Jerusalem’s Relentless March to Divine Destiny – Pt 4
“For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.” Jeremiah 29:10 NIV
The fall of Jerusalem, deportation of its inhabitants, and destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC did not alter God’s ultimate plans for them. He had sealed the destiny of the land and the Jewish people dating back fifteen hundred centuries with His promises to Abraham. In addition God had revealed His eternal purposes for Jerusalem and the Temple mount to David and Solomon four hundred years earlier. Nevertheless, this catastrophic event did set in motion an unimaginable cycle of judgments and restorative miracles, the repercussions of which are still unfolding today in God’s relentless pursuit to fulfill that destiny.
Tragically this watershed event came as a result of the Jewish people’s disregard for God’s repeated prophetic warnings dating back to the reign of Solomon. The culmination of His urgent appeals for repentance were persistently expressed mainly through two prophets: Jeremiah (626-586 BC) residing in Jerusalem and Ezekiel (593-571 BC) who was with the exiles in Babylon.
Jeremiah’s numerous prophecies forecasting Jerusalem’s imminent demise came to pass just as God had said. But all was not lost. In a dramatic turn of events his pronouncements regarding restoration would prove to be even more surprisingly accurate. Unfortunately Jeremiah did not live to see their fulfillment. In his identification with the remnant left by the Babylonians in Judah, he ended up fleeing for refuge with them to Egypt and is not heard from again. God through Jeremiah’s letter to the first wave of deportees in 597 had promised that in seventy years He would visit them and bring them back again to Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 29:10 above). In the meantime He encouraged them to make the most of their exile by settling down, building houses, planting gardens, increasing in number, and even praying for the welfare of the city where they were residing (Jeremiah 29:5-7 NIV).
In addition, Jeremiah had another seventy year prophecy, with a different application. This was given before the first deportation in 605 BC. Unlike the restoration prophecy, this was specific as to God’s intended judgment upon the Babylonians. It is significant because it predicts how the return of the exiles to Jerusalem would be made possible. “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation” for their guilt and “repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands” (Jeremiah 25:12-14 NIV).
One of the themes we shall see as we continue to recount the turbulent up and down history of Jerusalem is God’s sovereignty over the nations in fulfilling His purposes. Jeremiah underscores this sovereignty by referring to God as the “King of the nations” (Jeremiah 10:7 NIV). David and many other prophets echo the same in their writings “Dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28 NIV).
In 539 BC, as predicted, Babylon was overthrown with the ascendancy of the Persian Empire led by Cyrus the Great. The circumstances surrounding the defeat of the Babylonians proved to be a direct fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. The fact that it happened sixty-six years after the 605 BC date when he gave the prophecy closely approximates his prediction that it would take place in seventy years. It should be noted that the start of the seventy year countdown is debated by scholars and that the number seventy is frequently used in Scriptures to convey a sense of completion and/or perfection.
Cyrus turned out to be God’s chosen instrument to initiate the restoration process. When he defeated the Babylonians he inherited Jerusalem. Reversing Babylonian policy Cyrus was favorably disposed toward both Jerusalem and the Jews. In a dramatic turn of events he declared “‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them” (Ezra 1:2-3 NIV). With that astounding commission, Cyrus appointed a Jewish prince to govern, released 5,400 gold and silver articles belonging to the Temple, and sent them along 42,360 exiles back to Jerusalem.
When the exiles returned they began rebuilding the Temple on its original site in 537 BC. Immediately opposition arose from the enemies of the Jews in the surrounding area. Added political turmoil within the Persian Empire with the unexpected death of Cyrus caused the work to grind to a halt in 530. In 522, Daniel, an exile still in Babylon, was reading the prophecy of Jeremiah 29:10 when God moved upon his heart to fast and pray for its fulfillment. He realized that the seventy years of desolation predicted by Jeremiah, since the fall of Jerusalem in 586, was drawing to an end (Daniel 9:1-19). Two years later, in answer to Daniel’s prayer, God raised up two prophets among the exiles who had returned, Haggai and Zechariah, to prophetically call the people to rise up and complete the building. Led by their governor Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest an appeal was made to Darius, the new ruler of Persia, citing the decree of Cyrus. With the hand of God upon Darius, just as it had been upon Cyrus, a new decree was issued by him in their favor. “Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site. . . Their expenses are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop” (Ezra 6:7-8 NIV).
With that proclamation, the sacred task was once again renewed with vigor and the Temple was completed four years later in 516. Although this Second Temple did not approximate the glory of Solomon’s Temple it sufficed in re-establishing the house of God on Mount Moriah where prayer and sacrifice could be offered in response to God’s requirements. Its construction had been exactly seventy years since its destruction and an exact fulfillment of Jeremiah 29:10. This seventy year passage of time in accordance with God’s judgment upon Jerusalem is confirmed in several other passages of Scripture (Zechariah 1:2, 7:5 & 2 Chronicles 36:21).
There was much yet to be done in order to complete the restoration process. In approximately 458, Ezra, a priestly scribe, returned from Babylon to Jerusalem to teach its inhabitants the laws and ways of God. In 444 BC Nehemiah, a cup bearer to Darius’ grandson Artaxerxes, prayed and appealed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls. Granted favor by God, he was appointed governor and sent by the King with a military escort and provisions to do just that. Nehemiah was a gifted visionary leader. He rallied the local inhabitants in a cooperative effort and was able to rebuild the walls within fifty two days. After its completion “the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it and the houses had not yet been rebuilt” (Nehemiah 7:6 NIV).” In order to repopulate it Nehemiah held a lottery and arranged for one in ten inhabitants in the land to resettle within Jerusalem.
It was during this time period that the last Old Testament book was written by the prophet Malachi. Addressing the religious malaise of the people and their priests, Malachi pleaded with those restored to the land to renew their covenant with God. The last chapter of his book transcends that era by catapulting the reader into a future time when on the “day of the Lord” God will reveal Himself as the “sun of righteousness.” The last two verses convey a timeless Messianic promise and warning which Jews and Christians are looking yet to see how this will fully come to pass. “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction” (Malachi 4:5-6 NIV).
With these sober words the Biblical historical record ceases for four hundred years and what is known as the intertestamental period begins. This period was not however a dormant time for Jerusalem and the Jewish people. God’s dealings with them would continue with new oppressors, occupiers, protectors, and liberators.
To be continued in my next blog post. Your comments and feedback are always welcome.