Jerusalem Rebuilt for Messiah’s Coming
WHEN Jerusalem was completely desolated by the armies of her age-long rival, Babylon, and her kings of the line of David were removed from the throne under Jehovah’s disfavor, it appeared to the observer that Jerusalem was crushed forever. Babylon thought so and figured that she would keep the Jews permanently captive. Then when Jerusalem lay desolate for many years without man or domestic beast and seemed like a place haunted this supposition was more than ever confirmed in the minds of the nations round about. Satan the Devil, the god of Babylon, thought that he had scored a crushing victory. But it was absolutely impossible that Jerusalem should forever lie waste. It was an absolute certainty that she would be rebuilt. Furthermore, the temple of Jehovah would once again exist within her walls. Why was this so sure? It was because it had to do with the thing of greatest possible importance in Jehovah’s eyes. It had to do with the sacred secret of the Seed, the promise made at the very first in the Garden of Eden by Jehovah himself. It had to do with the coming of the Messiah.
WHY JERUSALEM HAD TO BE REBUILT
To Jews who were looking for the coming of the Seed and who had faith in the Word of Jehovah God, it was certain that Jerusalem would not lie forever desolate but would again be rebuilt and would again flourish. They knew from Jeremiah’s prophecy that there was a seventy-year limit on Jerusalem’s desolation. (Jer. 25:11, 12) They knew of Jerusalem’s restoration and coming glory, from the prophecy of Isaiah. (Isaiah, chapter 52) They knew that when the Messiah came Jerusalem would have to be in existence, situated on Mount Zion, and that it must contain Jehovah’s temple of true worship. True, things looked bad at the time, for even the line of the royal family had been narrowed down very thin. All the sons of Zedekiah, Judah’s last king, were destroyed and only one of the reigning family, Jehoiachin or Jeconiah, Zedekiah’s nephew, survived. Similarly with the line of the high priest. Nebuchadnezzar put Seraiah to death but spared his son Jehozadak who, like Jeconiah, became captive in Babylon. But in this dark time the very survival of these two men and the fact that no foreign nation was allowed to settle in the land during Judah’s time of desolation served as strong signs to give bright hope to the faithful ones of the Jewish exiles. They could see that God was miraculously carrying out the preservation of the kingly and priestly lines and was also miraculously holding the land open until the time he would send his own people back to rebuild Jerusalem. That the Messiah would come, not to a desolation, but to a rebuilt Jerusalem, was indicated in a remarkable prophecy at Daniel 9:25: “And you should know and have the insight that from the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Leader, there will be seven weeks, also sixty-two weeks. She will return and be actually rebuilt, with a public square and moat, but in the straits of the times.”
TEMPLE BUILDING COMPLETED
In our previous article we dealt with the return of the Jews under Zerubbabel, a descendant of the royal line, accompanied by Jeshua the high priest, the son of Jehozadak. The return was by the decree of Cyrus the Persian, the conqueror of Babylon, as Jehovah had foretold. In 536 B.C.E. these returning Jews had the foundation of Jehovah’s temple laid. But shortly afterward the Devil set a roadblock in their way by causing the Samaritan enemies of the Jews to throw up an interference, eventually getting an official ban placed on the building work by the Persian government. This weakened the Jews so much that they left off this most important work and neglected the temple structure while they built homes for themselves. But even such opposition and the failure on the part of the Jewish remnant due to fear could not stop Jehovah’s purpose. He raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah who, with great zeal and a powerful message from God, stirred up the Jews to resume the temple building. (Hag. 1:1-3, 9; Zech. 1:1-3, 16; Ezra 4:24-5:2) It was during the second year of the reign of Darius I king of Persia, fifteen years after the foundation of the temple had been laid, that these prophets began to speak. Of course, the rebuilding work was quickly noticed by the enemy and the lawfulness of their activity was brought in question before the Persian-appointed officials governing the provinces between the Euphrates River and the Mediterranean Sea. But now the Jews, inspired by Haggai and Zechariah, were fearless and continued their work. They called attention to the fact that Cyrus had made the decree that the temple should be rebuilt. Thereupon, Tattenai the governor, to whom Zerubbabel was responsible, and other officials wrote to the king of Persia for his decision. Ezra the scribe reports the results:
“It was then that Darius the king put an order through, and they made an investigation in the house of the records of the treasures deposited there in Babylon. And at Ecbatana, in the fortified place that was in the jurisdictional district of Media, there was found a scroll [not a cuneiform tablet], and the memorandum to this effect was written within it: ‘In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king put an order through concerning the house of God in Jerusalem: Let the house be rebuilt as the place where they are to offer sacrifices, and its foundations are to be fixed, its height being sixty cubits, its width sixty cubits, with three layers of stones rolled into place and one layer of timbers; and let the expense be given from the king’s house. And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God that Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon be returned, that they may reach the temple that is in Jerusalem at its place and be deposited in the house of God.’”—Ezra 6:1-5.
