Friday, June 17, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 128. The Fall Of Jerusalem

Prophets And Kings
Day 128
The Fall Of Jerusalem

Today the forces of Nebuchadnezzar conquer the city of Jerusalem.

2 KINGS 25:1-21
The prophet Jeremiah received a vision very early in the reign of King Zedekiah when the Lord showed him two baskets of figs in front of the temple. One basket held good figs and one basket held rotten figs. And the Lord said to him, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with all their heart.'" (Jeremiah 24:5-7) He is speaking of those taken captive during Nebuchadnezzar's first campaign against the land, when those like Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego were taken to Babylon. At that time Nebuchadnezzar transported the people he considered the best and brightest of Judah, those with the most understanding and with good character. According to Jeremiah 52:28, the number of these was 3,023. The Lord is also speaking of the second campaign against Judah when 10,000 were taken captive, including men of faith like the prophet Ezekiel and Mordecai, the kinsman of the woman who will become Queen Esther. Though it seemed like a tragedy at the time, the captivity of those taken during the first two campaigns is actually for their own good. They will be watched over and preserved in the foreign land, their numbers growing, their hearts turning back to the Lord, until the time He brings them home. 

But the Lord had bad news for Zedekiah and those with character just like his, "'But like the bad figs, which are so bad they cannot be eaten,' says the Lord, 'so will I deal with Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the survivors from Jerusalem, whether they remain in this land or live in Egypt. I will make them abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, a curse and an object of ridicule, wherever I banish them. I will send the sword, famine and plague against them until they are destroyed from the land I gave to them and their ancestors.'" (Jeremiah 24:8-10) After Nebuchadnezzar took a great deal of the people captive, some deserted Jerusalem and joined up with the Babylonians. But others fled to Egypt or into the desert. Others remained in the city and ended up trapped there when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, attempting to flee through a hole in the wall as we will see. The Lord says that Zedekiah and those with a wicked heart like his will never rise to power again. He is going to scatter them among the nations. He is going to bring disaster upon them wherever they go. 

"So in the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of  Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. He encamped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat." (2 Kings 25:1-3) If Zedekiah had surrendered as Jeremiah urged him by the word of the Lord, things would not have become so desperate. The people are starving to death because the siege has lasted so long.

At this point the wall of Jerusalem is broken through. Some commentaries state that Nebuchadnezzar's army breaks through and the soldiers of Jerusalem escape by a gate that was less heavily guarded. Others state that it was the soldiers of Jerusalem who decided to break through the wall in the night to make their escape. The king and his men know they are going to die of starvation if the siege lasts any longer and believe their only chance is to flee, even though Jeremiah told them their only chance was to surrender. "Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled at night through the gate between the two walls near the king's garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city. They fled toward the Arabah, but the Babylonian army pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured." (2 Kings 25:4-6a) 

The king and his army made it a good distance away from Jerusalem before Nebuchadnezzar's men caught up with them. But Zedekiah's judgment has been foretold and cannot be escaped. He will go to Babylon no matter what. It would have been far better to have surrendered and remain unharmed than to go in the condition he goes in. "He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where sentence was pronounced on him. They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon." (2 Kings 25:6b-7) The Lord, because He knows everything, knew all along that Zedekiah would never surrender no matter how long He pleaded with him through the prophets, and so the prophet Ezekiel predicted this sad end for the king of Judah, "The prince among them will put his things on his shoulder at dusk and leave, and a hole will be dug in the wall for him to go through. He will cover his face so that he cannot see the land. I will spread My net for him, and he will be caught in My snare; I will bring him to Babylonia, the land of the Chaldeans, but he will not see it, and there he will die. I will scatter to the winds all those around him---his staff and his troops---and I will pursue them with the drawn sword." (Ezekiel 12:12-14) By night the king packed a bag and threw it over his shoulder, putting a veil or covering of some sort over his face either as a disguise or as camouflage to blend in with the darkness, and crawled through a hole in the wall. But the Lord intended for his troops to desert him and for him to be captured. The Lord said Zedekiah would be taken to Babylon but would not see it. Ezekiel may not have known why Zedekiah would not see the land of Babylon but the Lord knew why: he would be blind when he arrived there. Zedekiah lived his whole life being stubbornly blind to the law of the Lord, the law that all the kings were commanded to keep by their side and to read daily. He was spiritually blind by his own choice and now he is physically blind as well. 

