Understanding The Bible
The History of Israel:  Part 6e of 9
HEZEKIAH IN JUDAH (Period 2, Southern, continued), and
THE LAST CENTURY OF JUDAH (Periods 3 and 4, Southern)


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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible

    1. THE PERIOD OF AHAZ AND HEZEKIAH IN JUDAH (Period 2, Southern, continued)
      1. Ahaz (16 years)
        The reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah are contemporaneous with the last 40 years of Israel. Ahaz was a very evil king. During his reign Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Syria, attacked Jerusalem.

        Isaiah 7 tells how Isaiah was sent by God to assure Ahaz that Jerusalem would not fall. Ahaz spurned this assurance, however, and sent to Assyria for help. This (beside being a manifestation of disbelief in God) was a most unhappy political move, for it brought Judah into the Assyrian orbit. The results of this action will be seen in the next reign. At any rate, Tiglath Pileser attacked Syria, Rezin and Pekah turned north to defend their own lands, and Jerusalem was saved.
      2. Hezekiah (29 years)
        Hezekiah was one of Judah’s greatest and godliest kings. The great revival in his reign brings to an end the second period of decline and revival in Judah. The fall of Samaria soon after Hezekiah’s accession must have sobered Judah and helped promote the revival, which kept Judah from going into captivity with Israel at this time, Isaiah the prophet seems to have been Hezekiah’s chief advisor. How could Hezekiah help but be successful with such godly direction? Isaiah, as Elisha, was like God’s “chariot and horsemen” (2 Ki. 13:14).

        Hezekiah refused to continue the tribute to Assyria which his father had begun. From the Assyrian records we learn that all Syria and Palestine were in revolt. Sennacherib (705-631) had succeeded Sargon over Assyria. Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh had 71 rooms, 9880 feet of walls covered with sculptured stone slabs. In 701, Sennacherib invades the Westlands, conquering and terrifying the land. He invaded Judah and captured all of the land except Jerusalem; the Assyrian inscriptions name some 46 walled towns captured. Here the Biblical narrative begins. Hezekiah, frightened by Sennacherib, agreed to submit. But Sennacherib, still unsatisfied, sends an army against Jerusalem. God, through Isaiah, encourages Hezekiah, and promised him relief. In the night the angel of the Lord destroyed the Assyrian army.

        Sennacherib’s inscription, after mentioning the 46 places of Judah he captured, goes on, “And as for Hezekiah the Jew, who did not submit to my yoke.. .himself, like a caged bird, I shut up in Jerusalem his royal city...” Significantly he does not claim the capture of the city. Hezekiah’s position was made less vulnerable by piping water under­ground into Jerusalem. See 2 Chr. 33:30; Finegan, Siloam Inscription, pp.158-160, figs.68 and 69; Free, pp.211-212.

        After Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery he made a treaty with Babylon. From the human viewpoint, this was astute statesmanship. Babylon was Nineveh’s old enemy, and with remarkable foresight Hezekiah realized that the next upset of power would be Babylon’s overthrow of Assyria. Hezekiah’s showing the Babylonian emissaries his whole establishment was equivalent to making a treaty of friendship. God condemned this action, however, because it indicated trust in horses and chariots of heathen nations rather than God (Ps. 20:7).

        Judean contacts with Mesopotamia begin with Hezekiah and continue inter­mittently until the fall of Jerusalem. See note under Menahem (p. 60); also WBD, p. 57; W. F. Albright’s “A Brief History of Judah from the Days of Josiah to Alexander the Great, “ Bib. Arch. February, 1946, IX, 1, 1-16; Finegan, pp.185-189.
    2. THE LAST CENTURY OF JUDAH (Periods 3 and 4, Southern)
      As Hezekiah seems to have foreseen, empire now passes to southern Mesopotamia. The city of Babylon, a great world power in Abraham’s time, again becomes strong, bringing in the Neo-Baby Ionian Empire. In 612, the Medes and Baby­lonians destroyed Nineveh. That this once great proud city should fall so low was only its dessert, and from all subject peoples arose a chorus of hatred, gratitude, and new hope. Nineveh was never rebuilt. By 605, the Assyrian empire was no more and the new Babylonian empire had taken its place. Babylon’s greatest ruler was Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562).
      1. Manasseh (55 years)
        Perhaps Judah’s most wicked king. Jewish tradition says he sawed Isaiah asunder (Heb. 11:37). He begins Judah’s third decline. His reign was one of peace and prosperity because of his submission to Assyria. Both Esarhaddon and Aesurbanipal (two of the last Assyrian kings) report receiving tribute from him. He repented late in his reign (2 Chr. 33:llff.).
      2. Amon (2 years)
        Very wicked; his courtiers slew him.
      3. Josiah (31 years)
        Good king Josiah brings the third decline and revival to an end with another turning to God. Prominent in his revival was the finding of the lost book of the Law of Moses. Josiah died a tragic death at Megiddo, seeking to stop the Egyptian forces which were on their way to fight in Assyria and meant him no harm. Note the importance of the pass at Megiddo. Prob­ably more battles were fought there than at any other spot in Palestine. The place is called Armageddon in the N.T.

