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Ending the Old Testament

Gene Van Shaar

May 27, 2020


Lesson Plan Notes

Compiled and Edited

by Gene Van Shaar


"When the Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken captive by Assyria in 721 B.C., Assyria ruled most of the known world. Yet, within a few short decades, the Assyrian Empire had crumbled before the onslaught of the Babylonians. Under Nebuchadnezzar Babylonia became a world empire, inheriting for the most part territories and peoples conquered by Assyria. If these peoples resisted their new masters, Nebuchadnezzar responded swiftly and savagely. So fell Judah in 586 B.C. Though the Lord used the conquering empires as scourges in His hand to punish rebellious and backsliding Israel and Judah, once they had fulfilled their purpose they too came to a swift end." (Institute OT Student Manual, Enrichment J-1)


Fall of Babylon to Cyrus


Daniel 5:1 "Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote … Then came in all the king’s wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof … 10 Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said … 11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; 12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation. 13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry? … 16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom. 17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation … 22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart … 23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: 24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. 25 And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. 26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. 27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." (Daniel 5:1-27)


"Was Babylon Really Overthrown in One Night? Babylon was surrounded by a massive wall over one hundred feet thick and three hundred feet high. To breach such a wall, even with constant sieging, would take months, and yet there is no hint in Daniel’s record that the city was under siege at this time. Could a city of Babylon’s size and fortifications be taken in one night? Historical sources other than the Bible indicate that that is exactly what happened, supporting Daniel’s record exactly. The ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, recorded that 'Cyrus had previously caused the Pallacopas, a canal which ran west of the city, and carried off the superfluous water of the Euphrates into the lake of Nitocris, to be cleared out, in order to turn the river into it; which, by this means, was rendered so shallow that his soldiers were able to penetrate along its bed into the city.' (In Samuel Fallows, ed., The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopedia and Scriptural Dictionary, s.v. Babylon, p. 207.)" (OT Institute Manual, Enrichment, G, J1)


"Returning in 539 B.C., Cyrus advanced against Babylon, which opened its gates to him without a battle. [According to Daniel, Belshazzar saw the handwriting on the wall telling him of the fall of Babylon the very night before Cyrus entered the city and brought an end to the Babylonian empire (see Daniel 5).] Indeed, [Cyrus] seems to have been welcomed by the populace as a friend and benefactor. Thus Cyrus became master of all western Asia. Cyrus was a born ruler of men. He inaugurated a new policy in the treatment of conquered peoples. Instead of tyrannizing over them and holding them in subjection by brute force, he treated his subjects with consideration and won them as his friends. He was particularly considerate of the religions of conquered peoples. The effect of this policy was to weld his subjects to him in a loyalty which made his reign an era of peace.” (Elmer W. K. Mould, Essentials of Bible History, pp. 348–49.)


Cyrus Was Raised Up by the Lord to free the Jews [after 70 years servitude] "Adam Clarke suggested: ‘It is very probable that when Cyrus took Babylon he found Daniel there, who had been long famed as one of the wisest ministers of state in all the East; and it is most likely that it was this person who pointed out to him the prophecy of Isaiah, and gave him those farther intimations relative to the Divine will which were revealed to himself’ (The Holy Bible…with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 2:730)." (OT Student Manual, Enrichment J-1, J2)


Isaiah prophesied about Cyrus by name in about 700 BC (About 160 years previous). "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. (Isaiah 45:1) Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him." (Isaiah 44:28)


"Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfil what was so written; so he called for the most eminent Jews that were in Babylon, and said to them, that he gave them leave to go back to their own country, and to rebuild their city Jerusalem, and the temple of God, for that he would be their assistant, and that he would write to the rulers and governors that were in the neighbourhood of their country of Judea, that they should contribute to them gold and silver for the building of the temple, and besides that, beasts for their sacrifices.” (Antiquities of the Jews, [Josephus] bk. 11, chap. 1, pars. 1–2.)"


The Second Temple


"When the Jews returned to Israel, they found the land inhabited by Samaritans, a people whose name came from the city of Samaria, which had been the capital of the Northern Kingdom. When the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria in 721 B.C., only a few of the poorest class of Israelites were left in the land. The Assyrians brought other peoples to inhabit the land, and they intermarried with the remaining Israelites. They adopted some forms of the worship of Jehovah, but they mixed them with pagan ideas. The Jews in the Southern Kingdom viewed these Samaritans as being not only impure Israelites but pagans as well … Under the direction of Zerubbabel, the Jews repaired the altar and began to rebuild the temple. The Samaritans asked to join in the project, saying that they had been offering sacrifice to Jehovah since the days of the Assyrian conquest (see Ezra 4:1–2). The Jews flatly refused their help, and the Samaritans in anger openly opposed the project (See Ezra 4:3–5)." (OT Student Manual, Enrichment J-4)


"The Jews appealed to Darius, eventually proving that they were doing only what Cyrus had granted them permission to do. So they were allowed to continue their project (see Ezra 5–6). The temple was finished in 515 B.C. This temple is known either as the second temple (Solomon’s [1018 BC] was the first) or the temple of Zerubbabel. The second temple did not compare in splendor to the temple of Solomon, for the people were very poor at the time they built it." (OT Student Manual, Enrichment J-4)


"Not much is known of the state of Jewish affairs between the completion of the temple in 515 B.C. and the appearance in Jerusalem of Ezra and Nehemiah and the colonies that came with them. Nehemiah’s appearance at Jerusalem can be firmly dated at 445 B.C." (OT Student Manual, Enrichment J-5)


"Under Artaxerxes I (465–424 B.C.), Jewish officers had official representation at the Persian court. Ezra seems to have held some kind of important court office, and he was accredited as a special envoy to reorganize the temple services at Jerusalem. The eager Jews were led on by the encouragement they had received from the Persian court to exceed the terms of Ezra’s commission, and they rebuilt the city wall." (OT Student Manual, Enrichment J-5)


Nehemiah was a royal cupbearer in the Persian court (see Nehemiah 2:1). Since assassination was an ever-present danger for kings anciently, and poison was often employed, the cupbearer held a highly trusted position in the court. His calling was to ensure that the king’s food and drink were safe. (See Samuel Fallows, ed., The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopedia and Scriptural Dictionary, s.v. "Cupbearer.") Nehemiah succeeded in using his favored position to have himself named governor of Judah.


