The Destruction of Jerusalem
Within a few short years the king of Babylon was to be used as the instrument of God’s wrath upon impenitent Judah. Again and again Jerusalem was to be invested [surrounded] and entered by the besieging armies of Nebuchadnezzar. Company after company—at first a few only, but later on thousands and tens of thousands—were to be taken captive to the land of Shinar, there to dwell in enforced exile. Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah—all these Jewish kings were in turn to become vassals of the Babylonian ruler, and all in turn were to rebel. Severer and yet more severe chastisements were to be inflicted upon the rebellious nation, until at last the entire land was to become a desolation, Jerusalem was to be laid waste and burned with fire, the temple that Solomon had built was to be destroyed, and the kingdom of Judah was to fall, never again to occupy its former position among the nations of earth.”—Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 422, 423.
As we have seen, and will see, none of this came upon them without plenty of warnings and pleadings by the prophets, especially Jeremiah. Their refusal to obey brought only ruin. May we learn from their mistakes!
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 5.
Though Jeremiah might have felt very much alone at times, he wasn’t. God had raised up Ezekiel, a contemporary, among the captives in Babylon, in order to comfort and to warn the exiles as well as to confirm what the Lord had been speaking through Jeremiah all these long and hard years. Through his ministry, Ezekiel was to warn the captives against the folly of believing the false predictions of an early return from Babylon. He was also to foretell, by various symbols and messages, the devastating siege that would eventually befall Jerusalem because of the people’s refusal to repent and turn away from their sin and apostasy.
No matter how often, and clearly, the writings of Moses and the prophets warned against idolatry and worshiping other gods, these verses show that this is exactly what was being done, even within the sacred precincts of the temple. “Weeping for Tammuz” was a lamentation ritual for a Mesopotamian god. No wonder 2 Chronicles said: “Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 36:14).
Look carefully at Ezekiel 8:12. The translation about the chambers of their own “imagery” is a little ambiguous. It could mean the chambers where they stored their own idols, or it could mean the chambers of their own imagination, their own hearts. Either way, the elders, the leaders, had fallen so far that they said the Lord didn’t see what they were doing, that the Lord had abandoned them. It is another way of saying, “The Lord doesn’t care about these things; they aren’t important.” Right there, in the sacred precincts of God’s temple, these people engaged in the grossest idolatry, doing everything that they had specifically been forbidden by God’s word to do. Even worse, in their own minds they justified their deeds. Here we see again what Paul meant when he talked about those who worshiped the creation instead of the Creator (see Rom. 1:22–25).
Zedekiah, whose name means “righteousness of Yahweh,” was the last king on the throne of Judah before its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 b.c. At first he seemed to have been willing to obey the words of Jeremiah and submit to the Babylonians. However, this attitude did not last.
Under pressure from his subjects, most likely the nobility, Zedekiah ignored the warnings of Jeremiah and made a military alliance with the Egyptians instead, in hopes of staving off the Babylonian threat. (See Ezek. 17:15–18.) As he had been duly warned, salvation didn’t come from the Egyptians after all.
As Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4). Poor Jeremiah again faced the wrath of his own countrymen. Like the rest of the nation, though, Jeremiah couldn’t say that he hadn’t been warned. In this case though, the warning was about the trials that he would face if he stayed faithful, which he did!
How difficult it must have been for Jeremiah, too, because he was accused of weakening the morale of the nation. After all, when the people were facing an enemy from without, whom they wanted to fight against, and Jeremiah had been going around for years and years saying it’s a lost cause, that they couldn’t win, and that even the Lord was against them—it’s understandable that you would want to shut him up. So hardened in sin, they didn’t hear the voice of the Lord talking to them; indeed, they thought it was the voice of an enemy instead.
The siege of Jerusalem began in earnest in January, 588 b.c., and lasted until the late summer of 586 b.c. Jerusalem had been able to hold out for more than two years before Jeremiah’s prophetic words were fulfilled, and the Babylonian troops broke through the wall and destroyed the city. Starvation was so bad inside the walls that the defenders lost all strength and couldn’t resist any longer. King Zedekiah fled with his family, but in vain. He was captured and taken to Nebuchadnezzar, who had his sons executed before his eyes. We can read much of this sad story in Jeremiah 39:1–10.
