel’s descendants. A new dynasty was to begin, that would last until 356 AD.
Hillel has three saying recorded in Avon1: “Be a disciple of Aaron, love peace, pursue peace, love all men too, and bring them nigh unto the Law.” “A name made great is a name destroyed; he who increases not, decreases; and he who will not learn from his masters is not worthy to live; and he who uses his knowledge as a tiara perishes.” “If I do not look to myself, who will do so? But if I look only to myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Shammai’s defining saying is: “Fix a time for study; promise little, and do much, receive everyone with friendly countenance.”
Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai are called the first Tannaim, or scholars of the Mishnah (Oral Law). It was also during their time that the term rabbi was increasingly used for the great Jewish sages and scholars. The emerging talmidim (disciples) of their teachings divided into two schools of thought, or ‘houses’, known as Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. They are the most famous antagonistic schools of Pharisees that flourished during the Herodian reigns and contributed to the development of the Oral Law.
Three hundred and sixteen controversies between these two schools are preserved in the Jewish Talmud. In all but fifty five of these the Shammaites were more restrictive and severe in their religious prohibitions than the Hillelites. This beginning of large-scale argumentation between Pharisees (machlokes) is viewed by the Talmud as a sad diminution in Torah scholarship. There was, in their eyes, a danger that the Torah would become “two Torahs”; in other words, there was a danger of schism in which the religious practices and laws of one group of pharisaic Jews would be so drastically different from those of another group of pharisaic Jews that they could not both be governed by the same Sanhedrin.
Throughout Herod the Great’s reign, the Hillelites held sway in the Sanhedrin. They were the party of the middle, with the aristocratic Sadducees on one side and the restrictive Shammaites on the other. Hillel and Shammai had both trained under Shemayah and Abtalion, with Hillel faithfully keeping to his sage’s new pragmatic tradition of working peacefully with the leaders of the nation, regardless of how unrighteous they may be. Shammai, who was younger, reverted to the earlier pharisaic tradition of supporting opposition against unrighteous and heathen rulers.
would not bow to Roman rule nor countenance any social intercourse with either
the Romans or those who in any way worked with them. The Hillelites
were more moderate in their political and social views. Beit Shammai is known for criticizing the leniency
of Beit Hillel, especially in regard
to Gentile converts and contact with heathens. Shammai himself was renowned for driving away potential converts
who then turned to Hillel, who
accepted them with gentleness (b.Shabbat 31a).
The Shammaites’ basic stance towards
gentiles was fear of being polluted by them and their ways. So, their active proselytization was only of
fellow Jews (sheep stealing). They put
the bar very high for any gentiles who sought to convert to Judaism, so as to
deter as many as possible, or at the very least ensure that they had been
totally purged from anything ‘un-Jewish’ before coming close to earning
acceptance into the community.
The Hillelites’ basic stance towards gentiles was love, which expressed itself in active proselytization and making conversion as easy as possible while not compromising on their own standards. Thus, the Hillelites continued to grow in number and influence during this time with their middle path being broad and encompassing of most. (23) (24) (3) (25) (26)
It was a time of religious fervour and bitter battle for the soul of the nation. Increasing political and judicial power through dominating the Sanhedrin was seen as an important way to steer the nation in the religious direction that each ‘house’ believed it should go. It was into this atmosphere that Yeshua (Jesus) was to be born, and His ministry gave God’s answer to these power struggles.
Wealth and Power do not provide Happiness, Peace or Security…
Herod responded to any Jewish unrest by increasing taxes, banning any kind of public
assembly, and quickly executing or imprisoning, in one of his many fortresses, any
critic of his reign. He appears to have been deeply
affected by his father’s assassination, and that of other leaders at the time,
to the extent that he became very suspicious, even paranoid, of almost
everyone. Herod had his uncle and
brother-in-law, Joseph, executed on suspicion of adultery with his wife. In 30 B.C. Herod charged the aged and maimed
Hyrcanus with participating in a
conspiracy and had him executed so that there would be no male Hasmoneans left for the new emperor
Augustus to make ruler of the Jews in his stead. The following year a trusted courtier, Sohemus, and his much loved wife, Mariamne, were both executed by
Herod. The next year he had his
mother-in-law executed. Then he put to
death his sister Salome’s husband and
all the sons of Baba. It was dangerous to be in any way related to
Herod or close to the throne. (27) (28) (29)
Herod fell in love
again, to another Mariamne, this one
the daughter of priest Simeon ben Boethus. As it was unseemly for a king to marry such a
commoner, Herod removed Joshua ben Fabus
from the high priesthood and replaced him in 23 B.C. with Simeon ben Boethus so that his marriage to Simeon’s daughter might
not be regarded as a mesalliance (to
someone of significantly lower social position). (30)
Through the years, many were charged with seeking Herod’s death, soldiers and sages alike, and executed. Such suspicions returned again to Herod’s own household and in 6 B.C. his two sons to Mariamne I, the last remnants of the Hasmonaean dynasty, were also executed. A year later his oldest son, Antipater, was executed on charges of plotting his father’s death, his third wife, Mariamne II, was sent away and her father removed from his position as High Priest. Matthias ben Theophilos was promoted to High Priest in his place, but only for a year before Herod suspected him and had him replaced by Joazar ben Boethus. (31) (32)
God’s Plans Fulfilled Through a Godly Priest…
Although the high priesthood had been corrupted into a political office to suit Herod’s whims, and much of the temple aristocracy were focused on temporal power, position and comforts, there was still great piety among many of the priests and people who came to worship in the temple. Luke’s gospel begins not with a critique of the corruption but with an affirmation of the piety of Torah obedience within the priesthood:
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain cohen (priest) named Zechariah, of the priestly division of Abijah. He had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisheva (Elizabeth). They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elisheva was barren, and they both were well advanced in years. Now it happened, while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. The whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (Luke 1:5-11)
Verse 19 identifies this angel as Gabriel, the same angel who appeared twice to Daniel (Daniel 8 & 9). Daniel chapter 9 begins with Daniel responding to Jeremiah’s prophesy of Jerusalem being left a desolation for 70 years with repentance prayer and fasting for the restoration of Jerusalem and coming of Messiah. God responds by sending Gabriel to give Daniel revelation concerning 70 sevens from the going forth of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, with 69 of those sevens to pass until Messiah would be revealed, and be ‘cut off’.
“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. 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.’ Daniel 9:24-25a NIV
The decree to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem was given by Artaxerxes in the seventh year of his reign – 458 BC, so it was coming close to the prophesied time of Messiah (69 sevens – 483 years) to ‘finish the transgression, put an end to sin, atone for wickedness and bring in everlasting righteousness’ (Daniel 9:24) when Gabriel was sent with another message, this time to the faithful priest Zechariah. It was in response to the piety and prayers of priest and people that this angel was sent with a message declaring that now was the time of the fulfilment of those prayers.
…the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, because your request has been heard, and your wife, Elisheva (Elizabeth), will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Yochanan (John). You will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord, their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to prepare a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:13-17)
Then to a Young Woman in a Neglected Rural Community…
Six months later this same angel, Gabriel, made a much more private appearance to a young woman in the Galilee region. No one was waiting outside to witness the effect of her heavenly encounter. To Zechariah had been the promise of a son to turn the people to the Lord their God in preparing them for ADONAI. To this young woman was the promise of the One for whom the people were being prepared, the Messiah that Gabriel had all those years before told Daniel about.
Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Yosef (Joseph), of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Miriam (Mary). Having come in, the angel said to her,
“Rejoice, you highly favoured one! ADONAI is with you. Blessed are you among women!”
But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be.The angel said to her,
“Don’t be afraid, Miriam, for you have found favour with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and will call his name ‘Yeshua.’ He will be great, and will be called the Son of Ha’Elyon (the Most High). ADONAI, God will give Him the throne of His father, David,and he will reign over the house of Ya’akov (Jacob) forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.”
Miriam said to the angel, “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?”
The angel answered her, “The Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) will come on you, and the power of Ha’Elyon (the Most High) will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:26- 35
Fulfilling what the Angel Gabriel had Told Daniel…
Rome ruled over Jerusalem for longer than any of the three kingdoms preceding it. During this Roman rule Daniel 9’s sixty-nine ‘sevens’ (483 years) since the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem would come to completion:
“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. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.” Daniel 9:25-26 NIV
Looking ahead from Daniel’s perspective in verse 26a, we see that “the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.” The Hebrew word translated “put to death” is the common word used in the Mosaic Law and implies that the Messiah would not only be killed, but he would die a penal death by execution. The Hebrew expression translated “and will have nothing” has two meanings. It may mean “nothingness,” emphasizing Messiah‘s state at death. It can also be translated “but not for himself,” and the meaning would then be that he died for others rather than for himself, a substitutionary death. The latter meaning would be much more consistent with what the Prophets had to say about the reason for Messiah‘s death (e.g. Isaiah 53:1-12). The first three purposes of the 70 sevens – to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for wickedness – have to be accomplished by an atonement. The Law of Moses decreed that atonement is made by blood (Leviticus 17:11). Thus, Messiah‘s death “not for himself” but for others would be the means by which Israel’s transgression, sins and iniquity would be atoned for. The point of this phrase is that between the end of the second subdivision (the 69th seven) and before the start of the 70th seven, Messiah would be killed and would die a penal, substitutionary death. (33)
But all that was yet to come. For now, the angel’s message focused on
miraculous births, not death:
“You have a relative, Elisheva, who is an old woman; and everyone says she is barren. But she has conceived a son and is six months pregnant! For with God, nothing is impossible.”
Miryam said, “I am the servant of Adonai; may it happen to me as you have said.”
Then the angel left her. Luke 1:36-38 CJB
Mary Visits Elizabeth…
Miryam (Mary) was eager to see the one person who might understand what had just taken place, Elisheva (Elizabeth), so she could share her joy and wonder. Such required a long journey through difficult country, not the sort of journey that a young woman would normally take alone. But these were not normal circumstances and Miryam did not know how to explain it so she just raced off. Elisheva was the one person whom the angel had named, so to Elisheva she would go, immediately. Miryam was a teenager.
Without delay, Miryam set out and hurried to the town in the hill country of Y’hudah (Judea) where Z’kharyah lived, entered his house and greeted Elisheva. When Elisheva heard Miryam’s greeting, the baby in her womb stirred. Elisheva was filled with the Ruach HaKodesh and spoke up in a loud voice,
“How blessed are you among women! And how blessed is the child in your womb! But who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy! Indeed you are blessed, because you have trusted that the promise Adonai has made to you will be fulfilled.” Luke 1:39-45 CJB
Already a tiny baby was growing in Miryam’s womb. What had appeared an impulsive decision to undertake such a journey on her own was amply rewarded the moment that Myriam arrived at this distant relative’s home. Confirmation of everything the angel had spoken to her. Confirmation that her obedience would indeed see the fulfilment of God’s promise. Miryam magnified the Lord:
“My soul magnifies Adonai;and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior,who has taken notice of his servant-girl in her humble position. For — imagine it! — from now on, all generations will call me blessed! The Mighty One has done great things for me! Indeed, His name is holy; and in every generation he has mercy on those who fear him. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm, routed the secretly proud, brought down rulers from their thrones, raised up the humble,filled the hungry with good things, but sent the rich away empty. He has taken the part of his servant Isra’el, mindful of the mercy which he promised to our fathers, to Avraham and his seed forever.” Luke 1:46b-55 CJB
Meanwhile in Herod’s Palace…
Herod’s fourth wife was a Samaritan, Malthace, and his fifth wife was Cleopatra of Jerusalem. He also had
another five wives who were not considered as significant. Herod’s sister was
continually stirring up intrigues within his household and playing on his
paranoia, inciting suspicions against both wives and children.
