Read 2 Kings 18-25; 2 Chronicles 29-36;
Isaiah; Zephaniah; Habakkuk; Jeremiah; Ezekiel 1-24
& Daniel 1-2
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 when he was fifteen. 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 the hope 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). Josiah’s 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. All who had worn a mask of piety for personal gain during Josiah’s reign now cast off all restraint in their pursuit of evil.
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 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 their judgments would be followed by His merciful restoration (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.
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 and interpretation of his dream 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 (Jeremiah 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 would 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 Ezekiel “record 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 Jews 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 their 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.
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?