More than any other world religion, Judaism can be thought of as the religion of a particular people – or indeed as being that people, rather than their religion.
The roots of Judaism extend back to the first patriarch, Abraham, around 1800 BCE. This makes Judaism somewhere around 3800 years old. Abram was one of three sons of Tereh, from Ur, the land of the Chaldeans.
As you can see from the map, Ur is east of Jerusalem and about 150 miles southeast of modern day Baghdag. Tereh was a descendent of Shem, one of the three sons of Noah. Much of the history of Judaism is located in the Hebrew Scriptures, beginning in Genesis 11. The actually event from which Judaism owes its existence is located in Genesis 12:1: Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” And so the long, rich history of Judaism began with the call of God on one man: Abraham.
God tells Abraham that his offspring will experience harsh bondage for 400 years and this marks the first major milestone in the history of Judaism: “Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.” This period represents the Egyptian bondage.
After approximately 400 hundred years of bondage, God sent Israel a deliverer: Moses. The name Moses means “he who draws out.” Just as Moses was drawn out of the water and rescued from the Nile, so he would draw Israel out of Egypt, passing through the waters of the sea. Moses is the central figure of ancient Judaism. It was through Moses that God gave the Jewish nation the law.
After their exodus out of Egypt, the Jewish people moved into the land of Canaan and settled there. But between the exodus and the Canaan conquest, something marvelous occurred. Moses was ordered to Mt. Sinai so that he could receive a very special word from God. This event would do more than any other single event to shape the values and beliefs of ancient and modern Judaism. Just as God had entered into covenant with Adam, then with Noah, and with Abraham, now he would enter into covenant with the nation of Israel. “They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain.” (Ex. 19:2-3) While on the mountain with God, Moses received laws, statutes, commandments, and an account of the true history of creation up until this time. It was during this divine visitation that Moses also received the ten commandments. After Moses’ death, Israel invaded Canaan, conquering it just as God had promised Abraham they would. For the next 250-300 years Israel was ruled by judges, that is up until around 1051 when Israel convinced the prophet Samuel to appoint a King over them whose name was Saul. Saul reigned until around 1011 and was replaced by the greatest king Israel would know: King David.
Despite David’s weaknesses and imperfections and even outrageous behavior at times, he is described as a man after God’s own heart. David reigned from 1011 – 971 BC. It was toward the end of David’s life that trouble in leadership began to erode the theocracy. It seems that one of David’s sons, Adonijah declared himself king even before David’s death. It was Nathan the prophet who spoke with Bathsheba in order to set things right. Nathan inform Bathsheba of Adonijah’s conspiracy to take the throne. Through a series of maneuvers by Bathsheba, she was able to inform King David who acted swiftly depite his old age. As a result, Solomon ascended the throne in succession to his father David just as David had swore to Bathsheba. And as one might guess, Solomon, after giving Adonijah a chance to prove himself worthy, had Adonijah killed.
Solomon, like his father David, for most of his life was second in greatness only to his father David. He was the wisest man to walk the earth apart from Christ. It was Solomon who built the first Temple. The Temple of the Lord would serve as the center of Jewish worship. Solomon reigned from 971 – 931. After Solomon’s death, Israel will never be the same. The Kingdom is split between his son, Rehoboam in the Judah and the son of one of his servants, Jeroboam in the North. The two kingdoms were split. The kings that followed after Solomon for both kingdoms were mostly wicked. There were a few godly one’s here and there, most of them being in the south.
The Fall of the Northern Kingdom
In Isaiah 7:18 is recorded a most dreadful prophecy: “In that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.” This is the warning that the beginning of the end is about to begin. The northern kingdom was characterized at this by a destabilizing idolatry, rapid succession from one king to the next, and a number of assassinations. The fall of the northern kingdom is recorded in 2 Kings 17: In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
Exile Because of Idolatry
And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.
All this took place during the reign of Shalmaneser in 722 BC. Israel had only existed as a nation with a king for a scant 329 years before she completely collapsed. From Saul in 1051 to the Assyrian invasion and captivity in 722, Israel had never consistently followed the word of God that she have been given by God through Moses in the desert some five to 7 hundred years earlier depending on the timeline one follows. The northern kingdom was finished because of her blatant idolatry. Israel did not fall because of political ineptness, bad policies, or just poor leadership skills. She fell because of her rebellion against God.
The Fall of Judah
Despite the fact that its northern neighbor fell in 722 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah managed to remain in its own land until 586 BC. In 605 BC, the Babylonians defeated the Assyrians and the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish.
Exile Because of Violence
1 Kings 24 explains that God sent the Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and the Ammonites against Judah to destroy it because of its sin. After Nebuchadnezzar’s victory at Carchemish, he eventually set his eyes on Judah. In 1 Kings 24:10, Chaldians besiege the city of Jerusalem. Up until this time, Judah had been under the control of Nebuchadnezzar. Judah thought it could rebel without consequence. They were wrong. Their king, Jehoiachin, was an evil man and miscalculated the resolve of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar took all but the poorest from Jerusalem into captivity, including Jehoiachin. And in Jehoichin’s place, he installed Mattaniah his uncle, as king and changed his name to Zedekiah. But Zedekiah over the years became over-confident and rebelled against the rule of Nebuchadnezzar. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar sent his army back to Jerusalem once more and this would spell the end for Judah. They killed Zedekiah’s sons in front of him, put out his eyes, and took him prisoner back to Babylon in chains. The process for putting out one’s eyes began with inserting a hook into the lip of the prisoner. The hook was attached to a cord. The punisher would hold the cord while taking a spear and use the tip to gauge the prisoner’s eyes out.
The Babylonian Captivity to the Second Temple Period
Nebuchadnezzar decimated Jerusalem in 587 BC, destroying Solomon’s Temple, burning the king’s house and many of the great houses in Jerusalem, and finally, breaking down the wall that protected the city. The Babylonian captivity would last for another ~48 years. In 539, a dramatic shift took place. Cyrus of Persia capture Babylon and issued a decree releasing the Jews and allowed them to return to their homeland.
The Cyrus Cylinder records the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus and his reforms. The book of Ezra 1-6 records the first wave of returning Jews back to Jerusalem, led by Zerubbabel. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. 2 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah. (Ez. 2:1-2)
The first order of business for the returning Jews was to rebuild the alter. The alter signified purification and repentance so that they could move forward with restoring the city under God’s blessing. Once purification is established, the Jews set to work on rebuilding the Temple. Throughout the Scriptures, the Temple represents God’s presence among his people. While the Jews faced some opposition from some of the inhabitants of Judah, God continued to encourage them and in Ezra 6, the work to rebuild the Temple is completed and the Temple itself is dedicated. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah record numerous concerns during this time-period that are critical to understanding what has become known as “Second-Temple Judaism.” The practices established during this time period set the background, and hence, lay the foundation for a better understanding of the coming of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.