Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "OLD TESTAMENT
The History of Israel: Part 6e
THE DIVIDED KINGDOM:
THE PERIOD OF AHAZ and
HEZEKIAH IN JUDAH (Period 2, Southern, continued),
THE LAST CENTURY OF JUDAH (Periods 3 and 4, Southern)
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
- DIVIDED KINGDOM (IV)
- THE PERIOD OF AHAZ AND
HEZEKIAH IN JUDAH (Period 2, Southern, continued)
- 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
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.
- Hezekiah (29
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.
- 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).
- Manasseh (55
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.).
- Amon (2 years)
Very wicked; his courtiers slew him.
- 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.
- Jehoahaz (3
He succeeded his father Josiah. After only
three months Pharaoh Necho, returning from Assyria, dethroned him
and made his brother Jehoiakim king.
- Jehoiakim (11
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.
- Jehoiachin (3
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.
- Zedekiah (11
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
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.
- 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.
- 597, King Jehoiachin,
together with some 10, 000 of the noble and artisan classes, including
Ezekiel, were taken captive, 2 Ki. 24:10-16.
- 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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