CHAPTER 17 - JEHOIAKIM (EIGHTEENTH), JEHOIACHIN (NINETEENTH), ZEDEKIAH (TWENTIETH), KING OF JUDAH.
Character of Jehoiakim's Reign - Sketch of the History of Media - Sketch of the History of Babylonia - Fall of Nineveh - The new Babylonian Empire - Second Expedition of Necho - Battle of Carchemish - Advance of Nebuchadnezzar - State of Things in Jerusalem - Partial Spoil of the Temple - Return of Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon - Jehoiakim first Prisoner, then Tributary - Rebellion of Jehoiakim - Death of Jehoiakim and Accession of Jehoiachin - Siege of Jerusalem - Surrender of Jehoiachin - His Fate - First Deportation to Babylon - Accession and Reign of Zedekiah - The Rebellion of Zedekiah - Advance of Nebuchadnezzar - Siege of Jerusalem - State of matters in the City - Brief Relief owing to the Advance of an Egyptian Army - Resumption of the Siege - Capture of part of the City - Flight and Capture of Zedekiah - The Sentences at Riblah - Burning of the Temple, Destruction of the City, and Deportation of Captives - The Prophet Jeremiah - Appointment of Gedaliah - The Court at Mizpah - Murder of Gedaliah - Pursuit and Flight of the Murderers - Retreat into Egypt - Last Prophecies of Jeremiah - End of the Earthly Davidic Rule - The Desolate Land keeps her Sabbaths.
(2 KINGS 24, 25; 2 CHRONICLES. 36:5-END; WITH CORRESPONDING PASSAGES FROM THE BOOKS OF JEREMIAH AND OF EZEKIEL.)
The reign of Jehoiakim, which lasted eleven years, was in every respect most disastrous. In truth, it was the beginning of the end. The reformatory work of Josiah gave place to a restoration of the former idolatry (comp. 2 Chronicles 36:8). As in previous reigns, it was connected with complete demoralization of the people (comp. Jeremiah 7:9-15; 17:2; 19:4-9; Ezekiel 8:9-18). And this not only among the laity, high and low, but equally among the priests and prophets (comp. Jeremiah 23:9-14). All the louder rose the voices of the prophets' Jeremiah, Urijah, and Habakkuk. But their warnings were either unheeded and scorned, or brought on them persecution and martyrdom (2 Kings 24:4; Jeremiah 26:10, 11; and especially verses 20-23). Otherwise, also, it was a wretched government, characterized by public wrong, violence, oppression, and covetousness. While the land was impoverished, the king indulged in luxury, and built magnificent palaces, or adorned towns, by means of forced labor, which remained unpaid, and at the cost of the lives of a miserable enslaved people (Jeremiah 22:13-18; Habakkuk 2:9-17).
In these circumstances the crisis could not be long delayed. As previously stated, three years after his first expedition, Necho once more advanced against the rival empire in the east. There great changes had taken place. Nineveh had fallen under the combined assault of Nabopalassar, king of Babylonia, and Kyaxares, king of the Medes. Notices, however brief, of these events seem necessary for the more complete understanding of this history.*
* We are here chiefly following the researches of Schrader.
Media, by which name we understand the district in Asia reaching from south of the Caspian Sea, but east of the Zagros mountain, down to Elam (Susiana), seems to have been inhabited by a twofold population: the earlier settlers being of non-Arian, the later of Arian descent. Their history first emerges into clear light during the reign of Tiglath-pileser II., who incorporated into the Assyrian empire districts of Media, these conquests being continued by Sargon and Sennacherib. Media regained its independence during the reign of Asurbanipal (668-626, B.C.) when, as previously noted, Phraortes of Media made an unsuccessful inroad upon Assyria. His successor, Kyaxares (633-593, B.C.), in conjunction with Nabopalasar of Babylonia, put an end to the Assyrian empire and destroyed Nineveh.* But the independence of Media did not long continue. Astyages, the successor of Kyaxares, was dethroned by Cyrus (in 558, B.C.), and his kingdom incorporated with Persia.
* According to Herodotus (i. 103, 106), Kyaxares had twice laid siege to Nineveh. On the second occasion the city was taken. The first siege was interrupted by the incursion of the Scythians.
