16. The Exilic Hope, Post-Exilic Disappointment, and the Intertestamental Period

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Introduction

The glory of Yahweh has abandoned the temple, Jerusalem has been destroyed, and both Israel and Judah have been carried off in to exile. Will they repent and God renew His covenant promises to them? Will the return from exile be the final exodus whereby God fulfills all his promises and establishes His eternal kingdom? Or will Judah continue to be plagued by the sins that have beset them throughout their history?

I. The Exilic Hope

The prophetic message during the period of the exile was one of judgment mingled with hope.[72] Their message of hope centered on several issues all of which focus upon the renewal of the covenant promises.

A. Reconciliation with God

Throughout Scripture God promises that if His rebellious people would turn to Him in repentance then He will return to them as their God and will gather them as His people (II Chronicles 7:13-14; Jeremiah 30:8-22; 31:1; Ezekiel 34:30-31).

B. Return to the Promised Land

Furthermore, they are also promised a return to and the expansion of the promised land (Isaiah 54:1-3; Jeremiah 30:3; Ezekiel 34:11-16).

C. Reestablishment of Davidic Kingship

There is also an emphasis upon the renewal of the promises of the Davidic Covenant with particular emphasis placed upon the rule of the Davidic King (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24).

D. Rebuilding of the Temple

Also included in the emphasis upon the renewal of the promises of the Davidic Covenant is the promise that a new temple will be built within a New Jerusalem and that God’s glory will return and He will dwell among His people forever (Ezekiel 40-48).

E. The New Covenant

However, the most significant occurrence during this time is not the prophetic word concerning covenant renewal but the promise of a new and better covenant whereby the people will be indwelt by the law of the Lord and will dwell with Him in an eternal city (Jeremiah 31:31-40).

II. Post-Exilic Disappointment

A. Ezra-Nehemiah in Context

Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book that was later divided “around the end of the fourth century A.D. because of the main characters who carry the story line in each.”[73] Ezra is the most likely author of Ezra-Nehemiah and is also the author of I and II Chronicles, which again was originally one volume. Unlike Chronicles which retells Israel’s redemptive history for the purpose of demonstrating continuity between the post-exilic community and their past. The book of Ezra-Nehemiah records events that occurred within the lifetime of its author and so it is written within close proximity to the events themselves. This two-volume work, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah “renewed the sense of destiny, as the idealization of the Davidic Monarchy is transformed into a community given to the law of Moses, to separatism, and to the temple worship through the dynamic leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah.”[74]

B. The Message of Ezra

The Babylonian captivity comes to a close when Cyrus, king of Persia, conquerors the Babylonians in 539 B.C. One year later, 538 B.C., Cyrus issues a decree that the exiles should return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). Among this first group of exiles is king Zerubbabel a descendant of David, whose leadership was recognized by Judah despite Cyrus having appointed Shesbazzar as the ruler over Judah (1:8). Chapters 3-6 then s the rebuilding of the temple, opposition to this task, and the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah who exhort the people to resume their work of rebuilding the temple.

Would someone read Ezra 3:10-13 for us? Does the temple described here resemble the one described in Ezekiel?

Those who had seen the former temple were right to weep because the new temple paled in comparison to the one built for Solomon; however, the rest of the people were right to shout for joy because the Lord is faithful (Isaiah 53). Nevertheless, this temple, though its building was sovereignly orchestrated by Yahweh, is not the coming temple toward which Ezekiel directs our attention.

Then in 458 B.C. Ezra and numerous others return to Jerusalem (7-8). Upon Ezra’s return the situation in which he finds Judah, as well as his response, is described in 9:1-5.

Will someone read that for us?

Ezra’s profound humility is seen in his prayer as he concludes his prayer,

“And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this” (9:13-15).

The book then ends with the people’s repentance and abandonment of sin.

C. The Message of Nehemiah

The book of Nehemiah begins with Nehemiah in Babylon receiving news that Jerusalem’s walls had been destroyed and its gates burned (Nehemiah 1:1-4). Nehemiah was the cupbearer of the Persian king Artaxerxes (1:11) and he used this opportunity to plead that Artaxerxes would allow him to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls. The king allowed him to return to Jerusalem in 455 B.C. (2:1-8). Just as with the building of the temple there was opposition (4:1-14) and yet in only 52 days the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt (6:15-19).

Would someone read that passage for us? Is there anything that stands out in this account?

The nations perceived that Jerusalem’s walls were rebuilt with the help of God. Perhaps God will begin to fulfill his covenant promises and begin to bless the nations.

