TD: Well, I hope you’ve all enjoyed this Exile and Return series. It’s a quite graphic picture of the reality of humans. We’ve been exiled from the Garden of Eden. Death has entered the world. Exile is a form of death because you’ve been separated from that which you were intended to be.
We were intended to be in harmony with one another and with nature and with God, and all that was broken at the fall. So we’re all in exile. And while we’re in exile, some really bad stuff happens. Really bad stuff. So bad that a lot of people say, “How could God let this happen?” And the answer is he let it happen because he gave us freedom, and without freedom, there’s no love. So God invented love. Love requires freedom, we made bad choices, and bad choices have bad consequences.
But God is going to redeem all that. And, ultimately, the Garden’s going to be restored. There’s going to be a return.
And just like he told Israel, “Go to Babylon. Build houses. Raise families. Occupy till I come. I’m going to bring you back.” We’re just like that. We’re supposed to build houses and raise families and occupy the earth. But we’re waiting for his return, and we’re going to be restored.
So, we have a stewardship while we’re here, and we also have something to look forward to. And a significant amount of the Bible that’s spent on the exile and return of Israel can be an instruction for us and a hope for us while we live in exile.
Blessings to you all.
TD: Good day, everybody. Welcome to Yellow Balloons podcast. This is Tom Dunn. We’re winding up the series, and we’re going to end with a special treat. We’ve got Brandon Schuman here with us. When I went through this series originally, Brandon filled in for me when we did Lamentations, and we failed to record it. So that’s going to turn into what I hope you find is an interesting dialogue between us on Lamentations, and also some reflections on some of these Exile and Return topics that maybe we haven’t covered in great detail. So, thanks for being with us Brandon.
So, the first thing we’re going to do is zoom out here and look at the historical overview of the exile and return. Some of this will be review. Some of it will be your insights and reflections on the whole historical event. And then we’ll go into some more detail about Jeremiah and Lamentations. Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations, and it’s a lament over Jerusalem. So we’ll look in some more detail about both the book and the person.
So, what are you thinking about in terms of the historical overview, and what really strikes you about this whole episode?
BS: Well, as you said, Tim—and thanks for having me onto the program. As you said, Tim, Lamentations is about the fall of Jerusalem, and it is Jeremiah’s account. It’s his lament, his sharp outcry over what took place inside the city when Babylon besieged it.
And Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet” in part because he wrote Lamentations. So zooming out, what caused this event? What caused this siege and this horrific destruction of the city?
Looking back at the whole historical background of where this falls in the timeline of Israel’s history, as you recall, you’ve got Abraham who’s around 2100 B.C., and then Moses comes later in 1440 B.C.
TD: I usually just say 2000 and 1500 for round numbers.
BS: Yeah. There you go. So you’ve got Moses, who has the Exodus generation. Joshua, 40 years later. And then Saul is the first king of Israel. And it’s the united kingdom in 1051. And then as you’ve talked about, Judah splits and becomes its own kingdom in 931, after you have Saul, David, and Solomon. And then Assyria comes in and wipes out Israel in 722.
TD: Which is the northern kingdom, the northern 10 tribes.
BS: That’s right. And Hezekiah was the king of Jerusalem at that time, and Isaiah is the prophet. God miraculously spared Judah during that siege because Assyria came for Jerusalem, but God miraculously intervened.
And then you fast forward a few hundred years later to 586, and that is the fall of Jerusalem where Jerusalem finally collapses, and everyone’s deported to Babylon. And, then, as you’ve talked about, in the return, they come back. They rebuild Jerusalem in 516. The walls get rebuilt a generation later, and then Malachi rounds out the Old Testament prophets in 433.
TD: And then you get about 400 years with no Bible written, no prophetic utterances that are written.
BS: And lots of action.
TD: Lots of action. You know, Alexander the Great takes over the world, and a lot of things happen in history that were predicted in Daniel.
TD: And we covered that in the Daniel series. But, really, until Jesus comes around, it’s sometimes called the 400 years of silence.
BS: That’s right. And so this book of Lamentations is specific to that siege of Jerusalem. And, so, looking in and zooming in a little bit on the historical background of what caused the siege and what transpired during it is what I’d like to talk about right now.
Judah is a small kingdom along the main trade routes between two superpowers. You have Egypt to its south and west; and then you have Babylon, which is a relatively new superpower off to Jerusalem’s east.
TD: Babylon’s to the north and east, but in the Bible, it’s usually said, “From the north,” because they didn’t ever come from the east because that would have been going across the desert. They would go up the river, and then come down from the north.
BS: That’s right. And they were following those trade routes to Egypt. And, so, Judah’s situated right on those trade routes, so it has an opportunity to be a great influencer of the world, if they’re faithful. And, as we see, Judah is not faithful.
