"THE COMMANDMENT TO RESTORE, AND TO BUILD"
"From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah the Prince" (Dan. 9:25).
The prophecy begins at, verse 24. The angel informs Daniel that seventy sevens of years were "determined" (or marked out) upon his people, and upon his holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy (place). Here are six things which were to be accomplished within the definitely determined period of 490 years of Jewish history. Into those six things we purpose to look later on. But there is one important question that should be settled first. When does the stretch of 490 years begin? The next verse gives this needed information. We read, "Know therefore, and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah, the Prince, shall be seven weeks and three score and two weeks." From this we learn that there was to be a total of 69 weeks (7 weeks plus 62 weeks) or 483 years from the given starting point unto the Messiah.
We must therefore determine with certainty the event from which the count of the seventy weeks was to begin; for it is manifest that the measuring line, notwithstanding it was given directly from heaven, and notwithstanding it is recorded for our benefit in the inspired Scriptures, will be of no use to us whatever unless the starting point be certainly known. It is equally manifest that the starting point cannot be certainly known unless it be revealed in the Scriptures and in such wise that the ordinary reader can "know and understand" it beyond a doubt. This essential matter, however, is revealed in the Word of God; and moreover the information is given in a manner so plain and so simple that the wayfaring man need not err therein. To this we will come in a moment. But first it is desirable to speak of the various and conflicting ideas on this vital point that are found in current writings on prophecy. For, strange to say, there is the greatest disagreement and contrariety of opinion as to the particular "commandment" or "word" referred to by the angel as the starting point of the 70 weeks. There are no less than four different decrees, or royal commands, which have been brought forward as the point from which the seventy weeks are to be counted. Some able and learned expositors choose one, and others equally able and learned choose another. Yet the Word of God speaks as clearly as to this as it speaks concerning where Christ should be born.
Why then this difference of opinion? The explanation is that those who, in recent years, have turned their attention to this prophecy, have gone about the interpretation of it in the wrong way. They have pursued a method which cannot do other than lead to an erroneous conclusion. This should be understood by the reader (and we will seek to make it quite clear) before proceeding further.
The right way of getting at the chronology of the prophecy is so simple and obvious that a child can readily comprehend it. All we need to do is to ascertain from the Word of God the two events specified by the angel, (1) the going forth of the "commandment" and (2) the manifestation of "Messiah the Prince." Having definitely fixed these two events (which the Scriptures enable us to do with certainty) we know from the prophecy itself that from the one to the other is just 483 years. By this method we have no need of a system of chronology.
But our expositors have proceeded in a very different way. First they have made choice of one or another of the various systems of chronology which have been compiled by various chronologists- as Ussher's, Lloyd's, Clinton's or Marshall's. Then, having assigned the correctness of the selected chronology, they have sought first for a decree of some Persian king, and second for some event in the lifetime of Christ, which would be as near as possible to 483 years apart, according to the selected chronology.
It will be clear upon the briefest consideration that, according to this method, the interpretation of the prophecy is controlled by whatever chronology the expositor may have selected; for he needs must reject every interpretation which does not agree with his assumed chronology.
Now, not only is this method of procedure fundamentally wrong in that it tries to make events of Bible-history fit in with a man-made chronological scheme, but the fact is that every chronological System covering the period we have to do with (i. e., from the beginning of the Persian monarchy down to Christ) is largely a matter of guesswork. All those systems, without any exception, are based upon the "canon" of Ptolemy, that is to say, a list of supposed Persian kings, with the supposed length of the reign of each, which list was compiled by Ptolemy, a heathen astronomer and writer of the second century A. D. But Ptolemy does not even pretend to have had any facts as to the length of the Persian period (that is to say, from Darius and Cyrus down to Alexander the Great). Ptolemy estimates or guesses this period to have been 205 years long. And this is what has caused all the trouble and uncertainty; for every one who has attempted to construct a Bible chronology has based himself on Ptolemy's estimate. In a word then, there is no chronology in existence of the period from Cyrus to Christ except in the Bible.
