THE BIBLE STORY
VOLUME 6
1988

Table of Contents
Introduction
Chapter 129 A NEW KING IN ISRAEL
Chapter 130 JEZEBEL, CHAOS AND A BOY KING
Chapter 131 WHEN A NATION TURNS TO IDOLS
Chapter 132 FACE TO FACE-WITH REALITY
Chapter 133 JONAH AND THE "WHALE"
Chapter 134 EVEN PROPHETS AND KINGS MUST REPENT
Chapter 135 ISRAEL GOES TO WAR WITH THE JEWS
Chapter 136 JUDAH IS STRONG-ISRAEL IS WEAK
Chapter 137 ISRAEL CONQUERED-JUDAH SPARED
Chapter 138 A RIGHTEOUS KING
Chapter 139 A TYRANT'S BOAST AND DIVINE JUSTICE
Chapter 140 THE SUNDIAL OF AHAZ
Chapter 141 THE DECLINE OF JUDAH
Chapter 142 MANASSEH REPENTS
Chapter 143 JOSIAH'S CRUSADE AGAINST IDOLATRY
Chapter 144 JEREMIAH WARNS JUDAH
Chapter 145 JEHOIAKIM BUYS TROUBLE
Chapter 146 TYRANNIZED BY BABYLON
Chapter 147 SIEGE -- WARNING -- DEFIANCE -- GRIEF!
Chapter 148 ORDEAL BY SIEGE
Chapter 149 JUDAH FALLS APART
Chapter 150 NO SAFETY IN EGYPT
Chapter 151 DAVID'S THRONE RE-ESTABLISHED
Chapter 152 ADVISER TO NEBUCHADNEZZAR
Chapter 153 NEBUCHADNEZZAR GOES INSANE
Chapter 154 FALL OF BABYLON THE GREAT
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INTRODUCTION
by Herbert W. Armstrong

In response to overwhelming demand this sixth and revised
volume of "The Bible Story" is published. We are thrilled, and
overjoyed, because of the enthusiastic acceptance of Volumes I
through V.
Those who have read the previous five volumes know that
there has never been a Bible story book like this. There have, of
course, been many Bible story books -- too many, of a kind. But
they seem to have no mission, except to entertain children. They
seem to try to compete with the exciting fiction of violence of
which youngsters see entirely too much on television -- or read
in cheap novels or comic books.
These children's Bible story books are often no more than a
series of disconnected blood-and-thunder stories drawn from
certain biblical incidents. There is no connection between one
and another, or with the gospel. They are shorn of their real
meaning. They may actually degrade the Bible in children's minds.
The real connection of these biblically recorded incidents with
the MEANING and PURPOSE of life -- of God's message to mankind --
is ignored. Yet all these incidents are recorded in the Bible
BECAUSE they have real and deep MEANING. They teach vital lessons
that ought to be made plain to children -- and to adults as well!
Years ago the seriousness of this situation became apparent.
God was blessing with rapid and constant growth His Work and
Church. But the children were being neglected in this ministry.
How could the Church of God supply this lack? For years it was a
frustrating dilemma.
HOW could one get to growing children a real knowledge of
God -- of the Creator and His vast creation -- of His power,
authority, and rulership over all He created -- of the very
PURPOSE in having put humans on this earth -- of the vital
CONNECTION between these biblical incidents and the meaning of
life?
It is ten times more difficult to UNLEARN error than to
learn TRUTH. This, then, was the dilemma that challenged us:
children today are being reared in the same old secular pagan
philosophies and customs, with the addition of the so-called
scientific approach that has arrived with the acceptance of the
theory of evolution. This attempt to explain the presence of a
creation without the existence of a Creator has become the basic
concept by which all causes, origins and purposes are explained.
By the time innocent children have been inoculated with this
anti-God poison and reached maturity, most of them have much to
unlearn before their minds can accept original truth. An inborn
prejudice has been set up. And prejudice is an absolute barrier
to the entrance of TRUTH into the mind.
But what could we do about it?
In due time God supplied the man for this important
undertaking. Basil Wolverton was a nationally known artist in the
United States. His work appeared in more than fifty nationally
circulated magazines. He was both an artist and a trained writer.
He was converted through the "World Tomorrow" broadcast many years
ago. He was a student and teacher of the Bible.
In November, 1958, "The Bible Story" started serially in "The
Plain Truth".
But it is NOT written ONLY for children! We like to say it
is written for children from 5 to 105! Mr. Wolverton wrote in
simple, understandable language, easily read by children at the
nine-to twelve-year-old level, yet INTERESTING to adults as well!
With professional expertise, Mr. Wolverton makes this
story-flow gripping and thrilling in plain and simple words.
Parents can read this book to four-and five-year olds, and with a
little explaining, make it understandable and also absorbing and
interesting.
"The Bible Story" is definitely NOT a series of disconnected
stories of excitement and violence with no special meaning. Our
purpose is to tell simply, in language children can read and
understand, plainly, yet interestingly the story of the Bible
itself, beginning at the beginning. A continuous story thread
runs through the entire Bible. Not many have ever grasped this
amazing yet important fact. Most people read a verse here or a
chapter there, failing to properly connect them, or understand
the true continuity of the Bible story.
Mr. Wolverton stuck to the literal biblical account. He has
taken author's license to portray certain incidents in
conversational style, or to fill in, for purposes of clarity and
realism, a few "tomatoes on the window sill." Yet he was
zealously careful to avoid adding to, or detracting from, the
real and intended meaning of the sacred Scriptures.
The present volume is a continuing memorial of Basil
Wolverton, who died in December 1978, and is presented to you as
a ministry of love, without money and without price. It is our
fervent hope that it will bring to you and your children
enlightenment, interesting reading, understanding, and abundant
blessings from its original and TRUE AUTHOR, Jesus Christ.
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Chapter 129
A NEW KING IN ISRAEL

JEHORAM, king of the House of Judah, fled with his family toward
his palace when Arabians and Philistines broke into Jerusalem.
Before they could get inside, the king's frantically racing wives
and children were seized by Arabian riders and whisked away.
Jehoram reached the palace and ran to a secret hiding place. (II
Chronicles 21:1-16).


The End of a Bad Reign

For the next several hours he paced back and forth,
miserably wondering what was taking place. Occasionally he could
hear muffled shouts and thuds. When finally he cautiously emerged
from concealment, he found that the palace had been ransacked.
Objects of great value had been taken. What was left had been
dashed or pulled to the floor.
There was great excitement among the remaining servants when
they found that their king was safe, but they hesitated to talk
about his family.
"At least we know that Ahaziah is all right," one spoke up.
This was somewhat comforting to Jehoram, who believed that
all his family had been taken. Then he remembered that a part of
the letter from Elijah had warned in advance what would befall
the king's family. One by one the prophet's predictions were
taking place -- just as Jehoram feared they might.
Not long after the invaders had gone with their prisoners
and loot, Jehoram's first wife Athalia showed up. This wasn't
contrary to Elijah's writing. He had said only that wives would
be taken, but he didn't say they all would be forever absent from
Jehoram. Somehow Athalia escaped and was able to return. The
captors probably couldn't endure her sharp tongue. Except for
Ahaziah, all of Jehoram's sons were murdered by their abductors.
People of Judah then began to suffer from a disease that
spread quickly from person to person. This, too, was according to
what Elijah had warned about. Later, Jehoram started having an
irritating soreness in his abdomen. During the next two years it
developed into intense pains. Finally, as Elijah had written, the
king's intestines became so infected that they dropped out of
him, causing an unusually horrible death.
Because of his cruel ways and his indifference to the
welfare of his people, Jehoram wasn't popular with his subjects.
He was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the burial place of the
kings, and not with the usual respectful ceremonies. (II Kings
8:23-24; II Chronicles 21:17-20.)
Ahaziah became king, but he had been reared amid pagan
practices, and did nothing to improve conditions in Judah. His
mother made sure that any move he made was in accord with her
perverse wishes.
At this time Jehoram (not the Jehoram of Judah who had
recently died) was king of the House of Israel. He decided to
take his army to Ramoth-gilead, a town east of Jordan occupied by
Syrian soldiers. This fortified town was in the territory of Gad.
The king didn't want the Syrians to continue possessing a
stronghold inside Israel, especially that close to Samaria, only
about forty miles away. When the young king of Judah heard about
this, he added troops to those of Jehoram. Both kings with their
combined forces went eastward to surround Ramoth-gilead.


