Big Hopes for Bayit Sheni
The primary prophecies of both Chagai and Zecharya, especially those relating to Chanuka, were delivered during the second year of the reign of Darius (see 1:1 in both Chagai and Zecharya), some twenty years after the return to Jerusalem under Cyrus. (See Timeline.) To better appreciate these prophecies, we must (as usual) consider their historical setting.
The destruction of the First Temple and the subsequent exile to Bavel left Am Yisrael in an unprecedented condition. Since the time of the Exodus from Egypt, Israel had been living in its own land, and the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and later the Bet Ha-mikdash (Temple), had served as their spiritual and national center. In addition, Israel had always enjoyed sovereignty; although there had been times of relative weakness, Israel was never subjugated to foreign rule. After the Temple's destruction, Israel was left without its land, without its Temple, and without its sovereignty.
Near the close of the First Temple period, Yirmiyahu had already forewarned the people about this exile and destruction, proclaiming the rule of Bavel over Israel for the next 70 years (see Yirmiyahu 25:1-12). As Benei Yisrael had abused their own sovereignty, God punishes them by subjecting them to the "yoke of the Melech Bavel" (see Yirmiyahu 27:12). At the conclusion of these seventy years, Yirmiyahu foresees Israel's return to its land and sovereignty, ideally in a fashion even grander than their original redemption from Egypt:
"Assuredly, a time is coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no more be said, 'As the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt,' but rather, 'As the Lord lives, who brought out and led the offspring of the House of Israel from the northland and from all the lands to which I have banished them...' " (23:7-8)However, this ultimate redemption was not unconditional. Instead, as Yirmiyahu claims, it was to be preceded by Israel's seeking of God:
"When seventy years of Bavel are over, I will take note of you; I will fulfill to you My promise to bring you back to this place ... when you call out to Me and come and pray to Me, I will give heed to you. You will search for Me, and then you will find Me..." (29:10-14)As we would expect, God hoped that the returning exile would establish a better and more just society, thus correcting the ills of the First Temple period.