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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Road to Babylon


  1. Which two Old Testament characters complained that they couldn’t speak?
  2. Who condemned worship of the queen of heaven?
  3. Which prophet had no family?
  4. What’s the connection between Assyria and Babylon?
  5. Who is Nebuchadnezzar?
  6. Why did Daniel end up in Babylon?
  7. Who refused to eat expensive food?
  8. What people were compared to inexpensive figs?
  9. What’s the connection between Jehoiakim’s replacement Zedekiah and his uncle Mattaniah?
  10. Why might Jeremiah and Kings have been written by the same person or close friends?

When God called him Jeremiah, a relatively well-off country priest (Jer 8, 32), complains he can’t  speak well, just as Moses did before, and Paul after (Jer 1). Judah is enjoying financial and spiritual success, so Jeremiah’s message of doom and gloom is, not surprisingly, unpopular. But Isaiah has already prophesied that Judah will be conquered. The prophet Nahum has written of the fall of Nineveh (Sennacherib’s Assyrian capital) to the Medes and Chaldeans (Babylonians), and disaster looms.

The book of Kings would be so much more triumphant if it ended with Josiah. But events overtake the writer compiling it. The young king dies in battle against the Egyptians (Assyria’s, and now Babylon’s enemy) and is followed by his son Jehoahaz. The Egyptians takes Jehoahaz prisoner and put his brother Jehoiakim on the throne (2 Ki 23). Jeremiah prophesies Jehoahaz will never return (Jer 22). At the same time the prophet Habakkuk wonders how God can use such evil nations as Assyria and Babylon, but God tells him to wait.

Jeremiah preaches in the Temple (Jer 26) declaring God’s judgment on Jerusalem and its evil practices (including making cakes for the queen of heaven and burning children, Jer 7). While some call for Jeremiah’s death, others point out that he’s only saying what prophets before him have said (Jer 26). Assyria and Egypt attack Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Meanwhile Jeremiah advises an alliance with Babylon, prophesying against Philistia and Egypt (46, 47) but to no effect. His friend Baruch is loyal and sides with him, rejecting the power family connections could have brought. Baruch reads Jeremiah’s scroll (presumably including his prophecies) then hides. The king burns the scroll and Jeremiah makes a copy (36), adding further writings which grow progressively less hopeful of repentance. God declares that Jeremiah must never marry since all children in Jerusalem will be condemned (16), leaving him a very lonely representative of a God whose people have left Him.

Jeohiakim ends up serving Babylon for three years. Refugees flee to Jerusalem, including the Rechabites (Jer 35), descendants of the faithful man Jonadab (2 Ki 10:15). False prophets continue to advise the king (Jer 23, 28), inspiring rebellion but failing to inspire faithfulness in the people or make genuine predictions (thus proving their falsity). Jeremiah continues to be persecuted—attacked by his brothers (Jer 12), put in stocks (20), imprisoned (37), and thrown in a well (38). When Jehoiakim finally rebels, Nebuchadnezzar replaces him with his brother/uncle Zedekiah (Mattaniah, 2 Ki 24, 2 Ch 36, Jer 52—note, the words in Jer 52:1-2 are identical to 2 Ki 24:18-19, suggesting the same or closely related authors). Jeremiah is left behind while Jehoikim and the well-educated youth of the city (including Daniel) are taken to exile in Babylon (2 Ki 24) together with the temple treasures. Jeremiah compares the exiles to “good figs” (Jer 24), unlike Jerusalem’s remnant. Traditionally, the Babylonians did indeed take the “cream” of their enemies’ youth to inculcate and train them as leaders (Dan 1).

Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles (Jer 29), telling them to settle into their new lives for 70 years. God, not His exiled people, will destroy Babylon (Jer 51), Jeremiah says, sending the quartermaster Seraiah to read his book and throw it into the Euphrates as a symbol of Babylon’s future fall (Jer 51).

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