A Revolution Hits Israel

Later, when it appeared that the Israelites might force the
besieged Syrian troops to surrender, Jehoram was seriously
wounded by an arrow shot from the walls. The king was taken to
Jezreel, several miles north of Samaria, to wait until his wound
healed. His officers felt that it was wiser for him to go there
secretly instead of returning to Samaria in what would be
regarded by many as a disgraceful condition. Jehu, the commander
of the army in Israel, was left in charge of the continuing siege
of Ramoth-gilead.
Rather than wait to find out what the Syrians would do,
Ahaziah chose to go to Jezreel to visit Jehoram and learn if he
had started to recover. (II Kings 8:25-29; II Chronicles 22:1-6.)
Meanwhile, Elisha the prophet was aware of what was taking
place. Through God, he knew that it was time for the family of
Ahab, because of disobedience, to come to an end. God instructed
the prophet to choose one of his students to prepare for an
immediate trip to Ramoth-gilead.
"There you will find Jehu, Jehoram's army commander," Elisha
told the young man. "State that you have a private message for
him and that you must see him alone."
The prophet gave him a phial of oil and explained how he was
to use it and just what he should say. He was warned to leave
Jehu the moment his mission was over.
Two days later the young man arrived at Ramoth-gilead. The
siege was still going on. Israelite troops were huddled in
groups, hoping for the surrender of the Syrians. Jehu and his
chief officers were sitting under an awning extending from his
tent. When guards saw the stranger, they quickly surrounded him,
but took him to Jehu, as he requested, after finding no weapons
on him.
"This man claims that he has an important message for you
that must be delivered in private," one of the guards reported.
Jehu and his officers looked critically at the stranger.
Finally Jehu motioned his guards away and beckoned to the young
man to follow him into his tent. Nervously Elisha's student
produced the phial of olive oil and quickly poured it over the
head of the startled officer.
"By the authority of the God of Israel, I anoint you as the
next king of the House of Israel," the young man hastily
explained while Jehu listened in growing astonishment. "God wants
to make it plain to you that as future king you must avenge the
deaths of God's prophets at Samaria in Ahab's time; and the
deaths of other servants of God caused by Jezebel. With God's
help, you are to end the rule of the family of Ahab. That
includes queen Jezebel, whose body will be consumed by dogs, so
that there will be little to bury." (II Kings 9:1-10.)
Having accomplished what he was to do, the young man
anxiously turned to hurry out. Jehu reached out and seized him by
the arm.
"I've been patient with you," Jehu said a little angrily.
"Now tell me who sent you, and why they wish to affront me with
your disrespectful little act."
"It wasn't an act and it wasn't disrespectful!" the young
man exclaimed. "The prophet Elisha sent me to do what I did."
"Oh!" Jehu muttered in surprise.
A bit bewildered, he sank into a chair, unaware of the
messenger's departure. For a time he sat there in deep thought,
then came out of the tent to join his officers.
"I hope that fellow didn't annoy you," one of them remarked.
"He was probably some kind of religious crackpot. What was his
excuse for coming here?"
"Should I bother to tell you what you have already heard
through the tent flap?" Jehu asked. "Obviously you have already
decided what kind of man he is and that he came here for no
important purpose."
"Whatever he told you, I hope you didn't believe him,"
another officer remarked.
"But I did," Jehu declared. "He was sent by the prophet
Elisha to tell me that I am to be the next king of the House of
Israel."
The officers stared silently at their commander, expecting
him to momentarily break into a grin at his own absurd statement.
But his unusual gaze, continuing steady and sober, caused them to
realize that he was serious. Amazed and abashed, they rose as one
man, took off their jackets and spread them on the steps leading
up to the tent entrance. In this manner, even though they had
only the abrupt, brief declaration from their superior, they
acknowledged him as their new ruler.
Syrian soldiers on the walls of Ramoth-gilead, only a little
over a bowshot away, jumped to an anxious alert when they heard
the blast of Israelite trumpets and cheers of soldiers. They
didn't know that Jehu's top officers had just announced to their
troops that their commander was soon to replace Jehoram. (II
Kings 9:11-13.)
Convinced of what he should do according to Elisha, whom he
greatly respected, and at the same time excited and elated at the
thought of becoming a king, Jehu prepared to leave Ramoth-gilead.
"Continue a tight siege," he instructed his officers. "Don't
allow anyone to come outside the walls. And don't let anyone
leave our camps except those I pick to accompany me. I don't want
anyone to reach Jezreel before I do, or Jehoram might hear about
what has happened."
Jehu set off for Jezreel in his chariot, along with some of
his best charioteers and cavalry. A few hours later he was in
sight of the town where Jehoram was staying, and where his wound
had almost healed in recent days. An alert watchman in a lookout
tower on the wall noticed that a cloud of dust was rising from
across the plain.
"Something that could be cavalry or chariots is approaching
from the east," the lookout reported to Jehoram, who was talking
with Ahaziah.
"It must be men with word from Ramoth-gilead," Jehoram
observed, getting up from his couch. "Send a horseman out to meet
them and bring back the news to me as fast as possible."


Jehu Fulfills Prophecy

Minutes later a rider drew up alongside Jehu's clattering
chariot and called out above the stomping of hoofs, asking how
matters were going at Ramoth-gilead.
"Don't be concerned about that!" Jehu shouted back. "Go fall
in at the rear of the cavalry!"
When the rider failed to return within a reasonable time,
Jehoram sent another man to meet the oncoming company. Jehu told
him, too, to ride at the rear. By this time, although Jehu was
three or four miles away, the watchman told Jehoram that the
company appeared to be led by a
chariot, and that it was being driven so fast that the driver
could be Jehu, who had excellent horses and a reputation for
speeding in his chariot. (II Kings 9:14-20.)
This bothered Jehoram. He had a feeling that if it were
Jehu, he was coming with some troublesome news. Both the kings
set out at once, each in his own chariot, to meet Jehu's company.
Not far outside Jezreel, where Naboth's vineyard had been taken
from him (I Kings 21:1-16), Jehu had to rumble to a stop because
Jehoram and Ahaziah pulled up in front of him.
"Are things going well at Ramoth-gilead?" Jehoram anxiously
asked.
"How could anything go well in Israel as long as it has a
king whose mother deals in adultery, witchcraft and idolatry, and
whose son follows in her footsteps?" Jehu scowlingly demanded.
(II Kings 9:21-22.)
Jehoram stared at Jehu, stunned by the rebellious and
insulting remark. But instead of reprimanding Jehu, he turned to
Ahaziah.
"Get out of here!" he shouted to the young king. "These men
have become our enemies!"
Jehoram and Ahaziah cracked their whips at their horses,
swung their chariots around and rumbled back toward Jezreel. Jehu
seized his bow and hastily fitted an arrow to the string. Seconds
later Jehoram was dead on the floor of his chariot, whose horses
pulled it off into some roadside boulders. (II Kings 9:23-24.)
"Take Jehoram's body and throw it into the field where
Naboth the grape-grower was stoned to death," Jehu said to
Bidkar, his cavalry captain. "Do you remember when we were young
horse soldiers under Ahab, how Ahab's wife Jezebel had Naboth
unjustly killed? Now let her dead son be food for wild dogs on
the same spot where she had Naboth murdered." (II Kings 9:25-26;
I Kings 21:17-22.)
Jehu realized that by his order to Bidkar he was carrying
out part of a prophecy made to Ahab by Elijah. The prophet had
told that king about fifteen years previously that his blood
would be licked up by dogs at the same place dogs had licked up
Naboth's blood. In this event it was Ahab's son's blood, which
was the same as his in a lineage sense.