        Late in the reign of Josiah there appears another outburst of Hebrew prophecy at the hour of great need. The most prominent of these prophets was Jeremiah, about whom more is said later on. Habakkuk’s prophecy of the Babylonian invasion probably took place at this time. Zephaniah saw his vision of the Day of Wrath during Josiah’s reign, and Nahum may have prophesied about this time also.
      4. Jehoahaz (3 months)
        He succeeded his father Josiah. After only three months Pharaoh Necho, returning from Assyria, dethroned him and made his brother Jehoiakim king.
      5. Jehoiakim (11 years)
        Jehoiakim was a proud, self-willed, wicked king. He was constantly hampered in his wicked plans by the good nobles who had been placed in office by Josiah his father. The cult of the queen of heaven (Ashtoreth) was now eagerly and openly pursued. The women in particular were addicted to it, and they baked cakes on which the image of the goddess was formed. In these days Jeremiah proclaimed the unavoidability of captivity and suffered for his proclamation. “Almost singlehanded, for the long period of above 20 years, the gentle and timid Jeremiah, strong in a higher strength, stood forth for the Lord in opposition to the wicked power and fury of the kings, princes, and priests of Jerusalem. In his communings with his God we have glimpses of the dreadful expense of personal suffering at which this conflict was maintained by him; but in public, whether in prison or at large, in the palace or the temple, we never see him flinch from uttering the stern message committed to him.”

        Although Pharaoh Necho set Jehoiakim on his throne, he went over to Nebuchadnezzar (the Neo-Baby Ionian empire is now on the scene), became his vassal three years, and then rebelled. Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and took as hostages to Babylon certain young princes, among whom were Daniel and his three friends. This event, in 605, is the first deportation and marks the beginning of the captivity. Daniel lived and worked in the Gentile court at Babylon.
      6. Jehoiachin (3 months)
        Jehoiakim’s son Jehoiachin reigned about three months. At the end of this time (in 597) Nebuchadnezzar again came to Jerusalem, took Jehoiachin to Babylon, along with some 10, 000 of the leaders and artisans of the land. Among them was the priest Ezekiel, who became a great prophet as he ministered to the captive Jews in Babylon. This is the second deportation.
      7. Zedekiah (11 years)
        Nebuchadnezzar, upon taking Jehoiachin into captivity, set up Zedekiah as regent. He was a very weak character and seemed to wish to listen to Jeremiah, but the evil nobles whom Jehoiakim had put into office opposed Jeremiah (seeking to kill him) and Zedekiah followed their evil ways, although protecting Jeremiah,

        The people continued their worship of foreign deities. Jeremiah mentions many Babylonian and Egyptian cults which flourished in Jerusalem at this time, some even in chambers in the temple area. Jeremiah spent much time in prison during this reign.

        Zedekiah rebels against Babylon, evidently seeking help from Egypt. Again Nebuchadnezzar comes, this time determined to end the faithless Judean kingdom once for all. After a siege of a year and a half he captured the city and carried Zedekiah to Babylon, along with many of the people. Jerusalem, including Solomon’s temple, was thoroughly destroyed. This event, in 586, brings to an end the Hebrew kingdom of Judah.

        Jeremiah witnessed the fall of Jerusalem, and wrote Lamentations as an elegy over it. He was permitted to remain in Palestine with the poor of the land, who were left to keep the land from becoming wild.

        A few years ago 18 potsherds with writing in red ink in the Hebrew language were found in the gate of Lachish, the city next in importance to Jerusalem in Judah. They date from the time of the final fall of Judah and vividly describe the Babylonian attacks and destruction. A layer of ashes on the remains of the cities of Judah of this time also bears witness to the thoroughness of the Babylonian destruction. (On the Lachish letters, see Finegan, p. 160, fig. 70; R. S. Haupert’s “Lachish Frontier Fortress of Judah, “ Bib. Arch. December, 1938, I, 4, 28-32.

    To summarize: the Judean captivity came to pass in three deportations.

    1. 605, in reign of Jehoiakim, a few young nobles, among them Daniel and his three friends, were taken as hostages to Babylon, Dan. 1:1-6; 2 Ki. 24:1.
    2. 597, King Jehoiachin, together with some 10, 000 of the noble and artisan classes, including Ezekiel, were taken captive, 2 Ki. 24:10-16.
    3. 586, King Zedekiah, and some 4,600 Jews, were taken to Babylon, and Jerusalem destroyed, 2 Ki. 25; Jer. 39, 52.


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