How fascinating that this pagan commander understood the situation so much better than did Jeremiah’s own people! Obviously the Babylonians knew something about Jeremiah and his work, and they were treating him differently from the way they did the others, such as Zedekiah (see Jer. 39:11, 12). Just why this pagan leader attributed the demise of Jerusalem to the Lord as a punishment for the sins of the people rather than to the superiority of his own gods over Judah’s, the text doesn’t say. Whatever the reason, it’s a startling testimony to how, even amid such unnecessary calamity, the Lord had revealed something about Himself to the pagans.
What choice would Jeremiah make—go with the captives to Babylon, or stay behind with those remaining? Neither prospect would be particularly appealing, considering the circumstances for them all. Certainly, though, the spiritual needs of both groups would have been great, and Jeremiah could minister wherever he went. Jeremiah decided to stay among the group that remained behind in the land, with the poor people who no doubt were going to need all the encouragement and help that they could get (see Jer. 40:6, 7).
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13, NIV). What has been your own experience with this promise? What does “with all your heart” mean?
The Lord knows the beginning from the end. Even while people in Jerusalem were still fighting the Babylonians, still hoping that the words of the false prophets were true, the Lord was using Jeremiah to speak to the future, to speak to those who were already in Babylon and to those who would eventually be there. And what words he spoke!
Here was a true message of grace, unlike the false message of “grace” that the people had heard from the prophets who told them that their exile would be over in short order, even just two years. That was not God’s plan, and it was not going to happen. Instead, based on the clear teachings of Moses, they had to accept that this was their fate, at least for now; but just as Moses had said, if they repented, they would be restored to the land.
Jeremiah’s prophecies should have had a double effect on the thinking of the captives: on the one hand they should not believe what the false prophets were saying, and on the other hand they should not be dispirited. He asked his captive countrymen to pray for Babylon. This request might have surprised those who had been deported. What Jeremiah was asking from the captives was unheard of in the earlier history of Israel. It had been absolutely unknown to pray for an enemy who had done what the Babylonians had done to them, God’s chosen nation. The prophet broke all their understandings regarding the temple and Jerusalem; they could pray in a pagan country, and the Everlasting God would listen to them.
Notice, too, what Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 29:7: that the prosperity of their “host” nation will mean their prosperity too. As aliens and strangers in the land, they were especially vulnerable if things went badly in the nation in general. All through history, we have seen sad examples of intolerance becoming especially bad when a nation faces hard times; people look for scapegoats, those whom they can blame, and minorities, or aliens, often become easy targets. It is an unfortunate reality.
Everything the Lord had said would happen had happened; so, they had every reason to trust that He would fulfill this prophecy as well (Jer. 29:10). Why 70 years would be the exact time of their exile we don’t know, though it clearly is linked to the idea of Sabbath rest for the land (see Lev. 25:4, 26:34, 43). What’s so important about this prophecy is that, if they had taken in the concepts of faith and submission, it would have given the captives great hope and assurance of the Lord’s complete sovereignty. Despite appearances, despite the terrible calamity that befell them, they could know that all was not lost, and the Lord had not left them. They were still the covenant people, and the Lord wasn’t through with them or the nation of Israel. Redemption was available there for all of those ready to meet the conditions.
Further Thought: “We are in continual danger of getting above the simplicity of the gospel. There is an intense desire on the part of many to startle the world with something original, that shall lift the people into a state of spiritual ecstasy, and change the present order of experience. There is certainly great need of a change in the present order of experience; for the sacredness of present truth is not realized as it should be, but the change we need is a change of heart, and can only be obtained by seeking God individually for His blessing, by pleading with Him for His power, by fervently praying that His grace may come upon us, and that our characters may be transformed. This is the change we need today, and for the attainment of this experience we should exercise persevering energy and manifest heartfelt earnestness. We should ask with true sincerity, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ We should know just what steps we are taking heavenward.” —Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 187, 188.