In order to show how great is the uncertainty as to the length of the Persian empire, we have only to mention @he fact that, according to Jewish traditions in the days of Christ (which surely are as much to be trusted as heathen traditions of a later date), the period of the Persian kings was only 52 years. Here is a difference of 153 years, and that in regard to a matter which is essential to an understanding of this prophecy. Sir Isaac Newton says that "some of the Jews took Herod for the Messiah, and were called 'Herodians.' They seem to have grounded their opinion on the 70 weeks." Inasmuch as the accession of Herod was 34 years before Christ, it is evident that the opinion of the Herodians required a comparatively short Persian period. On the other hand, the opinions of certain modern expositors are based upon a Persian era of supposedly long duration.
In order that the reader may clearly understand the situation, and its hearings upon our study, we would point out that Ussher's chronology (whose dates are given at the head of the "margin" of our Bibles) makes it 536 years from the first year of Cyrus to the year 1 A. D. (four years after the birth of Christ). Add to this 26 years to the Lord's manifestation to Israel at His baptism and we have 562 years. But, according to the Word of God it was to be only 483 years from the commandment to restore Jerusalem "unto Christ." If, therefore, one begins by taking Ussher's chronology (or any of the others) as the basis of his interpretation, he is forced to select a starting point about eighty years subsequent to King Cyrus, who (according to Scripture) was the true restorer, the man whom God specially raised up, and of whom He said, "He shall build My city." (To this we will come shortly.)
But we are not left to choose between Jewish traditions and heathen traditions, or to base our conclusions upon either. For the Word of God shows us plainly what was the beginning of the prophetic period; and with that information in our possession, we know certainly that it was just 483 years "unto Christ." Therefore, we are bound to reject any and every chronological scheme, whether from Jewish or heathen sources, and any and every system of interpretation based thereon) which conflicts with the facts revealed in the Scriptures.
This important matter of the defective character of all existing chronologies is fully discussed, and the facts clearly set forth, in Martin Anstey's Bible Chronology, published in 1913, to which we must refer such of our readers as wish to study the matter exhaustively. Mr. Anstey's work commands our confidence and respect because he disregards all heathen sources, and all guesswork, and derives his information solely from the Scriptures.
Concerning the dates given in Ptolemy's table of Persian Kings, Anstey says: "They rest upon calculations or guesses made by Eratosthenes, and on certain vague floating traditions, in accordance with which the period of the Persian Empire was mapped out as a period of 205 years." And he shows, by a great variety of proofs taken entirely from the Scriptures, that the period which Ptolemy assigns to the Persian Empire is about eighty years too long. It follows that all who adopt Ptolemy's chronology, or any system based upon it (as all modern chronologists prior to Anstey do) would inevitably be led far astray. It is impossible to make the real Bible-events agree, within 80 years, with the mistaken chronology of Ptolemy. This single fact makes many modern books on Daniel utterly worthless, so far as their chronology is concerned; and the chronology is the main thing.
An attempt has been made to call Astronomy to the aid of the defective Chronology of Ptolemy, by utilizing certain incidental references, contained in fragmentary historical records, to eclipses of the sun or moon. But such references are of no value whatever for the purpose, seeing that it is impossible to determine, in any given case, which one of a number of eclipses- within say fifty or a hundred years- was the one referred to. For example, one of the clearest of these historical references is that of the "Eclipse of Thales," mentioned by Herodotous. This eclipse is located by one astronomer as occurring in 625 B. C.; by another as late as 585 B. C. (a difference of 40 years); and by others at different dates in between (Anstey, p. 286).
We see then first that the method adopted in current expositions of the Seventy Weeks prophecy is fundamentally wrong; and second that the chronological system on which they are all based is formed largely by guesswork, and is certainly very wide of the mark as regards the length of the Persian Empire.
An accurate and complete secular chronology exists from the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great down to the present time. It is only as regards the period from Cyrus to Alexander that there is uncertainty.
