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11. The exiles who returned

11-1 Ezekiel’s Temple: Based Upon Solomon’s 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 “The 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

11-7-2 Zerubabbel- Potential Messiah?

The “great mountain” of Babylon was to become a plain before Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:7)- a clear allusion to Dan. 2:44, in which the little stone of Messiah destroys the Kingdoms of men and becomes a great mountain to replace the statue headed by Babylon. But Zerubbabel didn’t destroy Babylon- according to Jewish tradition he returned there after ‘giving up’ in Jerusalem. Perhaps Zech. 11:16 refers to him as “the worthless shepherd” who didn’t gather “those that be scattered”, who didn’t encourage the Jews scattered in Babylon to return to the fold of Zion, and who didn’t care for their spiritual wellbeing. And so the prophecy that Babylon would be destroyed before Zerubbabel has to be reapplied, and will be fulfilled at the return of the Lord Jesus. Haggai foretold that if Israel were obedient, “I will fill this house with glory” (Hag. 2:7), just as Solomon’s temple was filled with glory (1 Kings 8:10,11; 2 Chron. 5:13,14; 7:1,2). Haggai sought to inspire the people when they had flagged in their zeal for the Lord’s house; and the method he chose was to remind them that they could bring about Messiah’s Kingdom if they wholeheartedly worked with God to allow His ideal intentions to come to pass. “I will shake the heavens and the earth…and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory…the glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former…and in this place will I give peace” (Hag. 2:6-9). Note the stress on this house- but that temple they built wasn’t filled with glory, the vision of Ezekiel about the glory returning and entering the temple wasn’t fulfilled- and Solomon’s former temple was more glorious than that of the second temple. Why? Because they didn’t get on and build it and glorify it as they were intended to. Zerubbabel is told again: “I will shake the heavens and the earth; and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms...the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother [this is the language of Zech. 14:13 about what will happen in the last days]. In that day…will I take thee, O Zerubabbel, my servant…and will make thee as a signet” (2:21-23). The day when heaven and earth would be shaken was the day when the second temple was to be filled with glory as Ezekiel had said. Then¸ there would be major war between the Gentile nations, and Zerubabbel would be some kind of Messiah figure. But none of these things happened. Their fulfilment was delayed until the last days, when all nations who come against Jerusalem will slay each other, and “my servant” the Lord Jesus will be proclaimed as Messiah. Then, in our time of the end, the heavens and earth will be shaken (Heb. 12:26,27). It could have happened while the second temple was standing- but it didn’t, thanks to Israel’s indolence. 

When Zedekiah was taken into captivity (Ez. 17:20), it was prophesied that “a tender one” (Messiah- Is. 11:1; 53:2) would be planted “upon an high mountain”, and grow into a tree in whose shadows all animals would live (Ez. 17:21,22). This is clearly the Meesianic Kingdom (Lk. 13:19). This young twig at the time of the captivity was surely Zerubabbel, and the “high mountain” upon which his Kingdom could have been established is surelt he “high mountain” of Ez. 40:2 where the temple could have been built. Yet the prophecy had to suffer a massive deferment until its fulfilment in Christ. Zech. 6:12 reads rather strangely: "Behold there is a man- Shoot is his name". Seeing Zerubbabel's name means 'Shoot from Babylon', it's odd that Zerubbabel isn't named specifically. Perhaps the implication is that Zerubbabel had failed, but another person with the same basic name still could fulfil the prophecies. But with the failure of Zerubbabel, there was no other king-priest to fulfil the prophecies. The Maccabees attempted to force a fulfilment, with opportunists like Simon and John Hyrcanus claiming to be king-priests- but with no actual dynastic evidence. And they hardly fulfilled the prediction that the King-Priest Messiah would sit on David's throne (Zech. 6:10).

