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Old Testament Overview 4 - Divided Kingdom and Exile

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Also available:

1: Creation and Patriarchs 2: Exodus and Wilderness
3: Conquest and Monarchy 4: Divided Kingdom and Exile
5: Return from Exile 6: 400 Silent Years

(1 Kings 12 - 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 10 - 36)

The Division of the Kingdom (1 Kg 12, 2 Chr 10) - KEY DATE: 931 BC

Because of Solomon's unfaithfulness to God, the kingdom was divided into 2 parts:
1. The Northern Kingdom of Israel (ten tribes), often referred to as Ephraim, the major tribe
2. The Southern Kingdom of Judah (2 tribes)

The northern kingdom of Israel had 19 kings, all of whom were evil in the sight of the Lord, because of their idolatry. Many of the kings came to power following civil war or a coup d'etat when the previous king was murdered, so there eight dynasties in total, many lasting only one generation and the longest lasting for five generations.

The southern kingdom of Judah had 20 kings (one of them was a queen), eight of these were good kings, two were very good (Hezekiah & Josiah), the other 12 were evil. Each of the kings of Judah were descendants of David, in an unbroken line, in fulfilment of the promise God made to David concerning a 'house', or dynasty.

Through the books of 1 & 2 Kings, the author alternates between these two kingdoms, so it is important for us to keep clearly in our minds which kingdom he is describing. I suggest that you colour-code your Bible as follows:
Israel - all the kings were evil - so colour them RED (for danger)
Judah - these kings were the Sons of David, the Messianic line - so colour them BLUE (for royal blood)

In 2 Chronicles, the author focuses his attention exclusively on events in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel is ignored totally, and they are dismissed as being in rebellion against the house of David (2 Chr 10:19).

How the division happened

The first king of Judah was Solomon's son, Rehoboam. Because of his extravagant building projects, Solomon had to resort to conscripting Israelites as slave labour, which became a great burden on the people, and caused increasing resentment. Rehoboam inherited this situation, and took advice from both the older men, and the younger men he had grown up with. The older men said that he should reduce the burden to gain popularity with the people, but the younger men said that he needed to show who was in charge and should increase the burden on the people. Unfortunately Rehoboam took the advice of the younger men, which led to rebellion against his rule. Led by Jeroboam son of Nebat, the northern ten tribes rejected the rule of Rehoboam and declared independence from Judah.

The Early Years (Tenth century: 931 - 900 BC)

Jeroboam king of Israel (1 Kg 13-14)

The first king of the northern kingdom of Israel was Jeroboam, from the tribe of Ephraim, who had been one of Solomon's servants in his building programme. He was appointed by God, and given the opportunity to form a dynasty if he proved to be faithful to God.

However, as king, Jeroboam inherited a difficult problem to do with the nation's worship. In the book of Deuteronomy (ch 12), the law made it very clear that there was only one place in the nation where the people were allowed to worship Yahweh. Worship of God was not allowed anywhere else, especially not on the high places on the tops of hills, where it would quickly degenerate into idolatry and pagan worship. Following its capture by King David, Jerusalem had become the "place that God chose", and the location of the temple built by Solomon.

From the perspective of Jeroboam, Jerusalem was now in Judah, the enemy kingdom. So Jeroboam was concerned that if he allowed his people to go and worship God in Jerusalem, they might defect to the other kingdom. In fact many people did do this - particularly those who were truly committed and faithful to God.

To solve this problem, Jeroboam declared religious independence from Judah. He set up two shrines as centres of worship. One was in Dan, in the far north of his kingdom. The main one was in Bethel, on the main road to Jerusalem near the border crossing to Judah. On these two shrines he made two golden calves, saying, "These are the gods that brought you out of Egypt." - exactly what Aaron had said many years previously when he made the golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai, while Moses was on the mountain with God. Although originally intended to be a visible representation of Yahweh, they quickly sank into pagan idolatry. Jeroboam appointed priests from all the different tribes (not just the Levites), and set up his own system of religious festivals.

This act of religious independence became known as 'the sin of Jeroboam', and eventually led to the destruction and exile of the northern kingdom of Israel. The books of 1 & 2 Kings show how all of the kings of Israel followed the example of Jeroboam, and each of them were condemned by God for doing so.

