The Return of the Exiles
THE advent of
the army of Cyrus before the walls of Babylon was to the Jews a sign that
their deliverance from captivity was drawing nigh. More than a century
before the birth of Cyrus, Inspiration had mentioned him by name, and had
caused a record to be made of the actual work he should do in taking the
city of Babylon unawares, and in preparing the way for the release of the
children of the captivity. Through Isaiah the word had been spoken:
saith the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden,
to subdue nations before him; . . . to open before him the two-leaved
gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make
the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass,
and cut in sunder the bars of iron: and I will give thee the treasures of
darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that
I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel."
unexpected entry of the army of the Persian conqueror into the heart of
the Babylonian capital by way of the channel of the river whose waters had
been turned aside, and through the inner gates that in careless security
had been left open and unprotected, the Jews had abundant evidence of the
literal fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy concerning the sudden overthrow
of their oppressors. And this should have been to them an unmistakable
sign that God was shaping the affairs of nations in their behalf; for
inseparably linked with the prophecy outlining the manner of Babylon's
capture and fall were the words:
he is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure: even saying to
Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be
laid." "I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct
all his ways: he shall build My city, and he shall let go My captives, not
for price nor reward, saith the Lord of hosts." Isaiah 44:28; 45:13.
these the only prophecies upon which the exiles had opportunity to base
their hope of speedy deliverance. The writings of Jeremiah were within
their reach, and in these was plainly set forth the length of time that
should elapse before the restoration of Israel from Babylon. "When
seventy years are accomplished," the Lord had foretold through His
messenger, "I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith
the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make
it perpetual desolations." Jeremiah 25:12. Favor would be shown the
remnant of Judah, in answer to fervent prayer. "I will be
found of you,
saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you
from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you,
saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused
you to be carried away captive." Jeremiah 29:14.
Daniel and his companions gone over these and similar prophecies outlining
God's purpose for His people. And now, as the rapid course of events
betokened the mighty hand of God at work among the nations, Daniel gave
special thought to the promises made to Israel. His faith in the prophetic
word led him to enter into experiences foretold by the sacred writers.
"After seventy years be accomplished at Babylon," the Lord had
declared, "I will visit you, and perform My good word toward you, in
causing you to return. . . . I know the thoughts that I think toward you,
saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an
expected end. Then shall ye call upon Me, and ye shall go and pray unto
Me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when
ye shall search for Me with all your heart." Verses 10-13.
before the fall of Babylon, when Daniel was meditating on these prophecies
and seeking God for an understanding of the times, a series of visions was
given him concerning the rise and fall of kingdoms. With the first vision,
as recorded in the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel, an
interpretation was given; yet not all was made clear to the prophet.
"My cogitations much troubled me," he wrote of his experience at
the time, "and my countenance
me: but I kept the matter in my heart." Daniel 7:28.
another vision further light was thrown upon the events of the future; and
it was at the close of this vision that Daniel heard "one saint
speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How
long shall be the vision?" Daniel 8:13. The answer that was given,
"Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary
be cleansed" (verse 14), filled him with perplexity. Earnestly he
sought for the meaning of the vision. He could not understand the relation
sustained by the seventy years' captivity, as foretold through Jeremiah,
to the twenty-three hundred years that in vision he heard the heavenly
visitant declare should elapse before the cleansing of God's sanctuary.
The angel Gabriel gave him a partial interpretation; yet when the prophet
heard the words, "The vision . . . shall be for many days," he
fainted away. "I Daniel fainted," he records of his experience,
"and was sick certain days; afterward I rose up, and did the king's
business; and I was astonished at the vision, but none understood
it." Verses 26, 27.
burdened in behalf of Israel, Daniel studied anew the prophecies of
Jeremiah. They were very plain--so plain that he understood by these
testimonies recorded in books "the number of the years, whereof the
word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish
seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem." Daniel 9:2.
founded on the sure word of prophecy, Daniel pleaded with the Lord for the
speedy fulfillment of these
pleaded for the honor of God to be preserved. In his petition he
identified himself fully with those who had fallen short of the divine
purpose, confessing their sins as his own.
my face unto the Lord God," the prophet declared, "to seek by
prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: and I
prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession." Verses 3, 4.
Though Daniel had long been in the service of God, and had been spoken of
by heaven as "greatly beloved," yet he now appeared before God
as a sinner, urging the great need of the people he loved. His prayer was
eloquent in its simplicity, and intensely earnest. Hear him pleading:
the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that
love Him, and to them that keep His commandments; we have sinned, and have
committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by
departing from Thy precepts and from Thy judgments; neither have we
hearkened unto Thy servants the prophets, which spake in Thy name to our
kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
righteousness belongeth unto Thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at
this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and
unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the
countries whither Thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that
they have trespassed against Thee. . . .
Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness, though we have rebelled
against Him." "O Lord, according to all Thy righteousness, I
beseech Thee, let Thine anger
and Thy fury
be turned away from Thy city Jerusalem, Thy holy mountain: because for our
sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Thy people are
become a reproach to all that are about us.
therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of Thy servant, and his
supplications, and cause Thy face to shine upon Thy sanctuary that is
desolate, for the Lord's sake. O my God, incline Thine ear, and hear; open
Thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by
Thy name: for we do not present our supplications before Thee for our
righteousness, but for Thy great mercies.
hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for Thine own
sake, O my God: for Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name."
Verses 4-9, 16-19.
bending low to hear the earnest supplication of the prophet. Even before
he had finished his plea for pardon and restoration, the mighty Gabriel
again appeared to him, and called his attention to the vision he had seen
prior to the fall of Babylon and the death of Belshazzar. And then the
angel outlined before him in detail the period of the seventy weeks, which
was to begin at the time of "the going forth of the commandment to
restore and to build Jerusalem." Verse 25.
prayer had been offered "in the first year of Darius" (verse 1),
the Median monarch whose general, Cyrus, had wrested from Babylonia the
scepter of universal rule. The reign of Darius was honored of God. To him
was sent the angel Gabriel, "to confirm and to strengthen him."
Daniel 11:1. Upon his death, within about two years
of the fall
of Babylon, Cyrus succeeded to the throne, and the beginning of his reign
marked the completion of the seventy years since the first company of
Hebrews had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar from their Judean home to
deliverance of Daniel from the den of lions had been used of God to create
a favorable impression upon the mind of Cyrus the Great. The sterling
qualities of the man of God as a statesman of farseeing ability led the
Persian ruler to show him marked respect and to honor his judgment. And
now, just at the time God had said He would cause His temple at Jerusalem
to be rebuilt, He moved upon Cyrus as His agent to discern the prophecies
concerning himself, with which Daniel was so familiar, and to grant the
Jewish people their liberty.
As the king
saw the words foretelling, more than a hundred years before his birth, the
manner in which Babylon should be taken; as he read the message addressed
to him by the Ruler of the universe, "I girded thee, though thou hast
not known Me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the
west, that there is none beside Me;" as he saw before his eyes the
declaration of the eternal God, "For Jacob My servant's sake, and
Israel Mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed
thee, though thou hast not known Me;" as he traced the inspired
record, "I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all
his ways: he shall build My city, and he shall let go My captives, not for
price nor reward," his heart was profoundly moved, and he determined
to fulfill his divinely appointed mission. Isaiah 45:5, 6, 4, 13. He would
let the Judean
free; he would help them restore the temple of Jehovah.
In a written
proclamation published "throughout all his kingdom," Cyrus made
known his desire to provide for the return of the Hebrews and for the
rebuilding of their temple. "The Lord God of heaven hath given me all
the kingdoms of the earth," the king gratefully acknowledged in this
public proclamation; "and He hath charged me to build Him an house at
Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all His people?
his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, . . . and build the
house of the Lord God of Israel, (He is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of
his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with
beasts, beside the freewill offering." Ezra 1:1-4.
house be builded," he further directed regarding the temple
structure, "the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the
foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore
cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits; with three rows of
great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expenses be given out
of the king's house: and also let the golden and silver vessels of the
house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is
at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again
unto the temple which is at Jerusalem." Ezra 6:3-5.
this decree reached the farthermost provinces of the king's realm, and
everywhere among the children of the dispersion there was great rejoicing.
Many, like Daniel,
studying the prophecies, and had been seeking God for His promised
intervention in behalf of Zion. And now their prayers were being answered;
and with heartfelt joy they could unite in singing:
the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion,
We were like
them that dream.
Then was our
mouth filled with laughter,
tongue with singing:
they among the heathen,
The Lord hath
done great things for them.
The Lord hath
done great things for us;
chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the
Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised"--these were the
goodly remnant, about fifty thousand strong, from among the Jews in the
lands of exile, who determined to take advantage of the wonderful
opportunity offered them "to go up to build the house of the Lord
which is in Jerusalem." Their friends did not permit them to go
empty-handed. "All they that were about them strengthened their hands
with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with
precious things." And to these and many other voluntary offerings
were added "the vessels of the house of the Lord, which
Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem; . . . even those did
Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer,
. . . five thousand and four hundred" in number, for use in the
temple that was to be rebuilt. Ezra 1:5-11.
