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In a day of profound discouragement and misplaced priorities following the return of the Jews from Babylonian exile, the prophet Haggai sounded a clarion call of rebuke, exhortation, and encouragement to his contemporaries.They had begun to rebuild their own homes and businesses and to establish their statehood as a Jewish community but had been derelict in tending to the construction of the temple and making the Lord the central focus of all their hopes and dreams.What forces had brought them to the present hour, and what hope did they have for a renewal of the ancient covenant promises and glory? What were the prospects in light of present realities and in anticipation of future divine intervention?Less than four decades after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 B.It was the latter, as the Bible clearly intimates (Dan.5:1-31), who fell to Cyrus when Babylon finally capitulated to the Persians on October 12, 539 B. Beginning in 555, the year Cyrus defeated his Median grandfather, he had incorporated Media, Lydia, and Babylonia into his rapidly expanding Persian empire. Its surrender to Cyrus was a foregone conclusion since, according to the so-called “Verse Account of Nabonidus” and other texts, Nabonidus had so offended Marduk, chief deity of Babylon, by his impious devotion to Sin that Marduk had determined to turn his estate over to a “shepherd” who would better tend it. The biblical version of the rise of Cyrus is quite different, for it is Yahweh, not Marduk, who raised him up (Isa.Haggai dates his first recorded revelation to the first day of the sixth month of the second year of the Persian king Darius Hystaspes (522-486 B. This is the month Elul, equivalent to Ulu of the Babylonian/Persian calendar and corresponding in the Julian calendar to August-September.
Pieter Verhoef also makes the point that dating of prophetic oracles emphasized the authenticity of the message.Nabonidus (556-539), whose north Mesopotamian roots and devotion to the moon god Sin were to alienate him from his Babylonian subjects, then took over.Preoccupied as he was by his cult and by foreign travel and trade, Nabonidus left the responsibility of government largely in the hands of his son Belshazzar.The message of Haggai, so effective in shaking the Jews of 520 B. from their lethargy, has an abiding relevance for all who fail to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries and therefore shared a common historical setting—Jerusalem at the end of the sixth century B. That setting may be precisely identified, for no other biblical authors, with the exception of Ezekiel, tied their ministries and messages more closely to a chronological framework.
He next refers to the response of Zerubbabel and Joshua to the message of Yahweh, dating that to the twenty-fourth day of the same month, or September 21, (Hag. The prophet then assigns his second oracle to the twenty-first day of the seventh month (i.e., Tishri), or October 17, (Hag. Finally, he cites the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month (Kislev), December 18, (, 20). Zechariah provides one more date, however, the fourth day of the ninth month (Kislev) of the fourth year of Darius, December 7, 518 B. This marked the occasion of his interview with Sharezer, Regem-melek, and other leaders from Bethel (Zech. The strict attention to matters of chronology exhibited by Haggai and Zechariah is characteristic of the annalistic style of history writing employed in Neo-Babylonian and Persian times.