The Babylonian Exile #1

Likely no event in Jewish history was more momentous than the Babylonian exile. There are many “high-water marks” in Israel’s history: her bondage in Egypt, Moses’ contest with Pharaoh, the institution of the Passover, and her trek from the nation which had enslaved her, Moses receiving, then giving the Law and priesthood with a pattern for the tabernacle, the beginning of the Davidic rule, the building of Solomon’s temple. All these were epic moments in Israel’s history. But, if David’s capturing Jerusalem and the uniting the twelve tribes under one crown was significant, so also was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Just as David’s uniting the twelve tribes under one king was a major event in the nation’s history, Jerusalem’s fall to Babylon spelled the end of that ruling house. But in it all, one has to be blindfolded not to see God’s hand at work in the fate of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The voices of many prophets are heard as they spoke and wrote of the near extinction of the nation and race; a fact which did occur to many of their neighbors around them. And, aside from prophecies of the coming Messiah, few other events saw so many records of the period nor of prophets foreshowing different things of that exile and the period before it.

Moses had predicted that an unnamed people would conquer God’s people because of their wicked lives and rejection of Him (Deut. 28:49-53), but it was Isaiah who gave such a startling description of those who carried Judah into captivity. Isaiah prophesied 100+ years before the first of three different groups were exiled. In abbreviated form Isaiah foretold who their captor would be, the destruction of their city and temple, the return of the exiles and rebuilding of their temple, and the naming of the one who would release Judah’s captives.

Isaiah prophesied in the dark days of the Assyrian Empire. The rival nation to the north, the ten tribes (which formed the separate, northern kingdom through Jeroboam’s rebellion), was swept away by the Assyrian invasion and grave threats to the preservation of Judah’s very existence were made. The invading army marched into Judah, swept over its villages and walled cities until the only city that had not been taken was the capital city, Jerusalem. God warned, through Isaiah’s children’s names, of significant events which would happen to the kingdoms of Israel, Syria, and Judah. Before the fall of the ten tribes, Isaiah’s wife conceived a son and God told Isaiah to “call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz, for before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be carried away before the king of Assyria” (Isa. 8:3-4). Isaiah’s son’s name literally means “the spoil speedeth, the prey hasteneth” and the prophecy warned that the destruction coming upon Syria (Damascus) and Israel (Samaria) was speedily approaching. The rest of the prophecy (“for before the child shall have knowledge to cry my mother and my mother”) meant the overthrow of those two countries would be accomplished soon: Damascus and Samaria would fall in the space of 2-3 years.

Assyria did defeat Syria and the northern ten tribes (Samaria) and swept on into Judah. The prophet continued his prophecy which related to Judah, writing, “Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that go softly and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son, now therefore, behold the Lord bringeth upon them the waters of the River, strong and many, even the king of Assyria and all his glory: and it shall go over all its banks; and it shall sweep onward into Judah; and it shall overflow and reach even to the neck and the stretching out of its wings shall fill the breadth of thy land; O Immanuel” (Isa. 8:7-8).

Isaiah’s prophecy that the people (Judah) had “refused the waters of Shiloaoh that go softly” meant they had refused to hear God’s word. They had rejoiced in Rezin (ruler of Syria) and Remaliah’s son (ruler of Samaria). The prophet is not to be understood as saying Judah preferred Syria and Samaria over Jehovah — these countries were deadly enemies of Judah. It is likely the prophet meant that Judah rejoiced at the disaster which had fallen upon their enemies, by the hand of the “great river,” the king of Assyria, but now (because Judah had rejected Jehovah) the same flood of that river (Assyria) would overflow its banks and fill the land of Judah. It would swell and swell until the only thing above water was the head of Judah (Jerusalem). Still, so long as the head stays above water, it survives. Such was Isaiah’s prediction. Judah would survive, but with terrible injury and loss — the carnage Assyria would bring upon her.

Jim McDonald