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    The Return From Exile

    The return of the exiles is chronicled by Ezra in the bible directly and joined with the end of the 2 Chronicles. One would suppose then that he lived immediately after Cyrus the Great end the exile. But that is not what many commentators say. So the question is?

    When did Ezra live?

    The book of Ezra can be very confusing when trying to track Ezra’s account based on the named Persian kings, Xerxes and Artaxerxes (these I have put in bold and italics to highlight the name given in the books of Ezra and Nehamiah which may or may not be the conventional name we have for the kings, e.g. Artaxerxes I,II,III and Xerxes I,II). The names of kings are really exultations of their reigns – Artaxerxes means ‘whose reign is through truth’ which could quite well be attributed to Darius I, who had written on his palace in Persepolis “protect this country from a (hostile) army, from famine, from the Lie!”. Indeed, Darius I ('doer of good') had to fight off many pretenders to his throne – is this what he meant about the ‘Lie’? His mention of famine may also play apart in our understanding of Ezra.

    The biggest question to answer is which king’s reign was Ezra associated with? It is widely accepted that Ezra lived at the same time as Nehemiah, who recorded a date in the 32nd year of Artaxerxes. Nehemiah refers to Ezra directly in Nehemiah 8.

     

    There are only two Persian kings this can reasonably be and thus two contesting views to choose from:

    1. Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC) – this is the king that is usually accepted. Ezra’s appearance early in the reign, is used to fit with a mainstream interpretation of Daniel’s sevens. Are these mainstream interpretations right or are they made to fit with Ezra and Nehemiah in Artaxerxes I reign, thus making a circular argument?

    2. Darius I (522-486 BC) – fits tightly with the building of the temple, with Ezra appearing immediately after its completion. For this to be true there needs to be scriptural support for calling Darius I, Artaxerxes, apart from the exultations. If Ezra lived in Darius I time, then the kings known as Artaxerxes I and Xerxes I had not been born yet.

    There are several factors to take into account when deciding on the right candidate, so here we go.

    Ezra's age

    If Ezra’s father was Seraiah as stated in Ezra 7:1 then that would pose a problem for the choosing Artaxerxes I, as Seraiah was executed just before the exile to Babylon 2 Kings 25:18, 20–21 and Jeremiah 52:24–27. Ezra would be far too old in the 7th Year of Artaxerxes I. To hold onto Artaxerxes I there needs to be some missing descendants [1].

    However, persuasive that arguments may be, nothing strikes me as absolute proof. To suggest there can be missing descendants between Seraiah and Ezra does not mean there are.

    All dates in Ezra and Nehemiah are relative to the selected Artaxerxes (Darius I or Artaxerxes). To find an absolute date one must link names or events.

    Sanballat introduced to us in Nehemiah 2, who opposes Nehemiah’s efforts to build the wall, is a name that is mentioned in the Elephantine papyri of 408 BC. Picking on a single name and assuming that the two are one and the same name is a risky assumption. There are many instances of people having the same name – for instance there are many Zechariahs in the bible; the prophet Zechariah and the father of the John the Baptist are two of them. Ezra’s genealogy in Ezra 7:1 gives the name Azariah twice.

    As we will see, the answer to our question (“when did Ezra live?”) will rely on context and interpretations that spread much wider than Ezra’s account.

    Let’s for one moment presume that Artaxerxes mentioned in Nehemiah and Ezra is Artaxerxes I, then we would might have expected to see mention of Esther’s role in the freedom of the Jews against their enemies. But she is not. This is highly surprising. In fact, it is refuted that the queen mentioned in Nehemiah 2:6 is Esther – Esther is clearly the queen of Xerxes I [1].

    Taking a step back, the order of the books of the bible puts Esther after Ezra and Nehemiah. Even though the books are not always put in strict chronological order all the time - was having Esther after Ezra and Nehemiah seen as the natural sequence of events?

    I hope this gives pause for thought to examine the events that take place and put them in the right order before finalising our decision as to who was Artaxerxes mentioned in Nehemiah and Ezra.

