Prophetic Temple Rebuilding by the “Sons of the Exile”
FAITHFUL Jews languishing in Babylonian captivity had much reason to mourn. “Because of the sins of her prophets, the errors of her priests,” we read, ‘Jehovah had rejected his altar. He had spurned his sanctuary.’ Yes, their land lay waste, their temple was a heap of ruins and they themselves were the laughingstock of the nations. No wonder their psalmist wrote: “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down. We also wept when we remembered Zion.”—Lam. 4:13; 2:7; Ps. 137:1.
Those unhappy exiles, however, not only wept but they also prayed, and Jehovah heard their prayer, in keeping with Solomon’s petition some five hundred years before: ‘In case they sin against you (for there is no man that does not sin), and you have to be incensed at them and abandon them to the enemy and their captors actually carry them off captive and they indeed come to their senses and make request to you for favor, and they indeed return to you with all their heart, then you must hear from the heavens and must execute judgment for them.’—1 Ki. 8:46-49.
Since the king of Babylon would not let God’s people go, Jehovah caused his world rule to be toppled over by an empire that would co-operate with the divine will, the Medo-Persian. Thus it was that toward the end of the foretold seventy years of desolation, in 537 B.C.—exactly on time—Cyrus issued his memorable liberation decree. Jehovah no doubt put this into Cyrus’ heart by having Daniel point out to Cyrus what divine prophecy had to say about him. Cyrus not only permitted Jews to return to build the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem and urged Jews not returning to contribute toward temple rebuilding, but he himself aided by restoring all the temple utensils that Nebuchadnezzar had carried off to Babylon. In passing it might be observed that although Cyrus’ decree sounds as if he had become a proselyte to Jehovah’s worship, such was not the case. Rather, it was merely in keeping with his policy of freedom of religion.—Ezra 1:1-8; Isa. 44:28; Dan. 9:1, 2.
ZERUBBABEL REBUILDS TEMPLE
About fifty thousand devoted servants of Jehovah took advantage of this liberation decree of Cyrus, while many others assisted by making contributions. Heading the returning exiles were Governor Zerubbabel of the tribe of Judah and Joshua the high priest. Among the very first things Joshua and his brother priests did was to erect an altar for the offering of the daily morning and evening sacrifices. As they began with the temple building, no doubt they were able to use the very stones that had been part of Solomon’s temple, and so we do not read of their quarrying any stone. But with the timbers it was different. The Babylonians had burned the temple, and so we read that the returned Israelites paid the Sidonians and Tyrians to cut cedars of Lebanon and ship them to Joppa, even as Solomon had paid King Hiram’s men to do the same. In the second year of their return the foundation of the temple was laid, which called for appropriate ceremonies praising Jehovah. While some of the old men who had seen Solomon’s temple wept, the rest shouted for joy.—Ezra 3:1-13.
“When the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the sons of the Exile were building a temple to Jehovah the God of Israel, they immediately” offered to help, saying that they were serving the same God. Because their offers of help were refused these adversaries so slandered the Jews—rather libeled them, as their charges were put in writing—to the Magian Gaumata, who pretended to be Smerdis and who became ruler of Persia for a short time, that he issued a decree forbidding further temple construction. Doubtless it was with malicious glee that these adversaries, by strength of arms, forced the Jews to stop rebuilding the temple. How insincere they thereby showed their claim to be of worshiping the same God as did the Jews!—Ezra 4:1-24.
Did this action on the part of their adversaries relieve the sons of the Exile from their responsibility to rebuild Jehovah’s house? Zerubbabel and those with him apparently thought so, for they became so engrossed in materialistic pursuits as to stop temple building. To show them the seriousness of the situation Jehovah withheld material blessings from them and sent his prophets Haggai and Zechariah to drive this fact home to them. These prophets rebuked their fellow Jews for their materialism, pointed out to them in no uncertain terms that their spiritual prosperity was to come first and that, in fact, their material prosperity depended upon it, and they spurred them on to temple building.—Ezra 5:1, 2; Hag. 1:1-15.
