For almost 20 years, the Babylonian Empire invaded Judah, destroyed homes, killed people, caused famine, and took survivors to distant lands to hold them as prisoners of war. We saw prophets arise during this era, such as Daniel and Ezekiel. Leaders such as Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to help the exiles rebuild the community.
Daniel was taken captive as a teenager by the Babylonian army at about 605 BC. He was then deported from Jerusalem to the capital of Babylon. Daniel was dedicated to living to God’s Standards, not the world, which caused many problems. His first test was whether he would eat foods that violated God’s Law. Most of the religions of that era were pagan and Daniel wanted no part of them. This means they ate strange foods, none of which Daniel wanted.
Zealous in lieu of God’s Law, Daniel protested the foods. But, his important time came when he interpreted a dream by Nebuchadnezzar about the statue. Later in his years, Daniel would be in prayer often to God, and when caught, Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den, only to be miraculously saved by God.
The book of Daniel recorded a story also of Daniel’s friends being saved from the furnace: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Obedience to God trumped Earthly kings… Hallelujah! Soon, we would witness many prophecies related to the end times that Daniel had given.
A priest named Ezekiel lived among exiles in Nippur, which was a Jewish settlement near the Kebar River around Babylon. Ezekiel was taken captive from Judah to Babylonia (the Akkadian state) around 8 eight years after Daniel was taken. Even though Ezekiel’s book is much larger than Daniel’s, we know more about Daniel than we do Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was called by God to be a prophet… “Watchman.” A watchman is in a high tower vigilantly monitoring the area of responsibility. The book of Ezekiel consists of many judgment prophecies and laments, because there were visions of Israel’s future restoration – a dream many Jews and others have had. The first 32 chapters of his book show the prophet giving God’s Warning to Judah and other nations of a suffering coming.
Judah’s suffering would be because of their idolatrous ways, sexual sins, exploitation of vulnerable people, and alliances with pagan nations. The remainder of the book occurs after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian Empire, which was around 586 BC. Ezekiel, instead of giving stern warnings, offers messages of hope and restoration. Death is never the final judgment for God’s People. Ezekiel had a final vision in 571 BC, about fifteen years after the fall of Jerusalem. There was hope to see the end of the exile, and Ezekiel would not live to see that end.
The Kingdoms in Daniel
|The Statue||The Four Beasts||The Kingdoms|
|Head of fine gold: Babylon was the most powerfully wealthy kingdom.||Lion with Wings of an Eagle: These images were popular in Babylonian architecture and currency.||Babylonian Empire: 605-539 BC (King Nebuchadnezzar to Belshazzar)|
|Chest and Arms of Silver: Media and Persia were the second great power, and they defeated Babylon.||Bear with Ribs in its Mouth: This seems to illustrate Persian dominance over Media.||Medo-Persian Empire: 539-332 BC (King Cyrus to Darius III). Persia is symbolized as a ram.|
|Belly and Thighs of Bronze: bronze is less than gold so it is inferior.||Leopard with Four Wings and Four Heads: The speed of Alexander’s conquest of Persia. The heads could indicate a division of Alexander’s empire in four distinct provinces after his death.||Greece: 332-63 BC (Alexander the Great and the four divisions). Greece is symbolized by a goat.|
|Legs of Iron; Feet of Iron and Clay: Divided kingdom was as strong as iron. Most scholars think it was the Roman Empire.||Beast with Ten Horns: The horns are ten kings that would arise from this kingdom. Then little horn would speak against God’s People and persecute them. During this king’s reign, God would set up an everlasting kingdom.||Divided Kingdom: The Roman Empire in 63 BC through the time of Jesus.|
|Rock Cut from a Mountain: A rock unmade from human hands that would strike the statue and shatter it. The rock became a mountain that filled the entire Earth. This symbolized Jesus initiating the Kingdom of God.||The Son of Man: Daniel’s vision noted “One like a son of man coming from the clouds of Heaven”. He had all glory that people worshiped him.||Everlasting Kingdom: Jesus was referred to as the Son of Man, and John had a vision of Jesus Christ ruling in the Heaven.|
Ezra and Nehemiah
Ezra 1-10; Nehemiah 1-13
The Book of Ezra opens with the fulfilling of Jeremiah’s prophecy – After seventy years of exile, the Jews would return to their home. The Babylonian Empire fell to Persia in 539 BC. God worked on the heart of King Cyrus of Persia to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and even rebuild the Temple.
