Cultural change

The Israelites’ exile into Babylon created a situation in which their lives were strongly influenced by the Babylonian culture. It is likely there was a deliberate attempt by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, to wipe out any remembrance of their former way of life. The book of Daniel opens with a recount of the events that led up to their captivity. He said, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god” (Daniel 1:1-2).

The Hebrew word translated vessels in Daniel 1:2, keliy (kel – ee´) refers to something prepared (3627). It is derived from the word kalah which means to cease, be finished or perish (3615). Although the instruments that were taken were not identified, it can be assumed that they were critical and were taken so that worship services would be interrupted, or perhaps even permanently terminated. According to Daniel’s record, certain young men from the king of Judah’s household were also brought into king Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in order to indoctrinate them into the Chaldean culture. Daniel said these young men were, “children in whom there was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4).

Four young men were singled out by the king’s servant and given new names, a sign of conversion or adoption of the Babylonian gods they were expected to worship. Daniel said, “Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego” (Daniel 1:6-7). In spite of the extreme pressure they must have felt to conform to king Nebuchadnezzar’s demands; Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refused to cooperate with their captor’s subtle attempts to brainwash them. It says of Daniel that “he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). The Hebrew term for defile has to do with reputation and is associated with the kinsman redeemer who was expected to “raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance. Thus the kinsman redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative” (1350).

 

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Repentance (Step 2)

Godly sorrow, the first step in the process of repentance, is marked by an attitude of humility that recognizes the damage that one’s sin has caused. A description of godly sorrow can be found in Lamentations 2:10. It says, “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads:  they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.”

Perhaps, the most obvious sign that a person has repented of his sins is the absence of pride. Typically, guilt subsides when true repentance begins to take place. A lack of guilt enables the sinner to see that what has happened is a matter of cause and effect. God is not responsible for our bad fortune, he is the one that tries to prevent us from doing harm. Lamentations 2:17 declares, “The LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in days of old.”

If God were not in control, there would be no reason to obey him. The fact that he does what he says he’s going to, proves to us that God is able to make things happen according to his plan and purpose for our lives. When we sin, we are trying to control or alter our own destiny. When we realize that we cannot alter the course of our lives in a positive way, we see that it is foolish to ignore God’s warnings and try to succeed without his help.

We reach the second step of repentance when we are willing to talk to God about what has gone wrong in our lives. We are instructed in Lamentations 2:19 to, “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches, pour out thine heart like water before the face of the LORD: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of the young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.” The Hebrew word translated arise, quwm (koom) is sometimes used to signify empowering or strengthening (6965). In this instance, it is most likely suggesting a restoration of relationship and communication.

It is clear from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the desired outcome of repentance is a restored relationship with God and our fellow man (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). The key to a right relationship with God is an understanding that his commandments are not optional. It is easy to believe that we are free to choose whether or not we want to live according to God’s word, but the fact of the matter is that there will always be negative consequences if we choose to disobey him.

Having a relationship with God is a prerequisite for forgiveness. God does not forgive strangers. The type of relationship that is necessary is not only personal, but also intimate. The phrase in Lamentations 2:19, “pour out thine heart like water before the LORD” is similar to a phrase used by king David in Psalm 62. David said, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him” (Psalm 62:8). The idea being we are to express sincere and intense conviction when we communicate with God.

Disobedience

The disobedience of God’s people involved more than just breaking his commandments. At the heart of the Mosaic Law was an intent to establish a relationship between God and his people that involved ongoing communication. Many times, God’s people were encouraged to listen to the voice of the LORD and to pay attention to his instructions, but the people chose to ignore the God that had delivered them from bondage.

The final act of disobedience by the remnant of people left in Judah was leaving the Promised Land to live in Egypt, the place that they had been delivered from. It says in Jeremiah 43:7, “So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.” The residence of Pharaoh was in Tahpanhes, so most likely this was a city that catered to his needs, a place where jobs as household servants were abundant.

After the last remnant of people left Jerusalem, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. He said, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein” (Jeremiah 44:2). The lack of life in Jerusalem was a testament to the complete desolation that God had brought on his people. No one remained because there were none that had been faithful to his commandments.