    Ezra's opening

    Ezra is a priest and very knowledgeable one, who is able to access records and documents previous returns to Jerusalem. He begins the book of Ezra with the last verses of 2 Chronicles (hinting he had a hand in writing Chronicles).

    In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:

     

    This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:

    “‘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, and may the Lord their God be with them.’”

    Ezra 1:1-3

    In the Book of Ezra, the proclamation is extended:

    “And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem."

    Ezra 1:4

    Cyrus sincerely believed he would build the temple, because of what was written by the prophet Isaiah.

    “who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, "Let it be rebuilt," and of the temple, "Let its foundations be laid”

    Isaiah 44:28

    Yet God didn’t say Cyrus would rebuild the temple, only that he would say he would rebuild the temple. No, it would be rebuilt in the reign of Darius I.

    The point at which the book of Ezra is written, with the inclusion of Ezra 1:4 is to encourage returnees to bring offerings to the temple may be significant. So, Ezra’s entrance on the scene could coincide with the completion of the temple?

    Ezra from Observer to Participant

    Ezra came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of king Artaxerxes in Ezra 7

    It is important to understand the significance of the phrase ‘After these things’ used at the start of chapters 7 & 9.  It just so happens that there is more to this phrase, for the words ‘things’ (had·də·ḇā·rîm) has been also translated ‘Chronicles’. Could it be that Ezra was signifying the end of his writing of the Chronicles, a review of history from Adam mainly by using genealogies. In Hebrew, it is called ‘The Matters [of] the Days’ and are the final books of the Hebrew bible. Jewish tradition and Christian tradition held that Ezra wrote the Chronicles; which would make sense, since he was well versed in the Law and had the resources of Babylon whilst in exile.

    Taking this slant on how Ezra might be writing these chapters:

    Chapters 1-4 extends the books of Chronicles quickly drawing an end of a historical writing, with chapters 5-6 focusing on the crucial events leading up to completion of the Temple (Ezra’s main focus). Then in Chapter 7 , Ezra starts to write in his part, starting during the reign of Artaxerxes (Ezra son of... son of.. - these are his credentials). He speaks of himself in the third person about God's hand being on him and the letter he was given by Artaxerxes. Then the chronicler really breaks into his own story starting at end of chapter 7, by praising God). In chapter 9, with ‘After these chronicles’ Ezra then approaches the matter of intermarriage with other peoples. Here we have the natural divides before chapters and verses were artificially added.

    Ezra in relation to Haggai, Zechariah, Nehemiah and Famine

    Ezra introduces in chapter 5 the involvement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah in the work to rebuild the house of God.

    The famine that Darius I talks of on his palace walls may be the one documented in the first In Haggai 1 – a famine that might have lasted some time already (in Elijah’s time it was 3 ½ years and in Joseph’s time it might have been as long as 7 years).

    “In the second year of King Darius… ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?’… ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labour of your hands.’”

    Haggai 1:1,4,9-11

    This charge of being preoccupied with building their own houses, and the consequential effect on the land can also be seen in Nehemiah 5 where Jews are unable to pay taxes to other Jews and having to sell their land and even their own sons and daughters in order to survive famine. Nehemiah had arrived in Jerusalem in the 20th year of Artaxerxes. After the walls have been built and the gates where in place (Nehemiah 7:1-3) and Ezra reads the from the Law for all the people to hear (Nehemiah 8), they have abundant harvest, but the harvest is then taken when they live as ‘slaves’ to a foreign king (Nehemiah 9v36-37). At some point Ezra hears the admission and confession of mixing and intermarrying with the neighbouring peoples (Ezra 9 & 10), which we must read as a consequence of the Law being read to the people, otherwise, surely, they would have come forward sooner (13 years before when Ezra arrived). Nehemiah 13 confirms this account.

    There is a simple before and after flow of the text that comes out that fits with Haggai 2:19 “From this day on I will bless you” turning on a dime.

