In tandem with our sermon series from the Book of Zechariah on Lord’s Day Evenings, we will be doing a series of short blog posts on the Post-Exilic Prophets, giving a brief introduction to some of their themes and messages. But for now, how about a brief introduction to this obscure little section of the Old Testament called the Post-Exilic Prophets? For starters, what in the world do we mean by “Post-Exilic Prophets?”
If you think about the story of Israel throughout the Old Testament, it’s helpful to frame your thinking around to the two big “E’s” of their history: Exodus and Exile. These are the two predominant events in the life of God’s Old Covenant people.
Here’s a quick historical rundown: In approximately 1446 BC, Israel was delivered out of bondage in Egypt, and was presented with the covenant under Moses. They wander in the wilderness for 40 years, and eventually settle in the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. In approximately 586 BC, the last of God’s people are taken and are deported out of Israel and into Babylon.
During those 860 years between the Exodus and the Exile, a great many things transpired: the judges came and went; many kings (some good, most wicked) rose and fell; the ministries of Elijah and Elisha took place; David and Solomon lived, ruled, and died, etc. Under Solomon’s son Rehoboam, the kingdom underwent civil war and was split in half: the kingdom of Israel to the north, and the kingdom of Judah to the south. Eventually, Israel was taken captive by Assyria in approximately 722 BC. Assyria was eventually conquered by Babylon. Babylon finished off Judah in 586 BC, and had all Judah’s inhabitants deported to Babylon. Thus, none of God’s people were left in the land promised to their father Abraham.
But why did this exile happen in the first place? Second Kings 17:7-23 gives us the answer: Complete and flagrant violation of the Ten Commandments and of the Mosaic covenant, spelled out in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Apostasy. Worshipping false gods, and taking part in the detestable practices of their pagan nieghbors. The people called to be holy unto the Lord were being anything but.
Well, weren’t the people of Israel forewarned? Indeed they were. For a long time, God had made His desires known to the people in a covenant relationship formula that occurs time and again: “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Even so, 2 Chronicles sums up this sad period well: “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy” (2 Chron. 36:15–16).
Eventually, the Babylonian empire was conquered by the Persian empire (funny how that keeps happening) and King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland in 538 BC. Enter the Post-Exilic Prophets: messengers sent by God to his people with especially significant messages, at a time after they have returned from exile.
So, who were the Post-Exilic Prophets? They include Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and probably Joel.
What did these prophets do? They conveyed the message of God for this period of time with special intensity and purpose. Understand, the restoration community of Israel was often spiritually apathetic, and these prophets came along with messages of warning and promise in hopes of shocking the people out of their apathy. Right from the outset, you see the prophets bringing indictments because of the breach of the covenant and the slowness of the people to grasp God’s rule over them. Even still, the people are urged to persevere (see Haggai and Zechariah’s emphasis on completing the temple) and summoned to be holy –not complacent.
These Post-Exilic Prophets have a ministry which proclaims the restoration of the people in the land, but they also look beyond that restoration. You see, the people who returned never did experience the former glories of Israel, nor did they see all the promises of the prophets fulfilled during their own lifetime. In light of this hard reality, these Post-Exilic Prophets also came heralding a new covenant and a new era to come, eventually realized in the New Testament with the coming of Jesus Christ.
These key ideas, themes, and context clues pop up all over the place in these prophetic books. Be on the lookout for them as we continue our study in Zechariah over the coming weeks.