The other, and in this history more important factor in the destruction of the Assyrian empire, was Babylonia, which took its place. Babylonia, also known to us as "the land of the Chaldees," was bounded in the north by Armenia and Media as far as Mount Zagros;* in the west by the Arabian desert; in the south by the Persian Gulf; and in the east by Elam (Susiana).
* But in the Biblical acceptation only to about 34 degrees latitude, north.
Its population was of twofold race. The earliest inhabitants were non-Semitic - the Accadians. To them the culture of the people is really due, and they were the inventors of the so-called cuneiform writing. To these inhabitants there joined themselves at any rate so early as in the third millennium before our era, Semitic immigrants, coming from Arabia. They occupied, in the first place, Southern Babylonia, in and around Ur, whence they gradually spread northwards, slowly gaining the mastery over the earlier nationality, but receiving the impress of its culture. These settlers were what we know by the name of the Chaldees. To the earlier history of Babylonia and its relations with Assyria, we have, so far as necessary for our present purpose, already adverted in connection with Merodach-bal-adan. Without here entering into the troubled period of the contests between Assyria (under Tiglath-pileser, Sargon, and Sennacherib) and Babylonia for its independence, we recall the rebellion of Saos-duchin, the brother of Asurbanipal, whom he had appointed viceroy of Babylon. After the suppression of that rising, and the death of Saosduchin, Asurbanipal himself assumed the crown of Babylon. But, as we have seen, his successors could not maintain the supremacy of Assyria. After the final defeat of the Scythians, the Medes, under Kyaxares, were advancing a second time against Assyria. The last king of that empire was purposing himself to make a stand against them. But Nabopalassar, instead of holding Babylonia for Assyria, had turned against it, and made common cause with the enemy, cementing the new alliance by the marriage of his son, Nebuchadnezzar, with Amytis, the daughter of Kyaxares. The two armies now marched against Nineveh, which made brave resistance. Saracus destroyed himself in the flames of his palace, and Nineveh was utterly laid waste.
With Nabopalassar, who founded the new Babylonian empire, began the period of the Chaldees - as they are chiefly known to us in Scripture. Here we may at once indicate that he was succeeded by his son, Nebuchadrezzar (or Nebuchadnezzar), and he in turn by his son, Evil-merodach, who, after two years' reign, was dethroned by his brother-in-law, Neriglissar. After four years (559-556, B.C.) Neriglissar was succeeded by his youthful son, Laborosoarchod. After his murder, Nabonidos (Nabunit, Nabunaid)acceded to the government, but after seventeen years' reign (555-539 B.C.) was dethroned by Cyrus. The eldest son of Nabonidos, and heir to the throne, was Belshazzar, whom we know from the Book of Daniel, where, in a not unusual manner, he is designated as the son, that is, the descendant of Nebuchadrezzar (Daniel 5:2, 11, 18). We infer that, while his father, Nabonidos, went to meet Cyrus, to whom he surrendered, thereby preserving his life, Belshazzar had been left as "king" in Babylon,* at the taking of which he perished in the night of his feast, described in Holy Scripture.
* The prominent position occupied by the "crown-prince" Belshazzar in the life-time of his father has lately been established by a tablet, giving the annals of Nabonidos. Comp. Schrader, u.s. p. 434.
From these almost necessary digressions we return to the Biblical history. It was three years after his first expedition that Pharaoh Necho once more turned his arms against the eastern empire. Even the direction of his march, as indicated by the battle fought at Carchemish, shows that the expedition was really intended against Assyria. But Nineveh had fallen, and the Egyptian army was encountered by the youthful heir to the new Babylonian empire, Nebuchadrezzar - in the inscriptions Nabukudurri-usur* - "Nebo, protect the crown."
* In the Book of Jeremiah he is also generally designated as Nebuchadrezzar, and always so by Ezekiel.
The Egyptian army was thoroughly defeated and followed by the victorious Nebuchadrezzar, who now recovered the Assyrian possessions in Western Asia, which had been lost in the previous reign. The date of this battle deserves special attention. For the victory of Carchemish (606 or 605 B.C.) was gained by the Babylonian army in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 46:2), and it was in the same fourth year of his reign that Jeremiah made Baruch write in a book his prophetic denunciations of judgment (Jeremiah 36:1). The conjunction of these two events is deeply significant.
