Jeremiah and the Babylonian Captivity
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Jeremiah and the Babylonian Captivity
Copyright © January 1, 2016 Douglas W. Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.
The Babylonian Captivity of Judah lasted approximately from 607-608 BC to 536-538 BC, depending on where one starts or ends counting. Most scholars consider the Decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4) in 538 BC to be the end point. Because Jeremiah insisted that the captivity would last seventy years, the 608 BC date is generally considered the beginning of the captivity. From the year 608 BC on, there were numerous dispersions, culminating in the final one in 586 BC. At first the diaspora consisted of the nobles; later, of the middle class, and finally, the city of Jerusalem and its’ temple were razed, and the poorest remnant was thrust out and forcibly replaced with foreigners.
That captivity not only included the southern kingdom of Judah, which was still in existence. It included many of the small nation-states around Judah as well. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, and its’ inhabitants had been dispersed amongst those states that had been absorbed by Assyria. Many of the refugees from the North took residence in those nation states because their political climates favored resistance against the empire. Judah was in league with many of those states. They supported one another to varying degrees in their resistance to the new threat from Babylon. When the Chaldeans usurped the Assyrian government, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took center stage as one of the greatest empire builders in the ancient Middle East up to that point in history. Amongst the last hold-outs against his rule were the rebel states of Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon, and of course, Judah.
The prophet Jeremiah was often viewed as a traitor against the Judean state, and a strong voice of dissent against the rebel alliances they made with the other nation states. He was constantly in trouble with the government, and was several times saved only by the fact that his hated message was in alignment with all the recognized prophets of the past, particularly Moses, whose writings could not be contravened.
Jeremiah insisted that the humiliation and captivity by Babylon would be for a very long time; in fact, for seventy years as we said above. His pronouncements against Israel/ Judah betray a dependency on the importance of the number seven, probably based on the Mosaic threat of seven-times judgment culminating in a removal of Israel from her promised land in order that the land would experience Sabbath rest (see below on Lev. 26).
Based on the Mosaic covenantal blessings and curses Jeremiah insists that Israel/Judah will experience a seventy year diaspora; one year of captivity for every year that the Israelites did not officially celebrate the seventh year as an agricultural, or “land” Sabbath, or the fiftieth year as a "Jubilee" Sabbath. (Every 49th and 50th years were back to back Sabbath years.) The seventy year judgment implies that there were at least 490 agricultural Sabbath years, including at least nine Jubilee years that, either fully or partially, had been violated. While Jeremiah does not elaborate on these facts, he strongly implies them. After the exile, the author/editor of 2 Chron. 36 (probably Ezra) states this unequivocally.
The commentary below is theological rather than textual. It is not just a commentary on Jeremiah’s prophecies, but on the most likely passages in the Pentateuch upon which Jeremiah is dependant as they relate to the seventy year captivity.
Leviticus 25. The seventh year was to be a sabbatical year, (verses 1-7) and the 50th year was a “Jubilee” Sabbath year (verses 8-17). The term Jubilee comes from the Hebrew word for ram’s horn (yobel [anglicized jubel]), which was blown at the beginning of the 50th year on the Day of Atonement. God promises to increase the produce of the land in the sixth year so that there would be enough in store for the seventh and eighth years. The eighth year they were allowed to sow for the produce of the ninth year (verses 20-22). Thus the back to back 49th and 50th year Sabbaths were provided for by the old produce (harvest) of the 48th year. Verse 19 states “Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety.” Safe dwelling in the land was conditioned on obedience to these Sabbath laws.
Leviticus 26: 27-35, 43. Moses warned ancient Israel that if they would not obey the covenant established through him on behalf of God, their nation would go captive into other nations. In the passage, he warns them to keep the Sabbaths (v. 2), and that if they break covenant, Yahweh will punish them “seven times [more]” (verses 18, 21, 24, 28). Their dispersal would allow the land to rest for a period equivalent to the time the land-Sabbaths had been neglected (verses 34, 35). After the land had received its’ full rest, the Diaspora would return from captivity to the land, humbly acknowledging their guilt (verse 43).
Jeremiah 25:8-14. The prophet, speaking for Yahweh, calls Nebuchadnezzar “My servant” who will bring Judah and the rebellious nations into 70 years of captivity, from which only Judah will ultimately return. All the rebels will be purged and their lands become a perpetual desolation. In fact, soon after the return from exile, all foreign marriages were dissolved (Ezra 10), and any former northern kingdom descendants were expected to assimilate into Judah. Those who refused were anathematized as foreigners from the covenant. The shunned northern sympathizers became known as the Samaritans because of their allegiance to the old northern kingdom centered in Samaria. Those who assimilated with the southern kingdom, along with natural Judah, became known as Judeans, or Jews.
Jeremiah 27. The prophesied judgment is highly specific. It is directed to several named nations (Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon. Philistia is not included here, but is referenced elsewhere as a part of the rebel alliance. We may assume that Judah is included from the context). This makes clear that God takes an active interest in all the nations, both in redemptive warning, and in chastising judgment. The prophecy specifically names Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon as the one who would rule over all those nations. His rule would last “until the time of his land comes; and then many nations and great kings shall make him serve them.” (Verse 7.) God uses Nebuchadnezzar to judge the nations, and then He uses Persia to destroy his empire. The captivity was specifically a Babylonian Captivity, and it would end only after the Babylonians were conquered by the next great empire – the Medo-Persian alliance.
Jeremiah 29:4-14. Only AFTER 70 years had been completed would their captivity come to an end. God commands the people not to rebel against their captors, but to settle in for the long haul. No matter how much complaining they would do, they were still fated to endure a full seventy year judgment. Therefore they needed to concentrate on raising their children and grand-children in anticipation of returning to the land. It was imperative that they recognize their situation was directly the result of God’s intervention in their history, and submit to their adversaries so that their persecution would be minimized. In doing so they would not be diminished, but multiply so that when the time of their restoration came, they would be capable of holding the land again.
2 Chronicles 36:15-21. The seventy years of captivity fulfilled the Sabbath rest that had been neglected by Israel just as Jeremiah had prophesied. They suffered one year of captivity for every neglected year of the seventh and 50th year land-Sabbaths. The land lay in desolation to fulfill approximately 490 years of failed Sabbaths. That takes us back to the reign of Saul, and implies that the Sabbath was ignored by Israel throughout most, if not all, of the kingdom period of their history. There may have been historical pockets of obedience to the Sabbath command, at least possibly under Josiah. It is likely that failure to observe could thus be extended back into the period of the judges. That is a sad commentary on man’s tendency to not take God’s Word seriously. But the Babylonian Captivity is proof that God is not mocked.
Many thanks to Steve Rudd and www.bible.ca for the amazing chart at the front of this article. He touches on many things that my small commentary passes over for the sake of brevity. I highly recommend further study on this subject there. This is a website worth studying for anyone interested in the history and archaeology of the Bible.
Doug Jerving is the publisher of the NewEdisonGazette.com. You may contact him at
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