Lecture 35: Background
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: Background to the Post-exilic Books
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.