NO Place to Hide

From his speeding chariot Ahaziah looked toward the other
vehicle just in time to see Jehoram fall with Jehu's arrow
protruding from his back. Expecting an arrow at any moment
through his own back, the young king of Judah whipped his horses
to their utmost speed. Had he looked behind, he would have known
that Jehu and his company had come to a stop. Ahaziah rumbled
into Jezreel, but he knew he wouldn't be safe there if Jehu meant
to find him. He would have to keep on traveling, but there was
something he wanted to do before he left Jezreel.
Jezebel, Jehoram's mother and Ahaziah's grandmother, had
come to Jezreel to confer with her son. Ahaziah wanted to speak
with her, but he had not time to leave his chariot and go to
where she was staying. But he did pull up at the place and
hastily speak to a servant.
"Tell my grandmother that Jehu has turned against us!"
Ahaziah excitedly said. "Tell her at once that he has killed my
uncle Jehoram, and that he is on his way here to get me! I'm
riding on to Samaria, but tell her that I want her to try to stop
Jehu when he gets here!"
Ahaziah lost no time in riding to Jezreel's south gate,
where he turned out and raced off toward the capital of the House
of Israel.
A short while later Jehu and his men clattered into the
town. From windows and doorways people fearfully peered out at
them, not knowing what to expect. Most of them didn't know who
the mounted visitors were or why they had come. When he came to
the main street, the army commander rode slowly. He and his men
were hungry and thirsty, and he glanced about in search of an
inn. Besides, the horses needed rest and water.
"Hello, Jehu!" a female voice called from somewhere above.
"Do you feel like Zimri, the servant who murdered a king of
Israel years ago?"
Jehu halted his horses and looked around. Up in a window of
one of the taller buildings a woman was leaning over the sill and
smiling down at him. She was attired in fine clothing and her
hair was beautifully arranged, but her face was so excessively
painted that it wasn't easy to determine her approximate age or
real appearance.
"I admire you, Jehu," the woman continued. "Success is bound
to come to those who have the courage to rid themselves of those
who stand in the way of their ambitions."
"Jezebel!" Jehu muttered, after finally recognizing
Jehoram's mother.
It wasn't clear to him whether Jezebel was meaning to show
her queenly disdain for him or whether she was trying to delay
him from his intended purpose.
"Who is on my side?" Jehu asked.
"Why don't you send your men to the inn up the street and
then come up here and find out," Jezebel answered with even a
broader smile.
At this point Jehu spied some effeminate-appearing men
peeking out of an adjoining window. He recognized them as the
kind of persons who were servants in harems and certain kinds of
public houses. That was enough for the army commander.
"You fellows up there!" he shouted to the men at the window.
"Throw that woman down!"
Terrified at the threatening command, the men seized the
screaming Jezebel and shoved her over the window sill. (II Kings
9:30-33.)
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Chapter 130
JEZEBEL, CHAOS AND A BOY KING

JEHU HAD come into the Israelite town of Jezreel after putting an
end to King Jehoram of Israel, according to God's instructions
through Elisha. (II Kings 9:1-26.) Jehu was met there by Jezebel,
the idolatrous queen mother of Jehoram. At Jehu's command, she
was pushed from a high window by her men attendants. (II Kings
9:30-33.)


No Memorial for Jezebel

If Jezebel didn't die instantly when she struck the street,
she didn't live long afterward. Jehu signaled his men to move on.
They did, and right over Jezebel's mangled body. The company drew
up at a nearby inn to eat while the horses rested and were fed
and watered.
"The people have viewed the remains of the wicked woman long
enough," Jehu told his men after their meal. "Jezebel doesn't
deserve an honorable funeral, but she was the daughter of a king,
the wife of a king, the mother-in-law of a king and the
grandmother of a king. She shouldn't be left unburied. Take her
off the street and prepare a grave for her."
Jehu's men went to the place where they had last seen the
body, but hungry dogs had already been there. Only the skull,
feet and hands remained. The men returned to their commander to
tell him what had happened. (II Kings 9:34-35.)
"This is according to God's will," Jehu informed them.
"Elijah the prophet foretold that dogs would consume this woman
close to the wall of Jezreel. Not enough is left of her to even
be buried. She will become only waste matter on the ground.
She'll never have a monument or even a tombstone with her name on
it." (II Kings 9:36-37; I Kings 21:1-26.)
This was the wretched end of a woman who was probably the
most infamous in Bible history. Her evil, idolatrous life
strongly influenced and infected all Israel, resulting in misery
and unhappiness for many people. Probably a large part of them
didn't deserve anything better, and so God allowed this woman to
affect their lives in a step toward the destiny of all Israel.
To qualify as king of the House of Israel, Jehu's task was
far from accomplished. Through him God purposed to destroy all of
Ahab's family. Ahaziah was still free, and seventy of his young
uncles, Ahab's sons, lived in Samaria, the capital of Israel.
Jehu wanted to move promptly against them before they could flee
and hide in distant places.
From Jezreel Jehu sent a message to close friends of Ahab,
who cared for his younger sons, and to the head men of Samaria.
He suggested that they immediately choose one of the seventy sons
of Ahab to lead them, using the equipment of war available in the
city, in defending themselves against Jehu and his cavalry. This
frightened the men in Samaria. They knew it would be futile to
try to stand against Jehu. All they could do was send back a
reply promising to cooperate in any way except to fight. (II
Kings 10:1-5.)
A little later an answer came from Jehu. The men of Samaria
were shocked and even more fearful when they read it.


Idolatrous Family Perishes

"You can carry out your promise to cooperate," the message
read, "by sending me the heads of the seventy sons of Ahab living
in Samaria.
I'll expect to receive them before sunrise tomorrow. If I
don't, there'll be more then seventy heads fall when my men reach
your city."
Before dawn the next day men from Samaria brought the
seventy heads of Ahab's sons in baskets. Jehu instructed to pile
them in two heaps at the sides of the main gate of Jezreel. These
were meant as grisly reminders to any who might consider
resisting the new king.
Jehu came out to the gate next morning to find a silent
crowd assembled there. When the people saw him, some glared at
him accusingly. Others eyed him with fear and began to disperse.
"Why are you staring at me?" he asked them irritably. "I
didn't cut off those heads. I took Jehoram's life, and that was
according to God's will. It's also God's will that all of Ahab's
sons should die, according to the prophets Elijah and Elisha."
(II Kings 10:6-10; I Kings 21:17-19; II Kings 9:1-10.)
In the next hours Jehu and his men combed Jezreel and nearby
regions for those related to Ahab, and put an end to their lives.
They also did away with all pagan priests they could find. They
then started for Samaria to continue their purpose, but stopped
on the way at a shearing place where people were gathered. Jehu
didn't recognize anyone there and no one seemed to recognize him.
"Who are all these?" he asked one man.
"We are relatives of Ahaziah, king of Judah," the man
proudly replied. "We are on our way to visit other relatives,
Jehoram and Jezebel. We stopped here to take in the annual
shearing event."
The speaker was unaware that the king and queen were dead
and that he had just pronounced a death sentence on himself and
his relatives. Jehu and his men acted at once. (II Kings
10:11-14.)
Right after the carnage had taken place, a chariot came up
from the direction of Samaria, rumbled past the shearing place
and turned off on a road to the northeast. Some of Jehu's men
excitedly shouted to him that Ahaziah was in the chariot.
"If it is Ahaziah, then we'll be spared the trouble of
looking for him," the new king remarked. "He must have heard that
we're moving south and he doesn't intend to be caught in Samaria
or Jerusalem. After him!"
By this time the chariot was out of sight behind a rise, but
Jehu's cavalry had only to follow the dust cloud stirred up by
racing horses and heavy wheels. Ahaziah was in the vehicle with a
driver who ignored the pursuers' shouts to halt. In the jostling
chariot Ahaziah's shield couldn't protect him from the arrows
coming from behind. One found its intended mark. The young king
of Judah collapsed on the chariot floor. Savagely whipping his
horses, the driver continued to race on.
"Let him go!" Jehu shouted from his chariot a short distance
behind the riders. "He'll not live long with an arrow in him.
We'll only waste time chasing him farther."


