Judah Taken Captive to Babylon & the Temple Destroyed (627 – 586 BC)

Read 2 Kings 18-25; 2 Chronicles 29-36;
Isaiah; Zephaniah; Habakkuk; Jeremiah; Ezekiel 1-24
& Daniel 1-2
Just as God had warned, Israel had been captured and exiled by the growing Assyrian empire – their land now filled with the peoples who would become the Samaritans – but still Judah refused to heed God’s warnings to them, confident that His presence in their Temple would protect them.

All their religious structures and practices did not purify the hearts of the people…

Although Judah had Solomon’s temple, the Levitical priesthood, several godly kings who governed righteously under Yahweh, and fiery prophets calling them to repentance, many Jews continued seeking after the gods of other nations, worshipping idols, taking advantage of the poor, engaging in cultic practices forbidden by God and just about every other form of evil practiced by the surrounding peoples. 

Josiah (641-609 BC) was the last king to bring revival to the nation and lead them back to worship of Yahweh. He became king at eight years of age and began to seek after God at 15yo. At age 19, Josiah undertook reforms to remove idol worship and the evils associated with it from Judea.  In 627 BC, during the fourteenth year of his reign (when Josiah was 22yo) Jeremiah, the son of a priest, received his call to be a prophet to the nations and he began to see visions and receive revelations from God (Jeremiah 1). Jeremiah was given a message denouncing Judah’s sins, warning of impending judgments and calling to repentance (Jer. 1-6).  

At age 25 Josiah decided to repair the temple and while clearing it out the workmen found a copy of the Torah which was brought and read to Josiah. As Josiah heard the Word of God for the first time he realised how terribly they had been sinning against Yahweh for generations and feared God’s judgments must be imminent.  The priests sought the prophetess Huldah, who confirmed that God’s judgment was indeed hanging over Judah for all their sin but would be stayed during Josiah’s lifetime because of his repentant attitude (2 Kings 22 & 2 Chron.34).  Although Josiah had been fervently cleansing the land of their idols, God knew the hearts of the people – that many still lusted after those idols, were proud, deceitful and oppressive – so He continued calling Judah to repentance through Jeremiah (Jer. 7-19).  

Zephaniah was also raised up to prophesy to Judah at this time. He was the prophet of the approaching ‘Day of the Lord’ and of revival:

Seek Yahweh, all you humble of the land, you who do what He commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of Yahweh’s anger”                               Zeph. 2:3CJB

When pride is done away with God’s people serve Him “schechem ehad” – shoulder to shoulder / in concert / with one mind …

God will one day “purify the lips of the peoples” and “the remnant of Israel will do no wrong, they will speak no lies” (Zeph. 3:9,13). Contained in these verses is also the vision of mankind one day serving the Lord “with one mind” — in Hebrew ‘shechem ehad’, ‘shoulder to shoulder’ (NIV), or ‘in concert’.  The understanding that grew in Jewish tradition concerning the promise in Zephaniah 3:11 that God will “remove from this city those who rejoice in their pride“, and that “Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill“, was that: “The Son of David will not come until boasting has ceased in Israel and until God takes away the people’s pride… and leaves a miserable and troubled people” (Sanhedrin 98a). (1)  Once again prophesies of God’s judgment were interwoven with hopes and expectation of His people eventually being prepared for Messiah.

Messiah is a transliteration of the Hebrew word משיח (mashiach), which means “Anointed One“.  In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) this Hebrew word was translated with the Greek word “christos“, which is transliterated into English as “Christ“.  So, the words Messiah and Christ have the same meaning. The root word is the Hebrew verb mashach meaning “to anoint“.  This referred to the Biblical practice of pouring oil on the head of one who was being given a position of authority.  The priests, kings and prophets of Israel were the mashiyach of Israel, the ones who were anointed as men of authority.  The promised Messiah to come would be anointed to have authority over all the earth and bring it under subjection to the Kingdom of God.

God’s judgments began, but still His warnings were not heeded…

609 BC saw Josiah killed in battle and Jeremiah lamented his death (Jeremiah 22 & 2 Chronicle 35).  His son, Jehoahaz, was made king but his reign only lasted three months before he was taken prisoner to Egypt by Pharaoh Neco, who also imposed a heavy levy on Judah (2 Kings 23).  God’s judgments had begun, but still Jeremiah’s warnings were not heeded.  Neco then placed Jehoahaz’s brother Eliakim on the throne of Judah and re-named him Jehoikim.

Despite the pleadings of God’s prophets, the kings, priests and people of Judah forsook God and descended back into their evil practices (2).  As in Israel, only a minority, a remnant, remained true to Yahweh.