And, so, the prophet Jeremiah begins to warn Judah over and over again, “Do not entrust yourself to Egypt. Do not trust Egypt. Don’t ally with Egypt.” And, of course, that’s exactly what Judah does. King Jehoiakim of Judah disregards Jeremiah’s advice, and he allies himself with a guy named Pharaoh Necho, who’s the ruler of Egypt.
And, then, Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon defeats Pharaoh Necho in the Battle of Carchemish in 605. And, so, after he deals with Egypt, he comes to deal with Judah accordingly, and Jehoiakim switches his alliance to Babylon. And then Babylon, later, has a failed invasion of Egypt, and Jehovah comes switches his alliance back to Egypt, again, against Jeremiah’s warnings. And, then, Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem. Jehoiakim dies.
And during the first siege of Jerusalem in 597, they put in a new king, and it’s actually a little boy named Jeconiah. He’s installed; and 10,000 are deported to Babylon. And that’s when you have Daniel and his friends get deported to Babylon.
But Jeconiah’s uncle, a guy named Zedekiah, acts as the governing authority over Jerusalem. And Jeconiah—again, he aligned himself with Egypt against Jeremiah’s warnings, and it’s at that point that Nebuchadnezzar comes back in 587-586 to besiege Jerusalem. And this time he shows no mercy, and Jerusalem falls in 586.
TD: Okay, so, there’s an invasion in 605. And then there’s one in 596 and then in 586? Is that right.
BS: Yes. Yeah, a battle between Egypt and Babylon in 605 and then—
TD: 605 is that battle? Okay. I had it in my mind that Daniel went in 605, and Ezekiel went in 596, and then 586. Probably Ezekiel and Daniel both went in 596, you think?
BS: I think that’s likely.
TD: Okay, so, we’ve got this, “I’m going to pick the winner and go with the winner,” instead of keeping your word.
BS: That’s right.
TD: And we dealt quite a bit on the insistence that the Bible has on keeping your word. We talked some about the Gibeonites, that God, like, 400 years later, said, “You broke your word. You have to keep it.”
So that there’s really no time fuse on keeping your word from God’s standpoint, which is very useful and hopeful for us because God doesn’t say, “Oh, well, my statute of limitations ran out of my promises.”
And that’s one of the things that we’re going to have. His promises, in spite of how horrific this is, the promises continue.
So, when you when you say “siege,” can you paint the picture of what the siege looks like? Jerusalem is a walled city; and during the time of Hezekiah, they rerouted the water source, so they had the ability to withstand a long period without being able to get water, which is helpful to them. And you can go through that tunnel today.
But what is happening here? What’s are the circumstances?
BS: So, as you described, when an army comes to attack a city, cities are often walled to protect themselves, so that way, the army can’t get in. And then it just becomes a game of waiting it out and seeing which side is going to break first. And sieges often begin in the late spring or summer because that’s when the crops are all growing and the army can forage and have food. And, then, most sieges are lifted either—if the city is still surviving by winter, then the army typically goes away because they’ve run out of food.
And so it’s a time of starvation. It’s a time of massive inflation. Money becomes worthless. Goods, food, any sort of resources to help you stay alive become greatly valuable. And, it’s just a really intense time for that city that’s under siege.
TD: One of the things that God had Jeremiah do was little plays or dramas that he put on to try to show people what was coming, and he talked about the massive inflation that was going to happen, and I think maybe it was Ezekiel that was cooking with dung and things like that. And the reason is because there were just no supplies.
BS: The dung is fuel to cook.
TD: Yeah. Now one of the things that Jeremiah particularly lamented over was, basically, cannibalism. Can you talk about that a little bit?
BS: Yes. That is in Lamentations chapter 2 and chapter 4. To me, that’s the worst part of the of the whole thing.
Lamentations 2:20 reads,
“See, O Lord, and consider! To whom have You done this? Should the women eat their offspring, The children they have cuddled? Should the priest and prophet be slain In the sanctuary of the Lord?
And, then, in verse 22, just a verse later, Jeremiah has kind of a twisted take on this. He says,
“You have invited as to a feast day The terrors that surround me.
And so the women and the children have run out of food. And so parents are eating their own young. Mothers that were the kindest, sweetest moms in all of the city have been reduced to eating their own young.
TD: Yeah. So that’s a that’s a pretty horrific picture of starvation. Sometimes these foreign powers would get these giant toothpicks and go up under the shields and just pluck the stones out of the wall so the walls would fall down. In this particular case, I guess, the starvation did the work. Or did both happen? Do you know, historically?
BS: Eventually the wall did come down. It broke, and the army came through and there was—
TD: Massive slaughter.
BS: —wholesale slaughter. And in some instances, it probably felt like mercy. This thing’s this thing’s over. We don’t have to keep doing this.
