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Biblical Chronology
Vol. 8, No. 11
November, 1996
Copyright © James B. Jordan 1996

Countdown to Exile

III: Warnings Against False Hopes

by James B. Jordan

The End of Jehoiakim’s Reign

We have seen that Jehoiakim rejected Jeremiah’s prophetic warnings at the beginning of his reign. Let us now make a year-by-year survey of his reign down to its end.

In the spring of 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish. In the summer, he conquered Palestine and Jerusalem, and took Jehoiakim and Daniel and his friends to Babylon. In the seventh month of that year (October), we enter the fourth year of Jehoiakim and the first year of Nebuchadnezzar by Jewish reckoning. After Nebuchadnezzar’s official crowning as King of Babylon, he took Jehoiakim back to Jerusalem and installed him as his vassal king. Also, this is the second year of Daniel’s education in Babylon, coming after his very brief partial first year. Meanwhile, Jeremiah told the people, and all the nations, that Nebuchadnezzar had been installed as world emperor by God, and that all should submit to him.

In the winter of 604 BC, Nebuchadnezzar completed his conquest of Palestine. In the summer of this year, Jeremiah was told by God to write up his prophecies and have Baruch read them to the people. At the beginning of Jehoiakim’s fifth year, in October, Baruch did so, and then Jehoiakim had the prophecies read to him. He rejected them and tried to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch. This year, beginning in October, is to be regarded as Jehoiakim’s first full year of servitude to Nebuchadnezzar, his first partial year apparently not being counted.

In the summer of 603 BC, Daniel and his friends graduated from their training. Soon after, God sent dreams to Nebuchadnezzar, which only Daniel could interpret. Daniel was elevated to power in the empire (Daniel 2). Consider the impact of this upon Israel. The political conservatives and nationalists would regard Daniel as a consummate traitor, while the faithful would rejoice that God had put a Godly man right next to the youthful king Nebuchadnezzar. Those who followed Jeremiah would see that God was righteous in putting the world under Nebuchadnezzar, because in effect the world was under the influence of the Godly Daniel. From this time forth, it was clear that to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar was to rebel against Daniel and God. In the fourth quarter of this year, we enter Jehoiakim’s 6th year of reign, and his second year of servitude to Nebuchadnezzar.

In 602 BC, in the fall, we move into Jehoiakim’s 7th year of reign and his third year of servitude.

Now we come to 601 BC. In the fall of that year, which begins the 8th year of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar was temporarily stalemated in a battle with Neco II of Egypt. Evidently this is when Jeremiah’s prediction that Egypt would take the Philistine city of Gaza was fulfilled. This disruption gave Jehoiakim the opportunity to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel, and God. Shortly thereafter, God punished Jehoiakim by sending against him bands of "Chaldeans" (possibly Babylonian soldiers who had deserted the army and formed gangs), of Syrians, of Moabites, and of Ammonites (2 Kings 24:1-2). All of these groups were experiencing a brief freedom from Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar spent the following year preparing for a return engagement. By the winter of the next year, 599 BC, we find Nebuchadnezzar conquering in the land of the Hittites. At the beginning of 598 BC, Nebuchadnezzar evidently returned to Babylon by way of Palestine, and carried away 3023 Jewish captives, reestablishing his dominance over Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Nebuchadnezzar recaptured all of Palestine as far as the River of Egypt (2 Kings 24:7). At this time, the Rechabites moved from the countryside to Jerusalem, where they continued to practice the strict code laid down by their ancestor, and for which Jeremiah praised them in Jeremiah 35.

In the fourth quarter of 598 began Jehoiakim’s 11th year. Shortly thereafter he died, and his son Jehoiachin became king on the 9th of December.

We have seen that Habakkuk accused Jehoiakim of reigning by oppression and violence from the beginning of his rule. We have also seen that Jehoiakim did not listen to Jeremiah’s warnings. 2 Kings 24:4 says that Jehoiakim filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Bible tells us that shed blood cries out the Divine Avenger of Blood for vengeance. Now that vengeance had come.

