Old Testament Survey - Lesson 28

Background to the Post-Exilic Books

An overview of the background to the post-exilic books including the necessity of the temple and the role of the Persian empire in it’s rebuilding.

Douglas Stuart
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 28
Watching Now
Background to the Post-Exilic Books

The Return:  Background to the Post-Exilic Books


I.  1 Chronicles 9

A.  The Genealogies

B.  Importance of Rebuilding the Temple

C.  Major problems because the temple was destroyed


II.  The Persian Empire

A.  Attitude toward conquered territories

B.  The Decree of Cyrus

C.  Syncretism of Cyrus


III.  Chronological Order

  • The purpose of this overview of the Old Testament is to focus on the content of each of the Old Testament books, the historical events that give context to the books, and specific questions that help draw out the overarching principles contained in the Old Testament. There is also an emphasis on identifying ways to use this material that can help people in their daily lives.

  • Genesis narrates ten stories that describe origins or beginnings. These include the origin of the “heavens and earth,” and the origin of specific families that are significant in God’s dealings with Israel and the nations.

  • Themes from selected passages in Genesis about which there are interpretations that differ greatly. These include Genesis 2 regarding creation of women and their roles, Genesis 6 about the "Sons of God," and Genesis 9 about the "curse of Ham." Other themes are the story of Abraham, and God as a punisher of evil.

  • The three major themes in Exodus are Israel's deliverance from Egypt, establishment of the Covenant and the Tabernacle. Other themes are how name repetition in a sentence is significant throughout Scripture, and how humility in the Jewish culture affects the actions and responses of many biblical characters. Exodus contains both apodictic and casuistic laws. There are also paradigmatic laws which are designed to give broad guidance for specific situations that arise. The first part of Exodus is mostly stories, and the second part is mostly a record of the laws which are the basis for how they interact with God and other people.

  • In this lesson, the concept of a covenant is defined as a legal binding agreement between two parties. In the ancient world there were many covenants. There were covenants between individuals, and even between nations. For example, a superior ruling king would make a covenant with a lesser vassal king. Covenants in the ancient near east contained the following six elements.

  • Does God punish the grandchildren for what the grandparents have done? Some people read these passages (Exodus 20:5, 34:7) and assume that they mean God punishes grandchildren based on their grandparents' sins. Unfortunately, they misinterpret these texts because they fail to understand the phenomena of numerical parallelisms. The Hebrew language favors parallelism, so that numbers which are close to other numbers will often be put in parallel to exhibit literary balance.
  • The historical books--Joshua, Judges, and Ruth--are essential reading for understanding how the bible views the progress of history. These books help us understand what the basic stages are in the progress of God’s relations with humanity. There is development, and progress in history we can refer to as epochs. This lecture provides an overview of redemptive history and a summary of the book of Joshua.

  • When discussing violence in the Old Testament it is important to discuss the concept of Holy War. This lesson does not suggest that Christians are soldiers first and nothing else since Christians are also called to be peacemakers. However, this lesson does put forward the idea that God is fighting a holy war. That is, God is seeking to promote blessing for all people by eliminating evil everywhere. The final enemy is death itself, and God is resolute on destroying evil and death. Holy war is a complex set of ideas that should be interpreted in light of the entire corpus of scripture.

  • In this lesson the extent of the conquest is discussed to frame the book of Judges. The orienting data for the book of Judges helps explain how the book recounts the decline of the people of Israel. Finally, the Dueteronomic cycle which recurs in the book is explained and helps frame Israel’s history up to the time of the exile.

  • After the division of the kingdom, 40 kings reigned during this period of the divided monarchy. Only three Kings reigned during the united monarchy—Saul, David, and Solomon. We might be able to assume the time period of the united monarch to be something like 120 years with each of the three kings reigning forty years. But the term “forty” in Hebrew means something like the English expression “several dozen.” That’s why we see the idiomatic expression “forty” so often in Hebrew literature.

  • David is a man after God’s own heart. How is this possible when he made so many moral mistakes? Being after God’s own heart does not mean David is morally upright, but that he has unwavering faith in the one true God of Israel. That is unique to David in these narratives. The narratives are clear that both Saul and Solomon conjoined belief in the God of Israel with the worship of other gods. David, however, is never portrayed as worshipping other gods or setting up altars to Idols.