Jeroboam was succeeded briefly by his son Nadab, who was killed in a rebellion by Baasha, who took over as king. This was seen as judgement on the dynasty of Jeroboam for the sin of Jeroboam. Baasha continued in the same idolatry as Jeroboam, and was succeeded by his son Elah, who was also killed in a rebellion led by Zimri. This was also seen as judgement on the dynasty of Baasha for idolatry. The nation then fell into a brief civil war out of which the strong dynasty of Omri and Ahab rose.

War between north and south

Following the division of the kingdom, there was a continual state of war, with border skirmishes between the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah. This continued for many years, through the reigns of the first few kings of the two kingdoms.

Eventually, peace was made between the two kingdoms during the time of Ahab in the north, and Jehoshaphat in the south. In the normal manner, this peace treaty was sealed with a marriage alliance, which almost led to disaster in Judah.

Early years of Judah (1 Kg 14-15, 2 Chr 11-20)

If the problem in north was the sin of Jeroboam, the problem in south was the high places. Originally the high places (the tops of hills) were used for the worship of Yahweh (even though this was not allowed in the law). Inevitably this worship degenerated into idolatry and worship of the fertility gods. The book of Kings records eight good kings, but only two of these were particularly good (Hezekiah and Josiah), and this was because they destroyed the high places. The other six good kings were faithful, but the author of Kings points out that none of them destroyed the high places.

During the reign of Rehoboam, the people built high places for the worship of the fertility gods (1 Kg 14:23). As a result of this, God began to bring trouble to the nation in the form of enemies invading. King Shishak of Egypt came up and plundered Jerusalem taking away much of the golden treasure from the temple and king's palace.

Rehoboam was followed by his son Abijam, who continued in the same idolatry as his father. He was followed by two good kings, Asa and Jehoshaphat, who were faithful to God, and each saw God give them significant victories over their enemies. However, neither of them removed the high places.

The Rising Problem of Idolatry (Ninth century: 900 - 800 BC)

Israel - the house of Omri (1 Kg 16)

Following the brief civil war in the northern kingdom, a man named Omri took power and became the king of Israel. He built himself a new capital city in Samaria with a luxurious palace. Politically, he was one of the most powerful kings of Israel, who established Israel as a strong military power with many horses and chariots. Assyrian records continued to refer to Israel as 'the land of Omri' for many years after his death. Omri began a new dynasty of kings in the north, which lasted for four generations. However his power was based on idolatry and injustice rather than on the law of God, so he is dismissed by the author of Kings as being evil in the sight of the Lord, and described in only six verses.

Omri made peace treaties with some of the surrounding nations, including one with Phoenicia which was again sealed with a marriage alliance, in which his son Ahab married the daughter of the king of Sidon, a young lady called Jezebel.

Ahab and Jezebel vs. Elijah (1 Kg 17-21)

Jezebel was a dedicated worshipper of Baal, the god of the rain, storm and lightning. She soon led Ahab into this idolatry, and he built a temple to Baal in Samaria, and the prophets of Baal enjoyed Jezebel's hospitality in the palace. This was a great spiritual threat to the future of Israel, so God raised up a prophet to counter this danger. Suddenly out of the wilderness appeared a strange man named Elijah, who declared that it would not rain until he gave the word - a direct confrontation with Baal. Could Baal bring rain, when Elijah had declared a drought? Was the god of the rain Baal, or Yahweh?

This conflict came to its climax after three years of drought, when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest on Mt Carmel. The people were attempting to keep on the safe side by worshipping both Yahweh and Baal, thinking that they needed to keep both happy. Elijah told them that it was time to stop sitting on the fence and to commit themselves to worshipping Baal or Yahweh.

He suggested a contest, both he and the prophets of Baal would build an altar and lay a sacrifice on it, but neither would set fire to it. Both would pray to their god (or God), and the one who sent fire down from heaven would prove to be the true God. (Remember that they believed that Baal was the god of the lightning!) Elijah let the prophets of Baal have the first turn, they called on the name of Baal all day, until Elijah began to tease them, exhorting them to shout louder, just in case Baal had fallen asleep, or was on the toilet! Finally, at the time of the evening sacrifice, they gave up, and Elijah had his turn. He laid his sacrifice, soaked it with water to make it more difficult (I wonder where he got all the water after a 3-year drought). He then prayed to God, asking him to demonstrate that he is the God of Israel. In a very dramatic moment, fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, and even licked up all the water, demonstrating that Yahweh was the One True God. In his moment of victory, Elijah ordered all the prophets of Baal to be killed, after which the drought ended following Elijah's word.

