Post Exilic Period
Introduction – To fully appreciate the post-exilic era, we must remember that the abominations committed by Israel against God, tantamount to their rejection of God. Although God had chosen Israel to represent Him to the world, they had continually failed to uphold his name resulting in their eventual captivity and exile. Although the people claimed to belong to God, they were disobedient and merely went through the motions. Religion had become a routine devoid of sincerity. Enamoured of power and prestige, they sought direction from sources that are not pleasing to God. The post-exilic era marks a period of reliance on God as well as returning to the promise land. There were three separate returns by the Jewish remnants:
– Zerubbabel led the first in 536 BC
1st Return – The book of Ezra opens in 538 BC just after the fall of the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC by the Medes and Persians, led by Cyrus the Great, with the recounting of the 1st return led by Zerubbabel.
In 535 BC, the construction of the Temple began but they faced opposition from the Samaritans who had already settled there and the work on the Temple ceased. During that time, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah ministered to the discouraged remnant and the temple project was resumed and completed in 516 BC. It had taken them 20 years to complete the Temple project.
2nd Return – Ezra led the second return in 455 BC with approximately 1500 men and their families, having obtained the approval and aid of king Artaxerxes. Upon his arrival, he learnt that the people had compromised their testimony. He poured out his soul in prayer to God over their sin. A proclamation was issued to all male citizens of Judah to appear in Jerusalem. After hearing his sermon, the men agreed to dismiss their heathen wives and dedicate themselves to God.
3rd Return – The book of Nehemiah opens in the year 445 BC. The Jews were already in Jerusalem for some ninety years and though the temple was already built, the city wall was still incomplete, leaving Jerusalem defenseless.
Ministry of the Prophets – We will now consider the ministry of the two prophets, Haggai and Malachi. Collectively, though they are referred to as the “minor prophets”, the messages they delivered have major significance for Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations. The postexilic prophets made it clear that God would deal with the restored community according to the same principles that had governed His relationship to their forefathers.
Haggai – He received his first message in 520 B.C. and his message was mainly directed at the remnant of the people of Judah under the leadership of Zerubabbel and Joshua. The prophet Haggai is often referred to as “The Successful Prophet” as no prophet saw a faster response to his message than did Haggai. Also, he has been called “the prophet who said it with bricks.” This is because the main subject of his message was the completion of the Temple structure. The rebuilding of the Temple was met with opposition, which resulted in the temple work being stopped and the temple neglected as the people busied themselves with the building of their own houses with paneled walls and cedar ceiling. He challenged the people’s careless attitude in the worship of God, emphasizing that God is displeased with their wrong priorities such that though they expected to harvest much from their efforts, they harvested little. And what little they did harvest was blown away by the Lord as their chastisement.
Malachi – The book of Malachi is sobering because it reveals what little progress, if any, Israel had made since the Nation was born fifteen hundred years earlier (Genesis 12). Nevertheless, out of these dark pages, the message of grace is still revealed in its last verses that promise a day of glory for a repentant Israel as well as for those who believe. Malachi probably wrote this book when Nehemiah visited Babylon during 433B.C (Neh 13:6). The temple project had already been completed and Mosaic sacrifices were being offered. A Persian governor, not Nehemiah was ruling the Jews at that time. The sins denounced by Malachi were the same sins that Nehemiah dealt with during second term. When Malachi wrote his book, the Jews as a nation had been back in the land of Canaan for about a hundred years. The messages of hope and future blessings prophesied by the earlier prophets like Haggai remained unfulfilled. It was a period of disappointment, disillusionment and discouragement and blasted hopes and broken hearts. The book is both a conclusion and a connecting link between OT and NT. It concludes the story of Israel for the span of 2000 – 400B.C.
– Summary in Points –