At the time of the restoration, “I will make them one nation in the land…and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations” (Ez. 37:22). Remnants of the 10 tribes had been taken into captivity along with the two tribes; it could have been that at the restoration, the difference between Israel and Judah was ended and one Messianic King reigned over them. The majestic prophecy of Jer. 23:5-7 had prophesied that when Israel returned from Babylon, “the branch” would rise and save them “and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth”, i.e. establish the Messianic Kingdom (cp. Ps. 72:2; Is. 9:7). But Zerubbabel, the “branch-from-Babylon”, lead the people back from Babylon, half heartedly built a temple- which faithful men wept at, when they saw how feeble it was compared to that which should have been (Ezra 3:12). And then he beat it back to Babylon. Nelson’s Bible Dictionary comments: “For some mysterious reason, Zerubbabel is not mentioned in connection with the Temple dedication. Neither is he mentioned after this time”. The reason seems to be that he returned to Babylon. R.K. Harrison in the Zondervan Encyclopaedia mentions that “a 6th century AD Jewish chronicle preserved the tradition that Zerubbabel returned to Babylonia after 515 BC and succeeded his father Shealtiel as the prince of the exiled remnant there”. He chose to be a prince in Babylon’s Kingdom, the kingdoms of men, rather than in the Kingdom of God. And so many have followed his decision in the centuries since, thus frustrating what could have been for them and many others within their influence. Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, 11.3) records that “Zorobabel, who had been made governor of the Jews that had been in captivity, came to Darius from Jerusalem, for there had been an old friendship between him and the king”. He was friendly with the King of Babylon, and chose to follow where this lead rather than friendship with the Almighty. Compare this with how the ‘friendliness’ of a boss or worldly friend has lead so many into promotions or situations where they simply cannot do the work which God intended for them. It could even be that the prophecy of Zech. 5 concerning the wickedness in the land of Judah somehow returning to Babylon and there building a temple is a reference to how Zerubbabel was to re-direct his energies into building a corrupted house for himself on his return to Babylon, a pseudo-temple. Zech. 5:11 speaks of this being built in Babylon upon her own “base”, the same word used in Ezra 3:3 about the altar being established upon its own “base” in Zion. It could also be that Zech. 11:17 speaks of Zerubbabel’s return to Babylon: “Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened” [i.e. in leprosy]. Was this how he ended his days, we wonder? Yet he, the ‘shoot out of Babylon’ as his name means, could have been the promised Messianic shoot out of the withered stem of Jesse. He could have been the Messianic shoot out of the dry ground of Babylon (Is. 53:2) who would accompany the return of the temple vessels from Babylon (Is. 52:11). But he disappears strangely out of the record. Thus the events of Nehemiah 8, where the Feasts of Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles as well as the dedication of the wall are all recorded, make no mention of the High Priest or Zerubbabel officiating. He, Joshua and indeed anyone who could have taken their place somehow didn’t rise to the occasion. And so Isa 51:17-18 lamented, prophetically: “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his fury [at the end of the 70 years captivity]...[but] There is none to guide her among all the sons whom she hath brought forth; neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up”.  

Even with Ezekiel’s prophecies behind him concerning “the prince”, Zerubbabel was easily discouraged in the rebuilding, and needed the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah to encourage him again. He kept the feast of tabernacles (Ezra 3:4) but without dwelling in booths (Neh. 8:17)- i.e., half heartedly. He could have been Messiah, perhaps- he may well have been 30/33 at the time of the restoration (Mt. 1:12,13). When Judah returned, they could have entered into the new covenant, featuring “nobles [an intensive plural, meaning ‘the great noble’]…and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them” (Jer. 30:21). Zerubabbel the Governor could have fulfilled this; but he flunked out. Yet God lifted up his spirit a second time (Hag. 1:14 cp. (Hag. 1:14 cp. Ezra 1:5); he was given a second chance, such was God’s enthusiasm that he should achieve what was potentially possible for him. But again, he failed. He saw the glory of Babylon as more attractive than the hard work required to bring about Yahweh’s eternal glory in Zion. It is noteworthy how God worked through this man’s failures, and desired to give him (and all Israel) further opportunities.  

Yahweh had promised that He would lead His people on that wilderness journey from Babylon to Zion just as He had earlier led His people from Egypt to the same promised land. Jer. 31:2 had encouraged them that Israel “found grace in the wilderness” before, and they would do again, “When I go to cause [Israel] to go to their place of rest” (RV). God had promised in Jer. 31:9 that He would bring Israel on their journey from Babylon to Judah along the fertile crescent- He would “cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble”.  This is why Isaiah’s prophecies of the restoration from Babylon are shot through with allusion to the exodus and wilderness journey (e.g. Is. 43:2; 51:10; 63:11). Jer. 31:2 had prophesied of the returning Jews: “The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest”- just as Zech. 1:11 describes the land being “at rest” when they returned to rebuild Zion. My point is that Yahweh didn’t give up with His people because many chose to remain in Babylon, and those who did make the journey didn’t believe His promises of protection very strongly. He zealously worked with whatever they could present Him with.

