When I go on holiday I like to take a number of books with me but usually end up focusing on only one. I never know which that is going to be when I’m packing, it all depends on how I feel when I get there, so 5 or 6 books end up being transported around the country or across the world without ever being opened. On my last holiday I took Bruce Ware’s “God’s Greater Glory”, “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan, “Supernatural Lifestyle” by Kris Vallotton, “The Dancing Hand of God” by James Maloney and “The Bible for Dummies”. Which do you think turned out to be “the one”? It was the last one, “The Bible for Dummies”. I actually really like this book. Reading it gives away that I don’t know as much as I should. I may swallow my pride and recommend it to the students at the UEA CU in a couple of months time when I talk about “How to read the bible”. It may just be me but I find it gives a really helpful overview of the whole bible in a way that is clear, interesting and informative. I’ll share here my notes from what I read.
The first things that captured my attention was the chapter about the major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. (They are called major prophets simply because their books are bigger than the minor prophets in the Bible).
Isaiah prophesies to the southern kingdom between 742 BC and 700 BC during which time the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 BC. In 701 BC Hezekiah was persuaded by Isaiah to repent and an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers who were besieging Jerusalem.
Jeremiah prophesied between 626 BC and 580 BC during which time the southern kingdom was carried off into exile by the Babylonians (first wave in 605BC) and the temple and Jerusalem was destroyed (586 BC). Ezekiel was carried off to Babylon in the first wave 10 years before the destruction of Jerusalem and was the prophet to the exiles there. After 25 years in exile he sees an elaborate vision of the temple being rebuilt and the nation of Israel reunited (573BC).
The second chapter I read was about was the events surrounding the rebuilding of Jerusalem. In 538 BC, after almost 70 years of exile, Cyrus, the great Persian King, overthrew the Babylonians and encouraged people to return to their own homelands. In Ezra 1:24 he says that “the LORD, the God of heaven…has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem..whoever is among you of all his people…let him go to Jerusalem.. and rebuild the house of the LORD.” Some Israelites go but many choose to stay (the Babylonian Jews later wrote the Babylonian Talmud, a important collection of Jewish laws and stories, in the 3rd-5th century BC).
Sheshbazzar leads the first wave of Jews back to Jerusalem and they start rebuilding the foundations of what is termed “the second temple”. For some reason they don’t complete it and 18 years later, in 520 BC, Zerubbabel leads another band of Israelites in finishing the alter and then the foundations. Some are happy, while others weep as it’s not a big as Solomon’s first glorious temple.
The Samaritans get the hump because they aren’t allowed to help rebuild the temple and persuade the local Persian authorities that the Jews will rebel. After looking into it and confirming that the Jews do in fact have a habit of doing just that, they order the work to stop.
God sends Zachariah and Haggai to encourage the Jews to start again. Zachariah takes the role of “good cop” giving encouraging prophecies of the future while Haggai takes the role of “bad cop” telling the people off for sorting out their own homes while neglecting God’s house.
When the Israelites start building again, the local authorities check the situation with Darius, the new Persian king, who upholds Cyrus’ decree and provides money to make it happen.
In 515 BC the temple is completed and the Passover is celebrated with sacrifices for the first time in 70 years.
In 458BC Another Persian king Artaxerxes (According to the Rose Book of Bible and Christian History Time Lines, the order of Kings is Cyrus the great 559-530, Cambysees 529-522, Darius I 522-486, Pericles 500-429, Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) 485-465), Artaxerxes I 464-424, Darius II 423-405, Artaxerxes II 404-359, Artaxerxes III 358-337) sends an expert in Jewish law, called Ezra, with money to see how things are progressing in Jerusalem and help them along. Ezra leads the people, ushering in a long period of priestly rule that was still in place in Jesus’ day. Ezra gets the Israelites to divorce their foreign wives.
In 445 BC Nehemiah, the cupbearer (the royal official in charge of food preparation) to the Persian king Artaxerxes learns that the walls of Jerusalem are in ruins. The King grants him permission to go to Jerusalem and sends him off with protection and resources to rebuild the walls. (These Persian kings seem really determined to rebuild Jerusalem. I am reminded of Proverb 21:1: The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.).
Nehemiah organizes people to work on the walls near their own homes. The Samaritans are out to cause trouble again but the Jews finish the wall with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other in 52 days (Neh 6:15).
Ezra then reads the law to the people while others walk about helping them to understand it. The next day they discover its the holiday of Booths or Sukkot so they pitch tents and celebrate the desert wanderings.
So if I can summaries all that on a short time line:
742 BC Isaiah start to prophecy to Judah
721BC Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians
701 BC Hezekiah repents and Angel wipes out Assyrians besieging Jerusalem
700 BC Isaiah stops prophesying BC.
626 BC Jeremiah starts prophesying
605BC First wave of Jews carried off into Babylonians exile inc. Ezekiel
586 BC Temple and Jerusalem destroyed
580 BC Jeremiah stops prophesying
573BC Ezekiel’s vision of the temple being rebuilt and nation reunited.
538 BC Cyrus overthrows the Babylonians and decrees Jews can return home and rebuild. Sheshbazzar leads the first wave of Jews back to Jerusalem to start
520 BC Zerubbable leads another band of Israelites back and finish the altar and then the foundations. It’s a bitter sweet time.
The Samaritans get the hump and persuade the local Persian authorities to stop building.
Zachariah and Haggai encourage Jews to start again.
Persian King Darius who upholds Cyrus’ decree and provides more money
515 BC Temple completed and Passover celebrated with sacrifices
458BC Artaxerxes sends Ezra, with money to continue rebuilding homeland.
Ezra gets the Israelites to divorce their foreign wives.
445 BC Nehemiah sent by Artaxerxes to rebuild the walls who takes 52 days to do it.
Ezra the reads the law and they celebrate Booths.
and my first attempt at it in picture form:
Greater Prophets to rebuilding of Jerusalem
All in all a very informative holiday.