The Silent Years
Throughout the Old Testament we can see the history of the Israelite nation turning from God. In Samuel's time, intolerance for the God of Israel began to stand out with the desire for a king to rule men. However, each successive king worshipped God in a different way, or chose to worship other gods. This led to the rejection of the Hebrew nation, where God cast his people from his presence. However, God sent Jeremiah and other prophets with a message calling the people to return to the Lord and warning them of what was to come. Israel remained obstinate, worshipping other gods foreign to Israel. The time came when God sent the Babylonian Empire to conquer Israel, making Israel a vassal nation by replacing the king with one chosen by Babylon. After revolting from the authority of Babylon the second time the majority of Israel's population was deported to the surrounding nations. During the seventy years exile, Israel learned the customs and culture of the Babylonian Empire to survive. The Old Testament period draws to a close with the return of the Jews from captivity under the rule of Cryrus the Persian.
The change of power took place during Jeremiah's tenure as Judah’s prophet. The bible also reveals the successive kings of the Babalonian empire during the life of Daniel while in captivity. Daniel served under the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus the ruler of the Persian Empire. Another source of these changes is found in Esther, a book of the bible that was written during the reign of Xerxes the Persian who was also known as Ahasuerus. Because the Bible is not chronological you will find that Ezra begins where 2 Chronicles ends with the decree of Cyrus king of Persia.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: 2 Chronicles 36:22 Ezra 1:1
The Minor Prophets record the resettling of Israel and the restrictions placed on the Hebrews by the ruling satraps (the appointed governors) that opposed the rebuilding of the Temple. About one hundred and fifty years later all inspired history of Israel became silent. The Babylonian Empire rose and declined. The Greek conquered the known world under Alexander and the remaining kingdom collapsed. The Hebrew nation regained power for a short time and after that God sent Jesus Christ to Earth during the rule of the Roman Empire.
The silent period affected the life of our Lord and was necessary to preach spiritual deliverance from the demonic powers that oppressed spiritual freedom. The Protestant church did not canonize the literature that was produced between the testaments because some thought that were not inspired or thought that the literature of that era reflected the Hellenistic culture. The only writings of the Alexandrine period that are in the Catholic bible includes Judith, Tobit, and Maccabbes.
The Empires that took possession of territory of Israel tainted the history during their rule with their culture. The Jews that resettled Israel were allowed to govern themselves under the Persian Empire until Darius III was dethroned. Alexander the Great rose to power and in the spring of 334BC Alexander demolished the Persian Army at Granicus near the city of Troy. He then proceeded south where Alexander confronted the main body of the Persian Army, commanded by King Darius III at Issus in northeastern Syria. Two years later, Alexander the Great had taken the entire Mediterranean coastline including Egypt.
Alexander the Great died after a twelve-year reign from an unknown ailment. He established cities following the line of his conquest by paving the streets, supplying them with of water, and leaving a remnant of his army to govern them. These cities reflected the architecture and culture of Greece but they also attracted people with trade skills, as well as scholars and merchants from Greece. This greatly increased the influence of the Greek civilization on the world. After his death, the Hellenistic period began and Greek became the international language of Greece, turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.
Alexander's death in 332BC gave way to partition these lands into three regions that were ruled by his chief officers. Antigonus was given the Macedonian region, Ptolemy the Egyptian, and Seleucus the Syrian. The Macedonian and Egyptian kingdoms dissolved shortly after the deaths of their leaders but their influence remained. The Seleucid dynasty lost portions of territory over 250 years. Finally, Rome annexed the last portion of this kingdom, which was Syria in 64BC.
Seleucus built a number of cities, including two provisional capitals, Antioch in Syria and Seleucia on the Tigris. The Jewish people in Syria slowly adopted the Greek thought and literature and eventually came to speak Greek as their native tongue and the Greek language was formally introduced to the synagogues. However, in Palestine, the Hellenistic influence met resistance with the Jewish leaders, because of the resistance, Hellenistic views of culture and religion were forced onto the Jews.
In 168BC the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes gave the order that the practice of Judaism would no longer be tolerated. He decreed that altars for Zeus would be set up in the Temple at Jerusalem and throughout the region of Israel. Mattathias the priest, refused to comply, with five of his sons and many faithful Jews, fled to the mountains and began a revolt against Antiochus.