Under Zerubbabel’s leadership and Joshua the High Priest, a new foundation was laid to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Haggai and Zechariah called upon the people to resolve and rebuild the Temple. The rebuilding resumed in 516 BC, which was seventy years after its destruction. God was now truly with His People.
Six decades forward, Ezra is introduced as one devoted to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord. He liked to teach the decrees and laws of the Lord, and even led a large group of exiles on a four month nine-hundred mile journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. Ezra instituted spiritual and social reforms to ensure that this new community in Jerusalem would obey God’s Law and avoid the sins that originally led to the exile.
Meanwhile, in Susa, the Persian capital, Nehemiah was a servant of Artaxerxes. Being a cup-bearer meant he held an influential position as a confidant to the King. He persuaded the king to let him go to Jerusalem to lead the rebuilding of the Temple. Nehemiah and the people overcame opposition in trying to rebuild the Temple and city walls. New life was brought to Jerusalem and it was amazing.
The Book of Esther, written around 460-400 BC by an anonymous author, covers a period after the exile during the reign of King Xerxes. The Book talks much about a person named Esther who was chosen to become queen, about a plan that was crafted to destroy the Jews (and how it occurred), and about the triumphant Jews.
In the beginning of the book, an exhibition of riches was displayed before the officials and citizens, which lasted for many months. The current queen, Queen Vashti, was asked by the king to display her beauty before drunken men at this banquet, but she refused. This was defiance of the king’s authority, so therefore, she was removed from power. Soon, many young and beautiful women in the land were brought together in the palace, so that the king might choose one of them to be a queen. Among those women was a Jew, whom was also an orphan, named Esther. However, she didn’t make it known she was a Jew. After all the preparations, the women were brought before the king, and then he chose Esther and crowned her.
Now, a man named Haman, the king’s chief minister, had begun to demand people to worship him. Mordecai (cousin of Esther), refused to do this, because he was a Jew and worshiping Haman was against his religion. Haman wanted revenge because of this, and therefore decided to kill all of the Jews. Haman then gained the king’s permission to do so after he spoke that killing the Jews would greatly increase the royal treasury. The king trusted him that he gave Haman his ring, so that Haman could sign legal documents and put things into order. However, Haman had to wait for eleven months before proceeding (to kill them). Haman decreed he would do it, which disturbed many of the people. Mordecai knew that Esther was a Jew and only she could help, so he asked Esther to have the king cancel the decree. God wanted His People alive, and so the urgency was great for Esther to do this, even though she’d be risking her life. However, she agreed to approach the king thusly, and attempt to get the problem resolved.
After a few days had passed, Esther invited the king and Haman to a couple of dinners, in hope to get favor from one or both of them. Haman was positive about the queen, likely flattered that he may have gotten the queen’s approval for killing the Jews. Haman then asked for a royal favor, in hopes to get Mordecai killed right away. However, when Haman made the request to the king, the king was hesitant because Mordecai had saved his life at an earlier time. The king wanted to reward Mordecai, as we see in chapter six. However, Haman didn’t know about the reward, it seems, so Haman was astonished that the honor would go to Mordecai (not execution). Haman was humiliated and felt betrayed by the royal family. Later that night, another dinner was between the king, queen, and Haman, where Esther brought the case before the king that Haman had been plotting to kill the Jews (admitting she was also Jewish) and killing her, and therefore the king was angry because of it. Haman began weeping with anguish before the king, which was interpreted by the king as rape or other form of tactic by Haman to hurt the queen. Therefore, the king wanted Haman immediately executed.
