What about Malachi?
First, let's take a look at Malachi. Why did this book eventually get adopted as the conclusion of the Christian Old Testament? It actually makes a lot of sense. Through the prophet Malachi, the God of Israel exposes just how corrupt the post-exilic generations have become after returning from Babylon. The general picture we get from the book is that the long years of Israel’s exile did not fundamentally change the hearts of the people. They’re still in rebellion against God, the temple is corrupted, and it leaves the reader waiting for some kind of resolution. And that’s exactly what Malachi announces. The Day of the Lord is coming to purify Israel from all moral compromise and evil, so that a faithful remnant can emerge out of the other side. So while the tone of the book is kind of a downer, it ends with a hopeful note that God will come one day to sort everything out. And that final, hopeful note is precisely what makes Malachi a great ending to the Christian Old Testament. But remember, it’s not the original ending.
Contrast Malachi with Chronicles, which is placed at the end of the Hebrew canon. This book, which is mostly narrative with genealogy and poetry mixed in, leaves a different impression. Chronicles opens with introductory genealogies that recap the entire biblical storyline from Adam all the way to the post-exile generation. The emphasis of Chronicles is to foster hope in God’s promise to David for a new king and a new Jerusalem, which will become a dwelling place for the divine glory along with a new, restored Israel.
From here, the book moves on to recount the story of the kings of Jerusalem. Again, the focus is on David and God’s covenant promise of the seed that would come through his line. This promised king would build a new temple and reign over Israel and the nations. As you read about every descendant of David, all of them fail, but there are a handful of bright-spot characters (Hezekiah and Josiah, for example) who succeed more than they fail. For the Chronicler, these narratives about the past kings from David’s line serve as a prophetic pointer to what the future promised king will be like, only better!
When you read the last portion of the scroll of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36), you’ll notice a bit of a time warp, to the tune of 70 years! 2 Chronicles 36:21 says, “This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah, and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until seventy years were fulfilled.” This is referring to the exile by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (the reference is to Jeremiah 25). Jump to the next verse (and skip 70 years) in 2 Chronicles 36:22, “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia…” It’s here where we read that the Persian King Cyrus is letting the Israelites return home. By skipping the period of the exile, the Chronicler highlights that the exile was 70 years long. This raises the question: does this number hold significance? Could it possibly be related to why the people were in exile to begin with?
It’s All About the Sevens.
God’s original desire for his people and their land was for their lives to revolve around rest. Over the course of the time, from David up until the exile, the land the Lord gave as an inheritance to his people should have received a total of seventy Sabbath years (you can read all about this in Leviticus 25). Why seventy? The Jewish calendar was set up in sequences of sevens. Every seven days, there was to be rest in the land. Every seven years, there was to be a year of release, where a mini-restoration took place. After seven of these seven-year cycles occurred, there was to be a year of Jubilee, the major release year when all sold land was restored to the original owners, when slaves were freed, and celebrations abounded! These cycles were symbolic festivals that retold the exodus story and commemorated how the Lord brought his people out of captivity as slaves and introduced joy back into their lives. However, if you recall from reading Chronicles, the kings of Israel and Judah did not observe any of these Sabbath celebrations, rendering the land in dire need of rest, the way the Lord intended. The author wants us to view the seventy years of Babylonian exile as a repayment for all of the ignored Jubilee years throughout Israel’s history. If you can do the math, seventy times seven years of ignored Sabbath-Jubilees equals 490 years! And if you go back and carefully track the chronology of Chronicles from the reign of David to the exile, guess what? It adds up to 490 years!
So, in the Chronicler’s mind, those lost Sabbath-Jubilee years, seventy in total, were being made up for all at once in the exile. Let’s follow that logic. If Israel’s negligence and failure lasted 490 years, resulting in seventy years of exile, then surely Israel’s restoration would be matched by something of equal or greater proportions, a whole new cycle of Sabbath-Jubilee celebration! Keep reading in 2 Chronicles 36:22. The expectation of this new cycle has to be connected with the main themes from the rest of the book, the hope for a promised king reigning over the new Jerusalem. And, lo and behold, what do we read about in the final sentence of 2 Chronicles? The Persian king Cyrus ordered that someone go to Jerusalem, someone “whose God is with him,” so that this person can rebuild the new temple, “and let him go up…”
70 x 7
If you’re reading 2 Chronicles in Hebrew (which most of us aren’t, so it helps to have someone tell us what’s going on!), it’s crystal clear that Cyrus’ decree ends with an incomplete sentence: “and let him go up…” It’s not incomplete in English, but it is in Hebrew, which raises the question: Was this a mistake? No way.
To understand what’s happening with the incomplete sentence at the end of the TaNaK, let’s jump to Daniel 9. In Daniel 9, Daniel is sitting in Babylon reading the scroll of Jeremiah, which announced the seventy-year exile. From where Daniel sat, those seventy years were almost at their end, and he ponders when Israel will be restored. While he is praying, an angel appears to him (Daniel 9:21) and tells him that Israel’s sin, even after seventy years, hasn’t been adequately dealt with. So just as the Israelites took 490 years to break the covenant, there will be a corresponding seventy times seven years to restore the covenant. The exile’s punishment is not over; another 490 years are necessary before the messianic kingdom of God will come.
Now, back to 2 Chronicles 36. The question remains as to why Chronicles—and the Hebrew canon—ends with the incomplete decree from Cyrus. When the formation of the canon took place, the compiler placed Cyrus’ decree at the end of Chronicles to remind us that the promise to David of the messianic king was not fulfilled when many Israelites returned after seventy years (the story’s told in Ezra-Nehemiah). Rather, there will be another seventy sevens, that is, another super-Jubilee cycle. The unfinished sentence of Cyrus’ decree functions as a hyperlink that says, “go read Daniel 9,” and when we make the connection, it’s clear that Israel still has another round of exile ahead of them before the real kingdom of God comes.
Is your head spinning yet? Take a deep breath because the numbers game is about to get real. If you put together all of these numbers we’ve been considering, you get the following: 490 years of Israel’s disobedience, seventy years of exile in Babylon, and now another 490 years of a new kind of “exile,” that is, Israel suffering under an oppressive foreign rule. The fulfillment of the real Jubilee will come after the second installment of the exile. But why must there be another round of seventy times seven? Let’s remember Daniel 9. It’s because Israel’s sin is still ongoing, and there was still covenant unfaithfulness in the post-exilic community, further affirming the need for their Messiah! Exile did not burn out of the hearts of the people what needed to be purified, like Malachi promised. They needed a rescuing from a problem deeper than outward exile. The Chronicler lives among this “still-in-exile” community, and he composed this book to help God’s people understand their true situation. Through these ancient texts, he was able to paint a picture of the future hope for which they were waiting and had not yet seen.