Judas Maccabee led a successful revolt recapturing Jerusalem three years later, he tore down the image of Zeus, purged the temple and set up a new altar. Maccabee celebrated the rededication of the temple with eight days of festivities that we know as Hanukkah today. Judas Maccabeus established an independent Jewish state relatively free of Hellenism that lasted until 64BC when the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem. Most of the Jewish leaders were deported to Rome and Israel was reduced to a territorial state of Rome. However, Pompey re-installed a Pharisee named Hyrcanus II as the high priest of Judaism who was from the bloodline of the Maccabean family.
The Romans brought new laws, customs and morals to the land of Israel, most of which were enforced as the law of the land. Just as the worship of God changed with the kings of the Old Testament, the worship of God has changed with the laws of the land. Those in authority influenced the lives of those they rule over by laws that they instituted and enforce.
History reveals Gods relationship with men survived under Mattathias who led a revolt after the decree of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes demanding the worship of foreign gods to Israel. This revolt led to the establishing the Pharisees who were opposed to anything that changed the laws regarding the proper worship of God. They multiplied laws to purify their beliefs from foreign influences and stressed the law as a way to maintain proper relationship with God.
Remember that the Pharisees were motivated by their oppressive rulers to stiffen their beliefs with strict adherence to the laws (those they introduced) to insure a proper belief in God. Who was man to follow and what right did Jesus have to usurp the levitical priesthood?
The New Testament begins with the birth of the king of kings, born of a virgin in a stable who slept in a troth that animals ate from, by far the lowliest place imaginable. Among common people, Joseph a carpenter and his wife raised Christ from infancy to an adult man under the laws of Judaism and the oppression of the Roman Empire. By the time Christ began his ministry, he knew his relationship to God and the role he played to deliver his people from the coming wrath of God.
At the right time God sent his son into human history to articulate the truth and glorify God. While Jesus came to fulfill the law he stressed the spirit of the law. This placed Jesus in the middle of the controversy over how to worship God. Should man obey the letter of the law or live by the spirit of the law.
Christ was unlike conquers that came before him, his life demonstrated the true laws of God by fulfilling them. By the authority of God, he instituted a new and better covenant of love that simplified the Ten commandments and eliminated the need for burnt offerings. The difference is that the kingdom of God does not depend on the letter of the law but on the spirit of the law. The new covenant is no longer the law of the land and the choice to accept them is left to the individual. However, unlike those who conquer nations, Christians must endure those who rule and do not adhere to Gods laws.
Born 3 BC, a year after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul continued where Jesus left off. Saul whose name was later changed to Paul by God was born in a village located approximately one hundred miles northeast of the former Syrian capital city of Antioch, in a village named Tarsus in Turkey. He was born to Hebrew parents from the tribe of Benjamin who circumcised him on the eighth day. No doubt he learned to speak Latin, Greek and Aramaic as a Child while being raised as a citizen of Rome. Just as important, his mother raised him in the strictest form of Pharisaic Law and he later went to Jerusalem to study under Gamaliel. Not until Saul was on his way to Damascus, did he meet the Lord in a dramatic way and became a Christian. His zeal for God, the knowledge of languages and Law may have been the attributes God needed to make him a powerful missionary that could spread the gospel over wide areas. With the revelations of God, Paul returned to a land and culture with the spirit of the law to bring a large number of Greeks and Jews to God.
I am not a history buff but it is interesting to understand how the history of the Holy Land effects you and me today. The Greeks did what the world is doing today who by changing the law is introducing a new culture. Today we are being influenced by new standard of morality in our courts. Those under the authority of Greek law, the lifestyle of the individual changed in time from foreign influence to native everyday society. The influence of oppression by strict laws is not new. Oppressive law intimidates you to obey even if reluctantly.
If anything, the period between the Old and New Testaments should tell you that the ungodly influence of the Greeks and Romans, affected the ministry of Christ. The present social environment of the world will change the way we worship God today and tomorrow. For example, today the gay community is forcing their rights on the American to have same sex marriages and by using their minority influence change the law. If their case were approved in the courtroom today, unresolved arguments against gay marriages would give way to the established law. Eventually, those arguments would die down to the point that everyone would say it is the law, what can I do about it?
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