Following the Exile of the Hebrews From Babylon
Before the Babylonian exile, Biblical prophesy reached its
highest point. Prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel
changed and molded the scope of the Israelite religion.
Their writings were intelligent, insightful, well
developed, and contained a great spiritual meaning.
Following the Babylonian exile, however, prophesy took a
depressing downward turn. There are many post exilic
prophets, yet their writings are usually short, mostly
irrelevant, repetitive, and, for the most part, anonymous.
Though this is the case for many of these prophets, their
works cannot be overlooked. Haggai and Zechariah were
leaders in the cultic reform of the Israelite people.
Malachai calmed their fears, and assured them of God's
love. Still other prophets told of a new, Messianic time
when the word of the Lord would be held in its former
glory. These were the most important works, as post exilic
Israel needed not only protection, but spiritual guidance
to sustain their society.
The prophet Haggai was in integral figure in uniting
theIisraelite people. Upon return to their homeland, the
Israelites found most of the infrastructure in a state of
disrepair, with the people uncaring for their moral and
social responsibilities, to say nothing for their religious
practices. (OVC) Even the temple of the Lord had been
destroyed. Haggai emphasized the return to a more cultic
society. Through Haggai, God explained the plight of the
Israelite people, as in Haggai 1:6: "You have sown much,
but harvested little; you eat, but there is not enough to
be satisfied; you put on clothing, but no one is warm
enough...Why? Because of My house which lies desolate while
each of you runs to his own house." (Haggai 1:9) the word
of Haggai is accepted as the word of God, and the temple is
rebuilt in less than four years. "I am with you," said the
Lord,in Haggai 1:13 when the temple was finally built. (EIB)
The prophesy of Haggai did not end with the building of the
Lord's temple. He offered a message of hope to the people
of Israel. Haggai said that the promises made by God would
be kept, now that He had a dwelling place within the city.
God inspired the people of the newly reformed city, saying:
"Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former
glory?...Does it not seem to you like nothing in
comparison? the latter glory of this house will be greater
than the former, and in this place I shall give peace."
(Haggai 2:3,9) He also talks of a time of political
upheaval and reform, when he promises to "overthrow the
thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms
and nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their
riders, and the horses and their riders will go down, every
one by the sword of another." (Haggai 2:22)
The "latter glory" foretold in Haggai's prophesy is
emphasized in the book of Zechariah. Zechariah prophesied
in the shadow of Haggai, but gave his words a slightly
different spin. He emphasizes, like the pre-exilic
prophets, the importance of a moral reform among the
israelites. Zechariah's way of recieving the word of God is
very unique among the prophets. the word comes to him in
the form of eight visions. These "colorful and strange"
visions make up most of his book. (OVC) the visions are so
bizarre that the Lord sends an angel as in interpreter, so
that Zeccariah can derive meaning from them. (I have taken
descriptions of these visions, from the OVC and other
texts, and combined them with actual verses from the bible
in order to create these descriptions.)
The first of these eight visions is that of four angels,
whose amazing speed is symbolized by horses. These four
angels report that all is at peace with the nation, because
the opponents to the nation have been silenced. This is
called "a time of universal peace" (Carstensen, OVC). Even
though the land is peaceful, the Lord is not, and he
expresses his hatred toward those who have been allied
against the Israelites.
The second vision is of four horns and four smiths. This
vision fortells the complete destruction of the enemies of
God. the horns may be the four most powerful armies allied
against the nation, and the smiths could be the angels sent
by God to protect the inhabitants of the nation.
The third vision begins with a man marking off the city
boundaries with a plumb line. Again, and angel interpreter
tells Zechariah to inform the man that there need be no
boundary lines, because the city shall have no walls. it
goes on to say that if there is true faith and belief in
the Lord, a city without any defenses will be safer than
the most heavily armored city. The second part of this
vision is an invitation to the Israelite armies to share in
the destruction of their enemies. This vision is
significant because it describes the Lord dwelling with his
people, an event which creates happiness in and of itself,
not only because people are pleased that the Lord is with
them, but because the Lord does not choose to surround
Himself with depressed people.
The fourth vision is very significant, in that the
character of Satan is reintroduced as the adversary.
Joshua, the high priest, is brought on trial, with an angel
as judge. Satan brings these charges to the court, and
accuses Joshua. the angel of the Lord removes Joshua's
clothes, and replaces them with a white robe, symbolizing
the absolution of sin from the Israelite population. Joshua
is given the responsiblity of being a moral and spiritual
leader in society.
