Meditations on “The Big Picture” 13. Into Exile
Jer 13:19 The cities in the Negev will be shut up, and there will be no one to open them.
All Judah will be carried into exile, carried completely away.
Centuries pass, Israel, the northern kingdom, is carried away and still the southern kingdom is a mix of blessing and bane. When Israel is carried away, Ahaz was king in the south, a bad king who refused God’s chastening (see 2 Chron 28:1-11,22-25). He was followed by Hezekiah (2 Chron 29-32), essentially a good king though he struggled with pride in his last years. He was followed by Manasseh who was a seriously bad king restoring idolatry in a big way (2 Chron 33:1-11) and was carried to Babylon by God’s discipline where, amazingly, he repented and was restored to his land and to kingship (2 Chron 33:12-20). Then came Amon who only did bad and was assassinated within two years (2 Chron 33:21-25). He was followed by Josiah (2 Chron 34 & 35) who was a remarkably good king but was killed in an unnecessary battle.
He was followed by the final four bad kings: Jehoahaz (who only lasted 3 months – 2 Chron 36:1-5), Jehoiakim (11 years, 2 Chron 36:5-8), Jehoiachin (only 3 months, 2 Chron 36:9,10) and finally Zedekiah (11 years, 2 Chron 36:11-21). So much for Judah’s closing history as far as the kings went. The final three kings were all taken into captivity in Babylon: Jehoiakim, (2 Chron 36:6), in 598BC, then Jehoiachin, (2 Chron 36:10) in 597BC, and then Zedekiah, in 587BC with the fall of Jerusalem.
Nebuchadnezzar invaded more than once, when he came and took captives to Babylon from Judah:
- a) it started in 605, when Daniel and his friends were taken,
- b) it was repeated in 597 when Ezekiel and some ten thousand Jews were deported to Babylon (see 2 Kings 24:12-17) and then
- c) finally to quash Zedekiah’s rebellion in 588/587. (the siege of Jerusalem lasted over a year before it fell)
Now Jeremiah prophesied from the time of Josiah right through to the end of Jerusalem and the final exile. Many of his prophecies warned of the coming conflict and called Judah to repentance. Probably one of the more significant prophecies comes in Jer 25, delivered probably in 605BC in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign and Nebuchadnezzar’s first year of rule before he came against Jerusalem for the first time. Jeremiah had already prophesied for 23 years (Jer 25:3) and had warned them against apostasy (25:4-7) but they had ignored the warning so now, “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.” (25:8,9) Now that prophecy went on to warn of complete devastation which did not happen at his first invasion but certainly did at his final invasion in 588/587.
While Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem throughout that period, Ezekiel appears to have been carried away to Babylon as we saw above in 597 but doesn’t appear to have received his prophetic call until 593 (see Ezek 1:1,2) There he brought his words to the exiles in Babylon and presumably those words were carried back to Jerusalem. In chapters 1 to 24 he prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem for the apostasy of the people. Nevertheless, in the midst of that, as always with God’s words of judgment, there were words of hope: “`This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’ “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.” (Ezek 11:17-21) In that remarkable word the Lord reveals His long-term strategy – the Israel that will return will be free of idol worship and will hold fast to the Lord.
In January of 588 the Lord told him that Jerusalem was under siege (Ezek 24:1,2). Thereafter he was instructed to prophesy against Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and Egypt. God’s day of judgment was coming but not only on Jerusalem! Eventually he was told that Jerusalem had fallen (Ezek 33:21) In the chapters that follow the prophetic word brought hope and more hope, e.g.: “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. …. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.” (Ezek 34:11,13)
Read Lamentations and catch the awfulness of the destroyed Jerusalem. The walls have gone and the temple has gone; it has been burned to the ground and the vast majority of its people carried off to Babylon. If you were an Israelite you might have thought that this was the end of Israel – except Ezekiel was prophesying it wasn’t (and Jeremiah had prophesied that it wasn’t!). Forty years after the destruction, something amazing happened: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: `The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you–may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.’” (2 Chron 36:22,23) The details are given in Ezra in respect of the temple and in Nehemiah in respect of the city walls. God had restored His people to their land after the most devastating judgment Israel and Jerusalem ever experienced. Incredible! Worship the Lord who is sovereign and who WILL fulfil all His purposes.