"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 31





Chapter 31: Understanding the Exile (1)


Chapter 31 Contents

31.1 Introduction

31.2 Recap: The Early Prophetic Context

31.3 The Historical Context

31.4 The Prophetic Context – through Jeremiah

31.5 Brief Conclusions


31.1 Introduction


Without doubt the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple within, and then the Exile of the inhabitants of Judah, must have been the most traumatic and devastating thing that ever happened to Israel. Again, without doubt, it is the most dramatic and incredible judgment recorded in the Bible. For a time it must have looked as if it was the end of the people of Israel and question marks must have hung over all of the words spoken over Israel from the days of Abram onwards, that this would be their land forever.


In this chapter we will examine the historical context and see who was involved and when. Then we will go on to consider the prophetic context and see how God's will was displayed through His prophet, Jeremiah. Finally we will see the outworking or end of the exile. Because we have covered the northern and southern kingdoms already in previous chapters, we will simply use snippets from those chapters to resource this one.

Remember from the previous chapters the following are the final kings of the southern kingdom:

14. Manasseh (55) – before Jeremiah's time but referred to by him

15. Amon (2) – before Jeremiah's time.

16. Josiah (31) – Jeremiah's ministry started during his reign

17. Jehoahaz (3m) – not mentioned by Jeremiah, perhaps because of brevity of reign.

18. Jehoiakim (11)

19. Jehoiachin (3m)

20. Zedekiah (11)


Before we move on there are two warnings to heed:

1. Please read all the prophetic words of the warnings etc. from Jeremiah, for a failure to do so will mean you will fail to understand the depth of the crisis and the wonder of the grace of God.

2. Dates are important, and become more so the further we go through these two chapters, because they show the order of events and the wonder of the Lord's grace speaking and moving as He did.


31.2 Recap: The Early Prophetic Context


We have already noted, in the studies of the kings, the following three words that clearly seemed to indicate the Lord's long-term intent in respect of disciplining or judging Jerusalem way before He brought it about finally. Remember these words came long before the final years of the southern kingdom:


In Hezekiah's time


2 Kings 20:16-18 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the LORD: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood, that will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."

  • This rebuke came because Hezekiah had shown off to the representatives from Babylon.
  • Discipline would be brought in the years to come from Babylon (this was a strange and unlikely word because Assyria was a greater threat at that time than Babylon was).
  • Manasseh, Hezekiah's son was taken to Babylon (2 Chron 33:11) as the first fulfillment of v.18
  • Later Jehoiakim , Jehoiachin , and Zedekiah, later family members, were all taken to Babylon
  • (see this also in Isa 39:5-7)
  • This word was as early as somewhere around 700BC i.e. roughly about 130 before the fall of Jerusalem


In Manasseh's time


2 Kings 21:10-15 The LORD said through his servants the prophets: " Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel , says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their foes, because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day."

  • Because of Manasseh's terrible sins this massive judgment was declared (v.11)
  • God will bring a massive disaster on Jerusalem (v.12)
  • Even as Samaria was wiped out and destroyed so will Jerusalem (v.13)
  • Everyone will be handed over to their enemies and the city utterly looted (v.14)
  • This is a culmination of their sins committed ever since they left Egypt (v.15)


Despite Josiah's good reign


2 Kings 23:26-27 Nevertheless, the LORD did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger. So the LORD said, "I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel , and I will reject Jerusalem , the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, `There shall my Name be.”

  • This was after Josiah's good reign.
  • It would appear that the Lord saw the depth to which Judah could descend (as witnessed under Manasseh) and so even though Manasseh repented in Babylon and brought the people back into good standing, and even though he was followed by Josiah, nevertheless the Lord knew what their ongoing life would be unless something really radical was done to remove all idolatry.
  • This judgment, it seems, was ‘put on the back burner' until, despite Israel being given further chances at redemption, the in-depth sin of the kings and the people was revealed to be dealt with.



31.3 The Historical Context


I have concluded that you can really only understand the words of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel if you understand the historical events taking place in their lifetimes. In this brief overview we will go back and observe the kings of the southern kingdom after Israel in the north is carried away and then the invasions of Nebuchadnezzar that the Lord used to discipline Judah:


The kings of the south


Centuries pass and Israel, the northern kingdom, is carried away and still the southern kingdom is a mix of good and bad kings.

  • Ahaz was king in the south, when Israel in the north was carried away, a bad king who refused God's chastening (see 2 Chron 28:1-11,22-25).
  • Hezekiah who followed (2 Chron 29-32), was essentially a good king though he struggled with pride in his last years.
  • Manasseh who followed was a seriously bad king restoring idolatry in a big way (2 Chron 33:1-11), and was carried to Babylon by God's discipline where, amazingly, he repented and was restored to his land and to kingship (2 Chron 33:12-20).
  • Amon who came next only did bad and was assassinated within two years (2 Chron 33:21-25).
  • Josiah the next king (2 Chron 34 & 35), was a remarkably good king but was killed in an unnecessary battle.