  • In this lesson several key elements from the lives of Saul, David and Solomon are briefly reviewed. The rejection of Saul as King is explained. The rebellions against David are highlighted. And the disobedience of Solomon is described. Although these three kings are imperfect, God keeps the Kingdom of Israel unified throughout their successive reigns.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Stuart provides an overview of the ten types of Psalms found in Scripture, a few suggestions regarding preaching through the Psalms, and addresses how we are to interact with the hystoricizing statements within the Psalms.

  • This lesson provides an overview of the structure of Proverbs, which seems to be the most secular book of the bible. Proverbs is a book of wise memorable sayings collected by Solomon. These sayings are collected from various individuals in Israel and the Ancient Near East and serve to provide wisdom for how to live in the world.

  • There is a chiastic structure to the book of Job that begins with the prologue and ends with the epilogue. In a chiasm, the middle portion is a convenient hinge of the book, it is not necessarily the most important piece of textual material. The main question the book is asking is, where do you find wisdom? The answer is, wisdom is found in the LORD. Proverbs is monological wisdom, whereas Job is dialogical wisdom. People are debating back and forth throughout the book about the nature of wisdom.

  • This lesson briefly describes existentialism as a philosophical movement in order to frame Ecclesiastes as an ancient type of existentialist literature. Existentialism tends to argue that this life is all there is. Ecclesiastes entertains these various perspectives in the first six chapters, which serve as a literary foil, before ending with a surprise for the reader—life does have meaning because there is a God who will judge our actions.

    There is a storyline to the Song. A clue is found in the term Shulamite, which in Hebrew can be translated as Mrs. Solomon. So this is a story about Solomon marrying his wife. It conveys some of the challenges Solomon and his wife face in coming together in covenant marriage. The beginning of the book outlines their engagement. In the middle of the book they get married, and the end discusses their honeymoon. What we see in the Song is the biblical ideal of a monogamous marriage, which, ironically, Solomon failed to live up to.

  • While it is difficult to preach through the prophets it can be done well if some basic views are taken regarding the prophetic books in general.

  • This lesson provide an overview concerning three contemporaries Prophets during the period of the divided monarchy at the end of the 8 th Century BCE.

  • The passage discusses a period of time when great materials are produced, including the Book of Isaiah. The rise of the Assyrian Empire becomes a significant concern, as they expand their territory across various regions. Tiglath-Pileser III, also known as Pul, leads the Assyrians into the domain of Israel, Palestine, and Syria. The expansion is driven by economic considerations, as kings seek wealth for grand projects through tribute, tax, and tolls. The cycle of conquering and resistance repeats itself, impacting the Israelites. The passage also highlights the importance of 2 Kings, focusing on Elijah and Elisha, Jehu’s massacre of Baal worshippers, the kings of Judah, the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, and the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.

  • Historical context is vital when one moves to reading the prophets. After Solomon’s death in 931 BCE, the kingdom of Israel undergoes an extended period of civil war as rivaling leaders take control of the northern and southern regions of the kingdom. Unfortunately, this split eventually becomes permanent. In the north the kings reigned for short periods and when compared with the southern kingdom of Judah this shows a tremendous amount of upheaval. This may have to do with the fact that the north is never ruled by a descendant of David. In addition, the north fails to worship at the Jerusalem temple, and decides instead to worship idols.

  • In this lesson an overview is provided for the prophetical books of Isaiah, Micah, and Nahum.

  • An overview of the revival under King Josiah, the fall of King Josiah, and the subsequent fall of Jerusalem to Babylon.

  • Jeremiah begins his ministry in 627 BCE. This is five years before the great revival under Josiah in 622 BCE. So Jeremiah spans the time from the Assyrian domination to the invasion of Judah by Babylon. Unlike other prophets who predicted a short exile, Jeremiah preached a long, though not unending exile. Because of this Jeremiah was not popular with the government establishment of Jerusalem.

  • Dr. Stuart provides an overview of Joel, Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah and how they each relate to end times and God’s eternal reign.

  • Lamentations is a massive, huge, compound, complex lament that seeks to help God’s people see God’s goodness in the midst of tragedy.

  • Dr. Stuart provides a brief overview of Ezekiel, his difficult message of impending judgment on Jerusalem and his uplifting message of the hope to come.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Stuart describes the characteristics of apocalyptic literature and gives an overview of the books of Daniel. Esther, and the latter half of Isaiah.

