Week 17 – The Kingdoms’ Fall

Scripture Reading:  2 Kings 21; 2 Chronicles 33; 2 Kings 23-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 1-2, 4-5, 13, 21; Lamentations 1-3, 5; Ezekiel 1-2, 6-7, 36-37

Significant Moments in The Story

The reign of Manasseh – 2 Kings 21, 2 Chronicles 33

Josiah’s reforms – 2 Kings 22-23

The fall of Jerusalem and the first deportation to Babylon – 2 Kings 24

Jerusalem utterly destroyed and the final deportation to Babylon – 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 36

Key Themes

Worse than the Canaanites

The 55 year reign of King Manasseh in Judah is viewed as perhaps the darkest moment in Judah’s history.  According to 2 Chronicles 33:9, under Manasseh the Israelites “… did more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the people of Israel.”  In Joshua, God had said that part of the reason He was giving the Promised Land to the Israelites was because of the wickedness of the people who had lived in the land up until that point.  Now, Israel has become even more wicked than those they took the land over for.  The Biblical narrative paints a very dark picture of how deep Israel’s sin is, so deep that not even the righteous reforms of Josiah can make a difference in the long term.  The destruction of Jerusalem and Judah is thus portrayed as a punishment consistent with that which God had handed down on the peoples who inhabited the land before the Israelites.

Exile, a time of lament and a time of hope

The Babylonian exile was as transformative a moment in Israel’s history as the Exodus.  However, whereas the Exodus was a moment of celebration and victory, exile would be a moment of great pain and suffering.  That pain would be physical (great loss of life and destruction of poverty), emotional (great sorrow among all the people), and spiritual (a feeling of being cut off from God).  The words of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the two primary prophets associated with this period, contain both messages of the harshness of Israel’s plight and the hope that did remain even in the face of great suffering.  In many ways, the exile takes place within the shadow of the Exodus – God will not allow His people to remain in captivity to this foreign nation.

Background Information

Josiah’s reform – 2 Kings 22-23

Josiah was the grandson of King Manasseh, the worst of the kings to sit on the throne of Judah according to Scripture.  In 2 Kings 22, we are told that a rebuilding and restoration of the Temple is under way under King Josiah’s reign.  During the work, “the book of the law” is found, probably a copy of the book of Deuteronomy.  This is brought before King Josiah and read.  According to 2 Kings 22, Josiah’s weeps as the book is read, which calls for curses to be upon Israel if they are unwilling to follow all the commands of God.  This instigates the reforms that Josiah carries out in 2 Kings 23.  Interestingly enough, the “reward” for Josiah’s repentance and his efforts to restore obedience in righteousness is that he will not be alive when the curses that are coming take place.

The exile to Babylon

The fall of Jerusalem and Judah took place in stages.  We believe that the date of the events of 2 Kings 24 take place around 597 BC.  At this time, much of the wealth within the Temple was carried off and most of the royal officers and military leaders were carried into exile.  Those that remained in Judah were ruled over by Zedekiah, the uncle of King Jehoiachin who was appointed to rule as a governor of the King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  Eventually Zedekiah revolted against the Babylonians, bringing a follow up attack on Judah in 587 BC, which resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the remaining inhabitants carried off into exile.

 

General Introduction to Each Book

 The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel deal with roughly the same time period, namely the time before and after the fall of Jerusalem. While Jeremiah remains in Jerusalem until the final fall of Jerusalem in 587/6, Ezekiel seems to have gone into exile after the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in 597.

 

1) Jeremiah

 

  • Literature of Trauma
    • The structure of the book is disjointed and difficult to discern
      • One scholar has suggested that this reflects the fracturing of memory that results from trauma
    • Lots of emotions! Jeremiah laments and complains, as do God and the people
    • The book does not offer one clear explanation of why the exile happened but instead tries out several explanations
  • Form of Jeremiah
    • The book of Jeremiah developed over time; it has been added to by different people and communities as an ongoing reflection on the exile
  • The prophetic persona
    • The book of Jeremiah is unusual for its amount of attention to Jeremiah himself. The book includes biographical prose sections as well as autobiographical laments and poetry.

 

2) Ezekiel

 

  • In contrast to Jeremiah, Ezekiel has a clear literary structure (1-24, 25-32 and 33-48) and seems to have been created as a unified book
  • Ezekiel is a very different prophet than Jeremiah; whereas Jeremiah shows lots of emotions, Ezekiel shows next to none
  • The book includes a lot of sign acts and fantastical visions
    • Sign acts (which also appear in Jeremiah) are times when God commands the prophet to do something, then explains the meaning of the action (for example, Ezekiel paints Jerusalem on the side of a brick, then destroys the brick)
    • Visions: Ezekiel’s visions include wheels with eyes, living creatures with many faces, and lots of lightening. Though strange to us, Ezekiel uses visions to interpret history in light of God’s glory
    • Ezekiel also has a long vision that focuses on the restoration of the temple that should put you in mind of the description of the tabernacle in Exodus

 

 

 

Questions to consider for study of Jeremiah 18:

 

Who are the characters?

What is the setting?

Who says what?

Are there clear units in the writing? How would you break it up?

Can you see any repeated words or themes?

Does this passage call to mind other parts of the Book of Jeremiah?

What questions do you have about the passage?

 

Jeremiah 18:1-12

 

  1. The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2. “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3. So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
  2. Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6. Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LO RD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8. but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10. but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings. 12. But they say, “It is no use! We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.”
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