As Herod grew older, his physical and mental health deteriorated. He developed arteriosclerosis and suffered much pain. Herod’s physical weakness seemed to feed his increasing paranoia. Around 4 BC, As news spread that he had an incurable disease, two rabbis, Judas ben Sepphoraeus, and Matthias ben Margalus, stirred up their talmidim to tear down the Roman eagle from the Temple gate that had been such an offence to the Jews, having to walk under this symbol of an empire of pagan emperor worship to enter the holy precincts of the temple.
Herod seized the offenders and passed sentences of death upon them and had the chief leaders publicly burned alive. (29) (34)
Strengthened in fellowship…
Miryam stayed with Elisheva for about three months and then returned home. Luke 1:56 CJB
months of spiritual mentoring. Three
months of inspiration and encouragement.
Three months of close friendship and deep bonding. Both women were experiencing a miraculous
pregnancy, one in her old age and the other in her youth. Somehow their babies were connected, Yochanan had leapt in the womb when Miryam arrived with Yeshua in her womb – this connected them. Elisheva had been filled with
the Holy Spirit at that moment and prophesied over Miryam and her unborn baby – this had connected them. Miryam
had likewise been filled and magnified the Lord, declaring His goodness to the
lowly and to Israel – this had connected them. Miryam
had needed this time of affirmation to strengthen her for what lay ahead.
How could she explain to her fiancée Yosef that she was pregnant? How could she face all the village gossips in Nazareth, who never would believe her that she had not been with a man? Elisheva had a husband who was the father of her baby, and a community who would rejoice with them over the miracle of his birth. All that Miryam had was the Word of God.
Yochanan (John) is born…
The time arrived for Elisheva to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard how good Adonai had been to her, and they rejoiced with her.
On the eighth day, they came to do the child’s b’rit-milah (covenant of circumcision). They were about to name him Z’kharyah, after his father, when his mother spoke up and said, “No, he is to be called Yochanan.”
They said to her, “None of your relatives has that name,” and they made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called.
He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is Yochanan.”
At that moment, his power of speech returned, and his first words were a b’rakhah (blessing /thanksgiving) to God. All their neighbours were awestruck; and throughout the hill country of Y’hudah (Judea), people talked about all these things. Everyone who heard of them said to himself, “What is this child going to be?” For clearly the hand of Adonai was with him.
His father Z’kharyah was filled with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and spoke this prophecy:“Praised be Adonai, the God of Isra’el, because he has visited and made a ransom to liberate his people by raising up for us a mighty Deliverer who is a descendant of his servant David. It is just as he has spoken through the mouth of the prophets from the very beginning – that we should be delivered from our enemies and from the power of all who hate us. This has happened so that he might show the mercy promised to our fathers – that he would remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore before Avraham avinu (our father Abraham) to grant us that we, freed from our enemies, would serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. You, child, will be called a prophet of Ha‘Elyon; you will go before the Lord to prepare his way by spreading the knowledge among his people that deliverance comes by having sins forgiven through our God’s most tender mercy, which causes the Sunrise to visit us from Heaven, to shine on those in darkness, living in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the paths of peace.” Luke 1:57-79 CJB
Standing Alone in the Midst of a Trial…
Miryam arrived back home in Nazareth, three months pregnant. She was not showing yet but may have been experiencing morning sickness and other symptoms. She had not been with her fiancée, Yosef, and soon people would start to notice that she was carrying a baby. It had sounded so wonderful when the angel had first spoken to her, and when her relative Elisheva had greeted her with prophesy confirming the angel’s every word, but now earthly realities came crashing down. This put Yosef in a very difficult position. Miryam had not wanted to do that, she had not wanted to make things difficult for him. This put her life at risk, for she knew what the religious zealots wanted to do to any woman found to have been unfaithful, and what further evidence did they need than for her to be with child. There was nothing that Miryam could do to “fix” the situation, she would not abort God’s son. All that she could do now was trust God to step in so that His word would be fulfilled in her life.
Judaism Dictated Every Aspect of Daily Life…
Judaism during Herod the Great’s reign was diverse and all encompassing. There was no separation of “church” and “state”, no division between the sacred and the secular. Their religion was their politics, and their law, and their education, and their community, and their culture. It dictated every aspect of daily life: what they did when they woke up in the morning, what they could and could not eat, what they could and could not wear, how and when they groomed themselves, how they conducted business, how and when they had to attain ritual purity, and how they treated others. Even the most trivial and mundane acts, such as eating and getting dressed, were thus turned into acts of religious significance where one was deemed to have either obeyed or disobeyed God’s law.
Diversity existed only in the variety of different interpretations of what that law properly demanded. Each of the different Jewish sects; Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Hasidim and Zealots, had their own interpretations of God’s law and intolerance of other perspectives. Priests and rabbis disagreed on much. Even within the Pharisees, each of their different schools (the two most famous of which were that of Hillel and Shammai) were developing very different sets of laws that “God had laid down in the beginning”. One can imagine what the response would be if God Himself stepped down from heaven, walked among them, and started telling them what He really wanted.
1. Morrison, W. D. The Sanhedrin, or Supreme National Council. Heritage History. [Online] [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.] http://www.heritage-history.com/?c=read&author=morrison&book=romanjew&story=sanhedrin. 2. Joseph Jacobs, Isaac Broydé. Herod I (surnamed the Great). Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7598-herod-i. 3. Tractate Avot: Chapter 1. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Talmud/avot1.html. 4. Sh’maya (Mishnah). Revolvy. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.] http://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Sh%27maya%20(Mishnah)&item_type=topic. 5. Glatzer, Nahum. Essays in Jewish Thought. s.l. : University of Alabama Press, 2009. 6. A.M., William Whiston.Josephus – The Complete Works. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998. 7. Kohler, Kaufmann. Zealots (Hebrew, Kanna’im). Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15185-zealots. 8. Morrison, W.D. Jews Under Roman Rule. New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895. 9. Price, Jonathan. Zealots and Sicarii. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] 2008. [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0021_0_21428.html. 10. Mindel, Nissan. Mariamne. Chabad. [Online] Kehot Publications. [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112064/jewish/Mariamne.htm. 11. Mariamne.Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0013_0_13291.html. 12. Mariamne. Flavius Josephus. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.josephus.org/Mariamme.htm. 13. Herod the Great: A Life of Intrigue, Architecture, and Cruelty. Church of the Great God. [Online] http://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/ARTB/k/1387/Herod-Great.htm. 14. The Return of the Priests of the House of Zadok. Bible Searchers. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] http://www.biblesearchers.com/yahshua/davidian/dynasty3.shtml#ReturnZadok. 15. Herod the King 37-25 B.C. Bible History.com. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great/HERODHerod_the_King_3725_BC.htm. 16. High Priests List. Bible Study .org. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.biblestudy.org/maps/high-priest-list.html. 17. High Priest Corruption. Jewish Roots. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://jewishroots.net/library/miscellaneous/high_priest_corruption.html. 18. Herod the Great Biography. Encyclopedia of World Biography. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.notablebiographies.com/He-Ho/Herod-the-Great.html. 19. Cohen, Shaye. Roman Domination: The Jewish Revolt and the Destruction of the Second Temple. [book auth.] Hershel Shanks. Ancient Israel. s.l. : Biblical Archaeology Society, 1999, p. 270. 20. Spiro, Rabbi Ken. History Crash Course #31: Herod the Great. aish.com. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48942446.html. 21. Herod the Great. Livius. [Online] 24th April 2016. [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] http://www.livius.org/articles/person/herod-the-great/. 22. Herod the Great. Chabad.org. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/953556/jewish/Herod-the-Great.htm. 23. Eisen, Yosef. Hillel and Shammai. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2832622/jewish/Hillel-and-Shammai.htm. 24. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. Hillel – The preeminent rbbi of first century Palestine. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hillel/#. 25. Rich, Tracey R. Sages and Scholars. Judaism 101. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewfaq.org/sages.htm. 26. Bugg, Rabbi Mikha’el (Michael). The Eighteen Measures, Part 4: The Gentile Factor. Return of Benjamine. [Online] [Cited: 9th Sept. 2016.] https://returnofbenjamin.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/the-eighteen-measures-part-4-the-gentile-factor/. 27. Perowne, Stewart Henry. Herod King of Judaea. Encyclopaedia Britanica. [Online] 28th June 2016. [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herod-king-of-Judaea. 28. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. Herod. Jewish History. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/herod/. 29. Perowne, Stewart Henry. Herod King of Judea. Encyclopaedia Britannica. [Online] 28th June 2016. [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herod-king-of-Judaea. 30. Roth, Lea. Simeon Ben Boethus.Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] http://www.encyclopedia.com/article-1G2-2587518559/simeon-ben-boethus.html. 31. Rocca, Samuel. Herod’s Judea: A Mediterranean State in the Classic World. s.l. : Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015. 32. Isidore Singer, Samuel Krauss. Matthias Ben Theophilus. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10488-matthias-ben-theophilus. 33. 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. 34. King of the Jews. Bible Histoy. [Online] [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.] http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great/HERODKing_of_the_Jews.htm.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* Why did the Jewish leaders ask Rome to come and rule over them? * Have leaders in your church, or community, or nation ever given up the freedom of self-rule to try to gain power or wealth? * In what ways was Rome different to the other empires featured in Daniel’s visions? * It is often quoted: “Sin will take you farther than you ever expected to go; it will keep you longer than you ever intended to stay, and it will cost you more than you ever expected to pay.” Rome’s takeover cost the Jewish people more than they thought it would. What were some of the consequences they suffered? * Why was Herod not judged for carrying out an execution of Jews without affording them the opportunity to be tried before the Sanhedrin? * What were the consequences of their failure to follow the processes of justice? * Who were the Zealots and what motivated them? * There was so much pride, greed and power-hungry corruption in the government and religious establishment, but there were still some priests who were humble, godly men. Who was one of these and what can we learn form his example? * What would it have been like for Mary to be pregnant with God’s baby and what can we learn from her faithfulness?
I & II Maccabees These are not divinely inspired scripture, but do give us an account of God’s dealing with His people during this time.
This was a time of hard-one victory over a despised enemy, only to be followed by such bitter internal division that the Jews eventually gave away their freedom in trying to defeat one another.
Revolt against evil rulers…
In 166 B.C., within a year of offering a pig on the Temple alter, Antiochus IV sent a contingent to force local villagers to sacrifice pigs to Zeus. Still, many in Israel chose to die rather than to break the holy covenant. When Antiochus’ men came to the small town of Modein, about 12 miles northwest of Jerusalem, and a young man stepped forward to perform the required sacrifice to Zeus the priest Mattathias stabbed him to death, then turned on the Greek commander and killed him as well. Mattathias quickly grabbed his five sons and headed to the hills to hide, as did many of the townspeople, fearing reprisals. Thus a rebellion was started by the priest Mattathias and his five sons (including Judas Maccabee).
Over the next few months more people from the countryside, including many of the Hasidim, joined them in the hills of Judea and they began a campaign of guerrilla warfare. Casualties were heavy against the much larger and better equipped Greek army. Mattathias and two of his five sons had been killed before the first substantial victory was won.
Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?” He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.” Daniel 8:13-14 NIV
Despite heavy losses, Mattathias’s third son, Judas (called Maccabeus), managed to recapture Jerusalem. On Kislev 25, 165 BC, three years to the day after the first abominable sacrifice had been offered, the temple was cleansed, new altar was rededicated and the daily sacrifices to Yahweh once again offered in the Jerusalem temple. From the time Antiochus IV had plundered the temple in 170 BC until Judas Maccabeus recaptured Jerusalem and led the people in shattering the statue of Zeus and cleansing the temple on 25thKislev 164 BC was six years and 110 days (2,300 evenings and mornings without their proper sacrifices). (1)
Temple cleansed and miracle lights…
They shattered the statue of Zeus and cleansed the Temple but could only find one small flask of uncontaminated oil with the seal of the High Priest for lighting the Menorah (seven-branched golden lampstand) and re-dedicating the temple to Yahweh. This was only enough to last one day and it would take eight days to produce a new batch of pure oil. Miraculously it burned for the full eight days so the festival established to commemorate this victory, Hanakkah / Chanuka (Feast of Lights), lasts for eight nights (2) (3).