The prophet Habakkuk was also active during this time. He “stood at his watch”, “observed” and then made his complaint about the degradation of the people of Judah (Hab. 1). (1) God’s answer in Habakkuk 2 includes not only impending woes for those continuing in their sin but also words of comfort and hope for those seeking Him.  The words of Habakkuk 2:4 “the righteous will live by his faith” have had a profound impact on believers through the generations.  In the midst of confronting sin and pronouncing judgments, hope for the coming kingdom of God was woven in:

But [the time is coming when] the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”          Habakkuk 2:14 AMP

Jeremiah also continued prophesying throughout this time, mostly to a very ungrateful audience who shunned, rejected and persecuted him.  Jeremiah was a Jewish reformer but the Jews, like most peoples, refused to be reformed.   Instead, they responded by: snubbing him (Jer. 7:25, 17:23); plotting to kill him (Jer. 11:19, 21-23, 18:23, 38:4); shunning him socially, mocking and ridiculing him (Jer.16:8, 20:7-10,); a leading priest had him beaten and put in stocks (Jer. 20:2); he was forbidden to go into the temple (Jer. 36:5); he was accused of treason, beaten and imprisoned in the dungeon (Jer. 37); he was also lowered down into a muddy cistern and left starving in the mud (Jer. 38).  Despite all this Jeremiah’s message was not without hope as God also affirmed His everlasting love for Israel and declared that after their judgments He would restore them (Jer. 30-31).   After affirming each person’s responsibility for their own sin, Jeremiah’s prophesy then speaks of a time to come when God would make a new covenant with Israel:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them” declares the Lord.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 NIV

Judgement delayed is not judgment averted and mercy is not acquittal…

God’s judgment on Judah did not come all at once, but incrementally over a couple of decades as He gave time between each of the invasions for the people to repent and avoid further catastrophe.  The leaders, however, were too busy pursuing their own plans and refused to heed the prophets’ warnings. 

In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar became King of Babylon and invaded Judah, taking the Judean king’s son, his officials, craftsmen and artisans (including Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah), along with treasures from the temple, back to Babylon with him (2 K.24:1, Jer.24, Dan.1:1-7).  Jeremiah wrote a message to the captives, declaring that they would be in Babylon for 70 years then God would defeat Babylon and bring them back to Israel (Jeremiah 29:1-14).  

No compromise – determined to honour God in the midst of a heathen nation…

The Babylonian officials gave their Hebrew captives Babylonian names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.  These four young men, who were probably 15-16yo, resolved not to defile themselves with the royal food and wine which had been offered to idols and so requested to be given nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.  As these young men determined to honour God even in the midst of this heathen nation, so God honoured them and they excelled in all their studies.  Daniel was also given a prophetic ability to understand dreams and visions, which would form the basis of his legacy to us all.

For the faithful, desperate situations can give way to unfathomed opportunities…

In the second year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which troubled him greatly so he asked his sacred scribes, conjurers who used enchantments to interpret mysteries, sorcerers and Chaldeans to tell him both the dream and the interpretation (Daniel 2).   When the Chaldeans protested that it was unreasonable to ask them to tell him his dream, Nebuchadnezzar became so furious that he ordered all the wise men to be killed.  This caused Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah to urgently seek God in prayer for revelation of that dream and God revealed it to Daniel in a night vision, thus beginning a prophetic ministry that would profoundly influence the Jew’s view of themselves and their place in world history, and fuel generations of Messianic expectations. 

It was a dream of a great statue with a head of gold, arms and chest of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet and toes of mingled iron and clay.   Then a great stone, not cut by human hands, struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and destroyed it, crushing every part such that the wind carried the tiny fragments away and not a trace of the statue was left, while the stone became a great mountain that filled the whole world.

Nebuchadnezzar's dream

The interpretation that God gave Daniel was of the successive world empires that would rule over the land of Israel and the Jewish people. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire were the head of gold and the first of these kingdoms to reign over the Jews.  The Babylonians would be followed by three progressively inferior but stronger kingdoms (silver, brass and iron).  Then there would be a divided kingdom of iron and clay.  This fifth kingdom would have some of the nature and structure of the brutally strong iron legs kingdom but there would be an attempt to mix this with the brittle weakness of clay.   It would not be until the time of this divided kingdom that God Himself would set up His Kingdom, like a stone cut out of the mountain without hands that crushed and did away with all the kingdoms of this world and became a great mountain that filled the whole earth. 

Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed with Daniel’s description of his dream and interpretation, that he invited the young man into the royal court and made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.  Nebuchadnezzar also appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon (Daniel 2:48-49).

