CAPTIVITY AND RETURN
In 721 BC, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians. The Israelites who survived were carried away to live in various parts of the Assyrian Empire. In 626 BC, the Assyrian Empire fell to the Chaldeans - whom we usually call the Babylonians, after the name of their greatest city, Babylon. The Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom of Judah, and began deporting the people. In 586 BC, Jerusalem was destroyed, and nearly all of the remaining Israelites were moved to other parts of the Babylonian Empire. The prophet Jeremiah lived through this horrible time, and records it in the book which bears his name, and in the book of Lamentations. Ezekiel and Daniel also lived and prophesied during the years of captivity.
In 538 BC, Babylon was captured by the Persians. In 536 BC, the Persian king, Cyrus, issued a decree which allowed the Jews to return to their own land. The book of Ezra records the rebuilding of the temple, and the books of Haggai and Zechariah record how God encouraged the people in their work. The book of Nehemiah records the rebuilding of the wall, and the challenges the people faced from their enemies. Malachi prophesied during this period, and his book is probably the last book of the Old Testament to be written, ca. 450-400 BC.
The Promise Continues
God's message of a coming redemption continues to be delivered through the prophets. In the second chapter of Daniel, for example, is the Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the four-part statue. God gives Daniel the ability to interpret the dream, verses 26-30. From history, we know the four kingdoms represented by the dream to be Babylon, Persia, Macedon (Greece), and Rome (verses 36-43). Daniel stated that in the days of these last kings (i.e. Roman emperors), God would establish a kingdom that would have no end, verses 44-45. God's kingdom is represented as a mountain that fills the earth. This is reminiscent of the prophecy in Isaiah 2:1-4, which is another view of the same events. God is promising to establish a kingdom that will have ultimate preeminence over all human attempts at world government. Keep in mind that the Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, and Roman empires were four of mankind's greatest attempts at establishing one world government. Rome was particularly great, and in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, it comes to represent all such kingdoms. In gaining the victory over Rome, God's kingdom would demonstrate her supremacy over all worldly governments.