Judas Maccabeus ruled as leader of the army after his father’s death in 167 BCE. When Judas died of the Battle of Elasa (161/160 BCE), the youngest brother, Jonathan, was chosen as the new leader. He attacked enemy armies and Jewish Hellenists alike. Through military victories and strategic alliances Jonathan achieved peace and was appointment as High Priest by the new ruler of the Seleucid Empire, Alexander Balas. The High Priesthood was no longer primarily a religious office focused on the temple and determined by descent through the line of Levi, Aaron and Zadok (Lev. 21:1, 1 Chr. 29:22, 2 Chr. 31:10) but had degenerated into a political office appointed by a foreign power to rule the Jewish people. Thus there was no thought to send to Egypt to request someone from the high priest’s line return to Jerusalem and take up their rightful place again. Indeed, much of the purpose of the writing of I & II Maccabees was to justify the Maccabees’ holding these positions due to their bravery in battle to restoring Temple worship.
On Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) of 153 BC, Jonathan put on the High Priest’s garments and officiated in the temple for the first time. Ten years later Jonathan was tricked and captured by Diodotus Trypho. After the capture of Jonathan, his brother Simon became leader of the people. He paid the ransom asked for his brother but Trypho killed Jonathan instead. Simon had ongoing battles with Trypho until he sided with Demetrius II and received freedom from taxation and recognition of Judah’s political independence in return (142 BC).
The Hasmonean Period (142 – 40 BC)…
The period from 142 BC (the date of independence) to 40 BC (the beginning of the reign of ‘Herod the Great’ under the Romans) is called the Hasmonean period, because the ruling family – the family of the priest Mattathias and his sons Judas, Jonathan, and Simon – was the house of Hasmon. Under the Hasmoneans the Sanhedrin continued to hold an important place in Jewish life, but the autocratic tendencies developed by some of these princes led to a curtailment of its authority at times. (4)
Simon declared himself both High Priest and king (even though he was neither from the line of Zadok nor that of David, he was from the priestly Aaronic line).
Zugos – fathers of pharisaic Judaism…
Another shift had taken place in the development of the Pharisees. With the death of Antigonus the authority over the Torah school that he represented was transmitted to two of his disciples, Yose ben Yoezer and Yose ben Yochanan. With them began the period of the Zugos [Pairs], five pairs of renown pharisaic sages who shared the leadership of the developing pharisaic movement. Designated Nassi (prince/president); andAv Beis Din (chief/vice president of the court), they were responsible for transmitting the OralLaw and heading the judgments on such. Each of these pharisaic sages established Torah schools in their own generation to teach their disciples their wisdom and interpretation of the Torah and Oral Law. It was from their disciples that the next Zugos would be chosen on their passing. During times of pharisaic political ascendancy they also held the two top positions in the Sanhedrin.
With the purge of Hellenists from Jerusalem, many leading Pharisees took advantage of the opportunity to gain political power and influence as members of the Sanhedrin. They operated as a balance to Simon’s spiritual and political power and there was respect shown between the two. The people were now freely worshipping God and had been unburdened of foreign taxes and so started to prosper. (5) (6) (7)
Each of the pharisaic sages, during this period, had a saying that epitomised their wisdom and teaching. These are recorded and discussed in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, and give us further insight into the development of Jewish thought and prioritisation in their religious practice.
Pirkei Avot (sometimes just referred to as Avot) is among the most well known of all writings in Rabbinic Judaism. Pirkei (sayings) Avot (fathers) is one of the sixty-three tractates found in the Mishnah, the code of Jewish law compiled in the early third century C.E. from the Oral Law that was being developed throughout the time of occupation. Pirkei Avot is considered supremely important to Judaism because it justifies the authority of the rabbis, something the Bible does not do. The statements attributed to the rabbis in Pirkei Avot express the basic concerns and central ideas that occupied the rabbis.
Yose b. Yoezer’s saying was: “Let your house be a meeting place for the wise; sit in the dust of their feet; and drink in their words for thirst” (Avot 1:4).
Yose b. Yochanan’s saying was: “Let your house be so wide open that the poor may enter it as were they intimates there; and do not hold too much discourse with women” (Avot 1:5). The sage’s discussion on this one counselled even against engaging in much conversation with one’s wife.
Yose b. Yoezer was killed in 140 BC and Yehoshua ben Perachya became Nassi.
Yehoshua’s admonition was: “Provide yourself with a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge all people favourably.” (Avot 1:6)
Yehoshua’s pair was Nithai the Arbelite, who was accustomed to say: “Keep aloof from a wicked neighbour, associate not with a sinner, and never consider yourself exempt from God’s chastisement.” (Avot 1:7)
Many Romans turn to Judaism…
The Jewish diaspora had spread far and wide, taking their religion with them and influencing people everywhere they went to leave their pagan ways and worship the one true God as He desires to be worshipped. As Rome gained territory many were now under Roman rule. In 139 BC the Romans ruled that Jews could worship freely in all Roman territories. That same year, however, all Jews were expelled from the city of Rome because the government became fearful of the Jewish influence as many Romans began believing and practising the Jewish teachings.
Politics and power mired in strife, division and murder…
Simon reigned for seven years until he and his two oldest sons were slain at a banquet by his son-in-law Ptolemeus, the governor of Jericho, in 135 BCE. (8)
Jonathan Hyrcanus, the only son of Simon not slain at the banquet,
immediately rushed to Jerusalem and installed himself in his father’s place as
both High Priest and King. Then he
rallied the Sanhedrin and the people
to his side, rescued his mother who had been held to ransom and forced Ptolemeus to flee. His tenure then
faced a year-long Syrian siege that forced him agree to tear down Jerusalem’s
fortifications and renew tribute to the Greek emperor in 133 BCE. Within a few
years, however, he took advantage of political turmoil in Syria following the death of Antiochus VII
(129 BCE) to rebuild his forces, reclaim independence and extend Judean control
over Palestine and Jordan. He
also took the seaport of Jaffe and Jews became partners with the Phoenicians in
shipping and trade all the way to North Africa, Italy and Rome. Jonathan strengthened the Torah education system, observed it
closely himself, put great expense into improving the temple edifice and
insisted on higher standards for the temple service. Under his reign the nation reached new
heights of prosperity and greatness.
Some of Jonathan’s efforts, however, had unintended consequences. To ensure ongoing peace and stability, he forcibly brought all his new territories under the Torah. On the southern front he forced Judah’s neighbours in Idumea (the Edomites) to convert to Judaism. From these converted Edomites, Herod the Great later emerged.
On the northern
front he destroyed the rival temple at Shechem in Samaria.
Like many of the wealthy aristocrats, Jonathan developed an appreciation for Greek culture and learning, seeing this as perfectly compatible with his Jewish faith and essential for engaging on the world stage. This put him at odds with the Pharisaic religious leaders who forbade attendance at Greek theatres or gymnasiums or engaging with Greek learning or other forms of Greek culture as they laboured to put a fence around the Torah to keep the Jewish population from being polluted by this most insidious outside influence.
The Hasidim(“pious ones”) had been warning about the dangers of Hellenism since this foreign culture first presented itself to the Jews, and knew that their hatred of these strange ways had been proven justified by all that led up to the Maccabean Revolt and the bloody battles that followed. To them there was no difference between reading Greek literature and polluting the temple by offering a pig as sacrifice to Zeus on its alter; all of it was detestable and led down that same slippery slope to destruction. It was from the Hasidim that the Pharisees had developed. Jonathan now found himself rejected by the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin, who challenged his right to be High Priest.
He responded by dismissing all the Pharisees from the Sanhedrin and forming an exclusively Sadducean Sanhedrin. By removing from power all those with whom he disagreed, Jonathan removed the checks and balances which had been part of the strength of his early reign. The Pharisees and Sadducees were devolving into fiercely opposing political powers who saw no value in the other. Jonathan died in 104 B.C. (9) (10) (11) (12) (13)
Vehement differences of opinion were evident between
different Torah scholars and priests
during this time. One of the big issues
of debate was Hellenism which was on the rise once again. Many of the scholars shared the views of the
Hasidim that every aspect of Greek
culture was an abomination to God and the Jews needed to keep themselves
totally separate from it. Others,
particularly among those who had the wealth and connections to benefit from the
changes, were more open minded and argued for integrating those aspects that
would bring such godly blessings as increased knowledge, reasoning,
sophistication and wealth.
Another area of increasingly bitter dispute was the Oral Law. Proponents claimed that it provided the
necessary fence around the Torah, safeguarding their law, customs and
traditions from the pollutions of Greek culture and other heathen ways, and so
had to be fully obeyed, yet were divided among themselves as to what the
correct laws were. Detractors argued
that it had no legitimacy and they were only bound to obedience to the written Torah.
While all agreed on the spiritual authority of the Torah, there were differing interpretations of what it meant to obey Torah. The spiritual authority of the rest of the scriptures in the Tanakh was also hotly disputed with some exalting the other scriptures to the same level of inspired authority as the Torah, and others refusing to accept the divine inspiration of the Nev’im (Prophets) and/or the K’tuvim (Writings).
There were also arguments over the correct way of performing many of the temple duties, correct timing and method for celebrating each feast, and regulations for marriage and divorce. Almost anything that could have a doctrine or practice formed around it, had bitterly opposing doctrines and differing practices formed around it. Judaism had become polarised around extremes. The three most significant parties to come out of this time and continue until after the destruction of the second temple were the Pharisees and Essenes who came from the Hasidim tradition and the Sadducees whose roots were generally in the priesthood and who were open to the benefits of Hellenization.
Jewish Sects of the Hasmonean Period
Pharisees means “separated ones”. Originally this sanctification referred to their separation from Hellenism in all its forms, but by the beginning of the first Century had broadened to being separated from the “people of the land”, who were seen as incapable of being pious because they were unrefined and unskilled in the Pharisees’ interpretations of Torah and Oral Law. Pharisees were not, however, separated from the power structures of the land, but rather saw their role as leading and defining those power structures in order to corral the uneducated masses into their view of what it meant to be the sanctified nation of God’s people. Judea could not be a holy nation unless their leaders were holy, so the Pharisees became entwined in the political process in order to occupy the positions of power necessary to enforce obedience to Torah on the leaders of their nation as well as the masses. Pharisees were strong proponents of the Oral Law, although they had many disputes within their ranks about what its’ true rendering and interpretation was. Some of them were priests but many were not and gained their position through the strength of their Torah study under one of the respected sages (latter called rabbis). Pharisees had a strong role in the Sanhedrin through most of its existence after the Maccabean revolt and saw their input as essential to keeping the nation in God’s blessings and averting further judgments like the Babylonian captivity. In the end it was the Pharisees who proved to be the most enduring force within Judaism, apart from the followers of Yeshua, after the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and they shaped what became the rabbinical Judaism of today. Thus, most of Jewish history is written from their perspective. (14) (15) (16)
Essenes were very strict in their religious practice and shunned both the priesthood and the political class for their corruption. Thus they had no involvement in the Sanhedrin or any of the power structures of their day. They largely withdrew from the rest of society to live in their own closely knit communities where they shared all things. Some would have nothing to do with the currencies of the time because of the images on the coins. They believed in the immortality of the soul and in angels, but generally not in the Pharisees’ Oral Law. Some of their communities isolated themselves and developed unique doctrines and practices. Much of what we know about the Essenes comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls which had been kept by one of their communities and detailed some of their communal life and beliefs.
