Christian Churches of God
The Fall of Jerusalem
(Edition 1.0 20090418-20100508)
Just as the prophet had told Zedekiah, the Babylonian army soon returned to attack and besieged Jerusalem. The city was plundered and burned and many were executed and others taken prisoner. This paper has been adapted from chapters 148-150, Volume VI of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
The Fall of Jerusalem
We continue here from the paper Jeremiah Warns Judah (No. CB150).
In the ninth year of King Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his army marched against Jerusalem. The city was kept under siege for two years (2Kgs. 25:1-2; Jer. 39:1).
Very soon there was famine in the city that became so severe there was not enough food for the people to eat. Nebuchadnezzar had no intention of moving until the Jews were starved into submission. Now that food had to be severely rationed Jeremiah made another appeal to Zedekiah to save himself and his people by going out and surrendering to Nebuchadnezzar.
Possibly these people would have preferred to give themselves up to the Babylonians, but no one was allowed outside the walls. The misery and death could have been prevented if one man, the king, had walked through the gates and given himself up to the besiegers (Jer. 21:1-10; 32:23-24; 38:17).
Eventually the city wall was broken through and the Babylonian officials came through and took seats in the middle gate. When Zedekiah saw them, he and the whole army fled at night through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden. However, the Babylonians pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All the soldiers had scattered and he was captured and taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah. There they killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and also killed all the nobles of Judah. Then they put out his eyes, bound him and took him to Babylon (2Kgs. 25:3-7; Jer. 39:2-7). Zedekiah was held in prison until the day he died (Jer. 52:11).
The Babylonians set fire to the royal palace and the houses of the people and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. The people who remained in the city, along with the rest of the craftsmen and those who had gone over to the king of Babylon were carried into exile. However, the poorest people of the land were left to work the vineyards and fields.
The Babylonians plundered the Temple and carried off the vessels of gold, silver and bronze. Then they burnt the Temple of the Lord God.
Nebuzaradan, the commander of the guard took as prisoners Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the priest next in charge and three doorkeepers and other important men of the city. They were taken to Riblah where the king had them executed. So Judah went into captivity in a foreign land (cf. 2Kgs. 25:8-21 and 2Chr. 36:15-21).
King Nebuchadnezzar then appointed Gedaliah governor over the people he left behind in Judah (2Kgs. 25:22).
Nebuchadnezzar had also given orders to Nebuzaradan about Jeremiah.
“Take him and look after him; don’t harm him and do whatever he asks,” he said.
So he sent and had Jeremiah taken out of the courtyard of the guard and turned him over to Gedaliah to take him back to his home (Jer. 39:11-14).
While Jeremiah had been confined in the courtyard of the guard the word of the Lord came to him with a message for Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian.
"I have some good news for you from God," Jeremiah told him. "He has asked me to inform you that because you have put your trust in Him and have obeyed His laws, there is no need for you to fear the Babylonians. You won't be wounded or killed by them" (Jer. 39:15-18).
Thus Ebed-melech was one of the few people in Jerusalem who could have any hope under the fearful threat of the Babylonians.
Nebuzaradan had found Jeremiah bound in chains among the captives from Jerusalem and Judah who were being carried into exile to Babylon. He told Jeremiah that the Lord God had sent the disaster on Judah and brought it about because the people sinned and did not obey God’s Laws.
He then gave Jeremiah the option to go with him to Babylon or refuse.
Jeremiah was probably tempted to say he would go to Babylon, as there he would have his needs supplied. If he remained in Judah, it would be a struggle to find enough to eat. Besides, his own people could continue to treat him as a bothersome eccentric. However, thinking his position through made it plain to him that his place was in his own nation, where God might still have some use for him.
Then Nebuzaradan gave Jeremiah provisions and a present and let him go. Jeremiah then went to Gedaliah and stayed with him and the people who were left behind in the land (Jer. 40:1-6).