A Plot against Baal

He was right. Ahaziah died at Megiddo, a town a few miles to
the northwest. His body was later taken by servants down to
Jerusalem for burial in the royal vault. (II Kings 9:27-29; II
Chronicles 22:1-9.)
Again Jehu and his cavalry turned back for Samaria. On the
way they met a group of mounted men led by Jehonadab, an
influential leader highly respected in Israel. He was descended
from Moses' relatives the Kenites, who had settled in southern
Palestine. (Numbers 10:29-32; Judges 1:16; I Chronicles 2:55.)
Jehu knew of Jehonadab, and wondered as the two parties
approached if Jehonadab intended to oppose him.
"Do you disapprove of what I have been doing?" Jehu asked
after greetings had been exchanged.
"I am in favor of it," Jehonadab replied. "I know that it's
according to the will of God."
"Then go with me in my chariot to Samaria, if you wish, and
help us find the remaining kin of Ahab," Jehu said, holding out
his hand to the other man. (II Kings 10:15.)
Jehonadab agreed and rode with Jehu, who was pleased to have
this prominent person seen with him on the streets of the
capital. People who might not approve of Jehu's violent purging
actions would possibly change their minds, the new king reasoned,
on seeing that he and Jehonadab were friends. Jehonadab had made
a lasting name for himself by strict adherence to God's Law and
by training his children so well they followed him. (Jeremiah
35.)
During the next few days Jehu carried out what he had come
to Samaria to do. This marked an end to the expanded family of
Ahab. If that king had been obedient to God, his descendants
wouldn't have been slaughtered, and would have continued to rule
as long as they lived and ruled wisely. (II Kings 10:16-17.)
After Jehu had established himself at Samaria, he made a
surprising public proclamation that he had decided to become a
follower of Baal, even though he had put an end to some pagan
priests in Jezreel. To make up for it, he declared that he would
worship Baal with much more zeal than did Ahab, who sometimes was
swayed to consider the God of Israel as more powerful. This was
good news to the many followers of Baal in Israel, and especially
to the priests of Baal, of whom there were hundreds in the land.
"I have chosen a day on which to offer the first sacrifices
to Baal," Jehu announced. "Every loyal priest of that god should
be present at the temple to participate in the ceremonies. Any
priest who fails to show up will be subject to death."
When the special day came, so many priests attended that the
building was packed. Many worshippers also showed up, but there
wasn't room for all of them inside.
"See that all the priests are properly clothed in the proper
vestments for the rituals," Jehu told those in charge of such
matters. "No priests should have a part in the services unless he
is attired rightly."


Pagan Splendor Becomes a Privy

To Jehonadab and his men he gave instructions that no
follower of God should be allowed as a spectator in the temple.
Then the sacrificing started. With attention focused on the
altar, it was a shocking surprise when the Priests and
worshinners realized that the doors had been opened and that
soldiers were rushing in on them.
Eighty soldiers with drawn swords squeezed quickly into the
temple. Then the doors were slammed shut to prevent any of the
crowd from escaping the slaughter that followed.
Jehu hadn't become a Baal worshipper after all. This was his
deceitful scheme to get the priests of Baal together so that he
could rid Israel of them all at once. (II Kings 10:18-25.)
After they had dragged the bodies out, the soldiers broke
down the altar and smashed the temple furnishings. They pulled
down the image of Baal, uncovered many small images hidden in a
secret place, hauled everything into the street and burned it
there.
The temple building was ruined. Its rooms were used as
public waste rooms for hundreds of years. (II Kings 10:26-28.)
Jehu had obediently and zealously performed for God, but he
wasn't inclined toward obedience toward God in other ways. Though
he had fanatically wiped out the worship of Baal in Israel, he
later promoted and encouraged the worship of the golden calves in
shrines at Bethel near Jerusalem and at Dan near Mt. Hermon.
These animal images, set up by King Jeroboam more than
ninety years previously, were supposedly intended as substitutes
for God, so that the people of the northern tribes wouldn't have
to go all the way to Jerusalem to worship and sacrifice. The fact
was that Jeroboam didn't want his subjects to go into Judah, lest
they find freedom of worship there and decide to stay. His
spurious priests convinced many that God was pleased with this
arrangement. In this matter Jehu followed to a great extent in
Jeroboam's footsteps.
Through a prophet or priest or perhaps by means of a dream,
the information was conveyed to Jehu that because he had carried
out God's will in putting an end to Ahab's family, his
descendants for the next four generations would rule ten tribes
of Israel. At the same time it was made plain to him that if he
continued condoning calf-image worship, trouble would come to his
nation.
Jehu was a man who depended on his power and influence and
the strength of armed men. He saw no need to change his ways for
the sake of his country. Nevertheless, because he had been
zealous in the beginning, God allowed him to be king for
twenty-eight years. (II Kings 10:29-36.)


Jezebel's Daughter

Athaliah, mother of King Ahaziah of Judah, reacted in a
terrible manner after her son was brought back dead to Jerusalem.
Instead of grieving, she regarded the loss as an opportunity to
become the queen ruler of Judah. She was determined that if her
son couldn't continue as king, none of the sons of her dead
husband's other wives would succeed Ahaziah. Besides, she
relished the idea of David's posterity coming to an end.
Only a daughter of that infamous couple, Ahab and Jezebel,
might have been capable of what Athaliah caused to be done. (II
Kings 8:16-18.) All the young sons of Ahaziah were found dead
except little Jehoash, the infant son of Ahaziah. His grandmother
intended to do away with him, too, but through some oversight he
was spared. Jehosheba, Ahaziah's sister, found the child alive
and temporarily hid him and his nurse in a bedroom closet. Later
she managed to take him secretly to the temple. There he was
reared for the next six years by Jehosheba and her husband,
Jehoiada, who was the high priest.
Meanwhile Athaliah ruled Judah, unaware that there was a
male descendant of David living only a few blocks from her
palace. (II Kings 11:1-3; II Chronicles 22:10-12.)
When Jehoash (also called Joash) was seven years old,
Jehoiada the high priest instructed five trusted military
captains to visit leaders throughout the territories of Judah and
Benjamin to determine which of the clan chiefs were in strong
favor of removing Athaliah from the throne.
Using tact and caution, lest their mission be discovered by
Athaliah's followers, the five officers found that almost all the
men contacted were eager to get rid of Jezebel's daughter, who
for six years had proved that her lust for power and her desire
to promote the worship of Baal in Judah was far greater than her
interest in the welfare of the people.
After this encouraging report had been made to Jehoiada,
leaders who were against Athaliah were invited to come to a
special secret meeting at the temple. Great care was taken to
make certain that no one loyal to the queen or connected with her
activities was there.
"I want a vow from every man here that he will not disclose
what he is about to see until the matter is made public,"
Jehoiada told those assembled.