THE DECREE OF CYRUS THE GREAT
We will now proceed to show that the point of beginning of the seventy weeks is that great epoch-making and divinely-prompted decree of Cyrus the Great, whereof a record is given in 2 Chronicles 36:22, 23, and also in Ezra 1:1-4. The proof is not only clear, simple and absolutely conclusive for all who believe the Word of the Lord, but it was given under circumstances which were designed to inspire wonder and admiration at the marvelous ways of God in bringing to pass that which He has purposed and promised to perform.
Turning to Isaiah, Chapters 44 and 45, we find there God's promise that Jerusalem should be rebuilt and its captives restored to their home, and 'lot only so but we find that God mentioned by name the very man, "Cyrus," by whom that promise was to be accomplished. The proof that King Cyrus was the one who should give the commandment (or word). for the restoring and rebuilding of Jerusalem, is doubly forceful and impressive, and designedly so as the Scripture itself declares, because it was spoken by the mouth of the Lord two hundred years before Cyrus came to the throne.
The passage begins with the words, "Sing, 0 ye heavens, for the Lord hath done it" (Isa. 44:23). Evidently God is here calling attention to a work of great importance and one in which He takes special delight. It was to be a work, moreover, by which the tokens of the liars (those who consulted omens) were to be frustrated, and the "diviners" made mad, and the "wise men" turned backward, and their knowledge made foolish (v. 25). Notwithstanding all that opposed His will, the high walls and strong gates of Babylon, and the wisdom of the astrologers, soothsayers and Chaldeans, God would "confirm the word of His servant, and perform the counsel of His messengers"; for it was He "that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited, and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof; that saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers; 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" (vv. 26, 27).
We pause at this point to call to the reader's mind that when the time for the fulfilment of this prophecy by Isaiah was at hand, the last Babylonian King, Belshazzar, was carousing with a thousand of his courtiers in fancied security behind the strong walls of Babylon, while the armies of Darius and Cyrus were besieging the city. Then appeared the part of a man's hand, tracing upon the wall those four words which declared the doom of Babylon, though the magicians and astrologers and soothsayers were confounded by them, and their wisdom turned to foolishness. Moreover, secular history has preserved for us the fact that the engineers of Cyrus' army dug a new channel for the river Euphrates which ran through the city (thus fulfilling the words, "and I will dry up thy rivers") and Cyrus entered by way of the dry bed of the stream. Thus were the "two-leaved gates" of Babylon opened to God's appointed conqueror, who was to be a "shepherd" and a deliverer to His people. The next verse of the prophecy speaks of this:,.
"Thus saith the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings -see Daniel 5:6, where it is said of Belshazzar, when he saw the handwriting on the wall, "so that the joints of his loins were loosed"- "to open before him the two-leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut" (Isa. 45:1).
Here is God's own testimony that King Cyrus, and not one of his successors, was to give the "commandment" whereby Jerusalem was to be rebuilt and its inhabitants restored. Nothing could be plainer than the words, "He (Cyrus) shalt perform all My pleasure, even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built, and to the temple, Thy foundation shalt be laid." This proof cannot be overthrown. Indeed none who believe the Scriptures to be inspired will even question it. Having this to guide us we must needs decline to follow those who, with a faulty heathen chronology as their only guide, grope for some event, long after Cyrus was laid in his grave, which can be taken as "the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem."
No further evidence is needed. But in this exceedingly important matter God has been pleased to give proof upon proof. Thus in Isaiah 46:13 we have this further word concerning Cyrus:
"I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways; HE SHALL BUILD MY CITY, AND HE SHALL LET GO MY CAPTIVES."
No one who believes the Word of God will, with this Scripture before him, dispute for a moment that it was by Cyrus that Jerusalem was rebuilt and its captives restored to it. Here are two things which God distinctly foretold were to be done by Cyrus (and this was 200 years before he came to the throne-one); first he was to rebuild the city, and second he was to restore the captive Jews to their home. These are the very things mentioned by the angel to Daniel; for he said, "from the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem." And the Scriptures make it plain that Cyrus made haste to fulfil this Word of God; and moreover that lie knew just what he was doing, and why.