What followed can be easily understood. As Nebuchadrezzar advanced towards Palestine (2 Kings 24:1) - in the fifth year of the reign of Jehoiakim - the Jewish king, in abject fear, proclaimed a national fast (Jeremiah 36:9). Whether this was done from superstition, or for the sake of popular effect, or else in hope of conciliating the prophet and his adherents, certain it is that the professed repentance was hypocritical. The book of Jeremiah's prophecies, which Baruch had publicly read on that occasion, was cut in pieces by the king himself, and thrown on the fire (Jeremiah 36:22, 23). Jeremiah and Baruch only escaped imprisonment, if not death, by timely concealment. Nevertheless, Nebuchadrezzar appeared in Jerusalem. Jehoiakim, who would be regarded as a vassal of Egypt, was bound in fetters, with the intention of being carried to Babylon. This, however, was not done - perhaps because of the summons which rapidly recalled Nebuchadrezzar to Babylon. But the vessels of the temple* were sent to Babylon, and placed, first in the victor's palace, and then in the temple of his god - probably Bel-Merodach or Belus (comp. 2 Kings 24:13; 2 Chronicles 36:6, 7; Jeremiah 35:11; 36:29-31; Daniel 1:2; and for the date also Jeremiah 25:1).**
* 2 Chronicles 36:6, where translate: "and put them in his palace at Babylon."
** Comp. generally Jos. Ant. x..II, I. who gives extracts from the historical works of Berosus and Megasthenes, and, Ag. Ap. I. 19.
During the Syrian campaign of Nebuchadrezzar his father, Nabopalassar, had sickened. Tidings of his death now induced the heir to the crown speedily to return to Babylon, committing his Jewish, Phoenician, Syrian, and Egyptian captives, together with the spoil, to his subordinates (Jos. Ant. x. II, I).
Jehoiakim was allowed to remain for three years as a tributary to Babylonia (2 Kings 24:1). At the end of that time he rebelled. Nebuchadrezzar, who was probably detained by domestic affairs, left his punishment, in the first place, in the hands of his Chaldean garrisons, and of the old hereditary enemies who surrounded Judah. In the latter respect it is specially significant that the account in the Book of Kings attributes this to the direct agency of the Lord, in fulfillment of His purpose of judgment (2 Kings 24:2). The king of Egypt, who probably was not without share in the rebellion of Jehoiakim, did not venture to come to the aid of the land which was overrun by the enemy (2 Kings 24:7). In the midst of these troubles Jehoiakim died - perhaps by the hand of his assailants. The king who had wrought so much evil (2 Kings 24:4), and who had brought such misfortunes on his land, descended into the grave unmourned and unhonored (Jeremiah 22:18, 19; 36:30).
Jehoiakim was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin ("Jehovah confirms"), a youth of eighteen years,* who reigned for only three months and ten days (2 Chronicles 36:9).
* By a clerical error in 2 Chronicles 36:9, his age is given as "eight years."By a reversion of its component parts, his name is also written Joiachin (Ezekiel 1:2) and Coniah (Jeremiah. 22:24, 28; 37:1).
He occupied the throne when Nebuchadrezzar himself appeared a second time on the soil of Palestine (2 Kings 24:11). It is impossible to determine whether what now happened was in punishment of the previous rebellion, or because the young king was guilty of similar intrigues with Egypt. From the indications in Holy Scripture we are led to suppose that the queen-mother, Nehushta ("the brazen"), the daughter of Elnathan, an influential prince of Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:8; Jeremiah 36:12, 25), had considerable share in the events of this brief reign. We infer this, on the one hand, from the connection of her father with Egypt (Jeremiah 26:22), and on the other from the pointed references to her and her fate (2 Kings 24:12; Jeremiah 13:18; 22:26; 29:2).*
* A somewhat different account is given in Jos. Ant. x. 7, 1 - and of the close of the previous reign in x. 6, 3.