The Boy King

All the men spoke out in hearty compliance. Jehoiada was
pleased with the demonstration of loyalty, but he warned the men
that God would deal harshly with any who broke the vow. Then his
wife Jehosheba appeared before them, bringing with her a boy of
about seven years of age.
"This is Jehoash, son of Ahaziah," the high priest announced
to his startled audience. "He is the rightful successor to the
throne of the kingdom of Judah! He wasn't murdered with Jehoram's
sons six years ago. My wife rescued him and brought him to our
living quarters here at the temple, where we have kept him since
without Athaliah's knowledge. Now, with your help, he will become
ruler of Judah, as only a descendant of David should be!"
After the excitement had somewhat subsided, Jehoiada
disclosed his plans to declare Jehoash king on the next Sabbath.
He divided the men into three groups, each of which was to be
armed with weapons David had put in the temple treasury years
before. This was a precaution against a possible attack on the
temple and Jehoash by the royal guard. The queen was expected to
be in a rage when she found out what was taking place.
On the Sabbath the men returned to the temple to arm
themselves and take up their positions. When all was ready,
Jehoash was brought close to the altar and anointed king by
Jehoiada and his sons. Trumpets blared and people applauded
happily as a crown was placed on the boy's head.
"God save the king!" Jehoiada and his sons exclaimed, and
the audience joined in. (II Kings 11:412; II Chronicles 23:1-11.)
Over at the palace, Athaliah, who didn't worship at the
temple of God, couldn't help hearing the shouts and music, which
made her both irritable and curious.
"Send in my sedan chair!" she snapped at a servant. "I'll go
over there myself and find out what all that noise is all about!"
----------------------------------------

Chapter 131
WHEN A NATION TURNS TO IDOLS

QUEEN mother Athaliah, having ruled Judah for six years after
usurping the throne, was one Sabbath morning bothered by music
and shouts from the temple. Surrounded by a few of the royal
guard and carried by four husky men in her curtained sedan chair,
she was taken to the temple to see for herself what was
happening. (II Kings 11:1-13; II Chronicles 22:10-12; 23:1-12.)
When she saw the unusually large, vocal crowd, and the
temple surrounded by army commanders and armed clan chiefs, she
became suspicious and angry.
"Stop here!" she commanded, and quickly stepped out of the
lowered sedan chair before anyone could aid her.


End of an Evil Reign

As she set out up the steps to the crowded temple porch,
guards leaped to her sides. She waved them disdainfully back and
went on by herself. As soon as she reached the porch she took in
the figures by the altar -- especially the boy with the crown on
his head and the armed priests all around him. The scene had a
shocking meaning for her. Furious, she shoved and elbowed her way
into the crowd.
"This is treason!" she shrieked. "Who is responsible for
trying to crown some child as king behind my back?"
By now all eyes were on the angry queen, including those of
the high priest, who held up his hands to quiet the murmuring
congregation.
"This child is your grandson Jehoash!" Jehoiada, the high
priest, called out to Athaliah. "He escaped your murderous hands
six years ago! He is the rightful ruler of Judah! There isn't
room on the throne for more than one!"
The queen flew into a rage, tearing wildly at her clothing.
Screaming madly, she ripped her costly tunic to shreds.
"Take her out of here!" the high priest ordered. "Don't let
her die in the temple of God! And execute anyone who tries to
stop you!"
Many hands closed on the screeching woman, forcing her back
down the temple steps. Her guards, seeing the stalwart officers
of the army and chiefs of the clans arrayed against them, held
their peace.
"Go call the rest of the guards!" Athaliah screamed at them.
"Summon the army!"
But the guards saw it was too late to carry any messages.
The fiercely remonstrating queen was half dragged and half
carried to a back street by which horses, mules and donkeys
conveyed people to and from the palace. There Athaliah was slain.
(II Kings 11:14-16; II Chronicles 23:13-15.)
While the people were still at the temple, Jehoiada told
them that then was the time for looking fervently to God for the
right way of living. He enjoined them to be obedient to the
Creator and loyal to their new king.


An End to Baalism

During her reign, Athaliah had caused a temple to be built
for the worship of Baal in Jerusalem. Gold bowls, basins and
other valuable utensils and furnishings had been stolen from
God's temple and taken to the pagan temple to be used in the
worship of Baal.
Soon after Athaliah's death, a crowd swarmed eagerly into
the pagan temple. Mattan, the overbearing head priest,
reluctantly emerged from the private quarters of the temple women
to perform the repetitious rituals and mumble and chant
invocations for his visitors. When he saw their expressions, he
knew that they hadn't come to worship.
"We have come to take back the things that were stolen from
the temple of God," one of the crowd firmly informed Mattan.
"Think twice before you attempt to desecrate this temple,"
Mattan said, furtively signaling one of his priests to call the
royal guard. "Any who stir the great god Baal to wrath shall
surely suffer for it!"
"If you won't give us the things we came for, we'll get them
for ourselves!" another man in the crowd shouted. "If that makes
Baal angry, we'll pull him down and scorch his nose on his own
altar!"
"Sacrilege!" Mattan exclaimed angrily. "Leave before the
royal guard gets here!"
At a word from the leader of the crowd there was a scramble
for the doors, but not to those leading outside. Men broke into
every room to ferret out what had been taken from God's temple.
The haughty head priest glared as the articles were carried
away. His glare turned to abrupt fright when he glanced up to see
the main image of Baal toppling toward him. It crashed down on
the altar and from there smashed to bits on the floor moments
after the priest had leaped back.
The men who had tipped over the image then threw all the
smaller Baal replicas to the floor and went around the interior
of the building to tear down and smash everything they could
reach. Mattan and his priests and women fled outside, only to be
seized by Jehoiada's men.
Mattan was put to death. There was no royal guard to save
him because there was no longer a queen to use the guard for the
defense of the priests of Baal. Jehoiada's men left nothing
untouched in the pagan temple. They didn't stop until even the
walls were pulled down and the building and its contents were a
mass of rubble. This was the end of the evil thing Athaliah had
brought to Judah. (II Kings 11:17-18;
II Chronicles 23:16-17.)
Worship of God at the temple Solomon had built had declined
during Athaliah's reign. Now, with none to interfere, people
began to return. Jehoiada put more priests into service and
stepped up activity at the temple of Solomon. He even reorganized
the royal guard. Accompanied by these soldiers and marching
bands, Jehoash was paraded from the temple to the palace, where
he was to live for many years. (II Kings 11:19-21; II Chronicles
23:18-21.)


Restoring the Faith

Under the priest's influence, Jehoash grew up to be a just
and capable ruler. Although he followed God most of his life, he
did little to abolish the sacrificing that occasionally took
place in other places besides the temple, which had been
vandalized by Athaliah's sons. (II Chronicles 24:7.) It was
Jehoash's ambition, as he matured, to have it repaired, even
though it would be costly to restore it close to its original
condition. To raise the money, Jehoash suggested to Jehoiada and
his priests that some of them travel around Judah and ask for
contributions, as God had commanded through Moses. (Exodus
35:4-10.) The priests didn't succeed in collecting very much
money, nor did they try very diligently. Jehoiada was a
courageous and righteous high priest. But in this case he was
somewhat slack in asking others to do their duty. (II Kings
12:1-8; II Chronicles 24:1-6.)
Jehoash was disappointed. But he did not lose faith in God
or confidence in his high priest. He spoke to Jehoiada again
about the matter a long time later, telling the priest to have a
large chest placed at the gate of the temple by the right side of
the altar. This heavy chest had a small opening at the top
through which coins and gold and silver in other forms could be
dropped by those who visited the temple or went by. It was
announced throughout the country what the chest was for.
After a few days the chest was brought to the palace and
opened. Both Jehoash and Jehoiada were surprised to find a great
amount of coins, gold and silver in it. They were pleased at this
display of generosity by the people. For weeks the wooden chest
was put by the altar every morning and emptied every night.
Enough money was taken in to finally start repair of the temple
on a large scale. (II Kings 12:9-10; II Chronicles 24:8-11.)
For many months, skilled masons, carpenters, and metalsmiths
worked on the temple. Together with their helpers and laborers,
the work force was considerable. Thousands of stones were
replaced, much new woodwork and many beams put in and metal
decorations restored. When the work was finished there was more
than enough money to pay for labor and materials. Jehoiada used
most of what remained to fashion gold and silver bowls and
utensils to be used by the priests in their functions.
With the beauty and equipment of the temple restored, more
and more people came to worship. It was an era when the right
kind of rulership resulted in greater welfare for the people,
because so many of them, including the priest and honest workmen,
followed their king's good example. (II Kings 12:11-16; II
Chronicles 24:12-14.)
Thus conditions in Judah were much better, for two or three
decades, than they had been since Jehoshaphat's time. Then an
unfortunate event took place. It was Jehoiada's death at the age
of a hundred and thirty years. For a long time this exceptional
priest, aided by a wonderful wife, had exerted the power of a
king, and to the country's advantage. He was considered so close
to being a ruler that he was honored by being buried among the
kings of Judah at Jerusalem. (II Chronicles 24:15-16.)