In a final act of retaliation, God swore to destroy the remnant that had departed to Egypt (Jeremiah 44:14). If this weren’t bad enough, God’s people made it clear that their relationship with the LORD was over. They would worship the queen of heaven, Ishtar, instead. They said to Jeremiah, “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil” (Jeremiah 44:16-17).

Trouble makers

After the fall of Jerusalem, it says in Jeremiah 39:9-10, “Then Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained. But Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard left the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.” Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan governor over the cities of Judah and had Jeremiah released from prison. “Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and dwelt with him among the people that were in the land” (Jeremiah 40:6).

Everything was fine until the captain of the forces which were in the fields, that had escaped with king Zedekiah when he tried to run away from Nebuchadnezzar, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah governor in the land (Jeremiah 40:7). The leader of the men, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, wanted to kill Gedaliah and take back control of Judah. Even though the captains of the forces tried to warn Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:13-14), it says in Jeremiah 41:2, “Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.”

A power struggle between Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and Johanan the son of Kareah resulted in Ishmael escaping to the Ammonites and Johanan and all the military men that were with him looking to Jeremiah for advice about what to do next. Jeremiah was asked to pray to the LORD and was told that whatever God said, the men would obey his instructions (Jeremiah 42:6). Jeremiah received this message:

If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the LORD: for I am with you  to save you, and to deliver you from his hand. And I will shew mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land. But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the voice of the LORD your God, Saying, No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell: and now therefore here the word of the LORD, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; If ye wholly set your face to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there; then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt;  and there ye shall die.

Afterwards, Johanan accused Jeremiah of lying to him (Jeremiah 43:2). In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, it says in Jeremiah 43:5-7, “But Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, took all the remnant of Judah, that were returned from all nations, whither they had been driven, to dwell in the land of Judah: even men, and women, and children, and the king’s daughters, and every person that Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah. So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.”

Zedekiah’s escape

King Nebuchadnezzar’s attack of Jerusalem lasted from the ninth year and tenth month of Zedekiah’s reign over Judah until the eleventh year and fourth month, on the ninth day of that month. The exact date of the fall of Jerusalem is known to be July 18, 586 B.C. During the nineteen month siege upon his country, king Zedekiah pretended to believe Jerusalem would survive Nebuchadnezzar’s attack, but in reality, Zedekiah knew the end was coming.

When Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, all his princes, and all his army came against Jerusalem, and sat in the middle gate, a strategic vantage point for invaders; it says in Jeremiah 39:4: “And it came to pass, that when Zedekiah the king of Judah saw them, and all the men of war, then he fled, and went forth out of the city by night, by the way of the king’s garden, by the gate betwixt two walls: and he went out the way of the plain.” Zedekiah took with him all his princes and men of war and left the people of Jerusalem defenseless (Jeremiah 52:7-10).

Zedekiah’s plan of escape went against the counsel he received from Jeremiah. The LORD told Jeremiah, “And Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hands of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes” (Jeremiah 32:4). The Chaldean army overtook Zedekiah in the plans of Jericho and brought him to Nebuchadnezzar’s military headquarters (Jeremiah 39:5).

Zedekiah was appointed king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. after the first wave of captives was taken to Babylon (2 Kings 24:14, 17). Initially, Zedekiah did what Nebuchadnezzar wanted him to , but later Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon and sought assistance from the king of Egypt because Nebuchadnezzar “made him swear by God” that he would remain faithful to their agreement (2 Chronicles 36:13). It says of Zedekiah in 2 Chronicles 36:13 that “he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the LORD God of Israel.”

When Zedekiah stood before Nebuchadnezzar after he had been captured, Zedekiah was treated as a traitor. It says in Jeremiah 39:6-8, “Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah. Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with chains to carry him to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burnt the king’s  house, and the houses of the people with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem.”

Nebuchadnezzar’s barbaric treatment of Zedekiah was a type of psychological torture that was intended to cause him pain and anguish. Most likely, Zedekiah suffered from nightmares and perhaps depression as a result of seeing his family slaughtered before his eyes. The practice of putting out someone’s eyes after he has witnessed a personal tragedy suggests that Nebuchadnezzar was a ruthless disciplinarian that controlled others to the point that no one dared cross him. Zedekiah was foolish to think he could escape from Nebuchadnezzar’s army and paid dearly for his rebellion against the king of Babylon.