TD: Yeah. So there’s a there’s a scene in Jeremiah 19:1-4 where Jeremiah does an enactment, and the Lord tells him,
Thus says the Lord: “Go and get a potter’s earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests.
And go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate; and proclaim there the words that I will tell you, “Go get up potter’s earthen flask, and take the elders of the people, and go out to the Valley of the son of Hinnom that is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate.
and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring such a catastrophe on this place, that whoever hears of it, his ears will tingle.
And we just talked about that. That’s most definitely what happened.
“Because they have forsaken Me and made this an alien place, because they have burned incense in it to other gods whom neither they, their fathers, nor the kings of Judah have known, and have filled this place with the blood of the innocents
Now this is the sacrifice to Moloch. Moloch was a Moab God. Is that right? I think he was the Moab primary deity. [It was a Canaanite deity].
But the way you would sacrifice the Moloch is they would heat up this metal image and then you’d put your baby on it and burn your baby. And, so, it was child sacrifice. They would do this in the Valley of Hinnom, which is just outside the city.
The Hebrew word for that is Gehenna. Geh is valley; henna, Hinnom.
Interesting note that Gehenna shows up in the New Testament 12 times. In English, they decided to translate it hell.
BS: It is hellish.
TD: It’s very hellish, but that’s probably a misleading translation. But let’s read about this Valley of Hinnom, and it’s very definitely going to be hellish.
Jeremiah 19:5, (they have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind),
So apparently Baal worship had had a child sacrifices as well.
therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that this place shall no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom—
So it was called The Hinnom Valley, which is it’s still called today. You can go there. I’ve been there several times.
And it was called Tophet. Tophet means drums. So they would beat the drums so you didn’t hear the child screaming.
BS: That’s horrible.
TD: It’s really horrific. It’s interesting that God’s judgment is almost always giving us what we asked for. So, “You want you want to sacrifice your children? Well, you’re going to end up eating them.” It’s really horrific.
He says, this place shall no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.
And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place—I think the idea of going to Egypt— and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hands of those who seek their lives; their corpses I will give as meat for the birds of the heaven and for the beasts of the earth.
I will make this city desolate and a hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its plagues.
And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters—so there’s the prophecy— and everyone shall eat the flesh of his friend in the siege and in the desperation with which their enemies and those who seek their lives shall drive them to despair.” ’
“Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you,— So they’re outside the Potsherd gate, and he’s breaking the flask.
and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Even so I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot be made whole again; and they shall bury them in Tophet—or the Valley of Hinnom or the Valley of Slaughter, Hinnom Valley— till there is no place to bury.
Thus I will do to this place,” says the Lord,
And you can see in Mark 9, there’s an episode where Jesus says to the disciples, “It’s better to cut off your hand than have your body thrown in hell.” Well, actually, it’s “Have your body thrown in the Hinnom Valley.”
And this might’ve been what he had in mind here: Nobody wants to lose a hand. But it’s better to lose a hand than to lose your whole life and be thrown into this Valley. And he might’ve had in mind this slaughter, being part of a slaughter, which came about through disobedience.
And, in fact, the point that Jesus is making there is don’t let anything stand in the way of seeking my way of righteousness. Don’t let anything—even something good that’s going to be a stumbling block for you—get rid of it, even if it’s something that’s good that you have a lot of affection for.
So it’s a horrific episode in world history. Do you happen to know what percent of the population was lost?
BS: I don’t know what the percent of the population was that was lost, but I know they all suffered greatly for it.
TD: That valley’s pretty sizable. To fill up that valley with bodies could have been hundreds of thousands of people.
BS: There was nobody in the city that was not affected by the siege or the destruction that followed. Everybody suffered. It was a total catastrophe.
How Jeremiah Was Affected
TD: Now what about Jeremiah? So he went through the siege too.
BS: Yes. So, Jeremiah has been warning all along, and he’s been punished throughout by the by the rulers of Jerusalem. I think he was thrown in a well at some point for speaking the truth because he wasn’t telling the kings and the rulers and the governing authorities what they wanted to hear. They had their false prophets who were really quick to tickle the ears of the magistrates. But Jeremiah was speaking the truth.
And he even says at different points, “God, why did you give this to me? You’re plaguing me by giving me this prophetic vision, and I wish that I didn’t even have to say this anymore. I wish I could just shut up. But there’s this fire that’s in my bones that I have to speak.”
And, so, Jeremiah has some heart-to-heart with God about, “Why is it that I’m the one that has to do this? Because I’m suffering, and nobody’s listening.”
And he endures the whole siege. He survives it and weeps for his people. I mean, he is very sad to see this happen. He’s doesn’t take a vindictive tone, like, “Now you’re getting it! I told you!” He doesn’t “pull a Jonah” where he is smug and happy to be proven right. He weeps for his people, and he does pray some for God’s vindication with that, but he doesn’t seem to be very smug in his in his approach after it’s all done.
