Rebuilding the Temple (539 – 517 BC)

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

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

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

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

Daniel records: 

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

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

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

Seventy sevens to accomplish six purposes…

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

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

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

This period of 70 x 7 years had been “decreed” over the Jewish people and over the holy city of Jerusalem. The Hebrew word translated “decreed” literally means “to cut off” or “to determine.” In chapters 2, 7 and 8, God revealed to Daniel the course of future world history in which gentiles would have 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 it literally 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 this region; 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 ancestor’s 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.

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

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 the Holy Land (10).

Daniel’s last vision

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

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

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

Work on the temple halted

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

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

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

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

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

Reference List

1. Historical Evidence Belshazzar & Darius the Mede. Bible History. [Online] 2013. [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.]
2. Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. The Messianic Time Table According to Daniel the Prophet. Jews for Jesus. [Online] [Cited: 20th Oct. 2016.]
3. Shea, William H. Darius the Mede: an Update. Andrews University. [Online] Andrews University Press. , 1982. [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.]
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.]
5. Stevenson, John T. Israel After The Exile. John Stevenson Bible Study Page. [Online] 2000. [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.]
6. Bible Timeline. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.]
7. Hooker, Richard. The Jewish Temples: After the Babylonian Exile (538 – 332 BCE). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.]
8. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. Babylon and Beyond. Jewish We bring Jewish History to life. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.]
9. Spiro, Rabbi Ken. History Crash Course #43: The Jews of Babylon. [Online] 1st September 2001. [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.]
10. Keyser, John D. Hebrew and Aramaic – Languages of First Century Israel. Hope of Israel. [Online] [Cited: 25th Aug 2016.]

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?