Not too hard

While the city of Jerusalem was under siege from king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Jeremiah was kept in prison so he couldn’t speak to the people and discourage them from fighting (Jeremiah 38:4). About halfway through a two-year battle that was eventually lost, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. “And Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it…And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver” (Jeremiah 32:6-7,9).

Jeremiah’s act of obedience to the Mosaic Law served two purposes. First, it was a sign of Jeremiah’s faith that he believed God would return his people to the Promised Land after their captivity was completed. Second, Jeremiah’s redemption of his cousin’s property demonstrated that normal economic activity was expected to resume after the exile. Judah’s captivity would not change the course of events. It was meant to reset, not alter the execution of God’s covenant with his people.

One of the main problems that existed at the time of Judah’s captivity was a lack of faith. No one really believed God could or would save his people. As a means of establishing his ability to do the impossible, God intended to destroy the city of Jerusalem, and then, to bring it back to life again. Jeremiah declared, “Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jeremiah 32:17). What was not too hard for God was to make his people want to obey his commandments. In other words, for God’s people to have faith in him.

One of the reasons the Israelites did not obey God was he had never punished them. In a sense, you could say, they had gotten away with their sins, and therefore, continued to do what they knew was not right. Also, there was probably a sense that God couldn’t or wouldn’t punish them, so there was no need for them to repent. In some ways, you could say God’s people were leading double lives. They offered sacrifices to God and continued to sin as if the two had nothing to do with each other; there was no connection in their minds.

God’s answer to the problem of disobedience or lack of faith was to give his people a desire to know  him, to have a personal relationship with him. God told his people they were to obey his voice (Exodus 19:5), but they had stopped listening. They were distracted by their sin and interest in accumulating wealth. God said to Jeremiah, “And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them” (Jeremiah 32:39). In essence, what God was saying was he would give his people only one option, they would obey him or they would not live in the Promised Land.

A coward

The kings of Israel and Judah had a responsibility as the earthly representative of God to defend and protect his people. In some instances, the king was considered a savior because God used him to deliver his people from their enemies (2 Kings 13:4-5). Like their Messiah, the king of Judah was endowed with special capabilities that enabled him to intercede for the people, and yet, many of Judah’s kings neglected their responsibilities and sought help from foreign kings (2 Kings 23:35).

King Zedekiah, the last king to rule over God’s people, had access to God  through the prophet Jeremiah. After Jeremiah repeatedly told the king and his people that Babylon was going to attack and destroy Judah, king Zedekiah began to seek counsel from Jeremiah secretly (Jeremiah 37:17). Although the king knew Jeremiah was telling him the truth, he had already made up his mind to disregard Jeremiah’s advice.

The reason king Zedekiah met with Jeremiah secretly was so that no one would know he planned to use the information Jeremiah provided to save himself from going into captivity. While the rest of the nation was deceived into thinking the king of Babylon was going to retreat as he had when the Egyptians came to assist Judah, king Zedekiah knew the end of his nation was nearing, and so, he distanced himself from Jeremiah to make it seem as though he wasn’t paying any attention to his message.

Jeremiah was placed in a dungeon and left for dead (Jeremiah 38:9), but king Zedekiah rescued him and arranged a meeting. It says in Jeremiah 38:14, “Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD, and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me.” Zedekiah used his position as king to gain an advantage over the prophet Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to reveal the future to him and Zedekiah intended to use the information for his own benefit.

Jeremiah told the king exactly what he needed to do to avoid Jerusalem being burned to the ground. The kings response showed his true motive for disobedience to God’s command was a lack of concern for anyone but himself. It says in Jeremiah 38:19, “And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me.” Jeremiah assured Zedekiah he would be safe if he obeyed the LORD and encouraged him to listen to the voice of the LORD (Jeremiah 38:20).

In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, Zedekiah chose to keep the truth hidden and threatened Jeremiah with death if he told anyone else what he revealed to the king (Jeremiah 38:24). In the end, Judah’s army believed they could withstand Nebuchadnezzar’s attack and many of the people waited inside the walls of the city until it was too late for them to surrender and save their own lives (2 Chronicles 36:17).