Vacillation in Judah As a result of Manasseh’s evil practices, many people suffered. He so ingrained the worship of Baal in the hearts of the people, that never again could they, or would they return wholly, with mind and heart, to the worship of Jehovah. The religious history of Judah goes from one extreme to the other. Hezekiah had been able to bring his good influence to bear after the evil reign of his father Ahaz. But each wave of reform took longer to accomplish and each one was more a mental acquiescence than a heart change. The people seemed to respond like robots with little conviction, by accepting the religious practices of the one on the throne at that time. But, because of his long reign, Manasseh was able to thoroughly ingrain Baalism as the official religion of the land.
Manasseh’s Repentance Second Chronicles 33 gives us an interesting postscript to the life of Manasseh. Because Manasseh had made Judah and its inhabitants to err “worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel,“ and because neither he nor the people would listen when God spoke to them through the prophets, verse 11 says He allowed the Assyrians to attack, capture Manasseh, and carry him in chains to Babylon.
Prior to recent discoveries, critics pointed to this statement as an
error in the Bible because it associated Assyria with Babylon. How-ever, we now know from secular history that the Assyrians had captured Babylon just prior to this time and made it an Assyrian province. The word “thorns” in verse 11 may be better translated “hooks.” To be carried way with hooks meant having a hook put through one’s nose or lips. The rope was fastened to it so the captive could be pulled behind a horse or chariot.
In his distress, Manasseh humbled himself before the Lord, repented,
and the Lord brought him back to Jerusalem. “Then Manasseh knew hat
the Lord he was God” (vs. 13).
After this conversion experience in his old age, he removed the
heathen artifacts from the temple, returned the altar of the Lord, and
began to worship Jehovah. He also commanded all the people of Judah “to serve the Lord God of Israel.“ But by that time, they were so wedded to Baal that they only gave lip service to the king’s new edict.
There is no doubt that Manasseh saved his own soul by his belated
repentance, but it was too late to save his nation. Not even his son
Amon followed his later example. When Amon ascended the throne at the age of twenty-two, he restored his father’s carved idols and worshipped them. Verse 23 says “Amon trespassed more and more” until after only two years, his servants conspired and assassinated him in the palace. The people then slew Amon’s murderers and made his young son Josiah, who was only eight years old, king of Judah.
Josiah’s Good Reign Josiah reigned from 640 until 609 B.C. and was the last godly king of Judah. Second Kings 22:2 says “he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father.“ In his eighteenth year, he became concerned about the physical condition of the Lord’s house and made preparations for its restoration. He was influenced by the preaching of Jeremiah who recorded that he began his prophetic ministry in Josiah’s thirteenth year (Jer. 1:2).
The lost book While the work on the temple was in progress, Hilkiah
found a copy of the book of the law. It had virtually disappeared
during the long evil era of Manasseh and Amon, but evidently
some pious priest, at the risk of his life, had hidden a copy in the temple. Shaphan the scribe carried it to the palace and read it in the hearing of the king. When Josiah heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes. He recognized how far the nation had departed from God’s Word and how deserved was “the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us “ (vs. 13).
Josiah could have responded in another way, making excuses that
he was doing the best he could since the Book of the Law was not available to him before that time. But Josiah did not respond like that. When he heard God’s Word he mourned and began to direct his life and the religious system of the nation by it. Because his heart was right, God told him (vss. 19-20):
Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself
before the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this
place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should be
come a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and
wept before me, I also have heard thee, saith the Lord. Behold
therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be
gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all
the evil which I will bring upon this place.
Josiah’s reforms Chapter 23 contains the record of Josiah’s reforms. He emptied the temple of all the items used for worshiping
Baal, Asherah, everything used by the astrologists, and had them all
burned outside the city. He did away with the evil priests and broke
down all of the houses of the male cult prostitutes along with the places where the women wove garments for the Asherah. He defiled all the high places, and finally, went up to Bethel and destroyed the infamous calf altar that had such a long history dating back to Jeroboam I. Following his fulfillment of the three hundred year old prophecy which had been made the day the altar at Bethel was dedicated, Josiah celebrated a Passover. Verse 22 says there had not been such a Passover since the days of the judges-at least six hundred years before!
