The history of Israel is both an inspiring story of victory and faith and a cautionary tale. Repeatedly they moved from faithfulness to indifference; from outright rebellion to humble repentance. The story of Israel is a single story about a nation who struggles to live in a relationship with the all-powerful God of heaven. They have great days and even greater failures. Yet, each story is remembered, repeated, and taught to the next generation to reinforce the primary lesson that the God of Israel is a real, powerful, gracious God who walks with them.
Throughout Israel’s history, we see Israel grow to great power and influence only to fall to a more powerful enemy. I am reminding you of this, especially at this point, because we need to remember the history of Israel’s captivity in Babylon. The captivity and exile of Israel in Babylon didn’t happen overnight nor did it happen in a single instance. In fact, Israel (the whole nation not just the Northern Kingdom) was taken into captivity at four different times.
The first deportation happened in 720 B.C. and was limited to the Northern Kingdom only. The Assyrian king Shalmaneser (2 Kings 17) invades Israel, conquers, and carries the captives to Assyria. The second deportation happened in 605-606 B.C. (Judah) when King Nebuchadnezzar invades Jerusalem (2 Kings 23; Dan. 1:1-2). He takes the vessels and treasures of the Temple along with the nobility of Israel’s leadership. The third deportation happens in 598 B.C. when king Jehoiakim rebels against Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24). This time he carries away all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the royal family along with their wealth, the temple treasures, destroyed the vessels of gold for the temple and placed Zedekiah on the throne. The fourth deportation happens 11 years later in 586 B.C. when Zedekiah rebels against Nebuchadnezzar. This time the king has had enough and destroys the city. He burns the city, destroys the temple, tears down the walls, and carries everyone away to Babylon.
Cyrus, the Persian King, allows the exiles to return to Jerusalem. The first group of exiles returned in 537 B.C. About 50,000 Jews, led by Zerubbabel and Joshua, return home and the foundation of the temple is rebuilt. After much opposition, the work stalls but God sends Haggai and Zechariah to preach and the work resumes. Within 5 years the temple is completed. Ezra, the Scribe, leads another group back to Jerusalem and the worship of God is restored. Lastly, Nehemiah leads a group back and under his leadership, the walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt.
The books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah give us great insights. They teach us about God, His grace, and the process of restoration after falling headfirst into sin. These books are meant to give us hope and help us see that God will restore and rebuild but it takes time. Just as it usually takes us a long time to abandon God, it always takes time to regain everything lost during our rebellion. God will help you rebuild your life, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged when it happens “Step by Step.” Have faith and trust Him.