Rejecting God’s word invites His wrath…

In 602 BC the Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Judah, warning of more impending judgments.  Jeremiah dictated God’s Word to his servant Baruch.  Since Jeremiah was banned from going to the temple he asked Baruch to take the scroll for him and read it to all the people when they gathered on a day of fasting (although the people were living contrary to God’s ways they still maintained a culture of attending to their ‘religious duties’).  In 601 BC Baruch read the words of Jeremiah in the house of the Lord as all the people were gathered.    King Jehoiakim, however, did not even so much as attend to any of the Jewish religious observances, so after the scroll was read to the people some of the officials took it to read to the king, who cut off each portion as it was read and threw it into the fire, inviting the wrath of God to come upon them (Jer. 36). 

Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and stopped paying his annual tribute, but Judah was no better off financially as raiders came from Chaldea, Aramea, Moab and Ammon to pillage and destroy (2 Kings 24:2-3).    Jehoiakim died in 598 BC and, just as Jeremiah had prophesied (Jer. 22:18-19), was thrown out over the city wall rather than properly buried.  Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, succeeded him as king (2 Kings 24:6-9) and Jeremiah prophesied God’s judgment on him (Jer. 22:20-30).

After a month long siege (2 Kings 24:10-16) Jerusalem was invaded a second time by Babylon in 597 BC. 10,000 more people, including king Jehoiachin, all the captains and warriors, craftsmen, smiths and all the remaining treasures from the temple and the kings’ palace were carried to Babylon (2 Chr. 36:9-10).  Among these were Ezekiel and one of the ancestors of Mordicai, the uncle of Esther (2 K.24:10-16; Eze.1:1-2; Est.2:5-6).  Nebuchadnezzar placed Josiah’s third son, Zedekiah, on the throne of Judah (2 Kings 24:15-18).  Jehoiachin died in Babylon as Jeremiah had foretold. God spoke to Jeremiah concerning those who had been taken captive and those left in Judea (Jeremiah 24).

False prophets give false hope that undermines God’s call to repentance…

While continuing to condemn the shepherds and prophets of Israel who were leading the people astray Jeremiah also brought Messianic hope to the people (Jer. 23).  He prophesied that there would be a third, and even more devastating conquest by Babylon and rebuked the false prophet Hananiah for uttering rebellion against the Lord and making the people trust in the lie that within two years they would be free from the yolk of Babylon (Jer. 27-28).  Yet Jeremiah also had a message for Babylon in 594 BC, to be taken and read to them, that the time wold come when God would judge Babylon for their destruction of Judah, they would be conquered by the Medes and destroyed, never to raise again. (Jer. 50-51) 

Four years after being taken captive to Babylon, 593 BC, the priest Ezekiel began having visions and revelations from God.  After having a vision of heaven (Ezekiel 1) and commissioning as a prophet to his people (Ezekiel 2-3) Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy concerning the city of Jerusalem about a terrible siege that was to come against it, causing devastating famine (Ezekiel 4-5), and then two more prophesies denouncing the sins of his people and God’s imminent judgments (Ezekiel 6-7).

God sees, and will reveal to all, what is done in the secret place…

The following year Ezekiel had another vision, this time of the evil being committed in Judea, even in the secret places and the temple courts, and the wrath that was going to come upon the people for this evil (Ezekiel 8-10), then at last a glimmer of hope as God said that the time would come when He would gather them from the nations and give them back the land of Israel (Ezekiel 11) and there He will “give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them” (Ez. 11:19).

After that Ezekiel was given more prophesies about the coming judgment on Judah and condemnation of the false prophets who were arguing against Jeremiah in Jerusalem and saying that all would be peace and safety there (Ezekiel 12-13). Ezekiel told the exiles in Babylon everything the Lord was showing him and the word spread until some of the elders of the people came and sat down in front of this priest and prophet of God. 

Ezekiel’s uncompromising message was of the need for reformation as God showed him that these men had set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces.  They were urged to repent, turn from their idols and renounce all their detestable practices (Ezekiel 14).  This call to repentance and Ezekiel 18’s admonition of personal responsibility …”Repent and live!” (Ez. 18:32) would at last find resonance in the hearts of the people after the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem, but for now they were not heeding the call (Ez. 15-19).

In 590 BC some of the elders of Israel came again to Ezekiel to enquire of the Lord, only to be told once again of why God’s judgment was coming on Judah (Ez. 20), but after their judgment God would bring them back to the land of Israel.  Then God gave Ezekiel more prophesies about the judgment coming on His people for their adulterous ways (Ezekiel 20-23).

Back in Jerusalem the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah warning the people that those who stayed in the city would die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence but those who surrendered to the Babylonians would live.