Nehemiah’s energy, ability, unselfish patriotism, and personal integrity brought a new, exuberant Judah into existence once again. The restoration of Jerusalem, which had lain in ruins for a century and a half, was begun. Ezra, a righteous, dedicated priest, joined Nehemiah in the work, and together they succeeded in restoring a Jewish community in Jerusalem once again. Psalm 48 is a song celebrating the restoration of Jerusalem. It shows how Jewish confidence was then revived. Judah developed a semiautonomous government and gradually enlarged their district’s borders to become approximately half the size of the kingdom of Judah when it fell in 581 B.C. Judah remained in peace throughout the duration of the Persian Empire." (OT Student Manual, Enrichment J-5)


"When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in 331 B.C., the Jews simply transferred their allegiance from one monarch to another. Jewish tradition relates how Alexander was met by the high priest in Jerusalem and was read the prophecies of Daniel that one of the Greeks would destroy the Persians (see Daniel 7:6; 8:3, 20–22; 11:3). Alexander, supposing this meant himself, rejoiced and accepted the Jewish nation without going to war against them." (OT Student Manual, Enrichment J-5)


"The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are actually the last two historical books of the Old Testament. Zechariah and Haggai were prophets during this same period. Malachi is the only prophet known to have served in Israel between the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and the beginning of the New Testament. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of Israel’s history from the first return to Jerusalem until the end of Nehemiah’s second term as governor of Judah (538 B.C. to shortly before 400 B.C." (Old Testament Student Manual, The Exiles Return - Kings-Malachi (1982), 319–23)


The estimated length of the walls around Jerusalem was about 2.5 miles, with the thickness about 8 feet, and the height about 40 feet. It may have been smaller in the time of Nehemiah. 


(Nehemiah 1:3)"And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire … 2:2 Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid, 2:3 And said unto the king, Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? 2:4 Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. 2:5 And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it. 2:6 And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time. 2:11 So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days. 2:12 And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. 2:13 And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire ... 2:16 And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work. 4:1 But it came to pass, that when Sanballat [the Honorite] heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. 4:2 And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? 4:3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall … 4:6 So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work ... 4:8 And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it ... 4:16 And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. 4:17 They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the side, and so the other hand held a weapon. 4:18 For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me. 7:1 Now it came to pass, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed … 7:3 And I said unto them, Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot; and while they stand by, let them shut the doors, and bar them: and appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and every one to be over against his house. (Nehemiah Chapter 1-7)


Possibly the Lord had a man like Nehemiah in mind when he said, "And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none." (Ezekiel 22:30; 570-592 BC)


(Nehemiah  8:1) "And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel.8:2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. 8:3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. 8:8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. 8:9 And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God." (Nehemiah 8:1-9)


Some scholars think that Ezra was a redactor or abridger who helped organize and edit some Old Testament scripture. For example, Moses is accepted as the author of the first five books of the OT, but they are written in the third person. Certainly a redactor wrote Numbers 12:3 which says, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth."


Optional Reading


Zechariah 12:8-9 - War

Zechariah 14:3-4 - Mount

Zechariah 14:9 - Christ the King

Malachi 4:5-6 - Sealing


Between the Testaments - The Inter-Testament Period

(Following are excerpts from OT Manual, Enrichment Section K)


The Rise of the Scribes - As long as Israel had prophets, the scribes remained teachers and copyists. But when the prophetic voice ceased in Israel, these experts in the law of Moses began to fill the vacuum.


The Hellenization of Judea - The intoxicating influence of the heady Greek philosophy and materialism soon penetrated the upper strata of Jewish society.


Pharisees and Sadducees - At this point in history two important Jewish groups emerged. 


The Essenes - The idea of separation from society to avoid religious impurity went so far with some people that it led to the formation of another sect, known as Essenes … Interest in this group was acutely aroused in the late 1940s because of the discovery of their sacred writings, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, at Qumran.


The Maccabean Revolt - [It is commonly called the Maccabean revolt because Mattathias's son was called Judah the Maccabee or Judas Maccabeas. Most scholars believe the word Maccabee comes from the Hebrew word for “hammer” and may have been given to Judah because of his success in warfare.


Judea under the Romans - The Herodians and the Zealots


Ending the OT Date List

Solomon’s Temple 1018 BC

Isaiah about Cyrus 700 BC

Jerusalem fell 586 BC

Babylonian captivity (70 years)

Daniel and writing on wall

Cyrus conquers Babylon 539 BC

Darius and Artaxerxes

Temple of Zerubbabel 515 BC

Nehemiah and Ezra about 445 BC

Sanballat the Horonite

Jerusalem wall finished 445 BC

Ezra the Scribe


Malachi about 400 BC

Alexander the Great 331 BC

Roman Empire - Jerusalem 63 BC

New Testament


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Gene Van Shaar has spent a lifetime studying and teaching a wide range of religious and secular topics. He is a master teacher whose lessons and stories have generated both laughter and tears. As a defender of freedom, he has fostered independence by encouraging students and readers to embrace correct principles and resist coercion. Like Thomas Jefferson, he has "sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Many of his books and articles are available on the Gene Van Shaar Substack