At first the siege of Jerusalem was entrusted to subordinate officers. But when the fall of the city seemed near Nebuchadnezzar himself appeared. Jehoiachin, together with the queen-mother, the court, the princes, and the leaders seem to have surrendered to the victor. The punishment inflicted on the city was of signal severity. All the treasures of the temple and the palace were carried away, the heavier furnishings of the sanctuary* being cut in pieces.
* These may have included altars, etc., while the gold-plating may have been stripped off from others.
Thus was the word of the Lord, long and often spoken, fulfilled (2 Kings 24:12, 13). The king himself, his mother, his wives, and all the officials, whether of the court, the state, or the army, were carried to Babylon. Nay, to make sure of the permanence of the conquest, "all Jerusalem" - in the sense of what made it the capital - and all who in any sense were "strong and apt for war" - who could either lead, or fight, or prepare the means for it - were carried into captivity. Their number is roughly stated as 11,000 (11,023[?] comp. Jeremiah 52:28),* comprising 3,000 ranked as "princes" and leading citizens, 7,000 soldiers (10,000, 2 Kings 24:14), and 1,000 craftsmen, especially smiths (2 Kings 24:13-16).
* Others have, however, made the total number l0,000 - reckoning "the princes" at 2,000 and the craftsmen at 1,000. The computation does not seem to include the women and children - unless, indeed, we were to understand the numbers in Jeremiah 52:28 to refer exclusively to the male population. But this is, critically, not an easy passage, on the discussion of which we cannot enter in this place.
Considering that the total population of Jerusalem at that time - including women and children - is only calculated at between 50,000 and 60,000 souls, only a sparse remnant can have been left behind - and that wholly composed of "the poorest sort of the people of the land." Among the captives was also the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1, 2; 40:1, comp. Jeremiah 29:1).
We may as well here relate the sequel of Jehoiachin's history. For thirty-seven years he lingered in a Babylonian prison. At the end of that period Evil-merodach ("the man of Merodach"), the son and successor of Nebuchadrezzar, showed him favor. Selected from out the other captive kings he was restored to rank, admitted to the royal table as one of the vassals at the court of the Babylonian monarch, and had a regular allowance assigned to him suited to the wants of his family and establishment. This continued till his death, the date of which is uncertain (2 Kings 25:27-30; Jeremiah 52:31, 34).*
* Jewish legend speaks of the religious conversion of Jehoiachin (comp.Bar. 1., 3-7). The learned reader will find the detailed story, which is not very savoury, in Vayyik. R'. 19, end.
We now rapidly near the close of this history. On his departure from Jerusalem Nebuchadrezzar had, with singular generosity, appointed a king of the old Davidic lineage. His choice had fallen on Mattaniah ("the gift of Jehovah"), whose name was changed* into Zedekiah ("the righteousness of Jehovah").
* As that of Eliakim had been changed by Necho, comp. 2 Kings 23:34. We take this view rather than that the new king professed to be the fulfiller of the prophecy, Jeremiah 23:5-8.
The new king was the uncle of Jehoiachin, being the youngest son of Josiah by the same mother as Jehoahaz (comp. 2 Kings 23:31). The eleven years of his reign may be summed up in the brief formula which described that of Jehoiakim, as of so many others: "he did the evil in the sight of Jehovah." And significantly the sacred text adds: "For because of the anger of Jehovah did it come to pass in Jerusalem and in Judah, until He cast them out from His presence. And Zedekiah rebelled against the King of Babylon" (2 Kings. 24:20).*
* So, correctly rendered. The concluding sentence in the verse forms the final commentary on that which precedes it.
The "rebellion" of Zedekiah was the more culpable and aggravated that he had taken a solemn oath of fidelity to Nebuchadrezzar (2 Chronicles 36:13; Ezekiel 17:13). The precise circumstances which led up to his attempt at independence cannot be fully ascertained. Still there are sufficient indications to show the progress of what ultimately ended in open revolt.*
* See generally Kleinert's Summary (in Riehm's H. W. B. ii.:pp. 1791, 1792), to which we are indebted.
