Bible Time Period: Return
You brought the exiles back to Canaan; they rebuilt the Temple and Jerusalem and were taught once more from your Law: Rebuild my broken heart and life as I return to you.
The state of God’s people at the close of the period of the Exile is as follows:
- Israel, the northern kingdom, was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC and the tribes that composed it ceased to exist in any meaningful way. Most of the people were deported and scattered. In their place, King Sargon imported people from five other conquered nations and settled them in the area of Samaria. These intermarried with the remaining Israelites. The mixed population of Samaritans that resulted worshiped the God of Israel right along with the gods they brought from their homelands.
- In 587 BC, the southern kingdom (Judah) fell to the Babylonians, who destroyed Jerusalem and the TEmple and carried off many of the Judeans to exile in Babylon. God’s faithfulness to his people and to the promises he made regarding David’s throne — despite their infidelty — can be seen in the messages of the prophets of that time, who prophesied destruction and exile but also held out the hope of restoration and a new covenant.
The period we now enter, the Return, will chronicle Judah’s return home after 70 years of Babylonian captivity. The people return in three waves over about a hundred years. The story is told in the books of Ezra (who describes the first two waves of return) and Nehemiah. Before you read, try to imagine yourself into the scene. Knowing all that the Promised Land an the Kingdom meant to Israel, what must it have been like to be away from that land for so long? What damage has been done to the place and teh people? What kind of healing is required to make them whole? Amid all the events that are described, focus on the three types of rebuilding that take place during this time of return:
- Zerubbabel will lead Judah in rebuilding the Temple;
- Ezra will rebuild their spiritual lives by teaching the Law; and
- Nehemiah will head an effort to rebuild the Jerusalem walls.
Two new world powers come into play during this time and greatly influence the course of events: Persia, which gains ascendancy at the start of the period, and Greece, which follows about 200 years later. In secular history, this is the time of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle.
What unlikely person did God use to return his people to the Promised Land? Does this surprise you? What does it tell you about God?
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