The Babylonian Exile #3

Hezekiah was a good king but the flattery of receiving attention from the Babylonian monarch led him to give way to vanity. He showed the Babylonian king’s messengers all his treasures and his government. Because of this, God sent Isaiah to tell him that that nation would carry his treasures away in the future, as well as his descendants (Isa. 39:6-7). Coupled with that warning was the warning by Micah that the nation would also suffer exile in that foreign nation (Mic. 4:16). Micah lived the same years as Isaiah, and like Isaiah gave several prophecies of the coming Messiah, but also spoke of the fortunes of Judah.

All was not hopeless, however. For as exile was predicted for Judah, redemption and return to their nation’s land was foretold. This accompanied the amazing revelation of the name of he who would allow the captives to return to Judah: Cyrus. In Isaiah’s prediction, God spoke of Cyrus as “my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure” (Isa. 44:28). The Lord’s words continued about the work of Cyrus “saying of Jerusalem, she shall be built: and of the temple, and thy foundation shall be laid” (Isa. 44:28). Remember, it would be about 80 years before the first of three different groups would be exiled to Babylon. It would be 150 years before Cyrus would issues his decree allowing Judah to return to their country. When Isaiah wrote his prophecy, Jerusalem had not been destroyed and Solomon’s temple still stood. Isaiah passed from the scene. The inspired records said nothing about his death nor circumstances surrounding it. There was a strong tradition among the Jews in the first century that Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son who replaced him on his throne, had sawed the prophet in two. The Hebrew writer’s words of the suffering of God’s people that “they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted” (Heb. 11:37) were regarded as a reference to Isaiah’s death, but we do not know. What we do know is that while Isaiah’s voice was silenced by his death, the words he uttered were from God, and of His words God said, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth. It is shall not return to me void, but shall accomplish that which I please and prosper in the things whereunto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

The characters on the world’s stage changed. Assyria had destroyed Samaria and dispersed her, but she had in time been defeated and subdued, just as she had cruelly treated others. Isaiah had prophesied this would occur (Isa. 10:12).

As the decades slipped away, Babylon came on the scene and placed Judah in subjection to her. Destruction and exile were coming on the nation and Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet,” began his work during the reign of Josiah (Jer. 1:3-4). Josiah was a great-great-great grandson of Hezekiah and Judah’s last good king. Jeremiah was, like Moses before him, reluctant to do the task God called him to do. But once he entered into the task, he was faithful to God among the most trying of circumstances. One of the first visions God gave to Jeremiah was of a boiling caldron from the north. God would bring kings against Judah, later identifying that threat coming on them as Babylon. In later years, after both Josiah’s death and that of his son and likely in early years of Zedekiah, God gave Jeremiah a vision of two baskets of figs (Jer. 24:1-7). One basket of figs was very good; the other basket, bad — unfit to eat. God said the basket of good figs represented those who had been exiled; the basket of bad figs were those left in Jerusalem and Judah. Those in Babylon would prosper and God would bring them back to Judah. But the bad figs meant anguish and suffering: destruction, and finally a remaining few who also were deported to Babylon. Jeremiah’s message was unpopular: submit to the yoke of Babylon and prosper. Resist Babylon and suffer famine, disease, and death. But though unpopular, it proved to be true.

Daniel was among the first who were exiled to Babylon in about 606 B.C. (Dan. 1:18). The second exile occurred in 597 B.C. when Jehoiachin, Hezekiah’s great-great-great grandson, was taken to Babylon at 18 years of age and there remained captive until his death. Isaiah’s prophecy had come to pass: “… and of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shall beget, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Isa. 39:7). Finally, Nebuchadnezzar besieged and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. He carried a third but smaller group of exiles to Babylon along with Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, whose sons had been slain before his eyes before his eyes were put out. It was about 587 B.C. There was hope, however. In his many prophecies of Judah’s fortunes, Jeremiah had predicted that while exile was inevitable, it would end in seventy years (Jeremiah 29:10-14). God’s words were true. The nation and descendants of Hezekiah were exiled in a strange land. The temple had been burned with fire. But the exiles would return after seventy years of servitude in Babylon, as God had promised. As His word had not failed in the past, it would not fail in the future. Truly, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).

Jim McDonald

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