There is truth here which, with a little attention, we can get hold of, and which, when understood, will both clear all uncertainties away, and also will fill us with admiration because of the wonders and perfections of the Word of God.
Observe then that, when the angel mentioned "the commandment to restore and to build," Daniel would have known from the prophecy of Isaiah (which was familiar to him, as we shall see) that it was Cyrus who would issue that command. Now Cyrus was at that time co-ruler with, and subordinate to, "Darius the Mede" (Dan. 9:1). But in less than two years Cyrus became the sole ruler; and it was in the very first year of his reign that he issued the foundations decree which gave new existence to the Jewish nation.
That Daniel knew the prophecy of Jeremiah which gives the length of the captivity is expressly stated in Daniel 9:2. But that he also knew the prophecy of Isaiah, which foretold that the captivity would be ended by the decree of Cyrus, appears by reference to the decree of that monarch, which is partly quoted by Ezra. These are the words: "Thus saith Cyrus, King of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He hath charged me to build Him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah" (Ezra 1:2).
It is clear that this "charge" came to Cyrus, not through the book of Jeremiah, but through that of Isaiah; for it is in Isaiah that God, speaking to Cyrus who was yet unborn, charged him to build the city and temple and to release the captive Jews. It will thus be seen that God has given to Cyrus a remarkable place in His Word and in the execution of His plans.
Daniel had not learned about the ending of the captivity by a direct revelation from God, but "by books" -evidently not the book of Jeremiah only, but that of Isaiah also. We too have the same "books" that Daniel had; and we have also the book of Ezra, which contains a record of the great decree of Cyrus; and these several "books" give all the light that is needed to make the matter perfectly clear.
This wonderful prophecy of Isaiah concerning Cyrus, and its bearing- upon the purposes of God as a whole, have not received by any means the attention this, importance deserves; and while ii is not within the scope of this volume to treat it exhaustively, yet it is appropriate that we should direct attention to some of its striking features.
We note then that the restoration of the captive Jews and the rebuilding of the temple was evidently a matter of great importance in the eyes of God. The frequent references to it in the messages of the prophets are proof enough of that. But here is the extraordinary case of a distinct prophecy, in plain words, of what God purposed to do, coupled with the name of the man by whom God purposed to do it. The only like case where an action is described and the name of the man who was to perform it is given before lie was born, is that of King Josiah (I Kings 13:2, fulfilled 2 Kings 23:15-17).
When the time for the ending of the captivity (given by another prophet, Jeremiah) was on the point of expiring, God put into the hands of the man He had called by name two hundred years before, "all the kingdoms of the world," so that he had the needed power to fulfil God's Word and to "do all His pleasure"; and beside all that, God himself "stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, that be made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing" (Ezra 1:1). And thereupon, in virtue of that command, over forty-two thousand Jews, headed by Zerubbabel, Joshua and Nehemiah, returned forthwith to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:1-6); and with them more than seven thousand servants and maids (v. 65). It was a new beginning for Israel; and Cyrus was God's "shepherd," chosen long beforehand, for bringing His sheep back to their proper fold.
The entire passage concerning Cyrus (Isa. 44:23-45: 14) should be carefully read. We quote a part:
"I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight. I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron." (This refers to the defenses of Babylon.) "And I will give thee the treasures of darkness ', and hidden riches of secret places" (the treasures of Babylon), "that thou mayest know that I the Lord, which call thee by thy name , am the God of Israel. For Jacob My servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name; I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. There is no God beside me. I girded thee, though thou hast not known me; that they may know, from the rising of the sun, and from the west', that there is none beside me: I am the Lord and there is none else."
In this remarkable passage God calls attention again and again to the fact that He had called Cyrus by name, long before he was born; yet this fact receives but scant attention, and its significance has been lost sight of by many who have undertaken to expound the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks. This must needs be the case with all who reject the decree of Cyrus as the starting point of the seventy weeks.
Furthermore, God speaks not about Cyrus but directly to him. From this we can understand how Cyrus would say: "The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the world, and He hath charged me" etc.
