Jews are one of the most ancient peoples in the world. Their history is recorded in the Bible, by historians outside of the Bible, and through archeology. We have more facts about their history than that of any other nation. We will use this information to summarize their history. To make the history of the Israelites (an Old Testament word for the Jewish people) easier to follow, we will use timelines.
Abraham: The Jewish Family Tree Begins
The timeline starts with Abraham. He was given a promise of nations coming from him and had encounters with God ending in the symbolic sacrifice of his son Isaac. This sacrifice was a sign pointing to Jesus by marking the future location where Jesus would be sacrificed. The timeline continues in green when Isaac’s descendants were slaves in Egypt. This period of time started when Joseph, grandson of Isaac, led the Israelites to Egypt, where later on they became slaves.
Moses: The Israelites become a Nation under God
Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt by the Passover Plague, which destroyed Egypt and allowed the Israelite Exodus from Egypt to the land of Israel. Before he died, Moses announced Blessings and Curses on the Israelites (when the timeline goes from green to yellow). They would be Blessed if they obeyed God, but experience a Curse if they did not. These Blessings & Curses were to follow the Jewish people ever after.
For several hundred years the Israelites lived in their land but they did not have a King, nor did they have the capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time. However, with King David around 1000 BC this changed.
David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem
David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. He received the promise of a coming ‘Christ’ and from that time on the Jewish people waited for the ‘Christ’ to come. His son Solomon succeeded him and Solomon built the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in aqua-blue (1000 – 600 BC). This was the period of Israelite glory – they had the promised Blessings. They were a powerful nation, had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Old Testament also describes their growing corruption and idol worship during this time. Many prophets in this period warned the Israelites that the Curses of Moses would come on them if they did not change. But these warnings were ignored.
The First Jewish Exile to Babylon
Finally around 600 BC the Curses happened. Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful Babylonian King came – just like Moses had predicted 900 years before when he wrote in his Curse:
The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)
Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then exiled the Israelites to Babylon. Only the poor Israelites remained behind. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that
You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64)
So for 70 years, the period shown in red, the Israelites lived as exiles outside the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.
Return from Exile under the Persians
After that, the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and Cyrus became the most powerful person in the world. He permitted the Israelites to return to their land.
However they were no longer an independent country, they were now a province in the Persian Empire. This continued for 200 years and is in pink in the timeline. During this time the Jewish Temple (known as the 2nd Temple) and the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt.
The period of the Greeks
Then Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and made the Israelites a province in the Greek Empires for another 200 years. This is shown in dark blue.
The Period of the Romans
Then the Romans defeated the Greek Empires and they became the dominant world power. The Israelites again became a province in this Empire and it is shown in light yellow. This is the time when Jesus lived. This explains why there are Roman soldiers in the gospels – because the Romans ruled the Jews in the Land of Israel during the life of Jesus.
The Second Jewish exile under the Romans
From the time of the Babylonians (600 BC) the Israelites (or Jews as they were called now) had not been independent as they had been under the Kings of David. They were ruled by other Empires. The Jews resented this and they revolted against Roman rule. The Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem (70 AD), burned down the 2nd Temple, and deported the Jews as slaves across the Roman Empire. This was the second Jewish exile. Since Rome was so big the Jews were scattered across the whole world.
And this is how the Jewish people lived for almost 2000 years: dispersed in foreign lands and never accepted in these lands. In these different nations they regularly suffered great persecutions. This persecution of the Jews was particularly true in Christian Europe. From Spain, in Western Europe, to Russia the Jews lived often in a dangerous situations in these Christian kingdoms. The Curses of Moses back in 1500 BC were accurate descriptions of how they lived.
… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:65)
The Curses against the Israelites were given to make peoples ask:
All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”
And the answer was:
“ … the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land…” (Deuteronomy 29:24-25)
The timeline below shows this 1900 year period. This period is shown in a long red bar.
You can see that in their history the Jewish people went through two periods of exile but the second exile was much longer than the first exile.
The 20th Century Holocaust
Then the persecutions against the Jews reached their peak when Hitler, through Nazi Germany, tried to exterminate all the Jews living in Europe. He almost succeeded but he was defeated and a remnant of Jews survived.
Modern Re-birth of Israel
Just the fact that there were people who identified themselves as ‘Jews’ after many hundreds of years without a homeland was remarkable. But this allowed the final words of Moses, written down 3500 years ago, to come true. In 1948 the Jews, through the United Nations, saw the remarkable re-birth of the modern state of Israel, as Moses had written centuries before:
…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:3-4)
It was also remarkable since this state was built in spite of great opposition. Most of the surrounding nations waged war against Israel in 1948 … in 1956 … in 1967 and again in 1973. Israel, a very small nation, often was at war with five nations at the same time. Yet not only did Israel survive, but the territories increased. In the war of 1967 the Jews regained Jerusalem, their historic capital city David had founded 3000 years ago. The result of the creation of the state of Israel, and the consequences from these wars has created one of the most difficult political problems of our world today.