But even with all of Josiah’s efforts, the people’s hearts were not
wholly returned to the Lord. The tragedy of the reign of Manasseh is
brought out in verse 26:
Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great
wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all
the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal.
The damage that Manasseh had done was not undone by his own
late conversion. His evil life had damned the entire nation. Judah would very soon reap what Manasseh had sown. Verse 27 goes on to say, And the Lord said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there. The year was 623 B.C. Time was drawing short for the nation of Judah. Doom was on the horizon.
The Surrounding Nations We need to orient ourselves to what was happening in the world at large during this period. If we place Judah at the center of a clock face, we can look down to about seven o’clock and see the land of Egypt, a tremendous power in the late seventh century B.C. Up at the top and fanning out from about ten o’clock over to two o’clock is Assyria, the number one power in the world at that time. Going over to three o’clock we see the rumblings of neo-Babylon under the able leadership of the Chaldean general, Nabopolassar. When he seized the throne, the
Babylonians were able to throw off the yoke of Assyrian occupation.
The man who followed Ashur-banipal on the throne of Assyria in
633 B.C., was more of a scholar than a military leader and, in God’s
program, the demise of Assyria began because of his weakness. We
know from Isaiah 10:5ff, that God used the Assyrians as His chastening rod, and that when they did not admit they were being used by Him, but assumed they were victorious in their own strength, God set about to punish and destroy them. For this historical event He used the Babylonians.
In 614 B.C., with assistance from the Medes, the Babylonians defeated
Asshur and Calah. In 612 they conquered Nineveh, and with
that victory the resistance of the Assyrian army was broken. Then in
609 B.C., Pharaoh Necho sent his armies up along the Mediterranean seacoast to join in the engagement.
Death of Josiah When king Josiah heard that Necho was leading his troops north, he attempted to stop him at Megiddo. For the details of what happened we must turn to II Chronicles 35 where we read in verse 21 that Necho sent messengers to Josiah, saying:
What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against
thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war. for
God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with
God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not.
Although verse 22 suggests that God was speaking through Necho,
Josiah would not listen. Perhaps his heart also was becoming lifted up with pride. Whatever the reason, he disguised himself and went out to battle against Necho on the plain of Megiddo. In the conflict he was wounded by the arrows of the archers and taken back to Jerusalem to die. Based on 11 Chronicles 34:28, and the similar verse in II Kings which promised peace to Josiah, it would appear that peace was God’s perfect will for him, but defeat and death were His permissive will when he attempted to involve himself in world affairs which God was controlling.
Defeat of Egypt Necho continued his advance toward the north with a series of battles until he was defeated at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C., four years after the death of Josiah. That battle was a major historical event because it was the turning point in the power struggle for the world. It was a bloody battle and its outcome had been predicted by Jeremiah. The Egyptians returned to Egypt after their defeat. So, having conquered both Assyria and Egypt, Babylon was left as the number one power in the civilized world.
Prior to his defeat at Carchemish, Pharaoh Necho had discovered
that the people of Judah had placed Jehoahaz on the throne to succeed his father Josiah. Unlike his father, Jehoahaz “did evil in the sight of the Lord. He had reigned only three months, when Necho took him captive to Egypt and replaced him with his brother Jehoiakim who was more willing to pay tribute to Egypt. King Jehoiakim taxed the people of Judah heavily to raise this pay-off money for Necho. He reigned for eleven years; from 609 to 598 B.C.
Babylonian Invasions Nabo-polassar ruled over Babylon from 625 to 605 B.C. His General was Nebuchadnezzar who, following his decisive victory at Carchemish in 605, headed south into Judah and entered the city of Jerusalem as a conqueror. He carried off hostages back to Babylon, including many of the young men from the leading families, also taking Daniel and his friends about whom we read in Daniel 1.
