7.4 Exile and Return -- Second and Third Returns
Meanwhile, in Persia, Darius 1 was succeeded by his son Xerxes in 486. Xerxes was possibly King Ahasuerus, who chose Esther as his queen. But it was not until the reign of his son Artaxerxes (465-425) that the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem resumed. This occurred under the leadership of Ezra, who left Babylon in 458, and Nehemiah, who left Susa in 445. Nehemiah was a high official under Artaxerxes, and his arrival indicates the interest of the Persian government in securing their western frontier. Nehemiah spent twelve years in Judah, bringing order to the Jewish community. He was recalled to Persia, but returned for to govern Judah for an unspecified period of time.
The close of Nehemiah marks the end of Old Testament written history (apart from the Apocryphal books, which this study does not cover). This leaves us around 430 BC. Malachi was a contemporary of Nehemiah, or his immediate successor. His is the latest prophetic book of the Old Testament. There is a significant gap between the end of the Old Testament and the start of the New, about as long as the time Israel spent in Egypt. It was a time of the "silence of God" -- not that He was absent, but there is no reliable record of His words or deeds that have survived from these times. Yet this Intertestamental time was crucial for the later history and faith of Israel. Not only was the city of Jerusalem rebuilt physically, but the religion of Judaism was re-established in its homeland. It is most significant that the covenant people did not die out and did not merge with the other subject peoples of Persia. Nor were they overcome culturally by the invasion of the Hellenists following Alexander the Great from 331 on. Instead, Judaism was reborn, the old faith in a new wineskin. Torah, Temple, Law and Priest reappeared -- but without the King or the Prophet.