Return From Captivity To Jerusalem

Ezra was a teacher of God’s law who was sent by King Artaxerxes of Persia to provide spiritual guidance for the resettlement of Jerusalem.  (This resettlement plan had been initiated by a predecessor, King Cyrus of Persia.)  Ezra was shocked by the degree of idolatry he found in Jerusalem!  Step by step, he began to re-teach the people the truths about their God whom they had so long ignored (22).

About 10 years later, Nehemiah — an able administrator in the court of King Artaxerxes — was shocked to learn that rebuilding in Jerusalem had been halted!  Nehemiah appealed to the king for permission to go to Jerusalem to make sure the work was completed.  Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah carefully surveyed the situation, developed a plan for its correction, and then led the people in the successful implementation of that plan.

Haggai & Zechariah were prophets during the resettlement & rebuilding of Jerusalem, who encouraged the people to rebuild the Temple of God.

Malachi was inspired to proclaim the last of God’s messages recorded in the inspired Jewish scriptures.  He told the people to expect a forerunner, a new Elijah, whom God would send to prepare his people for their ultimate savior, the long-awaited Messiah we know as Jesus.

But then, for 400 years after Malachi’s ministry, God’s chosen people waited for this promised forerunner & for some additional word from God.

On-Time God, please help me to love Your perfect timing in all things.

(22) Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi


 

Persia Replaces Babylon As Judah’s Captor

Eventually, Persia did conquer Babylon & become the captor of Judah.  The book of Esther (21) is a surviving account of God’s continuing care for his people in their continuing captivity.

Esther was a beautiful Jewish maid, raised in the home of her relative Mordecai after the death of her parents.  Mordecai was a godly man who raised Esther to love God, too.

When the queen of Persia fell out of the king’s favor & was removed from her throne, the search for a successor began.  Esther was eventually chosen as the new queen.  However, at the explicit instruction of Mordecai, she initially kept her Jewish ancestry secret.

Subsequently Haman, a wicked man who was nonetheless chief advisor to the king, sought to exterminate all Jews throughout the vast kingdom of Persia.

Mordecai & Esther prayed for protection & guidance from God.  Ultimately, Esther declared her Jewish ancestry, and Haman’s wickedness was exposed in a way that led to his downfall & death.  Mordecai replaced Haman as the king’s chief advisor and effected the preservation of the Jews in all of Persia.

There are actually two versions of this episode in the history of God’s plan to rescue humanity from sin, as presented in the inspired Jewish scriptures.  In one account, God is rarely mentioned explicitly, but implicitly his divine providence is evident throughout.  In the other account, the faith of Mordecai & Esther is more explicitly portrayed.  Either way, it’s clear that God was always caring for his people.

Sovereign God, please help me to love depending on You for protection & guidance.

(21) Esther

Prophets During Judah’s Captivity In Babylon

Three prophets proclaimed God’s messages during the period surrounding the captivity of the people of Judah in Babylon (20).

As the nation of Judah was rushing toward the catastrophe of captivity, the prophet Obadiah was inspired to proclaim that the neighboring nation of Edom, which smugly sat by & awaited the destruction of Judah, would be judged harshly by God, while Judah itself would eventually be restored from captivity by God.

Daniel became a prominent leader in the land of his captivity — serving three Babylonian kings, but always retaining favor with God by remaining faithful to God.

The prophet was inspired by God to see that Babylon would be replaced by Persia as Judah’s captor, but that Judah’s captivity would not continue indefinitely.  Daniel was also given a vision from God concerning a glorious ruler that God would send for all his created people.  The vision had a short-term fulfillment when King Cyrus allowed captive Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.    The vision also had a longer-term fulfillment when God sent Jesus to rescue us from ourselves & offer us a glorious future with him.

Ezekiel was called as God’s messenger with amazing visions of God’s glory.  His first prophecies concerned the downfall of Jerusalem.  Later, Ezekiel was inspired to assure God’s people that God would protect them in the various places of their exile & captivity.  In this context, Ezekiel made it very clear that religious leaders are expected to be true shepherds of God’s people (drawing them closer to God), rather than false shepherds (causing people to run away from God).

Finally, Ezekiel was given encouraging visions of the New Jerusalem, where God’s people will experience eternal rest, peace & worship.

Good Shepherd, please help me to love Your constant protection.

 (20) Obadiah, Daniel, Ezekiel


 

Jeremiah

The ministry of the prophet Jeremiah extended from the time of King Josiah to the time of Judah’s captivity by Babylon (19).  Again & again, Jeremiah was inspired to call God’s chosen people in Judah (especially Jerusalem) to repent of their many sins & return to God.  But in all Jeremiah’s prophetic writings, as well as in contemporary Jewish history, there is little evidence of such repentance.