In mercy God delays and delays His judgments – but the day of judgment comes…

Then God spoke to Ezekielrecord this date, this very date, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day” (Ez. 24:2)During the final invasion and captivity in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar executed vengeance on the Jews who had rebelled against him and determined to make a show of what would happen to any nation that likewise defied his rule. Then the terrible day came when God spoke to Ezekiel, a man who was often required to live out his prophesies for his people; “I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes”  and that evening his wife died, a heart-wrenching sign that God’s temple was about to be destroyed and Jerusalem demolished (Ez. 24:16-27). After a two year siege, during which tens of thousands died of famine and pestilence, Jerusalem was conquered, its walls and palaces were destroyed and the remaining inhabitants not killed by sword or fire were carried away into exile (2 K.24:18; 24:1-27; 2 Chron.36:11-21; Jer.52:1-11).   All the bronze articles and pillars in the temple were broken to pieces and also taken to Babylon. On the ninth day of the month of Av the inconceivable happened, God allowed His holy temple to be totally destroyed, the Babylonians set fire to it and that fire blazed through the tenth day until it had destroyed everything that was left.  Such was the devastation and mourning at this loss that 9th Av became a fast day on the Jewish calendar (3) (4). 

Jewish culture, history, patriotism, religion, and hope alike pointed to Jerusalem and the Beth Hamikdosh (Temple) as the centre of Israel’s unity.   The Israelites had only one temple, and only one place allowed for the temple – Jerusalem.  They had now lost both.  From the time Solomon built it until the Babylonian destruction Jewish identity and religious life had revolved around their temple in Jerusalem.  It was the only place, according to the Scriptures, where the God-appointed Levitical priesthood could offer acceptable sacrifices, whether for forgiveness of sin or for fellowship with God.  This was where the very presence of God had been manifest. 

Psalm 137 expresses some of the devastation felt and longing for Jerusalem when the temple was completely destroyed in 586 BC and all but the poorest of the land taken captive into Babylon (2 Kings 25 & 2 Chron 36):  

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
Psalm 137:1-6


References

1. Santala, Risto. THE PROPHETS OF THE SOUTHERN KINGDOM, JUDAH . [Online] [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] http://www.ristosantala.com/rsla/OT/OT17.html.
2. The Bible Study Site. Kings of Israel and Judah. The Bible Study Site. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.biblestudy.org/prophecy/israel-kings.html.
3. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. Destruction of the First Temple. Jewish History.org We bring Jewish history to life. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/destruction-of-the-first-temple/.
4. Isaacs, Jacob. The Destruction of the Temple a historical background. Chabad.org. [Online] 1948. [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/106364/jewish/The-Destruction-of-the-Temple.htm.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on some of the following questions…

* What can purify the hearts of the people?
* “As Josiah heard the Word of God for the first time he realised how terribly they had been sinning against Yahweh for generations and feared God’s judgments must be imminent.” What is your response to hearing / reading the Word of God?
* Is the body of Christ in your area serving Him “schechem ehad” – shoulder to shoulder – or has pride caused divisions and competition between congregations and/or between the people in your congregation?
* What response do the people in your church have to hearing God’s word?
* Is evil being committed in your region, in the secret places, even in the churches?
* Have your people suffered great loss and grief?
* Are your people suffering persecution for following Christ?

Israel Replaced with Samaritans & the Kingdom of God Prophesied (931-627 BC)

Read 1 Kings:12-22; 2 Kings:1-17; 2 Chronicles 10- 28;
Amos & Hosea
Chart of Israel's history from Solomon until the Assyrian's conquered and replaced the people.
Elijah and Elisha were both sent by God to speak His word to the 10 rebellions tribes of the northern kingdom, Israel. (1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 13)

After the death of King Solomon the northern tribes of Israel rebelled against his son Rehoboam.  From this point on there would be two kingdoms of Hebrews, Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  These kingdoms were frequently at war with one another.  All the kings of Israel were evil and corrupt, leading their people in worship of other gods and governing poorly.  God raised up many prophets to call the leaders and people of Israel back to Himself.  These included Elijah (870-845BC) and Elisha (845-800 BC), but even the most promising responses to the prophets were only temporary. Israel’s leaders and most of her people, although not all, continued in the practices of the peoples God had removed from the land before them.

Be careful who you form an alliance with, do not be unequally yoked…

When Judah formed an alliance with Israel to stop their fighting against one another and jointly defend against their enemies, as Jehoshaphat did with Ahab, the results were not good.  The unequally yoked marriage between Jehoshaphat’s son and Ahab’s daughter led the young man far away from his father’s righteousness.  Instead of this unifying of the nation bringing wholeness, peace and prosperity, it opened the door for the sin of Israel to permeate throughout Judah and bring it down as well.