  • An overview of the background to the post-exilic books including the necessity of the temple and the role of the Persian empire in it’s rebuilding.

  • An overview of Haggai and Zechariah, the beginning of the rebuilding of the temple, the encouragement of God’s people to put the things of God first, God’s sovereignty, the need to be faithful, the nature of God’s covenant, and God’s promises being fulfilled.

  • A look at the latter days, the closing of the prophetic cannon, and the books of Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

Did you know that the Old Testament contains more than 2/3 of the text of the Bible? Did you realize that the Old Testament timeline covers thousands of years of history and tells us the stories of people whose lives still affect world events today? Are you familiar with the Old Testament prophets that describe in detail the characteristics of the Messiah and the events that happen when he comes, hundreds of years before they take place? Have you ever read the Old Testament books of poetry and wisdom literature that contain inspirational and instructional passages that we still use today to inspire, comfort and inform our lives during life events, and are ubiquitous in both classic and contemporary literary works?

In Dr. Stuart’s Old Testament Survey class, he guides you through each of the Old Testament books by giving you the historical background, major themes and insight into the stories, characters and teaching of the book. In the historical books, you will become familiar with Old Testament Names like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph and David. In the Old Testament prophets, Dr. Stuart will introduce you to the lives and messages of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and others. When you study the Old Testament books of wisdom literature, Dr. Stuart will give you insights into the teachings, structure and creativity in Proverbs, Psalms and other books in the Writings.

From the description of Creation in Genesis, to the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, the Old Testament contains stories and teachings that can inform, inspire and transform your life. Dr. Stuart’s years of training and his skill in communicating, provides you with this opportunity to study and learn from one of the best. Now it’s up to you!

You may download a syllabus for the class including the Course Outline by clicking on the link in the Downloads section. We do not have access to the notes or the 130 exam questions that he mentions in the lectures. The Syllabus is from the SemLink class that was originally offered online through Gordon-Conwell Seminary so you can see the class outline and suggested readings. The links are not active. If you want to participate in the assignments and tests and earn credit, you may contact Gordon-Conwell Seminary to find out if they still offer this class.

Thank you to Charles Campbell and Fellowship Bible Church for writing out the lecture notes. Note that they do not cover every lecture.

Recommended Books

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

Did you know that the Old Testament contains more than 2/3 of the text of the Bible? Did you realize that the Old Testament timeline covers thousands of years of history and...

Old Testament Survey: Genesis-Malachi - Student Guide

Dr. Douglas Stuart
Old Testament Survey
Background to the Post-Exilic Books
Lesson Transcript


Tonight we look at the section called Return and Rebuilding. I will start with just a comment about and a very brief reading from 1 Chronicles 9 and then we will go in alphabetical order, which really means going Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, then Ezra and Nehemiah.

I. 1 Chronicles 9

1 Chronicles 9 is the end of the genealogy section of 1 Chronicles and its value for us is where it brings us in terms of the whole Bible story. Adam is the first word in 1 Chronicles 1. You have a chronicler starting the story right back with Adam. Then you come to 1 Chronicles 9, at the end of the genealogies, you are told that the people of Judah were taken captive at Babylon because of their unfaithfulness. Then, the chronicler immediately writes about how the first resettled on their own property in their own towns were some Israelites, priests, Levites, and temple servants. Names are mentioned of various people who had come back. Why such an emphasis on musicians and people who were involved with the religious activities? The answer is that the chronicler is deeply concerned, writing sometime around 530 BC, with helping people appreciate the importance of getting the temple rebuilt. We have talked about this before; I just make this reference back again to what the chronicler is doing.

A. The Genealogies

If you would look at the genealogies in Chronicles very carefully, it does require some time, you will see that none of them goes down further than about 530, 520 BC. Right around that time; that is when all the genealogies leave off. Actually at the end of chapter 9 you see a new genealogy start, the genealogy of Saul, that is where the chronicler goes back to Saul’s day and then starts over again.

1. The chronicler gives you a genealogy from Adam to 530 BC.

2. Then goes back and starts around 1050 BC with Saul very quickly, and then a lot on David and Solomon; lots and lots and lots on David and Solomon. David and Solomon had as one of their primary interests the building of the original temple. David wanted to do it; God would not let him. Saul did do it and the chronicler tells you everything you want to know about that temple and more.