He was followed by the final four bad kings:

  • Jehoahaz (who only lasted 3 months – 2 Chron 36:1-5),
  • Jehoiakim (11 years, 2 Chron 36:5-8),
  • Jehoiachin (only 3 months, 2 Chron 36:9,10) and finally
  • Zedekiah (11 years, 2 Chron 36:11-21).


So much for Judah's closing history as far as the kings went. The final three kings were all taken into captivity in Babylon:

  • Jehoiakim, (2 Chron 36:6), in 598BC,
  • Jehoiachin, (2 Chron 36:10) in 597BC, and then
  • Zedekiah, in 587BC with the fall of Jerusalem.


Invasions by the north


To emphasise the point immediately above, throughout this period Nebuchadnezzar invaded three times, when he came and took captives to Babylon from Judah:


a) It started in 605 , when Daniel and his friends were taken.

b) It was repeated in 597 when Ezekiel and some ten thousand Jews were deported to Babylon (see 2 Kings 24:12-17) and then

c) finally to quash Zedekiah's rebellion in 588/587. (the siege of Jerusalem lasted over a year before it fell)


Nebuchadnezzar was a key player in the Exile, being God's instrument to bring it about. The fact that he came three times to Jerusalem in this period indicates the stubbornness and folly of the kings and leaders of Judah who refused to heed God's words and repent and thus became objects of His disciplinary judgments.



31.4 The Prophetic Context - through Jeremiah


To understand why the Exile took place and why Jerusalem was destroyed we have to see the words that came from heaven through God's prophets on the scene. We start with Jeremiah. We should note that he focuses on Nebuchadnezzar coming from the north but as we have noted already Nebuchadnezzar came three times and took people away from Jerusalem before finally destroying it. Here we will see first of all, Jeremiah in context and then:

•  The Judgments

•  The Reason for the Judgments

•  Hopes for the Future


Jeremiah's Duration


As we read in the opening verses below we see Jeremiah prophesied through the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. However if we consider the short table below, we will note that there were in fact five kings of Judah in that period but perhaps the recorder doesn't bother to mention Jehoahaz and Jehoiahin because they both only reigned for such short periods.


2 Kings 22:1 - 23:30 / 2Chr 34:1 – 35:27

Josiah 640BC (31yrs)

2 Kings 23:31-33 / 2Chron 36:1-4

Jehoahaz 609BC (3 months)

2 Kings 23:34 – 24:6 / 2Chr 36:5-8

Jehoiakim 609BC (11yrs)

2 Kings 24:8-15, 25:27-30 / 2Chr 36:9-10

Jehoiachin 598BC (3 months)

2 Kings 24:17 – 25:7 / 2Chr 36:11-14

Zedekiah 597BC (11yrs)

2 Kings 25:8-26 / 2Chr 36:15-23

END 587BC then EXILE


Dates in the Old Testament are sometimes difficult to tie down and make exact and so those given above are likely to be within a year either side.


Jer 1:2,3 The word of the LORD came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

  • This is Jeremiah, God's man on the spot, presiding over this whole period of history and speaking God's word into it again and again through the reigns of the final five kings of the southern kingdom.


The JUDGMENTS that will come


It is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether specific words were generally about the destructions that are coming, or if they refer to specific invasions. In a number of the prophetic words that we will note throughout this and the next chapter, we will put them in an itemised layout to make more clear and emphasise the number of things that are being said in each word.


(From the outset) God's tool of discipline and judgment is identified


Jer 1:14-16   The LORD said to me,

•  " From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms," declares the LORD.

•  "Their kings will come and set up their thrones in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem; they will come against all her surrounding walls and against all the towns of Judah.

•  I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made.

  • The warning is about a northern invader who would be used to discipline the southern kingdom.
  • It does not specify which invasion this refers to or is just generally about how God will discipline them.
  • The cause is made clear – idolatry and forsaking God.


The extent of the Judgments clarified


Jer 4:5-7,16,26,27 Announce in Judah and proclaim in Jerusalem and say: `Sound the trumpet throughout the land!' Cry aloud and say: `Gather together! Let us flee to the fortified cities!' Raise the signal to go to Zion ! Flee for safety without delay!

•  For I am bringing disaster from the north , even terrible destruction ." A lion has come out of his lair; a destroyer of nations has set out. He has left his place to lay waste your land.

•  Your towns will lie in ruins without inhabitant …….. "Tell this to the nations, proclaim it to Jerusalem:

•  `A besieging army is coming from a distant land, raising a war cry against the cities of Judah ……….

