God’s people, called to be a blessing to the world, have failed. The kingdom is destroyed, and they are in exile, far from the land promised to them, displaced in every way.
We are here, in Babylon
We are here, clinging to the promise, hoping, waiting.
“Not a king in all the earth – no one in all the world – would have believed an enemy could march through the gates of Jerusalem. Yet it happened because of the sins of her prophets and priests.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners. We are orphaned and fatherless. Our mothers are widowed. We have to pay for water to drink, and even firewood is expensive.
The old men are treated with contempt. The young men are led away to work at millstones, and the children stagger under heavy loads of wood.
Jerusalem is empty and desolate, a place haunted by Jackals.
When Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon… he ordered Ashpenaz, who was in charge of the palace officials to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives.
They were to be trained for a three-year period, and then some of them would be made his advisers in the royal court. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah.
God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for learning the literature and science of the time. And God gave Daniel special ability in understanding the meanings of visions and dreams.
So they were appointed to the king’s regular staff of advisors. In all matters requiring wisdom and balanced judgement, the king found the advice of these young men to be ten times better than that of all the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.
One night during the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that disturbed him so much that he couldn’t sleep. He called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, and demanded that they tell him what he had dreamed.
Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, “Long live the king! Tell us the dream, and we will tell you what it means.”
But the king said to his astrologers, “I am serious about this. If you don’t tell me what my dream was and what is means, you will be torn limb from limb, and your houses will be demolished into heaps of rubble! … Tell me the dream, and then I will know that you can tell me what it means.”
The astrologers replied to the king, “There isn’t a man alive who can tell Your Majesty his dream! And no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician, enchanter, or astrologer! This is an impossible thing the king requires. No one except the gods can tell you your dream, and they do not live among people.”
The king was furious when he heard this, and he sent out orders to execute all the wise men of Babylon. And because of the king’s decree, men were sent to find and kill Daniel and his friends.
Daniel went at once to see the king and requested more time so he could tell the king what the dream meant. Then Daniel went home… He urged his friends to as the God of heaven to show them mercy by telling them the secret, so they would not be executed along with the other wise men of Babylon. That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision.
Then Daniel went to the king and explained:
“No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.”
“You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.
“This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory… You are that head of gold.
“After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom… Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom.
“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.
Daniel 2:16-19, 27-28,31-41,44-48
Nebuchadnezzar died, and Daniel served his successor. God continued to protect Daniel and his friends, and rescue them from their enemies. Then, as the dream foretold, Babylon was overthrown and Darius of Media became king – an inferior kingdom, a kingdom of silver.
During the first year of King Darius’s reign, I, Daniel, was studying the writings of the prophets. I learned from the word of the Lord, as recorded by Jeremiah the prophet, that Jerusalem must lie desolate for seventy years.
Daniel had re-discovered Jeremiah’s promises. The prophet had warned of impending disaster, but he had also foretold a return. Daniel read Jeremiah’s words:
“Is Israel not still my son, my darling child?” asks the LORD. “I had to punish him, but I still love him. I long for him and surely will have mercy on him.”
“The day will come”, says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
“I will do for Israel and Judah all the good I have promised them. At that time I will bring to the throne of David a righteous descendant, and he will do what is just and right throughout the land… David will forever have a descendant sitting on the throne of Israel.”
“A nation will attack Babylon from the north and bring such destruction that no one will live in her again … Then the people of Israel and Judah will join together,” says the LORD, “weeping and seeking the LORD their God. They will ask the way to Jerusalem and will start back home again. They will bind themselves to the LORD with an eternal covenant that will never again be broken.”
When Daniel understood this, he turned to God and prayed:
“O Lord, you are a great awesome God! You always fulfil your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and keep your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong.
You have done exactly what you warned you would do against us and our rulers. Never in all history has there been a disaster like the one that happened in Jerusalem.
O Lord, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary.
I went on praying and confessing my sin and the sins of my people, pleading with the Lord my God for Jerusalem, his holy mountain. As I was praying, Gabriel, whom I had seen in [an earlier] vision, came swiftly to me at the time of the evening sacrifice. He explained to me, “Daniel, I have come here to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying, a command was given. I am here to tell you what it was, for God loves you very much.”
“Now listen and understand! Seven sets of seven plus sixty-two sets of seven will pass from the time the command is given to rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One comes. Jerusalem will be rebuilt with streets and strong defences, despite the perilous times. After this period of sixty-two sets of seven, the Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing, and a ruler will arise whose armies will destroy the city and the Temple… He will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings.”
“As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you.”
Daniel saw many other visions of the future, of the empires that would rise and fall at God’s command. Jerusalem would be rebuilt, although Daniel himself would not live to see it. Then as he had foreseen, the Persians conquered the Medes, and King Cyrus took the throne.
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the LORD fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy by stirring the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation into writing and to send it throughout his kingdom: “This is what King Cyrus of Persia says, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem in the land of Judah. All of you who are his people may return to Jerusalem.”
So the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, the Temple servants, and some of the common people settled in villages near Jerusalem. The rest of the people returned to the other towns of Judah from which they had come.
Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. They immediately began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord.
Then they hired masons and carpenters and bought cedar logs from the people of Tyre and Sidon, paying them with food, wine, and olive oil.
The construction of the Temple of God began in mid spring, during the second year after they arrived in Jerusalem.
When the builders completed the foundation of the Lord’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets.
Many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders remembered the first Temple, and they wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud commotion that could be heard far in the distance.
The Temple was finally finished, and more groups of Israelites returned to the land. Among them was Nehemiah, who oversaw the rebuilding of the Jerusalem’s city walls. This was not popular with the nearby Samarian authorities, and one local governor scorned their efforts:
“What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they are doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a day if they offer enough sacrifices? Look at those charred stones they are pulling out of the rubbish and using again!”
Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”
The wall was finally finished – just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
Nehemiah 4:2-3, 6:15-16
Within years of the restoration however, the people were inter-marrying with the nearby tribes – the same mistake that Solomon had made. They were neglecting the poor, and the temple worship had become lazy and routine. God sent Malachi to speak to the people, and he rebuked the priests:
“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and this is what I gave them … They passed on to the people all the truth they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin.
But not you! You have left God’s paths. Your ‘guidance’ has caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites” says the Lord Almighty.
“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the LORD Almighty”
Malachi 2:5-6, 3:1
When God had finished speaking through Malachi, the last of the prophets, the story falls silent. Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire, and Israel lived under a new occupying power. When the Greeks outlawed the sacrifices, a rebellion began that eventually secured a century of fragile peace, until the Roman empire seized Jerusalem again.
The centuries passed, and the Bible does not record their passing. The covenant had been broken, the sentence carried out, and everything else is an afterword.
But for those who wished to understand, the prophet’s visions were there to be decrypted. God had something better in mind. When the time was right, all would be revealed.
Until then, we are here – waiting.
Unless marked, all Bible text taken from New Living Translation,©2007