Following his great victory, Elijah sank into the depths of despair when he heard that Jezebel was after him, and he was the most wanted person in Israel. He fled south, eventually reaching Mt. Sinai, where God had made the covenant with Moses a few hundred years before. Elijah sat there feeling very sorry for himself and having a good moan, until God asked him what he was doing there. He replied by saying that he was the only person in Israel who was faithful to God. However, God then told him that there were actually 7000 others in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal.

This episode introduces a very important concept in Old Testament understanding. The vast majority of people in both Israel and Judah were not wholeheartedly faithful to God, but worshipped idols instead, or mostly as well as going through the rituals of worshipping God. Archaeology has confirmed this, as in nearly every house that has been excavated from this period in Israel, idols have been found in the ruins. However, through all of Israel's history, there were always the faithful few, who did not worship Baal or other idols. These are known as the remnant. Elijah thought he was the only one, but there were actually 7001. The remnant of Israel were those with true faith in God, who would be preserved through the judgement, and would come into the blessings in the future. It was this remnant who responded with faith when the Messiah, Jesus, came, leaving the majority of Israel behind in unbelief.

Battles against Syria (Aram) (1 Kg 20, 22)

During this period there was a series of battles against Syria, or Aram. It is important that we distinguish the Syrians from the Assyrians. They are two distinctly different peoples.

Syria was not an empire in the same way as the later empires like Assyria or Babylon, but consisted of a confederation of city-states around the area of Damascus and Hamath, to the northeast of Israel, ruled by kings named Ben-hadad (Hadad being the Syrian name for Baal). In David's time, Syria was part of his empire, but it was lost during the time of Solomon. Several times, God used Syria to bring judgement on his people for their idolatry, especially Israel, the rebellious northern kingdom.

The only long-lasting influence of Syria was its language, Aramaic, which became the commercial and diplomatic language of the time, and by the time of Jesus became the language spoken by the ordinary people.

Battle of Qarqar - 853 BC

Also at this time, there was a historically significant battle, which is not actually mentioned in the Bible. Assyria was a rising power in the north, and a coalition of several nations, including Ahab of Israel, fought against Assyria and temporarily drove them back. The records of the Assyrians mention Ahab and his chariots as part of the enemy force.

Elisha the king-maker (2 Kg 1-8)

On Mount Sinai, God re-commissioned Elijah, telling him to anoint a new king in Syria and Israel, as well as a prophet to take his place, Elisha. After Elijah was taken up to heaven in the chariot of fire, Elisha took over Elijah's mantle and fulfilled God's instructions to Elijah to anoint the new kings. Jehu was anointed king over Israel, who accomplished the final destruction of the house of Ahab, as judgement for their idolatry.

Athaliah and the coup d'etat (2 Kg 11, 2 Chr 21-24)

Ahab had made peace with Judah, making a marriage alliance, in which his daughter Athaliah married Jehoram of Judah. However this almost led to disaster in Judah, as Athaliah brought Baal worship with her and led Judah into severe idolatry.

Following the death of her son, Ahaziah, Athaliah took power and became queen in her own right, and ruled like a tyrant. To remove any threat to her power, she killed all the rest of the royal family. This should be seen as a direct attempt to break off the line leading to the Messiah, one of many such attempts through the history of the Old Testament. However, Athaliah missed a little baby boy called Joash, who was rescued and kept protected in the temple until he was eight years old. One day the priest Jehoiada brought him out and declared him the rightful king over Judah, and Athaliah was killed.

Joash was a good king, who was faithful to God and who ruled well as long as the godly priest Jehoiada was still alive. Jehoiada and Joash renewed the covenant with God, and began religious reforms by destroying the altars to Baal. Unfortunately, in his later years, Joash was not faithful to God and the nation returned once again to idolatry.