Jeremiah 22:13-23 comments on the reign of Jehoiakim as follows: He built a great royal palace, but did not pay his servants their wages, unlike Josiah who lived in a smaller house and concentrated his energies on justice and righteousness. Jehoiakim was set on dishonest gain, the shedding of innocent blood, and on oppression and extortion. Therefore, no one would lament for him. He would be buried with a donkey’s burial, dragged off and thrown out of Jerusalem.

Let us now consider Jeremiah 52. Verse 12 says that Nebuchadnezzar conquered and burned Jerusalem in his 19th year. Verses 28-30 read as follows:

Recent commentators routinely assume that the 7th year of Nebuchadnezzar, when he took 3023 Jews captive, is the same as the 8th year of Nebuchadnezzar, when he besieged Jerusalem and took Jehoiachin into captivity (2 Ki. 24:10-12); and that the 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar in Jer. 52:29 is the same as the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar in Jer. 52:12 (!) and 2 Kings 25:8.

Now, just how credible is this interpretation? First of all, we have to assume that Jeremiah (or the "final redactor" of Jeremiah) was so stupid that he did not notice the contradiction between verses 12 & 29 of his final pericope; or if he did notice the contradiction, he did not care. He was using two "sources" that used two different calendars, one of which said 19 and the other of which said 18. But consider: If Jeremiah wrote this, would he not have in his own mind the calendar that he was accustomed to? How could he even make this mistake? Moreover, what need did Jeremiah have for "sources"? He was present on the scene throughout this history.

Moreover, as regards the 7th and 8th years, 2 Kings 24:14 says that Nebuchadnezzar carried away 10,000 people in his 8th year, while Jeremiah 52:28 says only 3023 in his 7th year. The usual explanation for this contradiction is that 3023 were nobility, or men, while the rest were non-nobility or women and children. 2 Kings 24:14-16, however, says that of the 10,000 captives 7000 were men of valor and 1000 were craftsmen and smiths. Certainly the 7000 were nobility, and all 8000 were men!

These explanations only make matters worse. The older explanation makes a whole lot more sense. We know that Jehoiakim served Nebuchadnezzar for 3 years, but then rebelled against him and realigned with Egypt. This is because Egypt had fought Babylon to a draw in 601 bc. Nebuchadnezzar was not able right away to put down this revolt. In the 7th year of Nebuchadnezzar, which was Jehoiakim’s 10th year, Nebuchadnezzar came up against Jerusalem and settled matters. This event is not mentioned in Kings, but is what Jeremiah 52:28 is speaking of. Apparently Nebuchadnezzar allowed Jehoiakim to remain on the throne.

The Reign of Jehoiachin

Jehoiachin was 18 when he came to the throne. He was as ungodly as his father Jehoiakim, and immediately rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar was apparently still near enough to come back to Jerusalem immediately and lay siege to it. He conquered the city after three months, and took 10,000 people captive, including Ezekiel and Mordecai (Jeremiah 52:29; Ezekiel 1:1-3; Esther 2:6-7). He took Jehoiachin into captivity also, and put his uncle Zedekiah, a younger and more faithful son of Josiah, on the throne.

Jeremiah 22:24-27 and 2 Kings 24:10-17 describe Nebuchadnezzar’s deportation. He took most of the royal family, all the men of valor, the smiths, and the craftsmen, leaving only the poor. Thus he granted a kind of Jubilee for the people, allowing the poor to inherit what had been taken from them by the rich. Jehoiachin stayed in captivity for the rest of his life. He would be regarded as childless (though he had children, who were ancestors of Jesus; Matthew 1:12), because his children would not sit on the throne of David.

The exile of Jehoiachin and the leaders of Israel was not a harsh one. From the book of Ezekiel, we find that the exiles lived in houses (Ezekiel 8:1). They were not dragged into captivity, but were escorted to a new location.