Jeremiah’s prophecies of the restoration also featured the uprise of a Messiah: “In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land (Jer 33:15). And again: “Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob And have compassion on his dwelling places; and the city shall be rebuilt on its ruin, and the palace shall stand on its rightful place. And from them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of those who make merry; and I will multiply them [cp. the lack of evidence that the population of resorted Judah was very great at all, and the problem in getting enough people to live in Jerusalem in Neh. 11:1], and they shall not be diminished...'And their leader shall be one of them, and their ruler shall come forth from their midst; and I will bring him near, and he shall approach me; for who would dare to risk his life to approach me?' declares the LORD” (Jer. 30:18-21 NAS). This leader who would come close to God in mediation would be willing to give his life to enable this. This must be connected with how Is. 53, describing Messiah’s death, is actually in a restoration context (beginning in Is. 52). Could it not be that a Messiah figure could have arisen and died a sacrificial death to bring his people to God? Daniel 9 likewise associates the rebuilding of Zion with the death of “Messiah the prince” to reconcile Israel to God- perhaps potentially possible within a literal 70 week period from Cyrus’ decree? Ezra’s prayer of Ezra 9 is full of reference to Daniel 9, as if he saw it as capable of fulfilment then. Daniel had been mystified as to why Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years desolation of Zion hadn’t been fulfilled on time, and he asks Yahweh not to defer fulfilling it (Dan 9:19), as if he was fully prepared for a deferment in fulfilment. The reply came in the form of the 70 weeks prophecy- as if to say that in 70 weeks, then the punishment for Judah’s sins would finally be accomplished, whereas Daniel had thought it ought to already have been accomplished seeing that 70 years had already passed. But the 70 weeks prophecy likewise had a deferment, until the true and faithful Messiah finally appeared to take away sin and make an end of punishment for iniquity. And in a restoration context, Jer 31:31 had promised: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah”. The new covenant could have then been established, requiring the abrogation of the Old Covenant [the law of Moses] on the basis of an acceptable sacrifice. Somehow, this would have been possible. But it was deferred until the time of the Lord Jesus. That covenant required Judah to have God’s law written on their hearts, so that they each had the knowledge of God (Jer. 31:34); and yet Mal. 2:5-7 laments that the priests were more interested in divorcing their wives than teaching God’s law to the people; their lips didn’t keep nor teach the knowledge of God. This new covenant is spoken about in Jer. 50, where we read that Babylon would fall as God’s revenge for what they did to the temple, and then Judah in their dispersion would “ask the way to Zion…saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten” (Jer. 50:28,5). Indeed at the time of Babylon’s fall, Judah were to heed God’s call to “Remove out of the midst of Babylon”, who had taken them captives (Jer. 50:8,33). Babylon did fall; and yet Judah did not return. Indeed, Daniel the Jew became a senior ruler in the administration that followed Babylon’s fall (Dan. 5:31). At that time, God was strong to show Himself Judah’s redeemer (Jer. 50:34)- but they chose to remain in Babylon under the Medo-Persian administration. So they did not ask the way to Zion and seek a new covenant with Yahweh; and thus the promises of a new covenant, strong redemption in Yahweh, a Messiah figure arising, were all delayed and re-interpreted in their fulfilment.  

Zerubbabel: The Potential Branch
Dan. 9:25 appears to identify “the anointed one, a prince” with the restoration of Jerusalem after the return. The Massoretic punctuation of Dan. 9:25 actually suggests that ‘Messiah the prince’ appears after the first seven of the seventy weeks- perhaps there was the possibility 49 day-years after the command to rebuild Jerusalem for a Messiah to have appeared? This would’ve fitted Zerubbabel perfectly. Lk. 3:27 describes Zerubbabel as the head / chief / leader. The term Rhesa is incorrectly rendered in many versions as a name. Perhaps Luke’s point was that the Lord Jesus was the final Messiah, after the failure of so many potential ones beforehand. ‘Zerubbabel the chief’ would then be a similar rubric to “David the king” in Matthew’s genealogy (Mt. 1:16). Zerubbabel was the ‘head’ of the house of David (Ezra 4:3; Hag. 2:23; Zech. 3:8; 6:12,13), as was his descendant Hattush (Ezra 8:1-3 cp. 1 Chron. 3:22). As the grandson of Jehoiachin, Judah's exiled king, Zerubbabel would've been the legitimate king of Judah. Potentially, Hos. 1:11 could have come true: “Judah and… Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head [Zerubbabel?]; and they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (RSV). And perhaps as head of the house of David, Zerubbabel was intended to be the “David my servant” who would be the one king and one shepherd who would lead Israel back to the land from exile (Ez. 37:22,24). Significantly, Neh. 7:7 describes Zerubbabel as being at the head of twelve leaders of the returning exiles, who are called “the people of Israel” (cp. Ezra 2:2).

