Understanding The Bible
The History of Israel:  Part 8b of 9


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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible

    This last period of O.T. history, from the return to Palestine under Zerubbabel to the close of the O.T. by Malachi (538-432 B.C.) sees the Jews returned to their land, but as a subject people, ruled by the Persians. The independence and glory of the former kingdom are gone. Nevertheless, the faithful remnant had God’s blessing upon them. Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and the three post-exilic prophets tell about these days (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

    It should be noted that the leader who brought back most of the Jews was Zerubbabel, who returned in 538 and whose main task was to rebuild the temple (finished 516 B.C.). Ezra returned some 80 years later with a few more Jews. He restored the Mosaic institutions. Nehemiah followed him in about 13 years and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.
    1. RETURN UNDER ZERUBBABEL, Ezra 1-6 (538 B.C.)
      Some 50, 000 Jews return to Palestine under Zerubbabel, a prince of Judah. (Sheshbazzar seems to be Zerubbabel’s Persian name.) Ezekiel was dead; Daniel, though alive, was too old to make the difficult journey. Zerubbabel had an excellent helper in Joshua (also called Joshua) the high priest. The sacrifices and feasts are reinstituted and the foundation of the temple laid. Ezra 3:12-13 is suggestive of the attitudes of the people toward the return as a whole, as well as their attitude toward the new temple.

      There follows a time of great opposition. The Samaritans, and others who resented the return of the old residents of the land and their claims to it as their own land, succeeded in stopping the work. The story (Ezra 4-5) is an involved one. SRB notes © and (d), p. 533, are helpful. See also the Persian rulers, pp. 65-66 of this syllabus. While the Jews are thus discouraged, the prophets Zcchariah and Haggai encourage the people. The books of Haggai and Zechariah give the messages of the prophets as they delivered at this time. The temple is finally finished and dedicated in 516 B.C. This is the second temple, Solomon’s having been the first.
    2. RETURN UNDER EZRA, Ezra 7-10 (458 B.C.)
      Between Ezra 6 and 7 there is a gap of some 80 years. The return had not been a great success. The people were not separated unto God and were in a dispirited state. And the wall of Jerusalem was still in ruins, as was also much of the city. God now raises up two men to rally the people. Ezra was the first of these. His task was to restore the ways of life commanded in the Law of Moses—to bring the people into a state of obedience to God, so that His blessing might be upon them. With Ezra more than 1.700 Jews return from Babylon. Ezra was of a priestly family. He is also called a scribe- -that is, one who was concerned with the copying and teaching of the Scriptures. Now that the O.T. times are at an end. and the O.T. nearly finished, this new group of men (“scribe” first occurs here) is raised up to see to the handing down of the Scriptures.

      Much of Ezra 9-10 is concerned with the problem of mixed marriages. If the returning Israelites were lo be kept from the sin which drove their fathers into exile, they had to keep pure. And this could only be achieved by refusal to inter­marry with the heathen. Ezra (and later Nchemiah) deals courageously with this difficult problem. This separationist attitude aroused the hostility of the heathen, and made all the more imperative the need for walls around Jerusalem.

      For archaeological sidelights on this period, see Israel’s Neighbor, Mesopotamia. ADDENDUM I; WHA, pp.50, 59-60; Albnght’s article under Hezekiah, p.62 of this syllabus; Finegan, pp. 192-200.
    3. RETURN OF NEHEMIAH, Neh. 1-1J (445 B.C.)
      Nehemiah was a courtjer at Shushan. the Persian capital. The task for which God called him was the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and establishing the return on a solid fooling of righteousness and prosperity. Nehemiah returned some 13 years after Ezra.

      Arriving at Jerusalem, Nehemiah finds that although the initial return had taken place nearly 100 years before, the walls of the city were still in ruins. It was impossible in tliose days for a city to grow and be prospeous without walls to protect from raiders. Under Nehemiah’s direction the walls were rebuilt in 52 days. The method was to assign sections of the wall to families or clan groups. At Tell en Nasbeh, a place 8 miles north of Jerusalem, a wall has been uncovered which is very uneven, some parts being well-built and others not. Probably such a piecemeal construction was used there. (No remains of the Jerusalem wall from Nehemiah’s time have been recovered.)

      Chapters 8-10 tell about the great revival under Ezra and Nehemiah and the book closes with Nehemiah engaged in furthering separation just as Ezra had done.
      The book of Esther tells what happened to certain Jews who elected to remain in deportation. The setting is the .court at Shushan in Persia. The time is the reign of King Xerxes (Ahasuerus). a little after Zerubbabel’s return. Although God’s name is never mentioned. Divine Providence is apparent in every page.

      Secular history’s Xerxes agrees well with Esther’s Ahasuerus. He tried to invade Greece, but was defeated by the valiant Greek armies at Salamis and Plataea. Herodotus says that he then returned to the comfort of his harem. This book records the origin of the Jewish feast of Purim (from “pur” = lots, 3:7; 9:24. The” casting of lots for lucky days was common in Persia.)

      The story of the book can be easily obtained by reading it. The heroine’s Persian name is Esther; her Hebrew name, Hadassah. One gets the distinct impression that it might have been better for them if all of the Jews had returned to their homeland. See SRB, p. 558, introduction to the book. It was necessary for the Jews to defend themselves, but there seems to have been an unnecessary vengeance on their enemies (ch.9). The book mentions a characteristic arrangement of the Persian empire—the swift posts (3:13,15; 8:10,14) by which the whole of that great empire could be traversed in a matter of days, somewhat like the American pony express. This greatly helped to keep the empire strong.

      For background of the book of Esther, check WBD, pp. 171-172.
      The prophet Malachi seems to have done his work shortly after Nehemiah. Again a spirit of unthankful ness and negligence had come upon the people. Malachi warns against it and looks forward to the coming of Elijah the prophet to announce the “great and dreadful da9 of the Lord.” He also mentions the faithful remnant. More than 400 years were to elapse before God again would speak, when the “Desire of all nations” would come.


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