The Fourth Return of Israel

Posted by on May 29, 2016

 

The command to rebuild and restore Yerushalayim was issued in the month of the Aviv of year 3521, the twentieth year of the reign of King Artahshashta, (Neh_2:1-8). Nehemiah was informed that the walls had been broken down and gates burned (Neh_1:1-3), which could only mean that they had been already built in the first place, which he later examined to be true when he arrived in Yerushalayim (Neh_2:13). Nehemiah moved by reports of the miserable conditions in Yerushalayim, decided to leave the court and go to Yerushalayim. He asked the king for assistance to rebuilt the walls (Neh_2:8). It is important to notice that any spoken word, davar, given by a king of the Medes and Persians was considered to be a legally binding, irrevocable decree (Dan_6:12). Nehemiah states that this decree was issued b’chodesh Nisan—”in the month Nisan” which was the first month of the Persian year and can be translated as “with the new moon in the month of Nisan” which according to the Torah was Rosh HaShanah.

He got the letter from the king and headed to Yerushalayim probably in the first month, arrived in the fifth month, and had the walls finished in only fifty-two days in the sixth month (Neh_6:15). Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the priest read Torah on the first day to the last day of Sukkot (Neh_8:9-18) of the seventh month before all Israel (Deu_15:1-9, Deu_31:10-13, Jos Antiq 4:8:12) indicating that the twentieth year of King Artahshashta, and therefore year 3521, was a Sabbath of the land (see Jubilees Table). According to The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible (Gehman, H.S., 1944), Artahshashta Longimanus became king of Persia in 465 BC, so that his twentieth year of rule would have been 446 BC.

It is remarkable that the first and the last returns of the children of Israel happened to be in Sabbath years.

Nehemiah was a governor from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of Artahshashta for twelve years (Neh_5:14). The accounts in Neh_4:6-7 and Neh_6:1 confirm that the walls and gates were repaired, not built anew. In the ancient times, a city was not considered built and secured unless the city walls were constructed. From the account in Nehemiah 3 is also clear that the houses had already been built before Nehemiah’s arrival but not all because the people were few (Neh_7:4). Therefore, the city walls, gates, and houses of Yerushalayim, therefore the whole city had been built before Nehemiah’s arrival. He was appointed governor of Yehudah and was mainly responsible for the rebuilding of the city. He organized the inhabitants of Yehudah and took security precautions necessitated by the bitter opposition of its neighbors, especially the Samaritans. First, he repaired the wall and then took steps to populate the city by commanding the nobles and one tenth of the rural population of Yehudah to settle there and also he also ordered the gates of the city to be shut on the Sabbath day in order to set it apart (Neh_13:15-22) thus Nehemiah brought back Yerushalayim to life. 

In summary, Daniel’s prophecy says that the countdown will begin when a davar (spoken word) to restore and build Yerushalayim is given, not when the city is actually built. Three Persian kings, Koresh, Dareyavesh, and Artahshashta in order of their reign, issued decrees concerning the building of the Temple:

1. YHVH predicted that King Koresh would build Yerushalayim and let the exile go but the actual commission to build Yerushalayim is recorded only by Josephus. The Yehudim had the commission to build the Temple but they built the altar only. The repopulating of the city and the rebuilding of the Temple were effected very gradually as the surrounding nations were hostile to their activities. The enemies of the Yehudim wrote to the king complaining that “the Yehudim which came up from thee to us are come unto Yerushalayim, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations” (Ezr_4:1-13). Yet, this incident shows that for the first time there was an actual work being done to build the city. Could it be possible that the Temple and Yerushalayim had been built without the people’s presence in the land? But what good is a temple without worshippers? To this end, King Koresh ordered that the Yehudim in Babylon to return. Therefore, the return of the people to the land was the prerequisite of the building of the Temple and the city and King Koresh did just that by having allowed the Yehudim to return. The first accusation against the building of Yerushalayim was written in the beginning of Ahashverosh’s (aka Cambyses) reign (Ezr_4:6). Pseudo Smerdis (Artahshashta) issued a decree to cease the construction of the city and Temple (1Es_2:28, Ezr_4:12, Ezr_4:17-24) after the second accusation was written (Ezr_4:11-16). This proves that the efforts of the people were considered building of Yerushalayim thus indicating that King Koresh did issue a decree to build Yerushalayim.

Though Koresh allowed the Yehudim freedom to practice their religion, he did not permit them to reestablish their monarchy. Instead, Koresh sent Zerubavel to establish what essentially became a theocracy, with Zerubavel as High Priest. Over the next 150 years, Yehudah flourished as the Yehudim were rebuilding Yerushalayim, but the Persians resisted any efforts of them to restore the monarchy, and allowed them a high degree of autonomy under the High Priest.

2. King Dareyavesh issued a decree to build Yerushalayim which is recorded only in the Apocryphal book of 1Esdras. As of the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month in the second year of Dareyavesh the House was not built yet despite King Koresh’s decree, but by the word of YHVH a promise was proclaimed that the House would be built and a surveyor’s line be stretched out over Yerushalayim which means that YHVH issued His decree for building of the Temple and Yerushalayim that particular year (Zec_1:7, Zec_1:12-16). Four years later, the House was finished and the building of the city continued. However, there is no indication in the annals of any dedication of the second Temple by YHVH as that was the case with the first Temple and the Tabernacle before it. So, the assumption can be made that the second Temple and the reconstruction of it by King Herod later was just a building. In support of this assumption is the fact that the Ark of the Covenant was not in it; the Most Set-apart Place was empty until the destruction of it.