Meanwhile, the scattered remnant of the army of Judah that had escaped from Jerusalem gathered at Mizpah to find out if Gedaliah wished to reorganize the military force. Mizpah also became crowded with Jews who had fled to nearby nations when the Babylonians came. Having heard that the invaders had left, they returned to their nation and came to the new seat of government to inquire about the status of their country.
Gedaliah proclaimed to all that they should make a special effort to produce as much as possible from the land to try to make up for what the enemy had taken.
"We must also work hard to prepare for the time when the Babylonians will return to take tribute," Gedaliah told them. "We are a captive nation, and we are bound to give the conquerors whatever they demand" (2Kgs. 25:23-24; Jer. 40:7-12).
Shortly after Gedaliah's advice to the people, several military leaders came to Gedaliah to inform him that they had heard that Ishmael, a man they all knew who was of royal stock in Judah (Jer. 41:1 and 1Chr. 2:41), had returned from the land of the Ammonites. He had fled there for safety when the Babylonians had come.
"We have learned that Baalis, king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael to take your life”, they said.
However, Gedaliah did not believe them.
"Let me dispose of him before he disposes of you!" Johanan urged. "No one except the two of us will know anything about it! I'll be doing Judah a favour!"
"Don’t do such a thing", Gedaliah said. "What you are saying about Ishmael is not true" (Jer. 40:13-16).
About two months after the Babylonians had departed Ishmael came with ten men to Gedaliah at Mizpah. While they were eating together, Ishmael and his ten men got up and killed Gedaliah with the sword. They also killed all the Jews who were at Mizpah, as well as the Babylonian soldiers who were there (2Kgs. 25:25; Jer. 41:1-3).
For two days the assassins held the governor's house without outsiders knowing what had happened. Then it was reported that a group of eighty men from the territory of Israel wished to talk with Gedaliah.
"They want to burn incense at the temple ruins to show their sorrow because of the state of affairs," Ishmael was told. "They've shaved their beards, torn their clothes and slashed themselves."
Ishmael went out to meet them He even managed some tears, to pretend that he was deeply moved and sympathised with them. He said to them, “Come to Gedaliah”.
When the visitors were inside, the eleven charged at them with swords and slaughtered most of them. However, ten terrified men begged to be spared.
"We have great quantities of precious food hidden" they cried. "There's a fortune in oil, honey, wheat and barley. It's all yours if you let us go free!"
So he let them alone and did not kill them with the others. All the bodies of those killed, along with Gedaliah, were thrown into the cistern.
Ishmael's accomplishments caused him to become even more daring. He and his men made captives of the rest of the people in Mizpah. His purpose was to stamp out the frail government of Judah and seize the inhabitants of Mizpah to sell them as slaves to the king of the Ammonites. Ishmael and his men worked swiftly, knowing that Jews from nearby regions would probably band together to resist as soon as they heard what was happening.
Fortunately, the news reached Johanan, a friend of murdered Gedaliah, who wasn't in Mizpah. He quickly gathered armed men to rush in pursuit of the kidnappers, who by then were desperately herding their captives northward toward the road to Ammonite territory.
Not far from the city of Gibeon, the captives were overjoyed to see Johanan and his men hurrying toward them. Ishmael, however, didn't share their sudden hope.
All the people Ishmael had taken captive went over to Johanan. However, Ishmael and eight of his men escaped and fled to the Ammonites (Jer. 41:4-15).
There was growing concern among the Jews over what would happen when Nebuchadnezzar learned that his puppet governor and several Babylonian officials had been murdered. So they set out for Egypt to escape the Babylonians (2Kgs. 25:26; Jer. 41:16-18).
Then all the army officers and all the people went to Jeremiah and said to him, "As you can see there are only a few of us left. Pray to God so He will tell us where we should go and what we should do.”
Jeremiah answered, "I will pray to God as you have asked. Whenever and whatever He answers, I'll report it to you."
"We will do whatever our God says," they promised Jeremiah. "We are anxious to obey His will."