Sadducees came mostly from the priestly aristocracy and upper classes. They were open to Hellenism and closed to the Oral Law. They generally did not accept the doctrine of the resurrection or the immortality of the soul. Some attribute this to their interpretation of the Jewish sage Antigonus of Soko’s maxim “Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of wages, but be rather like those who serve without thought of receiving wages.” Others attributed it to more Hellenistic influences, and others to their rejection of the divine inspiration of the Nev’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings) in the Tanakh (Old Testament). Sadducees generally centred their interests in political life, of which they were the chief rulers before the destruction of the Second Temple, where their power had resided. Instead of sharing the Pharisees’messianic hopes they took the people’s destiny onto their own hands, fighting or negotiating with the heathen nations as they thought best, while seeking their own temporal welfare and worldly success. Most of the High Priests were Sadducees and they also had a strong role in the Sanhedrin through most of its existence (16) (15) (17).
Hasidim means “pious ones”. This movement began in response to Antiochus IV’s defilement of the temple and forced Hellenization of the Jewish people. It continued developing as a reforming and revival movement within Judaism throughout the Hasmonean period. Both Pharisees and Essenes could trace their roots to the rural Hasidim, but both took very different paths. Unlike the Essenes, the Hasidim did not withdraw from society but remained vitally involved in the broader community. Unlike the Pharisees, the Hasidim were not part of the political power structures nor did they have a seat on the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, nor consider study the highest virtue. All references to Hasidim in the Second Temple period relate to Galilee and several renowned Hasid sages came from this area. Theirs was a practical spirituality that focused on intimate and privileged relationship with God as their heavenly Father and regarded obeying “Torah” as more important than just studying it. In many instances the Hasidim had halachic (Jewish law) traditions that were not in keeping with the accepted Halakha decreed by the Sanhedrin, and in some cases even opposed to it. They also had some customs and modes of behaviour which differed from that of the dominant Pharisaic sages. They believed in God doing miracles in response to the faith of those who were intimate with Him. Most of the ancient passages pertaining to Hasidim refer to their causing rain to fall, healing the sick or exorcising demons. Even in the case of rain there is a difference between the Hasidim and the Pharisaic sages. The sage prayed for rain as part of a public prayer ritual – sometimes his prayers were answered and sometimes not. The Hasid prayed privately and as a son beseeching his Father and their prayers were always answered. Unlike the Pharisees, the Hasidim saw virtue in poverty and in giving away all one’s possessions “the Holy One, blessed is He, examined every good quality and found none better for Israel than poverty.” A midrash (ancient rabbinic commentary) states: “A person becomes a Hasid to suffer all things. He is given an angel who treats him in the manner of the Hasidim…and says, “You save the afflicted (/poor) but Your eyes are on the haughty (/rich) to humble them.” 2 Samuel 22:28.” Characteristics of a Hasid were described as: “he is humble… a fearer of sin, judges a man according to his deeds, and says, ‘I have no need of anything found in this world.” They generally did manual labour and menial jobs to support the most basic needs for themselves and their family. (18) (19)
Interactions between religious and political leaders…
Jonathan had directed that after his death his oldest son Aristobulus would become High Priest and his wife become leader of the nation. Although women leaders were not a part of Jewish culture or tradition, they were well accepted in several of the surrounding Hellenised nations so the idea was gaining credence among the Jews involved in international trade and relations. All welcomed the separation of powers between High Priest and civic leader, that is, all except Aristobulus. Aristobulus was not convinced that his power should in any way be limited and so seized the crown with the support of his brother Antigonus, had his step-mother put in prison where she starved to death and placed his other three half-brothers in prison. The Pharisees were infuriated and began working on stirring up a massive rebellion, but Aristobulus died in pain and with internal bleeding from an unknown disease before any attempt to depose him could come to fruition. As his health faded during the single year that he reigned, much of the governing was done by his wife, Queen Alexandra Salome, and brother Antigonus. Just days before Aristobulus died Salome used trickery to have Antigonus killed by his guards.
When Aristobulus died in 103 BC Queen Salome released the half-brothers from prison and, in line with Jewish law as she was childless, married the oldest of them, Alexander Jannaeus, to whom the throne and High Priesthood went. Initially Aristobulus’ enemies were Alexander’s friends so he removed the Sadducee members from the Sanhedrin and reorganised it to be composed exclusively of Pharisees. This also met with his new wife’s approval, as she was sister to the leader of the Pharisees, Simin ben Shetah. (15)
Alexander had only one aim in life; to continue the great Maccabean tradition of conquest and increase the extent of his kingdom to its natural boundaries – the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern desert. Unfortunately, he lacked the military prowess of his ancestors and his early campaigns were quite disastrous. Were it not for the large and wealthy Jewish diaspora in Egypt putting political pressure on Cleopatra to send her army to his rescue, Alexander would have likely lost his crown and Judea its independence. While Alexander was away at war, he allowed his queen a major role in the nation’s internal affairs and she was instrumental in encouraging the introduction of synagogue schools in many towns to teach young children the Torah.
The Pharisee Zugos (pairs) during this time were Simeon ben Shetach (Queen Salom’s brother) and Judah ben Tabbai.
Simeon’s noted saying was: “Interrogate the witness very closely, and be careful with thy words, lest they be put by them on the track of falsehood”.
That of Judah was: “Make thyself not as those that predispose the judges, and while the litigants stand before thee let them be in thine eyes as guilty; and when dismissed from before thee let them be in thine eyes as righteous, because that they have received the verdict upon them.” (20)
Conflicts between Pharisees and Sadducees…
had become rather disillusioned with this line of leaders who claimed to be
both king and High Priest, and their pragmatism could see no good purpose in
picking fights with other nations only to lose the battles, have the kingdom’s
freedom threatened and tens of thousands killed in the fighting. Even though the Sanhedrin was now totally comprised of Pharisees with their Nassi (prince/leader),
Simeon ben Shetach, being a brother
of Queen Salome and frequent guest at
the palace, Alexander would not listen to their pleas to abandon this policy of
conquest and conform to their view of Judaism.
The more the Pharisees felt
that their influence over the king was waning, the more critical they became of
him and his right to the offices of High Priest and king. So the more Alexander sought the support of
their political rivals, the Sadducees,
who included many of the aristocratic leaders of the priesthood over which he
presided as High Priest.
As mentioned earlier, the Pharisees and Sadducees were opposing political parties in Judah who disagreed on almost everything, including on how each of the festivals should be performed and how each of the functions of the priests and High Priest was to be carried out. Although most of the aristocracy of the priesthood were Sadducees, they would generally bow to performing their functions as the Pharisees prescribed out of fear of the political backlash if they performed them strictly as was written in the Torah, with nothing added. One of the Pharisaic innovations was adding an elaborate Water Libation Ceremony (Nissuch Ha-Mayim) following the daily sacrifices during Sukoot (the Feast of Tabernacles). They taught this as fulfilling Isa. 12:3: “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation“. This became a very jovial time and one of the most popular parts of the celebration of this festival. With much joy, music, singing, dancing and sometimes even acrobatics and rabbis juggling flaming touches, water was drawn from the pool of Siloam and the High Priest poured that water out on the alter, which to Jewish people of the Second Temple era was symbolic of the Spirit of God being poured out during the days of the Messiah and so stirred the expectation and hopes of the people, particularly when they were feeling oppressed. Such expectations and hopes were not shared by the Sadducees and especially not by the man who saw himself as the only leader the Jews needed, the High Priest Alexander.
Religious conflict becomes bloody civil war…
In around 98 BCE Alexander, while officiating as the High Priest at the Temple in Jerusalem during Sukkot, poured the water onto his own feet instead of onto the alter. The Pharisees and their followers were enraged, saw this as blasphemous, ‘stoned him’ with the citrons (large, thick skinned citrus fruit) they were carrying in accordance with another of the customs of the festival, while shouting derogatory cries about his unfitness for the priesthood. Alexander summoned his troops to attack those who attacked him and about 6,000 Jews were slain in the temple courts that day.
Not all of Alexander’s attempts at conquest were
fruitless, he did win some battles and take some new land, but his attack
against Obedias, the king of the
Arabs, was poorly executed, the Jews suffered heavy losses and Alexander returned
defeated to find the people in Jerusalem, incited by the Pharisees, armed and arrayed against their High Priest and king.
What followed was a six year long bloody civil war that cost the lives of
The Pharisees went so far as to request the Syrian king Demetrius III join them in fighting against their monarch and High Priest in exchange for reigning over them. However, after defeating their brothers in a few battles, many deserted Demetrius’ army and helped Alexander defeat him and retain the kingdom’s independence. According to Pharisaic tradition Alexander took the advice of a Sadducee to punish their treason by crucifying 800 captured Pharisees after executing their wives and children before their eyes while he and feasting courtiers enjoyed the bloody spectacle. Animosity and distrust between the two parties, Pharisees and Sadducees had reached its zenith and 8,000 Pharisees fled to seek asylum in neighbouring lands.
Hatred driven underground…
Alexander suffered terribly with ill health for the
last three years of his life and died of his ailments from an unknown disease
while at the siege of the fortified town of Ragaba in 76 BCE. His wife Salome was with him at his death and
reported that he repented of his treatment of the Pharisees on his death bed. (21) (22) (23) (24) (25) (26)
After her husband’s death, Queen Salome reigned over Judah and her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, was appointed High Priest. Salome
called the Pharisees to return to
Jerusalem and brought them into her government, gradually pushing the Sadducees out of every important office
and position. She appointed her
brother, Shimon ben Shetah, leader of
the Pharisees, and Yehudah ben Tabbai as
joint heads over the new Sanhedrin (Great Bet Din), now comprised
exclusively of Pharisees. Salome
allowed the Pharisees’ Oral Law to be adopted as the law of the
royal court. Education was also placed
in the hands of Pharisaic teachers
and the care of the many thousands of widows and orphans left from Alexander’s
wars placed in the hands of Pharisaic leaders.
Salome’s was generally a peaceful reign, without the civil war of her husband’s
rule and only one brief foreign battle. The
trade routes were re-opened and the nation began to prosper again.
The strong ideological differences and hatreds between Jews did not lessen during Salome’s reign, however, they were just driven underground and nowhere was this more obvious than in her own family. Salome’s two sons are reported to have hated one another with the eldest, Hyrcanus II, firmly siding with the Pharisees and the younger, Aristobulus II, continuing his father’s alliance with the Sadducees. The Pharisees started exacting retribution against the Sadducees with the execution of one of their leaders. Fearing mass exterminations, the Sadducees petitioned the queen for protection against the now ruling party. Salome responded by removing the Sadducees, many of whom had been leaders of the temple priesthood, from Jerusalem and assigning them to several fortified towns for their residence.
Civil war between brothers…
After a nine year reign Salome died in 67 BCE and bequeathed the throne to her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, who had been High Priest
since the beginning of her reign. (27) (15) (28) (29) (30) (31) (32)
Hyrcanus II had scarcely reigned three
months when his brother, Aristobulus II,
rallied an army from the Sadducean
party to rise in rebellion. Near Jericho
the brothers met in battle. As Aristobulus gained the upper hand, Hyrcanus fled back to Jerusalem to take
refuge in the citadel, but the capture of the temple by Aristobulus eventually compelled Hyrcanus to seek a peace agreement.
According to the terms of the peace Hyrcanus
was to renounce both the throne and the office of High Priest but would continue to enjoy the revenues of the latter office (some sources say he
retained the high priesthood).
The agreement lasted about six weeks. Aristrobulus was more capable as a military leader but Hyrcanus was endowed with skill in negotiating and forging alliances to accomplish his goals. Hyrcanus sought counsel from the talented and ambitious administrator, Antipater, satrap of Idumaea (a neighbouring province conquered and forcibly converted by Hyrcanus II’s grandfather, Jonathan Hyrcanus I). Antipater offered to support him in waging war on Aristobulus and the Sadducees to regain his crown. Their joint army of Pharisees and Idumeans routed the forces of Aristobulus and forced the remnants to retreat to the Temple area fortress. The rest of Jerusalem and the entire country now came under the domain of Hyrcanus and the Pharisees, with the High Priesthood and temple all that was left for Aristobulus.
