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Return from Exile

The Jews in Babylonia were sorely tempted. Their exile must have been a wrenching experience but their new home had its 'plus points'. After all, Babylonia was one of the most ostentatiously rich empires the World has seen and this must have been a strict contrast to the austerity and restrictions back in Judah. Many were won over by these riches and, like the Israelites earlier, disappear from the pages of our story. Others wept by the River of Babylon. Psalm 137 tells us that there was a faithful remnant who yearned for the 'good old days'. 'By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion ... How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.' These were God's people, the faithful remnant who were going to ensure that His covenant would remain intact - after all, if all of the Jews had been assimilated into the Babylonian culture, then that would have been that - no Jews, no Messiah, no Jesus!

Empires come and empires go and the mighty Babylonian empire wasn't to last long. Within fifty years, Babylon itself had fallen to the Medes and Persians and, at the order of Cyrus in the 6th Century BC, Jewish exiles were allowed back into their Land, along with the captured Temple treasures. Why did he do it? This seemed an odd act from a leader of a mighty Empire. The answer is given in Ezra 1:2-3 and it shows who really is the 'Boss of history'. It reads, "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdom of the earth and He has appointed me to build a temple for Him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of His people among you - may his God be with him and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God Who is in Jerusalem'".

When their time was up in the divine calendar and God made the coast clear for a return to the Promised Land, there were up to a million Jewish exiles in Babylonia. Of these only 42,000 returned - mainly from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and a number of priests and Levites - just a small percent, the others happy to live their days in exile. A similar situation exists today with the majority of Jews living outside of Israel, mainly in the USA and the Western world. The Babylonian community was to become an important Jewish centre, but we are following that minority who returned to the Promised Land, following the spirit of their ancestors who understood the significance of God's promises.

The first trickle back to the land was led by Zerubbabel, for the express purpose of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, according to the wishes of Cyrus, already mentioned and confirmed by the word of God through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Zerubbabel was chosen specially for this task, as we read in Haggai 2:23 "'On that day,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,' declares the LORD, 'and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,' declares the LORD Almighty." Zechariah confirms the task he has been selected for. 'The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you' (Zechariah 4:9). This man was special indeed as Luke 3:27 tells us that he was one of the illustrious ancestors of Jesus, through both Joseph and Mary's line.

Steve Maltz
January 2014

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation)

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