Returning to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar succeeded Nabo-polassar
as king, while Jehoiakim was king in Jerusalem. Jehoiakim agreed to
pay Nebuchadnezzar tribute money, but after three years he rebelled
and refused to send any more. In 598-597, when no tribute was received, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem in anger. He discovered that Jehoiakim had died and that his son Jehoiachin was now on the throne. Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the city, carried Jehoiachin and his family captive to Babylon, and placed his uncle Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, on the throne. Second Kings 24:20 tells us that Zedekiah also rebelled against the king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar returned in 588 B.C. and besieged Jerusalem for two years. In 586 the Babylonian army broke down the walls, burned the temple, the palace, and all of the city. They carried many of the inhabitants into temple in Babylon, along with all the valuable treasures from the destroyed temple. This climactic event was the fulfillment of all the earlier prophecies which the Lord had made concerning the destruction of the city and temple if His people continued their idolatry and rejection of His Law. The myriad of prophecies were fulfilled accurately and precisely.
LV AFTERMATH OF DEFEAT
By arriving at the historical point where the inhabitants of Judah
were taken to Babylon in captivity, we have observed the end of a 1500 year cycle. There is a certain irony in the fact that God called Abram from the geographical area which came to be known as Babylon. He promised Abram a progeny which would become a great nation, as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sand of the sea, and who would inherit the land of Canaan to which Abram went. Now, as captives, they were back in the land from which God had called their forefather, Abram.
The World Around Babylon While the Jews were captives in Babylon during most of the sixth century B.C., many changes were occurring throughout the civilized world. Aesop was writing his timeless fables; the theater at Delphi was under construction; the Delphic oracle and its priestesses were at the height of their influence; Pythagoras, the philosopher and mathematician, was developing his phythagorean theorum; Confucius was teaching in China; Buddha left his home to devote himself to philosophy and asceticism and preached his first sermon in 521 B.C.; the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was being built; the temples of Apollo at Corinth and of Olympian Zeus at Athens, were also under construction.
From this era come the first reports of papyrus being used in
Greece. Just a little later, the Persians would be wearing tight fitting
leather clothes. In Babylon, the banking business was being practiced. Nebuchadnezzar was building his palace with its terraced gardens, presumed to be the legendary hanging gardens, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. He also built a tunnel more than half a mile long connecting the palace and the temple of the sun. It traversed the Euphrates below the river bed. Just a little later, Darius I, would use pontoon bridge warfare to cross the Bosphorus. He would also establish the city of Persepolis and explore the Indian seacoast. The Greek philosophers were adopting the theory that the earth is a disc covered by a dome of sky, or else possibly floating free in a spherical sky.
Conditions of Captivity While all these things were occurring in the civilized world, the Jews were captives in the land of Babylon. Ezekiel and Daniel were prophesying and encouraging the people. They were not abject slaves, however, as they had been in Egypt. They were subject to forced labor, but they also had a certain amount of freedom and many of them prospered in the land of their captivity. Their primary hard-ship was the fact of their exile, their homesickness for Jerusalem and the temple, and their inability to participate in the festivals and other facets of worship that God had originated for them.
Lamentation Over Jerusalem While the captives were being led away to Babylon, leaving the smoldering city behind, there was an eye-witness of the situation in Jerusalem immediately following Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest in 586 B.C. We find his account in the book of Lamentations. Because of the religious/political nature of Jeremiah’s messages, which were misconstrued as pro-Babylonian, the conquerors allowed him to choose between going to Babylon or remaining in Jerusalem. Jeremiah chose to remain behind. What he witnessed had already been summed up fifty-five years earlier by the prophet Zephaniah (1:18):
Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in
the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured
by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance
of all them that dwell in the land.
