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FROM THE CAPTIVITY TO CHRIST
(1) The Decree of Cyrus
That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid (Isa. 44:28).
When the city of Babylon was conquered by Darius the Mede, Daniel read Jeremiah’s prophecy and knew it was about time to return to Jerusalem (Dan. 9:1-2). Second Chronicles 36:21 tells us the seventy years of captivity in Babylon was: “To fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years.”
Isaiah 13:17 said Babylon would be conquered by the Medes, but 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 tells us the seventy years of captivity did not end until the first year of Cyrus:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying: Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
The Medo-Persian Empire was a dual kingdom. At first the Medes were the stronger under Ahasuerus. Then about the time Babylon fell to Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, the Persians became stronger under the leadership of Cyrus, the Persian. It was Cyrus who gave the decree that allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. I believe this ended the seventy years of captivity and started Daniel’s 490 years.
Concerning Cyrus and this decree, the Encyclopedia Britannica says, “From the beginning of 538 Cyrus dates his years as ‘king of Babylon and king of the countries.’. . . In 538 Cyrus granted to the Jews, whom Nebuchadnezzar had transported to Babylonia, the return to Palestine and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple.”1
Apparently Cyrus replaced Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, as king of Babylon. He put his son, Cambyses, on the throne. The Britannica says, “On a tablet dated from the first year of Cyrus, Cambyses is called king of Babel . . .”2 No doubt this didn’t please Darius.
The Decree of Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem, which was prophesied by Isaiah some 100 years before Cyrus was even born. The part about the temple is recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1:1-4, and Ezra 6:3-5. The Bible did not record the part about Cyrus telling them they could rebuild the city, but it was given. The Lord said, “Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (Isa. 44:28, emphasis mine).
When the people returned to Jerusalem, they began to rebuild the city and temple against opposition, but Daniel’s seventy weeks did not start with the time they began to rebuild either one. They began with the proclamation allowing them to rebuild:
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times (Dan. 9:25).
Josephus says, “Cyrus also sent an epistle to the governors that were in Syria, the contents whereof here follow: ‘KING CYRUS TO SISINNES AND SATHRABUZANES, SENDETH GREETING. I have given leave to as many of the Jews that dwell in my country as please to return to their own country and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem, on the same place where it was before.’ ”3
If we add the 483 years from the Decree of Cyrus this would put the birth of Christ 4000 years from Adam. Luke 3:21-23 tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old when He began His public ministry, and the Gospels indicate His ministry lasted about three years, which would have made Him about 33 at His crucifixion.
(2) The Wall
The Bible gives no record of how long Cyrus ruled after his famous decree. History says it was about ten years. According to Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, Cyrus was killed in a battle near the Caspian Sea. Xenophon, a later Greek historian who served with Cyrus the Younger, said Cyrus the Great returned to Persia and died in peace. Xenophon also says immediately after the death of Cyrus, his sons began civil dissensions.4 According to Herodotus, the dissensions lasted about eight months before a new king was firmly established. During this time, the story goes, an impostor claiming to be the son of Cyrus claimed the kingdom.5
If Xenophon is right about the death of Cyrus and Herodotus is right about the eight months, there may have been about eleven years between the decree of Cyrus and the next king, which was Darius. Cyrus had given permission for the temple to be rebuilt but the work was stopped. Ezra tells us:
Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; then they came to Zerubbabel, and the chief of the fathers, and said to them, Let us build with you. . . But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:1-5).
It is said that Ezra 4:6-23 “is parenthetical, referring to latter periods.” The verses are parenthetical. Verses 7 through 23 are looking ahead to the wall. I believe verse 6 is referring back to Ahasuerus, the father of Darius the Mede.
After Darius became king of Persia, he found the Decree of Cyrus and gave his permission for the work to resume (Ezra 6:1-13). Verse 14 says that decrees were issued by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes for the rebuilding and completion of the temple, but verse 15 says the temple was finished in the 6th year of Darius. Darius may have died early during his 6th year and Artaxerxes may have given another decree when he began to rule, which would still be the 6th year of Darius.
In his 7th year Artaxerxes gave Ezra permission to return to Jerusalem to teach the Law of Moses. In his 20th year he gave Nehemiah permission to return and rebuild the wall (See Ezra 7:1-10, Neh.2).
Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and began work on the wall, but the adversaries of Judah again caused trouble. They wrote a letter to Artaxerxes requesting that the work be stopped. Artaxerxes wrote back saying the work must “cease . . . until another commandment shall be given from me” (Ezra 4:8-23).
Ezra 4:22 mentions “kings,” which may indicate there is another king involved besides Artaxerxes: His father, Xerxes. They probably were ruling together.
Just how long the work was officially stopped, Ezra doesn’t say. It may have been 12 years before “another commandment” was given, and the work was hastily finished in 52 days. Or, Nehemiah may have “finished” the wall to “half” of its height in 52 days in the 20th year of Artaxerxes and continued working on it for the next 12 years (Neh. 4:6; 5:14-16).
It seems Nehemiah made a quick trip to Babylon in Artaxerxes’ 32nd year. After a few “days” the king gave him permission to return to Jerusalem, probably to finish and dedicate the wall (Neh. 12:27-47; 13:1-9).
|<--------------49 years of trouble---------------->|
| Cyrus 11.....Darius 6......Artaxerxes 32..........|
Most premillennialists believe Daniel’s 490 years began the 20th year of Artaxerxes in 445 B.C., each year being only 360 days long. But the decree of Artaxerxes had more to do with the wall than the city.
Sometime after Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem the wall was finished, and this took place 49 years after the Decree of Cyrus. During this 49 years they had nothing but trouble in building the temple, city, and wall, just like Gabriel had predicted:
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem . . . [there shall be] seven weeks . . . the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times (Dan. 9:25).
Regardless of whether the wall was completed in Artaxerxes’ 20th or 32nd year, the seventy weeks could not have begun in his 20th year; for there is no way to fit the 49 years between his 20th year and the wall being completed.
Secular history has about 538 years between the Decree of Cyrus and the Birth of Christ, but according to the prophecy of Daniel 9, there are only 450. Most, if not all, of the 88 year error may fall between Cyrus and Alexander, who conquered Persia in 331 B.C. What probably happened is that some of the Persian kings were co-ruling together. Tim LaHaye says, “The Medo-Persians were notoriously poor historians.” Josephus said the Greeks were not any better.
In his book The Coming Prince, Sir Robert Anderson wrote about the prophecies of Daniel to refute a Jewish Rabbi who “accused Christian expositors of tampering, not only with chronology, but with Scripture, in their efforts to apply the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks to the Nazarene.” In the Preface to the 10th edition, he said, “I decided to take up the study of the subject with a fixed determination to accept without reserve not only the language of Scripture, but the standard dates of history as settled by out best modern chronologists.”6
I agree with Anderson that we can accept the Scriptures without reservation, but we can’t accept the “standard dates of history” as absolute fact. This is the primary reason Bible chronology has never been put in order.
For more on the chronology of Persia, the misplacing of Esther, and Darius the Mede, who may have become king of Persia, see Appendix C).
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