The Remnant and Post-Exilic Challenges

While the Jews were in exile under the Babylonians, the Persians arrived on the scene and overthrew the Babylonians. As a result of the new ruling Persian regime led by Cyrus, the Jews faced less oppression. In fact, Cyrus issued a decree that the Jewish community was to be restored by their returning to Jerusalem and by their building of the temple. Ezra 1:2-3 states,

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 to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.

Therefore, Cyrus commissioned Sheshbazzar to lead the temple building project in Jerusalem with the assumption that many of the Jews would return along with Sheshbazzar. However, not many Jews initially returned to Jerusalem. This may be due to the fact that Jerusalem was a long distance away and the journey would have been difficult and dangerous. There may have been other motivational factors that played a role in the low amount of Jews returning. While the temple endeavor was uncertain at best, the Persian empire was growing more powerful and secure, and so many Jews had become comfortable under the new Persian empire and were not enthusiastic about the ambiguous nature of moving to Jerusalem. Furthermore, they were able to participate in business within the Persian empire resulting in financial and material growth, and so they were unwilling to give up their status and position.[1]

Once in Jerusalem, the returning Jews quickly began to build the temple, but when faced with a lack of workers and resources, they began to experience frustration, disappointment and discouragement. Their morale hit a dangerously low point and remained apathetic for several years to the point where the construction of the temple came to a halt. As mission and hope surrendered to discouragement, the Jews began to slip into syncretism. The line between worship of God and pagan ritual began to blur.[2] Even after the temple was finally completed, the expected restoration was not experienced. In fact, God did not come and fill the temple which indicated that “this return to the land did not result in a return to the Deuteronomic blessings of life in the land promised in Deuteronomy. The old covenant arrangement was gone.”[3] A new covenant was needed and it was on the hopeful horizon.    

[1] John Bright, A History of Israel (Westminster J. Knox Press, 2000), 382.

[2] Ibid., 384-388.

[3] Marvin C. Pate et al., The Story of Israel: a Biblical Theology (InterVarsity Press, 2004), 100.

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