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EZRA 1:1-11; 2:68-70; 3:8-13 – RETURN FROM EXILE

Even from the time of Moses, God had warned that disobedience would cause oppression and even captivity by the nations around them (Deuteronomy 28). In the years prior to their exile, prophets, such as Isaiah and Micah, had warned Judah of their coming affliction, and in the years just before Babylon’s assault on Jerusalem, Jeremiah warned of their coming fall, as did Habakkuk and Zephaniah. But they did not listen. Tradition says Isaiah was sawn in two. Jeremiah describes how false prophets abused him – and King Jehoiakin cut the scroll Jeremiah sent him into pieces, throwing them into the fire.

Yet, along with warnings of exile was a promise of a return that would exceed their deliverance from Egypt as a monument to the LORD’s faithfulness. Meanwhile, Jeremiah told the people to settle down in Babylon, grow crops, and pray for the well-being of the city of their captivity – for they would prosper as their captors prospered. In captivity, Ezekiel prophesied among the people and Daniel prophesied to the kings of Babylon and of the Medo-Persian conquerors of Babylon.

It was idolatry that sent Judah into captivity. There they learned to serve the LORD God alone. They also had to learn to serve Him without the Temple as the place God dwelt. In captivity they developed the synagogue and the oral traditions that still sustain Judaism in their worship of Yahweh.

Yet, they wept as they longed to return to Jerusalem (see Psalm 137). Ezekiel was a prophet of hope to them. He told of an amazing return when God’s breath would blow upon the dry bones of Israel and make them live again (Ezek. 37:1-14). He also described a glorious Temple from which living water would flow, giving life to the desert and even to the Dead Sea (Ezek. 47:1-12). He spoke of a coming time when Israel and Judah would come from exile, become one nation, and have David as their king who would rule them as their shepherd (Ezek. 37:15-28).

Yet, when they returned to Canaan under Zerubbabel and Ezra, it was not like what the prophets foretold. The Temple was a weak shadow of Solomon’s Temple. The walls of Jerusalem built by Nehemiah were quickly thrown up and totally unable to resist a siege by an attacking army. Further, they were still ruled by foreign powers, first Persia and later the Greeks of Syria and Egypt. For about a century, 168 BC to 63 BC when Rome took control, the Maccabeans, ruled, but these Jewish kings were not David’s descendants. In Jesus’ day, the Rabbis believed the exile would continue until Messiah came.

Certainly, at the end of the Old Testament and after some Jews had returned to Canaan and rebuilt the Temple, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi all looked to a future Messianic era. In this return, the people were still not faithful to the LORD even though they did not worship idols. There were only a few (relatively speaking) who returned to Canaan. Most Jews (people of Judah) and Israelites (the rest of Israel) were still scattered among the nations.

Had the LORD forgotten His covenant with Abraham? The prophets said He had not. But at the end of the Old Testament, it certainly appeared to many He had, though some still looked for Messiah’s coming.

Next, we look at a non-Abrahamic worshiper of God; then we resume the STORY as the LORD begins to bring it to a faithful climax.


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