    Although Ezra came before Nehemiah, Ezra is mentioned only in Nehemiah 8, when he read the Law – the rest of the time Nehemiah wasn’t there. Curiously, mid-sentence from the last verse of Nehemiah 7 which deals with a record of the Sheshbazzar’s return and the settling in the towns, Nehemiah 8 jumps to the day the Law was read. One can only assume that there was no need to copy Ezra again. But in doing so Nehemiah draws a similarity, when they first returnees came together at the head of the year they can as one to build the altar, now in Nehemiah’s time they came as one to hear the Law read.

    Now we start to see the order is a natural fit to the text. Here we read of the wall that has been already built in the later years of Ezra.

    Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.

    Ezra 9:9

    After Nehemiah had built the wall it is said:

    Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. Nehemiah 7:4

    This is an interesting statement. It implies settlement of returnees was still envisaged; one that matches Zechariah 1 & 2, with Jerusalem built for those fleeing from Babylon. Later returnees in the time of Esther would have come from other places such as Susa. Why build the wall and houses after the major freedom in the Persian empire at the time of Esther in the reign of Xerxes I?

    It is assumed that the precious articles brought back by Sheshbazzar from Babylon was brought into the temple after it was built in the time of Darius I. It seems inconceivable that this treasure was not protected by a strong wall rather quickly.

    Where does this get us?

    So far, we can almost draw a line between the completion of the temple in the 6th year of the reign of Darius I (521 BC) and the time Ezra came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of king Artaxerxes. Between the two contenders (Darius I and Artaxerxes I) – Artaxerxes I opens up a massive gap between the temple completion and Ezra. Also, Darius I has the occurrence of a famine - I cannot find famine mentioned in inscriptions of other kings (http://www.avesta.org/op/op.htm) except the shortages experienced during the time of Xerxes I (father of  Artaxerxes I).

    This is where we need to examine a couple of conundrums concerning this identification of Artaxerxes – will the real Artaxerxes please stand up!

    Under the usual heading of “Later Opposition Under Xerxes and Artaxerxes” in the NIV we find:

    Ezra 4:5 They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.

    Ezra 4:6 At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

    Notice this is just an accusation, no letter is mentioned as being sent to the king - was a letter sent, was there no response, was the king available, did they know who the king was (there was pretender to the throne before Darius I)? A suitably reverential throne name like Xerxes, 'king of kings' suffices.

    Ezra 4:7 And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.

    Aramaic Memos

    The footnote says the Aramaic goes from Ezra 4:8-Ezra 6:18 (this is why I am using different font colours. The Aramaic is covering the correspondence memoed from the west side of the Euphrates demarcation line.. The first letter uses the throne name Artaxerxes, 'he who reigns in truth', appealing to the judicial nature of the king The letter was sent by someone who probably was not familiar with the king but knew how to follow the rules, but also sought to bias opinion.

    Ezra 4:12 To King Artaxerxes, From your servants in Trans-Euphrates:

    The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city.

    Ezra 4:17 The king sent this reply: To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates: Greetings.

    Initial checks in archives saw some truth in the report, but more fact finding was required

    Ezra 4:21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order

    This is a wise king's decision, not jumping to a conclusion.

    Ezra 4: 24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

    Ezra 5:1 Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them.

    Now we see a more diplomatic approach. Was a tactful governor who the king had confidence with, brought in to ask the right questions?

    Ezra 5:3-4 At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” 4 They[a] also asked, “What are the names of those who are constructing this building?”

    Here the title, Darius, 'doer of good', is used with friendly greeting.

    Ezra 5:6-7 This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates, the officials of Trans-Euphrates, sent to King Darius. 7 The report they sent him read as follows:

    To King Darius:

    Cordial greetings. 

    A factual account is given

    Ezra 5:8 The king should know that we went to the district of Judah, to the temple of the great God. The people are building it with large stones and placing the timbers in the walls. The work is being carried on with diligence and is making rapid progress under their direction.

    The Jewsish side of the story now got aired to the king.

    Ezra 5:13 However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. 