God’s last pleas to Israel to forsake her spiritual adultery came through Amos (765-754 BC) and then the lived prophesy of Hosea and his adulterous wife (758-725 BC); yet still they would not repent.   So in 722 BC God’s warnings through the prophets came to pass. The Assyrians conquered and decimated Israel (2 Kings 17:1-23).  Their king, Sargon, in an inscription found at Nineveh, wrote that he carried away into captivity 27,290 of the survivors (2). Those who had fled and those taken into captivity integrated into the surrounding nations and disappeared from history as a distinct people, although even today there are some who trace their roots back to these Israelites. 

Lions pave the way for evangelism…

After his conquest of Israel, the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath and Sepharvaim to repopulate the Israeli cities. The land was no longer called Israel, but re-named after its capital Samaria.  These newcomers had no knowledge or fear of God.  Yahweh sent lions among them, so they begged the king of Assyria to send them a priest from the land to teach them the rituals of the god of the land.  One of the Israeli priests who had been taken captive was sent and dwelt at Bethel to teach all the people how they should fear the LORD (2 Kings 17:24-41). The people in Samaria were soon worshipping Yahweh as well as their own gods. 

The First Two Names for God in Scripture

 Ĕlōhîm is the first word used for God in the scriptures: “In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.”  Genesis 1:1.  It is used 2,750 time in the Old Testament.  Ĕlōhîm is the plural of Eloah, the word construction is understood to be a plural of majesty and so means “supreme one” or “mighty one”, emphasising God’s greatness, power and prestige. This plurality also hints at the triune nature of the One true God: “Then Ĕlōhîm said, “Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26).

Yahweh יְהוָ֥הis the personal Hebrew name for God, and most significant name in the Old Testament, written 6,828 times; 1,820 of those in the Torah.  Because it consists of four Hebrew consonants (YHWH) it is called the Tetragrammaton.  This name is built on the word for “I am” and closely connected to God’s covenant with Israel.  Yahweh is the eternal self-existent One who enters covenant with His chosen, and as such His divine name should not be taken in vain (Exodus 20:7). After the destruction of the second Temple (AD 70) the doctrine developed in Judaism that God’s name Yahweh was too holy to be spoken.  Yahweh is therefore translated LORD (all caps) in most English versions of the Bible. (3) (4) 

Yahweh is first used as the name for God in Genesis 2:4 “…When the LORD God (Yahweh ĕlōhîm) made the earth and the heavens.” 

Proving more faithful…

Within a couple of centuries, the peoples in Samaria (the land that had belonged to the northern kingdom of Israel) would be worshipping Yahweh exclusively – proving more faithful than Israel had been. These Samaritans, who had intermarried with the poor Israelites who had been left in the fields, adopted almost all the Hebrew Torah and cultic practices but kept no genealogies like the people of Judah (Jews) to prove their ancestry.  The Samaritan Israelites called themselves “the sons of Israel”. They also referred to themselves as “Shomrim” (the keepers), considering themselves the be the keepers of the old ways, the ancient faith, the covenant promise. The Samaritans followed in the footsteps of the northern kingdom of Israel before them in opposing the worship of God in Jerusalem, convinced that the centre of Israel’s worship should be the mount of YHWH’s covenant blessing (Deuteronomy 27:12), Mount Gerizim, where they had built their own temple to Yahweh. They had a fourfold creed:

  1. One God – YHWH
  2. One Prophet – Moses
  3. One Book – Torah
  4. One Place – Mt Gerizim (8)

The Jews (Judean Israelites) and Samaritans each believed that they were the true worshippers of God and the others were heretics and imposters who had taken the wrong path when the two had separated after Solomon’s death. The Jews were angered that the Samaritans would dare to sacrifice to Yahweh outside of Jerusalem (5). 

The Torah
Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible.  They are sometimes called the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch.  In Hebrew, each of the five books is identified by its incipit (first words). In English the names for each book is derived from the Greek Septuagint (the first translation made into Greek) and reflect the theme of each book.

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (‘Pentecost’ in Greek) commemorates the anniversary of the day when Yahweh gave the Torah to the nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai 50 days after their exodus from Egyptian slavery.

God’s judgments are for our redemption…

During the time of Israel’s destruction God sent Isaiah (760-673 BC) and Micah (738-698 BC) to warn Judah that they would likewise be destroyed if they did not repent (Isaiah 1,3,5,13,22,29,30:1-17,31,57-59,65:1-12, Micah 1-3).  Although Assyria and Egypt would give Judah a taste of God’s judgments as a warning, it would be the Babylonians who would destroy the nation if they failed to heed the admonitions to repent with their whole hearts.  Yet God’s judgments would be for their redemption, His discipline would teach them to repent and honour Him so that His mercies could again be poured out on them. 

