Restoration and Post-Exilic Covenant

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Rich Coffeen

Puritan Board Freshman
This weekend I heard it taught that the predictions of great glory, blessing, and prosperity following the Restoration from Babylonian Exile went essentially unfulfilled, that the post-Exilic period was one of overwhelming spiritual failure and disappointment in Israel.

This really took me by surprise, as I had always heard the opposite. Granted, the Restoration (like the Exodus) typified the redemptive work of Christ and the new covenant he would establish. So obviously all the Restoration prophecies find their ultimate fulfillment in the NT. But wasn't the Post-Exilic covenant the most glorious of all the OT versions of the old covenant? In the Intertestamental Period Israel lacked most of the outward glory she had possessed throughout much of the OT (small temple, no Davidic king, a mere vassal state to Persia, Greece, Rome, etc.). Yet this decrease in outward glory was far outweighed by an increase in inward glory. For the first time in Israel's history, the nation as a whole abandoned idol worship, took an interest in the Scriptures, and engaged in missionary work among the Gentiles.

In other words, the OT shows us a pretty consistent picture of what Israel was like. God's people seem to change little if at all between the Exodus and the Exile. When we get to the NT, however, we see a people radically different from the Jews in the OT. Jesus certainly has serious problems with the Pharisees and their transformation of the OT faith into a legalistic nightmare. Nevertheless, Jesus never rebukes anyone for the sin of idolatry. All the Jews we encounter in the NT seem to have an amazing knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. And everywhere Paul goes in the Roman Empire he finds a synagogue of Jews and God-fearing Greeks, thanks at least in part to the missionary work done by Jews in the InterTestamental Period.

Less outward glory for the Jews, but far more inward glory. God used the Exile and Restoration, and the Post-Exilic covenant established through Ezra, to work a remarkable spiritual transformation in his people. Thus the many famous Restoration prophecies in the Major Prophets really do find their initial fulfillment in this period. For example, the Jeremiah 31 passage about the new covenant that God would one day establish with his people refers initially to the post-exilic covenant established with Israel during their Restoration to the land of Judah. The prophecy (and many others like it) finds its initial or typological fulfillment in the Restoration, then its primary or definitive fulfillment in the new covenant established by Jesus.

To put it as simply as I can, the Restoration was a smashing spiritual success. The Spirit was poured out upon God's people in much greater measure than previously in the OT (although still no where near the degree in Acts 2). There is a great replacement of the people's heart of stone with a heart of flesh. Those Jews who return to Jerusalem after the decree of Cyrus do so only because they first repent in earnest from the sins that landed them in exile in the first place.

Granted, every OT covenant falls short of the full list of blessings the prophets keep promising. The OT covenants (with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Ezra) merely typify the new covenant in Christ's blood. But there is progress in the OT. Each covenant is more glorious than the one before it. Each covenant gets closer to what the new covenant will finally be like.


Puritanboard Amanuensis
This is the same post-exilic community which had trouble with Sabbath desecration, marrying strange women, neglecting the temple of God, and the like. Nor can we say that the renewal of the covenant of grace by Jesus Christ has put an end to these troubles. Amongst the NT churches we find all kinds of moral problems which required redress. The glory of the covenant is that it is a covenant of grace!


Puritan Board Doctor
There were some positive things at the beginning after the Exile, under Ezra, etc. And the most positive thing is that God Himself was going to visit the Second Temple in the Person of the Messiah.

The post-exilic covenanting was a response of the people then living to God, rather than another Divine Covenant revealed by God. It was a healthy sign, but such spiritual fervour can sometimes be lost in a generation or two, depending.

Nevertheless, the Jews quite quickly descended into legalism, which was no improvement on their pre-Exilic licence, although this "Covenantal Nomism" Grace plus Works system sometimes looked better. By the time the Messiah came, there seemed to be a small minority truly waiting for the Kingdom, represented by Simeon, Anna, Nathanael and those prepared through John the Baptist's preaching and baptising.

Daniel 9 predicts the "Times of the Gentiles". Israel's period of exile would be brought to an end in one sense but because of their wickedness it would be extended by seven times seventy in the sense that the Gentile powers of Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece and Rome would be calling the shots.

In a sense the "Times of the Gentiles" has extended right up to the present day because the True Israel of God (Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ and their covenant children) have never been the prevailing and ascendant force in the World that they should properly be. Postmils, for example, believe that this will not always be the case in history.
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