That prophecy had at last been fulfilled. Nebuchadnezzar and
his generals went back through the broken wall and carried the people away to Babylon. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, walked around the city, sat down and scanned the desolation which lay before his eyes, and recorded what he saw and felt. Beginning in Lamentations 1:1: How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and
princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She
weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among
all her lovers she hath none to comfort her. all her friends have dealt
treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.
In this melancholy way, Jeremiah personified the city of Jerusalem
as if it had been a woman. She had been a princess; now she was a
widow. Even the city seemed to be weeping. Her lovers which she
followed became her enemies and had dealt treacherously with her. Interestingly enough, in Hosea 2:5, Hosea had personified Judah as a harlot.
The harlot’s wages she had received were those things that cities and nations are interested in, viz., bread, water, wool, flax, oil. Jerusalem had sold herself for those things to the surrounding nations and became involved in the worship that praised Baal for providing them. Jeremiah followed up on Hosea’s concept and said that all the nations Jerusalem had involved herself with and whose gods she had worshiped, had moved in against her just like a man who dealt treacherously with his adulterous lover.
Jeremiah continued in verse 4: “The ways of Zion do mourn, because
none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate. “ By “the ways, “ he means the roads. It is as if the roads into Jerusalem previously rejoiced when pilgrims came up to worship Jehovah, but now they were abandoned, vacant and desolate. So, even the roads were mourning. What a difference! Think back about II Samuel 15:2. Even when Absalom was meeting people at the gate to turn their hearts away, there was activity. The judges were there, the people were entering to present their cases before the king. But now Jeremiah said, “her gates are desolate.“ This was because there had not been justice in the gates. Jeremiah was telling us that God’s judgment had fallen on the perverted practices of the people in Jerusalem.
As a parallel thought, look at Amos 5:10. Although Amos gave
his message to the northern kingdom, prior to the invasion of the
Assyrians, the principle still applies because the same thing was happening in the south in Jerusalem. Amos said, “They hate him that
rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly.“ So
there must have been individuals of integrity in the gate who attempted to stand for principles of justice and for the worship of Jehovah. But the major portion of the population hated them. They were so corrupt that they abhorred the man who spoke with integrity.
In verse 12, Amos accused them of accepting bribes. They also
“afflict the just, and, most of all, they turn aside the poor in the gate.“
The judges n the gates were turning aside the poor because they could not afford to pay the bribes. The whole system of justice that God had prescribed was being perverted. What a difference from what we saw earlier when Boaz could sit in the gate in Bethlehem and enjoy the fellowship of the other elders; when he could discuss the matter of re-deeming the land with a nearer kinsman, and everything was done the way God had outlined it. Times had changed dramatically since then because, rather than justice being present in the gates, evil and perversion were there. God had to judge it.
Jeremiah continued by saying, “her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness. “ Is it any wonder that her virgins were afflicted? When the Babylonian soldiers ravaged the city they ravaged the women also. Verse 5 summarizes the reasons behind it all. “Her adversaries are the chief, they are in charge. “Her enemies prosper. And why has it happened?” For the Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone away into captivity before the enemy.
Verse 9 adds, “she remembereth not her last end. “ The Israelites
did not consider their future. Moses had been just the opposite. He did not want “to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb. 11:25). The inhabitants of Judah wanted the pleasures of sin for a season, so they were now paying an enduring price. Lord, keep us from the shortsightedness of involvement in sin.
Verse 10 says that other nations have entered her sanctuary. Those
whom God had said could not even join the congregation had defiled
the sanctuary. As Jeremiah looks around, he mourns and cries (vs. 12): Doesn’t anybody want to comfort us? We are destroyed, in agony, miserable and suffering, but no one seems to care.