Idolatry Creeps In

From then on, without the wise influence of Jehoiada,
matters in Judah took a turn in the wrong direction. The change
started when leaders from all parts of the nation came to bring
gifts to the king and to praise and flatter him. They also came
to ask a favor of him. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20; II Chronicles
24:17.)
"Our people have been offering sacrifices at the temple in
great numbers," one of the leaders told Jehoash. "They have been
coming here so often that many are becoming needy because of the
time and expense required to make the round trip to Jerusalem.
They want to continue being obedient, but they have no choice but
to remain at home. Would it not be better to allow them to
worship and sacrifice at nearer altars built at several more
convenient locations in Judah?"
The king pondered. He knew what it would mean if the people
were allowed to worship at other altars in places of their own
choosing. Jehoash felt that this situation was somewhat
exaggerated. The matter had been brought to him before. He had
agreed with Jehoiada that there should be one place of worship --
Jerusalem. But now, with Jehoiada gone, the king could gain a
great measure of popularity by acceding to the desires of these
influential men who had brought him such costly gifts in a
deliberate attempt to wrongly influence his judgment.
"I wish everyone in Judah could come often to the temple,"
Jehoash observed, "but rather than have some miss the opportunity
to make their offerings, now that the situation is growing worse,
I think that it should be made possible for them to go to
locations nearer their homes."
If he had studied God's law as required, he would have known
it was prohibited to make sacrifices and offerings at altars in
other places, and that God didn't expect the people to do more
than they were able to afford. (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 12:1-7;
16:16-17; 17:18-20; I Kings 14:21.)
The visitors were elated at the king's decision, which meant
that the idolatry they secretly favored would have more freedom
to spread in Judah. At first, when the people learned they
weren't required to go to Jerusalem, they sacrificed only to God
on their various altars. Influenced by so-called priests who
wanted to substitute other gods for the God of Israel, they were
soon back to worshipping idols, including images of Baal and
other hideous likenesses of animals.
This turn of events displeased God, but instead of
immediately punishing the idolaters, He sent prophets to warn of
disaster to come unless the idol worship ceased. The warnings
were ignored. (II Chronicles 24:18-19.)
Jehoiada's sons took over management of the temple functions
after the death of the high priest. Because of the influence of
exceptional parents, they were very faithful to their
responsibilities. One of them, Zechariah, one day was inspired to
give his audience the same kind of warning the prophets had been
delivering.


An Evil King's Verdict

"Our king and many lesser leaders of Judah are breaking
God's commandments by encouraging our people to follow pagan
gods," Zechariah declared. "Neither they nor the people seem
concerned about the terrible price they will have to pay for this
corruption. They have forsaken God. Now God will forsake them.
They will have no protection when calamity comes, and it's coming
soon."
Zechariah's words were immediately reported to Jehoash, who
was far from happy to learn that he had been referred to in any
but a complimentary manner. Even though Zechariah's aged father
and mother had saved Jehoash from being murdered when he was a
child, King Jehoash, now influenced by evil younger leaders,
callously issued a shocking order.
"I'm weary of prophets and priests nagging and advising me,"
Jehoash muttered angrily. "I'm going to make an example of
Zechariah. Have people stone him. Use people who will appear to
be a cross-section of the public, so that observers will receive
the impression that many inhabitants of Judah don't approve of
what he says."
An unusually large crowd gathered at the temple. Men and
women throughout the congregation surged toward the priest and
hurled stones at him. Most of the missiles missed Zechariah, but
the few that found their mark fatally injured him. There was much
shouting, running and confusion.
"Don't be too concerned about my attackers," Zechariah told
those who tried to help him just before he died. "God will deal
with them just as He will deal with whoever told them to do this
thing." (II Chronicles 24:20-22.)
Meanwhile in Samaria...
Before this, up in Samaria, King Jehu had begun to be
troubled by invasions of Arameans in Syria under the command of
Hazael, as Elisha predicted would happen. After Jehu died, his
son Jehoahaz became king of the ten tribes of Israel. (II Kings
10:30-36.)
At first he wasn't much of an improvement over his father,
but after struggling through a miserable period of war with the
Arameans, he decided to look to God for help.
By this time the Arameans had taken over Israel's territory
east of the Jordan river, which was land belonging to the tribes
of Manasseh, Reuben and Gad. The invaders moved westward
slaughtering most of Jehoahaz' army. They brought most of the
people of the ten tribes under subjection, and it was at this
point that the king of Israel desperately appealed to God to
spare the nation.
God intended to bring Israel out of the grip of the
Arameans, but not through Jehoahaz or because of his prayers for
help. The king of Israel did nothing to put idolatry out of his
nation nor even out of Samaria.
Worship of the goddess Astarte or Ishtar, who was supposed
to have come from an egg, had become almost as popular as that of
Baal. Most people today believe we have no part in pagan
practices. We do in many ways, however. Many observe Easter (the
word came from the name
Ishtar or Astarte) with displays of colored eggs that are rolled,
given away in baskets, hidden for children to find, etc.
Anxious to push on to further conquest, the Arameans left
Samaria and moved southward, leaving Jehoahaz with only fifty
horsemen, ten chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers left alive
-- a small fighting force for most of the tribes of Israel. (II
Kings 13:1-8.)
The coming of the invaders into Judah was a shock to
Jehoash, who had vainly hoped that Hazael would be content with
overrunning only the northern nation of Israel. As the hordes of
Arameans neared Jerusalem, the king became increasingly frantic.
He was convinced that it would be the same as suicide to pit his
army against that of the enemy. He could see only one possible
way of avoiding an attack on Jerusalem and its capture, and that
possibility seemed very slim.
King Hazael, riding at the head of his army, was puzzled
when he met a number of soldiers carrying boxes instead of arms
and equipment. Through interpreters he learned that they had come
up from Jerusalem to meet him.
"King Jehoash wishes you to know that he wants to remain at
peace with you," the officer in charge explained. "To prove his
sincerity, he has sent you gifts."
The men put containers before Hazael, who told his officers
to open a few of them. When the Arameans saw the beautiful gold
vessels, silver trumpets and ornaments set with precious stones,
they grinned with pleasure. (II Kings 12:17-18.)
"If all the gifts are this valuable, there is a great
fortune here," one of Hazael's officers whispered to him.
"I know," Hazael replied in a low voice. "What I'd also like
to know is whether this is to pay us to stay out of Judah or
whether it's bait to make certain that we go directly to
Jerusalem for more -- and fall into some kind of trap."
"Your army is too big to trap, sir" the officer said.
"The God of Judah is supposed to live at Jerusalem," Hazael
said. "He has done some unbelievable things to Judah's enemies."
The king of Syria was trying to decide whether to go on to
attack Jerusalem or turn around and return to his native country.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 132
FACE TO FACE WITH REALITY

KING Hazael of Syria was approaching Jerusalem with his army,
intending to attack the city, when he received very valuable
gifts sent by Jehoash, king of Judah. Hazael was sure that the
gifts were either to pay him to leave Judah or were to lure him
to Jerusalem for more wealth -- and into some kind of ambush. He
had to decide at once which course to take.


