My study of the scriptures has had a profound effect on my life. As I have studied, I have grown closer to God and found answers to real challenges in my life. This blog is a scripture journal that records insights I have discovered in the past and continue to gain as I search, ponder, and pray.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Between the Testaments--Beginning with Return to Jerusalem

I was assigned to teach the first lesson this year on the New Testament. The lesson manual started with John 1 and Isaiah 61:1-3. This material excited me! But as I started to study, I couldn't quite pull it together. As I studied, I began to feel the need to devote about half of my lesson relating what happened between Malachi and Matthew.

Understanding this bit of history is critical to understanding the New Testament. The Old Testament and New Testament are two very different books with completely different styles, messages, narratives. For example, the Old Testament talks about a jealous God full of vengeance, while the God of the New Testament is full of love, mercy and compassion.

I pulled out a book I have written by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel called Between the Testaments. I was fascinated. (Later I found a great Ensign article called "Judah Between the Testaments that would be worth reading.)

The End of Captivity

The intertestamental period actually started before the Old Testament ended with the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon.

586 BC: Jews taken captive to Babylon. the temple destroyed and many sacred artifacts carried away to Babylon.

537 BC: Cyrus decrees the return of the Jews. He also sends back many sacred artifacts for the temple.

536-516 BC: Temple is rebuilt and many Jews return. Efforts are led by two individuals named Jerubbabel (which means from Babylon) and Jeshua (which means the Lord saveth). Jeshua happens to be the same name of Jesus. I find it symbolic that the restoration was led by two with those names.

The Samaritans were excluded from building the temple because they had inter-married with those of the pagan nations. They had broken their covenants with the Lord. They resented the exclusion. This was the beginning, as near as I can tell, of the contention between the Jews and Samaritans that was prevalent during the life of the Savior.

444 BC: Nehemiah is the governor of Israel. Under his direction the walls of the city are rebuilt. The Samaritans were again excluded; hence, they strove to stop the work of rebuilding the walls.

Reforms of Ezra

428 BC: Ezra was in Jerusalem. He was a scribe in the Babylonian king's court. A scribe was a court official, kind of like a secretary of state. When Ezra came to Jerusalem, he introduced religion reforms. Ezra read the scriptures to the people in their own language. At this time they spoke Aramaic, so Ezra had to translate the scriptures for them. Most of the Jews at this time had never had the scriptures read to them before because they spent their days in captivity.

Not only did Ezra read the scriptures and interpret them for the people, he also led the way in living the reforms. One of the problems the Jews had was marrying "foreign" wives, or wives outside of the covenant. Ezra encouraged the people to separate themselves from their foreign wives and leave them. Ezra led by example and was the first to perform this act and comply with the Law.

It was at this time that the position of scribe began to change. Ezra was a scribe, and he was the leader in interpreting the scriptures for the Jews. Thus, scribes became teachers of the law. In addition, because of Ezra and these reformation efforts, the people's hearts were turned to the Law as never before. They began to focus more on keeping the Law than on the covenant that the law led them to. Great implications for the New Testament times!

In addition, one of the reforms that came about during this time dealt with taxes. The Jews despised paying taxes to a "foreign" government--one that was not of their faith. Those who were privileged to work at the temple, the priests, became exempt from paying foreign taxes while the rest of the Jews still had to. This set the stage for the priests to become rich.

Sources: Bible Dictionary; Black, 2010; Brown, 2002

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