In verse 17 he says that the Lord had commanded those round
about Jacob to become his adversaries. This is a fulfillment of the Davidic covenant in which God had promised chastisement for disobedience. Jeremiah 2:7 states very explicitly that God abandoned all the sacred things in the temple He had caused Solomon to make for His worship. We learned earlier that His house had been polluted by objects of Baal worship, and the people had mistreated the things He had designed, caring nothing for them. So now He has abandoned them and delivered them into the hand of the enemy. It is reminiscent of the battle in 075 B.C. when God allowed His Ark to be taken by the Philistines. It isn’t that God could not have stopped the Babylonians from destroying the temple, His glory had departed. It was simply an empty building that had been used to worship the false gods they had imported from the surrounding nations. Without God’s presence, it was a hollow shell. In verse 14, Jeremiah summarized his interaction with the false prophets during Ms earlier ministry. He reminded the inhabitants of Judah that these professional prophets had seen false and foolish visions.
Their preaching was not that which would bring repentance.
When we study his book, we will see that Jeremiah preached God’s
message and was opposed by the “yes men,” the professional prophets, and those who did not agree with his God given message. If the people had accepted Jeremiah’s message, they would have prevented what he was describing in Lamentations. Because they heeded the false prophets instead, they were reaping the present disaster. Jeremiah’s heart must have been broken when he mentioned in verse 20 the cannibalism that took place inside the city. The carnage and cannibalism which had been prophesied earlier had come to pass.
In chapter 3, beginning with verse 12, Jeremiah began to personify
himself as the city of Jerusalem. God had aimed His bow and set him as a target. It reminds me of the time God determined to destroy Ahab. He could not escape; a random arrow pierced the joint of his armor. In a similar way, Jeremiah felt that an assassin’s arrow had entered his inward parts.
He continues in verse 16 to say, “He hath also broken my teeth,”
making himself the recipient of an imprecatory Psalm. Psalm 3:7 contains this imprecation against the enemies of God.
Verse 40 says, “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the
Lord.” This summarizes the basic message he had given over and over. Verse 44 adds, “Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.” God had hidden Himself from His apostate people. Earlier, He had said through Hosea to the northern kingdom (5:15): “I will go away to my place, and will not return again. “ Now it has happened to Judah. God had gone away; He had departed from the temple; He had withdrawn His hand of protection from Jerusalem, the beautiful city, and allowed the
Babylonians to invade bringing destruction and devastation.
Chapter 4 contains specific details regarding the Babylonian invasion.
In verse 5, Jeremiah says that those who had eaten delicacies
and dressed in purple were reduced to sitting in the ash pit. Earlier,
Amos had given such a message to “the cows of Bashan,“ those heavy women who instructed their husbands to go out and work hard and cheat some more to bring in more money and more expensive food for them. There were also people like that in Jerusalem, but the days of fancy food and other delicacies were over. They were now eating each other, because of the judgment of God against them. Compassion was gone hen women boiled their own children (vs. 10).
In verse 12, Jeremiah wonders who could believe that adversaries
could enter the gates of Jerusalem, or that the city would fall. It was
wrong to say that no army could take Jerusalem, because that was what happened when God withdrew His hand. The professional prophets and the evil priests who had shed the blood of the righteous in her midst (vs. 13) were now wandering blind in the streets. Those who were so pious, holy, and pure that they would not even speak to those beneath them were crying, “Depart, unclean, depart, do not touch us,” because they were defiled by death and corpses and cannibalism on every hand. There was no escape, Jeremiah says in verse 18. “They hunt our steps, . . . our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.”
Chapter 5 continues (vs. 2): “Our inheritance is turned to strangers,
our houses to aliens.“ This was a fulfillment of Zephaniah 1:13. Verse 4
complains hat they must even pay for their g water and their own wood is sold to them. Verse 12, “Princes are hanged up by their hands.“ The Babylonians took the princes and strung them up by their thumbs in the middle of the streets. They put the young men to work in the grinding mills and the young people had to carry loads of wood to serve their new masters.
In Lamentations, Jeremiah summarized for us the horror and cruelty
which the inhabitants of the beautiful city of Jerusalem suffered at
the hands of the Babylonians. His heart was broken because he knew that if the people had just heeded his earlier warnings and messages from God, this would not have happened. But in the program of God, because of His earlier prophecies based on their failures to obey His ordinances, this final calamity was inevitable!