    This time an extensive search finds the original decree,

    Ezra 6:1 King Darius then issued an order, and they searched in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon. A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana in the province of Media, and this was written on it:

    Darius enforces the previous decree of Cyrus with his own decree,

    Ezra 6:6-8 Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you other officials of that province, stay away from there. Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site.

    Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God:

    The temple is built and dedicated.

    Ezra 6:14-15 They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

    And here the Aramaic script ends. 

    It makes Ezra 4-7 a whole lot simpler to read when Xerxes and Artaxerxes are used as other names of Darius I:​

    In Ezra 6:14 we have the key. Creation.com porvide the simple solution where Darius is known as Artaxerxes.

    'Cyrus, Darisu and Artaxerxes, King of Persia' should read ‘Cyrus and Darius, even (or who is) Artaxerxes, King of Persia’ [2]. Het Perzische rijk proposes these other throne names for Darius I [3], giving them nicely in the various languages:

     

    Xerxes (Greek) -means ‘king of kings’ or ‘lord of lords’ 

    Ahasuerus (Hebrew)

    Khsayarsha (Old Persian) 

    Iksersa (Elamite) 

    Ahsi’arsu (Akkadian)

    Artaxerxes (Greek) - means ‘king of justice’ or 'he who reigns in truth'

    Artahsasta (Hebrew)

    Arta-xs'a~a (Old Persian) 

    Zrta-kSas'Sa (Elamite) 

    Arta-kSatsu (Akkadian)

    Darius - King of Assyria - King of Kings

    In Ezra 7, Ezra himself enters the story, and chooses to call the king, Artaxerxes, 'he who reigns in truth'. And just before the memoed Aramaic script (Ezra 4:8-Ezra 6:18) a king called Xerxes, 'king of kings'.

     

    [Elsewhere, in Daniel 9:1, the title Xerxes, possibly referring to Astyages, is used - 'Darius, son of Xerxes']
     

    This title 'king of kings' is reserved for Jesus himself (not a pretender), so in effect Ezra is showing us an image of the true king [8]:

    On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. Revelation 19:16

    But just before Ezra reveals just why he uses this title, by calling Darius by another curious title - king of Assyria.

    For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

    Ezra 6:22

    You need only look back as far as the decisive events that brought about the exile to Babylon to see how Ezra might have understood the turn around where they were now greeted with ‘a changing attitude’ in the reign of Darius I.

    The ‘king of Assyria’ describes the battle for the centre or high ground by the contending empires. One could consider it to be a more serious form of the childrens’ game ‘King of the castle’  throughout time.

    The centre ground is the around the middle of the fertile crescent, here the battles of the empires meet. It is in the prophetic words of Ezekiel that we see Assyria allegorically placed in Lebanon.

    Like an actual cedar called something like Assyria, 'teasshur', (a play on words I presume) [4], Assyria’s pride was brought down by God ([cedars once covered a larger are in antiquity][5]):

    I gave it into the hands of the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness. I cast it aside, and the most ruthless of foreign nations cut it down and left it. Its boughs fell on the mountains and in all the valleys; its branches lay broken in all the ravines of the land. Ezekiel 31:11-12

    At this time was the Battle of Megiddo where Judah’s king Josiah died in 609 BC at the hands of the Egyptians as they went on to join the fading Assyrian empire  [6] – where they were defeated at the Battle of Carchemish (northern Syria) by the Babylonians.[7]

    Ezekiel 31 was written to show how Egypt also would be brought down (Ezekiel 31:18). 

    Ezekiel 17 too, plays an allegory of a cedar. Focusing on events around the same time; when Judah’s last king is captured, and a small remnant is taken of to Babylon. But ends with the flourishing returnees under the Persian protection.

    This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel, I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. Ezekiel 17:22-24

    In this sense Ezra is indeed seeing the low ‘Assyria’ tree grow tall, giving the assistance build the temple.

