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TitleThe Exile and First Return of Judah
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1973
AuthorsBrandt, Edward J.
Issue Number7
Date PublishedJuly 1974
KeywordsChronology; Destruction of Jerusalem; Kingdom of Babylon; Kingdom of Judah; Kingdom of Persia

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The Exile and First Return of Judah

By Edward J. Brandt

Moses prophesied that if wickedness and disobedience came among the people of Israel, they would be scattered among the nations. (Deut. 28:25.) Beginning with the conciliatory treaty of King Ahab of Israel with Syria (1 Kgs. 20:34) until the final captivity of Judah by Babylonia, the scattering or dispersion of the Lord’s people followed as a consequence of their broken covenants.

Most of the people who were scattered never returned to the land of promise, and their posterity continued to be spread throughout the earth. The group has come to be known as the Diaspora, after the Greek term for dispersion, and refers to the Jewish people who lived outside the land of Israel. The closing chapters of the story of the Old Testament are told in the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah. Here is found the story of the first return of some of the dispersed of Judah.


Babylonian Kings—[before 539]
Persian Kings—[539 and after]




605 Jehoiakim gave hostages as a tribute to Nebuchadnezzar, consisting of noble sons and craftsmen. Daniel was probably among them. (2 Kgs. 24:1, 7; Dan. 1:1–7; Jer. 25:1; Jer. 26:1; Jer. 27:1, 9–11; Jer. 46:2.) At this time the temple vessels were also removed to Babylon. (2 Kgs. 24:13; 2 Chr. 36:7; Ezra 1:7–8; Ezra 5:14; Ezra 6:5.)

605 JEHOIAKIM ruled 11 years (2 Kgs. 23:34–37; 2 Chr. 36:4–5.)



JEHOIACHIN ruled 3 months.(2 Kgs. 24:5–6, 8; 2 Chr. 36:8–9; Jer. 22:24; Jer. 24:1; Jer. 37:1; Ezek. 1:1–3.)



597 King Jehoiachin was carried captive with thousands (including the skilled laborers) to Babylon, and Judah was reestablished as a tributary state. Ezekiel was with this group. (2 Kgs. 24:10–16; 2 Kgs. 25:29–30; 2 Chr. 36:9–10; Jer. 24; Jer. 40:1; Jer. 52:28; Ezek. 1:1–15.)

ZEDEKIAH ruled 11 years. (2 Kgs. 24:17–18; 2 Chr. 36:10–11.)


NEBUCHADNEZZAR II ruled 606–562 B.C. (Dan. 3:1.)

587 Rebellion by the Jews brought the final conquest and destruction of Jerusalem. King Zedekiah and most of the people of the nation were carried captive to Babylon. (2 Kgs. 25:1–7; 2 Chr. 36:11–13, 17–21; Jer. 39:1–7; Jer. 52:4–11, 29.)

581 The temple was burned and the wall of Jerusalem destroyed. The remaining people, except the “poor,” were taken to Babylon. (2 Kgs. 25:8–21; Jer. 52:12–27, 30.)


Lehi and Jeremiah are the most well-known prophets of the closing years of the Kingdom of Judah. (2 Chr. 36:12–16, 21; Jer. 1:1–3; 1 Ne. 1:4; 1 Ne. 5:13.)

Gedeliah (son of the man who saved Jeremiah—Jer. 26:24) was appointed governor over the few remaining inhabitants of the country. He was soon assassinated, and the remnant of the Jews were persuaded to flee to Egypt, in spite of Jeremiah’s warnings. (2 Kgs. 25:22–26; Jer. 39:8–18; Jer. 40:45.)

EVIL-MERODIAH (Amil-Marduk) ruled 562–560 B.C. The exiled Jehoiachin was treated well by this king. (2 Kgs. 25:27–30; Jer. 52:31–34.)


NERGAL-SHAREZER (Neriglissar) ruled 560–556 B.C. (Jer. 39:3, 13.)


LABASI-MARDUK ruled only nine months, 556 B.C.


BELSHAZZAR ruled 556–544 B.C. This king served as co-regent, while his father, Nabonidus, conducted foreign conquests. (Dan. 5; Dan. 7:1; Dan. 8:1.) Daniel held a high position of leadership during this period.

NABONIDUS ruled 556–539 B.C.


536 Work was begun on temple foundations (Ezra 3:8–13; Ezra 5:16) but construction was later stopped because of the opposition of the Samaritans. (2 Kgs. 17:24–41; 2 Kgs. 23:9–20; Ezra 4:1–24.)


539 CYRUS ruled 539–530 B.C. (Ezra 1:1–4; Isa. 43:1–13; Isa. 44:26–28; Dan. 1:21; Dan. 6:28; Dan. 10:1.)


520 The decree of Cyrus to build the temple was not enforced until Darius’ time when work on the temple resumed. (Ezra 4:24; Ezra 5:1–2; Ezra 6:1–5, 14; Hag. 1:1, 15; Hag. 2:18; Zech. 4:6–10.) The prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged and directed the temple’s completion. (Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14; Hag. 1:1–2; Zech. 1:1, 16.)

Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah, was appointed governor (Ezra 1:7–8; Ezra 5:14) and the altar for sacrifices was completed the first year of the return. (Ezra 3:1–6.)


The Persians conquered the Babylonians, ending the captivity of Judah and providing a provincial state for them in the land of Israel.

The decree of Cyrus permitted the return of the exiled Jews to their homeland. However, only a small number of those living in dispersion returned with the first group. (2 Chr. 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–4; Ezra 5:13–15; Ezra 6:3–5.)

CAMBYSES II ruled 530–522 B.C.



DARIUS I (Hystaspes) ruled 522–486 B.C. (Ezra 4:5, 24; Ezra 5; Hag. 1:1; Zech. 1:1.)


516 The second temple was completed and dedicated. It was also called Zerubbabel’s temple, after the man who was governor during its construction. (Ezra 6:15–22.) The completion of the temple fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the exiled people. (Jer. 25:11–12; Jer. 29:10.)



458 Ezra led the second major group of exiled Jews to return to the promised land. (Ezra 7:1, 6–28.) He had authority to enforce the Jewish law. The chief problem was mixed marriages. (Ezra 9–10; see also Deut. 7:1–5.)

AHASUERUS (Xerxes) ruled 486–464 B.C. (Ezra 4:6; Esth. 1:1.) The story of Esther tells of the events dealing with the Jewish people still in Babylon and Persia.


450 The prophet Malachi warned of the violations of their covenants through mixed marriages, etc. Apostasy was taking root among the people. (Mal. 1–4.)


445 Nehemiah was appointed governor and led still another group to return to the promised land. (Neh. 2:1–11; Neh. 5:14; Neh. 7:5–73.) He directed the rebuilding of the walls of the city of Jerusalem in the face of much opposition. (Neh. 2:12–20; Neh. 3–6; Neh. 7:1–4.) The records were assembled, the Law read, recovenanting of the people took place, and the walls of the city were dedicated. (Neh. 8:1–8; Neh. 10; Neh. 12:27–47.)


ARTAXERXES I ruled 464–423 B.C. (Ezra 4:7–23; Ezra 7:1; Neh. 2:1.)


432 After a time, Nehemiah returned to institute reforms to fight the growing apostasy and abuses against the covenant laws. (Neh. 13.)


Brother Brandt is a teacher at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion, University of Utah.