THE AGE OF LAW
From the Restoration of Israel to the End of the Old Testament
During the time of the captivity, the great Babylonian Empire came to an end. Babylon was captured by Cyrus, the founder of the Medo-Persian Empire. Belshazzar, King of Babylon was slain, and Darius, the Mede, with whom Cyrus shared the vast empire, took the throne. Upon the death of Darius, two years later, Cyrus became the ruler of Babylon. Daniel, who had risen to such favor with the Babylonian kings, showed the new ruler the mention of himself in the prophecies of Isaiah, as God’s instrument for the release of his people. Greatly impressed, Cyrus issued a decree permitting the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their national sanctuary. Ezra 1:1-11; 2:1-2, 64-70 Though the mass of the nation chose to remain behind in Babylon, the captivity was at an end. Keep in mind that in the conquest of Israel (the ten tribes), the majority of the people were not deported, but were settled in different parts of the Assyrian Empire, into which the captive kingdom was merged. Undoubtedly some of these exiles found their way back to Palestine at the restoration.
The return of the Jews from Babylon was accomplished in three separate expeditions. The first company returned under Zerubbabel, a prince of Judah, and consisted of less than fifty thousand. The first thing the returning remnant did was to repair the Altar, and restore a regular worship. Ezra 3:1-6 In the second year the foundation of the Temple was laid. The “people of the land,” the Samaritans, who refused to share in the work, hindered and opposed the effort, and finally obtained an order from King Artaxerxes for the work to cease. At last, after an interval of sixteen years, Haggai and Zechariah (two prophets called by God), stirred the people to resume the work. The Temple was completed and dedicated with great joy. Ezra 3:7-13
The second expedition was led by Ezra, the Scribe, about seventy-eight years after Zerubbabel’s return. With a zeal to re-establish the law of Moses, and the religious life of the people, Ezra gained permission from the king to return to Jerusalem with a small group of Jews. Ezra 7:6-23 Upon his arrival he found gross immoralities, and unsound worship practices and abuses everywhere. Ezra 9:1-4 Three months of stirring appeal to the consciences of the people brought about a great reformation. Ezra 10:1-2, 9-12 Another valuable service attributed to Ezra was the assembling and arranging of the Old Testament books, which is called the Old Testament canon.
The third leader was Nehemiah, a Jew of the captivity, who found a place of high favor in the court of the Kings of Persia. A small company of Jews from Israel made the long journey back to Persia, to appeal to Nehemiah for help. They told him of the desolation of the city, and of the broken down walls, which were a reproach to the people. Nehemiah’s heart was touched, and he obtained permission of the King to go to Jerusalem on their behalf. Upon his arrival he secretly viewed the ruins, gathered a work crew, and rebuilt the walls in fifty-two days, in the face of the most bitter opposition. Nehemiah 2:12-20; Ezra 4:4-5 During the construction of the wall, a copy of the Law of Moses was found in a hole in the wall. The people were assembled and Ezra read to them the words they had not heard since their captivity. Nehemiah 8:1-8 Nehemiah made a second visit to Jerusalem, and as a result of his faithful and fruitful labors, there remained a prosperous city with walls. The people revived and were encouraged in the service and worship of God. Nehemiah 12:27, 43-45
The Prophets God sent during this period of restoration were Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Haggai was born in Babylon and accompanied the returning remnant under Zerubbabel. Haggai 1:1-15 Zechariah also appears to have been one of the returning pilgrims with Zerubbabel. He was a co-laborer with Haggai. Zechariah 8:1-13 They exhorted, prophesied, and encouraged the people in their work of restoration. Malachi was connected with the labors of Ezra and Nehemiah. He probably lived about on hundred years after Haggai and Zechariah. He was the last of the Old Testament Prophets. Malachi 3:1-12
Four centuries went by between the Old and New Testaments, or from Malachi and the birth of Christ. This was an important period in the history of Palestine. It was during this time Israel took an assertive role of national patriotism and struggled for their release from foreign rule. The Macabee family played an important roll in this struggle for freedom. By the time Christ came on the scene, the Persians were fading out of power and the Romans had become the rulers of the then known world.
1. How does the fact that Israel’s captors later set them free and even helped fund the rebuilding encourage you? (There’s nothing impossible for God; He can do anything.)
2. Why do you think this small handful of passionate leaders were so committed to rebuild the wall and Temple? (It’s poor conditions was a dishonor to God; they wanted to erase the same and put it back to the glory it once had and that which God deserves.)
3. Does the seemingly impossible task, yet completed by these men encourage you in some way? How so?
4. How do you think these stories apply to us today?
5. How do you think you would respond to the reading of the Word if it were taken away from you for a significant amount of time? Does this encourage you to read and study it more often while you do have it?