The Law Read and Explained & The Post Exilic Period of the Old Testament: The Persian Period

I’m sure You’re real happy with Nehemiah, but there are a lot of people that are really mad.  Are they going to kill Nehemiah or what’s going to happen?

Nehemiah is the central figure of the Book of Nehemiah, which describes his work in rebuilding Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. He was governor of Persian Judea under Artaxerxes I of Persia (c. 5th century BC).

According to most scholars, Nehemiah was a real historical figure and the Nehemiah Memoir, a name given by scholars to certain portions of the book written in the first person, is historically reliable.

In the 20th year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, (445/444 BC), Nehemiah was cup-bearer to the king. Learning that the remnant of Jews in Judah were in distress and that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, he asked the king for permission to return and rebuild the city.

Artaxerxes sent him to Judah as governor of the province with a mission to rebuild, letters explaining his support for the venture, and provision for timber from the king’s forest. Once there, Nehemiah defied the opposition of Judah’s enemies on all sides—Samaritans, Ammonites, Arabs and Philistines—and rebuilt the walls within 52 days, from the Sheep Gate in the North, the Hananeel Tower at the North West corner, the Fish Gate in the West, the Furnaces Tower at the Temple Mount’s South West corner, the Dung Gate in the South, the East Gate and the gate beneath the Golden Gate in the East.

“And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel.

And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month” (Neh 8:1-2).

“And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Neh 8:6).

Nehemiah and Ezra, with the help of Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, taught the people the laws of God.  And Nehemiah said to them,

“Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8:10).

The second day the people began to gather olive, pine, myrtle, palm, and thick tree branches to make shelters they can live in, as it was written –

“And they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month” (Neh 8:14).

Sheep Gate in the North
This is the northeast corner of the Old City, providing access to the Temple Mount from the Kidron Valley. In the Byzantine period this gate was referred to as the St Stephen’s gate, because tradition says that it was outside this gate that Stephen was martyred (Acts 7:58). Later, the gate which stood here was renamed Bab el-Ghor (the Jordan Valley gate) but this name is hardly used today

The most important lesson to be learned from this fascinating site is that throughout Jerusalem’s long history, the topography of the landscape has always dictated where the city’s fortifications could and could not be built.

;For centuries, the builders of Jerusalem – Canaanite, Israelite, Jewish, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader, Mameluk, Turkish – have reused the same locations for their walls and gates over and over. Because the eastern hill of the city dramatically gives way to the Kidron Valley at this point, it has always been the site of the northeastern gate. The names of these various gates are simply icing on this complex layer cake.

“Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner” (Neh 8:18).

“Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.

And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.

And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the Lord their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped theLord their God” (Neh 9:1-3).

All the Israelites were told of the lives their ancestors had lived with God, all the way back to Abraham. 

The purpose of doing so kept the people’s mind off of evil and wicked things, i.e., the ways of the devil.  The same with today, 1 keep your mind on Jesus at all times.  God then made a covenant with the people (Neh 10:1-39).

“And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities.

And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.

Now these are the chief of the province that dwelt in Jerusalem: but in the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession in their cities, to wit, Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon’s servants(Neh 11:1-3).

These are the people mentioned directly above –  (Neh 11:4-36).

Now these are the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra (Neh 12:1-44).

Tower of Hananel
The name of a tower on the wall of Jerusalem, prob. near the NE corner, not far from the Sheep Gate. Nehemiah 3:1 says that when the wall was rebuilt, the Sheep Gate was built as far as the Tower of Hananel and that when the walls were dedicated, companies of princes inspected them, including the Tower of Hananel.

It is not known how the tower got its name. It was replaced by the Tower of Antonia. Jeremiah 31:38 and Zechariah 14:10 mention it as a boundary of Jerusalem when it will be rebuilt.

“And both the singers and the porters kept the ward of their God, and the ward of the purification, according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son.

For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God.

And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified holy things unto the Levites; and the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron” (Neh 12:45-47).

It was also found in the book of Moses that the children of God were never to live with the Ammonites or the Moabites because they had never helped the Israelites, but hired Balaam to curse them.

Fish Gate
Fishermen brought through the Fish Gate fishes for selling to Jerusalem. The spiritual meaning of the Fish Gate is there that after the Sheep Gate redemption in the blood of the Lord Jesus begins fishing of men; in other words, preaching of the Gospel about the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ said that He will make from His disciples fishers of men.

The Fish Gate means the preaching of the Gospel and fishing, the men to the kingdom of God.

“And I [Nehemiah]came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God.

And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff to Tobiah out of the chamber.

Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.

And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.

Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place.

Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.

And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren.

Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.

In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.

Old Gate, which spiritual meaning is death of the old man. The Lord Jesus doesn’t repair the old man, but makes the new man through the regeneration in the Holy Spirit. In sanctification life, the Lord Jesus sets up “doors and locks” that sin can’t get any grip on our heart.

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit kills deeds of our flesh. The Holy Spirit rules and leads us in righteousness and by that way we will die to sinful deeds. The Old Gate proclaims us that the old one must die, because the new one has been reborn.