The Prophet Joel

It is very difficult to be sure where to fit the prophecy of Joel into the history of Judah, as no historical events are mentioned in the book. However, it is possible that Joel prophesied during the later years of Joash, as idolatry was growing. Joel witnessed the complete devastation caused by a swarm of locusts as they ate every green plant in the area, and used this as a picture of the judgement of God that would come through the Assyrian armies, as well as the final judgement on the Day of the Lord. He called the people to repent of their sin and to return to God before it was too late.

Assyria and the Exile of Israel (Eighth century: 800 - 700 BC)

Jeroboam II and Uzziah - a time of unjust prosperity (2 Kg 14-15, 2 Chr 26)

The marriage alliance between Israel and Judah certainly brought its problems, but it did stop the war between the two nations and established a period of peace, which enabled both nations to become more prosperous.

The godly Uzziah (or Azariah) ruled in Judah, and gained significant victories against the Philistines, which unfortunately caused him to grow proud, and he even offered incense on the altar in the temple, which only the priests were allowed to do. As judgement, God struck him down with leprosy, making him ritually unclean, so he had to remain isolated from society. In the Old Testament law the job of priest was kept totally distinct from that of a king. The priests came from the tribe of Levi, and the king from Judah. Only Jesus came fulfilling the office of prophet, priest and king.

In the north, another king called Jeroboam ruled (Jeroboam II). He also was able to gain many victories over surrounding nations and to extend his borders. His nation also grew more prosperous, but this prosperity was built on injustice, of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. During this time of unjust prosperity, two prophets were called by God to address the sins of the nation, and to warn of impending judgement.

The Prophet Amos

The prophet Amos was a farmer from the southern kingdom who was called to bring the word of the Lord to the northern kingdom of Israel. He began his prophecy in a dramatic way, by standing at the shrine at Bethel and predicting judgement in turn against all the surrounding nations, including Judah. We can imagine the delight of the people listening to him, until he turned on Israel and condemned their own nation as well. Amos spoke out against the social injustice in Israel, how the rich were oppressing the poor, particularly by taking their land, just as Ahab had stolen Naboth's vineyard. Amos warned of impending judgement which came a few years later when the Assyrians took Israel into exile.

The Prophet Hosea

The prophet Hosea was from the northern kingdom and was called by God to act out his prophecy in an extremely personally demanding way. He was told to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him, and become a prostitute, and bear children who were not his. God then called Hosea to buy her out of slavery and take her once again as his wife. This was a dramatic representation of the relationship of Yahweh with his people, Israel. God had entered into a marriage covenant with Israel on Mt. Sinai. However, his people had been unfaithful to him by worshipping idols, committing spiritual adultery (and physical adultery!). Through the message of Hosea, God was showing his loving kindness in giving Israel another chance to repent and to return to him.

The rise of Assyria

In his prophecy, Amos declared that the lion was roaring. God was raising up a new enemy who would be his tool of judgement against his people for their idolatry. These were the Assyrians, who used the lion as one of their symbols.

The Assyrians were a formidable enemy, who delighted in fighting and being cruel to people. In the British Museum in London there are several rooms full of wall panels from the Assyrian palaces, almost all of which depict battle scenes. After capturing a city, they would torture and kill many people and leave a pile of skulls outside the city to remind the people what would happen if they failed to pay their taxes or dare to rebel against Assyrian rule.

Also in the British Museum, there is another room full of panels showing King Sennacherib on a lion hunt. The kings appeared to enjoy demonstrating their great power and strength by the large number of lions they killed.

The Prophet Jonah

Assyria is the setting for the Book of Jonah. Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, and preach God's judgement against it. The reason Jonah ran away was not that he was frightened, but that he did not want to preach to Israel's worst enemy Assyria. The danger was that they might repent, and God might forgive them! This of course is exactly what happened when Jonah did eventually reach Nineveh after his little adventure in the belly of the fish (or whale). Jonah was very displeased that they had repented, and God had to teach Jonah an important lesson. From this book, we see God's heart for the nations, even back in the Old Testament.

The Prophet Nahum

The prophecy of Nahum was also addressed to the Assyrian capital Nineveh. It seems that the repentance in Nineveh at the time of Jonah was short-lived, and the Assyrians soon returned to their old ways. About 150 years later Nahum vividly predicted its destruction as God's vengeance on the barbaric way they had treated other nations, especially Israel. This finally happened in 612 BC, when Nineveh fell to the Babylonians, after the Assyrian empire had collapsed from within.

