Q&A: The Seventy Years of Exile

The Seventy Years of Exile

Why was Israel not fully restored after the 70 years of exile were completed?

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Answer

One of the most perplexing questions that Christians have had to deal with, and they've done it in a variety of ways, is why the restoration during the days of Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah, why it did not move forward like one would expect if you read the prophets. In Jeremiah 25 and 29 the prophet Jeremiah says that the exile will come to an end in seventy years, and he also adds to that that the nations that persecuted Israel would collapse, they would come under the judgment of God, and that the great promises of restoration, of nature, and prosperity for Israel would come at that time too. So, it's a problem when you think about what actually happened. And what actually happened was there was the beginning of restoration and good things were happening. Eventually they built the temple, and there were some positive things happening, but troubles came against that community and when they returned to the Promised Land. But what we have to remember is that when prophets predict the future, there is still this factor that if people don't respond properly to the warnings and to the offers of blessing, then God will adjust the way he is going to fulfill these things. And this is why we have passages like Daniel chapter 9 that really focuses on why the seventy years of Jeremiah is extended times seven to 490 years.

And even more than that, it's also one of the reasons why we have books like Ezra and Nehemiah, because Ezra and Nehemiah go in detail as to what went wrong. Why was it that things did not unfold as one would expect from the prophetic word? And it was because the Israelites who returned continued to delay their response to God. It was nominal at best at first. They refused to build the temple. As the prophet Haggai said, "You continue to live in houses of cedar but the house of God lies in ruins." And they also refused to repent from their hearts and sincerely turn to God. And that's what you find in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In fact, it's so bad by the time the prophet Malachi does his ministry that Malachi says there's going to have to be another radical intervention by God to straighten things out, and that he will have to purify the sons of Levi, and that there will be a dramatic, catastrophic event that will finally bring Israel to the stage where it begins to receive the blessings that were promised to them after the exile.

And when Daniel said that about the seventy years being multiplied by seven, it's clearly a reference back, an allusion back to Leviticus 26 where God says, "I will discipline my people, and if they repent, great. But if they don't, then I'll multiply their discipline seven times, and then seven times more, and seven times more, and seven times more." Now, in Leviticus 26, the end of that seven times, the multiplication seven times, is the great exile. Well, then what happens when Israel goes into exile and returns and they still do not repent as they ought? Well, this is precisely what Daniel explains in Daniel 9. God multiplies their judgment another seven times, from seventy years to 490 years. Which brings us, by the way, very close to the time of Christ.

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.