•  I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger. This is what the LORD says: "The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely.

Chapter 2,3 and 4 are a long challenge to Judah and as they near the end, these specific warnings reiterate what came in that picture interpreted in chapter 1: Destruction is coming from the north.


Jer 6:1,2   For disaster looms out of the north, even terrible destruction. I will destroy the Daughter of Zion, so beautiful and delicate.

  • Yes, Jerusalem will be destroyed by an invader from the north
  • The message is repeated again and again.


Jer 13:19   The cities in the Negev will be shut up, and there will be no one to open them. All Judah will be carried into exile, carried completely away.

  • In case there is any doubt, it means not only destruction but all Judah will go into exile


Some of his prophecies are addressed to the four specific kings in this period, e.g.:


i) Specific call to repentance in Josiah's day (probably 626)


Jer 3:6 During the reign of King Josiah , the LORD said to me, "Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.

  • It appears this was probably about thirteen years into Josiah's reign (see Jer 1:2)
  • The main burden is to call for repentance and is not about end judgment – this repentance came and Josiah was greatly used to bring the nation back to God (see 2 Chron 34 & 35)


ii) Specific warning to Jehoiakin (must be 605)


Jer 25:1,9-11 The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah , which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon ….. I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon ," declares the LORD, "and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland

  • This must be 605BC. This is shortly before Nebuchadnezzar comes later in the year.
  • He will devastate the surrounding nations and this land


iii) Specific warning to Jehoiachin (must be 597)


Jer 22:24-27 As surely as I live," declares the LORD, "even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek your life, those you fear--to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to the Babylonians. I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die. You will never come back to the land you long to return to."

  • Clearly a specific word to Jehoiachin who only reigned 3 months and was taken to Babylon in 597.


iv) Final specific warning to Zedekiah (almost certainly 588)


Jer 21:1-10 . They said: "Inquire now of the LORD for us because Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is attacking us. Perhaps the LORD will perform wonders for us as in times past so that he will withdraw from us." But Jeremiah answered them, "Tell Zedekiah, `This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands, which you are using to fight the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are outside the wall besieging you.

•  And I will gather them inside this city.

•  I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in anger and fury and great wrath.

•  I will strike down those who live in this city--both men and animals--and they will die of a terrible plague.

•  After that, declares the LORD, I will hand over Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the people in this city who survive the plague, sword and famine, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to their enemies who seek their lives. He will put them to the sword; he will show them no mercy or pity or compassion.'

•  "Furthermore, tell the people, `This is what the LORD says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; he will escape with his life.

•  I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the LORD. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon , and he will destroy it with fire.'

  • Clearly Nebuchadnezzar is attacking Jerusalem (v.2) which probably makes it early 588 after Zedekiah had rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar.
  • First the Lord is going to send plague into Jerusalem (v.5,6)
  • Then the occupants will be handed over to Nebuchadnezzar (v.7)
  • BUT the people have an option (v.8) – surrender to Nebuchadnezzar and live (v.9b) or stay and fight and die (v.9a)
  • One way or another Jerusalem will be destroyed by fire (v.10)




We have seen examples from Jeremiah where

  • He brings general warning of destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the people at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar
  • He warns Josiah and the country to repent (and they do)
  • He warns Jehoiakim that Nebuchadnezzar will be coming shortly
  • He warns Jehoiachin that Nebuchadnezzar will carry him away
  • He warns Zedekiah that Jerusalem will fall shortly


The REASONS for the Judgments that will come


So far we have focused on the coming judgments facing each king but the reader may legitimately ask, why were these things happening? Now we need to look through Jeremiah to see God's indictment of the nation.


i) The early charges agaisnt the nation in Josiah's day


  • His initial charge (see chapter 2) is that Israel ( Judah ) had drifted away from what they had once been and had taken up with false gods or idols (2:11)
  • Moreover they had forsaken the Lord and replied upon Egypt and Assyria (2:17,18)
  • The land was filled with signs of foreign religions (3:1,2)
  • Judah had failed to learn from what had happened to Israel (3:6-10)
  • Dishonesty and lies prevail in Jerusalem (5:1,2)
  • They have been stubborn and refused to return to the Lord (5:22-25)
  • Remember, these had simply been warnings and calls to repentance in Josiah's day, and that followed and the subsequent period of his reign was a good time.


ii) Background Cause of the Main Judgment


Despite specific sins spoken again, which we will come on to shortly, there appears an overall ‘cloud' hanging over the southern kingdom from the days of Manasseh:


Jer 15:2-6   This is what the LORD says: "Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.' "I will send four kinds of destroyers against them," declares the LORD, …….

•  I will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem. "Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem? Who will mourn for you? Who will stop to ask how you are? You have rejected me," declares the LORD.