Ahaz and the coalition against Assyria - 'The Syro-Ephraimite War' (2 Kg 16, 2 Chr 28)

Because of the threat of Assyria, King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah of Israel joined in a coalition against their common enemy. They asked Ahaz king of Judah whether he wanted to join them in this coalition. When Ahaz refused, they plotted to put another king in his place, who would support them. Instead of joining the coalition, Ahaz asked Assyria to help him against the coalition of Israel and Syria. Naturally, Assyria was all too pleased to agree to this, and as a result Judah lost her independence by becoming a vassal state of Assyria, which involved paying taxes and to Assyria and worshipping Assyrian gods (not a great problem to Ahaz). The Assyrians sent their armies south, first conquering Syria in 732 BC, then Israel in 722 BC.

The first part of the Book of Isaiah is set during this time (ch 7-12), where he vainly urges Ahaz not to put his trust in Assyria, but to trust in the Lord for his salvation from his enemies. He gave Ahaz a sign, saying that a young woman will bear a son called Immanuel (God with us), which foreshadowed a much greater fulfilment 700 years later (Is 7:14).

The fall of Samaria (2 Kg 17) - KEY DATE: 722 BC

Following the reign of Jeroboam II, the northern kingdom of Israel collapsed. They had five kings in about 20 years, most of whom killed the previous one. Finally the Assyrians came and captured the nation, then besieged and took the city of Samaria. This was the end of the northern kingdom, because of the idolatry practised by the people, and particularly because of 'the sin of Jeroboam'.

After they captured a nation like Israel, the Assyrian practice was to kill many of the inhabitants, after torturing them first. Many of the remainder were taken into exile, and scattered to various different places around the empire, where they would intermarry with the local inhabitants. This caused the captured peoples to lose all their national, cultural and religious identity, which explains why the ten tribes of Israel are now lost.

A mixture of peoples were then brought from around the empire to repopulate the captured area, which in Israel was the origin of the Samaritans. These were despised by the Jews because they were half-breed, and had a different system of religion. In Jewish thinking there was no such thing as a 'Good' Samaritan. Even 700 years later, Zealous Jews would still never travel through Samaria to get from Jerusalem to Galilee, instead they would cross the Jordan and travel up the east side. In light of this it was quite a shocking thing for Jesus to pass through Samaria, and then to stop and talk with the woman at the well (particularly because she had had five husbands) (Jn 4).

Many of the inhabitants of the northern kingdom who were faithful to God had previously moved south to Judah, which explains why some people in New Testament times were able to trace their ancestry to one of the 10 northern tribes. An example is the old lady, Anna from the tribe of Asher, who recognised the infant Jesus in the temple (Lk 2:36).

Hezekiah and the last minute salvation of Jerusalem - KEY DATE: 701 BC (2 Kg 18-19, 2 Chr 29-32, Is 36-37)

The result of Ahaz asking Assyria to come to help Judah against the coalition of Israel and Syria, was that Judah became a vassal state of Assyria, paying taxes to Assyria, and worshipping their gods. When the godly Hezekiah came to the throne, he took advantage of a change of king in Assyria to introduce some radical reforms to return the nation to worship of Yahweh. Hezekiah is one of the two best kings of Judah, and was described as being like David, the ideal king. He repaired the temple, celebrated the Passover, broke down idols, and most importantly, he destroyed the high places.

However, the Assyrians saw this as rebelling against their rule, so they sent their armies in to recapture the rebellious nation. Led by Sennacherib, they captured all the cities of Judah (46 of them), with only Jerusalem left. No one successfully stood against the Assyrians, so it seemed that the last moment of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah had come. The Assyrian army began to besiege Jerusalem and challenged Hezekiah to give in. However also inside the city was the prophet Isaiah, who exhorted Hezekiah to trust God, and not to trust in Egypt to come and help him. Amazingly Hezekiah did trust God, and that night the angel of the Lord killed all the Assyrian army, leaving the city free. God had saved the city at its eleventh hour and 59th minute. The main theme of Isaiah is demonstrated through this episode. Hezekiah was tempted to call the Egyptian armies to come and help him, trusting that they could help him defeat the Assyrian army. Isaiah called Hezekiah to trust God for his salvation, which was what eventually happened.