The first care of the new king must have been to gather around him counselors and people. As all the most prominent and able men of Judah were in captivity, the task would in any circumstances have been one of extreme difficulty. In the present instance the measures taken seem to have been disastrous. The capital and the Temple were the scene of every idolatry (Ezekiel 8), while the administration of justice would appear to have been of the worst kind (Jeremiah 21:11, 12). It was not long before political intrigues began. Soon ambassadors from Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon, appeared at the court of Zedekiah - no doubt to deliberate about a combined movement against Babylonia (Jeremiah 27).* Perhaps the contemplated rising was connected with troubles which Nebuchadrezzar had at that time to encounter in Elam (comp. Jeremiah 49:34-39).** But all such hopes were doomed to speedy disappointment.
* As throughout the chapter the reference is to Zedekiah, the mention of Jehoiakim in ver. I. must be a clerical error. And some Codd. as well as the Syrian version, read there also: "Zedekiah."
** A very interesting point here is that in the LXX. the mention of "the book" written by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:13) is immediately followed by the prophecies against the various nations - contrary to the order of the chapters in our Hebrew Bible. And first of these stands the prophecy against Elam - in the Hebrew, Jeremiah 49:34-39, but in the LXX. Jeremiah 25:14-18. This is immediately followed in the LXX. by this sentence in 26:1: "In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah came this word about Elam," the opening words corresponding to Hebrew Jeremiah 27:1, after which come the various prophecies against the nations.
Zedekiah now deemed it prudent to send ambassadors to Babylon to assure his suzerain of his fidelity. The messengers also carried with them letters from Jeremiah to the exiles, who seem to have been in a state of restless expectation, probably due to the plans of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 29:1 and follow.). This was in the fourth year of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 28:1). How such hopes were fostered by false prophets appears from Jeremiah 28, which records the predictions of one Hananiah, and the Divine punishment which overtook him. The embassy to Babylon seems not to have appeased the suspicions of Nebuchadrezzar, and Zedekiah had to appear personally in Babylon (Jeremiah 51:59). This closes the first scene in the drama.
The next scene opens with fresh intrigues - this time chiefly with Egypt (Ezekiel 17:15-18) - probably through the numerous Judaean immigrants to that country (Jeremiah 24:8). Neighboring tribes, were, however, also implicated. Whether Zedekiah now deemed himself sufficiently strong with the help of Egypt, or else it was impossible any longer to conceal the plans of the allies, certain it is that he now openly rebelled (2 Kings 24:20). His punishment came quickly. Nebuchadrezzar advanced with his army, and pitched his camp at Riblah - significantly, the same place where Jehoahaz had been cast into bonds by Necho (2 Kings 23:33). Riblah remained the headquarters of the Babylonian army, as being a convenient point whence to operate against Palestine and Tyre on the one side, and on the other against Ammon and Moab (Ezekiel 21:19, 20, 22, 28; 26:1-7). Presently all Judaea was overrun. Indeed, it was entirely defenseless, with the exception of the fortified towns of Lachish, Azekah, and Jerusalem (Jeremiah 34:7). Against Jerusalem itself Nebuchadrezzar and his host now laid siege. This was on the tenth day of the tenth month of the ninth year of Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:1; Jeremiah 39:1).
In the city, the greatness of the danger gave rise to what might have seemed feelings of repentance, alternating, however, with opposite tendencies, as amidst the general stupefaction and helplessness one or the other party had the upper hand. In the midst of it all the king seemed as one utterly lost. At first all was energy. The useless houses which the kings and the nobles had reared, were thrown down, and their place and materials used for the defenses of the city (Jeremiah 33:4). It was a vain measure - and these defenses only became the graves of those who held them. Popular measures also were adopted. The king made a covenant with the people, and a solemn proclamation restored freedom to all of Hebrew nationality - men and women - whom previous exactions, violence, and unrighteousness had reduced to, or kept in, slavery (Jeremiah 34:8, 9). The "princes" sulkily submitted. But during the brief time that the Babylonians withdrew to meet the Egyptian army, they not only ignored what had been done, but once more reduced to bondage those who had so lately been set free (Jeremiah 34:10, 11).
