The term “post-exilic” refers to a specific time frame in the history of the ancient Jews. It includes their return to Judah after their exile in Babylon and the restoration of Jerusalem, which was destroyed by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar.
You may not be familiar with this part of Old Testament history, but it’s my favorite. First, God showed Himself to be a Restorer and a Faithful Promise-Keeper. And second, we get to see how God made His final preparations for the Savior’s earthly arrival. (See also “6 Reasons to Read and Study the Old Testament.“)
Why did God Exile His People?
For centuries, the Jews had wandered far away from God. Through His prophets, God had repeatedly called them to repent from their idolatry and disobedience, but they refused. So, God used the nation of Babylon as His tool of discipline. In 586 BC, after two earlier deportations of select Jews (605 BC and 597 BC), Babylon destroyed the temple and much of the city and carried Judah’s King Zedekiah away to Babylon on chains. (If you’re interested in learning more about the Jews’ time of exile in Babylon read the books of Esther and Daniel. I also have an enhanced reading guides available for DANIEL at a small cost. Check out DANIEL here .)
Although God’s people had rebelliously rejected Him, He still had a plan for them. But they needed to be refined for His purposes. That preparation required seventy years of exile in a foreign land.
What did God Promise for the Future?
Although God disciplined His people, He was not finished with them. He had a future plan and purpose for them. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised restoration. After 70 years of exile, God would gather them from their places of exile and return them to Jerusalem. He would once again establish His people in His land, and carry out His good purposes through them. (See Jeremiah 29:1-23 for this prophecy.)
How did God Accomplish the Return?
God moved the heart of a pagan king to return His people to Jerusalem (See Ezra 1:1). In 538 BC, after the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon, King Cyrus of Persia issued an edict encouraging the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
Although Babylon destroyed religious shrines and temples, confiscated valuable sacred items, and carried the people away from their homeland to Babylon, Cyrus had a different policy.
Cyrus believed in preserving the various native cultures, beliefs, and religions. He helped the conquered peoples repair or rebuild their temples. He returned sacred items and encouraged the exiled people to return to their own land and own laws. This policy helped maintain order and reduced rebellion against Persian.
What Bible Books Cover the Post-Exilic Period?
Five Bible books – two historical and three prophets – are considered to be “post-exilic.” The Jews’ return from exile is recorded by the historical Bible books of Ezra and Nehemiah. (See also “5 Tips for Understanding Biblical Narrative.“) They describe the rebuilding of the temple and the wall in Jerusalem, the re-settlement of God’s people in the city and surrounding areas of Judah, and the re-establishment of the Jews’ religious life. (See also “How is the Bible Organized?“)
God also sent prophets during this post-exilic period. Three of them are included in the biblical canon – Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. (Also see”The Post-Exilic Prophets” and “Surprised by an Old Testament Prophet.“)
What Happened During this Time Frame?
In case you like history, or just want to know… The following timeline gives the historical perspective of the events leading up to the exile, the Jews’ return to Jerusalem, and the restoration of the nation:
- 586 BC – Babylon burned Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and executed the third and final exile of God’s people to Babylon
- 539 BC – Persia conquered Babylon
- 538 BC (Ezra 1) – Degree of King Cyrus of Persia which allowed the Jews to return to Palestine and provided resources for rebuilding
- 536 BC (Ezra 3) – Temple construction began under leadership of Zerubbabel
- 530 BC (Ezra 4) – Temple construction halted due to opposition
- 522 BC (Ezra 4) – Darius the first becomes king of Persia
- 520 BC (Ezra 5) – Haggai and Zechariah began their prophetic ministry
- 520 BC (Ezra 5) – Temple construction resumed
- 516 BC (Ezra 6) – Temple completed
- 458 BC (Ezra 7) – Ezra led second group of exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem from Babylon during the 7th year of King Artaxerxes to renew God’s law with the people
- 445 BC (Nehemiah 2) – Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem from Babylon to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem
- 433 BC (Nehemiah 13) – Nehemiah returned to Babylon for a time
- 432 BC (Nehemiah 13) – Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and undertook final reforms
- 430 BC (Malachi 1) – Malachi began his prophetic ministry
Want to join me in a study of Ezra?
This Saturday, August 26th, I will be starting a 4-week study of Ezra. It all happens on the closed Facebook group “Reading the Bible Together.” To join this FREE group, follow the link, request to join, and answer the 3 easy questions. Here are the details of this FREE group.