The Prophet Isaiah

The prophet Isaiah lived in Jerusalem and had access to the royal court. He was called to be a prophet through a vision of the glory of God in the temple (Is 6). His name means 'Yahweh is salvation', and appropriately, the main theme running right through his long prophecy is trusting God for salvation. Both Ahaz and Hezekiah were challenged to trust in God to save them from their enemies. Sadly, Ahaz failed that challenge, but Hezekiah did trust God, and saw a wonderful deliverance from the Assyrians. The second part of Isaiah's prophecy looks forward in history, to a setting during the exile in Babylon. Again the same theme continues, of trusting God for salvation. He predicted a human saviour, Cyrus, who would allow God's people to return home, and a later saviour, the suffering servant who will bring a far more wonderful salvation in the future by dealing with the real problem of sin, finally bringing life in a glorious new heaven and a new earth.

The Prophet Micah

The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, but who lived in the countryside of Judah. He also predicted the invasion by Sennacherib in 701 B.C. Like Amos, he was outspoken against the injustice in the land, particularly the rich taking land from the poor. His note of hope is found in his prediction of the Shepherd King, who will come from Bethlehem, and who will lead his flock to safety.

The Last Years of Judah (Seventh and Sixth Centuries: 700 - 586 BC)

Manasseh - the worst of the worst (2 Kg 21, 2 Chr 33)

Ironically, the godly Hezekiah was followed by Judah's worst king, Manasseh. He reversed all the reforms of Hezekiah and reintroduced all the idolatry, rebuilding the Baal temples and the high places, and worst of all, he burnt his son as an offering to Molech. Remember his son was the next king of Judah, the son of David, in the line to the Messiah, so this was yet another threat to the Messianic line. In Hezekiah and Manasseh we have yet another example of a godly king who raised a totally evil son, instead of bringing him up in the ways of God.

Because of the sin of Manasseh, God declared judgement on Judah, that Jerusalem will be destroyed (2 Kg 21:10-15). Evil kings following Manasseh are described as walking in the ways of Manasseh.

The amazing thing is that later in his evil life, Manasseh actually humbled himself before the lord and repented for his sin (2 Chr 33:12). In the Apocrypha, there is a wonderful prayer of repentance, called 'The Prayer of Manasseh'. Even though it was probably written many years later, and not by Manasseh, it still conveys the repentant heart that Manasseh must have had. The marvellous truth here is that no one, however evil, is beyond the forgiveness of God if they genuinely repent - and we will meet Manasseh in heaven.

Josiah - the best, but too little too late (2 Kg 22-23, 2 Chr 34-35)

After Manasseh's son Amon's brief reign, Josiah became king at the age of eight. He was probably the best king after David. From an early age, he sought after God, and began some reforms, including having the temple repaired after the years of neglect during Manasseh's reign. One day, the high priest found a dusty old scroll in a long-forgotten room in the temple. This was the law of God. He immediately took it to Josiah, who read it, and immediately tore his clothes in repentance, realising that God's wrath was on the nation because of their disobedience.

He made a covenant before God to obey the law of the Lord, and his reforms became more serious. He purged the land of idolatry, and broke down the high places. He even spread his reforms into the old northern kingdom, and kept the Passover for the first time in many years.

However, Josiah's reforms were too little and too late. Because of the dreadful rule of Manasseh, God had pronounced judgement on Judah (2 Kg 21:11-15). All Josiah could do, was to delay it a few years. Finally, Josiah was foolishly killed in battle against the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho, who was marching north to support Assyria against Babylon, and the last bright light in Judah was extinguished.

Events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem (2 Kg 23-25, 2 Chr 36)

The final years of Judah are quite complicated to understand, as it was a time of political ferment in the whole region of the ancient Near East. After the death of Josiah, his son Jehoahaz became king, but he was taken away by the Egyptians and replaced by Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah. Jehoiakim appears in Jeremiah's prophecy where he had such a contempt for the word of the Lord that he burnt the original copy of Jeremiah when it was read to him.

The Battle of Carchemish - KEY DATE: 605 BC

This battle is one of the turning points in ancient history, when world power shifted from Assyria to Babylon. Egypt was defeated, what was left of Assyria was destroyed, and the last relics of the Hittite empire were wiped out. Also, as a result, Judah became a vassal state of Babylon.