The Beginning of Zedekiah’s Reign

Zedekiah was 21 when he became king, and the Bible records that he continued the evil of his older brother Jehoiakim. Zedekiah, however, had been born in the year 618 BC, in the 21st year of Josiah, well after that king had instituted his reforms. He grew up in a Godly society, and knew Jeremiah from his earliest days. Thus, he was always rather ambivalent about Jeremiah and the word of the Lord. He would listen, tremble, and then disobey. As the Chronicler puts it, "He did evil in the sight of Yahweh his God; he did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, the mouth of Yahweh" (2 Chronicles 36:12).

The first prophecy to come to Jeremiah after the exile of Jehoiachin is found in Jeremiah 24. The exiles are called good figs, which God will plant, nourish, and protect. They will eventually turn back to Yahweh. The leaders who have remained in Israel, however, are bad figs. God says that He will abandon them and destroy them. He also says that He will abandon any Jews who go to Egypt.

God dictated a letter for Jeremiah to send to the exiles, and we find it in Jeremiah 29. The letter was carried by a deputy of officials sent by King Zedekiah to Nebuchadnezzar. Evidently, therefore, Jeremiah had some standing with Zedekiah at this early stage of his reign. God said this: The exiles were to settle down, build houses, and plant gardens. They were to seek the good of the Babylonian empire. They were not to listen to the false prophets, who were saying that shortly they would return to Jerusalem, because the captivity was going to last 70 years. God also told them that He was going to destroy Jerusalem, and so they should not hold out any hope of an early return. In a second section of this letter (vv. 21-23), God stated that He was going to wipe out two false prophets who were prophesying an early return.

Another false prophet, Shemaiah (Shem-Yah, "Yah Is Fame"), was incensed by Jeremiah’s letter. He wrote to the High Priest, Zephaniah, and exhorted him to put Jeremiah in stocks, calling him a madman. We can be sure that letters also went to King Zedekiah, telling him that Jeremiah had predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. High Priest Zephaniah, however, who is not the Zephaniah who wrote the book by that name, read Shemaiah’s letter to Jeremiah. Jeremiah then sent another message from God to the exiles, saying that Shemaiah and his line would be wiped out for rebellion against Yahweh.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel

In the year 593 BC, in the 5th month (August) of Zedekiah’s fourth year, Jeremiah had a confrontation with Hananiah the prophet in the Temple (Hanan-Yah, "Yah Is Gracious"). The background is found in the preceding months (Jeremiah 27). Sometime in the spring of that year, evidently, messengers from Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon were visiting Jerusalem. It is clear from Jeremiah 27 that they were planning to revolt against Nebuchadnezzar. We don’t know exactly why, since the Babylonian records, as we presently have them, break off several years previously. Nebuchadnezzar was, however, controlling a very large empire, and from what we have seen already, every time he departed the scene his subject peoples began to plan revolt.

God told Jeremiah to send a message to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon, reinforcing what he had sent earlier. All nations had been given to Nebuchadnezzar, and anyone who rebelled against him would be crushed. They would die not only by Nebuchadnezzar’s sword, but God would send them famine and plague as well.

God told Jeremiah to put a yoke upon his neck and say the same thing to Zedekiah. Jeremiah was to encourage Zedekiah to repent, indicating that it was still possible for God to change His mind about destroying Jerusalem. Jeremiah was to charge those inciting revolt with being false prophets, agents of Satan bent on destroying Israel and her witness among the nations.

Jeremiah wore his yoke day after day, until finally the false prophet Hananiah rose up against him (Jeremiah 28). Hananiah stated that Jeremiah was wrong, that God had told him that He had broken the yoke of Babylon, and that Jehoiachin was going to come back in two years and become king again. From this we see that Zedekiah was apparently not as popular with the people as Jehoiachin. Zedekiah was certainly legitimate, being a son of Josiah, but the people wanted Jehoiachin. It seems to me that this indicates that Zedekiah was waffling between Jeremiah and the wicked. The wicked did not think they could count on him, and so they looked for the exiled king to return.