    For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel. Ezra 6:22

    Daniel Sevens: Building Jerusalem and Light in the Darkness for the Gentiles

    Now moving on with Darius I  firmly known also as Xerxes and Artaxerxes in Ezra. We must note that we can still hold to conventional history without the compression of time that Creation.com proposes to fit the Daniel’s sevens.

     

    What is pleasing is how Ezra begins his journey 6 months after the temple is competed and it takes him 4 months to arrive at Jerusalem. One can imagine a messenger travelling to tell Ezra that the temple is complete and that Ezra immediately starts packing for the journey with the king desiring to bring honour to the temple (Ezra 7). We can see how it all fits together in this timeline.

    And then there is the ending Nehemiah's governorship coinciding with the end of Darius I reign. The Jews continued to be in the favour of the Persian Kings, finding high positions like Daniel, Nehemiah and Esther. And the Persian king enjoyed the blessings that came by being associated with Jews. Daniel saw himself in Susa (Daniel 8:2) - did he live to see the impressive palace that Darius I built that features so prominently in the story of Esther? At the end of Darius 1 we are told he remained in Babylon until the first year of Cyrus II (Daniel 1:21).  Daniel's remains, so legend has it, brought prosperity to whichever side of the River Choaspes in Susa they were put - even to the point that the remains were suspended from a bridge. Today there is spectacular tomb to mark his resting place. Jeremiah words indeed came true though Daniel.

    Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

    Jeremiah 29:7

    With Ezra and Nehemiah out of the typical range of the normal Daniel Seven interpretation. We can begin to imagine a different interpretation of Daniel’s sevens that starts with the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem; one that finds a place for two remaining books of the Old Testament - Esther & Malachi.

    [This interpretation is covered more fully when we come to look at Daniel’s sevens in detail]

    Though “Later Opposition Under Xerxes and Artaxerxes” may have been marked up incorrectly to Xerxes I in Ezra (because Ezra can be put in the time of Darius I), opposition in the time of Esther in the reign of Xerxes I was still to come. This extra period of opposition is anticipated in the first 7 sevens mentioned in of Daniel 9:25

    “It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench (or wall), but in times of trouble.”

    Daniel 9:25

    In Zechariah 1, the Lord’s answer to the hostility of the nations is for Jerusalem to be built after the ‘seventy years’ [592-522BC].

     “In the eight month of second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah… the angel of the Lord said, ‘Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years’ …Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’… Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

    Zechariah 1:1,12,14,16

    In Isaiah 40v1-2 we also have the curious statement about Jerusalem paying double for her sins sandwiched between prophecy of exile to Babylon and the well known ‘A voice calling in the wilderness ...’:

    “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,

    Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been completed, that her sin has been paid for,

    that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:1-2

    This is a period of time equal to Daniel’s sevens taking up to when Jesus arrives to begin his earthly ministry, and suggests how the time should be divided up into sections.

    Physical Exile

    The first paying for her sins was seen in the Babylonian exile

    Construction and Opposition

    Following the desolation caused by Babylon, beginning with Darius I now associated with Artaxerxes, there is a definite period of construction and opposition finishing with people free to return in the time of Esther, queen to Xerxes I. This is the 7 sevens (49 years) of Daniel’s sevens.

    The near neighbour nations that took revenge on Judah are punished (Ezekiel 25).  The brother nation Edom, because of the part it played is destroyed by Israel- no land of their own, they are no longer Esau (Obadiah 1), although they settle in the southern hills of Judea (displaced by Arabs) they later take up the name Idumean, Herod the Great, who ruled when Jesus was born, was Idumean. It is conceivable that defeat of Israel's enemies in the book of Esther, is what is described in Obadiah 1.

     

    A point to note is that no Edomite is listed as opposing the building of the wall, in Nehemiah 4 - they were still in their land at the start of Darius I reign. But the Arabs, the Ammonites, the people from Ashdod (formerly the Philistines), with Sanballat and the army of Samaria are mentioned. We should should see this in the light of Ezekiel 25 and the Arab influx from the East.

    Freedom and Peace

    With Greece held at bay, and the Israel's opponents dealt with, a period of calm for Jerusalem ensues and draws nations towards it when they hear what God has done for the Jews.