Again their adversaries sought to stop them by libeling them to the Persian government, at this time Darius I (Hystaspes) being on the throne. The sons of the Exile, however, fought back, pointing to the decree of Cyrus authorizing them to rebuild the temple, and as a consequence the action of their enemies boomeranged. Not only did Darius permit the Jews to continue with their temple rebuilding and decree death for any that would interfere, but he ordered these very adversaries to supply materials for temple construction! What a victory that was! So it was that in a little more than four years, in 516 B.C., the temple was completed.—Ezra 5:1 to 6:15.
According to the decree of Cyrus the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem was to be ninety feet (sixty cubits) wide and as high. It is likely that these were outside measurements and that therefore this temple was not much wider or higher than that of Solomon. Be that as it may, it is certain that as to material splendor, Zerubbabel’s temple did not compare with Solomon’s. More than that, it was also inferior as to spiritual treasures, as it was without the Ark of the covenant, the tables of the Law and the supernatural Shekinah light, indicative of Jehovah’s presence.
Nor does it appear that the inauguration of Zerubbabel’s temple was comparable to that of Solomon’s, when doubtless upward of a million Israelites crowded into Jerusalem. In fact, less than one percent as many cattle and sheep were offered in 516 B.C. as in 1027 B.C. Neither is there any record of a cloudlike glory filling the latter house as it did the former and of a fire from heaven consuming the sacrifices and burnt offerings.
Though inferior as it most likely was in all these respects, Zerubbabel’s temple nevertheless did serve Jehovah’s purpose as the place of meeting between Jehovah and his covenant people. Particularly did it hold an honorable position in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Artaxerxes I (Longimanus) generously decreed at that time regarding “the priests and the Levites, the musicians, the doorkeepers, the Nethinim [temple slaves], and the workers of this house of God,” that “no tax, tribute or toll is allowed to be imposed upon them.” At their assemblies the people would crowd into the temple courts and Ezra would make public declaration and prayer in front of the sanctuary or temple proper.—Ezra 7:24.
A CHECKERED EXISTENCE
Zerubbabel’s temple had a checkered existence, even as did that of Solomon, although at no time was it as grossly defiled by Israelite hands, for at times they had set up idols in the courts of Solomon’s temple and once even nailed its doors shut. Still, even in Nehemiah’s day—while he was away at the Persian court—the Jews showed lack of appreciation of their temple. Thus we read that upon his return he found the Levites and priests working their farms instead of attending to temple duties, because the people failed to bring in the tithe as they had solemnly agreed to do earlier in Nehemiah’s governorship.—Neh. 10:32, 33; 13:10, 11.
Chief of the pagan defilers of Zerubbabel’s temple doubtless was Antíochus Epíphanes, a fanatical Syrian ruler. Frustrated in his ambition to extend his domains, it is said, he tried to satisfy his vanity and lust for power by embarking on a crusade to Hellenize his subject peoples. Determined to eradicate the religion and customs of the Jews, he invaded Jerusalem in 170 B.C. and robbed the temple of many of its treasures. Two years later he showed the degree of his contempt for Jehovah’s house by sacrificing a sow upon its great altar, at which time he also established a garrison in Jerusalem to see to it that his pagan policies were carried out.
This religious oppression sparked the revolt of the Maccabees. Three years later, to the very day of that initial defilement of the temple by Antíochus, the Maccabean general Judas Maccabeus entered Jerusalem at the head of a victorious army, cleansed the temple and rededicated it. (The record of all this is found in the book of First Maccabees, the only one of the Apocrypha historically reliable.) In commemoration of this event the feast of dedication was celebrated annually, reference to which is made in the Scriptures: “At that time the feast of dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was wintertime.”—John 10:22.