As for Zedekiah himself, his conduct was characterized by that helpless perplexity and vacillation, which were the outcome of weakness and want of religious conviction. Deputations were sent to Jeremiah for inquiry of the LORD, and appeal to Him in name of past deliverances (Jeremiah 21:1, 2; 37:3). And yet, at the same time, the king imprisoned and maltreated the prophets. All this according as his nobles either opposed or protected Jeremiah. Yet when the prophet clearly set before the king the certain alternative of resistance and captivity, or else surrender and safety (Jeremiah 34:2-6, 38:17,18), Zedekiah could form no decision. Most characteristic of the situation is Jeremiah 38. As we read it, the king first yielded to his princes, who even ventured to charge the prophet with treacherous designs (Jeremiah 37:13), and Jeremiah was cast into a loathsome dungeon. Next, Zedekiah listened to intercessions on the other side, and Jeremiah was at least removed from the subterranean prison, where his feet had sunk in mire, and more humanely treated. Then the king actually sent for him and consulted him. Nay, he not only most solemnly swore to protect him, but seemed willing to follow his advice and surrender to the Chaldeans. But once more fear prevented his taking that step, notwithstanding the assurances of Jeremiah. In the end Zedekiah was even in fear that his nobles should hear of his conference with the prophet, and bade him give a different interpretation to their interview.
Meantime the siege was continuing, without hope of relief. Tyre suffered straits similar to those of Jerusalem, while Ammon, Moab, Edom, and the Philistines had not only withdrawn from the alliance, but were waiting to share in the spoil of Judah (Ezekiel 25). At length a gleam of hope appeared. An Egyptian army, under their King Hophra, the grandson of Necho, advanced through Phoenicia, and obliged the Chaldeans to raise the siege of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37:5-7). The exultation and reaction in Jerusalem may be imagined - and it was probably in consequence of it that Jeremiah, who still predicted calamity, was cast into prison (ib. ver. 4). But the relief of Jerusalem was brief. The Egyptian army had to retire, and the siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans was resumed, and that under even more disadvantageous circumstances to the besieged. To the other calamities that of famine was now added (2 Kings 25:3). Of the horrors of that time Jeremiah has left a record in the Book of Lamentations (comp. i 19; ii. 11, 12, 20; iv. 3-10). The last resistance was soon overcome. On the ninth day of the fourth month [Tammuz], in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the enemy gained possession of the northern suburb (2 Kings 25:4; Jeremiah 39:2, 3; 52:6, 7). Before the middle gate the Babylonian captains held a council of war (Jeremiah 39:2, 3). Then the king and all the regular army sought safety in flight during the darkness of the night (Jeremiah 39:4). As the Chaldeans held the northern part of the city, they fled southwards. Between the two walls, through the Tyropoeon, then out of the "fountain-gate," and through the king's garden, they made haste to gain the Jordan. But their flight could not remain unobserved. They were pursued and overtaken in the plains of Jericho. The soldiers dispersed in various directions. But the king himself and his household were taken captives, and carried to the headquarters at Riblah, where Nebuchadrezzar himself was at the time. Here Zedekiah was formally arraigned and sentence given against him. His daughters were set free, but his sons were slain before him. It was the last sight the king saw. His eyes were put out;* he was bound hands and feet with double fetters of brass, and so carried to Babylon. (Compare 2 Kings 25:4-7; Jeremiah 4-7; 43:6; Ezekiel 12:12, 13.) There he died in ward** (Jeremiah 52:11).
* This was a not uncommon Chaldean and ancient Persian mode of punishment when the object was to render a prince unfit for future government.
** "A house of ward," rather than an actual prison, to which latter Jehoiachin had been confined. Blind Zedekiah was kept in a house of ward.
The remainder of this mournful tale is soon told. After the flight and capture of the king, the city could not long hold out. A month later,* and on the seventh day of the fifth month (Ab) Nebuzar-adan ["Nebo gave posterity"] penetrated into the city.
* Perhaps a month's respite was allowed, to ascertain the royal commands in regard to the city.
The Temple was set on fire, as well as the king's palace. The whole city was reduced to ruins and ashes, and the walls which had defended it were broken down (2 Kings 25:9, 10). After three days the work of destruction was completed; and ever afterwards was the 10th (9th) of Ab mourned as the fatal day of Jerusalem's fall* (Jeremiah 52:12; Zechariah 7:3, 5; 8:19).