Finally, God declares that He had "girded" Cyrus for this work in order that, from the east to the west, that is to say, in all the world, it might be known that He is the Lord, and there is none else. Manifestly, this purpose of God, in His marvelous dealings with King Cyrus, is virtually frustrated when, in the interpretation of the Seventy Weeks' prophecy, the decree of Cyrus is set aside, and the word of some other king is chosen as that whereby Jerusalem was rebuilt and its captives restored.
May the contemplation of God's marvelous dealings in the case of Cyrus lead us to adore Him Who is perfect in knowledge, and Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.
It was to be expected that, inasmuch as God has been pleased to give in His Word, an exact time-measure from a given event unto Christ, He would also make it clear beyond a doubt what the event is from which the count of years was to begin. And this expectation is fully met.
Upon the plain and simple facts stated above it is evident that every expositor who sets aside this decree of Cyrus as the starting point of the 70 weeks, and substitutes some other event, must either be unaware of the testimony of Isaiah 44 and 45 (and of other Bible-testimony to which we will refer presently) or else he prefers the guesses of a heathen astronomer (who had no means of knowing the facts which occurred over five hundred years before his time) to the evidence of Scripture.
This is a case where a mistake in regard to the starting point is fatal to an understanding of the prophecy as a whole. If we make a wrong start, we shall be in error throughout.
It is interesting in this connection to see how this matter was understood by learned Jews in ancient times. Thus we find recorded in the history of Josephus (1) that Cyrus wrote throughout all his dominions that "God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of the habitable earth" and that "He indeed foretold my name by the prophets, and that I should build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in the country of Judea." Josephus goes on to say that, when Cyrus had read the words of the prophet Isaiah, "He called for the most eminent Jews 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."
Josephus also gives a copy of a letter written by Cyrus to the governors that were in Syria, which letter begins as follows: "King Cyrus to Sisinnes and Sathrabuzzanes, sendeth greeting.
I have given leave to as many of the Jews that dwell in my country as please [to do so) to return to their own country, and TO REBUILD THE CITY, AND TO REBUILD THE TEMPLE, OF GOD AT JERUSALEM on the same place where it was before" (Ant. Bk. XI, Ch. 1, sec. I & 3).
The proof that the rebuilding of the city was done by the commandment of Cyrus is so conclusive that Prideaux (one of the leading commentators on Daniel) frankly admits that "Jerusalem was rebuilt by virtue of the decree granted by Cyrus in the first year of his reign." Yet this learned man rejects the decree of Cyrus as the starting point of the seventy weeks, simply because he shared the mistaken idea (for which there is no proof of any sort) that 490 years would not reach from that decree to the days of Christ. But if the fact be, as Prideaux admits, then to take any other event as the starting point is to falsify the prophecy. It is a choice between the clear statements of the Word of God and the guesses of heathen historians and astronomers. We are writing for the benefit of those who accept the Word of God as conclusive.
It is true that Ezra, in the very brief statement he gives of the decree of Cyrus, does not specifically mention the building of the city. But that emission affords no ground whatever for assuming that the decree of Cyrus did not provide for the rebuilding of the city, much less does it afford reason for setting aside the word of the Lord spoken by Isaiah. In fact the decree of Cyrus, under which the Jews were, one and all, permitted to return to Jerusalem, and under which over forty-two thousand did return at once, necessarily implied permission to build houses to dwell in. The building of the temple is the most important matter, and that is why it is specifically mentioned in Ezra's brief reference to the decree of Cyrus. But, according to the prophecy of Isaiah "the commandment to rebuild the city was to be joined with that to rebuild the temple. Hence when we have found the commandment to rebuild the temple we have found that to rebuild the city.
It should be observed that the words of Gabriel call for the going forth of a commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem. Those words fit the decree of Cyrus which was promulgated throughout his dominions, and which is expressly called by Ezra a "commandment" (Ezra 6:14).
Furthermore, that the building of Jerusalem did actually proceed under the decree of Cyrus, appears from the fact that, at a time when only the foundation of the temple had been laid, the adversaries complained that the Jews were "rebuilding the rebellious and bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and have joined the foundations" (Ezra 4:12).
