2 Chronicles 36.17-21
Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
What led up to the Exile?
God had warned his people of a coming Exile, of a time where they would have to face the consequences for their sins. God had begun this warning, back when the people were still wanderers in the desert, in the time of Moses he had warned of this ultimate punishment. For example
Lev. 26.33: “And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.”
Deuteronomy 28. 64. “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.”
God had warned the people that there would be a series of warnings leading up to a final warning, which was the expulsion of the people from the land. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God first tells the people that if they obey him, that they would experience all sorts of blessings, from rain at the correct time to victory in the various battles that they would face. That those who would turn to the Lord would be blessed. However, God also warned them early on, that to disobey was to throw away these blessings.
However, he begins in verse 27.16 of Leviticus or
Deuteronomy 28.15 ““But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.”
By showing that it was series of sins that would produce the curse, and that at multiple instances the people could repent and be saved of his wrath.
God begins to warn them, that diseases, and sickness, would come to the land, that poor harvest would come to the land, that the enemy would prevail in battles fought. If this events would still not bring about a change in the hearts of the people, he would stop the rains, and bring famine to the land, he would send wild animals against the people and their livestock.
If all of this would still not change the people’s way, he would send enemies into the land, harsher diseases, harsher limits on food to the point of cannibalism, to the destructions of cities, and finally the enemy would chase them out of the land.
The people should have known, therefore, that their sins would lead to punishment, God had been very clear on that issues within the books of the Law and not only in Leviticus, but also in Deuteronomy. If this warning was not enough, God sent his prophets to warn the people multiple times, for example Zephaniah 2.1-3:
“Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation, before the decree takes effect before the day passes away like chaff before there comes upon you the burning anger of the Lord, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the Lord. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord.”
He did indeed send various famines and enemies as preludes to try and give the people a chance to return to him. The People of Judah saw the Exile even of Israel and should have known all the better that the Lord had a limit to the mercy he was showing.
The Exile was merely one final step after a long series of warnings. The Exile should never of needed to happen, but it did. It happened because the people refused to the listen to God and instead desired to follow the ways of their own heart. Despite this, despite the Exile, God did not and would not abandon his people, in time they would be restored to the Land and as a people.
“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.” Deuteronomy 30.1-3
God had said way back when in Deuteronomy 30.1-3 that the Exile would indeed happen, that the people would be scattered, but that there was coming a day when they would be restored would be collected up.
The returns in Ezra-Nehemiah did not bring all the people back, and they would be scattered once more; the return in 1948 has not brought all of his people back yet, but one day God will restore his people. Ezekiel and Revelation are certain on that.
Comment: God is a God of mercy and even in the midst of this punishment, one can discern that we follow a God of second chances, a God who forgives and shows mercy even to those who deserve not at all. God is a God of mercy. He forgives his people, he gives chances for the nation to come back to him, even though they desire their own will and their own gods.
God desires that people turn to him and those who have said to have placed their trust in God, he desires that if they have fallen away, that they would return to him. At points, like Israel, that forces his hand and so he must led people to repentance through various punishments. There are certain people who need to ask when they are going through trials, is it because of my sin. Of a lifestyle that is completely void of God? Is the Lord trying to send me a wake up call? God desires us to follow him, not to go against him, but as a loving father at times he will indeed send punishment
Why the Exile?
The Exile happened then because of the people’s continued disobedience to God. For example, The Lord told Jeremiah this, (16.10-13).
“And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’”
The sins of the people were many, Nehemiah 9.30 points that they had not listened to God. They had instead chosen a path for themselves, of their own desires. A path that led them to exile
“Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.”
Their path of sin was connected to idolatry.
“They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them, but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did. They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the whore in their deeds.” (Psalm 106.34-39)
A path warned about and seen as rather foolish.
“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.” (115.4-11)
Their path of sin was connected not only to idolatry, but also not observing the Sabbath years of rests commanded by the Lord.
