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SIMPLIFIED JOURNEY (12): Judah Alone & Without God


The Northern Kingdom of Israel went into Assyrian Captivity about 722 b.c. In about 606 b.c., the Babylonians carried the first wave of prisoners from Jerusalem to Babylon. They took another group about 597 b.c., and finally took all but the poorest of the people in 586 b.c. At this time they also destroyed the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. The entire country was laid waste.

What had Judah done to deserve such a fate?

Virtually the entire nation was corrupt by the time of the Babylonian Captivity. Four main groups of people figured into this near total corruption: The Princes (kings), the Priests, the Prophets, and the People.

The Princes

The kings of Judah were all descendants of David. God had promised David his line would endure forever as kings over his kingdom. (2 Samuel 7:16. This promise still is valid, as Jesus sits on the throne of His father, David. See Luke 1:33, in the annunciation to Mary of Jesus’ coming birth.)

Even though they came from a worthy father, many of these 19 kings (Solomon through Zedekiah) were exceedingly wicked. As noted earlier, neither Saul nor Solomon walked in the Lord’s way. That was the reason God took the kingdom from Saul and 10 tribes from Solomon. Judah’s decline was not as rapid as that of Israel in the North, for there were several “good” kings – relatively speaking. Some of these were righteous only for a portion of their reign.

In the 7th year of the reign of Hezekiah over Judah, Israel went into Captivity. Hezekiah was a good king, blessed by God in many ways because his trust was always in God, not in himself or in alliances with foreign kings. In the 14th year of Hezekiah’s reign, the Assyrians came against Judah. They besieged Jerusalem and demanded Hezekiah’s surrender. They said:

Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria [the capitol of Israel, JS] from my hand? Who of the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand? – 2 Kings 18:33-35

When Hezekiah heard these things, he tore his clothes and went to the Temple to pray to God for deliverance from this charge against God Himself. Hezekiah recognized God alone as sovereign and pleaded with Him to hear the words of the Assyrian. That night, the angel of the LORD visited the Assyrian camp – and 185,000 men died there. Then, the rest of them left and went home.

Had all the kings of Judah acted as Hezekiah, they would have endured. More of them, though, were like Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh.

He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.” In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking Him to anger. 2 Kings 21:2-6

With kings like that, is it any wonder that the LORD determined to punish these people? However, He still remembered His promise to David that he would always have a son on his throne. Judah’s Captivity would only be for 70 years.

The Priests

Prior to the United Kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon the chief leaders in Israel were the priests. The Judges were only “sometime” leaders. There was not always a judge; there were always priests. Some of the Judges were also priests, such as Eli and Samuel.  The locus of leadership passed to the kings after Samuel anointed Saul and David. The priests were still able to influence the kings, however – if they would.

Some of the priests did this – but precious few of them did. Most of the priests followed the lead of the king. In this, they were like the “priests” in England in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. Most of these either used the Mass or the Common Book of Prayer, depending on the religion of the monarch. A few stood for conviction – and some of them died for it. Most followed the wishes of the king or queen. The priests of Judah and Israel were frequently like that as well.

Jeremiah, a prophet of the LORD who lived in the last part of the Kingdom of Judah, said,

The priests did not ask, “Where is the LORD.” Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols. – Jeremiah 2:8

When the priests have forgotten the LORD, what hope is there for the kingdom?

The Prophets

As noted in the quote just above from Jeremiah, the prophets also followed the worthless idols. Manasseh, Hezekiah’s grandfather, introduced Baal worship in Judah. He and his son, Amon, put altars to idol gods right in the Temple of the Lord – and most of the prophets did not say a thing against it.

Yes, there were faithful prophets of the LORD during this period. Isaiah’s ministry overlapped the reign of Hezekiah. He had a good influence on Hezekiah at several critical points in his reign. Jeremiah, in Jerusalem, and Ezekiel, in Babylon, prophesied to the people of Judah just before and in the early parts of the Captivity. Both of them warned against false prophets, as did Zechariah, a contemporary of Jeremiah in Jerusalem.

But I said, “Ah Sovereign LORD, the prophets keep telling them ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.’”

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idoatries and the delusions of their own minds. Therefore, this is what the LORD says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name; I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine.” – Jeremiah 14:13-15

[Jerusalem’s] prophets are arrogant; they are treacherous men. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law. – Zephaniah 3:4

Many passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel especially speak of how these false prophets were pandering to the kings and saying what they wanted to hear.

The People

With political and spiritual leaders who were corrupt, what chance did the people have? Yet they also come in for a share of the blame. After all, they chose to follow these corrupt leaders.

For example, Isaiah spoke of the people’s reaction to the LORD’s anger expressed against Israel:

But the people have not returned to him who struck them [i.e. to the LORD – JS], nor have they sought the LORD Almighty. So the LORD will cut off from Israel both head and tail, both palm branch and reed in a single day; the elders and prominent men are the head, the prophets who teach lies are the tail. Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray. – Isaiah 9:13-15

Or consider this lament from Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah at the end of the Kingdom of Israel & beginning of the period of Judah alone:

Lately my people have risen up like an enemy. You strip off the rich robe from those who pass by without a care, like men returning from battle. – Micah 2:8

During the reign of Manasseh (a very wicked king indeed), the author of 2 Kings reminds us of the promise God had made to David and Solomon:

[Manasseh] took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple, of which the LORD had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever. I will not again make the feet of the Israelites wander from the land I gave their forefathers, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them and will keep the whole Law that my servant Moses gave them.” – 2 Kings 21:7-8

He then added how the people responded to this:

But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites. – 2 Kings 21:9

The Prince, the Priests, the prophets, and the People: all had run after false gods and into sin of every kind. Not long before the fall of Judah, God spoke to Jeremiah:

If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city. – Jeremiah 5:1

That one person was not found, and Judah was carried away into Captivity in Babylon for 70 years – until the land would enjoy all of the Sabbath years of rest it should have had.

But God did not forget His people, nor did He forget His promises to Abraham and David. The poets and the prophets, though they spoke of the sins of the people, also reminded them of God’s promises and said that He would one day fulfill them.

NEXT: SIMPLIFIED STORY (13) – Exile and Return

PREVIOUS: SIMPLIFIED STORY (11) – Divided Kingdom

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