That statement of the adversaries was not a fabrication; for it is fully corroborated by Haggai, who (prophesying during that same period of the cessation of work on the temple) said that the people were dwelling in their own ceiled houses, and that they ran every one to his own house (Hag. 1:4, 7).
Moreover, it will be observed, in reading the book of Ezra, that he speaks throughout of Jerusalem as an existing city, and in chapter 9:9 be gives thanks to God that He had given them "a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem."
Some expositors have selected as the point of beginning for the 70 weeks the decree mentioned in Ezra 7:11-28. But that cannot be; for, in the first place, to assume it would contradict the Word of the Lord spoken by Isaiah, which bore witness that the "commandment" to restore the captives, to rebuild the city, and to lay the foundation of the temple, should be given by Cyrus; whereas the decree mentioned in Ezra 7 was made by "Artaxerxes" (Darius Hystaspes) who was one of the successors of Cyrus.
Upon a careful reading of Ezra, chapters 6 and 7, it will be seen that what is there recorded agrees with and fully supports the Scriptures heretofore cited, showing that the work then in progress at Jerusalem, and which the enemies of the Jews sought to hinder, was based entirely upon the decree of Cyrus. For when those adversaries complained by letter to King Darius concerning the work of rebuilding the temple (which the Jews had resumed under the stimulus of the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah), Darius caused search to be made amongst the archives in the house of rolls (Ezra 6:1), and he found the decree of Cyrus commanding that the temple be rebuilt; and upon the authority of that decree of Cyrus, his successor Darius issued the decree mentioned in Ezra 6:6-12.
It should be observed that, at that time, it was not a question of the rebuilding of the city. That had already been done, at least to an extent sufficient to accommodate those who had returned. About fifty thousand people had returned in the first company, with wives and children, and others subsequently; and of course their first occupation was to provide themselves homes. We have already called attention to the statement of Ezra 4:12 that the Jews had "come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and bad city, and have set up (marg. finished) the walls thereof, and joined the foundations."
The completion of the temple is mentioned in Ezra 6:14, 15, and it is said that it had been done "according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius"- that of Darius being merely a re-affirmation of the decree of Cyrus, which had given the authorization for the entire work of restoration.
The decree mentioned in Ezra 7:11-28 was some years later still. It had nothing whatever to do with the rebuilding of either the city or the temple. It could not have been the "commandment" for the building of either; for that commandment had already been given. It was simply a "letter" which the king gave to Ezra, for we read that "the king granted him all his request" (Ezra 7:6). That "letter" provided, first, that all the people of Israel, the priests and Levites, who were so minded of their own free will, might go to Jerusalem; second, that they might carry silver and gold to buy animals for sacrifice, and whatsoever else might be needful for the house of God; and third, that no taxes or tribute were to be imposed upon any priests, Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims or ministers of the house of God. So far from there being, in this "letter", if any "commandment" for the building of the city or temple, its contents show that both city and temple were already in existence.
NEHEMIAH'S WORK ON TEMPLE WALL
We come now to the latest in date of all the supposed "decrees" which have been selected by any expositor as that to which the angel Gabriel referred as "the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem." This is the "letter" given by the king to Nehemiah, at his request, as stated in Nehemiah 2:4-8.
This letter or written permit given to Nehemiah by the then monarch, or "Artaxerxes", being the latest in date of all, is the farthest of all from the truth. Nevertheless it is the favorite of certain learned expositors of our day, and for the very reason that it is the latest in date, and hence agrees best with the mistaken chronologies which have been derived from the canon of Ptolemy. But even so, if this "Artaxerxes" was, as Mr. Anstey shows by satisfactory proof, the same king "Darius" is mentioned by Ezra, then the twentieth year (Neh. 2:7) of his reign would be too early by at least fifty years to agree with any of the before-mentioned chronologies. Consequently it has been further assumed that the king of Nehemiah's day was Artaxerxes Longimanus. But that monarch's twentieth year would be approximately 100 years subsequent to the return front Babylon in the days of Cyrus; and hence it would be too close to the days of Christ to fit in with any of the existing chronologies. Therefore, to force an agreement in this case it is necessary to make the "seventy sevens" a period shorter than 490 years. The ingenuity of our expositors has been quite equal to this; for, to meet this difficulty, they have supposed, that the "sevens" were not sevens of years, but of nondescript periods of 360 days each, which are not "years" at all. Thus, the acceptance of a false chronology (instead of basing conclusions on the Scriptures alone) leads even able and learned men to adopt one false assumption after another, and thus to go further and further astray.