Significantly, Ezekiel's prophecies of the temple make no reference to a High Priest, but rather to the "Prince" and his sons who presumably was to be the High Priest figure. Zerubbabel being a king-priest would've fulfilled this. And the fact he had seven sons, each named with some reference to restoration of the Kingdom, would lend support to this (1 Chron. 3:19,20). But he didn't let Ezekiel's prophecy concerning him to come true.

It seems that Haggai and Zechariah returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in order to prepare the way for Zerubbabel- they were therefore the primary fulfillment of the prophecies of an Elijah-type prophet heralding the coming of the Messiah king. Zerubbabel's failure therefore meant that their ministry was re-scheduled and fulfilled in the work of John the Baptist. Zerubbabel is called “the branch” (Zech. 3:8; 6:12; Jer. 23:5,6), and this obviously invites connection with the prophecy of a branch / Messiah who would grow out of the cut down stump of Jesse (Is. 11:1). Again, Zerubbabel fits the picture perfectly. The house of David had been cut down in judgment, but the prophesied branch would not be from the royal line of Kings- but rather simply from the ‘stump’ that had been left, i.e. a descendant of Jesse who was not in the direct line of kings. Mic. 5:2 speaks of a similar person- a Messiah-king who would be from Bethlehem, i.e. the family of Jesse, rather than from Jerusalem where the royal line of kings were born. His origins would be “from old”- i.e. a person who is still a descendant of Jesse, but not in the direct line of kings.

But despite all this, yet again we come to the sad realization that Zerubbabel like his people simply didn’t live up to it; and the prophecies came to be fulfilled finally in Jesus. He could have been Yahweh’s signet ring (Hag. 2:23), His specially favoured son- but he baulked at the height of the calling.

So I submit that the prophecies could have had their fulfilment in Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel, or some other Messianic figure at that time. Everything was made possible to enable this- Joshua, who couldn’t prove his Levitical genealogy, was given “a place of access” amongst the priesthood, those who “stood” before the Lord (Zech. 3:7 RV). Ezra thanked God that they had returned and that they had “a nail in his holy place” (Ezra 9:8), a reference surely to a Messiah figure whom he felt to be among them, the “nail in a sure place” of Is. 22:23. According to Mt. 1:12 and Lk. 3:27, Zerubbabel was the Prince of Judah, and the rightful heir to David’s throne. But due to his weakness, the fulfilment was deferred to Jesus. Zech. 3:7-10 contained the same message to Joshua: “If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge [as so frequently commanded in Ez. 40:46; 44:8,14-16 s.w.], then thou shalt also judge my house (as prophesied in Ez. 40-48), and shalt also keep my courts (so often mentioned in Ez. 40-48), and I will give thee places to walk (s.w. Ez. 42:4 about the walkways in the prophesied temple)...hear now, O Joshua”. But he didn’t. He didn’t keep the courts, but allowed Tobiah the Ammonite to set up his office for subversion in the temple chambers. Likewise Zerubbabel was to hold a measuring line in his hand and rebuild the temple (Zech. 4:10), just as the Angels had held the same measuring line over the temple in Ez. 40 and Zech. 2:1. He is told that it will not be due to “an army” but due to God’s Spirit / Angel (Zech. 4:6 RVmg). The “army” refers to the army which the King of Babylon was willing to send with the returning exiles in order to support the returning exiles. But Israel’s attention is focused instead on how the Spirit / Angel would enable all things.  

