Why The Second Temple Did Not Work

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J Jackson

In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 we hear about the possibilities of both blessings and curses for Israel.  As for the curses, the condition was to obey God, or suffer the consequences.  Like most people, Israel was prone to disobedience. So, in 605 BCE Israel would receive the curses promised by God in the form of the Babylonian captivity.  God’s Prophet Jeremiah gives conformation to this in; Jeremiah 25:11, and 2 Chronicles 36:21-22.  On the up side, God also promised that these curses would reversed on a future date (Deuteronomy 4:31, Leviticus 26:42). Understandably many people believe that the curses were ended after the Babylonian captivity, when the Second Temple was built.  Using the Tanakh, we will determine if the curses did end and did God recognize the Second Temple.

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First, to understand if the Second Temple was successful, we need to understand God’s sovereignty through the Temple system. First God established the Tabernacle for Him to commune with Israel.  Undoubtedly the most crucial piece was the Ark of the Covenant where God met with Israel (Exodus 25:22).  After the Tabernacle was completed, God filled it with His glory (Exodus 40:34).   About 500 years later the Ark was moved into the Temple which King Solomon built for Him.  Again, as before, immediately God filled it with His glory (1 Kings 8:10-11, 2 Chronicles 5:13-14, 7:13).  So, if God honored the Second Temple, He would have filled it with His glory at its dedication.  He did not.  Nowhere in the Tanakh or even in Jewish literature does it say that God’s divine presence entered the Second Temple.  One of the major reasons for this might have been that the Ark of the Covenant was not a part of the Second Temple.  As it would be the Ark was missing, probably plundered by the Babylonians or hid1 from them.  Another reason may have been that Israel was still suffering the punishment of her disobedience.

Israel Scattered

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Admittedly, the Second Temple period must have felt like the curse was lifted when the Israelites returned home.  This is our assumption, yet only 5%2 of the Jews returned home, over 95% chose to stay in Babylon.  Also, many Jews never even went to Babylon at the beginning of the captivity.  They fled to Egypt instead (Jeremiah 43).  Additionally, the Babylonian captivity was not the only time large portions of Israelites were brought into internment.  Over a century earlier Northern Israel was brought into captivity.  Here Assyria took a large portion of the Israelite population in 720 BCE (2 Kings 15:29, 16:9).  This exile is where the phrase “the Ten Lost Tribes” was coined. We must remember part of the curse was that Israel would be dispersed among the nations (Leviticus 26:33, Deuteronomy 28:64-66).  This still appears to be true.

Corruption with the Second Temple Priesthood:

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The First Temple existed for 410 years, during that time there was 18 High Priest.  Conversely, the Second Temple existed 420 years and had an astounding 300 High Priests.  Thus, the second temple High Priest were in power, on the average, for about a year and a half, whereas the original Temple’s High Priest spent over 20 years in position.  The short terms for the Second Temple High Priests, no doubt, interrupted continuity in Temple practices.  Also, we need to ask ourselves, “why was there such a turn over with the Second Temple High Priests?” One theory is that during Yom Kippur, if the High Priest was not pure enough, he would have died3 when he entered the Holy of Holies.  It could have been this or the fact that the priestly positions were sold to the highest bidder4 or possibly both.  What we do know is that historically it is well established that the Priest within the Temple during the Second Temple period were corrupt5, 6.  Malachi makes this painfully clear in Malachi 2:1-9.

The Prophets

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Being a Prophet didn’t just mean predicting future events (Jeremiah 30:3), it meant having a relationship where God communicates with you and you influence your people, Israel (Exodus 3:2, 2 Chronicles 24:19, Jeremiah 26:5, Isaiah 51:4). As for the Prophet influencing Israel, this was usually done through the King. Interestingly, there were very few prophets around after the Babylonian captivity.  Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel were around before and after the destruction of the Temple and Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi where around with Israel’s return home.  But with Malachi being the last Prophet in about 400 BCE and the Temple being completed in 350 BC7, God did not provide any Prophets after the Second Temple was completed.  Likewise, Israel did not really receive her freedom from Babylon in 539 BCE.  She would be controlled by Persia (539 – 334 BCE), Greece (334 – 197 BCE), Rome (197 – 636 CE) and so on.  In truth, Israel’s leadership from the destruction of the first Temple until 1948 has been token, with no true King.  Let us remember another aspect of the curse which is “you will be defeated and occupied by your enemy armies” (Leviticus 26:17, and Deuteronomy 28:25). This did not end after the Babylonian captivity in 539 BCE, it has gone on for over two and a half millenniums.

The Future Temple

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Many assume the future Temple spoken of in Tanakh is the Second Temple. Ezekiel talks about this Future Temple in Chapters 40 through 48 in his book. The Second Temple is much smaller, and less elaborate, than the one Ezekiel describes.  Ezekiel’s Temple appears to be one that Israel will earn through true her repentance (Ezekiel 43:9-11).  Also, we have Zechariah 6:12-13 talking about a future Temple being built by “The Branch” which is probably a metaphor for the future Messiah (Zechariah 3:8, Isaiah 11:1-16, Jeremiah 33:15).  Finally, we have Malachi 3:1-4 which states that God will “come to His Temple” while purify and re-establishing His Priesthood.  The Second Temple Priesthood was not purified, it was lacking.  These Temple references are depicting a future Temple earned through repentance which has not happened yet.

Conclusion

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The history of Israel is having the blessings of God, being punished for disobedience and eventually being redeemed.  Many feel that Israel was redeemed after the Babylonian captivity when the Second Temple was built.  The Second Temple does not seem to have been honored by God.  Yes, some of the curses appear to have been lifted recently; Israel being its own nation and the land being productive. However, Israel is still dispersed among the nations (Leviticus 26:33, Deuteronomy 28:64-66).  Fortunately, God does promise a future day they He will gathered His dispersed; Isaiah 11:11-12, 27:12-13, Ezekiel 20:34.

 

Reference:

  1. Milikowsky, Chaim. “Where Is the Lost Ark of the Covenant? The True History (of the Ancient Traditions).” Tradition, Transmission, and Transformation from Second Temple Literature through Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity: 208-29. doi:10.1163/9789004299139_010.

 

  1. Spiro, Ken, Rabbi. “History Crash Course #43: The Jews of Babylon.” Ken Spiro. September 1, 2001. Accessed April 26, 2016. http://kenspiro.com/article/history-crash-course-43-the-jews-of-babylon/.

 

  1. “Priest on a Rope: High Holidays – Yom Kippur Response on Ask the Rabbi.” Aishcom. Accessed April 23, 2016. http://www.aish.com/atr/Priest_on_a_Rope.html.

 

  1. Kahane, Rabbi Daniel. Kabbalah of Time: Revelation of Hidden Light through the Jewish Calendar. Place of Publication Not Identified: IUniverse Com, 2013, Page 195

 

  1. Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 57, 1, Tosefta, Minhot 13, 21

 

  1. Spiro, Ken. “The Second Temple.” The Second Temple. Accessed April 23, 2016. http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/the_second_temple/.were

 

  1. Goldwurm, Hersh. History of the Jewish people: the Second Temple era, Mesorah Publications, 1982. Appendix: Year of the Destruction, pg. 213. ISBN 0-89906-454-X
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