The Babylonians

Under Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon had rebelled against rule by Assyria as the Assyrian empire began to collapse, and regained their independence. Nebuchadnezzar then led his armies against the Assyrian cities of Nineveh, Calah and Asshur, and captured them, making himself an empire.

The Babylonians came three times and took the people of Judah away into exile. The first exile was shortly after the Battle of Carchemish, when Daniel was taken, along with the best young men, in order to be trained to be part of the Babylonian civil service.

Later, following rebellions in 598 BC, they returned a second time and besieged and captured the city without destroying it, taking many people, including Jehoiachin, the last Davidic king, and placing his uncle Zedekiah on the throne of Judah as a puppet king under Babylonian authority. One of the thousands of people taken in this second exile was the young prophet Ezekiel.

The Destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon (2 Kg 25, 2 Chr 36, Jer 52) - KEY DATE: 586 BC

In 586 BC, Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, rebelled against Babylonian rule by joining an alliance with Egypt, even though Jeremiah urged Zedekiah to submit to the yoke of Babylon. The Babylonians came a third time, and once again besieged the city, and captured it. This time they destroyed everything in it, including the temple, leaving a heap of ruins. King Zedekiah was blinded and taken to Babylon, along with a third and smaller group of exiles, leaving only the very poor people in the land, under a governor called Gedaliah.

The destruction of Jerusalem is the event which is predicted the largest number of times in the Old Testament, from Deuteronomy through most of the books of the prophets, and came as God's judgement on the persistent idolatry of his people.

There were 3 separate deportations from Judah, as follows:

Exile Date What happened?
1st exile 605 BC Royalty, and promising young people taken to serve in Babylon, including Daniel
2nd exile 598 BC City besieged, largest number taken, including Ezekiel
3rd exile 586 BC City destroyed, more taken, only poorest left

The prophets during the last years of Judah

Several prophets brought the word of the Lord during the turbulent years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. These were Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah.

The Prophet Jeremiah

The prophet Jeremiah was a contemporary of Josiah, and was called to be a prophet as a young man. He acted out many of his prophecies. For example, he was called to remain unmarried as a symbolic action to show that there was no hope for the future in Judah. His main theme was to call the people to repentance. If the people would turn from their idolatry, then God will turn from the judgement he is threatening, in the form of enemies coming from the north (Babylon). He showed the shallow nature of Josiah's reforms, in that they did not change the hearts of the people. In his famous Temple Sermon, he spoke boldly against the popular superstitious trust in the presence of the temple to protect Jerusalem, and as a result he was put on trial for his life. One characteristic of the book of Jeremiah is that we are given great insight both into the events of his own life and his involvement in the political events during the reign of Zedekiah, but also into his personal struggles with his calling to be a prophet, expressed in his 'Confessions'. Just before Jerusalem fell, he made a symbolic purchase of some land, demonstrating that one day, life will return to normal in Judah. He also looked forward to the day when God will make a New Covenant, which will be different from the Old Covenant by being inward and universal and bringing forgiveness of sins (Jer 31:31-34).

The prophet Zephaniah

The Prophet Zephaniah may have been the great-grandson of King Hezekiah, and grew up during the dreadful reign of Manasseh. He began to prophesy during the early years of Josiah's reforms. In apocalyptic language, he predicted the dreadful Day of the Lord which will come on Judah, but that there was hope for the remnant who repent.

The Book of Habakkuk is in a different format from other prophecies in that it records a dialogue between Habakkuk and God. Habakkuk questions God, asking him why he allows such injustice and violence to continue in the nation. God replies by saying that he will use the Babylonians to judge his people Judah. To this, Habakkuk responds with horror, saying that the Babylonians are even worse, and asking how could God possibly use them to judge his people. God's reply was that in time Babylon will also be destroyed, but the righteous people shall live through the judgement by their faith in God (Hab 2:4).

The Exile in Babylon (2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 36, Jeremiah 52) (Sixth century: 605 - 539 BC)

The impact of the Exile

With the exile, the Jews lost everything. It was a shattering event to the nation. They lost their land, their king, their city, and their temple, and seemingly lost their God as well.

