A Meditation on Judah - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonArticles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
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In the history of Old Testament Palestine, no other large scale defeat could be more unforgettable, or incredibly saddening, than the destruction of Judah in 586 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. The Jews had rebelled against God in their wickedness, and the Lord answered their rebellion with a great conquest by a foreign power. Judah may have learned her lesson if she had observed her sister, Israel, in the punishment God brought upon the nation. But instead, they became even more wicked than Israel and God ultimately sent them into a horrible exile.
In 625 B.C. Nabopolasser, the current king of a Semitic people known as the Babylonians, engaged in war with the Assyrians. The Assyrians were pushing war in Babylon’s direction and they desired to strengthen their territory and rule the standing site of Babylon. Though in their effort to take over, Nebopolasser won victory over them. In Jehoiakim’s fourth year of reigning over Judah, Nabopolasser became ill and forfeited his kingdom to Nebuchadnezzar, God’s war-servant and tool. (The Scriptures demonstrate that Nebuchadnezzar was the “axe” in the hand of God (Jeremiah 28:14)). At this time, the Egyptians muster their forces at the Euphrates River led by Pharaoh Neco. Again, Nebuchadnezzar proves his warrior ability – that distinguished power of Babylon against his foes – and is victorious. Jeremiah prophesied that this event would occur and also that Nebuchadnezzar would rule Judah for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11).
Beginning in 2 Kings chapters 22-23, Josiah, a good king of Judah, “reestablished” the covenant with Yahweh after finding the Book of the Law. This great mark in Jewish history seemed to indicate the reversal of the punishments in which Judah had pending from their disobedience to God. Josiah attempted to regain the ground that was lost from the earlier kings who “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Josiah destroyed all the idols and high places pertaining to foreign gods, and cleansed the temple from prostitution and other evils which were occurring there daily. The province of Judah was beginning to resemble the former times in which David ruled. This was no doubt the blessing of God on Josiah who desired to reign with integrity and godliness (2 Kings 22:1-2; 1 Chronicles 34:33).
2 Kings 23:29-30 records the account of the Pharaoh of Egypt killing Josiah at the battle of Megiddo in his attempt to stop the Egyptians from any further advancement. This marked the visible starting point to the downfall of Judah. As further kings succeeded Josiah, we symbolically see “Jehovah” captured by Pharaoh Neco, taken away by him, and dying in a foreign land. Neco then placed Josiah’s son Eliakim on the throne giving him a new name, Jehoiakim. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. In this, Yahweh’s anger burned against Judah and He sent Nebuchadnezzar to raid Judah along with the Armeans, Moabites and Ammonites. Egypt and Judah at this time could have been possible allies, and as Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, he hoped for aid from the Egyptians. The Egyptian army did march to challenge the Babylonians. However, Babylon’s siege of Jerusalem was temporarily lifted as Nebuchadnezzar turned to fight the coming army against him. He was victorious over the Egyptians once again. Apreis, the Egyptian king, was drawn back, and the siege of Jerusalem continued again by the Babylonians until the city fell. 2 Kings 24:3-4 records the account of this heavy invasion and the reason behind it, “Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive.” Wickedness is never tolerated and will always be punished by a holy God.
Yahweh used the Babylonians in judgment against Judah for the sins that they had committed and the false idols they were worshipping. Though God’s intentions were to chastise his people, the Babylonians had other intentions. They were out to conquer the entire land of Hatti and set up world power. Yet, Yahweh used these two instances in one to complete the purpose He had in mind. This demonstrates the sovereignty of God over the wills of men, even in using a foreign king and his people in their intentions to increase their land (Isa. 46:9-13).
Jehoiakim was a vassal under Nebuchadnezzar for three years until he was succeeded by Jehoiachin. During Jehoiachin’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar, used as a tool of God against evils deriving from Judah again, besieged the city and conquered Jerusalem laying it waste and destroying the temple and its belongings. Nebuchadnezzar then set up a puppet king by the name of Zedekiah in Judah (which was a Babylonian name). He was at the disposal of the king of Babylon. Though as time went on Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar came to destroy Zedekiah and Judah once again. Zedekiah inquired of the prophet Jeremiah to see if the Lord would perform a “miracle” as stated in Jeremiah 21:1-3, but Yahweh answered him by saying Babylon will rule you and God Himself will fight against you (Jeremiah 21:3-14). Yahweh states in Jeremiah 21:15, “I will punish you as your deeds deserve.” Judgment is vividly portrayed against Judah in a variety of ways: in Jeremiah 13:1-11, there is the example of the loincloth; in 18:1-11 and the example of the potters house, and in 19:1-13 with the case of the broken jar.
The unfaithfulness of Judah in relation to the covenant, their failure to heed the warnings contained in the fate of her sister Israel, the religious and social evils which made the relationship with God impossible, all point to two important ideas: the virtual impossibility of a renewed relationship, and to the inevitability of doom. As Amos 4:6-11 tells us, God brought or sought to bring His people to the recognition of what they were and what they were doing. “And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.” They were wicked, and were performing wicked deeds devoid of a desire to please God.
