“The Exile and First Return of Judah,” Ensign, July 1974, 12
Moses prophesied that if wickedness and disobedience came among the people of Israel, they would be scattered among the nations. (Deut. 28:25.) Beginning with the conciliatory treaty of King Ahab of Israel with Syria (1 Kgs. 20:34) until the final captivity of Judah by Babylonia, the scattering or dispersion of the Lord’s people followed as a consequence of their broken covenants.
Most of the people who were scattered never returned to the land of promise, and their posterity continued to be spread throughout the earth. The group has come to be known as the Diaspora, after the Greek term for dispersion, and refers to the Jewish people who lived outside the land of Israel. The closing chapters of the story of the Old Testament are told in the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah. Here is found the story of the first return of some of the dispersed of Judah.
KINGDOM OF JUDAH
KINGDOMS OF BABYLONIA AND PERSIA
ALL DATES B.C.
605 Jehoiakim gave hostages as a tribute to Nebuchadnezzar, consisting of noble sons and craftsmen. Daniel was probably among them. (2 Kgs. 24:1, 7; Dan. 1:1–7; Jer. 25:1; Jer. 26:1; Jer. 27:1, 9–11; Jer. 46:2.) At this time the temple vessels were also removed to Babylon. (2 Kgs. 24:13; 2 Chr. 36:7; Ezra 1:7–8; Ezra 5:14; Ezra 6:5.)
597 King Jehoiachin was carried captive with thousands (including the skilled laborers) to Babylon, and Judah was reestablished as a tributary state. Ezekiel was with this group. (2 Kgs. 24:10–16; 2 Kgs. 25:29–30; 2 Chr. 36:9–10; Jer. 24; Jer. 40:1; Jer. 52:28; Ezek. 1:1–15.)
NEBUCHADNEZZAR II ruled 606–562 B.C. (Dan. 3:1.)
587 Rebellion by the Jews brought the final conquest and destruction of Jerusalem. King Zedekiah and most of the people of the nation were carried captive to Babylon. (2 Kgs. 25:1–7; 2 Chr. 36:11–13, 17–21; Jer. 39:1–7; Jer. 52:4–11, 29.)
Gedeliah (son of the man who saved Jeremiah—Jer. 26:24) was appointed governor over the few remaining inhabitants of the country. He was soon assassinated, and the remnant of the Jews were persuaded to flee to Egypt, in spite of Jeremiah’s warnings. (2 Kgs. 25:22–26; Jer. 39:8–18; Jer. 40:45.)
NERGAL-SHAREZER (Neriglissar) ruled 560–556 B.C. (Jer. 39:3, 13.)
LABASI-MARDUK ruled only nine months, 556 B.C.
BELSHAZZAR ruled 556–544 B.C. This king served as co-regent, while his father, Nabonidus, conducted foreign conquests. (Dan. 5; Dan. 7:1; Dan. 8:1.) Daniel held a high position of leadership during this period.
NABONIDUS ruled 556–539 B.C.
520 The decree of Cyrus to build the temple was not enforced until Darius’ time when work on the temple resumed. (Ezra 4:24; Ezra 5:1–2; Ezra 6:1–5, 14; Hag. 1:1, 15; Hag. 2:18; Zech. 4:6–10.) The prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged and directed the temple’s completion. (Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14; Hag. 1:1–2; Zech. 1:1, 16.)
The Persians conquered the Babylonians, ending the captivity of Judah and providing a provincial state for them in the land of Israel.
The decree of Cyrus permitted the return of the exiled Jews to their homeland. However, only a small number of those living in dispersion returned with the first group. (2 Chr. 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–4; Ezra 5:13–15; Ezra 6:3–5.)
CAMBYSES II ruled 530–522 B.C.
516 The second temple was completed and dedicated. It was also called Zerubbabel’s temple, after the man who was governor during its construction. (Ezra 6:15–22.) The completion of the temple fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the exiled people. (Jer. 25:11–12; Jer. 29:10.)
458 Ezra led the second major group of exiled Jews to return to the promised land. (Ezra 7:1, 6–28.) He had authority to enforce the Jewish law. The chief problem was mixed marriages. (Ezra 9–10; see also Deut. 7:1–5.)
450 The prophet Malachi warned of the violations of their covenants through mixed marriages, etc. Apostasy was taking root among the people. (Mal. 1–4.)
445 Nehemiah was appointed governor and led still another group to return to the promised land. (Neh. 2:1–11; Neh. 5:14; Neh. 7:5–73.) He directed the rebuilding of the walls of the city of Jerusalem in the face of much opposition. (Neh. 2:12–20; Neh. 3–6; Neh. 7:1–4.) The records were assembled, the Law read, recovenanting of the people took place, and the walls of the city were dedicated. (Neh. 8:1–8; Neh. 10; Neh. 12:27–47.)
432 After a time, Nehemiah returned to institute reforms to fight the growing apostasy and abuses against the covenant laws. (Neh. 13.)