The lengths that people will go to in trying to exercise power over others…
Despite their animosity toward each other, both sides firmly believed in the necessity of the temple sacrifices, so the two made an agreement to ensure that the twice-daily sacrifice was offered. Every day the army on the outside would send up the necessary sheep to be slaughtered. The priests inside the Temple continued their daily service and worship after the manner of the Sadducees. The siege lasted months and showed no sign of ending. One day Hyrcanus sent up a pig instead of a sheep for the temple sacrifice. The Hasmoneans had initiated their rebellion after the Greeks desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig on the alter, and now their descendants were killing each other and sending up a pig for the temple sacrifice! This caused many devout Jews to turn from supporting Hyrcanus and the focus of the conflict shifted from Pharisee against Sadducee to power-hungry brother against power-hungry brother. (33) (34) (35) (36) (37) (38) (39) (40) (2)
1. Dankenbring, William F. The Mystery of Hanukkah – The ABOMINATION of DESOLATION Revealed! Triumph. [Online] [Cited: 31st Oct. 2016.] http://triumphpro.com/abomination-desolation-hanukkah.htm. 2. Palmer, Micheal W. History & Literature of the Bible The Hellenistic Age. Greek Language. [Online] 19th October 2002. [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://greek-language.com/bible/palmer/11hellenisticage.pdf. 3. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The Miracle of Chanuka. Jewish History.org. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-miracle-of-chanukah/ . 4. Morrison, W. D. The Sanhedrin, or Supreme National Council. Heritage History. [Online] [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.] http://www.heritage-history.com/?c=read&author=morrison&book=romanjew&story=sanhedrin. 5. Richard Gottheil, Samuel Krauss. Simon Maccabeus. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13746-simon-maccabeus. 6. Simon Maccabeus. Biblical Training. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug 2016.] https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/simon-maccabeus. 7. The Hasmoneans. Jewish History.org. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-hasmoneans/ . 8. Prsons, John J. Torah sheba’al Peh – the Oral Torah and Jewish Tradition. Hebrew4Christians. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept 2016.] http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Articles/Oral_Torah/oral_torah.html. 9. Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. John Hyrcanus I. Encyclopaedia Britannica. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Hyrcanus-I. 10. John Hyrcanus. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug 2016.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hyrcanus. 11. Johanan [John] Hyrcanus.Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Hyrcanus.html. 12. 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. 13. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The Hasmoneans. Jewish History. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-hasmoneans/. 14. Ross, Allen. 2. The Pharisees. Bible.org. [Online] 10th April 2006. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] https://bible.org/seriespage/2-pharisees. 15. Wilhelm Bacher, Jacob Zallel Lauterbach. Sanhedrin. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13178-sanhedrin. 16. Kohler, Kaufmann. Sadducees. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12989-sadducees. 17. Ross, Allen. 3. The Sadducees. Bible.org. [Online] 12th April 2006. [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] https://bible.org/seriespage/3-sadducees. 18. Safrai, Shmuel. Jesus and the Hasidim. Jerusalem Prspective. [Online] 01 Jan 1994. [Cited: 18th Aug 2019.] https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/2685/. 19. Jesus and the Hasidim.Safrai, Shmuel. Jerusalem : David Bivin Jerusalem Perspective, 1994, Vols. 42, 43 & 44. 20. Tractate Avot: Chapter 1. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Talmud/avot1.html. 21. Water Libation Ceremony. Jewish Roots. [Online] [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishroots.net/library/holiday-articles/water_libation_ceremony.html. 22. Ginzberg, Louis. Alexander Jannaeus. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1144-alexander-jannaeus-jonathan. 23. Alexander Jannaeus. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Jannaeus. 24. Eisenstein, Judah David. Water Drawing, Feast of. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14794-water-drawing-feast-of. 25. Kathleen Mary Kenyon, Glenn Richard Bugh, Rashid Ismail Khalidi, Nabih Amin Faris, Ian J. Bickerton, Peter Marshall Fraser. Palestine. Encyclopedia Britannica. [Online] 27th April 2016. [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.] https://www.britannica.com/place/Palestine#ref478855. 26. Judaica, Encyclopaedia. YANNAI (Jannaeus), ALEXANDER. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] 2008. [Cited: 29th Aug. 2016.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0021_0_21193.html. 27. New World Encyclopedia. Salome Alexandra. New World Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Salome_Alexandra. 28. Taitz, Emily. Salome Alexandra – the first Hasmonean Queen of Judea. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/salome-alexandra/#. 29. Mindel, Nissan. Queen Salome Alexandra. Chabad.org. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112049/jewish/Queen-Salome-Alexandra.htm. 30. Weiner, James. The Forgotten Ancient Queen: Salome Alexandra of Judea. Ancient History et Cetera. [Online] 22nd Jan. 2013. [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://etc.ancient.eu/2013/01/22/the-forgotten-ancient-queen-salome-alexandra-of-judea/. 31. Silver, Carly. The Peace of Zion. Archaeology Archive. [Online] 2010. [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/iron_ladies/salome_alexandra.html. 32. Salome Alexandra, Queen of Judaea. Geni. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] https://www.geni.com/people/Salome-Alexandra-Queen-of-Judaea/6000000005789572102. 33. Hyrcanus II. Jordan Expert. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept 2016.] http://www.jordanexpert.com/html/hyrcanus_ii.htm. 34. John Hyrcanus II. Bibleview. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://bibleview.org/en/bible/400years/hyrcanus-ii/. 35. Hyrcanus II. Project Infrafting. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.project-ingrafting.com/Jesus_of_Nazareth_files/Bios_and_Events/3/Hyrcanus_II.pdf. 36. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The End of the Hasmoneans, The Rise of Rome. Jewish History.org. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/end-of-hasmoneans-rise-of-rome-4/. 37. Hyrcanus II. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/hyrcanus2.html. 38. Richard Gottheil, Isaac Broydé. Hyrcanus II. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7973-hyrcanus-ii. 39. —. Hyrcanus II. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7973-hyrcanus-ii. 40. Britannica, Editors of Encyclopedia. John Hyrcanus II King of Judea. Encyclopaedia Britanica. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept. 2016.] https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Hyrcanus-II.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* The priest Mattathias and his sons fought and killed to regain their religious freedom. What are your thoughts on this? * They eventually won the battle but lost a lot of lives in the process. Was it worth it? * Has your community ever faced such battles? * How do you lead your community through times of conflict? * What effect did pride have on the leaders and the nation? * Do you think Judaism was developing in healthy or unhealthy ways? If you were trying to reform Judaism during this time what issues would you tackle? * Who were the Pharisees? * Who were the Sadducees? * Who were the Essenes? * Who were the Hasidim? * Did the arguments over faith and practice between the Pharisees and Sadducees strengthen or weaken Judaism? * Was God honoured by the ways the different groups fought over who had the right doctrines and the right way of worshipping Him? * When we disagree with a fellow believer over doctrine, how can we be constructive instead of destructive in our disagreement? * Who wins when we fight with one another?
By 400BC all the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) had been written. The years between then and the coming of Messiah are often referred to as the “Silent Years” because there were no recognised Jewish prophets during this time and nothing written was considered worthy of being designated as scripture. Yet, the scriptures are not silent about these years and, as we shall see, God was certainly not inactive during these years as He brought about what had been prophesied by Daniel, and prepared His people for the coming of their Messiah.
332 BC saw a new challenge to Jewish society and religious thought as Greece rose to prominence in the region with the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, and subsequent Hellenization of all their neighbouring peoples.
Almost 200 years before, in the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia (535 BC), Daniel had received his last recorded vision (Daniel 10-12). In this vision Daniel was told that a mighty king would arise in Greece and conquer all.
Then, when this Geek conqueror was strong his kingdom would be broken and divided into four:
“but not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion with which he ruled; for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others besides these.” (Daniel 11:2-4 WEB).
The third beast was like a leopard with four bird wings on its back and four heads (Daniel 7:6).
History now tells us that the Greek ruler, Alexander the Great, defeated the Persians and created one of the largest empires of the ancient world by the age of thirty, but died at just 32yo in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, after which his brother and son were murdered and his empire was divided between his four generals: Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus. (1) These four are referred to as the “Diadochi”, from the Greek, Diadokhoi, meaning “successors”.
The two that would impact Israel in the years to come were Ptolemy (the king of the south) and Seleucus (the king of the north), as they kept jostling for power over that region and shifting the border between them.
God’s prophetic preparations…
Daniel’s visions gave a detailed account of what was to happen in the occupying kingdoms ruling over the Jewish people, and as we study Israel’s history through these years, we find the fulfilment of Daniel’s writings and gain a greater understanding of why there was such fervent expectation that God would send Messiah during the time of Herod’s reign in Jerusalem.
In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the third kingdom was a middle and thighs of bronze (Daniel 2:32c). The vision in Daniel 8 describes a male goat coming from the west with a conspicuous horn between his eyes who struck the ram, shattered his two horns, hurled him to the ground and trampled on him. This goat magnified himself exceedingly, but as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken and in its place there came up four horns towards the four winds of heaven (Daniel 8:5-8). In Daniel 8:21 -22 this goat is identified as Greece and the large horn between its eyes as the first king, then the four horns that arose to replace it are four kingdoms which will arise from Greece but not with the power of its first king. Daniel 9 gave a timeframe of 69 sevens of years from the decree to re-build Jerusalem until Messiah was to come, and be cut off. Daniel’s final recorded vision, Daniel 10-12, described what was to happen under the rule of the third empire to reign over the Jewish people – Greece; and more particular, as Jerusalem keeps changing hands between the rulers of Ptolemy to the south and the rulers of Seleucus to the north, until a final one abolishes the daily sacrifices to God in the temple and sets up “the abomination that causes desolation“.
A godly High Priest…
Shimon Ha Tzaddik was High Priest (Kohen Gadol) at the time of Alexander the Great’s conquest, and the most renown of the High Priests of the second temple era. He is identified in Pirkei Avot (1:2) as “among the last of the Great Assembly.” That fabled institution, the “Men of the Great Assembly”, “Anshei Knesset HaGedolah,” is said to have been founded by Ezra and provided leadership for the Jewish People between the Biblical Period (the years during which the Hebrew Bible was written), and the Talmudic Period of Jewish history. Jews describe the Talmudic Period as the years (from around 330 BCE – 505CE) during which Torah-sages edited and collated the evolving teachings of the Mishna (Oral Torah) and the Talmud (commentary). It was into this period that Yeshua would be born.
Tradition has it that when Alexander the Great came to the gates of Jerusalem intent on destruction, Shimon Ha Tzaddik came out to him clothed in “Bigdei Lavan,” the white garments that he wore on Yom Kippur when he entered the Holy of Holies, and the Emperor descended from his chariot and bowed down to him.
When Alexander’s generals protested, “Such a great king as yourself bows to that Jew?”
Alexander replied, “This face appeared to me before every battle which I won…”
Several miracles are attributed to the piety of Shimon Ha Tzaddik, and his most famous saying is: Upon three things the world is based: upon Torah, upon avodah (service; prayer), and upon acts of kindness. (Pirkei Avot 1:2)
Shimon Ha Tzaddik was followed as High Priest in 320 BC by his son Onias I (Honio ben Jaddua). There was no longer the accountability between prophet, high priest and king that had been the hallmark of early Jewish society. Under their foreign rulers the High Priests now exercised sole authority over the people, and this level of power corrupted many.