But we need not go outside the book of Nehemiah itself for conclusive proof that the "letter" which the king gave to that devoted man was not "the commandment" in virtue of which Jerusalem was rebuilt. Indeed, we have only to read chapters 1, 2 and 3 of Nehemiah with ordinary care to perceive that the city had been already rebuilt, with walls and gates, at the time referred to in those chapters; that the tidings brought to Nehemiah, as recorded in chapter 1, were tidings of damage freshly done by the enemies of the Jews to the walls and gates of the rebuilt city; that the letter given by the king to Nehemiah was simply a permit to repair that damage; and that the work done by Nehemiah, as recorded in chapter 3, was the "repairing" of the wall, and the "repairing" of the gates, and the setting up the doors; the locks, and the bars thereof. For proof of these statements it is only necessary to read the chapters referred to.
The tidings from Jerusalem. In chapter 1 Nehemiah relates that, while he was attending to his customary duties in the palace of the king certain brethren came from Jerusalem with tidings to the effect that those in the province of Judah, who had been left of the captivity, were in great affliction and reproach. Further they reported, saying, "the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire" (Neh. 1:1-3).
The effect of this report upon Nehemiah shows clearly that it was of a fresh and unexpected calamity they were speaking. For he relates that, when he heard those words, he sat down, and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. The record makes it plain that the cause of his distress was not the condition of the Jews in the province, but the tidings of the damage which had been done to the walls and gates of the holy city. That could not possibly have been the destruction wrought by Nebuchadnezzar, for that had taken place more than a hundred years previously. Nehemiah had known about that all his life. His brethren, when he asked them "concerning Jerusalem, " could not have told him, as a piece of news, of the damage that had been done a century before. That would not have been news to him, nor would the hearing of it have plunged him into deep distress. He states that he had not been sad beforetime in the king's presence (2:7); but now his sorrow was so great that he could not banish the evidences of it from his countenance even in the king's presence. There must have been a cause for this; and nothing but unexpected tidings of a fresh calamity to the beloved city could account for his acute distress. With the walls damaged and the gates burned with fire, the city was exposed to her enemies, and the new temple itself was in danger of being again destroyed.
In this report we have an indication of the "troublous times" foretold by the angel Gabriel (Dan. 9:25).
In chapter 2 we have the account of Nehemiah's request to the king, and of the "letter" given to him. There is no decree, no "commandment," nothing what, ever about rebuilding the city. And how could there be in view of the word of the Lord concerning Cyrus, saying, "He shall build My city"? It is true that Nehemiah made request that the king would send him to the city of his father's sepulchers, that he might "build it." But the word here rendered "build" is of very broad meaning, and would be appropriate to describe the repairing of the damage to the walls and gates, which in fact is what it does mean in this instance. Nehemiah only sought permission to restore the parts that had been freshly destroyed. This will be shown below.
What Nehemiah meant by his request appears in verses 7 and 8, namely, letters to the governors beyond the river to give him safe passage (in other words a passport), and also a letter to the keeper of the king's forest to supply "timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into." These requests the king granted. Manifestly those letters do not constitute a commandment to rebuild the city.