* According to Josephus (War, vi 4. 8), this was also the day of the destruction of the Temple of Herod by the Romans.
"The rest of the people left in the city," and those who had previously passed to the enemy, together "with the remnant of the multitude," were carried away (2 Kings 25:11). We can scarcely be mistaken in regarding these captives as the chief part of the non-combatant population of Jerusalem and Judah.
The capture of Jerusalem found Jeremiah in prison for his faithfulness in announcing the coming ruin, and for warning his people of their impending fate. But the same faith and faithfulness led him there to yet loftier display of the prophetic character than even when bearing steadfast testimony amidst gainsaying, persecution, and suffering. In that prison, and in full view of the impending desolation, he announced, with the same firm faith as formerly the judgments upon Israel, not only the terrible doom that would overtake Babylon (Jeremiah 51:1), but also the certain restoration of Israel. And in sublime confidence of this event, he bought while in prison - in this also obedient to the Divine direction - fields in Anathoth, as it were in anticipation of the return of his people to their own land (Jeremiah 32:6-23). And beyond this did his rapt vision descry a better and spiritual restoration of Israel (Jeremiah 32:37-44). Assuredly, viewing the Prophet in the surroundings of his time and circumstances, it is not easy to understand how any one can fail to perceive either the sublime dignity of the prophetic office, or the Divine character of prophecy.
But the end has not yet been fully told. All of any value in the Temple that could be removed, either whole or when broken up, was taken to Babylon. As already stated, the general population of Jerusalem and of Judah were carried into captivity. Only the poorest in the land were left to be husbandmen and vine-dressers, so as not to leave the soil uncultivated - probably in expectation of a future colonization from Babylonia.
Lastly, signal punishment was dealt out to those who were regarded as ringleaders or as representative persons during the late rebellion. "Seraiah,* the chief priest" (high priest), "Zephaniah,** the second priest" (probably the substitute of the high priest), "and the three keepers of the door" - that is, the chiefs of the Levites who kept watch at the three Temple gates (Jeremiah 38:14), were brought before the court which sat at Riblah, and executed.
* An ancestor of Ezra. Comp. 2 Kings 25:18; 1 Chronicles 6:14; Ezra 7:1.
** "The son of Maaseiah." Comp. about him, Jeremiah 21:1; 29:25-29; 37:3.
The same punishment as that of the Temple officials was meted out to the royal officers in the city - the chamberlain who had charge of the troops,* five of the king's councilors, and the secretary of the general of the army. With these were executed sixty of the people of the land, either as prominent in the late rebellion, or as representing the people generally.
* We have given this paraphrastic description of the first and the last mentioned of these officers, who, no doubt, were connected with the civil department of the army.
The civil administration of the country was entrusted by Nebuchadrezzar to Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam. The latter had held a high position in the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 22:12), and was even more distinguished for the piety and courage which saved the life of Jeremiah in the time of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:24). The same adherence to the prophetic Word had induced Gedaliah to support the unpopular advice of submission to Nebuchadrezzar. Information of all that passed in the city would no doubt reach the camp of the Chaldeans, and it would be in consequence of what he had heard that Nebuchadrezzar appointed Gedaliah to his post. It was also this, as well as respect for the prophet and his office, which must have induced the king to give such charge about Jeremiah to Nebuzar-adan, his chief captain (Jeremiah 39:11-14; 40:1-4). The prophet was apparently set at liberty, but afterwards, by some mistake, carried with the other captives in chains to Ramah. Here the error was discovered, and Nebuzar-adan gave the prophet the choice of either going to Babylon, where all honorable provision should be made for him, or of settling in any part of the country. With true patriotic feeling, as well as in accordance with his prophetic work, Jeremiah chose to remain with the new Jewish governor, in order to support his authority, and to guide by his counsel the remnant of the people. But even this proved a thankless and a hopeless task. Gedaliah had taken up his residence in the ancient historic Mizpah.
