A Brief Look at Jewish History: The Period before and after the Exile

Welcome back friends!  We’re spending a few days examining a bit of Jewish history in order to further understand how to rightly understand and relate to them.  It is certainly not an exhaustive look at history, but enough to provide insight.  Yesterday we laid a basic foundation, including the fact that God’s covenants with Abraham and Moses formed a two-pronged identity (national and religious).  Today we will examine the period in history leading up to and following the Babylonian exile (586 BC) and the impact it had on that identity.

The Abrahamic covenant promised land and descendants and the Mosaic covenant laid out the laws in which to live.  So, Jews commonly observed the feasts and studied the Torah.  God spoke to them through prophets, and they lived in their land.  The Temple was the seat of religion and required sacrifices were made there.  Both their religious and national identities were intact.

However, the kingdom split following King Solomon’s reign, and the “Temple system” began falling apart.  Jeroboam built a second temple in the north, and series of evil kings ruled both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  Both kingdoms were severely weakened and disunity left them vulnerable to attack.  Subsequently, the Northern Kingdom was taken into captivity by Assyria in the second half of the eighth century BC, and Babylon took the Southern Kingdom into captivity in 586 BC.

While in exile, the Jewish people had no temple, no land and no king.  Many turned to idols of a strange land, yet God was faithful to continue speaking to His people through the prophets.  He revealed to Ezekiel that the land of Israel would become desolate due to their idolatry (Ezekiel 33:23-29), but would that He would restore the land for their return (Ezekiel 36:1-12).

After 70 years of captivity, the Babylonians had been defeated by the Medes, who allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland.  Though the Temple was re-built, things were not quite the same.  First, a large number of Jews had grown comfortable with life in Babylon, so many stayed.  Back home, a different dynasty of kings (Hasmonean) ultimately ruled, and God no longer spoke through prophets.

As more and more vestiges of original Jewish ideology faded, the unspeakable occurred: the second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans, and Jews were dispersed all over the world.  Most elements of Jewish identity faded away.  Not only were they no longer living in the land (national identity), but the centerpiece of Jewish religious life was no longer the Temple (religious identity).

We clearly see reasons why Jewish identity began to fade.  With no Temple, no land, and Abraham’s descendants scattered all over the globe, how in the world could Jewish identity continue?  Stay tuned as we examine the Jewish solution to that dilemma.

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