A Temporary Lull

"Why should we risk anything by going against Jerusalem, the
high walls of which are probably crawling with many thousands of
defenders?" Hazael asked his officers. "If these gifts are meant
to pay us to return home, we can do well to accept them without
losing even one man. Then we can always return another time to
see how matters will develop." (II Kings 12:17-18.)
Jehoash was almost delirious with relief when he heard what
had happened. He had been spared from certain disaster, for which
he had given up most of the valuable objects in his palace that
were portable. But the greatest part of what he had paid had come
from another source. The king had ruthlessly stripped the temple
of its hallowed treasures to buy his way out of an enemy attack!
Jehoash's first surge of elation, shared by thousands later
when they heard about it, subsided considerably after he became
troubled with the notion that Hazael might swing his army around
and come to Jerusalem after all. He felt safe only after reports
were brought to him that the Syrians had crossed the Jordan and
were well on their way up the east side of the river.
But security didn't last long. About a year later Jehoash
received the staggering news that Syrian soldiers were streaming
westward across the Jordan river and were marching directly
toward Jerusalem. The king fell into a greater state of frenzy
than he had gone through the previous year. This time he didn't
have enough left to pay his way out of war. While he hastily made
defense plans with his officers, another report came that the
Syrians numbered only a few hundred.
Everyone's mood, especially that of Jehoash, abruptly
changed. Filled with confidence, the king told his officers to
forget about defending Jerusalem and go out and slaughter the
intruders.
The two armies came within view of each other only a few
miles north of the capital. The sight of thousands of oncoming
soldiers didn't deter the Syrians, who soon came face to face
with these men of Judah.
"Which of you is Hazael?" Jehoash asked through an
interpreter.
"King Hazael is not with us," a Syrian officer replied. "I
am commander of these men."
"How can your king be so foolish as to believe that you can
war against us with so few soldiers?" Jehoash inquired, staring
disdainfully at the Syrian troops.


Payoff Multiplies Greed

"We're not here to fight," the Syrian commander explained.
"A year ago King Hazael accepted tribute from you for not
invading Judah. He expects tribute every year. We have come to
collect it."
"This is ridiculous!" Jehoash barked. "There is no such
understanding! None of you will return to take back anything to
your king!"
"See the men on horses on that north rise?" the Syrian
officer asked, pointing. "At least they'll take news back to King
Hazael. If we are destroyed, so will you be when the whole army
of Syria comes to ravage Judah!"
In his anger Jehoash was more inclined toward action than
caution. Minutes later a battle was in progress. It didn't go the
way Jehoash was sure it would. Perhaps the soldiers of Judah were
troubled by the notion that the rest of the Syrian army was just
over the horizon. Whatever the problem, they were in no mood to
fight. Their desire was to hastily retreat.
It was incredible, but Hazael's hundreds triumphed over
Jehoash's thousands. God permitted the Syrians to punish Judah
for idolatry. (II Chronicles 24:23-24.)
Jehoash fled to his palace, but there was no safety there.
The victorious Syrians came on to Jerusalem, forced their way
inside the walls and seized many things of value that they could
carry, including objects from the king's palace. When the
invaders finally left, days later, the army of Judah was almost
nonexistent and Jehoash had become very ill from the pressures
and distress of his worrisome situation. He was forced to spend
days in bed, during which he was attended, among others, by two
servants who had been in his service for considerable time.
They had overheard Jehoash give the order to have the priest
Zechariah stoned, and they hated their master for it. Now that he
was at their mercy they saw to it, in their misguided sense of
justice, that the king didn't leave his bed until he was
lifeless.
Jehoash was buried in Jerusalem, but because he hadn't
earned much respect as a ruler, he wasn't buried in the tombs of
the kings of Judah. (II Kings 12:19-21; II Chronicles 24:25-27.)
Amaziah, Jehoash's son, became the next king of Judah. He
was only twenty-five years of age at the time, but he used more
wisdom as king than his father had used in the latter years of
his reign. He didn't manage to stop his people from false worship
at various places, but he reestablished greater worship at the
temple. Meanwhile, he tracked down the murderers of his father,
and had them executed. (II Kings 14:1-6; II Chronicles 25:1-4.)
One of Amaziah's ambitions was to organize a new, large army
to replace the one that had been devastated by the Syrians. The
king succeeded by building it of choice young men of twenty years
and up from the nation of Judah. It reached three hundred
thousand.
But Amaziah wasn't satisfied with that figure. He wanted a
larger army so that he could go to Edom and be certain of
exacting the tribute the Edomites had refused to pay since King
Jehoram's time.
Amaziah couldn't find more men in his kingdom who could be
developed into superior fighting men, but he managed to draw a
hundred thousand men of Ephraim out of the ten-tribed nation of
Israel by offering a thousand pounds of silver in payment.


No Mercenaries Needed

With a well-trained force of four hundred thousand men,
Amaziah felt that he was ready for certain victory over the
Edomites. Just as he was about to take his army on the planned
conquest, a man of God came to talk to him.
"God has sent me to warn you not to use the hundred thousand
men you bought into your army. They are not the kind of men to
fight your battles. If you take them with you, you will be
defeated by the Edomites. It is God who determines the outcome of
a battle, and not the number of men involved."
"But I've already paid a fortune to these men to be a part
of my army," Amaziah pointed out, irritated by the intrusion of
the man of God into his affairs.
"If you're concerned about a loss, God can more than make up
for it by giving you great spoils," the prophet said.
Amaziah was troubled. To relinquish a fourth of his army
seemed a mad thing to do. At first he was determined not to do
it, but his fear of losing to the Edomites changed his mind.
Reluctantly he gave orders to his astonished top officers to
separate from the army of Judah the Ephraimite mercenaries from
Israel.
When the men from the northern tribes were told to return to
their homes, they made little effort to hide their anger. To
them, mostly experienced soldiers, it was an insult to learn that
they were unwanted in a war venture. There was nothing to be
gained by telling them why they were being discharged. They would
not have understood. (II Chronicles 25:5-10.)
Amaziah departed with his three hundred thousand men to the
south, regretting that he was leaving behind a hundred thousand
soldiers in an ugly mood. As soon as the army of Judah was well
on its way, that hundred thousand decided to take from Judah what
they might have earned if they could have stayed in Amaziah's
army. And at the same time to take back several towns a former
king of Judah had taken from Israel in battle. (II Chronicles
13:13-20.) So, on their way to the north they vengefully attacked
those towns now in northern Judah, killing three thousand men and
taking everything of value they could carry. (II Chronicles
25:13.)
The arrival of the army of Judah didn't surprise the
Edomites, whose spies and lookouts kept them posted. They were
ready for battle in the Valley of Salt, directly south of the
Dead Sea. When the fighting was over, ten thousand Edomites were
dead and ten thousand more had been captured. From there Amaziah
moved southward to conquer the fortress city of Selah -- later
known as Petra -- the Edomite capital built in a rocky area in
the Mt. Seir range. There, from one of the many high cliffs, the
ten thousand captives were thrown into a gorge. (II Kings 14:7;
II Chronicles 25:11-12.)
Having whipped Edom into a state of subjection, Amaziah and
his army returned home in triumph. But when the king learned what
the hundred thousand soldiers who had been discharged had done,
he was infuriated.
"That king at Samaria is protecting those murderers!"
Amaziah, king of Judah, stormed. "I must go up there and demand
that they be punished or turned over to me!"


Meanwhile, in Israel...