The Angel would work with Zerubbabel- but he would not. It was all potentially possible. “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it” (Zech. 4:9); but he beat it back to Babylon instead. Before him, all nations of the earth could have fallen, the whole ‘mountain’ of Babylon could have crumbled as before a mighty stone; in him Dan. 2:44 could have had its fulfilment (Zech. 4:7). And so much is potentially possible for us, too. The Lord may have many people in a city, all is prepared for their conversion- but we may not do our part, and so the potential harvest is never reaped. Isaiah 41 describes the Messianic saviour as coming to the land from Babylon, from the north and from the east. Babylon was east of Judah, and yet the approach road came down from the north. This was the way Zerubbabel and Joshua would have come; but the prophecies suffered a massive deferment to the coming of the Lord Jesus in a more figurative sense from the north and east. Zech. 4 contained a vision of Joshua and Zerubbabel, likened to two olive trees which emptied their oil into the seven branched candlestick, representing the ecclesia of Judah. They represented the kingly and priestly offices. The whole ‘lightstand’ depended upon these two anointed ones, these providers of oil, and the fact they both in various ways failed to deliver true faith and spirituality meant that the victory over the world which the vision also prophesied could not come about; the final fulfilment had to come through the Lord Jesus, who was the ultimate Priest (cp. Joshua-Jesus) and Prince of Judah (cp. Zerubbabel). This prophecy could have been fulfilled at the restoration; but when we read in Rev. 11:4 that “These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks”, is the Lord not saying that now He has redefined and rescheduled the fulfilment of that vision in a latter day context.  

There is another prophecy of Zerubbabel or Joshua which had to have its real fulfilment deferred until the coming of Jesus: “ Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass [Did Zerubbabel / Joshua like Nehemiah enter Jerusalem on a donkey?]. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem [the opposing Samaritans], and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (Zech 9:8-10). This latter phrase contrasts with the repeated reminder that the Persians had dominion “on this side the river” (Ezra 4:10,11,16; 5:3,6; 6:13; 8:36; Neh. 3:7). The coming King (and Joshua was prophesied as a king) was to free Judah from Persia’s dominion, and establish God’s Kingdom, with boys and girls playing in the streets of Jerusalem (Zech. 8:5). “From sea even to sea” is a conscious quote of the famous Messianic prophecy of Ps. 72:8. This was David’s prayer for Solomon; that he should have been the Messiah, and his Kingdom should have been Messiah’s. 1 Chron. 28:6,7 definitely seems to imply that Solomon could have lived for ever had he been obedient: “I will establish his kingdom for ever, if he be constant to do my commandments”. But as everyone knew, Solomon had failed, what was potentially possible hadn’t come true, due to his apostasy. Now, again, it could come true through the work of Joshua and Zerubbabel, and the priesthood and people being obedient to the temple prophecies of Ezekiel. If they wanted the Kingdom to come, then they had to live the Kingdom life.  

But it didn’t happen; men like Joshua and Zerubbabel just didn’t have the strength or commitment or even desire or the vision to see what could have been, even though the words of their prophets were shouting it to them. And the people were indifferent to it all, worried only about their own harvests and keeping the best animals for themselves rather than sacrificing them. It would seem that the genealogies of the books of Chronicles, with all their emphasis on the priesthood and temple service under Solomon, were produced at this time- in order to encourage the people to restore the Kingdom of God as it had been, and thereby bring in the Kingdom. References to “Jeconiah the captive” (1 Chron. 3:17 RV) make sense in the context of the records being written up in the captivity. And we can understand why the story of Shaharaim is mentioned in 1 Chron. 8:8- a Jewish refugee in Moab, who sent away his two Gentile wives [cp. what was done in Ezra 10:44] but ended up being blessed with more children. Note how Ezra 2:62 records Judah being ‘reckoned by genealogies’, using the same Hebrew word which is the hallmark of 1 Chron. (4:33; 5:1,7,17; 7:5,7,9,40; 9:1,22). And in this context, Is. 40:26 compares God’s ‘bringing out’ of Judah from Babylon with His ‘bringing out’ the stars by their individual names, all wonderfully known to Him. Ps. 87:6 had prophesied something similar about the restoration of Zion’s fortunes: “The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there”. The Kingdom of God was to be the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom- but they had to actually get on and restore it rather than wait for it to come. This is another reason for understanding Ezekiel’s temple as being broadly of the same dimensions as that of Solomon. 

Isaiah’s messianic prophecies describe a Saviour coming from both the north and the east (especially in Is. 41). Babylon was to the East of Judah, and yet the approach road came down from the north. This Saviour could have come and brought destruction of the Gentile opposition, and established the Kingdom of God in the land. The carpenter encouraged the goldsmith (Is. 41:7) in the building of the wall (cp. Neh. 3:8,32), and there are other links with what happened at the restoration (e.g. the way each worker says to his neighbour “be of good courage”, the same word used throughout Nehemiah for the ‘repairing’ or strengthening of the wall). But evidently the intended, possible fulfilment just didn’t happen. The fulfilment has been deferred until the return of Jesus. He will come from Heaven, the figurative “north”, rather than literal Babylon; the essence will be gloriously fulfilled, but not every literality. And so it may well be with the prophecies of the temple and worship system which was to be restored. 