From Alexander to his generals…
Daniel’s third and fifth visions go into some detail about the impact of this Greek empire after Alexander’s passing. It may have seemed strange at the time for God to give details concerning the conflicts between northern and southern heathen kingdoms. Now we can look back and see that Israel ended up near the border of the territory of the Seleucids (who ruled Syria “the king of the North”) and the Ptolemies (who ruled Egypt “the king of the South”), and so was greatly impacted by the conflicts between them. During the first 20 years Jerusalem changed hands between the Ptolemies and Seleucids five times. This instability reduced Hellenism’s impact.
Daniel 11:5-35 outlines this conflict which lasted about two centuries. If we read these verses without any detailed knowledge of what took place during those centuries, it is a bit confusing. However, they so closely correlate to what was to come, and has now been, that some liberal scholars have concluded that the last chapters of Daniel must not have been written until after the Maccabean revolt of 166 BC.
Where the Greek Bible (Septuagint) came from…
Also the king of the South shall become strong, as well as one of his princes; and he shall gain power over him and have dominion. His dominion shall be a great dominion. Daniel 11:5 NKJV
By 301 B.C. Ptolemy (the king of the South) had grown strong and established a firm hold on the land of Israel. The process of Hellenization (the imposition of Greek language, reasoning, philosophy and culture) now accelerated while the people of Israel still enjoyed relative peace and freedom to practice their religion. Ptolemy’s dominion was great as he had a passion for learning and books and so commissioned the first translation of the Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures) into Greek (the Septuagint).
The spread of Hellenism…
through several avenues. Military units
were stationed throughout Judea and the soldiers who married native women were
given homes and fields – incentivising a breakdown of ethnic purity. Many Greek cities were established and run
under the Greek democratic model. The Greek language was imposed as the
official language for government and the main language for commerce. Greek schools, temples, stadiums and theatres
were established to foster the values of Greek culture. This influx of sophisticated culture
attracted many of the Jews who began to give their children Greek names and
local styles of art and architecture began to imitate Greek models.
One of the most famous aspects of that culture is Greek philosophy. As Jews became exposed to this, they reframed it as having begun with King Solomon whose wisdom attracted leaders and thinkers from many regions, including Athens. From this Jewish viewpoint, philosophy was just an adjunct of Torah that was given away to the wise men of Athens who visited Solomon. The Greeks were said to have absorbed Solomon’s methodology and spirit of inquiry, taken it back with them and developed it in their own ways. (4)
Outside Judea, Greek became the lingua franca of the Jewish communities. A Hellenistic Judaism developed which had its metropolis in Alexandria, Egypt. This became the wealthiest, most powerful, influential and sophisticated Jewish community. It is also reported to have been the largest Jewish community at that time. They had built a synagogue that is described as having seated up to 10,000 people, and many other synagogues throughout Alexandria and Egypt. At the court and in the army of the Ptolemies, the Jews rose to prominent positions, just as they had done in the Persian Empire. (5) (6)
Despite such prominence, or perhaps because of it, the Jews attracted ridicule and rebuke in Egypt. Jews and Egyptians did not share a common understanding of their common history. Both saw themselves as superior to the other and had their own historical records to prove it. Thus began a history war that dominated the interactions between Jewish and Hellenistic intellectual interactions throughout the Graeco-Roman period. The earliest records of written attacks on the Jewish people and history are from the Egyptian historian Manetho during this time. He described the Jews as inferior, lacking in intelligence, not possessing proper character or cherished virtues, barbaric and seditious. The criticism and overt persecution of the Jews of Egypt reached its crescendo in the Hellenistic and early Roman periods, largely due to cultural elitism, xenophobia, and the metanarrative and practise of hegemony which came from the ideology of imperialism. (7) (8) (9)
The beginnings of the pharisaic movement…
Onias I (Honio ben Jaddua), was followed as High Priest in 280 BC by his son Simon I. When Simion I (Shimon) died his brother Eleazar became High Priest (260-245 BC) while his most ardent disciple, Antigonus, founded a Torah school to pass on Shimon’s wisdom and further develop the wall around the Torah to protect the people from becoming defiled by the increasing Greek influence. The pharisaic movement had begun and some even referred to Antigonus as “Nassi“, a prince of the people in Torah study and teaching. While the High Priest retained sole governance of the temple worship and political leadership of the people, this growing movement of Torah scholars and scribes saw it as their role to determine the doctrines Jews were to espouse and the laws they were to live under in order to retain their ethnic, cultural and religious purity. (2) (3)
Jews wrestled with Hellenising influences…
Ptolemy commissioned the first translation of the Tanakh into Greek (around 250 BC), the Septuagint, so named because 72 Jewish scholars were involved in translating the text (10) (11). It is the order of the books in the Septuagint that is reflected in modern Christian Bibles, while the Tanakh sequence was finalised in the land of Israel after the time of Ezra. The Egyptian Jews held an annual celebration of the translation of the Septuagint and it was used exclusively in many of their synagogues as Greek had become their mother tongue. They also saw it as an opportunity to open the Torah up to the wider world so it could have a positive influence on Greek society. Around the Septuagint a Jewish-Greek literature was created which soon became extensive.
The Pharisees in Judea were horrified at the thought of others having access to their holy book. They saw no good in having the sacred words of scripture being translated into such a profane language as Greek. To them this was not the spread of Judaism but the pollution of Judaism with the evils of Hellenization. (12)
Despite their religious and social isolation, it was impossible that the Jewish communities dispersed to the west of Israel, and thus immersed in Greek culture and modes of thought, should remain unaffected by such. The earnest Jew living in these lands could not shut his mind against Greek thought. That restless, searching, subtle Greek intellect would penetrate everywhere, it was in the forum, in the market, in the counting house, in the street; in all that he saw, and in all to whom he spoke. Alfred Edersheim described the dilemma facing the observant Jew in the Greek world:
It was refined; it was elegant; it was profound; it was supremely attractive. He might resist, but he could not push it aside. Even in resisting, he had already yielded to it. For, once he opened the door to the questions which it brought, if it were only to expel, or repel them, he must give up that principle of simple authority on which traditionalism as a system rested. Hellenic criticism could not so be silenced, nor its searching light be extinguished by the breath of a rabbi. If he attempted this, the truth would not only be worsted before its enemies, but suffer detriment in his own eyes. He must meet argument with argument, and that not only for those who were without, but in order to be himself quite sure of what he believed. He must be able to hold it, not only in controversy with others, where pride might bid him stand fast, but in that much more serious contest within, where a man meets the old adversary alone in the secret arena of his own mind, and has to sustain that terrible hand-to-hand fight, in which he is uncheered by outward help. But why should he shrink from the contest, when he was sure that his was Divine truth, and that therefore victory must be on his side? … so the Hellenist would seek to conciliate the truths of Divine revelation with those others which, he thought, he recognized in Hellenism. … there was the intellectual view of the Scriptures – their philosophical understanding, the application to them of the results of Grecian thought and criticism. It was this which was peculiarly Hellenistic. … Strip these stories of their nationalism; idealise the individual of the persons introduced, and you came upon abstract ideas and realities, true to all time and to all nations. But this deep symbolism was Pythagorean; this pre-existence of ideas which were the types of all outward actuality, was Platonism! (8) (emphasis mine)
This engagement of the Jewish dispersion with Greek thought conversely engaged the Greek world with Jewish thought. Thus, the Greek world, despite popular hatred and the contempt of the upper classes, could not wholly withdraw itself from Jewish influences. Indeed, there were many converts to Judaism among the Gentiles.
Daniel 11 fulfilled in conflict between northern and southern Greek kingdoms…
And at the end of some years they shall join forces, for the daughter of the king of the South shall go to the king of the North to make an agreement; but she shall not retain the power of her authority, and neither he nor his authority shall stand; but she shall be given up, with those who brought her, and with him who begot her, and with him who strengthened her in those times. Daniel 11:6 (NKJV)
Around 252 BCE, king of the South, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, sent his daughter Berenice to king of the North, Antiochus II Theos. His plan was to stop the war that was raging (the Second Syrian War) and unite the two kingdoms through their marriage. In order to secure the peace and regain most of the Syrian possessions his father had lost to the king of the south, Antiochus II put away his wife, Laodice and her children, and married Berenice. When Berenice gave birth to a son, Antiochus III, he was named as successor to the throne. However, after Ptolemy II died in 246 BCE, Antiochus II repudiated his 6-year marriage to Berenice and returned to his first wife, Laodice. Doubting his faithfulness, Laodice quickly murdered Antiochus II with poison and convinced her 19yo son, Seleucus II, to kill both Berenice and her young son.
But from a branch of her roots one shall arise in his place, who shall come with an army, enter the fortress of the king of the North, and deal with them and prevail. Daniel 11:7 NKJV
Ptolemy III Euergetes, the eldest son of Ptolemy II and brother of Berenice, invaded the Seleucid kingdom in retaliation for the murder of his sister and nephew. His armies defeated the forces of new king of the North, Seleucus II and killed Laodice.
And he shall also carry their gods captive to Egypt, with their princes and their precious articles of silver and gold; and he shall continue more years than the king of the North. Daniel 11:8 NKJV
During the Third Syrian War, the king of the South, Ptolemy III, is credited with recovering many of the sacred statues that the Persian forces of Cambyses had carried off during their conquest of Egypt some three hundred years earlier. Because of this, he was known as Euergetes (“Benefactor”). Ptolemy III acquired much gold and silver during his victorious campaign. In fact, from Seleucia alone he received 1,500 talents of silver annually as tribute (about 10% of his annual income). Ptolemy III outlived Seleucus II by four or five years.
Connection between Jewish and Samaritan High Priests…
Back in Jerusalem Eleasar’s uncle, Manasseh, succeeded him as High Priest in 245 BC, but he had married a foreign woman and was given the choice to either leave the priesthood or divorce his wife – tradition has it that he left the priesthood in 240 BC to become high priest in the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim. Onias II (son of Simion I), who had been too young for the office when his father died, now ascended to be High Priest. According to the 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus, Onias II was a covetous man of limited intelligence, thus giving further impetus to the growing conviction among the Pharisees that they alone were qualified to lead the nation spiritually.
Continued Greek conflicts and intrigue…
Also, the king of the North [lit. “he”] shall come to the kingdom of the king of the South, but shall return to his own land. Daniel 11:9 NKJV
In 240 BCE, the king of the North, Seleucus II, attempted to invade Egypt (the king of the South) in response to the humiliation he had suffered at the hands of Ptolemy III. However, he had to return in defeat after his fleet perished in a storm.
However his sons shall stir up strife, and assemble a multitude of great forces; and one shall certainly come and overwhelm and pass through; then he shall return to his fortress and stir up strife. Daniel 11:10 NKJV
The sons of Seleucus II were Seleucus III, Ceraunos (“Thunder”) and Antiochus III (the Great). Seleucus III, the eldest son of Seleucus II, began a war against the Egyptian provinces in Asia Minor. However, he was unsuccessful and was assassinated by members of his army in Asia Minor in 223 BCE. Seleucus II’s younger son, Antiochus III, took the throne at the age of 18 after his brother’s death. In 219-218 BCE, Antiochus III victoriously went through Judea, coming almost to the borders of Egypt.
On Onias’ death in 218 BCE his son Simon II succeeded him as High Priest and was greatly respected by all as he steered the nation through the turbulent times of the shift in Greek power to the Seleucians. (12) (11)
And the king of the South shall be moved with rage, and go out and fight with him, with the king of the North, who shall muster a great multitude; but the multitude shall be given into the hand of his enemy. Daniel 11:11 NKJV
Antiochus III met Ptolemy IV at the Battle of Raphia (also known as the Battle of Gaza) in 217 BCE. Antiochus III, the king of the North, had 62,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 103 war elephants. But the forces of Ptolemy IV, king of the South, were victorious in the battle and Antiochus III was forced to withdraw into Lebanon.
