Post Exilic Period

Post Exilic Period
After the bleak picture depicted in the early era, we are now ushered into an era that is replete with hope. However the message of hope is accompanied by the message of judgment for God’s disobedient people. Our presentation on the Post Exilic period will focus on the themes of Return, Rebuilding and Revival.

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
– Ezra led the second in 455 BC
– Nehemiah led the third in 445 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.
Although Cyrus’ proclamation applied to all 12 tribes, only Judah and Benjamin responded and returned to rebuild the Temple. The ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom had been so fractured and dispersed by Assyria, and so much time had elapsed since their captivity that many were so well assimilated that they were unwilling to share in the vision of rebuilding the Temple.
When we talk about the return, we need to address the issue on the significance of the need to rebuild the temple. Why is the Temple building so crucial to the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem? As far as the Mosaic covenant is concern, the failure to complete a suitable house of worship could undermine the religious life of the Jewish community. Symbolically the Temple was to remind the Israelites of God’s presence, God’s desire for fellowship and to be worshipped. Over 50,000 people made the journey back to the promise land where their main focus was to rebuild the Temple.

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.
Nehemiah was saddened to learn of this and through God’s provision, had the permission of king Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem to build the wall. The work on the city wall met with opposition. Nonetheless the wall was finally completed and the blessings that resulted were a spiritual revival and the denouncing of sins.

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.
The prophets Haggai and Zechariah served during the time of the first and second return of the remnant of Israel while Malachi ministered at the close of the restoration period.

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.
The people received the message positively and through Haggai, God promised His divine enabling presence to the people as they rebuilt the Temple.

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.
Malachi assured them that the Messiah would come but that would mean judgment for them rather than glory. God’s love for His people is demonstrated by the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah will lead them to a realization of their fondest hopes. The day of the Lord’s coming will be a day of comfort and healing for a faithful few and a day of judgment for those who reject Him.

– Summary in Points –

Judah: Return, Rebuilding, Revival:
– 
Rejection of God
– Captivity
– Disobedient
– Went through the motions
– Routine devoid of sincerity
– Enamoured of power and prestige

Three Separate Returns:

1st Return
– Led by Zerubbabel in 536 BC

2nd Return
– Led by Ezra in 455 BC

3rd Return
– Led by Nehemiah in 445 BC

1st Return:
– Led by Zerubbabel in 536 BC
– Invitation applied to 12 Tribes
– Only Judah and Benjamin returned

Significance of rebuilding Temple:
* Failure to rebuild would undermine religious life of Jewish community
* Symbolically Temple reminded people of God’s presence

– Faced opposition from Samaritans
– Haggai and Zechariah ministered to them
– Temple project resumed and completed in 516 BC
– Took 20 years to complete


2nd Return:
– Led by Ezra in 455 BC
– 1500 men and families joined him
– King Artaxerxes approved and aided return
– People compromised their testimony
– Poured out in prayer to God
– Summoned all male citizens to Jerusalem

3rd Return:
– Led by Nehemiah in 445 BC
– Temple built since Zerrubbabel but city walls in ruins
– Jerusalem defenceless
– Returned to Jerusalem to build the city wall
– Met with opposition
– Wall finally completed

Consequences of Rebuilding:
– Spiritual Revival
– Denouncing of Sins

Haggai
– Date: 520 BC
– Message targeted at remnant
– Ministered during Zerubabbel and Joshua
– Faced opposition to building Temple:
* Samaritans
* Indifference of returned people

– Rebuked Sins of the people
– Wrong priorities
– Claiming time is not right
– Luxurious homes

Haggai: God’s judgment on the people
– Harvested little
– Drought

Malachi
– Date: 430 BC
– Little progress made
– Message of grace revealed
– Promised a day of Glory for the repentance
– Sins denounced by Malachi same as Nehemiah
– Jews already back for about a 100 years
– Message of hope and future prophesied still unfulfilled
– Period of disappointment, disillusionment and discouragement
– Connecting link between OT and NT