•  "You keep on backsliding. So I will lay hands on you and destroy you; I can no longer show compassion.

Death will come to Jerusalem all because of what Manasseh did and the depth to which apostasy settled in the heart of the nation.

This, if you like, we may see as the cloud hanging over the nation, the potential in the nation just waiting to be repeated, backsliding just waiting to happen yet again.

But there are very specific reasons that he lays out which we'll move on to.


iii) Specific Sins


Because Jeremiah is not necessarily in chronological order it is difficult to know whether sins spoken about were ones in existence in the earlier days of Josiah (which he dealt with) or whether they were ongoing sins that kept on getting repeated in the reigns of those who followed Josiah. We will simply pick up examples of those sins he speaks about generally:


Jer 4:1,2 “If you will return, O Israel , return to me," declares the LORD. "If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, `As surely as the LORD lives,' then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory."

  • They had gone away from the Lord
  • They had done this by worshiping idols
  • Their words sounded right but were false and hypocritical


Jer 4:14,18,22 O Jerusalem , wash the evil from your heart and be saved. How long will you harbor wicked thoughts?.... Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you…… My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good."

  • Wrong behaviour and wrong thinking is at the heart of this people who clearly do not know their God.


Jer 5:1,7,11,31   Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem , look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city….. Your children have forsaken me and sworn by gods that are not gods….. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have been utterly unfaithful to me…. The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.

  • Dishonesty is rife! Idolatry is rife! They have abandoned God. False religion prevails.


Jer 6:13 (also 8:10) From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.

Jer 7:5-7,9,30,31   If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever….. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known …… The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the LORD. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire

  • The logic is that these things were there and should be dealt with.
  • Corruption, injustice and dishonesty and idolatry prevailed including child sacrifices.


Jer 8:19 Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?"


Jer 9:3-6 They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me," declares the LORD. "Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers. For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer. Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me," declares the LORD.

  • Lies and deception are the norm, together with ignoring the Lord.


Jer 11:3,4, 7,8, 10, 13   Tell them that this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Cursed is the man who does not obey the terms of this covenant-- the terms I commanded your forefathers when I brought them out of Egypt….. From the time I brought your forefathers up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, "Obey me." But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts ….. They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant I made with their forefathers….. You have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.'

  • At the heart of the Sinai covenant was the call to worship one God only
  • Ever since then they had broken that covenant and worshipped foreign gods and foreign idols


See also –

16:11,12 – forefathers had forsaken the Lord, they were worse

16:18 – the land full of vile images

17:2 – even their children know the Asherah pole idols

17:21 – ignoring the Sabbath day

18:15 – God has been rejected for idols

22.3 – oppression and injustice again

22:9 – the covenant broken and idols worshipped

22:17 – oppression, injustice and violence

23:1 – leaders don't care for the people

23:11 – godlessness in the Temple

23:14 – Jerusalem has become like Sodom and Gomorrah

25:4 – they refuse the Lord's words and continue to worship idols

etc. etc.


To summarise: Judah have settle into a life of pagan idolatry that ignores the Lord, forgets the past, has a counterfeit present religion and a moral life that is so lacking so that oppression, injustice and violence continue on and on.


HOPES for the Future


i) Possibility of repentance


Jer 26:2-6 "This is what the LORD says: Stand in the courtyard of the LORD's house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the LORD. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent and not bring on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done. Say to them, `This is what the LORD says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth.' "

  • The hope is that they will listen and turn back (v.3)
  • Failure to listen will bring the judgments (v.4-6)


ii) Hope of Restoration after exile


Jer 29:10-14 This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon , I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."

  • The judgment is not the end.
  • The Lord will bring His people back to Jerusalem (v.10)
  • His intent is to bless them (v.11)
  • They will call on Him with all their heart and He will bring them back (v.12-14)



31.5 Brief Conclusions


So far in this study of the judgment that we call ‘The Exile' we have noted

  • the earlier prophetic input revealing God's long-term will,
  • the kings of the southern kingdom after the fall of Samaria,
  • the ministry of Jeremiah through the reigns of the last five kings, showing
  • his warnings of the judgments to come, and
  • the reasons for those judgment, and yet
  • hope given of a restoration after the Exile.

Ultimately the impression is given – via the earlier prophecies and those from Jeremiah – that this godless, unrighteous and idolatrous lifestyle has so permeated the life of Judah that it cannot be removed by words. Therefore the only option left is to completely clear the land of all its people, and take them away to other lands for a forty year period until the surviving remnant come to their senses. This will be seen when God returns them to their land and they will come with new hearts wanting nothing of their godless past and a yearning to have God in their midst.


In the next Chapter we will see the contributions of Ezekiel and Daniel in revealing God's purposes through the Exile and subsequent restoration.


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