Ezekiel’s temple prophecies begin with a man / Angel with a measuring reed, measuring Jerusalem and the temple. This recurs in Zech. 2:1, where the Angel again measures the temple and then promises that Yahweh will be a protecting wall of fire around the city, meaning that the Jews should fearlessly return from Babylon (2:5-10). There follows a description of God’s Kingdom on earth, with God Himself dwelling in Zion and all nations converting to Him. Yet the Jews returned with fear from Babylon- or some of them did. And they fussed so much about building a wall to protect them, in studied disregard of God’s promise here. God helped them build the wall- He was still so keen to work with them. And He later encouraged them that “I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth [s.w. used about Judah’s return from captivity, Ezra 2:1; 6:21]: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more” (Zech. 9:7,8). The Mosaic Law had required a half shekel temple tax, but He reduced it- again, such was His desire to work with them and have them as His people (Ex. 30:11-16 cp. Neh. 10:32,33). But still they feared, still they didn’t fully believe, still they saw the establishment of God’s Kingdom as only their concern insofar as it coincided with their self-interest; and so the promised establishment of the Messianic Kingdom just didn’t come. The temple still lay “waste” (Hag. 1:4,9) just as it had lain “desolate” [s.w. Jer. 33:10,12] after the Babylonian destruction. The ‘restoration’ was in fact not really a restoration at all, in God’s eyes. Thus Ezra sat down desolate [AV “astonied”] at the news of Judah’s apostasy in marrying the surrounding women; using the very same word as frequently used to describe the ‘desolate’ Jerusalem that was to be rebuilt (Ezra 9:3 cp. Is. 49:8,19; 54:3; 61:4). He tore his priestly garment (Ezra 9:3), as if he realized that all Ezekiel’s prophesies about those priestly garments now couldn’t come true (s.w. Ez. 42:14; 44:17,19). Is. 58:12,13 prophesied that the acceptable rebuilding of Zion was dependent upon Judah keeping the Sabbath acceptably; and yet Nehemiah’s record makes clear their tragic abuse of the Sabbath at the time of the restoration; and this therefore meant that the rebuilding of the temple and city were not going to fulfil the Messianic prophecies about them which existed: “And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou [Zerubbabel?] shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words...”. But Judah wanted to spend their Sabbaths ‘relaxing’, pursuing their hobbies, making a few more shekels by trading on the quiet. For such petty, petty things, the glory of God’s Kingdom was rejected by them. And yet so often we see those who leave the Faith doing just that. And we in essence often start down that same path. 

Zech. 4:6 appears to me to a criticism of Zerubbabel. He was warned that the restored Kingdom would be brought about not by "might" (military force) but by God's Spirit, operating through the Angels. This had been the message of Ezekiel as well as Zechariah's visions- that through the Angelic cherubim, God was ready to work out the promised and miraculous restoration of His Kingdom, so that Yehud would no longer be merely a province of Persia. Hence Zech. 4:14 pleads with them to understand that Yahweh is Lord of all the earth, and His Angels are everywhere active. The cherubim chariots are seen roaming the "land of the north" just as much as Israel (Zech. 6:5-7). But Zerubbabel and the Jews believed in what they could see, rather than in God's unseen armies. They presumably thought that such independence could only be achieved by armed rebellion against their Persian benefactors- and that was impossible. The history of the Maccabees soon afterwards showed this mentality. The Jews saw what was going on around them as a "day of small things" and despised it (Zech. 4:10). And yet great things were potentially possible. It's all so bitingly relevant to us- for we too see a day of small things, but the eye of faith sees great things prepared. A Yehudite- a specific term for a resident of the Persian province of Judah- could have had the peoples of all the nations in the Persian empire grabbing hold of their skirt (Zech. 8:23). Yehud could have risen up to be the head of all the nations in the land promised to Abraham, i.e. the Persian empire. These were the very real possibilities.