Darius recognized the building work as lawful and strictly told the officials: “Keep your distance from there. Let the work on that house of God alone.” Furthermore, he warned that, “as for anybody that violates this decree, a timber will be pulled out of his house and he will be impaled upon it, and his house will be turned into a public privy on this account.”—Ezra 6:6-12.
Encouraged by so manifest a blessing from God, the Jews hastened the work and in less than four and one half years’ time the temple was completed. Ezra 6:15 gives the date of completion, saying: “And they completed this house by the third day of the lunar month Adar, that is, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.” If the first year of Darius I is counted from 522 B.C.E., when his predecessor Cambyses died, then the rebuilding of the temple was completed in March of 516 B.C.E.*
The next month after Adar is Nisan. So by completing the temple on Adar 3 the Jews were able to inaugurate it in time to hold the Passover in Nisan in the beginning of the seventh year of King Darius I: “And the sons of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the former exiles held the inauguration of this house of God with joy.” (Ezra 6:16) Now worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem was fully restored. The joy of the builders must have been great, seeing the temple building fully accomplished.
CITY-BUILDING GETS ATTENTION
But what about the city itself? And what about Isaiah’s prophecy that Jerusalem would flourish and Daniel’s prophecy about the rebuilding of its public square and moat? While it was some time before this took place, still it was something that had to be done to prepare the way for the coming of Messiah the Prince. It was not until the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia that Jehovah stirred up the spirit of another faithful servant to see that this was done. This servant was Nehemiah, who at the time had the responsible position of cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia. Though he could not be in Jerusalem, nevertheless his heart was there, for there, he knew, was centered the true worship of Jehovah. Jerusalem was the place on which Jehovah’s name rested and it was the temple of Jehovah that was now rebuilt there. He tells us of his concern over the city and the delay in rebuilding revealed by a report of its condition some sixty years after the temple had been rebuilt: “Now it came about in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, that I myself happened to be in Shushan the castle. Then Hanani, one of my brothers, came in, he and other men from Judah, and I proceeded to ask about the Jews, those who had escaped, who had been left over of the captivity, and also about Jerusalem. Accordingly they said to me: ‘Those left over, who have been left over from the captivity, there in the jurisdictional district, are in a very bad plight and in reproach; and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its very gates have been burned with fire.’ . . . Now I myself happened to be cupbearer to the king.”—Neh. 1:1-3, 11.
Nehemiah was greatly grieved on hearing this report. He took the matter immediately to Jehovah in prayer. The answer to his prayer was not long in coming. He tells us: “And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him, and I as usual took up the wine and gave it to the king. But never had I happened to be gloomy before him. So the king said to me: ‘Why is your face gloomy when you yourself are not sick? This is nothing but a gloominess of heart.’ At this I became very much afraid.”—Neh. 2:1, 2.
Nehemiah explained the reason for his sadness to the king. When Artaxerxes asked: “What is this that you are seeking to secure?” Nehemiah offered a silent prayer to Jehovah and took courage to ask the king to send him to rebuild Jerusalem. The prayer was answered; King Artaxerxes was agreeable. Nehemiah relates: “So it seemed good before the king that he should send me, when I gave him the appointed time. And I went on to say to the king: ‘If to the king it does seem good, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the River [Euphrates], that they may let me pass until I come to Judah; also a letter to Asaph the keeper of the park that belongs to the king, that he may give me trees to build with timber the gates of the Castle that belongs to the house, and for the wall of the city and for the house into which I am to enter.’ So the king gave them to me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.”—Neh. 2:3-8.
How marvelously Jehovah showed that his hand was not shortened! Just as he had foretold at Daniel 9:25, the rebuilding work was done in straitened, difficult times. Even after the king’s decree Nehemiah and his fellow builders experienced many threats and much opposition from the non-Jewish people round about. Efforts were made to draw them away from the work. Nehemiah was placed in danger of his life, but by faith and trust in Almighty God and by arming themselves for defense against attack, and by sticking to the work that God had assigned them, they built the defensive walls around Zion or Jerusalem within two months. “At length the wall came to completion on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days.” (According to Nehemiah’s reckoning, the year began with Tishri and ended with Elul as the twelfth month.)—Neh. 6:15.
JEHOVAH’S FULFILLED PURPOSE BRINGS HAPPINESS
Nothing could stop Jehovah’s purpose. It was a very small matter for him to push aside the bitter foes whom Satan the Devil had aroused. They were completely blind to the glorious purpose that they were fighting against and had no understanding of the tremendous importance of this rebuilding work in connection with the coming of the Promised Seed who was to bless all families of the earth. They were unknowingly fighting against an arrangement that will result finally in blessing to many of their own number.
