Destruction and Exile
Since calling Abraham to his side in the late 1900s BC, Yahweh had understood his relationship to Abraham and his descendants, as well as theirs to him, as unique. Yahweh spoke of it many times in just this way: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Yahweh’s intention was to be a blessing to them and a blessing to the other peoples of Earth through them. To cultivate this special relationship, Yahweh promised Abraham to grant his descendants a special place in which to live. Yahweh granted this Promised Land to his people Israel in the late 1400s BC.
Sadly, Yahweh’s people chronically rejected Yahweh’s special relationship with them and theirs with him. This despite Yahweh’s persistent attempts to strengthen that relationship and to weaken his people’s misguided devotion to the six false Olympian gods.
In the end, Yahweh’s people refused his love for them and any love for him. They did this despite Yahweh’s warnings that, if they continued to act like everyone else, then he would exile them among everyone else. If they wanted so badly to identify with foreign gods, then he would grant them their wish and send them to live in foreign lands.
Yahweh had the Assyrians carry away the Kingdom of Israel in 721. Yahweh hoped that his people in the tiny Kingdom of Judah would learn from this example. They didn’t. Consequently, in 588 BC, Yahweh had the army of Nebuchadnezzar loot and burn his own unique temple in Jerusalem, destroy the city, drag all but the poorest of its remaining residents to exile in Babylon, and end the existence of the Kingdom of Judah.
Nonetheless, Yahweh remained faithful to his people despite their betrayal of him. Before their exile, he promised them through the prophet Jeremiah that he would return a remnant of them to Jerusalem at the right time.
Return to Jerusalem
In 538 BC, Cyrus the Persian conquers Babylon. Yahweh, in fulfillment of his promise, stirs the spirit of Cyrus and, in 537, he proclaims that people of Judah exiled in Babylon may now return to Jerusalem and rebuild the house of Yahweh. Yahweh also stirs the spirits of the some of the heads of the families of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, living in Babylon, to return to Jerusalem. Cyrus gives to them the treasures that Nebuchadnezzar’s army had looted from the temple before destroying it. Almost 50,000 people return (Ezra 1-2).
Reconstruction of the Temple
Back in Jerusalem, the community of Jews from Babylon builds an altar to Yahweh, begins daily sacrifices upon it, keeps the festivals, and makes freewill offerings. The Levites lay the foundation for a new temple while the priests praise Yahweh with trumpets and the people shout—or weep—for joy (ch. 3).
Local non-Jewish leaders start opposing the reestablishment of a Jewish community in Jerusalem and its rebuilding of a house for Yahweh. They intimidate Jews and bribe local Persian officials to stop progress (4:1-5). Jewish efforts to reconstruct the temple grind to a halt.
In 522 Darius (“the Great”) becomes emperor of Persia (r. 522-485). Prophets Haggai and Zechariah encourage reconstruction of the temple while the provincial governor writes to Darius for clarification of his will. Darius orders the temple finished without further opposition. In 515 the Jewish community completes the temple, celebrates its dedication to Yahweh, and observes Passover in Jerusalem for the first time since returning from Babylon. All rejoice (chs. 5-6).
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