Why study the faith experiences of the people of the Old Testament? Why examine them as they face all sorts of harm and calamity? Why puzzle over their wrong choices and how they arrived at them? Why?
Because they’re just like us. We are just like them. We are also sinners who would be tempted to make the same blunders they made, for they were likewise impacted by their culture, just as we are.
We are also sinners. We would be tempted to make the same mistakes that they did, to close our ears to the words of the prophets, to ignore the conviction of the Holy Spirit, thinking we knew better than the prophet or than God Himself, since we are surely smarter and wiser, because we are modern. They were modern, too, in their own moment of time right then, when they were choosing to betray God.
Royalty had stubborn sinful natures then, just as royalty and significant political persons still do today. We, also being human, have the same sinful natures. We can all easily be led astray. No one is perfect. No one listens to God 100% of the time.
Knowing this about ourselves, we can easily understand the Hebrew kings’ choices and the resulting consequences, for we also face consequences, because we also don’t always listen to the Lord, not choosing a wise course as He had directed. We are just as foolish as they are.Why study the faith experiences of the people of the #OldTestament? Why examine them as they face harm and calamity? Why puzzle over their wrong choices? Why? We read and learn what NOT to do. Pay heed. #Faith Click To Tweet
We read, study, and learn what NOT to do from them. Pay heed. We are just like them.
Timeline and Reasons
1050-1030 to 1010 B.C. Saul reigned
1010-971 B.C. David reigned
971-931 B.C. Solomon reigned — the pinnacle of Israel’s wealth and prominence
931 B.C. The Kingdom divided
740-732 B.C. Syro-Ephraimate war — Judah became a tributary state of the Assyrian Empire, because Syria and northern Israel were annexed by the Assyrians.
621 – 628 B.C. Josiah’s reforms (see below) a godly king ascended the throne at age eight
605 B.C. Carchemish Battle. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael,and Azariah exiled to Babylon.
597 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar II attacks Jerusalem
Takes exiles to Babylon including King Jehoiachin, his family, and Ezekiel
586 B.C. The fall of Jerusalem (Judah)
538 B.C. Cyrus the Great freed the Jewish captives from Babylon 48 years later.
In the middle of all this, “in 621 – 628 B.C. King Josiah instituted far-reaching reforms based upon a book [the Book of the Law] discovered in the Temple of Jerusalem in the course of building repairs. As a result, Josiah’s reforms included the purification of worship from pagan practices, the centralization of all sacrificial rites in the Temple of Jerusalem, and perhaps an effort to establish social justice following principles of earlier prophets (this program constituted what has been called ‘the Deuteronomic reforms‘).” 1.
“Josiah’s reforms brought about two great effects on the people. The first was that it put a stop to all the different forms of sacrifices being made by the people in various sanctuaries since sacrifice was centralized to the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35). This also assisted the people of Judah in exile.“2.
Where are we as we examine the changes in Israel as God prepared His people for the coming Messiah? This timeline gives us a sense of place for the history I’ll be sharing over the next few months.
Two powerful men, Nebuchadnezzar, a Chaldean, and Cyrus, a Persian, impacted the Jewish people in ways that changed them forever. One took them captive. The other released them.
The Jewish people cannot return to the days of Solomon when they were the wealthiest and the strongest nation in the ancient world. Those brief, few days are gone. Now the Jewish people have been forced to know Nebuchadnezzar II and how he laid siege upon their city and how he waged war.
As it is now, it was then. Evil powerful people made decisions that impinged upon the freedom and the liberty of families and tribes and nations who were simply minding their own business when all of a sudden they were attacked. We can imagine this easily, having watched Russia attack Ukraine like this.
16 Then God said to me, “Son of man, I am destroying Jerusalem’s supply of bread. People will have only a little bread to eat. They will be very worried about their food supply, and they will have only a little water to drink. Every time they take a drink, they will feel more afraid. 17 That is because there will not be enough food and water for everyone. They will be terrified as they watch each other wasting away because of their sins” (Ezekiel 4:16-17 ESV). 5 “Thus says the Lord God: This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. 6 And she has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries all around her; for they have rejected my rules and have not walked in my statutes. 7 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you are more turbulent than the nations that are all around you, and have not walked in my statutes or obeyed my rules, and have not even acted according to the rules of the nations that are all around you, 8 therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. 9 And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. 10 Therefore fathers shall eat their sons in your midst, and sons shall eat their fathers. And I will execute judgments on you, and any of you who survive I will scatter to all the winds. 11 Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, surely, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations, therefore I will withdraw. My eye will not spare, and I will have no pity. 12 A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst; a third part shall fall by the sword all around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds and will unsheathe the sword after them” (Ezekiel 5:5-12 ESV).Imagine having Ezekiel's message to deliver (Ezekiel 5:5-12). God is love. For the LORD to have reached the point where hard discipline had to be administered upon ancient Israel, we know they had sinned egregiously. Click To Tweet
Imagine having that message to deliver to the people. God is love. For the LORD to have reached this point where hard discipline must be administered upon Israel, we know they had sinned egregiously for hundreds of years. In spite of Josiah’s reforms and Jeremiah’s words of admonition, still Israel committed sin upon sin, worshipping pagan idols in the temple itself, sacrificing their own children to pagan gods upon the high places. And yet, the Lord will preserve a remnant.
