Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "OLD TESTAMENT
The History of Israel: Part 8b
THE RETURN FROM EXILE - COMMENT
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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
- THE RETURN FROM EXILE
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
- LIFE AMONG THE JEWS WHO DID NOT RETURN
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.
- AFTER NEHEMIAH
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
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