Thither all that was left of Judah's representative men gathered, as also the wives, daughters, and children of the slain and the captives. Thither also came the fugitives who had sought safety in neighboring lands, as well as the remnants of the dispersed Jewish army. A court was being formed, and the governor was surrounded by a Chaldean and Jewish guard (Jeremiah 40:6-end; 41:3; 43:6). It even seems as if a kind of sanctuary had been set up (Jeremiah 41:5). For a brief time it appeared as if not only peace but a measure of prosperity were to be vouchsafed to the remnant of Judah. But once more all such hopes were disappointed. The rule of Gedaliah lasted only two months.
Chief among them who had come to him was Ishmael, the son of Nathaniah, himself of the seed royal. Partly in the hope of possessing himself of the government, to which his descent might lead him to aspire, and partly at the instigation of Baalis, the king of the Ammonites - who no doubt had purposes of his own in the matter - Ishmael put himself at the head of a gang of conspirators (comp. 2 Kings 25:25; Jeremiah 40:8- 16). In vain the generous Gedaliah was warned of his danger. Incapable of treachery himself, he would not believe in that of others, nor sanction measures of needful self-defense. Accordingly the plan of the conspirators was carried out. Gedaliah and all who were around him were massacred, and their dead bodies cast into the pit which, long before, Asa the king had made, for fear of Baasha, king of Israel (Jeremiah 41:1-9). Only ten men escaped slaughter by promises of rich supplies to the conspirators.
But even so the measure was not full. After his bloody success at Mizpah, Ishmael had carried away captive not only the women, but all the people, with the intention of passing over to the Ammonites. But when tidings of the crimes perpetrated reached Johanan, the son of Kareah, and the captains of the forces in the fields, who had formerly in vain warned Gedaliah of his danger (Jeremiah 40:13-16), they mustered to avenge the wrong. They pursued and overtook Ishmael at Gibeon. The captive Jews now made common cause with their deliverers, and Ishmael escaped with only eight followers into Ammon. But the faith of Johanan and his companions was not equal to the occasion. Afraid that the Chaldeans would avenge on them the treachery and slaughter at Mizpah, they drew off towards Egypt. With hypocritical pretense of a desire that Jehovah might through His prophet show them whither to go and what to do, they approached the prophet. Jeremiah was to inquire of the LORD - and they gave solemn promise implicitly to obey the voice of Jehovah. Yet all the time they had resolved to retire into Egypt. And so Jeremiah told them when he brought them the twofold message from his God, that they might dismiss all fear of the Chaldeans if they remained in the land; but that if they sought safety in Egypt, the sword of the conqueror, who would smite down their protector, should surely overtake them.
The warning was in vain. The message of Jeremiah was represented as only the outcome of his own and of Baruch's personal resentment; and the leaders of Judah carried the feeble remnant to Tahpanhes in Egypt - there yet again to hear the voice of the aged prophet, announcing the coming judgment on the country, where, in their unbelief and hard-heartedness, they had sought shelter (comp. Jeremiah 42 and 43).
So the last remnant of Judah had gone from the land. The Davidic rule had passed away, so far as merely earthly power was concerned. The Davidic kingdom to come would be wider, higher, deeper. It would embrace the brotherhood of man; it would reach up to heaven; it would root in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
But over all the land would be desolateness and stillness. Yet was it a "stillness unto God." The land was keeping long-neglected silent Sabbath unto God' ten times, "to fulfill three-score and ten years."* It was just about seventy years** after the battle of Carchemish, which really decided the fate of Palestine and its subjection to Babylon, that, like the priests' silver trumpets at morn in the Temple, the voice of Cyrus announced the dawn of morning after the long night of exile, and summoned the wanderers from all lands to the threshold of their sanctuary (2 Chronicles 36:21-23). Again is the land keeping Sabbath.
* The reference in 2 Chronicles 36:21 is to Jeremiah 25:11, 12, and Leviticus 26:34, 35. But it is not necessary to suppose that this seventy years Sabbath refers to an exact previous period of 490 years, during which the observance of Sabbatic years had been neglected.
** The time from the deportation of the last remnant to the decree of Cyrus was about fifty years.
And again is it "stillness unto God," till His Voice shall waken land and people, Whose are land and people, dominion and peace: till He shall come Who is alike the goal and the fulfillment of all past history and prophecy "a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel."
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