Joshua: Potential Messiah

Zech. 6:11-15 is clear enough that Joshua-Jesus could have become a king-priest, and the Kingdom of God been established in his time: “Take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest; And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD: Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both. And the crowns shall be to Helem, and to Tobijah, and to Jedaiah, and to Hen the son of Zephaniah, for a memorial in the temple of the LORD. And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the LORD, and ye shall know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. And this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God”. There is no record that Judah ever got near having a king again. Joshua the high priest never became king Joshua. And Gentiles didn’t come and help the Jews in building. It could be that their refusal of Gentile help to build the temple, insisting that only Jews work in it (Ezra 4:3 cp. Neh. 2:20), was actually going too far; by being so exclusive, they were disallowing the fulfilment of the prophecies both in Zech. 6 and in Isaiah, that Gentiles would help in the final rebuilding of Zion. As with some of us, their quite correct refusal to allow “the adversaries of Judah” (Ezra 4:1) to fellowship with us in the work can lead us to an exclusive approach to fellowship, that actually disallows the essentially outgoing and inclusive spirit of the God we serve. The Jews returned from Babylonian having swung to the opposite extreme from their earlier worldliness; they returned proud and refusing contact with the Gentile world, considering themselves saved by their own strength. And this is perhaps reflected in the way they refused on principle to allow any Gentiles to help them in the building work. Is. 60:10,11 had foretold: “And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee [as in the decree of Cyrus]...Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night”; and them as Ez. 43 had also described, “I will glorify the house of my glory” (Is. 60:7). But due to the Jews’ abuse of the Sabbath and their refusal to believe Yahweh would be the promised wall of protecting fire to them, the gates could not be open continually, and had to be shut at night (Neh. 7:3; 13:19). And Antiochus quite soon after Nehemiah’s time destroyed them [which shows how the spirituality involved in what we do, e.g. the building of the wall, is the essential thing, rather than the achievement of anything in itself]. The implication of the prophecies about Zion’s open gates was that whosoever would could then come at any time to seek Yahweh. But men were potentially turned away from Him, and His Kingdom not realized...just because greedy, materialistic Jews wanted to have a few more coins in their pocket as a result of their trading on the Sabbath. And so with us, our meanness, our disabling of adverts to be placed, preaching to be our selfishness, our desire to have more than we need to cover us in the case of an y eventuality, all this effectively shuts up the Kingdom against men. If the Pharisees could do just this, it is possible for us to do it. The salvation of others has been delegated into our hands.  

Ezra And Nehemiah: Potential Messiahs?

According to Jewish tradition, Nehemiah’s real name was Zerubbabel, the branch (Sanhedrin 38a)- perhaps the same Zerubbabel as mentioned in Haggai and Zechariah. The Hippolytus Chronicle 7:3:37 even claims Nehemiah was a direct descendant of David and in the direct kingly line. His name, ‘comfort of Yahweh’, invites us to see him as the potential fulfilment of the Is. 40:1,2 prophecy about a Messiah figure arising to the exiles, giving them God’s comfort. At the time of Judah's redemption, while the temple had been trodden down by her enemies, the promised Messiah figure of Is. 63:1-3,18 was to come from Edom and Bozrah - both code names for Babylon. The words "Bozrah" and "Babylon" have similar root meanings ('high / fortified place'). And he was to lament how the people of Judah were not with him- "of the people there was none with me". But this is the very spirit of Nehemiah, when he returns to Jerusalem from Babylon and looks around the 'trodden down' city at night, not telling the people of the Jews about his inspection- i.e. the people were not with him (Neh. 2:11-16).

Isaiah begins his section on the restoration with a bold prophecy that the restoration of Zion was to be associated with a way being prepared for Israel’s God to come to them (Is. 40:1-3). These words are repeated in Mal. 3:1-3, where the messenger  was to prepare the way of Yahweh’s coming. It seems that in some sense they could have come true in the first return of the exiles along the wilderness way back to Zion, under Ezra. But over 100 years later, in Malachi’s time, the prophecy was still capable of fulfilment, if the priesthood would be purged. But finally it was all deferred in fulfilment until the coming of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus. Is. 45:20-25 calls for the Jews to return from Babylon and come unto Him in Zion; but the majority remained in Babylon, and so these words were delayed in fulfilment; Rom. 14 quotes them about how the new Israel will come from all nations to the judgment seat of the Lord Jesus at the last day. But had Jewry returned from Babylon as they had been asked, they would have come to their Messiah there and then. When Nehemiah speaks of them having been redeemed by Yahweh’s “strong hand” (1:10). he is using the language of Is. 40:10, regarding how Yahweh would come and save Israel from Babylon and restore them to the land “with strong hand”. Nehemiah saw the prophecy could have been fulfilled then. The way Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Neh. 7:5-7), Ezra (Ezra 7:8; 8:32) and Nehemiah (Neh. 2:11; 13:7) are described as ‘coming to Jerusalem’ may hint that they could have fulfilled this coming of Yahweh to Zion; they could have been Messianic figures (Neh. 2:11; 13:7). Because of the decree of Cyrus, the land of Israel could have opened and brought forth Jesus (“salvation”, Is. 45:8). Haggai 2:7 had spoken of how the desire of all nations would come in to the temple and fill it with glory. This has been understood by John Thomas as referring to Messiah coming in to the temple in Kingdom glory. This is exactly the picture we have in Ezekiel 43. But in Haggai’s context, he is encouraging the Jews of his time that this is what really and truly could have happened then and there, had they been obedient.  