Key People: Ezekiel, Ezra, Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus.
The Babylonian Captivity Date: c. 598 B.C. – c. 538 B.C.
After this, Israel then flourished from c.500 B.C. – c.301 B.C.
- Cyrus the Great issues the Edict of Cyrus allowing Babylonian Jews to return from the Babylonian captivity and rebuild the Temple (Biblical sources only, see Cyrus (Bible) and The Return to Zion).
- The first wave of Babylonian returnees is Sheshbazzar’s Aliyah.
- The second wave of Babylonian returnees is Zerubbabel’s Aliyah.
- The return of Babylonian Jews increases the schism with the Samaritans, who had remained in the region during the Assyrian and Babylonian deportations.
- 516 B.C.: The Second Temple is built in the 6th year of Darius the Great.
- 458 B.C.: The third wave of Babylonian returnees is Ezra’s Aliyah.
- 445 B.C.: The fourth and final wave of Babylonian returnees is Nehemiah’s Aliyah. Nehemiah is the appointed governor of Judah, and rebuilds the Old City walls.
- 410 B.C.: The Great Assembly is established in Jerusalem.
- 365/364-362 and c. 347 B.C.: Judea participates in Egyptian-inspired and Sidonian-led revolts against the Achaemenids, and coins minted in Jerusalem are reflecting the short-lived autonomy. Achaemenid general Bagoas is possibly the same as ‘Bagoses’ form Josephus‘ Antiquities, who defiles the Temple and imposes taxes on sacrifices performed there.
Who was Cyrus the Great?
“Cyrus was born between 590 and 580 BCE, either in Media or, more probably, in Persis, the modern Fārs province of Iran. Surprisingly, Cyrus was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. The meaning of his name is in dispute, for it is not known whether it was a personal name or a throne name given to him when he became a ruler. It is noteworthy that after the Achaemenid empire the name does not appear again in sources relating to Iran, which may indicate some special sense of the name.Cyrus the Persian is known in antiquity for his gracious actions toward the oppressed and his kindness that motivated him to free Israel from captivity to Nebuchadnezzar. History is fascinating! #Faith Click To Tweet
Cyrus is known in antiquity for his gracious actions toward the oppressed and his kindness that motivated him to rescue many. He freed Israel from their captivity to his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar. Josephus (1st century AD) mentions that Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity to Nebuchadnezzar and helped rebuild the temple. He also wrote to the rulers and governors that they should contribute to the rebuilding of the temple and assisted them in rebuilding the temple.
“Cyrus the Great, also called Cyrus II, (born 590–580 BCE, Media, or Persis [now in Iran]—died c. 529, Asia), conqueror who founded the Achaemenian empire, centred on Persia and comprising the Near East from the Aegean Sea eastward to the Indus River. He is also remembered in the Cyrus legend—first recorded by Xenophon, Greek soldier and author, in his Cyropaedia—as a tolerant and ideal monarch who was called the father of his people by the ancient Persians. In the Bible he is the liberator of the Jews who were captive in Babylonia.
Cyrus’ Life and legend
“Most scholars agree, however, that Cyrus the Great was at least the second of the name to rule in Persia. One cuneiform text in Akkadian—the language of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) in the pre-Christian era—asserts he was the son of Cambyses, great king, king of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, great king, king of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, great king, king of Anshan, of a family [which] always [exercised] kingship.
“In any case, it is clear that Cyrus came from a long line of ruling chiefs.
“The most important source for his life is the Greek historian Herodotus. The idealized biography by Xenophon is a work for the edification of the Greeks concerning the ideal ruler, rather than a historical treatise. It does, however, indicate the high esteem in which Cyrus was held, not only by his own people, the Persians, but by the Greeks and others. Herodotus says that the Persians called Cyrus their father.“4.
Who was Nebuchadnezzar?
“Nebuchadnezzar II, also spelled Nebuchadrezzar II, (born c. 630—died c. 561 BCE), second and greatest king of the Chaldean dynasty of Babylonia (reigned c. 605–c. 561 BCE). He was known for his military might, the splendour of his capital, Babylon, and his important part in Jewish history.
“Nebuchadnezzar II was the eldest son and successor of Nabopolassar, founder of the Chaldean empire. He is known from cuneiform inscriptions, the Bible and later Jewish sources, and classical authors. His name, from the Akkadian Nabu-kudurri-uṣur, means ‘O Nabu, watch over my heir.’
