September 26, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem

John F. Fink(Thirty-eighth in a series of columns)

The final days of the kingdom of Judah are recounted in Chapters 18-25 of the Second Book of Kings. Judah survived for 136 years after the conquest of the kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.

After Assyria conquered Israel, it attacked Judah in 701 B.C. Judah was ruled by King Hezekiah, who had the prophet Isaiah as a counselor. Isaiah had begun his prophesying in 742 B.C. after having a vision and the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah replied, “Here I am; send me!” (Is 6:8).

Isaiah convinced Hezekiah that God would protect Jerusalem. When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, reached Jerusalem, the angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 of his men and Sennacherib returned to Nineveh, where he was slain by two of his sons.

Hezekiah was considered a good king, but his successors, Manasseh and Amon, were not: they “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kgs 21:20). Isaiah predicted that Judah would be destroyed because of Manasseh’s sins.

Then came King Josiah, during whose reign we had a remarkable occurrence. While work was being done in the Temple, the high priest Hilkiah found “the book of the law” (2 Kgs 22:8), obviously unknown to that generation or, presumably, many previous generations.

Josiah was so aroused by the book that he commanded that it be read in its entirety to the people, and he made a covenant before the Lord that they would follow the ordinances, statutes and decrees that were written in the book.

Josiah began a thorough reform, influenced by the prophet Micah, that purged the country of pagan elements, not only in Judah but also in the former kingdom of Israel. He commanded that Passover be observed as stipulated in the book, the first time it had been so observed since the time of Joshua.

The authors said about Josiah, “Before him there had been no king who turned to the Lord as he did, with his whole heart, his whole soul, and his whole strength, in accord with the entire law of Moses; nor could any after him compare with him” (2 Kgs 23:25).

But then Josiah was killed in a battle against Egypt and his successors went back to their old ways. The prophet Jeremiah opposed the return to idolatry and was rewarded for his opposition by arrest, imprisonment and public disgrace.

While this was going on in Judah, Babylon conquered Assyria and moved against Judah. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem for the first time and deported King Jehoiachin to Babylon, replacing him with Zedekiah.

From about 598 to 587 B.C., Jeremiah tried to counsel Zedekiah, urging him not to rebel against Babylon and not to make a pact with Egypt. Nevertheless, Zedekiah did rebel, and King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. After nearly two years, when the people were starving, the walls were breached. Zedekiah tried to escape but was captured near Jericho.

Nebuchadnezzar then sent Nebuzaradan to Jerusalem, where he burned the Temple and all the houses. He led the people into exile in Babylon. †

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