Prior to 1948, Israel last existed as an independent nation in 606 B.C. when the first captives of Israel were taken by Nebuchadnezzar. The destruction of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians was completed in 587 B.C. with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. For 70 biblical years (approximately 69 years on the Gregorian calendar), the Jewish people were held as captives in Babylon. In 537 B.C., the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon and issued a decree for the Jews to return to their land and rebuild the Temple. It was during the Babylonian captivity and this return to Israel that Ezekiel appeared as a prophet and provided the following information on the future existence of Israel as an independent nation:
“Now lie on your left side and place the sins of Israel on yourself. You are to bear their sins for the number of days you lie there on your side. You will bear Israel’s sins for 390 days – one day for each year of their sin. After that, turn over and lie on your right side for 40 days – one day for each year of Judah’s sin.” Ezekiel 4:4-6 (NLT)
According to this passage, the people of Israel would not be free until this period of punishment passed. This time is known as the “Servitude of the Nation,” and the time allotted by God is 430 years. However, 70 years of atonement for their sins had already been served during the Babylonian captivity, so only 360 years of punishment remained. The Jews who returned to Israel in 537 B.C. refused to repent of their sins as Ezekiel warned. As a result, Israel continued to be ruled by foreign powers: the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. In A.D. 70, Titus and the Roman legions destroyed the Temple and scattered the Jewish people as slaves among the various provinces of the Roman Empire. The year 176 B.C. had come and gone, yet Israel never emerged as an independent nation. So what happened? Was the Bible wrong? Did God change his mind?
Several earlier Old Testament passages shed light on this mystery. In the Book of Leviticus, they reveal that if, upon their return to the land of Israel, the people refused to obey God, he would increase their punishments seven-fold. This is repeated several times:
“And if in spite of this, you still disobey me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over.” Leviticus 26:18 (NLT)
“If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins.” Leviticus 26:21 (NLT)
“And if you fail to learn a lesson from this and continue your hostility toward me, then I myself will be hostile toward you, and I will personally strike you seven times over for your sins.” Leviticus 26:23-24 (NLT)
“If after this you still refuse to listen and still remain hostile toward me, then I will give full vent to my hostility. I will punish you seven times over for your sins.” Leviticus 26:27-28 (NLT)
In the year 537 B.C., 360 years of punishment remained on God’s timetable. However, when the people of Israel refused to repent of their sins, this punishment was multiplied seven-fold from 360 years to 2,520 years. 360 days comprise a biblical year, so the allotted time equaled 907,200 days.
However, in modern times, we don’t use the Jewish calendar, but rather the Gregorian calendar which has 365.2425 days in a year. If the 907,200 days are divided by 365.2425, we get approximately 2,483.8292 years.
Historians have established that Cyrus the Persian issued his proclamation to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem sometime in the first half of the year 537 B.C. We don’t know the exact day of the proclamation, but the Bible reveals that it had to be prior to the seventh month on the Jewish calendar because in that month, “the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled together as one person in Jerusalem.” Ezra 3:1 (NLT)
Without an exact starting date, it’s more accurate to count backward 907,200 days from the day of Israel’s restoration. Israel declared its status as an independent nation on May 14, 1948. The following online calendar conversion tool is available for counting days as well as converting between the Gregorian calendar and the Jewish calendar.
Subtracting 907,200 days from the Gregorian date of May 14, 1948, the calculator reveals a date of July 15, 537 B.C.
Gregorian Calendar: 14 May 1948 A.D.
Jewish Calendar: 5 Iyyar 5708
-907,200 days (360 days x 2,520 years)
Gregorian Calendar: 15 July 537 B.C.
Jewish Calendar: 15 Av 3224
Does this reconcile with the Biblical statement that the Jews had resettled in Jerusalem in the seventh month of 537 B.C.?
The equivalent date on the Jewish calendar is 15 Av 3224 – the fifteenth day of the fifth month. Since approximately 900 miles separate Babylon and Jerusalem (the geographical distance is less, but the ancient travel route is estimated at 900 miles), and ancient caravans rarely traveled more than 20 miles per day, this date doesn’t seem to contradict the biblical account. The Jews would have had only 74 days to make their trip. Accounting for the Sabbath day of rest, that leaves approximately 63 actual travel days to reach Jerusalem before the end of the seventh month. To cover 900 miles in that time, they needed to average 14.29 miles/per day, 6 days per week – a task well within reach.
It also seems highly likely that Cyrus made his proclamation in this part of the year, because the Jewish holiday Tisha B’Av, a three week fast commemorating the destruction of the Temple 50 years earlier ends on the 9th of Av. 9 Av 537 B.C. was within a one week of the 50th anniversary of the Temple’s destruction, a fitting time for a king’s proclamation to rebuild it.
Although July 15, 537 B.C. can not be verified by outside sources as the exact day of Cyrus’s proclamation, we do know that 537 B.C. was the year in which he made it. As such, we can know for certain that the Bible, in one of the most remarkable prophecies in history, accurately foresaw the year of Israel’s restoration as an independent nation some two thousand five hundred years before the event occurred.