"On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem." (2 Kings 25:8) The capture of Zedekiah occurred in the fourth month and the destruction occurred in the fifth month. "He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The whole Babylonian army under the commander of the imperial guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem." (2 Kings 25:8-10) I was reading an article about Nebuchadnezzar yesterday which stated that the destruction he brought upon Jerusalem was similar to the destruction he brought upon other cities he conquered. The article pointed out that most ancient cities conquered by other kings show the most damage around their walls, but the cities Nebuchadnezzar conquered show the most damage at the center. Archaeological evidence which remains suggest it was his custom to destroy cities from the inside out, burning temples and palaces and government buildings, burning the fine residences of the wealthy. The hottest fires burned in the middle of the cities, not around her walls. Nebuchadnezzar was ruthless in his destruction, decimating the very heart of cities, breaking down the most important structures first. In burning up the temple and the palace and the official buildings, he was burning up the city's infrastructure. He had less concern for the walls than for what the walls contained.

We recall that the Babylonians took articles from the temple during a previous campaign but now they take away everything else left in it of value before setting it on fire. "The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the Lord and they carried the bronze to Babylon. They also took away the pots, shovels, wick trimmers, dishes and all the bronze articles used in the temple service. The commander of the imperial guard took away the censers and sprinkling bowls---all that were made of pure gold or silver." (2 Kings 25:13-15) Bronze was useful for the making of weapons and, as in our times, gold and silver held much value. 

"The bronze from the two pillars, the Sea and the movable stands, which Solomon had made for the temple of the Lord, was more than could be weighed. Each pillar was eighteen cubits high. The bronze capital on top of one pillar was three cubits high and was decorated with a network of pomegranates of bronze all around. The other pillar, with its network, was similar." (2 Kings 25:16-17) It was customary to weigh the plunder of valuable metals but these objects were too large to put on any scales the Babylonians possessed. 

"The commander of the guard took as prisoners Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the priest next in rank and the three doorkeepers. Of those still in the city, he took the officer in charge of the fighting men, and five royal advisers. He also took the secretary who was chief officer in charge of conscripting the people of the land and sixty of the conscripts who were found in the city. Nebuzaradan the commander took them all and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. There at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king had them executed. So Judah went into captivity, away from her land." (2 Kings 25:18-21) The Chronicler adds, "He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power." (2 Chronicles 36:20) Jeremiah tells us that nobody but the poorest of the land remained because Nebuchadnezzar left them behind to tend the vineyards and the fields. (Jeremiah 52:16) Anyone who possessed education or skills of any kind other than agricultural skills were taken to Babylon to serve the king.

I think it's symbolic that the Lord allowed the city to be destroyed from the outside in. The destruction began at the temple which should have been the center of religious activity but the people had largely abandoned it in favor of worshiping at the altars of pagan gods. Jerusalem was broken down at its heart, just as the people were broken down at heart. Next the palace and government buildings were set on fire, the buildings where justice should have been carried out, but the Lord had already said through His prophets that justice was broken down in Judah, that the king and the officials ruled in unrighteousness. The downfall of any nation begins at the center of it when it abandons the living God. Next the government breaks down. Then the people encounter suffering and oppression. I don't believe the Lord mourned as His temple burned because the church has always been a people, not a place. The Lord wants our love and obedience, not our rituals and fine buildings. 

Today's passage has been a sad one and my heart hurts for Judah and Jerusalem. Their fate is a fate any nation might experience when it abandons the Lord, even America. But at the top of the page there is a message of hope as there always is with the Lord. He hasn't abandoned His people. He hasn't abandoned His city. The exiles will remain in a foreign land for seventy years but to God the nation of Judah is still a people. He will not take His eyes off them. He promises, "I will bring them back to this land." 

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