B. Importance of Rebuilding the Temple

The temple is a very, very big concern. I think we all understand that at 530 BC the temple had lain in ruins for fifty-six years. It was 586, that great turning point year that Lamentations, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel talk about when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, took Judah captive, and exiled tens of thousands of people abroad and so on. That great year the temple was destroyed.

C. Major problems because the temple was destroyed

A lot of problems occur when the temple is destroyed. For example, suppose now in New Testament times, the times we are living in, the New Covenant era, somebody said, “God is going to destroy the temple.” What would that mean? Now, you see, God still has a temple; it is us. People are His temple. That is the way it works; that is what the New Testament teaches us. It is no longer a building; it is people. What is the purpose of a temple? The answer is that it is a place for God to inhabit, to dwell in. In the Old Testament it is a building. It is very important. They have got to have a building. Otherwise God is not dwelling there in their midst. In the New Covenant it is people. God has to have people. Now He does not have to have anything, but if He is going to have a temple He certainly has to have people. We are His temple as Paul explains. As His temple, we have God dwelling in us. We could not possibly be His temple without God dwelling in us; you would not really have a temple. It is not a temple unless God dwells in it.

We are the containers for God to work. It goes right back to the image of God concept in the beginning of Genesis, let’s make people in our own image. The idea that there is not that we look like God or resemble Him in some ontological way but that we are His representatives; we do His will. If we are His temple, then He is in us, we accomplish His purposes, and we take Him with us wherever we go. The theory is that we always have God with us and, as we do our things, we accomplish His purposes as well as fulfilling Jesus’ teaching of the prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The temple is important and it will be a big issue, not only for the chronicler but also for Haggai and for Zechariah and in another way for Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

Getting the temple built is the big issue for the chronicler, Haggai and Zechariah because they all write before it is rebuilt. It still remains in ruins, totally destroyed as the Babylonians did it, when they all are dealing with this issue. It does get built and Ezra and Nehemiah come afterwards along with Malachi when there is a temple. So their concern is not getting one built; that is not their concern at all. Their concern is properly taking care of it, properly worshipping within it, properly doing the things that ought to be done. And again, there is a nice, New Testament, New Covenant analogy. Our problem, if anybody is in Christ, if anybody said, “Yes, I believe Christ died for me on the cross, I accept Him as my Savior,” that person has got the Holy Spirit. God does not say, “I don’t know if I will or not with that person.” No, God gives the Holy Spirit. But the question is, what will you do about it? Will you nourish the work of the Spirit in you? Where will you quench the Spirit? That was the question for Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi. Will we do right by God? Will we honor Him in His temple or will it be desecrated? Will it be defiled? Will things that take place there be selfish things done for the benefit of people rather than for the proper worship of God? So if you want a single theme to hand things on during this time of restoration, the temple certainly has a lot of interconnections. It is a big, big topic. As we start tonight with Haggai, we will certainly be talking a lot about the temple.

II. The Persian Empire

Before we get precisely to Haggai, let me present the extent of the Persian Empire. When the Persians took over the Babylonian Empire in 540 BC, they already had a big empire of their own, the Medeo-Persian Empire. The Medeo-Persian Empire was and it was massive. They did extend it. There is a part of India. So they have got the empire going to India and you can see going up into what we would call Northern India and parts of Afghanistan and so on and all the way up to the Aral Sea and then through the Caspian and so on, they have got a massive empire there. Then they took over the Babylonian Empire and extended even further into Egypt, Libya, and much of Europe; they went all the way to Greece. The only people who were successful in resisting them in terms of serious opposition were the Greeks. The Greeks did resist but only partly successfully. Ever after 540 BC the Greeks kept fighting back, kept pushing and kept trying to beat back the Persians. There were some periods of time when the Greeks were in fact very successful. You really would have to draw the empire going just to the edge of modern day Turkey because the Greeks had beaten them back. Then there would be lots and lots of wars as Persian emperors kept trying to suppress the Greek territories that they had conquered and as the Greeks kept trying to push back and so on. It is a vast empire; the size of that empire is just enormous. The only thing that eclipses it and even then only rather slightly, it eclipses it in terms of numbers of people but otherwise does not go as far in some directions as, of course, the Roman Empire. We are at the stage now where the Persian Empire is enormous.