    Mixing with the nations (light and darkness)

    The second paying for her sins comes as a result of the mixing with other nations. This was a serious problem that caused them to go into exile in the first place – this is dealt with at length in Ezra 9 & 10. Now it resurfaces. We can see this the warning in Ezra 9 that references Deuteronomy 7:

    “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

    The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.” Deuteronomy 7:1-10:

    God did not send the Jews into physical exile again because of their sin, but a period of spiritual darkness from the time of Malachi, only lightened once Jesus came as the light in the darkness (Isaiah 9:1-3, Matthew 4:15-16). This is the second 62 sevens (434 years) of Daniel’s sevens.

    Malachi 1 draws attention to defilement, of the pure by the impure, when God reveals the lack of honour he is shown. During the Hellenistic period the teachers of the Law became corrupted. The Pharisees came to be called a treacherous ‘brood of vipers’ by John the Baptist. They focused on observance of external rules without concern for inner spiritual state. Jesus said:

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:27-28

    The inclusion of Gentiles in with the Jews must also be seen in a positive way. It is clear in the Old Testament that God wanted to draw nations to him,

    And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honoured in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength— he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:5-6

     This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’  And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.”

    This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” Zechariah 8:20-23

    The crucial difference between being refused entry into ‘Israel’ and being allowed entry is the willingness to discard the ways of the past and make themselves pure.

    We can see this in the inclusion of some of the women feature in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Rahab’s fear of God was the factor that made her align herself with Israel (Joshua 2:9). Ruth’s loyalty, even to the point of death (Ruth 1:16-17).

    Isaiah goes on to say with verses with a mesh between the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the everlasting kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, with foreigners building the walls.

    Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn … Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Though in anger I struck you, in favour I will show you compassion. Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations— their kings led in triumphal procession. For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined. Isaiah 60:1-2,10-12

    Now we start to see the two parts of Zechariah 1 make sense in the first part is the construction of Jerusalem. The opponents of the construction in Ezra and Nehemiah are different from the proponents for Jerusalem in the verses above. In the second part we have these verses:

    Then I looked up, and there before me were four horns. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these?”

    He answered me, “These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.”

    Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. I asked, “What are these coming to do?”

    He answered, “These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise their head, but the craftsmen have come to terrify them and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.”

    The horns that scattered Judah but were also thrown down are the near neighbours of Israel in Ezekiel 25 (Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philstia). The craftsmen are representatives of the 4 rich kings of Persia (Darius I, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I and Xerxes II) that both terrified the neighbour nations and contributed to make Jerusalem beautiful, working with materials brought from throughout the Persian empire: [Timber], [Stone], [Gold, Silver & Bronze] and [Precious Stones]. 

    Just like we saw in Isaiah 44:28 that Cyrus that wouldn't build the Jerusalem and temple  (the temple was built in the reign of Darius I) - rather it would be through the Persian empire that these things would be built.

    After the period of 'Freedom and Peace' in the Persian empire, came the time of the Greeks. In Greek period of their was a mix of culture and influence. Though the common Greek language, koine, was adopted by by the various nations, many were bi-lingual and spoke their mother nations tongue more fluently. There are similarities here to the colonisation that spread the European languages to the world.

    But all this mixing brought a spiritual darkness to Israel, amongst the babble of languages, the voice of God to the nation of Israel had gone silent, The words of Isaiah repeated at the start Jesus ministry, reveal something of the scene around Galilee.

    “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles
    the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Matthew 4:15-16 (Isaiah 9:1-3)

    Greek and Romans towns built on hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee, like Hippos, was probably the inspiration to Jesus words:

    “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:14

    Even the words ‘living in the land of the shadow of death’ can be seen as a reference to a cave known as the ‘Gates of Hades [death]’ near Caesarea Philippi that grew as a Greek and Roman cult centre.

    God’s providence, reaching the nations, can be clearly seen at the time of Pentecost at a time.

    Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Acts 2:5-11

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