According to Daniel 9:25, the beginning of Israel’s mandate, or the point at which the clock was to start ticking for the Seventy Weeks, would be at the issuing of a command to rebuild the ruins of the city of Jerusalem. The end of the Babylonian captivity and the subsequent return of the Jews’ to Jerusalem were both events predicted by Jeremiah to occur 70 years after they were taken captive. The book of Ezra tells us part of the history of this period and says that the very first expedition to return to Israel after the 70 years of captivity occurred after a decree by King Cyrus II (The Great) in approximately 538 BC. This event was actually in direct fulfillment of a previous prophecy written down by Isaiah, where the prophet amazingly predicted the very name of the King of Persia long before he was even born (Cyrus). This king would eventually let over 42,000 Jews go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple (see Isaiah 44:24-28).
Since the southern Kingdom of Judah was destroyed and its people taken captive in stages from about 609 BC when Josiah, the King of Israel, was killed during the battle at Megiddo to the time of the final fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC, it is difficult to place an exact start date on the Babylonian captivity. However, the prophecy in Jeremiah predicting the Babylonian captivity and its length also says this about the destruction of Judah and the 70 year period:
“And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
“And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.”
When the 70 years of captivity were fulfilled, the Lord caused the Persians to rise up and destroy the Babylonian Empire, just as Jeremiah had predicted. Cyrus the Great and his Persian army penetrated the city of Babylon, commonly considered impenetrable at the time, and took the empire in approximately 540 BC. Cyrus’ permission to rebuild the Temple took place within the first years of his reign, and it occurred about 70 years after Nebuchadnezzar’s first attack upon Judah. Notice that Jeremiah’s prophecy doesn’t predict that all the Jews would immediately return to their land after 70 years, only that the Lord would end the captivity by punishing the Babylonians.
In the first chapter of Ezra’s book in the Old Testament, he wrote about the history of the post-captivity period and stated that the King of Persia was actually influenced by God to issue the command to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. This was all said to be done in order to directly fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
“Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
“Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.”
King Cyrus issued his command specific to the rebuilding of the Temple but not with regard to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. However, the rebuilding of the Temple did not immediately occur with this initial return to the land. Due to the difficulties the Jewish people encountered with foreigners who had settled in their land while they were still captive in Babylon, and also due to their own lack of initiative, the temple itself was a long time in building and left far too long in disrepair (Ezra 4). Not only did it remain unfinished for many years, but the whole city of Jerusalem also stayed in ruins and without a wall surrounding it for well into the next century. It was actually not until the time of Nehemiah (c. 445 BC) that the desire and the means arose to return to Palestine with the express purpose of rebuilding the entire city of Jerusalem…[read entire article]