The Jews built a wall and appointed human guards over them (Neh. 4:15,22), even though Yahweh Himself had promised to be their wall and their guard (Zech. 2:4,5). And Zech. 12:8 had repeated it: “In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David”. But they didn’t want to believe it, as they cowered in fear from those who “came to fight against Jerusalem” (Zech. 4:8), whom Zechariah prophesied would be destroyed by Yahweh. And yet He graciously worked with them in their plan to build a physical wall, just as He worked through their desire for human kingship and a physical temple in earlier days, even though it was not His ideal intention. Likewise He had promised support for them if they returned to the land; He would preserve them on the way. Consider Is. 50:10: “Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice [s.w. Ezra 1:1 re the proclamation of Cyrus] of his servant [i.e. Cyrus, Is. 45:1], that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God”. Yet Ezra was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers to guard them on the journey only because he had earlier told the king that Yahweh would be with them (Ezra 8:22), as if he really did want the support but was ashamed to ask for it. He disallowed Isaiah’s prophesy that the restored Israel would never be ashamed [s.w. Ezra 8:22; 9:6] nor confounded (Is. 45:17; 49:23; 54:4). Nehemiah accepted such support when he came up from Babylon (Neh. 2:9). And yet perhaps Nehemiah was some kind of potential Messiah- for the surrounding Gentiles ‘came up’ to him and shared in the luxurious temple meals (a common Kingdom prophecy- the same Hebrew words are used for the Gentiles ‘coming up’ to the temple in Is. 60:5,11; Jer. 16:19; Hag. 2:7; Zech. 8:22). Those meals could have been the Messianic banquets.  Another indication that Nehemiah could have been a Messiah figure is to be found in Mal. 1:10 RV, which laments that even if one man could be found to shut the temple doors properly, then God’s pleasure would have returned to Israel. It was Nehemiah who shut the doors (Neh. 13:19- i.e. organized the temple services?), but presumably the implication is that he didn’t continue as required.

Ezra likewise appears to have failed to live up to his potential- Jacob Myers cites an Arab tradition that he returned to Babylon and died there (1).


Ezra, Nehemiah, Joshua, Zerubbabel...all overlooked the encouragement of Is. 42:4 concerning the servant-Messiah: “He shall not fail nor be discouraged”. Of course, the Lord Jesus Himself, along with these earlier potential Messiahs, could have failed and been discouraged. This was a conditional prophecy, if ever there was one. But the Lord Jesus made it real and live in His own experience; the others assumed, as we so often do, that these kind of scriptures are meant for someone other than us. Just as so many in the world assume that the good news of the Kingdom applies to us who preach it, and it must be very nice for us...but refuse to let the personal reality of it sink in for them. In passing, it  should be observed that the servant-Messiah is described as being blind and deaf (Is. 42:19)- just as those who returned from Babylon were called blind, yet having eyes; deaf, yet having ears (Is. 43:8). They had the potential to see and hear; and the servant-Messiah likewise was at that time deaf and blind, but had the potential to see and hear with the vision and words of Messiah. It is hard to understand these words otherwise. So we conclude that another reason why the restoration didn’t turn into the promised Messianic Kingdom was simply due to poor leadership. Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah returned from Babylon and were intended to be leaders who would crown Joshua / Jesus as the Messiah-Priest-Branch who would rebuild Jerusalem. But nothing is heard of them further. Perhaps it is to them that Zech. 11:8 refers: “Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul loathed them…then said I [on God’s behalf], I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die”. They had gone into captivity because of poor shepherds, and now at their return they again lacked men willing to be their Saviours; and God is saying that He would not do the shepherding job which He had delegated to others. It could be that Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah all died in one month as a result of Zechariah’s prophecy at the time of Ezra 5:1. Or it could be that the three potential shepherds who failed were Zerubbabel, Joshua and Nehemiah.


(1) Jacob Myers, Ezra-Nehemiah (New York: Doubleday, 2004 ed.) p. LXXII.