To Abraham was born Isaac and to Isaac was born Jacob who was also called Israel. Jacob fathered twelve sons. Before Jacob’s death in the fifteenth century BC, he made the following prophecy:
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
A sceptre was a highly decorated, ceremonial staff held by rulers as a symbol of sovereignty. Judah was Jacob’s fourth son. Moses and Joshua divided the land of Palestine between the descendants of the twelve sons of Israel early in the twelfth century BC.
About 1,000 BC, David the Bethlehemite began his reign over the United Kingdom, the core of which was the land of Palestine. He was a member of the royal tribe of Judah and the first fulfilment of Jacob’s prophecy.
The United Kingdom was divided in 933 BC following the reign of David’s son, Solomon. The northern kingdom, consisting of the land assigned to the ten northern tribes, took the name Israel and the southern kingdom, the name Judah. The southern kingdom was comprised of the land allotted to the tribe of Judah and a portion of the land occupied by the tribe of Benjamin, including Jerusalem. Before that time, the tribe of Judah had absorbed the tribe of Simeon and their land.
Nineteen kings ruled over the kingdom of Judah. All were descendants of King David. One queen also governed Judah. She was the wife of Judah’s fifth king.
Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC by capturing its capital city of Samaria. However Judah did not suffer the same fate. Instead it was conquered by Babylon in 586 BC. Nebuchadnezzar deported all but a few of its inhabitants and appointed a Judean governor called Gedaliah. The governor was assassinated by a member of Judah’s royal family and the remnant of Judeans, who had banded around Gedaliah, fled to Egypt in fear for their lives.
The kingdom of Judah lay desolate for about forty-five years. Babylon oversaw a barren land devoid of any subjects.
Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, granted the return of Judeans to their beloved Judah in 538 BC. He appointed Zerubbabel to lead the 42,360 person exodus from Babylon. Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David and a member of the royal tribe of Judah.
Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 331 BC. Greece became a world empire and Greek, the universal language of the dominion. Alexander founded the Egyptian city of Alexandria to exhibit the superiority of the Greek way of life. The Diaspora was encouraged to settle there and Alexandria became a centre for Hellenists—Jews who adopted the Greek culture. Alexander died in 323 BC and his empire was divided between his four generals.
The shaggy goat in the Book of Daniel represents the kingdom of Greece and the goat's large horn represents Alexander the Great. The broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place symbolize the death of Alexander and the four kingdoms that arose from his empire.
Ptolemy, one of Alexander's generals, ruled Palestine and Egypt. That was a time of prosperity for the Jews. High Priests from the tribe of Levi were responsible for the internal affairs of Judah, called Judea by the Greeks and Romans. By the time Ptolemy II took the throne, the Jews in Alexandria spoke Greek rather than Hebrew. Because there was a need for a Greek translation of the Holy Scriptures of Judaism, he commissioned 70 Palestinian Jews to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in the third century BC.