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11. The exiles who returned

11-1 Ezekielís Temple: Based Upon Solomonís Temple || 11-2 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-2-1 Conditional Prophecy || 11-2-2 Human Response || 11-2-3 Tyre in Ezekiel 26 || 11-2-4 Delayed Prophecies || 11-2-5 Prophecies With Changed Fulfillment || 11-2-6 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-3 Command More Than Prediction || 11-4 The Contemporary Relevance Of Ezekiel's Temple || 11-5 The Restoration: Potential Kingdom Of God || 11-6 The Potential And The Reality || 11-6-1 The Weakness Of Judah Under Nehemiah || 11-6-2 Isaiah's Prophecies Of Restoration || 11-6-3 Jeremiah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-4 Ezekiel's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-5 The Cherubim And The Restoration || 11-6-6 Zechariah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-7 The Restoration Psalms || 11.7 ďThe prince" in Ezekiel || 11-7-1 " The prince" : Potential Messiah || 11-7-2 Zerubabbel- Potential Messiah? || 11.8 The Potential For The Surrounding World || 11-8-1 Haggai 2 || 11-8-2 Meshech And Tubal || 11-8-3 Joel Chapter 3 || 11-9 Different Sequences Of Prophetic Fulfillment || 11-10 Zechariah And Malachi: More Chances || 11-11 The Returned Exiles

11-6-2-1 Isaiah's Prophecies Of Restoration

The Unity Of Isaiah
There’s been much talk of how Isaiah 1-39 appears different in style and attitude to Israel from Isaiah 40-66. I’m personally of the conviction that the two ‘halves’ of Isaiah are by the same inspired author. The phrase “the holy one of Israel” occurs 12 times in Is. 1-39, 14 times in Is. 40-66 (the so called ‘second Isaiah’), and only 5 times elsewhere in the Old Testament. The New Testament quotes ‘Isaiah the prophet’ with the same rubric, regardless of whether ‘first Isaiah’ or ‘second Isaiah’ are being quoted (compare Jn. 12:38-40; Rom. 9:22-29; 10:16,20). The Septuagint supports the unity of Isaiah, and the Dead Sea scrolls copy of Isaiah doesn’t make any break between chapters 39 and 40. These arguments for the unity of Isaiah must however be balanced against the fact that there is a marked difference in attitude to Israel when chapter 40 begins; and that parts of the prophecy are clearly relevant to Hezekiah’s time, whereas other parts are relevant to the events of Judah’s restoration and the fall of Babylon which enabled this. My suggestion is that, as with the Psalms and some of the other prophets, Isaiah was edited and in places re-written, under inspiration, during the captivity. Hence, parts of it clearly have relevance to Hezekiah’s time and the deliverance from Assyria, but these were used to inspire and teach the Jews in Babylon about a similar great deliverance and restoration which they could expect from Babylon. This is why some commentators (1) have made a convincing case that the whole of Isaiah applies to Hezekiah’s time, whilst others have made an equally convincing case that most of the prophecy applies to the restoration (2). My suggestion is that the whole of it did apply to Hezekiah’s time, but it was re-written, under inspiration, as applicable to the Jews in exile in Babylon and their deliverance from Babylon, which was set up to happen after the pattern of their earlier deliverance from Assyria.

The Inspired Re-Writing Of The Old Testament In Babylon

Briefly, here are corroborative reasons for thinking that perhaps the whole existing canon of Old Testament Scripture was [under inspiration] edited, re-written and codified during the exile in Babylon:

- According to Jewish tradition, Ezra edited and produced the Pentateuch in its present form in Babylon (3). This would account for the record of Jacob in exile being so verbally similar to the allusions made to it in the restoration-from-Babylon prophecies in Isaiah. There was certainly great scribal activity in Babylon- 2 Macc. 2:13 speaks of Nehemiah founding a library of the Jewish scriptures there. This gives another perspective on the way Nehemiah’s prayer in Neh. 1 is so full of references to Deuteronomy- if the latter had just been re-written and presented to the Jews in Babylon. The commands to build the tabernacle are repeated in Exodus, and there is the record of Israel's golden calf apostasy set in the middle of them. Ex. 25:1-31:18 give the tabernacle building commands, then there's the golden calf incident, and then the commands are repeated in Ex. 35-40. Surely this was edited in this manner to give encouragement to the exiles- the commands to rebuild the temple had been given in detail in Ez. 40-48, but the exiles failed- and yet, the implication runs, God was still willing to work again with His people in the building of His sanctuary despite their failure. There is good internal reason to think that the Pentateuch likewise was re-written in places to bring out the relevance of Israel's past to those in captivity. Consider the use of the word pus, 'scatter'. It was God's intention that mankind should scatter abroad in the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28); but it required the judgment of the tower of Babel to actually make them 'scatter' (Gen. 11:4). Thus even in judgment, God worked out His positive ultimate intentions with humanity. And this word pus is the same word used with reference to Judah's 'scattering' from the land into Babylonian captivity (Ez. 11:17; 20:34,41; 28:25). The intention, surely, was to show the captives that they had been scattered as the people had at the judgment of Babel / Babylon, but even in this, God was working out His purpose with His people and giving them the opportunity to fulfil His original intentions for them.