Most of the Jews expected to hear from the prophet almost right away, but it was ten days before he sent word for them to assemble for an answer (Jer. 42:1-7).
"Hear what our God has revealed", the prophet called out to them. "He wants you to know that you should stay in your land. You who have homes in Mizpah should return there without fear of the Babylonians, whom God won't allow to harm you. Since you have looked to God for guidance, He will not punish you as most of your countrymen are being punished. As long as you remain in Judah, your numbers will increase and there will be plenty to live on. On the other hand, if you ignore God's advice and refuse His help by insisting on going to Egypt, you won't find safety there. Neither will you find enough to eat to keep you alive. If you aren't slaughtered by the sword, or if you don't starve to death, you will die in Egypt by horrible diseases. You may leave here if you choose, but be warned that those who insist on going to Egypt will never return!" (Jer. 42:8-22).
To learn that they could have God's protection without having to leave their homes and their nation should have been good news to the Jews. Their reaction, however, was anything but joyful. There was only an awkward silence. Most of them appeared uncomfortable and irritated.
When Jeremiah had finished, Johanan and a man named Azariah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, "Why do you talk to us this way? God surely wouldn't forbid us to go to Egypt, yet you declare that He did! Isn't it a fact that your friend Baruch, who secretly wishes the Babylonians to destroy us, talked you into lying to us in this matter?"
"You and Baruch have been friendly with the Babylonians, and that's proof of why you don't fear them!" Azariah muttered.
So Johanan, the army officers, and all the people would not listen to God’s command to stay in the land of Judah. Thus they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord and went as far as city of Tahpanhes (Jer. 43:1-7).
While in Tahpanhes, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “While the Jews are watching, take some large stones with you and bury them in clay in the brick pavement at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace. Then say to them, ‘God wants me to tell you that these same stones will soon be used on this very spot in building a foundation for a throne room for King Nebuchadnezzar, because the Babylonians are going to invade this nation. They will kill many Egyptians. Many more will starve. Part of them will die of disease. Others will be taken captive. The Babylonians will burn the temples of the Egyptian idols, as well as the gods of wood. The idols will be smashed, and their gold taken to Babylon. Egypt's wealth will all be taken. Nebuchadnezzar will accomplish this as easily as a shepherd puts on his coat. The Egyptians won't have the strength to stop him. When he leaves at the time he chooses, he will have broken their will to fight'' (Jer. 43:8-13).
As God had repeatedly warned through prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many others, Judah's idolatry resulted in a scattering of the people in almost the same way in which the Ten Tribes had been scattered about one hundred and thirty-three years previously. Rebellion against God had resulted in the shattering of both kingdoms, although Judah wasn't swallowed up and lost in surrounding nations as the Ten Tribes of Israel were. If these kingdoms had obeyed God, the people would have remained safe and prosperous in their own land (Jer. 34). Now the prisoners, slaves and outcasts learned that food and shelter were difficult to find. Meanwhile, the homes from which they had been driven were taken over by wild animals and their fields and orchards were choked with weeds and brush.
While two kings of Judah – Jehoiachin and Zedekiah – suffered in Babylonian prison cells, many Jews captured previously by the Babylonians were living as exiles in colonies along the Chebar River about two hundred miles north of Babylon. Among these exiles was a young man named Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1-3). He had a most unusual vision in which he was told by God to tell his people, who still followed idolatry, that they should give up the worship of false gods and turn to the only true God or suffer even greater miseries than they had gone through.
Ezekiel obeyed, but few paid much attention to him. Along with his strong warnings from God, he made many predictions that paralleled some made by Jeremiah. He even foretold Zedekiah's attempted escape from the Babylonians at Jerusalem, and about his loss of sight and being brought to Babylon (Ezek. 12:10-13). Even after Ezekiel's countrymen along the Chebar River heard that these things had come about just as Ezekiel said they would, most of them doubted that God had chosen him to be a prophet. This was as God told Ezekiel it would be. Nevertheless, because he was obedient and had a special concern for the exiles, the prophet faithfully continued to repeat God's warnings and prophecies to the people.