When he has taken away the multitude, his heart will be lifted up; and he will cast down tens of thousands, but he will not prevail.For the king of the North will return and muster a multitude greater than the former, and shall certainly come at the end of some years with a great army and much equipment. Daniel 11:12-13 NKJV
After the death of Ptolemy IV in 204 BCE, Antiochus III rallied his forces once again to attack the kingdom of the South. In the Fifth Syrian War (202-195 BCE), Antiochus III swept down into Judea and retook the territory that he had occupied some eighteen years previously.
Now in those times many shall rise up against the king of the South. Also, violent men of your people shall exalt themselves in fulfilment of the vision, but they shall fall. Daniel 11:14 NKJV
Antiochus III negotiated an alliance with King Philip V of Macedonia to divide up Egypt’s Asian possessions and in 199 BC inflicted a crushing defeat on the Ptolemaic forces near the headwaters of the Jordan River. According to Josephus, the Jews went over to Antiochus and readily assisted him when he besieged the garrison which was in the citadel of Jerusalem.
Then the king of the North shall come and throw up siege works and take a well-fortified city. And the forces of the South shall not stand, or even his best troops, for there shall be no strength to stand. But he who comes against him shall do according to his own will, and no one shall stand against him. He shall stand in the Glorious Land with destruction in his power. Daniel 11:15-16 NKJV
Following his defeat at Paneas, Scopas fled to the fortified port city of Sidon. But after Antiochus III besieged it, Scopas surrendered in 199 BCE in exchange for safe passage out of the city back to Egypt. He and his troops were allowed to leave the city naked after giving up their weapons. With his final victory over Scopas at Sidon, Antiochus the Great took the Holy Land away from the Egyptians for good. Judea and Jerusalem had passed from the king of the South to the king of the North.
Formation of the Sanhedrin…
In 198 B.C. the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus of Syria (Antiochus the Great / Antiochus III) won control of Judea. As in other states under Greek rule, he created a Senate (or Council) in Jerusalem to govern the nation. (Greek: συνέδριον, gerusia “sitting together”, hence “assembly” or “council”, always signifies an aristocratic body; Hebrew:: סנהדרין, sanhedrin). In Greek and Roman literature the senates of Sparta, Carthage, and even Rome were also called Sanhedrin. This aristocratic council of priests and elders was presided over by the hereditary leader of the nation, in this case the High Priest. Since the reins of government were held by the High Priest during this time, Simon II, he also bore the title “Nassi” (prince). This became the official title for the president of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was composed of seventy members, plus the president. The number seventy drew links back to Moses’ seventy elders (Exodus 18:13-26; 24:1; Numbers 11:11-17, 24-30) and so brought a sense of Jewish respectability to this otherwise Hellenistic institution. (13) (14)
Under the Seleucians there arose among the Jewish population in Judea a group called the Misyavim, meaning Hellenists, who adopted Greek culture as a way of life to such a degree that they were considered by the Pharisees to have given up their Jewish culture and identity. With increasing division between the different schools in Judaism over what constituted Mosaic Law, whether it included the ‘Oral Law’ or not, how it was to be interpreted and what of Hellenism was to be embraced or rejected, the composition and decisions of the new gerusia (which was to become the Sanhedrin) were no small matter when it came to the development of Judaism. As the initial gerusia were comprised of the aristocracy of Jerusalem, most of whom had been far more eager to embrace Hellenism than the general populace, the direction they tried to lead the nation was not always the one people wanted to follow. This provided strong impetus for the Pharisees to continue all the more vigorously building their wall around the Torah throughout all the towns of Judea and seek the political power of being admitted to the Sanhedrin.
Rome enters the picture…
He shall also set his face to enter with the strength of his whole kingdom, and upright ones with him; thus shall he do. And he shall give him the daughter of women to destroy it; but she shall not stand with him, or be for him. Daniel 11:17 NKJV
Young Ptolemy V had entered into a treaty with Antiochus III after his military defeat in the Fifth Syrian War. Through this treaty, Antiochus III tried to strengthen his position and expand his empire even further. Ptolemy V surrendered his Asian holdings to the king of the North and accepted Antiochus III’s daughter, Cleopatra I, as a bride. They were married in 194 BCE. Through this marriage, Antiochus III sought to gain a foothold in Egypt itself but his plan backfired. Cleopatra I was a true wife to Ptolemy V, standing by him instead of seeking to benefit her father. Cleopatra I was beloved by the Egyptian people for her loyalty to her husband.
After this he shall turn his face to the coastlands, and shall take many. But a ruler shall bring the reproach against them to an end; and with the reproach removed, he shall turn back on him. Daniel 11:18 NKJV
In 192 BCE, the ambitious Antiochus III crossed into Greece to aid the Aetolians. Then went to war against Rome. He sailed across the Aegean Sea and took some strongholds in Asia Minor but in so doing alienated his former ally, Macedonian king Philip V. The Roman army entered Asia Minor and defeated the larger forces of Antiochus III at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BCE. In the peace treaty of Apamea in 188 BCE, Roman general Publius Scipio set a high cost on Antiochus III for peace. He demanded twenty hostages (including his son, Antiochus IV), a reduction of naval ships to twelve, and payment to Rome for the cost of the war totalling 15,000 talents over the next twelve years. The all-consuming ambition of Antiochus III had finally brought defeat to the kingdom of the North.
Then he shall turn his face toward the fortress of his own land; but he shall stumble and fall, and not be found. Daniel 11:19 NKJV
As a consequence of the Roman victory over Antiochus III, the outlying provinces of the Seleucid empire again reasserted their independence. Antiochus III, in dire need of funds with which to pay Rome for the cost of the war, attempting to plunder a pagan temple in Babylon and was murdered in 187 BC.
Simon II’s son, Onias III, succeeded him as High Priest and head of the Sanhedrin in 185 BC. Onias III is described as a pious man, of the religious persuasions of the Pharisees, who argued strongly against the policies of the Hellenizers in the Sanhedrin.
His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendour. In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle. Daniel 11:20 NIV
Antiochus III’s eldest son, Seleucus IV, took over after his father’s death. Due to the heavy debt burden imposed by Rome, he was forced to seek an ambitious taxation policy on his shrunken empire. This included heavy taxation on the people of Israel and even extracting money from the temple in Jerusalem.
The Roman senate decided to trade hostages; therefore, they ordered Seleucus IV to send his son Demetrius, the heir to the throne, to Rome. In return, the Romans released Seleucus IV’s younger brother, Antiochus IV. When released, Antiochus IV went to Athens. In 175 BCE, after Demetrius had been sent away to Rome, Seleucus IV was poisoned by his minister Heliodorus. Some historians think that Heliodorus desired the throne for himself, while others believe that Antiochus IV was behind the murder. Seleucus’ young son, (another Antiochus – age 5) was put on the throne in his place. However, Heliodorus was the actual power behind the throne.
And in his place shall arise a vile person, to whom they will not give the honour of royalty; but he shall come in peaceably, and seize the kingdom by intrigue. Daniel 11:21 NKJV
With Seleucus IV dead, the rightful heir to the throne was the young Demetrius. However, he was no longer available, having been sent to Rome as a hostage. At the time of the murder, Antiochus IV was in Athens. When he heard of his brother’s death, he quickly sailed to Pergamum. Once there, he sought the help of Eumenes II, the king of Pergamum. By flattering Eumenes II and his brother Attalus, he received their support and backing. Antiochus IV arrived in Seleucia with a powerful ally and thwarted Heliodorus’ designs on the throne. It was still 175 BC when Antiochus IV took power to become co-regent and protector of Seleucus IV’s 5yo son.
With the force of a flood they shall be swept away from before him and be broken, and also the prince of the covenant. Daniel 11:22 NKJV
Corruption overruns the Jewish priesthood…
Because of his ability to charm people and ally himself with them, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) was able to overcome all threats to his throne. He had little regard for the religion of the Jewish people and took advantage of the corruption in the priesthood at that time, upsetting the line of succession of the High Priests. As local governance, with all the accompanying power, prestige and accumulation of wealth, was the domain of the priests, with the High Priest ruling over all, this position was highly sought by those with personal ambition. The prince of the covenant here is a reference to the Jewish high priest Onias III, whom Antiochus IV replaced with his brother Jason for a bribe that same year. Jason and the Sanhedrin promoted Greek culture in Jerusalem by introducing many Greek customs and building a gymnasium.
Just three years later Jason’s emissary to Antiochus, Menelaus, made use of his position also to bribe the king and was thus appointed to High Priest in 172 BC even though he was not of the priestly line. Menelaus proceeded ruthlessly to oppress his people and plunder the treasures of the Temple. Menelaus and his brother Lysimachus took the golden vessels of the Temple and sold them to raise the money they needed to pay the royal tribute and keep their positions of power. When Onias III, the lawful High Priest, protested this act, they had him murdered.
Jewish society in the cities, while generally still adhering staunchly to monotheism, was becoming increasingly Hellenised in language, sports, entertainments and clothes. With such rapid change came ever stronger divisions in Jewish society between the Hellenists and traditionalists.
Jewish temple and worship in Egypt…
Onias III’s son, Onias IV, fled to Egypt and built a Jewish Temple at Leontopolis where he presided as High Priest. OniasIV justified building a temple outside Jerusalem on the basis of Isaiah’s prophesy:
In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the Lord because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Saviour and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them. Then the Lord will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day, and will make sacrifice and offering; yes, they will make a vow to the Lord and perform it. Isaiah 19:19-21
The Leontopolis temple served the large Jewish population in Egypt who sacrificed regularly there, even while continuing to fulfil their duty towards the temple in Jerusalem. All the Jewish sacrifices and feasts were performed at this temple under the continuing Zadok line of the High Priesthood. This persisted until the Romans destroyed this temple, three years after destroying the Jerusalem temple. (15) (16) (17) (18)
And after the league is made with him he shall act deceitfully, for he shall come up and become strong with a small number of people. Daniel 11:23 NKJV
In Egypt, the 14-year old Ptolemy VI Philometer had become king. He was the nephew of Antiochus IV; his mother (Cleopatra I) being Antiochus IV’s sister. Antiochus IV sought an alliance with Ptolemy VI, seeking to take advantage of what he perceived as weakness in the Ptolemaic kingdom and gain Egypt for himself. He moved through Syria and Judea into Egypt with a small army, so as to not arouse suspicion to his true motive, and seized Egypt. His cover story was that he was coming to act as the “protector” of his nephew, Ptolemy VI.
He shall enter peaceably, even into the richest places of the province; and he shall do what his fathers have not done, nor his forefathers: he shall disperse among them the plunder, spoil, and riches; and he shall devise his plans against the strongholds, but only for a time. Daniel 11:24 NKJV
Antiochus IV pursued a novel plan for gaining the Egyptian-controlled provinces. He moved into the parts of the kingdom that were the richest. Then he did something that no other Seleucid king had ever done, spread around some of the spoils from his war campaigns to secure the loyalty of the people. It is even reported that he would go into the streets and throw money to the citizens there. However, this was only the beginning of Antiochus IV’s plan. Using his cunning, he visited Egyptian strongholds to find out their power.
He shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the South with a great army. And the king of the South shall be stirred up to battle with a very great and mighty army; but he shall not stand, for they shall devise plans against him.Yes, those who eat of the portion of his delicacies shall destroy him; his army shall be swept away, and many shall fall down slain. Daniel 11:25-26 NKJV
In 170 BCE Antiochus IV decided to take Egypt by force in what came to be known as the Sixth Syrian War. The Egyptians had a large army arrayed against him at Pelusium, which is near the Nile Delta. Ptolemy VI’s army, although large, was not able to withstand Antiochus IV who had corrupted several of the Egyptian ministers and officers.