The Holy Spirit gives to believer the power to die to the flesh and resist sin and choose the righteousness of God instead of sins. The Old Gate is an important gate, because without death of the flesh believer cannot wander in the will of God. Death of the flesh is God’s gracious work and by this work Jesus’s disciples have ability to walk and live according to the will of God.

There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.

Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day?

Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath.

And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day.

So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice.

Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.

And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.

In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab:

And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.

The Valley Gate describes wandering of Jesus’s disciples.

Ge 26:19 And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.

De 8:7 For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;

Ps 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Eze 3:22 ¶ And the hand of the LORD was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee.

And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.

Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.

Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?

And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me.

Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.

Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;

And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good(Neh 13:7-31).

The Post Exilic Period
of the Old Testament

What is Post-Exilic Prophecy?
Post-Exilic Prophecy is prophecy that is dated to the period after the Israelites who were deported to Babylon returned to the land of Israel.

These books are Haggai, Joel, Malachi, Obadiah and Zechariah.

Though often called the Minor Prophets, they are by no means insignificant, considering the message they bring from God to His people.

The Exile

The exile was a major turning point in the history of Israel.

Judah and Jerusalem had fallen to the armies of Nebuchadnezzar.

Many of the people of the land had been taken captive to Babylon, while others had fled to Egypt and parts unknown.

A small number of the poor had remained behind in Judah. The ltimate curse of the covenant had been realized.

After centuries of prophetic warnings, the death penalty had been carried out on Israel.

The land was in ruins, and the people were in exile.

In 539 B.C., however, Babylon fell to the Persians, and in 538, Cyrus issued a decree permitting the exiled Jews to return to Judah and rebuild the temple.

Were the prophecies of restoration now to be fulfilled?

Would the messianic kingdom of God now be established?

These are the questions faced by the post-exilic prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

In order to understand the post-exilic prophets, some historical context is necessary.

The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had died in 562, and his death had precipitated the rapid decline of his empire.

His reign was followed in quick succession by the reigns of Evil-Merodach (562–560), Neriglissar (560–556), and Labisi-Marduk (556) before any semblance of stability was reached with the reign of Nabonidus (555–539).

Yet even under Nabonidus there was trouble because of religious controversies.

Due to these problems, Nabonidus was absent from the capital for lengthy periods of time.

His son Belshazzar was the effective ruler of Babylon during these periods.

In 539 B.C., Belshazzar was present in the city when Babylon fell to Cyrus the Persian.

Cyrus had a policy, unusual for the time, of allowing captive peoples to return to their homelands, so in 538, he issued a decree allowing the exiled Jews to return to Judah (cf. Ezra 1:1–4).

Tens of thousands returned with Zerubbabel and Joshua, but an even larger number remained behind, not willing to give up the life they had established in Babylon over the previous decades (Ezra 2).

Those who did return to the land were faced with numerous hardships.

The land was in poor shape for farming, and many buildings were in need of repairs.

In addition, the Jews who had remained in Judah had taken the land of those who had been exiled. Furthermore, Judah’s neighbors were adamantly opposed to the rebuilding program.

All of this caused widespread discouragement.

Thus after rebuilding the altar in 537 (Ezra 3:1–7) and preparing the foundation of the temple in 536 (Ezra 3:8–13), opposition and despair caused work to come to a standstill for over fifteen years (Ezra 4:1–5).

To the northeast of Judah, Cyrus had continued to expand the Persian Empire until his death in 530.

He was followed by Cambyses II (530–522), and Gaumata (522), before Darius Hystaspes (522–486) came to the throne.

After receiving complaints from the enemies of the Jews and researching the royal archives, Darius discovered the decree of Cyrus.

In 520 B.C. he ordered opposition against the Jews to cease in order that they might complete the temple (Ezra 5:1–6:12).

It was near the beginning of his reign that the prophets Haggai (520 B.C.) and Zechariah (520–518 B.C.) arose in Judah to bring God’s word to the people.

After much work, the temple was finally completed in 515 B.C.

In Persia, Darius’ lengthy reign was followed by that of Xerxes (486–465) and then Artaxerxes I (464–424), during whose reign Ezra led a second group of returnees to Judah in 458 (Ezra 7:1– 28).

Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem with a third group of returnees in 445 to finish rebuilding the wall of the city (Neh. 1–2).

He returned to Persia in 433. The ministry of the prophet Malachi likely occurred sometime in the period soon after Nehemiah’s departure but before his second visit (cf. Neh. 13:6).

The post-exilic prophets faced a daunting task.

Earlier prophets had foreseen a glorious restoration following the judgment of exile (cf. Amos 9:11, 14–15; Micah 4:6–7).

Daniel, on the other hand, had borne witness to a sevenfold extension of the punishment of exile (cf. Dan. 9:24–27).

Yet Cyrus had now permitted the Jews in Babylon to return to their land.

Was this the promised time of restoration or not?

The post-exilic prophets reveal an eschatological tension in their writings.

