"Send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it." These are the words of Nehemiah to the king of Persia, pleading to return to his homeland. But, this is more the end of the story than the beginning.
The second most pivotal point in the history of Judaism is little-known to many Christians. After the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, the rest is pretty much mush in our minds until Jesus arrives. Let us fix that.
As mentioned in the last post, the Kingdom of Israel split North and South after the reign of Solomon. The Northern kingdom was the largest and remained in a near constant state of idolatry. As a result, their kingdom only lasted 200 years before sent into exile, never to return.
The Southern kingdom was moderately more obedient and worshiped the One True God on occasion. They fared somewhat better and lasted for 350 years. At this point, Babylon took the entire nation into exile.
The exile presents the ultimate reversal. The Old Testament is based on God's promise of commitment to Israel. Israel was to remain in the land as long as they remained in the Lord. But, when they left God, he allowed them to bear the consequences of their actions. However, they were not left in Babylon without promise. Later leaders of Babylon allowed the Israelites to return to their land and rebuild.
This return from exile happened around 500 B.C. and marks a new period in the history of the nation. During the exile, the Israelites were forced to worship differently. In the absence of a temple, they formed synagogues to say prayers and worship wherever they were. In fact, modern churches owe their existence to the synagogue system developed during the exile.
Additionally, Israel learned the importance of obedience to God, and that He would always remain faithful to them. It was also in this newly rebuilt Israel that they began to look for a messiah. Easily a dozen messianic pretenders arose in the next few centuries, but only One started a lasting movement. He is our next focus.
(This is part of the Half-Mil Bible history, focusing on key events in Judeo-Christian history every 500 years. The first post was on the Exodus, and the second post was on the establishment of the monarchy.)