Finally, it clearly appears by chapter 3 that the work which Nehemiah did during his stay in Jerusalem was the repairing of the wall and of the gates of the city. The word "repaired" is used over twenty times in that chapter to describe that work. It was a small work (comparatively to the work of rebuilding the city and temple) for it was completed, notwithstanding all hindrances, in the short space of 52 days, less than two months (6:15). In the third and fourth chapters of Nehemiah we find frequent incidental references to houses already existing in Jerusalem, and occupied by the owners thereof, but not a word as to any building of houses at that time. Thus we read in 3:20, 21 of "the house of Eliashib, the high priest." In verse 23 we read that Benjamin and flashup repaired "over against their house," and Azariah "by his house." In verse 25 mention is made of "the king's high house." In verse 28 it is stated that the priests repaired, "every one over against his house." In verse 29 we read that Zadoe repaired "over against his house."
In chapter 4:7 the character of the work is shown by the words "the walls of Jerusalem were made up; and the breaches began to be stopped." Verses 1, 6, 15, 17 and 21 of the same chapter; also chapter 6:1, 15 and chapter 7:1 show that the work was only on the wall. The words of 6:15, "So the wall was finished in the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul, in fifty and two days" record the completion of the entire work.
In chapter 7:3 we read that Nehemiah appointed "watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and every one over against his house." This again shows that the inhabitants of the city had houses to dwell in; though we should hardly need to be informed of a matter so obvious. The next verse appears at first glance to be inconsistent, though of course it is not. It says: "Now the city was large and great (or broad in spaces); but the people were few, and the houses were not built." The meaning plainly is that there were yet large spaces within the walls which had not been rebuilt. Only a relatively small proportion of the population of the city had returned ("the people were few"), and hence the entire city had not yet been rebuilt.
What we gather from this verse, taken in connection with the statements of the preceding chapters, tends still further to show that the work Nehemiah was charged with was not the building of the city. The account of what he did, which is quite detailed and minutes giving both the several workers and the work done by them, contains no reference at all to the city. It clearly appears that when the wall was finished in fifty-two days, the work was finished (6:15). It further appears that the people all had houses to live in (7:3). And finally, after all had been done which Nehemiah came to do, there remained yet a large part of the city rebuilt (7:4).
In order then to force the record of the Book of Nehemiah into agreement with a scheme of interpretation based upon the canon of Ptolemy, it is necessary to make the following assumptions, all of which are either unsupported by proof, or contrary thereto: first, that Ptolemy's chronology, when "corrected" according to the ideas of some modern chronologists, is right; second, that the "Artaxerxes," spoken of by Nehemiah, is Longimanus; third, that in all the century previous, since the ending of the captivity, no decree had gone forth to restore and build Jerusalem; fourth, that the "letters" given to Nehemiah were the decree going forth; fifth, that God's word concerning Cyrus was not fulfilled; sixth, that the "seventy weeks" were not weeks of true calendar years, but of periods of 360 days each. Obviously any conclusion, which rests upon these assumptions, and which would be overthrown if any one of them should be proved erroneous, is utterly worthless.
We have discussed this whole matter at length go that no question might be left unanswered; but it should be kept in mind that it is of little importance to determine when the rebuilding of the city began. For the starting point of the prophecy was not the rebuilding of the city, but the commandment to restore and to build it. That commandment was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, given by Cyrus. The Word of the Lord by Isaiah settles that beyond all controversy.
It is not necessary for our purposes to inquire which of the Persian' kings was this "Artaxerxes." But it is interesting to notice, as pointed out by Anstey, that, if this Nehemiah is the same as the one who went up with Zerubbabel, and whose name appears third on the list (Ezra 2:2), then the king could not be Artaxerxes Longimanus, as supposed by certain expositors; for in that case it would make Nehemiah at least 120 years at the time he repaired the wall, and 132 at the time of chapter 13:6.
1. This Josephus was a priest who was born about four years after the death of Christ. He was a God-fearing man, highly gifted, and is regarded as a remarkably able and trustworthy historian. He was an eye-witness and an active participator in the Wars of the Jews which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. We believe the annals of Josephus have been providentially preserved, whereby we have authentic records of the fulfilment of prophecy by an eyewitness who, at the time he wrote, was not a Christian. We shall have occasion to quote largely from this writer later on.