History Of Babylon: Exile

In the history of Babylon, Exile was second in importance to the Exodus in Jewish history. The pens of the prophets were silenced in Babylon for 70 years as Israel repented and waited for deliverance.

Deportations of Jews from Judah and Israel took place during several eras in ancient history. The Babylonian exile lasted from 586-538 BC. "Exile" means that they were forced to live outside of the Promised Land. Babylon had replaced Assyria as the reigning world power after defeating Egypt at the battle of Carchemish in 609 BC. They conquered Jerusalem in 586. (All dates are BC - Before Christ) This was the main exile of Israel when the Temple was flattened and Jerusalem was destroyed.

These deportations from the Promised Land actually began under the Assyrians as early as 733. These were deported to Ninevah. More deportations to Babylon occurred in 605, 597 and 582. Many of the Israelites had chosen to flee voluntarily and had settled in Syria, Egypt and Turkey. This was a very dark period in the history of Israel. There was no king and no temple. (See Psalm 137)

The Books of I and II Kings were written about the period leading up to the Babylonian exile to show the people how their plight was the result of Israel's sin. The Book of Daniel is the only record of Israel's time in Babylon. While the first half of Daniel is considered historical it speaks only about Daniel and his experiences there. It is a theological work, not a history book. He had been a relative of King Zedekiah and was stationed in the royal court of Nebuchadnezzar.



All that we have from the exile is what Daniel tells us about the King and what went on in the palace. Daniel rose quickly in rank while serving the King and eventually rose to a position where he oversaw the whole empire. Stories like Daniel in the Lion's Den and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (The three men who survived the furnace), were meant to inspire the Jews to remain true to their faith. Daniel and the three young men did and God protected them.

Jeremiah's prophesy ends with the capture of Jerusalem and Lamentations is a description of a desolate Jerusalem after the armies of Babylon have plundered and destroyed it. There wasn't any writing or prophecy during the exile. Conservative theologians date Daniel as having been written in Babylon but later investigation has revealed that Daniel was probably the last Old Testament book written, as late as 137.

In 539 Persia replaced Babylon as the new dominant empire. They did not believe in exile, but in resettlement. King Cyrus of Persia decreed that any Jews who wanted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple could do so. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the returns of exiles from Babylon to Israel.

The first return occurred in 538 under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Ezra gives the exact numbers of returnees as 42,360 Jews with 7,337 servants and 200 singers. They are listed by "clans" in Ezra 2. They also brought back horses, mules, camels, donkeys and gold and silver vessels. The temple is rebuilt under Zerubbabel. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah are writing during this period. Zerubbabel seems slow to rebuild and Haggai spurs him on.

Another return took place when Ezra went to Jerusalem with 1,754 males and some gold and silver. The other significant return spoken of in the Bible was Nehemiah. Nehemiah got an armed escort to bring him safely to Jerusalem. He was there to be the governor and to fortify the city.

While nothing was produced in the exile from the point of view of scripture, this was probably the second most important event in Jewish history, after the Exodus. The Israelite nation underwent some profound changes. Being separated from all signs and symbols of their God, they learned how much God meant to them. The dream and the promise of the continuing kingship of David's descendents had been shattered. The synagogue probably got its start during the exile. The people of God realized that the exile was a punishment for past sins. Israel would become a kingdom of ecclesiastical rulers: Sadducees, Pharisees, High Priests and Scribes. There would never be another Jewish king of Israel.

Sources:

Halley's Bible Handbook, Zondervan, 2000

William Neil's One Volume Bible Commentary, Hodder & Stoughton, 1962

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