Next, we see Mordecai promoted to chief minister. However, the king’s decree (from Haman’s proposal to kill the Jews) was still intact, but the king gave Mordecai and the queen power to counteract it with a new decree. Therefore, they acted promptly, and gave the Jews permission to do anything they could to defend themselves against attacks on the day (of war against them). When the day came for the Jews to be attacked, only a few of the enemies actually attacked them. However, the Jews fought hard, it seems, and were even given an extra day to defend themselves and get revenge on the enemies. After the Jews won (and survived by the grace of God), a feast was thrown in celebration (which was done every year after that, as well). The book concluded quickly by talking about the reign of Mordecai, and how he helped the Jewish people under his leadership. Mordecai continued rule for many years.
Timeline of events between the exile and return
605 BC – Daniel is taken captive to Babylon (Daniel 1).
Daniel interprets King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about the statue (Daniel 2). The powerful rock that destroys the statue represents the establishment of God’s Eternal Kingdom. The angel Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would rule over this Kingdom forever (Daniel 2:34-35; Luke 1:31-32).
God protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3).
597 BC – Ezekiel is taken captive into exile.
593 BC – Ezekiel is called by God to be a prophet/watchman (Ezekiel 1-3).
Ezekiel prophesies God’s judgment upon Judah (Ezekiel 4-24).
Ezekiel prophesied God’s Judgment on the nations (Ezekiel 25-32).
586 BC – Fall of Judah: Babylon conquered Judah and destroyed the Temple (2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36).
585 BC – Ezekiel received news that Jerusalem had fallen (Ezekiel 33).
Ezekiel prophesies God’s restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 34-39).
Ezekiel has a vision of a glorious future Temple (Ezekiel 40-48).
571 BC – Ezekiel recorded his last prophecy (Ezekiel 29:17-21).
Nebuchadnezzar ends up insane, but soon sanity would return and he worships God (Daniel 4).
Daniel has a vision of four beasts, especially “one like a son of man” (Daniel 7). Jesus answered affirmatively in being the Messiah, referring to Daniel’s prophecy of being the “Son of Man” (Daniel 7:13; Mark 14:62; Revelation 1:7; 1:13).
Daniel has a vision of a ram and goat (Daniel 8).
539 BC – Daniel interprets the writing on the wall as King Belshazzar’s downfall (Daniel 5).
Daniel’s vision of an “abomination” and “seventy sevens” (Daniel 9). Jesus spoke that the abomination of desolation would be a sign of the end times (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15).
538 BC – King Cyrus of Persia allowed exiled Jews to return to Judah (Ezra 1).
First Return: Zerubbabel and the High Priest Joshua led the exiles to Jerusalem (Ezra 2).
God protected Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6).
535 BC – Daniel recorded the last prophecy of a vision of a man (Daniel 10-12).
The Temple foundation was laid, but not as glorious as the first Temple (Ezra 3). Temple construction stalled (Ezra 4).
Haggai and Zechariah convince people to continue rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 5:1; 6:14). Zechariah prophesied in his book many things about Jesus Christ that were fulfilled by Him.
516 BC – Temple reconstruction is completed (Ezra 6).
Queen Esther saves her people from being annihilated (Esther 1-8).
Purim (Feast of Lots) is established (Esther 9-10).
457 BC – Second Return: Ezra led the exiles to Jerusalem (Ezra 7-8).
Ezra institutes social and spiritual reforms (Ezra 9-10).
Nehemiah heard that Jerusalem’s walls were torn down (Nehemiah 1).
444 BC – Third Return: Nehemiah led the exiles to Jerusalem this time (Nehemiah 2).
Under the governance of Nehemiah, the walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt (Nehemiah 3-7).
Ezra read the Law and the people confessed their sins (Nehemiah 8-12).
Nehemiah went to Persia for a short time and then returned to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 13).
Malachi called for a spiritual renewal in Judah. Malachi prophesied that a special prophet would prepare the way for the Messiah, which was fulfilled in John the Baptist (Malachi 3:1; 4:5; Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:26-28).
Joel prophesied about the coming Day of the Lord. When the Holy Spirit would come in power upon the disciples, Peter identified this as Joel’s prophecy on pouring out His Spirit upon all people (Joel 2:29; Acts 2:16-21).