Just as in the exodus from Egypt the exodus from Babylon and rebuilding of the walls is followed by the reading of the Law (8:1-8). On the first day of the seventh month Ezra stood on a platform before the people and read aloud the Law while the Levites stood amidst the people and “gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (8:8). They gathered again on the twenty-fourth day of the same month and stood to confess their sins and then an unknown individual leads the assembly in a profound prayer recounting both the history of redemption and confessing their sins as a people (9:5-37). They then covenant together in keeping the laws of Moses (9:38-10:39). Nehemiah then left Jerusalem and returned to continue his service to Artaxerxes (13:6-7; cf. 1:6). When he returns to Jerusalem he finds them neglecting the Levites, ignoring the Sabbath, and intermarrying with foreign women. The Old Testament closes on a low note as Nehemiah prays, “Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:29-31).

“The problem is that although the structure of the kingdom portrayed by the prophets is there in outline, the substance is not. There is no glorious return, no magnificent temple set in the midst of the regenerated earth. It is clear that the people have still not undergone that spiritual transformation that makes them perfectly the people of God. There is no magnificent reign of the Davidic prince.”[75]

III. The Exile and Return as Eschatology

The first section “I. The Exilic Hope” clearly lays our an eschatology for this period as these great hopes do not find their fulfillment during this time but await future fulfillment. Rather than summarize that material here we will direct our attention toward Ezekiel 34 where the LORD both rebukes Israel’s failed leaders as well as offering hope for the future.

Conclusion

What can we learn from the exilic and post-exilic period? How has our study through the Old Testament deepened your understanding of God?

Excursus A: The Intertestamental Period

I. Chronology

At the close of the Old Testament in 400 B.C. Judah was under Persian rule. During this time “the original concept of Torah, denoting ‘instruction,’ or divine guidelines whereby people might live righteously before a holy God, gradually gave way to the Persian concept of dat, or unalterable, incontrovertible decrees that formed a rigid legal system.”[76] Because of this change an oral tradition was developed that stood equal to the Torah. Furthermore the destruction of the temple led to the creation of Synagogues during this period. In a succession of battles between 334 and 331 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and Judah fell under Greek control.[77] The influence of Greek culture and language eventually led to the creation of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. When Alexander died in 323 B.C. the empire was divided between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria. Judah fell under the control of the Ptolemies until 198 B.C. when it fell under Seleucid control. Under the Selucids Antiochus IV Epiphanes established an altar to Zeus in the temple and in 167 B.C. the Maccabean revolt began and lasted from 166 to 142 B.C.; Israel was finally free from Syrian rule. The descendants of Judas Maccabeus formed the Hasmonean dynasty, the Hasmoneans also occupied the position of high priest, and they ruled until 63 B.C. when Pompey I brought them under Roman rule. Rome ruled Judea indirectly through the last of the Hasmoneans and then later through the Herodians. During the Intertestamental Period the Jews experienced pressure both politically and culturally which led to various forms and degree of syncretism between Jewish culture and the various cultures they encountered. These massive theological and cultural shifts set the stage for the New Testament.

II. Cultural Developments

A. The Common People

The majority of the Jews lived outside of Jerusalem during the Intertestamental Period. Rather than return to Jerusalem they settled throughout the Roman Empire. Furthermore, the majority of them were not a part of any religious sect and their practice and theology varied.

B. The Essenes

This group arose to help support the Maccabean revolt and many later chose to withdrawal from Jerusalem to form their community at Qumran. They lived communally, were fervent in prayer, and dedicated themselves to studying the Torah as a substitute for the animal sacrifices within the corrupt temple system. While they withdrew from Jerusalem the firmly believed that Yahweh would subdue both the Gentiles and corrupt Jews and that they would be given a prominent position in the messiah’s kingdom.

C. The Pharisees

Like the Essenes the Pharisees were originally associated with the Maccabean revolt and later separated do to compromise within the Hasmonean Dynasty. They were the leaders of the synagogues where they taught and interpreted of the law. This interpretation took the form of an oral tradition that was viewed as possessing authority equal to that of the Torah

D. The Sadducees and the Priests

They were a group of aristocratic Jews who had come to power due to their cooperation with the Romans. They controlled the temple and taught the law there. Together with the Pharisees they formed the Sanhedrin. They differ from the Pharisees in that they hold only to the Torah and rejected the rest of Old Testament Scripture as well as doctrines not found in the Torah.

E. The Zealots

They were political revolutionaries who were eager to overthrow the Roman Government. At times various groups of these revolutionaries rose up against Rome and their rebellions were quickly crushed.

[72] See chapter 15 for a list of pre-exilic, exilic, and post-exilic prophets.
[73] Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 389.
[74] VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 288.
[75] Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 196.
[76] VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 317.
[77] MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, 1089.

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