In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, who served the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem. And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive some of the poorest of the people and the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the artisans. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen.
And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the Lord, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried all the bronze to Babylon. And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the basins and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service; also the small bowls and the fire pans and the basins and the pots and the lampstands and the dishes for incense and the bowls for drink offerings. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. As for the two pillars, the one sea, the twelve bronze bulls that were under the sea, and the stands, which Solomon the king had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these things was beyond weight. As for the pillars, the height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, its circumference was twelve cubits, and its thickness was four fingers, and it was hollow. On it was a capital of bronze. The height of the one capital was five cubits. A network and pomegranates, all of bronze, were around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with pomegranates. There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; all the pomegranates were a hundred upon the network all around. – Jeremiah 52:12-23 ESV
It can be quite easy to read the description of the fall of Jerusalem in a flippant and somewhat disconnected manner. The prophet, Jeremiah, is quite stingy in his use of words, painting a quite matter-of-fact image of the city’s fall. But if we look at other passages in the Scriptures, we get a much fuller and more terrifyingly chilling depiction of all that went on during the nearly 20-month-long siege of Jerusalem and its eventual fall. The book of Lamentations records a particularly disturbing aspect of the siege.
Those killed by the sword are better off
than those who die of hunger.
Starving, they waste away
for lack of food from the fields.
have cooked their own children.
They have eaten them
to survive the siege. – Lamentations 4:9-10 NLT
The residents of the city had been forced to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. These were not easy days. Starvation was an everyday reality. Parents had to stand back and watch their young children die. And when the walls were finally breached, the death and destruction was like nothing the people of Judah had ever witnessed before. In their weakened state, there was nothing they could do to defend themselves against the Babylonian troops who had were more than ready to seek their revenge on the stubbornly rebellious people inside the walls. The book of Lamentations provides another grisly look at just how bad things were when the walls fell.
Our enemies rape the women in Jerusalem
and the young girls in all the towns of Judah.
Our princes are being hanged by their thumbs,
and our elders are treated with contempt.
Young men are led away to work at millstones,
and boys stagger under heavy loads of wood. – Lamentations 5:10-13 NLT
Nebuchadnezzar took many of the people as captives, leaving nothing but the poorest of the poor to occupy the destroyed city. He stripped the city bare, taking all that was of value, including the treasures of the palace and the temple, as well as the most gifted of all the people. We are provided with a detailed description of the items taken from the temple. The Babylonians left nothing of value untouched. Every ounce of gold, silver or bronze was stripped away and taken as plunder. The sacred vessels, set apart by God for use in the sacrificial system, were hauled off as booty. Not only that, we read in the next section of this chapter that “Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took with him as prisoners Seraiah the high priest, Zephaniah the priest of the second rank, and the three chief gatekeepers” (Jeremiah 52:24 NLT).
The detailed description of the items taken by the Babylonians is similar to what we read in the book of 1 Kings, that describes Solomon’s painstaking and extremely costly construction of the temple many years earlier.
So Solomon finished building the Temple. The entire inside, from floor to ceiling, was paneled with wood. He paneled the walls and ceilings with cedar, and he used planks of cypress for the floors. He partitioned off an inner sanctuary—the Most Holy Place—at the far end of the Temple. It was 30 feet deep and was paneled with cedar from floor to ceiling. The main room of the Temple, outside the Most Holy Place, was 60 feet long. Cedar paneling completely covered the stone walls throughout the Temple, and the paneling was decorated with carvings of gourds and open flowers.
He prepared the inner sanctuary at the far end of the Temple, where the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant would be placed. This inner sanctuary was 30 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high. He overlaid the inside with solid gold. He also overlaid the altar made of cedar. Then Solomon overlaid the rest of the Temple’s interior with solid gold, and he made gold chains to protect the entrance to the Most Holy Place. So he finished overlaying the entire Temple with gold, including the altar that belonged to the Most Holy Place.
He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long. The two cherubim were identical in shape and size; each was 15 feet tall. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He overlaid the two cherubim with gold.
He decorated all the walls of the inner sanctuary and the main room with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid the floor in both rooms with gold. – 1 Kings 6:14-30 NLT
In a case of divine deconstruction, God reversed the process and turned the former glory of the temple into an empty shell. All that had been set apart to Him was now the property of the Babylonians. The vessels and tools, once integral to the sacrificial system, were now the property of pagans. And the not-so-subtle message to the people of Judah was that, in their determination to reject God, they had rejected all that was associated with Him, including access to His temple and the availability of atonement made possible through the sacrificial system. The temple was destroyed. The priests were now prisoners. And the people had no way of receiving forgiveness for their sins. The people were to learn that turning their backs on God would have dire consequences.
Once again, we must turn to the book of Lamentations to get a clearer understanding of how the fall of Jerusalem impacted the people of God. It is believed that Jeremiah was the author of the book of Lamentations and he is often referred to as “the weeping prophet” because of his close association with this book. In the closing verses of the book, we read the following prayer, described as coming from the mouths of the people of Judah.
But Lord, you remain the same forever!
Your throne continues from generation to generation.
Why do you continue to forget us?
Why have you abandoned us for so long?
Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again!
Give us back the joys we once had!
Or have you utterly rejected us?
Are you angry with us still? – Lamentations 5:19-22 NLT
The devastation had created a renewed dependency on God in the hearts of the people. The destruction they had witnessed had led to a greater desire for God. Isn’t it interesting how that works? When things are going well, we can find ourselves forgetting all about God. We don’t see the need for Him. But as soon as something goes wrong; our health takes a turn for the worse, our finances falter, our marriage goes south, or our sunny skies turn dark and foreboding, we turn to God. We call out. We question His faithfulness. We demand that He restore our fortunes and make everything bright and cheery again. It’s interesting to note that the people accuse God of rejecting them, but they say nothing of their own rejection of God. They feel abandoned and alone. But they don’t seem to understand that their adandonment by God was due to their own abandonment of Him. But they were right in understanding that God is faithful. They were right in turning to Him. He is our hope in time of need. He is our rock when all else around us is shaky and unstable. He is our faithful Father and loving God. But we must be careful to learn an important lesson from the people of Judah. In their prayer, they state, “Give us back the joys we once had!” Notice what is behind that statement or demand. They want things to go back to the way they were. They want restoration of their former good fortunes. In other words, they want a return to the status quo. They want their old lives back, not God. God was simply a means to an end for them. And we can be guilty of treating God the same way. We go to Him, asking Him to return us to health, to restore our marriage, to fix our financial problems, to make all the hurts and heartaches of life to go away. But what God really wants is for us to desire Him. He wants us to long for Him above anything and everything else in life. The people of Judah didn’t need their old lives back, they needed God.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.