- The Talmud claims that the majority of the prophetic books were re-written and edited into their present form during the captivity, under the guidance of a group of priests called "The Great Assembly" (4). There are many verbal points of contact between Chronicles and the returned exiles.

- Time and again we encounter the phrase "to this day" in the historical books of the Old Testament (e.g. "the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there to this day", 2 Kings 16:6)- and each time it appears the reference is to the time of the restoration, when presumably those books were edited and rewritten as relevant for the Jews, either those still in Babylon or those who had returned to the land. A good case can be made, for example, that the book of Judges was rewritten at that time in order to show that God's people don't need a King in order to be His people, but rather they can be ruled by Spirit-filled leaders (5).

- The way Deuteronomy refers to cities East of Jordan as being "on this side Jordan" (e.g. Dt. 4:41,49) would suggest that the editor of the book was writing from a location East of Jordan- likely Babylon. The comment in Josh. 15:63 that "the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day" sounds very much as if it were written in the captivity, lamenting the way that the local tribes still lived in Zion. "The children of Judah" is very much a phrase used about the exiles. Thus books like Joshua were written up in the captivity in order to show Judah how they were repeating the sins of their forefathers, and appealing to them thereby to learn the lessons. It's even possible that the lament that "Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel unto this day" (Josh. 13:13 RV) is a reference to "Geshem the Arabian" and Sanballat dwelling amongst Israel at the time of their return (Neh. 2:19 etc.).

- It has been observed that the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings have certain similarities. For example, they all quote the Deuteronomy version of Israel's earlier history, leading to the suggestion that Deuteronomy was the first of the collection, a kind of introductory background history. The curses listed in Dt. 28 are all especially relevant to the situation in Judah before the Babylonian invasion, and a number of the curses are alluded to in Lamentations as being descriptive of the situation after the final destruction of Jerusalem. Some of the curses can have little other application, e.g. Dt. 28:41 speaks of begetting children, "but they shall not be yours; for they shall go into captivity". Other relevant passages are Dt. 28:36 (a king taken captive), 49,50,52. These "former prophets" (Deuteronomy - 2 Kings) appear to have been edited during the exile as history which spoke to the concerns and needs of the exiled people of God (6). This combined history speaks mainly of the southern Kingdom, which was the group who went to captivity in Babylon; and it explains why this captivity was justified, as well as giving many examples of where repentance could bring about a restoration (1 Kings 8:46-53 is specific). This history addresses the questions which concerned the captives- does God abandon His people for ever? Are Israel entirely to blame for what happened? Is there hope of restoration after receiving Divine judgment and breaching His covenant? Can God have a relationship with His people without a temple? To what extent will God always honour the promises to Abraham and David? Should other gods also be worshipped? Reading these books from this perspective reveals how incident after incident was especially selected by the inspired editors in Babylon in order to guide God's people there. Take the story of Naaman's Hebrew "maid". Naaman had been the enemy of Israel, and that little child [Heb.] was one of the children of those taken captive. But she witnessed to her captor; he turned to Yahweh; and his skin became like that of "a little child" (2 Kings 5:14)- like her. The message was obvious. The children of the captivity were likewise to witness to their captors and bring them into covenant with Yahweh.

- A comparison of Psalms 14 and 53 illustrate this process of re-writing at Hezekiah's time. These Psalms are both "A Psalm of David", and are virtually identical apart from Ps. 53:5 adding: "There were they in great fear, where no fear was; For God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: Thou hast put them to shame, because God hath rejected them". This surely alludes to the Assyrian army encamped against Jerusalem (2 Chron. 32:1), put into fear by the Angels, and returning "with shame of face to his own land" (2 Chron. 32:21). Yet both Psalms conclude with a verse which connects with the exiles in Babylonian captivity: "Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, Then shall Jacob rejoice, and Israel shall be glad". So it would appear that the initial Psalm was indeed written by David; the version of Ps. 14 which is now Ps. 53 was added to and adapted in Hezekiah's time (Prov. 25:1), and both versions had a final verse added to them during the exile. A number of Psalms appear to have some verses relevant to the exile, and others relevant to earlier historical situations. It would seem that an inspired writer inserted the verses which spoke specifically to the exilic situation. Psalm 102 is an example. Ps. 102:2-12 and 24-25a appear to be the original lament; and the other verses are relevant to the exile. Psalm 22 likewise appears to have had vv. 28-32 added with reference to the exiles; other examples in Psalms 9, 10; 59; 66; 68; 69:34; 85; 107; 108 and 118.