So also did Jeremiah. Before the fall of Jerusalem, he wrote letters to the people Ezekiel was with, encouraging them to keep up their family lives and look forward to a time when their children could return to their homeland after the Babylonians would fall from power (Jer. 29:1-32).
Ezekiel predicted many things, including the victorious invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezek. 32:1-18) and the fate of the Jews who had gone there contrary to God's warning through Jeremiah. Meanwhile, Ezekiel married and established a home in one of the Jewish communities north of Babylon. Although the Jews generally ignored his prophecies and admonitions, they had unusual respect for him and often came to him for advice. In spite of their stubbornness in ignoring many of the warnings he passed on from God, they believed that God had endowed him with good judgment and the power to foresee the future.
Ezekiel was meant to be more than a prophet to the Jews. He kept the people informed and comforted, and he encouraged all who sought wisdom and tried to forsake their wrong ways. Many of them failed to appreciate what he did for them for twenty-two years. Little did they guess that his writings, many of which were quite puzzling, would eventually be read all over the world for centuries and be interpreted in many different ways, mostly erroneous.
One of the things Ezekiel wrote about had to do with the future of Israel after the Messiah's second coming to earth from heaven (Ezek. 36). Another matter, among many others, was how people would be resurrected and what tomorrow's world would be like when David would again rule Israel and all the nations of the earth under the Messiah (Ezek. 37).
Inasmuch as both Ezekiel and Jeremiah were inspired by God, their prophecies agreed, proving that they were indeed the Creator's true servants. Among the subjects of which they both spoke was the prediction that God would certainly provide a successor to the throne Zedekiah had lost. God had already promised David that He would forever establish David's kingdom, but one might wonder how that would be accomplished after the murder of Zedekiah's sons and later the death of Zedekiah.
At that time Jehoiachin, former king of Judah who had been taken captive by the Babylonians, was still alive but was spending his time in a Babylonian dungeon. He had sons who were of the royal line, but they were prisoners and none of them while in prison could become king of a nation that had ceased to exist. After its restoration, one of Jehoiachin's grandsons was made governor by the king of Persia, but he was never crowned king. There were indeed men of the royal line who were qualified to become king decades later at Jerusalem, but that didn't happen, because it wasn't according to God's plan. God had decreed that his line would never again sit in Judah on the throne of David (Jer. 22:24-30).
Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel stated that the throne would be established elsewhere (Jer. 21:11-12; Ezek. 17:1-6, 22-24). They also foretold the invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, to occur a few years after the fall of Jerusalem. By that time, the Jews were scattered throughout Egypt. As might be expected, many of them fell in with worshipping Egyptian idols. That danger was one of the reasons God had told them not to leave Judah.
Jeremiah was still warning his people that if they continued in any kind of idolatry they would be killed or captured when Nebuchadnezzar would surely come to overrun Egypt (Jer. 44:1-30). Most of the Jews still believed that the prophet was somehow in league with the Babylonians, and didn't take him seriously. A few, including Baruch and the daughters of Zedekiah, regarded Jeremiah as God's spokesman and their leader and remained faithful to God.
It was a fearful shock to those who hated Jeremiah when they learned that the Babylonian army was indeed moving into Egypt!
The Arrival of Nebuchadnezzar's army at Egypt's border was perhaps even more dismaying to the self-exiled Jews than it was to the Egyptians. They began to realize that what the prophet Jeremiah had told them would happen, really would happen (Jer. 44:24-30; 46:13-26). Having treated God's prophet without respect, they now began to fear both God and the Babylonians.
[Nebuchadnezzar did not enter Egypt. Only his army did and Egypt rebelled forty years later. In 325 BCE, eighty years after as foretold by Ezekiel, Cambyses invaded and retook Egypt].
We will continue with this Bible story in the paper Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream (No. CB153).