These prophets told not only of the coming judgment for Judah’s sin but also of their later restoration and then, even more wonderful, the coming of Messiah and the kingdom of God, a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 2, 4, 7:14, 9:1-7, 11-12, 14, 24:21-23, 25, 32:1-8, 35, 40, 42, 45, 52:7-56:8, 60-62, 65:17-66:2, Micah 4 & 5).  The Jews were failing to live as a kingdom of God on earth so God Himself would come and set up His kingdom to restore the earth to His intent and put His Spirit in them and give them new hearts to qualify them for citizenship.  Not only Judah, but God would gather all nations and all tongues to come and see His glory and serve Him (Isaiah 66:18-21).

———————————————–

References

1. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.
2. Tidwell, Josiah Blake. The Captivity of Judah. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://biblehub.com/library/tidwell/the_bible_period_by_period/chapter_xv_the_captivity_of.htm.
3. Levine, Douglas Knight & Amy-Jill.The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us (1st ed). New York : HarperOne, 2011. 0062098594.
4. Gainotti, Charles R. The Meaning of the Divine Name YHWH. [book auth.] Roy B. Zuch. Vital Old Testament Issues: Examening Textual and Topical Questions. Oregon : Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012.
5. Hooker, Richard. The Jewish Temples: The Babylonian Exile. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Exile.html.
6. Santala, Risto. THE PROPHETS OF THE SOUTHERN KINGDOM, JUDAH . [Online] [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] http://www.ristosantala.com/rsla/OT/OT17.html
7. The Bible Study Site. Kings of Israel and Judah. The Bible Study Site. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.biblestudy.org/prophecy/israel-kings.html.
8. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg. The Samaritan woman RECONSIDERED. ISBN: 9781713300366. 2019

In the comments below share your thoughts on some of these questions:

* What does it mean to be faithful to God?
* What paved the way for evangelism in your nation or community?
* What do God’s names Ĕlōhîm, and Yahweh tell us about Him?
* Do you have clashes between different tribes or groups of people in your area? How can peace be brought to that conflict?
* What has God been saying to your nation?
* What has God been saying to the church in your nation?
* Is there something happening in your nation that you see as God’s judgment?

Setting the Stage ~ How Judaism Developed from Kingdom Division to Roman Occupation

As we travel through ancient Jewish history in Section 1 of our adventure, we will discover how the various groups we see in the New Testament – Samaritans, Pharisees, Sadducees, synagogues, and others – came to occupy that place in society and how Daniel’s prophecies ignighted such strong expectations of Messiah’s coming.

We begin our study of the life of Yeshua haNotzri (Jesus of Nazareth) by looking at the history of His people…

Yeshua was not born into a vacuum but into Jewish society that had been moulded not only by Moses and the prophets but also by their whole history.  To understand the original apostolic reformation, what Yeshua was fulfilling, affirming and critiquing in first century Judaism, we need some comprehension of how His society had been moulded and was functioning at this time.  The Jewish religion was not just a theoretical construct but intimately entwined with their history such that it has been stated that: “without their religion they had no history, and without their history no religion”. (1)  

Over the next few blogs we will see how prophesy was woven into Jewish history and how the latter books of the OT fit together chronologically.

Thus, we begin our study of the life of Yeshua haNotzri (Jesus of Nazareth) by looking at the history of His people, a history which led to fervent expectations of a coming Jewish Messiah.  It is the history of a stubborn and rebellious people whom God nonetheless continued loving and choosing to be His own.

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1. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.

Jewish History from Kingdom Division to Roman Occupation.
This is the period that we will be looking at in Section 1, so that we can understand the world that Jesus was born into.
The land occupied by the Divided Kingdoms, and their neighbours.

In the comments below share with us about the history and culture of your people…

INTRO: How Do We Faithfully Serve in Christ’s Mission?

The original apostolic reformation began as a reformation within Judaism, heralded by a Jewish prophet, Yohannan (John), who in preparing for this reformation preached repentance and baptised crowds of Israelites in the Jordan River. This reformation was lived and taught by a Jewish rabbi (teacher) whom we call the Apostle and High Priest of our confession (Heb. 1:3), Yeshua Hamashiach (Jesus the Messiah).  

Judaism had always focused on relationships:
1) the relationship between Yahweh and mankind (Yahweh is the personal Hebrew name for God, used 6,828 times in the Old Testament, usually written as LORD in English Bibles)
2) the relationship between people;
3) the relationship between Yahweh and the Jewish people;
3) the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. 