- There are evident similarities between the vocabulary and style of Zechariah, Job and the prophets of the restoration. Thus both Job and Zechariah refer to the ideas of the court of Heaven, "the satan" etc. My suggestion is that Job was rewritten during the exile, hence the many points of contact between Job and Isaiah's prophecies about the restoration. When we read that Job has suffered less than his iniquities deserve (Job 11:6), this is the very term used to describe Israel's sufferings in Babylon (Ezra 9:13). Job, "the servant of the Lord", is being set up as Israel, just as that same term is used about Israel in Babylon throughout the latter part of Isaiah. Job's mockery by the Arabian friends perhaps parallels the Samaritan and Babylonian mockery of Judah; his loss of children is very much the tragedy of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians which Lamentations focuses upon. And Job's final revival and restoration after repentance would therefore speak of the blessed situation which Judah could have had at their return to the land. Job's response to the words of God and Elihu would then speak of Judah's intended repentance as a result of God's word spoken to them by prophets like Haggai and Zechariah. There are many connections between Job and the latter parts of Isaiah which speak about the restoration.

God’s Change Of Attitude In Second Isaiah
The message of Is. 40-66 seems to me to be that God’s everlasting love and grace was enough for Him to be prepared to return the captives to Judah, and establish them there with a Messiah and wonderful Kingdom. The tragedy is that they preferred to stay in Babylon, thus opening up these prophecies to either a delayed or altered fulfillment in the work of Jesus and the final coming of His Kingdom on earth. The earlier chapters of Isaiah lambasted Israel as a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity”, appealing for their repentance (Is. 1:4); whereas ‘second Isaiah’, written or re-written whilst they were in captivity, speaks of Judah as a nation “who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord” (Is. 51:1). God imputed His righteousness to them, because He had unconditionally forgiven them. Instead of calling upon them to mourn, as in first Isaiah, second Isaiah calls upon them to rejoice. They are to repent because God had forgiven them- not repent so that He might forgive them: “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake [i.e. not for the sake of your repentance or righteousness]… I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud [therefore] return [repent] to me, for I have [already] redeemed you” (Is. 43:25; 44:22). This is God’s grace in its essence. As they sat by the rivers of Babylon, even as they later became caught up in the politics and business of Babylon, God’s heart broke for His people. And He announced this utter grace- that He had forgiven them, even though they’d not really repented, and counted them as righteous. And therefore He begged them to “return”, not only to return to Him in repentance in their hearts, but to show this by ‘returning’ to the land. And, so tragically, they preferred to stay in Babylon, for the most part. His grace was poured out to them… and Israel would not. All we can resolve in our hearts is to feel for God in this tragedy, and to realize that these very same prophecies of grace have been applied to us. And it’s for us to respond to them.

The prophetic message to the exiles was "Comfort ye my people!" (Is. 40:1). Yet this comfort is that spoken of in Ez. 14:22,23, where we read that the exiles would be comforted when they recognized the evil of Judah's ways and recognized that the judgment upon her had been just. But Is. 40 appears to be a message of unconditional comfort to the exiles- without specifically demanding their repentance. But even then, they still failed to accept it and respond; they preferred to stay in Babylon.

Isaiah 35 is an evident prophecy of the future Kingdom of God on earth. But it is replete with connections with the prophecies of Judahís restoration from Babylon in Isaiah 40-55:

Isaiah 35

Isaiah 40-55

Water in the wilderness

Is. 41:18,19; Is. 43:19,20; Is. 44:3; Is. 50:2; Is. 51:3

Godís glory revealed Is. 35:2

Is. 40:5,9

Time of judgment and recompense Is. 35:4

Is. 40:10

Strength to the faint-hearted Is. 35:3,4

Is. 40:9, 29-31

A highway for the return to Zion Is. 35:8

Is. 40:3

The conclusion from this is surely that the way home from Babylon to Judah was to be seen as the entrance into the Kingdom age. Which is why I suggest that the Messianic Kingdom couldíve come at the restoration. Isaiahís predictions about the return from exile in Babylon (Is. 49:6), the freedom of the land from foreign dominance (Is. 53:8,11), the repopulation of Jerusalem (Is. 54:1), rebuilding the temple (Is. 53:5) etc. all came true at the return of the exiles; but those same prophecies speak of the resurrection of the dead (Is. 42:11; Is. 45:8; Is. 49:8), Messiah teaching the Law to Israel, all the world coming to accept Israelís God and coming to worship in the new temple etc. The prophecies of the restoration of the exiles from Babylon are inextricably connected with these things. And yet they didnít happen; and even those aspects which did, only came true to a very limited extent- solely because of Israelís indolence, and the fact the majority of the Jews remained in Babylon.


(1) H.A. Whittaker, Isaiah (Wigan: Biblia, 1988); J.W. Thirtle, Old Testament Problems (London: Henry Frowde, 1907),
(2) See the Anchor Bible and other commentaries.

(3) Carl Kraeling, The Synagogue (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956) pp. 232-235 reproduces plates from the synagogue wall at Dura-Europas showing Ezra doing this in Babylon.

(4) M. Simon and I.W. Slotski, eds, The Soncino Talmud: Babba Bathra 14b - 15a (London: The Soncino Press, 1935) Vol. 1 pp. 70,71.

(5) See W.J. Dumbrell, 'No King In Israel', Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament Vol. 25 (1983) pp. 23-33.

(6) The similarities of style, language and indications of common editing are explained in detail in Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981); there is a good summary in Terrence Fretheim, Deuteronomic History (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989). See too M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy And The Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972).