By 576 BC, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered by Assyria and scattered among the nations due to their idol worship, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been conquered by the Babylonian empire due to their idol worship and mistreatment of the poor. Despite warnings from many prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, Judah failed to listen and God allowed justice to be given to the Israelites. As a result, the people of God spent 70 years in exile.
As God promised Ezekiel and Jeremiah, He watched over and protected His people in exile. The first notable instance occurs in the story of Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). After God had provided them the appropriate health when they followed the dietary laws prescribed by the Torah, King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that all people worship a huge idol dedicated to his power. As members of the King’s court, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael refuse and are thrown into a fiery furnace. Because of their faithfulness, an angel saves them and King Nebuchadnezzar proclaims the Hebrew God as the true God.
After the Babylonians fell to the Persian empire, Darius was King. He demanded that all people worship him as God. Daniel, the friend of Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael and part of the king’s advisors, refuses to do so. Jealous advisors of the king caught Daniel in the act of worshiping God. Although the king was dismayed because he liked Daniel, Daniel was thrown into a den of lions overnight. God kept Daniel safe from the lions, and the next morning, the King was overjoyed, let Daniel out, and praised the God of the Hebrews.
After seventy years in exile, some Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. However, many stayed behind in the Persian Empire. After the King got rid of his wife who angered him, Esther, a Jewish girl, became queen. She found favor with the king when her uncle and guardian Mordecai uncovered a plot of assassination against the king. Esther warns the king and saves his life, but Mordecai is never rewarded. As time passes, Haman, the king’s trusted advisor is angered by Mordecai because he will only bow to God and not to Haman. As a result, Haman desires to annihilate the Jewish people from the Persian Empire and sets a decree to do so. Mordecai urges Esther to say something to the king, and after a couple of banquets, she reveals Haman’s plot. The king is enraged, executes Haman, and the Jewish people are saved. God never explicitly acts in this story, but provides circumstances and strength for Esther and Mordecai to do what is needed to save His people.
Finally during the time of exile, Daniel has multiple prophetic visions. In one vision, an angel tells Daniel that the exile of the Jewish people will last 7 times the 70 years prophesied by Jeremiah. Other visions point to the coming of four different empires: Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman. But one of the visions (seen by Nebuchadnezzar but interpreted by Daniel) tells of a stone not made from human hands that will strike the final of the four empires and grow into a mountain. This is a direct reference to Jesus who is the stone that the builders rejected who becomes the cornerstone of the mountain of the Lord. He comes during the Roman empire approximately seven times seventy years after the initial return to Jerusalem. Jesus’ Kingdom, the Church, ultimately converts the Roman empire from within leading to its destruction while the Church spreads to all nations.
In the Babylonian Exile, we see God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people. Even though they abandoned Him and mistreated His prophets, God does not forget His favor to His people. In doing so, He lays the foundation for their return to the promised land. Although the rebuilding of Jerusalem becomes a hard and strenuous process, God begins the final step in preparing His people for His Son to save the world from their sins.