But Jehovah had people who loved him and his worship and who looked for Messiah’s coming. He could inspire them with the zeal and strength to do this important rebuilding work even in the straits of the times. Nehemiah relates: “And it came about that, as soon as the wall had been rebuilt, I at once set up the doors. Then there were appointed the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites. And I went on to put in command of Jerusalem Hanani my brother and Hananiah the prince of the Castle, for he was such a trustworthy man and feared the true God more than many others.”—Neh. 7:1, 2.
This was certainly the time for the greatest joy. Accordingly the next month, the month of Tishri, in the twenty-first year of Artaxerxes, the regular religious festivals for this month were celebrated: the blowing of the trumpet and the festival on the first day, the day of the new moon, the day of atonement on the tenth day and, beginning on the fifteenth day, the feast of the booths or tabernacles. Ezra the noted copyist of God’s law was there to read publicly to them the written Word of God. After the reading, Governor Nehemiah strengthened the celebrants with the words: “Do not feel hurt, for the joy of Jehovah is your stronghold.” Jehovah desired his faithful people to be happy and indeed they were, as the account reads: “The sons of Israel had not done that way from the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day, so that there came to be very great rejoicing. And there was a reading aloud of the book of the law of the true God day by day, from the first day until the last day; and they went on holding the festival seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.”—Neh. 8:1-18.
Though the account of the inauguration of the walls is not recorded until farther along in the book of Nehemiah, yet it probably took place after the above-mentioned religious ceremony. It enabled the Israelites to extend beyond the festivals the expression of their rejoicing that overflowed. We read: “At the inauguration of the wall of Jerusalem they looked for the Levites, to bring them out of all their places to Jerusalem to carry on an inauguration and a rejoicing even with thanksgivings and with song, cymbals and stringed instruments and with harps.” It was a colorful inauguration with two processions formed to march in opposite directions on the finished wall. The wall had not a break in it. “At length the two thanksgiving choirs came to a stand at the house of the true God, also,” says Nehemiah, “I and half of the deputy rulers with me, and the priests . . . And the singers with Izrahiah the overseer kept making themselves heard.” Following this the celebrators went to the temple on Mount Moriah and great sacrifices were joyfully offered on Jehovah’s altar. “For the true God himself caused them to rejoice with great joy. And also the women and the children themselves rejoiced, so that the rejoicing of Jerusalem could be heard far away.”—Neh. 12:27-43.
How marvelously Jehovah God showed his power to bring about his purposes! What a victory over Satan the Devil and what a humiliation to the opposers to Jehovah’s true worship! What spiritual strengthening for the faithful Jewish remnant there at Jerusalem! They were doubly sure of Jehovah’s loving-kindness and the certainty of his purposes. With what confidence and zeal they could sing God’s praises and relate to their children and to others God’s marvelous works! Even they at that time could not fully understand the marvelous part they played in God’s purposes. But how they will rejoice when they come back in a resurrection at the hands of the Messiah for whom they looked and when they find the part that Jehovah allowed them to play in the development of his purposes concerning the great Messiah, the Seed of promise!
By gathering his people back to Jerusalem, God kept a nation intact to whom the Messiah came. Much of the Messiah’s preaching was done in the temple area, where many who came up to worship Jehovah could hear and be among his first followers. Outside its gates he gave his life in sacrifice for mankind. Truly, it was an essential part of God’s purpose for Jerusalem to be restored after its desolation by Babylon. But there is another very important factor with regard to these events and Daniel’s prophecy concerning them. That is the time of their occurrence. It provides us with one of the most accurate identifications of the Messiah. It helps all believers in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jew or Gentile, to prove for themselves features of the ministry of God’s promised Messiah that can lead to their salvation. This important subject will be discussed in our next issue.
Since Darius I did not establish himself in Babylon until defeating the rebel Nebuchadnezzar III in December of 522 and shortly afterward capturing and killing him in Babylon, the year 522 B.C.E. may be viewed as the accession year of King Darius I. Since the regnal year of a Persian king began in the spring month of Nisan, the first regnal year of King Darius I would begin in the spring of 521 B.C.E., as presented in Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.–A.D. 75 (page 28), by Parker and Dubberstein. In that case the sixth regnal year of King Darius I began April 11-12, 516 B.C.E., and continued to the end of the twelfth lunar month (Adar) of his sixth year, or to the end of March of 515 B.C.E. On this basis, the rebuilding of the temple was completed by Zerubbabel on March 5-6 of 515 B.C.E.