They bear witness to the inauguration of eschatological restoration, but also proclaim that the fullness is yet to come.

They provide the first hints that the promised restoration from exile is not to occur all at once.

The postexilic period, cavers over 500 years, can be conveniently divided into five periods: Persian, Greek, Hasmonean, Roman and Herodian.

In 539-538 B.C. Cyrus the Persian defeated the Babylonians and reversed the policy of depopulating areas and scattering people into foreign lands.

Cyrus Cylinder
Cyrus II of Persia, commonly known as Cyrus the Great and also known as Cyrus the Elder, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire.

Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

From the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire the world had yet seen.

Under his successors, the empire eventually stretched from parts of the Balkans (Bulgaria-Pannonia) and Thrace-Macedonia in the west, to the Indus Valley in the east.

His regal titles in full were The Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World.

He also proclaimed what has been identified by scholars and archaeologists to be the oldest known declaration of human rights, which was transcribed onto the Cyrus Cylinder sometime between 539 and 530 BC.

This view has been criticized by some as a misunderstanding of what they claim to be the Cylinder’s generic nature as a traditional statement of the sort that new monarchs may make at the beginning of their reign.

Almost immediately thereafter  he allowed the exiled Israelites to return to their homeland under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (cf. Ezra 1-2, 5:13-16; Neh 7).

The Cyrus Cylinder provides important extra-biblical confirmation. Many Jews opted to remain in the lands to which they had been exiled, though maintaining their religious and ethnic identify.

This  phenomenon, known as the dispersion of the Jews, had become an irreversible social reality.  However, the Old Testament exilic and postexilic narratives, with the exception of the book of Esther, focus on the challenges and crises facing the returnees.

The first major challenge was the rebuilding of the temple in the face of external opposition (Ezra 4:1-5; 5:1-6:18) and internal neglect (Hag 1:2-11).

Its restoration was a prerequisite for the reinstatement of God’s presence and blessings, and a strong priesthood was necessary to reinstitute local worship according to prescribed norms (Hag 2:11-19; Zec 3).

Stirred into action by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and with Persian sponsorship, the Perisan-appointed governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua successfully completed the project, dedicating the temple in 516/515 B.C. (cf. Ezra 6:15-16).

Another challenge was the threat of assimilation and idolatry (Ezra 9).  With Persian endorsement Ezra returned to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. (Ezra 7:6-10).

He confronted the people, led them in confession of their unfaithfulness to God (Ezra 10) and later fulfilled his commission to teach the Book of the Law of Moses to the people (Neh 8-9).

A third significant challenge was the fortification of Jerusalem. In 445 b.c. Nehemiah, royal cupbearer to the Persian monarch, appealed to Artaxerxes I on Jerusalem’s be­half.

Artaxerxes appointed Nehemiah gover­nor of Judea, funded his return to Jerusalem and provided building materials (2:1-9; 5:14). Despite considerable opposition,4 Ne­hemiah and the returnees succeeded in their mission (6:15).

The dedication of the wall was accompa­nied by extensive reading from the law and a call for covenant renewal. This period of revival was apparently short-lived, however.

When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, per­haps in 433/432 b.c., he discovered that the priests and people alike had become negli­gent in their worship.

The Persian kings’ endorsement and sup­port of religious activity in “Yehud” (Judea) is consistent with their interest in temple communities in Babylonia, Syria, Asia Minor, Armenia, Phoenicia and elsewhere:

Temples served as regional power centers and helped maintain civil obedience and political loyalty. It is hardly coincidental that the Persians authorized the second temple’s completion shortly after their subjugation of Egypt in 526-525 B.C.

They willingly com­missioned Ezra and Nehemiah a few years after quelling Egypt’s revolt in 460 b.c. The Egyptian threat to the south highlighted Persia’s reliance upon a productive and loyal “Yehud.”

Priestly governmental systems were less threatening to Persian kings than were local monarchies. Judea was ruled by both a high priest and a governor (cf. Hag 1:1,14; Zec 4), and the balance of power between the two fluctuated throughout the postexilic period.

Nehemiah played a crucial role as governor in the mid-5th century B.C., yet in Judea over­all this period saw an increasing role of the priesthood and a decreasing role of the Davidic royal family. By the end of the Persian period (c. 330 B.C.) the priests had risen to a prominent position.

The Persians hoped to curry the favor and support of local deities and their priestly ser­vants, who might intercede for the prosper­ity of the empire (cf. Ezra 6:9-10; 7:23).

Religious endorsement was essential to the legitimization of Persian rule in the eyes of various peoples. The Persians were so suc­cessful in this that in Babylonia their rule was not regarded as foreign domination.

Israel’s leaders and prophets recognized the constraints of their situation under Per­sian rule but welcomed Persian support to carry out God’s commands in their homeland.

Nevertheless, they consistently testified that God was the source of all blessing and suc­cess (Ezra 1:1; 7:6; Neh 2:8,20) and continued to look forward to a day when the Davidic branch would take root and all peoples would flock to Mount Zion to seek the Lord of hosts (Zec 3:8-10;8:20-23).