In the fifth vision, there is a golden lampstand, adorned
by seven lamps. These lamps smbolize the light of the Lord,
and His vision, which not only gives light to the people,
but oversees the actions of the people, both on and off of
holy ground. On either side of the lampstand are two olive
trees, representative of Joshua and Zerubbabel.
In the sixth vision, God uses a large, flying scroll to
symbolize a curse on evildoers, mostly thieves and liars.
The curse gives an ominous vision of death to those who
disobey the word of God. Though theft and perjury are the
only two sins mentioned here, they are probably just
symbols of a longer list of greater sins which would fall
under this curse.
The seventh vision speaks of a woman trapped in a wine
cask. The angel lifts the lead cover to show Zechariah the
woman, who is called Wickedness. The angel talks of
building a temple in the land of Shinar, where she will be
sent so that the Israelite land will be absolved of sin.
The eighth is a wrap-up, in the tradition of the first
vision. Four horsemen bring news that the land is calm, and
now that His people are reformed, God is also calm. Later
in this chapter, there is also talk of the coronation of
Joshua, the son of the high priest. It is told that later,
Joshua would build the temple of the Lord, uniting the
people and nations of the Middle East.
Zechariah and Haggai both told of the rebuilding of the
temple and the return to the cultic society by the
Israelites. Haggai focused more on the cultic activities
than Zechariah. This is not to say that Haggai ignored the
moral aspects of society. He believed, through the building
of the temple, the Lord would reside in the city, and the
community would come together. Zechariah prophesied to the
same ends, in that by unifying the people, the Lord would
be with them, and further, by rebuilding His temple, the
people would return to their former religious ways. God
would see this, and want to reside with His people. Through
both of these books, there are undertones of a future
society, where the power of God would be realized.
The future society is the focus of the books of Malachai
and Obadiah. The prophet known as Malachai could have been
anyone. The word Malachai, in Hebrew, means "messenger".
The author of the book of Malachai told of another prophet
who would be born to the earth to prepare the people for
the return of their God. The later editors assumed that the
prophet was referring to himself, which was not necessarily
the case. He brought a word of warning to the Israelites,
warning them that their half hearted attempts at sacrifice
would not be sufficient. He said, "A son honors his father,
and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is
My honor? If I am a master, where is My respect?" (Malachi
1:6) He goes on to tell the priests how they have upset him
so: "You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you
say, 'how have we defiled Thee?'...But when you present the
blind for sacrifice, is it not evil?" (Malachai 1:7,8). The
Lord then goes on to invite the Israelites to offer such
inferior animals to their governor, and see if their
community leader is as forgiving.
Much of the post-exilic prophesy is warning, with
undertones of a glorious future. Through these prophets, we
see a sence of rebuilding, of picking up the nation where
it left off. Much of the ceremonial history of the
Israelites is shaped in this time period, mostly by Haggai,
who believed that a strong sense of ceremony must accompany
a strong moral belief to satisfy the Lord. Furthermore, to
receive the Lord's residence with the people as well as his
blessing, there must be a suitable house in which he can
Palaces, beliefs, and the restructuring and rebuilding of
society all played a major role in the healing of the
Israelite population following the Babylonian exile. These
prophets played an important part in leading the people to
social stability. Their words are a minor portion of the
Bible, but the implications of their words drastically
shaped the Israelite society.
It amazed me that such a minor spot in such a huge book
could have such great implications on a society. Had these
prophets not interceded in the affairs of the Israelites,
the entire Jewish religion would have been on the verge of
collapse. Many of the practices and beliefs set during the
post-exilic period have lasted in Israel for hundreds of
years. I found it ironic, however, that after the nation
healed itself, it immediatly began to discuss plans for war
with other nations. Throughout the Bible, there are
discussions of prosperity and peace, but does it have to
come at the expense of other nations? It would have been
more economical for the Israelites to at least establish a
solid medium for trade, and a constant source of manpower
and funds before they began to wage war on other cities. In
researching this paper, I found the OVC to be especially
helpful. It contained a verse by verse breakdown of the
entire book, as well as historical backgrounds. Scripture
quotations are from my New American Standard Bible.
Achtemeier, Paul J. Harper's Bible Dictionary. Harper and
Barker, William P. Everyone in the Bible. Fleming H.
Brownrigg, Ronald and Comay, Joan. Who's Who in the Bible.
Crown Publishers, Inc, 1946 and 1952.
Carey, Gary. Cliff's Notes on Old Testament. Cliffs Notes,
Carstensen, Roger N. The Book of Zechariah. From the
Interpreter's One Volume Commentary on the Bible. Abingdon