To read the historical narrative concerning the devastation on Judah is to observe their sin in relation to covenant Law. The book of Kings is part of the history written to explain the tragic chain of events which befell the people, a chain of events understood as a result of continual sin which ultimately brought the climactic punishment in the days of Zedekiah; the end of the state, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the exile. According to a Babylonian Chronicle, the main reason for the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians was the pure determination to conquer the entire geographical area of Hatti. Their ancient writing state, “Year 7, month Kislimu: The King of Akkad moved his army into Hattli land, laid siege to the city of Judah (Ia-a-hu-du) and the King took the city on the second day of the month Addaru. He appointed in it a (new) King of his liking, took heavy booty from it and brought it into Babylon.” As seen in this quotation, this portion of a narration describes the conquering of Judah from an outside source that is Babylonian.
According to the Lachish Letters devastation was experienced through all of Judah at this time. In one letter, an officer stationed at an observation post writes to the Lachish commander that the signal of Azekah can no longer be seen, which suggests that this city had just fallen to the Babylonian forces. Jeremiah indicates that Azekah and Lachish were two of the last cities to remain before the fearful onslaught (Jeremiah 34:6-7). Seen in this source is the documentation of a neighboring city holding to the account that Judah had fallen into the hands of Babylon. The exile may never had happened, nor the sieges which Judah had taken beforehand if only they had listened to their God and had done what was right in the eyes of Yahweh. For their sin is the primary reason for the exile, as God wished to thrust them from His presence as covenant breakers. Jeremiah 44:11 states, “Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will set my face against you for evil, and to cut off all Judah.”
What is the primary lesson behind all of this for the Christian? It is easy to see what it is for a rebellious people, but what of the sons and daughters of the Most High? God came to a point where He was forced to do something about the relationship which had developed between the people and Himself. Sin is not a thing that can be thrown out like an old shirt – it is a state of being between men and God. Even if the filthy loincloth is hidden under a rock, it comes out all the more degraded over time. It cannot be proverbially “swept under the rug.” If such a state of being is disrupted by the evils of men and deemed as sin, God must reckon with it and punish it if man ignores this, even in chastening His own people. God must punish sin if men do not repent of their sin. As Christians we have Christ to intercede for us. For the elect He is the Lamb of God that takes away our sin. There is no more sin to be punished for on our behalf. This is a holy blessing. We are the rebellious, the vile, the wicked, the degenerate, the bottom of the garbage barrel. But God has made us clean, and has pulled us up from the miry clay. Romans 8:2 teaches us, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” And 1 John 1:7 asserts, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” God is always doing something about our sin – it is ever reckoned to the account of Jesus Christ and His cross. Why rapturous blessing this is and holy meditation this procures!
It must also be remembered that forgiveness is not simply bestowed without repentance first entreated. God is not in the business of zapping Christians and disregarding their sin, something Christians often believe. To some Christians sin has little or no consequences because they have Jesus Christ. But this is a warped view of grace. Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! God must see our contrite heart (Isaiah 66:2) and hear of our repentance (2 Chronicles 7:14) before forgiveness is bestowed. This is true for further sanctification of all the elect. Though God has already forgiven our sins in Christ, we must always continue to desire further sanctification and seek Him for daily forgiveness from besetting sins, and the always-present possibility of apostatizing. If we neglect this, what Fatherly chastisements await us, or even being cast from the covenant that we deceived ourselves to have been a part of as a result of a false saving experience? Our assurance lies in Christ, and the fruits of that union and communion.
We must also remember that the punishment which God bestowed upon Judah was not because He hated them, but it was the yearning that God had to resume the relationship He once had with them; a restoration. Jeremiah 23:3 is a lovely picture of this, “And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.” God is always ready to forgive Old Testament Israel as Isaiah 65:2 demonstrates, “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people.” However, in the New Testament covenant, when the Christian sins, God is infinitely angry with that sin, yet has already punished that sin on the cross of Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Even though God chastises us, it is the biblical promise that He loves us dearly. The Father must chastise the children if He really loves them. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” (Every now and then there are times where we feel we are loved too much in this respect!) It is also accurate to say that the church will be cleansed from those apostates that are not truly part of the covenant in Christ when trials abound. They are quick to scatter. Such was the same with the apostates in Judah who, though they were part of the Old Testament external covenant, they were cast out and cut off. Their exile was not only earthly in a foreign land called Babylon, but also an eternal state under the wrath of God being cutoff from the Lord. The same is true for the church. Though there is no external covenant in the New Testament, those who sit under the umbrella of God’s blessing while in the midst of the congregation will always give up their religiosity when real trials abounds. For the saint it is much different. God is not dealing with Esau, but with Jacob. God in His mercy will always bear upon eagle’s wings the fruit of the travail of Christ and sanctify those who are part of the covenant of Jesus Christ and the work of His cross for them. He is ever interceding for them and caring for them. We ought, then, to be “Casting all [our] cares upon him; for he careth for [us].”