Moses Prophesied the Siege
TD: Anything else you want to include on this historical context before we go into the lessons that we can gain from this?
BS: Yeah. You mentioned earlier Jeremiah’s prophecy that this is what will happen, but, actually, there’s a prophecy much earlier from Moses saying, “Choose life; choose death. If you choose life, here’re the good things that are going to happen. And if you disobey me, here’re the bad things that are going to happen.”
And this is what Moses says about it, and this is 800 years or so—my math is terrible—but it’s centuries before the events actually take place. And this is Deuteronomy 28:52.
“They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust, come down throughout all your land; and they shall besiege you at all your gates throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you.
You shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you.
The sensitive and very refined man among you will be hostile toward his brother, toward the wife of his bosom, and toward the rest of his children whom he leaves behind,
so that he will not give any of them the flesh of his children whom he will eat, because he has nothing left in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you at all your gates.
The tender and delicate woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because of her delicateness and sensitivity, will refuse to the husband of her bosom, and to her son and her daughter,
her placenta which comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears; for she will eat them secretly for lack of everything in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you at all your gates.
“If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD.
TD: Wow. I don’t think I ever noticed that. That’s amazing!
It Was a Contract
BS: Moses predicted this and said, “You’ve got two choices. You can go this route which is going to lead to unimaginable horrors and death to where families are fighting over the bodies of their children, over who’s going to get to eat them. You can go that route, or you can follow me and enjoy all the blessings and the prosperity that God wants and encourages us to have. It’s your choice.”
TD: It’s your choice. And, of course, this was part of a covenant that Moses made and said, “Okay, if you’ll do this, and if you’ll obey my law, be self-governing, love your neighbor as yourself, live for others instead of living for your own appetites, then I’ll make you a priestly nation. You’re at this trade route. Everybody will come through and see how fantastic it is to live this way, and you’ll affect the whole earth, and you’ll do my work for me.
“Or you can disobey. And if you, do here are the cursings that are going to come upon you, including all of this.”
And the people said, “We sign the agreement. We agree.”
So it was a deal.
TD: It was a deal. They agreed to the deal upfront. We’ve gone over this before, but it’s worth repeating. 2 Chronicles 36. First and Second Chronicles and Ezra as are all part of the retelling of Israel’s history, looking backwards. First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings are telling the history in the moment. And this is telling it, looking back and saying, “How come this happened to us?”
And it ends in 2 Chronicles 36:15.
And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.
So, he sent them warning after warning.
BS: Jeremiah is one of those warnings.
TD: He’s one of them. Ezekiel is another.
But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy.
BS:There was no remedy.
TD: So every contract—which is what a covenant is; it’s a contract. Every contract has a remedies section where it says, “If you default this contract, you can have a remedy, an opportunity to cure.”
So this is the notice. “Hey, you’re in violation of your contract.”
BS: You’re running out of remedies.
TD: Here’s your opportunity for a cure, and the grace period ran out. There are no more remedies. So he foreclosed, so to speak.
So, yeah, that’s a really great point that this was the deal; and they chose it. It’s not like this wasn’t understood. They just chose not to see it.
BS: And that’s the warning that we have today because I imagine it was very tempting for Judah to believe, “You know, we’re God’s chosen people. Those bad things really aren’t going to happen to us! That thing that Moses said, that’s just gas. That’s there to scare little kids, but real bad, real harm, God is not going to let happen because we are his chosen people.”
And for us as believers, that same temptation applies to us because we can say and look and rest in the truth that if we’ve believed in Jesus for forgiving us our sins and have entrusted ourselves to have eternal life in him, then we’re going to heaven when we die. And that is irrevocably true. That’s the gift. That is not going to be taken away, and we will go to heaven when we die. We will be with God, and we will always belong to God’s family. There’s nothing we can do to be kicked out of his family.
TD: But it doesn’t mean everything’s going to be happy, right?
BS: That’s right. That doesn’t mean there are no bad consequences for disobedience.
TD: So now let’s move from the historical zoom out and start talking about some of the lessons. So, now, let’s go into what lessons can we take from this horrifically bad circumstance that took place.
“This could never happen happened to us.”
BS: That’s the temptation because God gives us those warnings. Trust and obey me because God has great reward for us, and if we are faithful to follow God in our lives and in our circumstances, and choose to follow him, then there’s great blessing that we have, both in this life because we have that closeness with Jesus; but there’s also the inheritance of reward that God has for us.
And if we disobey God and choose to shirk the mantle of responsibility that God’s given to us, then we can miss out on that prize, and we can miss out on the full participation of God’s kingdom and dwelling in that.