In a sense, though, Hananiah was right to look to Jehoiachin. God had said that He would be with the exiles, and Jehoiachin was the king that was with them. They had left "Egypt" and gone into the "wilderness." Eventually, it would be Jehoiachin’s descendants who would return, and from him would come the Messiah. Jehoiachin was the true king of the true Israel, but that is not why Hananiah, who was not of the true Israel, looked to him. Hananiah was like Judas, who looked for Jesus to be a political leader, and did not perceive His real status.

Jeremiah sarcastically rebuked Hananiah, after which Hananiah attacked him physically and broke the yoke off his neck, saying that this action symbolized the breaking of Babylon’s yoke. At this point, Jeremiah withdrew from the crowd.

Jeremiah’s departure from the Temple anticipates Jesus’ departure from the Temple after His rejection just before His crucifixion (Matthew 23-24), after which He pronounced Jerusalem’s doom.

God told Jeremiah to go to Hananiah and tell him two things. First, God would replace the easy Babylonian yoke of wood with a severe yoke of iron. Second, God was going to kill Hananiah before the year was out. Hananiah died almost immediately, in the seventh month, the beginning of Zedekiah’s 5th year, in the fall of 593 BC. (Jeremiah 28:12-17. Evidently, Jeremiah did not warn Hananiah until after the turn of the year, in the seventh month.)

Jeremiah’s departure from the Temple and the death of Hananiah are the immediate background for Ezekiel 1, for there the prophet sees God arrive in Babylon in His chariot. Evidently, God had in some sense already begun to abandon the Temple and move over to be with the exiles.

Ezekiel (Y’heziqe-El, "God Is Strong") sees God’s chariot on the fifth day of the fourth month (July) of 592 BC. This is said to be in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile. Jehoiachin was exiled in March of 597 BC. His first full year of non-reign began in the fall of that year, which is also when Zedekiah’s Year 1 begins. Also, we know from Ezra 7:9 that the trip from Jerusalem to Babylon took about five months. Accordingly, the exiles arrived in Babylon in the fall, about the same time as the first full year of Zedekiah’s reign began. Thus, the years of King Jehoiachin’s exile are the same as the years of Zedekiah’s rule. This is also clear from Ezekiel 24:1, where the last siege of Jerusalem is said to begin on the 10th day of the 10th month of the 9th year, which is the correct date in the reign of Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:1). Thus, Ezekiel’s years of Jehoiachin, and his dating in general, are the same as the years of Zedekiah.

Ezekiel states that he received this vision and call "in the 30th year." Ezekiel does not say "in the 30th year" from what event, and so some commentators note that we cannot be certain of what he refers to. But this is making too great a difficulty out of the matter. As has been pointed out many times, priests were called to service at age 30 (Numbers 4), and so we can assume that this was Ezekiel’s age, for he was a priest (Ezekiel 1:3). It is also, however, exactly 30 years from 621 BC, the year Josiah repaired the Temple and held his great Passover. Since it was "in" the 30th year, we can assume that Ezekiel had already celebrated his 30th birthday, in which case it is likely that he was already born before this great Passover. And in that case, he would be equivalent to the firstborn sons saved by the first Passover at the exodus, who were dedicated to God (Numbers 3).

After his ordination by God, Ezekiel sat quietly for seven days (Ezekiel 3:15), fulfilling in this way the requirements of priestly ordination (Leviticus 8:35). At the end of this period, God told Ezekiel that his job was to rebuke the false hopes of the exiles. They hoped to go back to Jerusalem soon, but Ezekiel would prophesy the doom of Jerusalem to them, and challenge them to look to the future, to a new covenant and a new Jerusalem after 70 years of exile. Then God told Ezekiel that he was not to speak any words to anyone on his own account. He was to speak when and only when God told him expressly what to say. I don’t think Ezekiel was forbidden to speak to his wife about domestic matters, or haggle over prices in the bazaar, but he was not to preach any sermons. He was only to say what God dictated to him explicitly.

Thus, there is a sense in which Jeremiah throws a torch to Ezekiel. This is corroborated by the fact that Ezekiel’s prophecy begins with "and," connecting it to Jeremiah.

(to be continued)