Jeremiah was often given visions of the suffering God’s people would endure as God allowed their rebellious culture & kingdom to be destroyed – visions which often moved him to tears, for which he is often called The Weeping Prophet.

Jeremiah’s prophecies concerned events before & after the fall of Jerusalem.  God’s prophet was often persecuted for his unwelcome messages, especially by other “prophets” who made their living by telling the Jewish rulers what they wanted to hear, instead of what God wanted them to hear.

In the midst of all the gloom & doom, Jeremiah was inspired to proclaim the surpassing peace & beauty of the restoration that God was prepared to cause for his repentant people.

Yet Jeremiah’s final prophecies make clear that unrepentant people – including the oppressor nations surrounding Israel – would ultimately be judged very harshly by God.

Merciful God, please help me to love repenting, that Your mercy may be new every morning.

(19) Jeremiah & Lamentations

Conquest Of Judah By Babylon

Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, succeeded to the throne of Judah (18).  For over five decades he led his people in open rebellion against the one true God, offering worship to all sorts of strange gods, instead.  Spiritually, Manasseh was a disaster for Judah!

Josiah, a subsequent king, did make a real effort to return the people of Judah to God.  During Josiah’s reign, a long–ignored copy of the Law of Moses was discovered.  When this book was read to the young king, his heart was seized with a burning desire to get right with God!

Josiah led many reforms, restoring respect for God’s Law & worship of God as Judah’s real king.  But when Josiah died, it quickly became evident that most of his people did not share his desire to get right with God; they had simply wanted to stay right with the king whom they had dearly loved.  So when subsequent kings again began to lead the people away from God, again they followed – driven by the same misplaced desire to stay right with the king rather than with God.

God ultimately meted out the necessary punishment for the persistent rebellion of his chosen people.  Nebuchadnezzar ruled in Babylon, which had been victorious over Assyria.  Now God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Judah & carry many prominent rulers of Judah into captivity in Babylon, as punishment for their persistent rebellion against God’s rule.

Judah itself was relegated to the status of a minor territory, remotely ruled from Babylon.

Sovereign God, please help me to love Your rule over my life.

(18) 2 Kings 21-25, 2 Chronicles 33-36


 

Prophets Before The Fall Of Judah

Judah continued to rebel against God, even after the fall of Israel.  And God continued sending prophets to call his chosen people to return to him (17).

Zephaniah declared that God would judge Judah’s sin.  Appealing for Judah’s repentance, Zephaniah declared that God would also judge all the nations surrounding Judah.  The prophet emphasized that God’s people could have no hope as long as they remained in sin.  But then Zephaniah assured them of their great hope in God.  His prophecies end with an inspired vision of God rejoicing extravagantly over his repentant people.

Nahum was inspired to focus his prophecies on Assyria, the nation that had conquered Israel & taken them into captivity.  The prophet first declared that God is master over all nations, even Assyria & even its main city, Nineveh.

(By this time, Nineveh had forgotten its repentance in response to the earlier prophet, Jonah, & had resumed their rebellion against God.)  Nahum described in great detail the impending doom of Nineveh.

Habakkuk was inspired to see that the Chaldeans, a Babylonian people, would be used by God to conquer first Assyria & later Judah itself.   But the prophet assured God’s people that “the just shall live, by faith” – a powerful promise to which Paul would later refer to 3 times in his letters to early Christians.

Habakkuk also saw that the Chaldeans themselves would eventually be judged by God.  He counseled fear of God’s judgment & faith in God’s triumph.

Faithful God, please help me to love trusting in You rather than myself.

(17) Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk


 

Isaiah

The ministry of the prophet Isaiah was directed to all of God’s chosen people in Israel & Judah (16).  His long service for God overlapped the reigns of three significant kings of Judah – Uzziah, Jotham & Hezekiah.

During the reigns of Uzziah & Jotham, Isaiah was used to deliver prophetic messages concerning God’s judgment of Judah, God’s judgment of the surrounding nations, and God’s certain judgment of his chosen people.  The prophet’s ministry was greatly magnified in the year that King Uzziah died, in which he received an amazing vision of the holiness of God in heaven.

Four chapters then form an historical bridge between Isaiah’s prophecies of judgment & his prophecies of peace.  During the reign of Hezekiah, Isaiah was used both to judge & to encourage the king, as he contended with the invaders from Assyria.

The remainder of the book emphasizes three aspects of God’s promised peace: (1) God intends peace for his chosen people, and for all who will serve him as king. (2) God will send his Prince of Peace to help us understand & submit to God.  (3) God has a specific program in mind as to what this promised peace will look like in the lives of his people.

Among all God’s prophets included in the inspired Jewish scriptures, Isaiah best helps us understand the significance of Jesus as the Messiah (or Prince of Peace) whom God had determined to send to rescue his people from their sin.

Peacemaking God, please help me to love Your peace more than my distress.

(16) Isaiah