In the midst of man’s evil, God is still sovereign…
Both these kings’ hearts shall be bent on evil, and they shall speak lies at the same table; but it shall not prosper, for the end will still be at the appointed time. Daniel 11:27 NKJV
With that phrase “for the end will still be at the appointed time” Daniel gives us the sense that despite all of man’s intrigues and plans, God is still sovereign and has a divine timetable for the events of history. After he took control of Pelusium and Memphis, Antiochus IV set his sights on Alexandria. Due to the intrigues of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) mentioned in verse 26, the Alexandrians had renounced their allegiance to Ptolemy VI, and had made his younger brother, Ptolemy VII Euergetes, king in his place. While at Memphis, Antiochus IV and Ptolemy VI had frequent conferences. Antiochus IV professed his great friendship to his nephew and concern for his interests, but his true plan was to weaken Egypt by setting the brothers against one another. Conversely, Ptolemy VI professed gratitude to his uncle for the interest he took in his affairs. He laid the blame of the war upon his minister Eulaeus, one the guardians appointed to watch over him after his father’s death. All the while, Ptolemy VI sought to smooth over things with his brother Ptolemy VII so they could join forces against their deceitful uncle, Antiochus IV.
In 170 BCE, the younger Antiochus was murdered while Antiochus IV was conveniently absent, paving the way for him to take sole possession of the throne.
While returning to his land with great riches, his heart shall be moved against the holy covenant; so he shall do damage and return to his own land. Daniel 11:28 NKJV
While Antiochus IV was engaged in Egypt, a false rumour arose in Judea that he had been killed. This prompted deposed high priest Jason to raise an army of 1,000 men and attack Jerusalem. His army captured the city and forced Antiochus IV’s appointed high priest Menelaus to take refuge in the Akra fortress in Jerusalem.
When news of the fighting in Jerusalem reached Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) , he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt against him. In 170 BC Antiochus IV left Egypt and on his way home marched against Jerusalem. His army massacred the inhabitants, 80,000 Jewish men, women and children in three days. A similar number were captured and sold into slavery. He also entered the Temple and took the holy vessels, including the golden altar, the menorah (seven-branched golden lampstand), the table for the showbread, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple, then returned to Antioch. Menelaus was restored to the high priesthood and retained that position until 161 BC. (12)
Many of the wealthier Jews in the cities of Judea were drawn to the apparent sophistication, great learning and philosophical thought of Hellenism. Some even embraced this as superior to their own traditions. Conflict was growing within the Jewish community between those who embraced Hellenization and those who despised it. The official leaders of the people, High Priest and most of the Sanhedrin, were among those who promoted Hellenism at this time. That left Jews trying to hold onto their traditional way of life feeling increasingly dispossessed in their own nation, stirring calls to depose their leaders.
At the appointed time he shall return and go toward the south; but it shall not be like the former or the latter. Daniel 11:29 NKJV
In 168 BCE Antiochus IV once again sought to go to war against Egypt. However, this time he would not have the same success as he achieved previously.
For ships from Cyprus [Kittim] shall come against him; therefore he shall be grieved, and return in rage against the holy covenant, and do damage. So he shall return and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. Daniel 11:30 NKJV
The “ships from Kittim” here refer to the ships which brought the Roman legions to Egypt in fulfilment of their new defence pact with the Ptolemy brothers who were now aligned. In 167 BC Antiochus IV and his army marched toward Alexandria and were met by three Roman senators led by Gaius Popillius. There, Roman ambassador Popillius delivered to Antiochus IV the Senate’s demand that he withdraw from Egypt. When the king requested time for consultation, Popillius drew a circle around Antiochus IV with a stick he was carrying and told him not to leave the circle until he gave his response. Astonished and humiliated by this display of Roman arrogance, Antiochus had no choice but to bow to their demands.
“Truth was thrown to the ground…“
Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) retreated back to Syria in a rage and disturbed by reports of growing conflict among the Jews decided to salve his wounded pride by exerting his will over Jerusalem.
And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation. Daniel 11:31 NKJV
Here we’re brought back to Daniel 8 where he sees a little horn come out of one of the four divisions of the Greek empire that exalted himself and took away the daily sacrifices (Vs 9-14 & 21-26).
Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land… It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down. Because of rebellion, the Lord’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground. … In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue, will arise. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy those who are mighty, the holy people. He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Daniel 8:9, 11-12, 23-25a NIV
Antiochus IV’s army descended on Jerusalem, slaughtered multitudes, desecrated the Temple and stopped the daily sacrifices. On the 15th Kislev, in December 167 BC, the Syrians built a pagan altar over the altar of burnt offering in the Temple and placed an image of Zeus upon it – the ‘abomination of desecration’. Ten days later, on the 25thKislev, swine’s flesh was offered on the altar to Zeus.
Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?” He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.” Daniel 8:13-14 NIV
Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) was an anti-Christ (anti-Messiah/ anti-the anointed one) determined to exterminate the Jewish religion. He outlawed any possession, reading of or obedience to Torah and resorted to every conceivable torture to force the Jews to renounce their religion, their laws and their God, seeking to replace Judaism with a universal religion of Greek polytheism. Only those in the city who had forsaken the Torah and allied themselves with him and his Greek polytheistic religion survived this attack.
With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him. Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time. Daniel 11:32-35 NIV
According to II Maccabees 6:2, Antiochus IV ordered the Temple to be renamed for Zeus Olympios. Worst of all, he managed to convince many of the Jews that they were being modern, sophisticated and open minded in rejecting Judaism and joining him in the persecution of their ‘backward brothers’ who were ‘stuck in the past’. “Many also of the Israelites consented to his [Antiochus’] religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the Sabbath” (I Macc.1:20-53). Others, particularly peasants in the countryside, were horrified and a group called Hasidim (the “pious ones”) emerged in resistance to these changes. Rabbinical sources describe him as “the wicked.” (19) (20) (21) (22) (5) (6) (10).
Antiochus IV is considered to be a ‘type’ of the antichrist to come. One who considered himself above God and attempted to abolish all worship of God and obedience to His Torah. Surely, many thought, such a time as this is when Messiah would come to destroy the kingdoms of this world and establish God’s eternal kingdom on earth. Gabriel had told Daniel “the vision concerns the time of the end” (Daniel 8:17). As Daniel’s other visions had made it clear that the Greek empire was not the “time of the end”, this riddle suggested that history repeats itself, that the Greek ruler Antiochus IV was just a picture of the one who was to come in the end time and rage against the Lord’s anointed. But still the time was not yet. The fourth beast had not yet arisen, the iron legs kingdom had not yet arisen over Israel, and still they must wait for the appointed time of Messiah’s coming and reign. (23) (24) (25) (26) (27)
1. Kaiser, Walter C. The Book of Daniel. Torah Class. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.] http://www.torahclass.com/archived-articles/1402-the-book-of-daniel-lesson-10-chapters-10-11-12. 2. Sanhedrin. Biblical Training. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/sanhedrin. 3. Wilhelm Bacher, Jacob Zallel Lauterbach. SANHEDRIN. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 3rd Sept 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13178-sanhedrin. 4. The Coming of the Greeks. Jewish History. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-coming-of-the-greeks/. 5. Schiffman, Lawrence H. Palestine in the Hellenistic Age. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/palestine-in-the-hellenistic-age/#. 6. Palmer, Micheal W. History & Literature of the Bible The Hellenistic Age. Greek Language. [Online] 19th October 2002. [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://greek-language.com/bible/palmer/11hellenisticage.pdf. 7. Thayer, Bill. The Fragments of Manetho. Manetho. [Online] [Cited: 2nd Oct. 2016.] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Manetho/History_of_Egypt/2*.html. 8. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886. 9. Armin Lange, K.F.Diethard Römheld, Matthias Weigold. Judaism and Crisis: Crisis as a Catalyst in Jewish Cultural History. Oakville : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011. 10. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The Hell in Hellenism. Jewish History.com. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-hell-in-hellenism/ . 11. A.M., William Whiston.Josephus – The Complete Works. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998. 12. 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/. 13. Gerousia. The Sanhedrin – History and Function. St John Lutheran. [Online] 2008. [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.] http://www.stjohnlutheran-elyria.org/images/11-25-The%20Sanhedrin%20-%20History%20and%20Function.pdf. 14. Morrison, W. D. The Sanhedrin, or Supreme National Council. Heritage History. [Online] [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.] http://www.heritage-history.com/?c=read&author=morrison&book=romanjew&story=sanhedrin. 15. Lists of High Priests of Israel. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: 4th Sept. 2016.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_High_Priests_of_Israel#Herodian-Roman_period. 16. The Return of the Priests of the House of Zadok. Bible Searchers. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] http://www.biblesearchers.com/yahshua/davidian/dynasty3.shtml#ReturnZadok. 17. Richard Gottheil, Samuel Krauss. Leontopolis (Greek = Lion City). Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 4th Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9772-leontopolis. 18. Kantrowitz, Jonathan. Jewish Temples of Onias & Elephantine in Egypt. Archaelology News Report. [Online] 6th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 4th Sept. 2016.] http://archaeologynewsreport.blogspot.com.au/2008/09/jewish-temples-of-onias-elephantine-in.html. 19. Antiochus IV Epiphanes. New World Encyclopedia. [Online] 5th April 2016. [Cited: 31st Oct. 2016.] http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Antiochus_IV_Epiphanes#Antiochus_and_the_Jews. 20. Antiochus IV Epiphanes Bust. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 31st Oct. 2016.] http://www.bible-history.com/archaeology/greece/2-antiochus-iv-bust-bb.html. 21. Bright, John. The History of Israel. Kentucky : Westminster John Knox Press, 2000. 22. Tenney, Merrill C. The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 4: Revised Full-Color Edition. s.l. : Zondervan. 23. Kaiser, Walter C. The Book of Daniel Lesson 10:Daniel Chs. 10,11,12. Torah Class. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.] http://www.torahclass.com/archived-articles/1402-the-book-of-daniel-lesson-10-chapters-10-11-12. 24. Gordon, I. Book of Daniel Bible Study Chapter 11 A Tale of Three Madmen. Jesus Plus Nothing. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.] http://www.jesusplusnothing.com/studies/online/Daniel11.htm#_ftn1. 25. Franklin, Pat. Daniel 11 as History. Christian + Revolution. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.] http://www.christian-revolution.net/studyRender.php?studyID=29. 26. Walvoord, John F. 11. World History From Darius To The Time Of The End. Bible.org. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.] https://bible.org/seriespage/11-world-history-darius-time-end. 27. Huie, Bryan T. DANIEL 11 – PROPHECY FULFILLED! Here a Little, There a Little. [Online] 2nd January 2012. [Cited: 16th Oct. 2016.] http://www.herealittletherealittle.net/index.cfm?page_name=Daniel11.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on some of the following questions…
* Sometimes God speaks and sometimes God acts. What actions was God doing between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New? * What has God been doing in your community? * What are some differences between western (Greek) ways of thinking and eastern ways of thinking like the Jews were working hard to hold on to? * What ways of thinking and educating are dominant in your culture? * Some of the actions that were considered virtues in Greek thought were considered abominations to God. Are there things that your culture calls good that God calls evil? * In many ways the Jewish people were being moulded by the Greek culture surrounding them, but they were also impacting that culture and seeing people converted to Judaism. In what ways is your church being moulded by the surrounding culture and in what ways is it changing the surrounding culture? * Why are the wealthy often the most compromised with the ways of the world around us? * How could the people know that it was not yet time for Messiah when Antiochus IV set up the abomination in the Temple?
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).
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 Tanakhthat 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). : ~ Gezeirah – laws instituted by the rabbis to prevent people from accidently violating a Torah Mitzvot. Commonly referred to as a ‘fence’ around the Torah. ~ Takkanot – laws 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)
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?
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 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).
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 sevensevens 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 fastingconfessing 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.
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
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?
Read Ezra 1-6; Ezekiel 40-48; Daniel 9-12; Haggai & Zechariah
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
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.
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).
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.
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?
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) MinhagMitzvot 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 us … But 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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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 tothem” 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.
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 Ezekiel “record 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
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?
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:
One God – YHWH
One Prophet – Moses
One Book – Torah
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.
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).
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?