“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.”Exodus 23.10-11
“but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.”Leviticus 25.4-5.
This second reasoning is connected to the length of the Exile.
“This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.”Jeremiah 25.11-14.
“ to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”2 Chronicles 36.21.
“In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.” Daniel 9.2.
If one were to take into account the length of the Exile, 70 years, we get 70 years of missed Sabbath years. Since the Sabbath year was ever 7 years, we would have to go back to 490 years, that the last Sabbath year was celebrated during the time of Eli. (Some suggest instead this should be taken a little more loosely, i.e. that it should start from the time of the Judges to the end of kingdoms, where surely some kings like David were faithful followers). In any case, there were a significant amount of disobedience on this special year.
Generally, it is thought the Exile began from the first deportation in 605 or 604 BC to the Decree of Cyrus in 539 BC, although some place the marking of the exile from the Destruction of the temple 586 BC to the dedication of the Second Temple in 516 BC. In anycase, the Exile lasted 70 years because of the sins of the people, that they chased other Gods, they did not heed the word of God, and that in generally pointed toward themselves and not God.
We need to take into account what it is we put before God in our lives. What idol do we place before the Lord? What part of our selfish desires do we say earns a more prominent spot before the Lord? Do we continue to let this take hold of our lives, or instead do we strive change this and to direct our lives toward the Lord? Do we want to follow the path of Israel and Judah?
What happened in the Exile?
Before Judah, had been exiled, Israel had faced the wrath of Yahweh and had been deported by the king of Assyria. Of the exiles of Israel we know very little. Many of them, quite likely had simply assimilated into the societies they had been brought to. Of the exiles of Judah, we know significantly more, than we do of the people of Israel.
The Book of Ezra-Nehemiah begins, with Cyrus proclaiming that the people can return to the promise land, and that they should upon returning rebuild the House of God. Ezra describes the return of the Jews from Exile in 538 BCE, the book further describes the rebuilding of Jerusalem, specifically the temples in 538-420 BCE. Not all of the people returned from the Exile. Many instead had come to accept the conditions of the Exile, and chose to remain as strangers in another land.
Of those who had remained in the land, it may likely have to deal with the prophecy of Jeremiah in 29.4-7.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
In response to this, the people seemed to have settled at least two towns in Babylon according to the extra-biblical record, the town of Yahudu and the town of Nashar. Psalm 137 mentions a group of exiles by the river, and both the towns of Yahudu and Nashar fit this description. The Biblical record, also mentions that e community was settled by the Chebar river Ezekiel 1.1 which is in Telabib.
Besides the dispersion of the people of Judah, the Exile had a number of other effects upon the people. The Exile forced Aramaic to be the predominate language of the Jewish people, replacing Hebrew, in fact it also replaced the way the people wrote Hebrew; The Exile also shifted the Jewish people toward the Babylonian Calendar, instead of the Hebrew one; many took on Babylonian instead of Hebraic names, and the Exile had profound impact on the religion of the people.
This final major change that the Exile brought is of most import. It was a renewal of the relationship between God and his people.
The people in Exile went under the hard hand of Babylon, where they would meet idolatry in way that they had never experienced before. As Ironside puts it, “It was to cure the people of Judah of their deeply rooted love for idolatry that Jehovah gave them up to serve the Chaldeans, “that bitter and hasty nation” (p. 11). By and large, after the Exile, the people never turned toward graven images again, and the word of God finally took a centerpiece in the lives of the men and women who returned.
Although by the time of the NT, this would have been replaced with a “cold intellectual bibliolatry” of the Pharisaic religion. But at the end of the Exile, many had gotten it, Daniel, perhaps is one of the best examples, with his prayer given in chapter nine of his book. He had acknowledged the sins of the people of Judah and had prayed for forgiveness and mercy from Yahweh, despite the people’s actions.
“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” Daniel 9.16-19