Both the prophet and the rabbi declared that these relationships had gone astray and that the religious establishment of their time were as much part of the problem as part of the solution.   Religious traditions had developed that were often not reflective of the kingdom of God.  Their thinking and their ways had been seduced off track by the ways of the world.     The Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ interpretation and practice of the law had deviated from Yahweh’s intent of a loving relationship between Himself and people, and between human beings.  “The kingdom of heaven operates very differently to how you’re living and running things here” was the heart of the message of reformation.  It was a popular message among the masses but deeply unpopular with those in power.  It cost both the prophet and the rabbi their lives, as they not only taught but also lived this message of God’s love.  The rabbi, however, was more than just a rabbi, more even than just the anointed one (Messiah) – He was the Son of God.  Resurrection power took this reformation through Jewish society and out to the peoples of the nations.

Travelling the world over the last fourteen years, serving with the body of Christ in different nations, has propelled me into the research that led to this blog.  I have heard from many, of the desperate need for more pastoral training in their nations where the gospel is being embraced by increasing numbers of people.  I have seen the blessings, and the unintended negative consequences, of western missionary endeavours and generous giving.  I have witnessed the impact of culture and cultural supremacy on the spread of the gospel and the health of the church.  I have been challenged by requests for “apostolic covering”.

In all this the overriding concern is:
‘how do we faithfully serve in Christ’s mission on earth’.

The Need for Sustainable and Reproducible Training of Church Leaders

While the church is declining in Europe, in other parts of the world we are experiencing unprecedented growth that necessitates a like growth in discipling by trained leaders.

  • In his plenary at the June 2014 Lausanne Consultation on Theological Education, Thomas Schirrmacher presented the view of the World Evangelical Alliance and its Theological Commission that about 50,000 people (that do not come from a Christian background and do not have any basic Bible knowledge) are baptized each day in evangelical churches worldwide. 
  • If a pastoral leader can provide discipling for a group of 50 believers initially, then 1,000 new pastors/church leaders/elders are needed every day.
  • More than 2.2 million pastoral leaders (and as many as 3.4 million by some estimates) presently serve, while only 5% are trained for pastoral ministry according to the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity. They have noted that roughly 70% of the world’s pastors are in independent congregations and such often have little theological training, even in the West. 
  • The Global Alliance of Church Multiplication raised a serious concern in October 2013 that while they envisioned the planting of 5 million churches by 2020, they surmised a disturbing fail-rate of up to 70% within the first year. 
  • Dr. Ramesh Richard has urged: “I commend pastoral training as a necessary complement to, and the highest priority for, implementing all ministry initiatives globally and locally… It helps correct creedal and cultural misperceptions of Christianity when local believers permeate their social spheres.” 

We see all around the world the devastating consequences of a lack of effective discipling of church leaders – ministers whose sins and false teachings make a mockery of the gospel and a shipwreck of their lives, their ministries, and the lives of their followers; and a church that all too often just stands by and lets it happen. On the other extreme we have the heresy hunters who create confusion, discouragement and division by denouncing everyone and everything that is different to themselves, appearing to consider their own opinions to be the fulness of all the truth of God.

From October 2011 through to June 2013, a Global Survey on Theological Education was conducted to gather data and perspectives on all forms of theological education from every Christian tradition in every part of the world. (1) Four of their main findings were:

  • There are not enough theological schools in the regions of the world where Christianity is growing rapidly (Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia).
  • Theological education is financially unstable in many parts of the world.
  • Cross-cultural communication and practical skills related to ministry are the subjects respondents would most like to see added or strengthened in theological education.
  • Issues of theological education are seen as having strategic significance and are “most important” for the future of Christianity around the world.

Thus, the conclusion that the greatest need of the global church is training that is biblical, practical, sustainable and reproducible within each people group. In other words, training that is like how Jesus taught and equipped His disciples.

The Need for Understanding Cultural Context

Jesus established the church within a cultural context – that of first century Jewish society under Roman occupation. As He did so Yeshua kept contrasting the culture of the Kingdom of God with both that of the Jewish religious leaders and that of Roman society. We read throughout the gospels how difficult the disciples found it to shift their thinking and acting from the ways of this world to the ways of the kingdom. Only after the cross and the baptism in the Holy Spirit at Shavuot (Pentecost) did the apostles demonstrate a grasp of how radically different Yeshua’s ways were as they began to really live and minister as He had. 

The longer you swim in a culture the more invisible it becomes ~ until all you can see if your own reflection

Just like the first disciples we can easily allow the ways of this world and the culture we grow up in to shape how we view the body of Christ and our place in Him. The dominant Western mindset and ways of training and accrediting are very different to that of Yeshua and the first apostles. We can miss much of what Yeshua was saying and doing when we fail to understand the culture in which he was operating and the beliefs and practices that he was addressing.

