Story 9 of 12: THE RESTORATION
The prophesied return to the promised land would become a reality with the next Empire - the Persians - when their King Cyrus conquered the Babylonians and issued a decree allowing any exile from Judah or Israel to return to Judah and rebuild the temple. Those who returned were devastated when they saw Jerusalem in ruins, and recorded their feelings in the book of Lamentations. To make things worse, they were confronted by the Samaritans, that mix of Israelites and Babylonians living in the former capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. The Samaritans were considered impure because of their mixed blood. The Samaritans in turn mocked the Israelites who were returning to Judah (now called Judea), calling them the short and derogatory name "Jews", short for "Judeans". The Samaritans did everything they could to sabotage the rebuilding of the Temple, even fighting the Judeans (in spite of their common Israelite ancestry). In response, God sent the Judeans the prophets Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah to inspire them to keep rebuilding.
With the rebuilding and dedication of the new temple came a reform, led by the Levite scribe Ezra. The Laws of Moses were reinstated and enforced with a vengeance. Existing marriages with foreign women were broken, and their was an even more serious emphasis on keeping the Sabbath. This was all a reaction to the understanding that they had lost their promised land for violating the Mosaic Law of old, and it was time to purify the new Jewish race.
The prophets continued God's messages of hope to the returning exiles. In these prophesies, there would be a day when a branch of David would be raised in order to remove the whole nation’s guilt. A new kingdom would stretch far beyond the borders of Canaan, with God himself becoming the king of the whole world. He would “send out his word", and it would "accomplish its purpose and not return empty.” God was going to wipe the slate clean, and it now sounded like it would be the whole world, not just Israel. Ironically, as foreign marriages were being dissolved to purify the Jewish race, the prophets announced that God was going to have an open house to all nations, a day when there would be free access to his mercy for anyone who showed the same mercy to others - even to foreigners. A new covenant was coming to fulfill the ones made to Moses and to David. Jerusalem, also called "Zion", the city of David, would become God's bride, the City of God.
This time of restoration also became a time of deep reflection for the former Israelites. Why had God let His People lose the land promised to them in the first place? Was this new restoration just a mirage, a setup for yet another failure? From reflections like these came the philosophical wisdom writings of Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job, a play, addressed the question of why the good suffer by saying that what God allows is not always something that we can understand, but that in the end those who are good will be more than justly rewarded. Ecclesiastes, written before there was a belief in Resurrection, chose to trust in God's laws even in the face of life's apparent meaninglessness. And the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, was actually a secular romantic song included in the Scriptures because the romantic love it describes actually reflects how passionately God loved his people! And so, inspired by prophecies of better days to come, the rebuilding continued.
Nehemiah prays over the temple
By the time of the Restoration there were three main geographical centers of Judaism: (1) Egypt (made of exiles who had fled from the Assyrians and Babylonians), (2) Babylon (made of those who couldn't escape and were taken), and (3) Judea (those who were allowed to return thanks to the Persian King Cyrus). The story going forward now focuses on this third group, the Jews who returned faithfully to Jerusalem in Judea.
This restoration of the Mosaic Law is also called the deutero-nomic ("second law") reform, during which the book of Deuteronomy was written.
Also written around during the restoration was the popular tale of a prophet named Jonah who you could say was "escorted" by God (inside the belly of a big fish!) to a city called Nineveh, where he would preach, calling them to repent of their ways or be destroyed by God. Heeding the warning, they did repent and were saved.
Malachi, the last prophet in the Old Testament, announced that one day the difference between the upright and the wicked would be made clear, and that before this “Day of the Lord,” the prophet Elijah would reappear to prepare the people for their “purifier”.
Why was there animosity between the Samaritans and the Judeans?
Where did the term "Jew" come from?
WHat was the irony between the prophecies of hope during the Restoration and the efforts taken to purify the Jewish race?