Some hundred years later, in 63 B.C., a Roman army under General Pompey attacked the temple area of Jerusalem from the north, resulting in a great massacre of Jews in the temple courts. In 54 B.C. the plundering Roman politician Crassus robbed the temple of some ten million dollars worth of treasures. In 37 B.C. King Herod, in his war with the Jewish Asmonean rulers, the dynasty that resulted from the success of the Maccabean revolt, stormed the temple and destroyed some of its halls. Then about twenty years later, or after standing five hundred years, Zerubbabel’s temple gradually made way for its successor, Herod’s temple.
The Scriptural record of temple rebuilding by the sons of the Exile is part of the “all things that were written aforetime” for our instruction. Contained therein are forceful lessons in appreciation of Jehovah’s manner of dealing with his servants, as well as striking prophetic patterns or parallels that throw light on our roadway, making clear the divine will for us.—Rom. 15:4.
As the Israelites back there, because of their derelictions, were permitted by God to be taken captive by ancient Babylon in 607 B.C., so God permitted his people in modern times, for similar reasons, to be taken captive by modern spiritual and mystic Babylon, the world organization of the Devil, during World War I. And as back there in 537 B.C., after seventy literal years of captivity, Jehovah gave a marvelous display of his loving-kindness by having Cyrus set free the Jews (even as Jeremiah had foretold), so in 1919, after a symbolic seventy years, as it were, Jehovah gave a like display of his loving-kindness by having his Greater Cyrus, Jesus Christ, set his people free.—Lam. 3:22-24.
The Scriptures further show that Jehovah caused the sons of the Exile back there to return primarily for his name’s sake. So also today his words apply: “I do not this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for my holy name, . . . and the nations shall know that I am Jehovah.” Then again, as Zerubbabel back there directed temple rebuilding, so today Jehovah has a Greater Zerubbabel, Jesus Christ, who is directing temple activity. And as back there Jehovah blessed the Israelites because of holding their ground and fighting for their rights in the days of Darius I (Persian), so today Jehovah is blessing his people as they fight to defend and legally establish the pure worship of Jehovah at his temple. Where they do not have recourse to the courts they continue underground until forcibly restrained, even as the sons of the Exile in the days of the pretender Smerdis kept on building until forcibly restrained by their adversaries.—Ezek. 36:22, 23, AS.
A valuable lesson also may be drawn regarding the snare of materialism. Back there Jehovah’s blessing was withheld because of materialistic tendencies, which caused temple building to be delayed for many years, as well as temple service to be neglected in Nehemiah’s day. So today we cannot expect Jehovah’s blessing upon our efforts if we give his temple service second place in our lives because of the snare of materialism. And as back there the Jews were under obligation to support temple worship with the tithe or tenth, so we today must give, not a literal tithe but a spiritual or figurative tithe, which stands for all that we can directly give to Jehovah’s service as a token of our having dedicated ourselves to Him.
Last, but by no means least, is the striking and heart-cheering prophecy uttered back there but which is being fulfilled for the first time in our day: “I will shake all nations; and the precious things of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith Jehovah of hosts.” (Hag. 2:7, AS) Some five hundred years after that prophecy was given Paul quoted from its context and applied it to the future. Fulfillment of Bible prophecy shows that this shaking began in 1914 with the birth of God’s kingdom.—Heb. 12:27, 28; Rev. 12:1-12.
The announcing of this fact, together with all its implications, has had a world-shaking effect, resulting in the bringing of the precious things of all nations to God’s temple. What or who are these precious things? Not the material wealth, neither the high and mighty of the nations. No, the most precious or desirable things of all nations from God’s standpoint are the men of good will toward God, lovers of righteousness, who are separating themselves from this wicked world’s religious, political and commercial organizations and are associating themselves with Jehovah’s spiritual temple, the remaining ones of the Christian congregation of God. These are filling God’s house with glory by bringing to it their heartfelt devotion and service. Truly the account of the rebuilding of Zerubbabel’s temple and the restoration of pure worship at Jerusalem is filled with striking prophetic patterns and valuable admonition for God’s people today!