Thursday, February 16, 2017

Judah Was Taken into Exile ... And Then What Happened???

The "House of Ahiel" in Jerusalem, Destroyed by Babylonians in 586 B.C.

As you read through the Old Testament, do you ever get confused about the order of events during the years of the Exile? In English Bibles, 2 Chronicles ends and then the book of Ezra begins. But where does Daniel fit in? Or Ezekiel? If Ezekiel is in Exile, why is he writing to people back in Judah? What about the reference to Jehoiachin at the end of 2 Kings? When did that happen?

Most of the chronology of the Old Testament is relatively clear. Genesis provides a straightforward storyline from the time of creation to the time of Joseph. Exodus through Deuteronomy covers the time between the Egyptian sojourn to the end of the Wilderness Wanderings. And Joshua through 2 Chronicles give us the history from the Conquest to the Exile.

However, once we come to the time of the Exile, things get rather confusing. Information must be pieced together from several books (2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) and then synthesized with the history of the ancient Near East in order to get a complete picture. The information below is intended to help you understand how the various strands of the OT text and information from secular history work together to tell one continuous story.

Taken into Exile

Jeremiah 25:11-12 predicted that the Exile would last for 70 years, one year for each of the missed Sabbaths during the 490-year period when the kings reigned (cf. 2 Chr 36:20-21). One of the best suggestions for the 70 years of the Exile is that it began when Nebuchadnezzar first took a portion of the Judeans with him back to Babylon in 605 B.C., and that it ended when Zerubbabel led the first group of Exiles back to the land in (possibly) 536 B.C. And although we refer "the Exile" as one event, the deportation of the Judeans actually happened in a series of waves. The year 586 B.C. is one of the key dates of OT history that I teach to my students to help them remember when the Exile happened, but that date actually occurred in the middle of the Exile, not at the beginning of it. Here's what happened:

First Wave of Deportations (approx. 605 B.C.)
2 Kgs 24:1; 2 Chr 36:5-7—King Jehoiakim of Judah had paid tribute to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for 3 years, but then he rebelled and Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem. Although Nebuchadnezzar threatened to deport him, it seems that Jehoiakim was allowed to remain on his throne in Jerusalem. However, Nebuchadnezzar carried off vessels from the Temple back to Babylon.
Dan 1:1-7—At this time, he also deported “some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace” (ESV). Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were taken to Babylon with this first group.

Second Wave of Deportations (approx. 597 B.C.)
2 Kgs 24:10-16; 2 Chr 36:9-10—Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem once again, and Jehoiachin (after only 3 months on the throne) was forced to surrender. He was deported to Babylon along with most of the population of Jerusalem and the treasuries of the palace and Temple. It seems that Ezekiel also was deported at this time, which is why he was sitting in Exile but sometimes writing to people back in the homeland.

Third Wave of Deportations (approx. 586 B.C.)
2 Kgs 25:1-21; 2 Chr 36:11-21—Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem once again, this time to quell the rebellion of Zedekiah. This time, not only were the people and treasures of Judah taken into Exile, but the city of Jerusalem was burned and left in ruins. Since the city and the temple were both destroyed in this attack and since the kingdom of Judah ceased to exist at this point, this is the "key date" that I make my students memorize for the Exile of the Southern Kingdom.

So the Exile began in 605 B.C. but was not in full force until 586 B.C.

Babylonian & Persian Kings

Meanwhile, what was going on in Babylon during the Exile? How does biblical history of the Exile fit into the timeline of the Babylonian and Persian kingdoms? Here is a list of the Babylonian and Persian kings from this period and the biblical events that took place under their reigns. Notice how the books of Daniel, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Jeremiah, and even Isaiah are woven together:

Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.  Reigned: 605-562 B.C.
Biblical Events: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd deportations of Judah (see the explanation above). Destruction of Jerusalem (2 Kgs 25:1-21; 2 Chr 36:11-21). Nebuchadnezzer had some dreams interpreted by Daniel (Dan 2 & 4), threw Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego into the fiery furnace (Dan 3), and was humbled by God for seven years when he went temporarily insane (Dan 4).

Evil-Merodach, king of Babylon.  Reigned: 562-560 B.C.
Biblical Events: Evil-Merodach pardoned Jehoiachin (who had been taken to Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar's second deportation), released him from prison, and allowed him to sit daily at the king’s table (2 Kgs 25:27-30).

Neriglissar, king of Babylon.  Reigned: 560-556 B.C.

Labaši-Marduk, king of Babylon.  Reigned: 556 B.C.

Nabonidus, king of Babylon.  Reigned: 555-539 B.C.
Nabonidus was frequently out of the capital due to his religious loyalties to the god “Sin” instead of to Marduk, the patron god of the city of Babylon. Consequently, his son Bel-šar-uṣur (a.k.a., Belshazzar) reigned in his absence.
Biblical Events: On one occasion while Nabonidus was away from the capital, Belshazzar threw a feast and used the vessels from the Temple of Yahweh. A supernatural hand appeared and wrote a message of judgment on the wall which Daniel interpreted for Belshazzar (Dan 5). Given the fact that Belshazzar was the second highest ruler in the kingdom (since Nabonidus was the first), he could only offer Daniel the position of "third highest ruler in the kingdom" (Dan 5:7, 29).

Cyrus II, king of Persia.  Reigned: 559-530 B.C.
Cyrus’s troops captured Babylon in 539 B.C. and a few days later he marched triumphantly in and incorporated the kingdom of Babylon into his growing empire. Unlike the Assyrians and Babylonians who deported inhabitants of conquered lands to help keep the peace, Cyrus did the exact opposite. He allowed the deported inhabitants of Babylon to return to the lands of their origin. He did this not only for the Israelites, but for other people groups as well. By doing his subjects a favor, he hoped to win the support of the masses and keep rebellions to a minimum. What Cyrus did not realize was that God's hand of providence was fulfilling prophecies made through Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Biblical Events:  In 538 B.C., Cyrus decreed that the Judeans could return to their land to rebuild their cities and temple (2 Chr 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4), thus fulfilling Jeremiah's prophecy about the exile lasting 70 years (Jer 25:11-12). It is also important to note that Cyrus’s decree was prophesied by Isaiah more than 150 years before it occurred (Isa 44:24-45:13).

The Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum

So there you have it: a timeline for the years of the Exile that pulls together crucial information from various books of the Bible and from history. Easy? Not really. Studying the Bible takes hard work. Worth it? Definitely. By digging into the details, we grow stronger in our faith. Knowing that the Bible is rooted in solid history encourages us to trust the Author with our lives.