“While his father disclaimed royal descent, Nebuchadnezzar claimed the third-millennium Akkadian ruler Naram-Sin as ancestor. The year of his birth is uncertain, but it is not likely to have been before 630 BCE, for according to tradition Nebuchadnezzar began his military career as a young man, appearing as a military administrator by 610.
“In 607/606, as crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar commanded an army with his father in the mountains north of Assyria, subsequently leading independent operations after Nabopolassar’s return to Babylon. After a Babylonian reverse at the hands of Egypt in 606/605, he served as commander in chief in his father’s place and by brilliant generalship shattered the Egyptian army at Carchemish and Hamath, thereby securing control of all Syria. (a significant victory, my note)
“After his father’s death on August 16, 605, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon and ascended the throne within three weeks. This rapid consolidation of his accession and the fact that he could return to Syria shortly afterward reflected his strong grip on the empire.
“On expeditions in Syria and Palestine from June to December of 604, Nebuchadnezzar received the submission of local states, including Judah, and captured the city of Ashkelon. With Greek mercenaries in his armies, further campaigns to extend Babylonian control in Palestine followed in the three succeeding years. On the last occasion (601/600), Nebuchadnezzar clashed with an Egyptian army, with heavy losses; this reverse was followed by the defection of certain vassal states, Judah among them. This brought an intermission in the series of annual campaigns in 600/599, while Nebuchadnezzar remained in Babylonia repairing his losses of chariots. Measures to regain control were resumed at the end of 599/598 (December to March). Nebuchadnezzar’s strategic planning appeared in his attack on the Arab tribes of northwestern Arabia, in preparation for the occupation of Judah. He attacked Judah a year later and captured Jerusalem on March 16, 597, deporting King Jehoiachin to Babylon. After a further brief Syrian campaign in 596/595, Nebuchadnezzar had to act in eastern Babylonia to repel a threatened invasion, probably from Elam (modern southwestern Iran). Tensions in Babylonia were revealed by a rebellion late in 595/594 involving elements of the army, but he was able to put this down decisively enough to undertake two further campaigns in Syria during 594.
“Nebuchadnezzar’s further military activities are known not from extant chronicles but from other sources, particularly the Bible, which records another attack on Jerusalem and a siege of Tyre (lasting 13 years, according to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus) and hints at an invasion of Egypt. The siege of Jerusalem ended in its capture in 587/586 and in the deportation of prominent citizens, with a further deportation in 582. In this respect he followed the methods of his Assyrian predecessors.
“Much influenced by the Assyrian imperial tradition, Nebuchadnezzar consciously pursued a policy of expansion, claiming the grant of universal kingship by Marduk and praying to have “no opponent from horizon to sky.” From cuneiform fragments he is known to have attempted the invasion of Egypt, the culmination of his expansionist policy, in 568/567.
“In addition to being a brilliant tactician and strategist, Nebuchadnezzar was prominent in international diplomacy, as shown in his sending an ambassador (probably Nabonidus, a successor) to mediate between the Medes and Lydians in Asia Minor. He died about 561 and was succeeded by his son Awil-Marduk (Evil-Merodach of 2 Kings 25:28-30).
“Nebuchadnezzar’s main activity, other than as military commander, was the rebuilding of Babylon. He completed and extended fortifications begun by his father, built a great moat and a new outer defense wall, paved the ceremonial Processional Way with limestone, rebuilt, and embellished the principal temples, and cut canals. This he did not only for his own glorification but also in honour of the gods. He claimed to be ‘the one who set in the mouth of the people reverence for the great gods’ and disparaged predecessors who had built palaces elsewhere than at Babylon and had only journeyed there for the New Year Feast.”5
“Little is known of his family life beyond the tradition that he married a Median princess, whose yearning for her native terrain he sought to ease by creating gardens simulating hills. A structure representing these hanging gardens cannot be positively identified in either the cuneiform texts or the archaeological remains.”6.
“Despite the fateful part he played in Judah’s history, Nebuchadnezzar is seen in Jewish tradition in a predominantly favourable light. It was claimed that he gave orders for the protection of Jeremiah, who regarded him as God’s appointed instrument whom it was impiety to disobey, and the prophet Ezekiel expressed a similar view at the attack on Tyre.
“A corresponding attitude to Nebuchadnezzar, as God’s instrument against wrongdoers, occurs in the Apocrypha in 1 Esdras and, as protector to be prayed for, in Baruch. In Daniel (Old Testament) and in Bel and the Dragon (Apocrypha), Nebuchadnezzar appears as a man, initially deceived by bad advisers, who welcomes the situation in which truth is triumphant and God is vindicated.“7
There is a type of madness that can seize a man like Nebuchadnezzar, Vladimir Putin, or Adolph Hitler, causing these to attack others with no provocation, and to end up drawing the entire world into a defense against the beast, for rarely do these types of men seem like rational human beings. And yet, each of them are required to give an account of their lives to God. He is the Just Judge.
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