One of the gravest mistakes made by the nation of Judah was complacency. They had a tendency to take God's promises as unconditional. They believed that nothing could alter the fact that they were God's people, that they would always occupy the land, that God would always dwell in the temple, and that there would always be a son of David ruling in Jerusalem. Whatever they did, however evil, God would always be with them and protect them against their enemies. Popular understanding believed that the mere physical presence of the temple guaranteed their security in the land. Several of the prophets, including Jeremiah, attempted to shake the people from this complacency, warning them that the Day of the Lord would not be good news for them if they did not repent and remain faithful to God. The exile would have totally shattered these false illusions, but particularly caused them to question the true nature of God's promises. Were they dependent on their behaviour after all?

The exile was God's punishment for their persistent idolatry, and their unfaithfulness to the covenant of Moses. For about 800 years since the Exodus there had been a perpetual problem of idolatry in Israel. The exile appears to have worked, as idolatry seems not to be such a problem afterwards. To say it another way: Moses had led Israel out of Egypt, but it took the exile to get Egypt out of Israel.

The Book of Lamentations

The sad Book of Lamentations was probably written by Jeremiah as he watched the people being marched in chains out of Jerusalem to exile in Babylon. It consists of five laments, each of which are written so that each verse begins with successive letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Even in the sadness, Jeremiah does not lose sight of the hope, because the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end (Lam 3:22).

The Prophet Obadiah

The short prophecy of Obadiah was possibly given shortly after the fall of Jerusalem. This was against the nation of Edom, the descendants of Esau, the older brother of Jacob the Patriarch. They are condemned for their pride, but especially for gloating against their brother Judah and plundering their property when they were taken into exile.

Policy of the Babylonians

In contrast to the Assyrians, who scattered their captured peoples, so they lost all national, religious and cultural identity, the Babylonians relocated the Jews and other captured people to colonies outside the city of Babylon. This enabled the Jews to remain together and to maintain their cultural identity.

The Prophet Ezekiel

In this colony of Jews outside Babylon we meet the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel had been taken into exile when 25 years old, about ten years before Jerusalem was destroyed. On his 30th birthday, the day he would have become a priest if he were still in Jerusalem, he was having his quiet time, probably a rather sad one! He saw a dark cloud appear on the horizon, and as it came closer, he began to see strange things in it, living creatures, wheels full of eyes and a throne with someone sitting on it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God. What was really surprising was that the glory of God had appeared in Babylon, the most godless place on earth!

Later Ezekiel had another vision which explained this.This time he was taken in the Spirit and given a guided tour of the temple, and was shown all the idolatry taking place there. The priests had their back to the altar and were worshipping the sun, there were rooms covered with pictures of revolting creepy-crawlies being worshipped by the elders of Israel. Then Ezekiel saw the glory of God leaving the Holy of Holies and being removed from the temple, leaving it open for destruction.

Ezekiel was called by God to act out his message in rather dramatic, if not unusual, ways. Again he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile until it happened, after which he began to predict hope to the dry bones in exile, and a return to a glorious future in the land which, because he was a priest, he described in terms of a glorious new temple.

The Prophet Daniel

Daniel was taken to Babylon as a young man and trained in the Babylonian civil service, where he began to get a reputation with his God-given ability to interpret dreams. He was a contemporary of Ezekiel, who ministered to the exiles outside the city, and so they probably did not come into contact with each other. Daniel's ministry was in the Babylonian and Persian courts, where he made a courageous witness to the one true God before the successive kings.

The underlying theme of the Book of Daniel is that God is sovereign over the nations, he is the one who raises up empires and throws them down. Through a series of visions, Daniel was shown future events through the inter-testamental period. There will be a series of empires, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, and in that time God's kingdom will come, which will last forever and overthrow all other empires.

One day while reading Jeremiah, Daniel read that the exile would be for 70 years. Realising that the 70 years were almost over, he began to pray, repenting for the sins of the nation and asking that God would allow them back to the land (Dan 9).

Exilic Psalms

In exile, many of the people settled down and made the most of their situation. They became quite prosperous and felt quite at home in Babylon. However, there were the minority who sorely missed Jerusalem and the worship of God there. They expressed their longing to return home in some Psalms which were written in exile, the songs of Zion. An example is Psalm 137, "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion".

Also available:

1: Creation and Patriarchs 2: Exodus and Wilderness
3: Conquest and Monarchy 4: Divided Kingdom and Exile
5: Return from Exile 6: 400 Silent Years