3. The decree of King Artahshashta in his sixth year (Ezr_7:12-27) dealt only with the beautification of the Temple but also with the restoration of the Jewish government and Torah as the law of the land (Ezr_7:25). Keeping in mind that the Temple had already been built, this provision was very important because it was clearly understood to be an authorization for the full establishment of a theocracy and, therefore, the revival of Yerushalayim as a center of the Jewish nation. The letter the king gave to Nehemiah in his twentieth year was to give him a passage to Yehudah and to serve him before the local satrap as a permit to rebuilt the Temple gates and the city walls.

Who then issued the spoken word for the building of Yerushalayim that would commence the counting of Daniel’s 70 Weeks prophecy: King Koresh, King Dareyavesh, or King Artahshashta? Hence, which return Zerubavel‘s, Yoakim’s, or Ezra‘s is the return that ended the 70-year exile? No decree specifically granting permission to the exiles to return and rebuild the city of Yerushalayim has come down to us. Permissions were granted simply to rebuild the Temple and for the exiles to return to Yerushalayim for that purpose.

On the other hand, neither could King Koresh nor King Dareyavesh have initiated Daniel’s Seventy Weeks because that would have put the death of the Anointed One way off in the early years of the Roman empire in the land. Therefore, the conclusion of the matter is that only one could have issued the spoken word for rebuilding Yerushalayim and thus had triggered Daniel’s 70 Weeks prophecy and that was … King Artahshashta in his sixth year. Later in this study when we will properly interpolate the chronology from the Creation, it will be found that the sixth year of King Artahshashta in which he issued his famous decree was Sabbatical and the following year, when Ezra returned with the third exile, was the 70th Jubilee (see Jubilees Table). It is unclear though as to what event triggered the commencement of the 434 years counting that lead to the anointed one be cut off, and shall have nothing.

Table 3

Kings

Date

Returns

Bible Name

Bible Background

Dareyavesh the Mede

Darius

Received the kingdom at the age of sixty-two (Dan_6:1).

Koresh

559-530

First

Cyrus

Edict to rebuild the Temple in 539 BC; altar restored and foundations of Temple laid. 42,360 returned.

Ahashverosh/

Cambyses

530-521/522

Ahasurerus

Ezr_4:6; accusation was written in the beginning of his reign. (Est_1:1-2)

Pseudo Smerdis

(Artahshashta)

521/522

Artaxerxes

A second accusation was written (Ezr_4:11-16) against building of the city and a decree was issued to cease the construction of the city and Temple (Ezr_4:17-24) until the second year of Dareyavesh.

Dareyavesh

the Great,

son of Esther

522/521-486

Second

Darius I

Decree in the second year, 520 BC. Temple finished in the sixth year of Dareyavesh 516 BC, (Ezr_6:15); Wars 2:6:2.

Ahashverosh (Xerxes)

486-465

Ahasurerus

Artahshashta I

465-425

445

Third

Forth

Artaxerxes

Edict to beautify the Temple (Ezr_7:12-27) in 460 BC and the arrival of Ezra in 459 BC, Ezr_7:7-8.

445 BC with Nehemiah.

 Insert: The following is a summary of the activities of the Persian kings in Babylonian Chronicles:

1. Cyrus (Old Persian Kuruš; Hebrew Koresh) was the founder of the Mede-Persian Empire. He conquered the Media, Lydia, and Babylonian Empires. Because he was a gracious liberator, he permitted the conquered nations to worship their own gods. He was benevolent toward various captive people who had suffered under the rule of Nebukadnetsar and his successors. The Yehudim were allowed to return to Yerushalayim to rebuild their temple and Cyrus even gave financial help. Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) united the two original Iranian Tribes- the Medes and the Persians. The most important sources documenting the reign of Cyrus are the contemporary Chronicle of Nabonidus and the Cyrus cylinder.

2. Cambyses was the son of Cyrus and was given the task of conquering Egypt. He assumed the throne after his father’s death and conquered Egypt. However, on the way home from his conquest he heard that a pretender has taken the throne pretending to be another son of Cyrus called Smerdis. Cambyses died on his return trip.

3. Pseudo Smerdis, the imposter, ruled for several months. However, Darius kept the loyalty of the Persian army and eventually captured and killed Pseudo Smerdis.

4. Darius, after killing Pseudo Smerdis, defeated nine kings (local uprisings) in 19 battles in two years. These victories are recorded in the famous Behistun Inscription carved in rock some 30 miles from Kermanshah. The main hall has the inscription, “I am Darius, great king, king of kings, king of all lands — who constructed this palace.” Darius was a good organizer of his kingdom. He defeated the Greeks partially and organized an efficient postal service.

5. Xerxes was Darius’ son. He continued the war against the Greeks and continued building at Persepolis. The prophet Daniel specifically foretells that the fourth king of Persia, who was Xerxes, will incite the anger of Greece. Daniel 11:2 states: “And now will I shew thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia.”

6. Artaxerxes was the son of Xerxes who continued building at Persepolis.