The following blogs are built on the faithful labours of others before me who have likewise sort to uncover the meaning that Jesus and the gospel writers attached to His words and deeds. Jewish names are often used in the forthcoming text as a repeated reminder that we are looking at the lives of 1st Century Jews, not 21st Century Westerners. There is a cultural context and language in the scriptures that is very different to our own. Jesus was a Jew – Yeshua – and lived among Jews, most of whom had Jewish names, primarily spoke either Hebrew or Aramaic (depending on which historian you believe – they are closely related languages and very different to the Greek that we usually associate with this period and the writing of the New Testament), and whose lives were governed by their community’s understanding of Torah.

Searching the Scriptures

Like the Jewish religious leaders of Yeshua’s day our concepts of what God wants for His people can be governed more by our own religious traditions than by God’s word. It is easier to receive teachings and practices handed down by others than to diligently search the scriptures for ourselves. Questions like “do you provide apostolic covering?” and the need for sustainable, reproducible training of church leaders in all the different people groups of our world sent me back to the scriptures to seek God’s answers for how He set up the church and how He wants us to function as the body of Christ. How did Jesus train His disciples? What were His methods? What was the scope and sequence of His curriculum for them? How was the New Testament church governed and did that change with the different cultures that it was established in? What were the ministries, offices and functions established by the Holy Spirit in the early church? How did they relate to one another? What I found as I wrote out page after page of scriptures on every aspect of church ministry and governance was that much of what I’d been taught and believed, with the classic ‘proof scriptures’, is not supported by the weight of evidence of the whole counsel of God. There is, however, one aspect of what I had been taught that is not only supported, but re-enforced, magnified and emphasised continually throughout all of the New Testament – there is no place in the body of Christ or the kingdom of God for lording it over others, each and every one of us is called and anointed to serve. We are a Servant Church, commissioned to demonstrate the love of Christ, for such is the reign of His kingdom.

Come with me on a journey through scripture and history to see
how the stage was set for the Son of God to be born to a Jewish mother &
how Yeshua began the establishment of the Kingdom of God through the early church.

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  1. The Global Survey on Theological Education was conducted as a joint research project by the Institute for Cross-Cultural Theological Education, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago; the Ecumenical Theological Education Programme (ETE), World Council of Churches, Geneva; and the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston. https://www.globethics.net/web/gtl/research/global-survey.

Growth of Christianity in China – set to become the nation with the most Christians
Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule predicts that China, which had over 58 million Protestants in 2010 according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, will have around 160 million by 2025. This would mean China will likely be ahead even of the United States, which had about 159 million Protestants in 2010. Yang went on to say that China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would be over 247 million by 2030 and thus become the largest Christian congregation in the world.
https://www.christianpost.com/news/china-to-have-worlds-largest-christian-population-by-2025-religion-expert-says.html

The following tables were developed from information in the book Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism, Edited by Donald E. Miller, Kimon H. Sargeant & Richard Flory, Oxford University Press 2013

Global Population Growths from 1910 to that predicted for 2025.  
Comparing that of the total population, number of Christians and number of "Christian Renewalists" from 1910 to 2010, ad then to predicted 2025 numbers.
Annual Global Population Growth Percentages for the 100 years from 1910 to 2010, and then the predicted trend up to 2025.  Renewal movements grew at 4.6 x the rate of the general population to 2010, but have slowed to 2.4 x since 2010.
Renewalists have grown from 0.2% of global Christians in 1910 to 25.8% in 2010, and predicted to reach 30.4% in 2025.

We do not start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves; it is mediated to us by Christian tradition, in the form of sermons, books, and established patterns of Church life and fellowship. We read our Bibles in the light of what we have learned from these sources; we approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world…. It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has moulded us. But we are forbidden to become enslaved to human tradition, either secular or Christian, whether it be “catholic” tradition, or “critical” tradition, or “ecumenical” tradition. We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves the duty of testing and reforming them by Scriptures.
Fundamentalism and the Word of God, by J.I. Packer. [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958.] pp. 69-70

In the comments below share your thoughts on some of these questions:

* What nation do you live in?
* Is the gospel spreading in your nation?
* How healthy is the church in your nation?
* What is the biggest need of the church in your nation?
* Do those who claim to be Christians live like Jesus or are things like greed, selfishness, pride, sexual immorality and corruption common?
* Is everyone in the church loving their neighbour and sharing the gospel with others?
* Do your pastors, teachers, evangelists, apostles, prophets, priests, reverends and bishops know the Bible, live like Jesus and preach sound doctrine?
* Do the people in your congregations know the Bible and live like Jesus?
* Do you have enough Bibles for everyone who wants to read one?
* Is your church caring for the poor?
* Do those in your church with more money help those in your church with less?
* What is the biggest hinderance to the spread of the gospel in your nation?