Zerubbabel (known also as Sheshbazzar), a descendant of King David, Cyrus
placed the responsibility of
governor of the company returning to Judea; and with him was associated
Joshua the high priest. The long journey across the desert wastes was
accomplished in safety, and the happy company, grateful to God for His
many mercies, at once undertook the work of re-establishing that which had
been broken down and destroyed. "The chief of the fathers" led
out in offering of their substance to help defray the expense of
rebuilding the temple; and the people, following their example, gave
freely of their meager store. See Ezra 2:64-70.
as possible, an altar was erected on the site of the ancient altar in the
temple court. To the exercises connected with the dedication of this
altar, the people had "gathered themselves together as one man;"
and there they united in re-establishing the sacred services that had been
interrupted at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
Before separating to dwell in the homes they were endeavoring to restore,
"they kept also the Feast of Tabernacles." Ezra 3:1-6.
up of the altar of daily burnt offerings greatly cheered the faithful
remnant. Heartily they entered into the preparations necessary for the
rebuilding of the temple, gathering courage as these preparations advanced
from month to month. They had for many years been deprived of the visible
tokens of God's presence. And now, surrounded as they were by many sad
reminders of the apostasy of their fathers, they longed for some abiding
token of divine forgiveness and favor. Above the regaining of personal
property and ancient privileges, they valued the approval of God.
Wonderfully had He wrought in their
they felt the assurance of His presence with them; yet they desired
greater blessings still. With joyous anticipation they looked forward to
the time when, with temple rebuilt, they might behold the shining forth of
His glory from within.
engaged in the preparation of the building material, found among the ruins
some of the immense stones brought to the temple site in the days of
Solomon. These were made ready for use, and much new material was
provided; and soon the work was advanced to the point where the foundation
stone must be laid. This was done in the presence of many thousands who
had assembled to witness the progress of the work and to give expression
to their joy in having a part in it. While the cornerstone was being set
in position, the people, accompanied by the trumpets of the priests and
the cymbals of the sons of Asaph, "sang together by course in
praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because He is good, for His
mercy endureth forever toward Israel." Verse 11.
that was about to be rebuilt had been the subject of many prophecies
concerning the favor that God desired to show Zion, and all who were
present at the laying of the cornerstone should have entered heartily into
the spirit of the occasion. Yet mingled with the music and the shouts of
praise that were heard on that glad day, was a discordant note. "Many
of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men,
that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid
before their eyes, wept with a loud voice." Verse 12.
natural that sadness should fill the hearts of these aged men, as they
thought of the results of long-continued impenitence. Had they and their
generation obeyed God, and carried out His purpose for Israel, the temple
built by Solomon would not have been destroyed and the captivity would not
have been necessary. But because of ingratitude and disloyalty they had
been scattered among the heathen.
were now changed. In tender mercy the Lord had again visited His people
and allowed them to return to their own land. Sadness because of the
mistakes of the past should have given way to feelings of great joy. God
had moved upon the heart of Cyrus to aid them in rebuilding the temple,
and this should have called forth expressions of profound gratitude. But
some failed of discerning God's opening providences. Instead of rejoicing,
they cherished thoughts of discontent and discouragement. They had seen
the glory of Solomon's temple, and they lamented because of the
inferiority of the building now to be erected.
and complaining, and the unfavorable comparisons made, had a depressing
influence on the minds of many and weakened the hands of the builders. The
workmen were led to question whether they should proceed with the erection
of a building that at the beginning was so freely criticized and was the
cause of so much lamentation.
many in the congregation, however, whose larger faith and broader vision
did not lead them to view this lesser glory with such dissatisfaction.
"Many shouted aloud for joy: so that the people could not discern the
of the shout
of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted
with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off." Verses 12, 13.
who failed to rejoice at the laying of the foundation stone of the temple
have foreseen the results of their lack of faith on that day, they would
have been appalled. Little did they realize the weight of their words of
disapproval and disappointment; little did they know how much their
expressed dissatisfaction would delay the completion of the Lord's house.
magnificence of the first temple, and the imposing rites of its religious
services, had been a source of pride to Israel before their captivity; but
their worship had ofttimes been lacking in those qualities which God
regards as most essential. The glory of the first temple, the splendor of
its service, could not recommend them to God; for that which is alone of
value in His sight, they did not offer. They did not bring Him the
sacrifice of a humble and contrite spirit.
It is when
the vital principles of the kingdom of God are lost sight of, that
ceremonies become multitudinous and extravagant. It is when the character
building is neglected, when the adornment of the soul is lacking, when the
simplicity of godliness is despised, that pride and love of display demand
magnificent church edifices, splendid adornings, and imposing ceremonials.
But in all this God is not honored. He values His church, not for its
external advantages, but for the sincere piety which distinguishes it from
the world. He estimates it according to the growth of its members in the
knowledge of Christ, according to their progress in
experience. He looks for the principles of love and goodness. Not all the
beauty of art can bear comparison with the beauty of temper and character
to be revealed in those who are Christ's representatives.
congregation may be the poorest in the land. It may be without the
attractions of any outward show; but if the members possess the principles
of the character of Christ, angels will unite with them in their worship.
The praise and thanksgiving from grateful hearts will ascend to God as a
thanks unto the Lord, for He is good:
For His mercy
redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He hath
redeemed from the hand of the
unto Him, sing psalms unto Him:
Talk ye of
all His wondrous works.
Glory ye in
His holy name:
Let the heart
of them rejoice that seek the Lord."
satisfieth the longing soul,
the hungry soul with goodness."
2; 105:2, 3; 107:9.