A. Attitude toward conquered territories

Remember, the Persians had a different attitude toward conquered territory. That is the big change. God brought the Persians on the scene. The Assyrians and Babylonians always practiced a vicious control over the territories the conquered, brutal control, exile the population, replaced them with others. But the Persians said, “No, no, this exile business we don’t do.” The Persian King Cyrus the Great said, “I don’t do exiles.” He just would not do it; it was not their style, it was not anything that they wanted to do. It probably occurred to them because they knew how the system worked but they just did not do it. This meant suddenly that the world, the known world, was under the control of an entirely new kind of regime. This Persian Empire system said we do not like exiles, and therefore in God’s providence they were also open to the idea that people who had been exiled would not need to remain exiled.

B. The Decree of Cyrus

As a matter of general policy it was the concept of Cyrus the Great to be open to the very thing that in all probability Daniel got accomplished, and that was the Decree of Cyrus. It is the decree that is printed at the end of 2 Chronicles and at the beginning of Ezra that says any Jew anywhere can go back home. In fact, if they will do so, they will be assisted with funds because they should go back for a certain purpose that Cyrus approves of—to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. It further says, “‘The people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, goods, livestock, and freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’” That the Jews should return to build the temple for the God who is the God of Israel is a key part of the Decree of Cyrus.

C. Syncretism of Cyrus

You might say, how would that fit with the theology of a guy like Cyrus the Great? The answer is it fits with his syncretism, a term we have used a couple of times before. Syncretism is the way of looking at religion that says we are going to blend together beliefs. Usually Syncretists are people who feel that all religions have some value. I bet you will have met plenty of people who have said, “Oh yeah, I think all paths lead to God.” Anybody who is a pluralist in general who says, “Well, I think Jews are saved on their terms, Christians on theirs, Buddhists on theirs, whatever, that is a Syncretist, that is essentially syncretistic thinking.

The full-blown Syncretism that people like Cyrus that Persians in general practiced was actually not just saying all religions have some validity, they certainly said that, but in addition they said they would worship any god they could. So instead of saying, “You can be a Buddhist, that is fine for you and you will go to heaven because you are sincere, and I will be a Christian and I will go to heaven because I am sincere.” They said, “Well, why don’t you worship my god and I’ll worship yours and we will both get more benefits that way.” Full Syncretism really tries to add everybody else’s religion to ones own.

A king like Cyrus would have had no trouble thinking that there really was a Yahweh, this God of the Jews in Jerusalem. That would not be in any way difficult for him because he would think there are hundreds or thousands of gods and goddesses. He might also think that that God was pretty impressive because of what Daniel had been able to do. Daniel had a lot of influence in the Babylonian and Persian court, and that was perhaps effective on this thinking. It is also not impossible that he said, “I can’t evaluate just how powerful this God is, but why offend Him? If we can have Him re-inhabit His temple and thus be properly worshipped, His power may grow, and He will be good to me.” There was a natural interest in having the temple built so that the people there could worship and at the same time pray for the royal family back in Persia. That was the idea. In a later point in the Book of Ezra the people are reminded that one of the things that is supposed to happen is that the temple should be rebuilt in order to provide a place where prayers will be given for “the king and his sons.” That way of thinking about what the temple is supposed to be is very, very natural to the Babylonian way of thinking in a small way but the Persian now way of thinking in a very, very big way.

Instructions are given that the temple can finally be rebuilt and then you see in places like Ezra 6:10 that there is added in the statement, “So that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the wellbeing of the king and his sons.” The temple, again, a big idea even in the official mentality of the Persians. They would not, of course, have all the right motives. They are syncretistic, polytheistic, largely pantheistic, as well and idolatrous and so on, but God gets His purposes even out of these pagan idolaters, the Persians. That is the picture that presents itself to us.

III. Chronological Order

Let me just be sure that you have a sense of the chronological order of things. Here is a quick look at the Post-Exilic Books in order.

1. Chronicles around 530

2. Haggai around 520

3. Zechariah 520-500

4. Malachi at about 460

5. Ezra about 458

6. Nehemiah arrives about 444

7. There is also Esther, but Esther is more exilic. The date 440 would not necessarily apply to when Esther was queen, that would be a little bit earlier, but that is the reason for listing Esther in there. Thus, Esther could be the last book in chronological order in composition but you cannot tell for sure; it is not certain.

That is just an overview to give you a feel for how we are proceeding chronologically.