The king in Samaria to whom Amaziah referred was the son of
Jehoahaz, the ruler the Syrians had left with such a small army.
(II Kings 13:1-7.) After King Jehoahaz was slain, his son Joash
had become king of the ten tribes. He wasn't any more obedient to
God than his father, although when he heard that Elisha was
seriously ill he went to visit him because he believed that
Elisha could prevail upon God to help Israel. By that time Joash
had built up a much larger army by which he hoped to release
Israel from obeisance to the Syrians. Elisha told him that he
would triumph over the Syrians in three battles. (II Kings
13:14-19.) Israel's freedom from the Syrians would thus be
accomplished to fulfill-the promise God had made to King Jehoahaz
years previously. (II Kings 13:4.) That was the aging prophet's
last prediction. Joash saw to it that the prophet Elisha was
honorably entombed in a crypt not far from Samaria.
Later, when another body was brought to the crypt for
burial, the bearers saw a mounted band of Moabite marauders
coming across the plain. Eager to get the burial over so that
they could get out of sight, they jerked the crypt door back and
dumped the corpse inside. As they crouched behind some boulders
out of sight of the Moabites, they were terrified to see the one
whom they threw into the crypt crawl out of the crypt and | gaze
around in bewilderment. It was no longer a corpse but a living |
man. The body had come in contact with the swathed remains of t
Elisha, and life had been restored ; to the man who was dropped
into the tomb. Fifteen major recorded miracles had been performed
through the prophet while he lived. The sixteenth occurred even
after his death, to help Israel learn the lesson of what God's
power can do. (II Kings 13:20-21.)
Elisha's prediction that Joash would triumph over the
Syrians was fulfilled not long after the prophet's death. The
Israelites won the three battles Elisha mentioned and regained
the towns the Syrians had captured. By this time King Hazael had
died. His son, Ben-hadad, led the Syrian troops against Joash's
army without success. Israel's victory wasn't because of the
obedience of the Israelites. It came about because of Jehoahaz'
prayer and because God had promised Abraham that He would not
entirely cast away His people Israel. (Genesis 13:15; 28:13-15.)


An Idolater Warned

Meanwhile, Amaziah, king of Judah, had increasingly vengeful
feelings about what the soldiers from Israel had done to so many
people in Judah. At first he was intent on going up to Samaria
with his army and demanding that King Joash round up the hundred
thousand offenders for punishment. Before he could get around to
making this rash move, he was visited again by the same man of
God who had told him that if he used that hundred thousand men in
his army, the Edomites would defeat him. ;'If you take your army
to Samaria, you will end up in a battle in which you will be
ingloriously routed," the man of God warned Amaziah.
"Why must you always bring bad news to me?" Amaziah asked
irritably.
"You can hardly expect good news under the circumstances,"
the man of God replied. "God is not pleased because you have
brought back images of pagan gods from Edom. He is even less
pleased because you have been worshipping those same images." (II
Chronicles 25:14-15.)
Amaziah was embarrassed and angered by this accusation. The
images had some strange fascination for him. He had gone so far
as to burn incense before some of them and ask for protection and
triumph in future battles -- despite the fact that he knew those
gods didn't save Edom when he himself conquered them!
"I hire a staff of advisers," Amaziah indignantly informed
the man of God, "but I don't recall that you are among them. Keep
your advice to yourself or you could find yourself on the sharp
end of a spear."
"I won't say more than to repeat that God will destroy you
because you have turned to idolatry," the man of God said,
walking away shaking his head. "The course of events could be
different if you would do what is right." (II Chronicles 25:16.)
Amaziah was again troubled. He feared that the man of God
was right, but at the same time he wanted satisfaction from King
Joash. Finally, after conferring with advisers, he decided that
instead of making a lightning thrust at Samaria, he would send a
challenge to the king of the ten tribes of Israel. A few hours
later, riders from Jerusalem brought a message to Joash.


Face to Face

"You are aware of what men of your nation have done to
Judah, and yet you have remained strangely silent about it," the
message read. "It's your responsibility to seek out and punish
the offenders. If you refuse or fail, I shall come up with my
army to meet you face to face to settle the matter." (II
Chronicles 25:17.)
The messengers returned to Judah with a stinging reply from
Joash that caused Amaziah to regret that he had wasted time with
a letter to the ruler of the ten tribes. The letter began by
comparing Amaziah to a thistle and Joash to a cedar tree. Out of
the forest in which the cedar grew came a fierce animal. The
animal trampled the thistle because it made a ridiculous demand
of the cedar.
"I have heard that you are boasting of how you conquered the
Edomites," Joash's reply went on. "That victory has obviously
swelled both your confidence and your head. At the same time your
wisdom has shrunk, or you would have the good sense to remain in
Jerusalem. Why should you meddle in something that will result in
harm to you, your army and your nation?"
These words sent Amaziah into a rage. He summoned his top
officers to prepare for an immediate invasion of the territory
north of Judah. This was all in accordance with God's plan. The
infuriating letter roused the king of Judah to unwise action
because he had become a follower of Edomite idols and had
advocated their worship to many in Judah. Amaziah had his
opportunity to give up idolatry and spare himself when the
prophet warned him.
Led by Amaziah, a host of Judah's warriors marched out from
Jerusalem, bound for a showdown at Samaria. After moving about
ten miles, the king and his army came to an unexpected
obstruction. That obstruction consisted of Joash and his troops,
who had already reached Judah. (II Chronicles 25:18-21.)
As Amaziah had requested, the two kings were now face to
face.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 133
JONAH AND THE "WHALE"

KING AMAZIAH of Judah and King Joash of the ten-tribed nation of
Israel, accompanied by their respective armies, had a surprise
meeting about ten miles from Jerusalem. (II Kings 14:1-11; II
Chronicles 25:1721.)
"Why have you brought your men to the soil of Judah?" asked
Amaziah haughtily.


The Jews Fight Israel

"To keep your army off the soil of my kingdom," Joash
sternly replied.
The inevitable battle was only minutes old when it was
evident which side would win. The soldiers of Judah lacked the
desire to fight. What started as a large fray ended in a massive
rout of Amaziah's men, many of whom escaped to the south. Amaziah
and his top officers had no choice but to hastily follow.
But escape, if any, wasn't going to be that simple.
Amaziah's speeding chariot was surrounded by Joash's cavalry and
forced to a halt. (II Kings 14:12; II Chronicles 25:22.) As he
was taken prisoner, the king of Judah bitterly recalled the
warnings of the prophet. (II Chronicles 25:1416.)
Joash and his army moved on to Jerusalem, which he planned
to invade. He found the barred gates were very strong and the
walls unusually high, but he didn't allow these conditions to
deter him. He displayed the captive king of Judah before the
guards on the walls.
"Order your guards to open the gates," Joash told Amaziah.
Shackled in his chariot, Amaziah refused to say anything.
"Don't you recognize your king in shackles?" one of Joash's
officers shouted up to the guards. "Open the gates, and we won't
kill him!"
The guards moved nervously about, but the gates remained
closed.
"There has been enough delay!" Joash barked. "A gate isn't
the only way into this city! Break down the wall!"
The high, thick wall was an irksome challenge to Joash. He
wanted to prove that it could be penetrated. By the use of heavy
battering rams propelled by a line of soldiers, a section of the
wall about seven hundred feet long was gradually and painfully
cracked into sections that thundered down into a state of rubble.
(II Kings 14:13; II Chronicles 25:23.)
Many men lost their lives in this rash operation. Those atop
the wall hurled all kinds of missiles down on the invaders. It
would have been simpler, faster and safer to ram through the
gates, but Joash was stubbornly determined to go through the
wall.
A path was cleared through the debris. The attackers poured
inside the city, battling Amaziah's guards into submission. Then
Joash, king of Israel triumphantly rode over the rubble in his
chariot, followed by his officers and the shackled Amaziah, king
of Judah.
For hours Joash's men ransacked Jerusalem. The temple and
the royal palace provided most of the spoils. Just before the
invaders left, they released Amaziah, who expected death any
moment as he watched his palace being looted.
"How do you know that I won't muster another army and come
up to besiege Samaria?" Amaziah asked Joash.
"I don't," Joash answered. "But if you do, members of your
family will be the first to die. I'm taking most of them with
me!" (II Kings 14:14; II Chronicles 25:24.)


God Strengthens Israel

Although he had been defeated in war, had lost most of his
personal wealth, had been humiliated and disgraced and had become
unpopular with a great part of his people, Amaziah managed, with
difficulty, to stay in power in Judah. Joash, ruler of the ten
tribes, died not long after invading Jerusalem, but Amaziah no
longer had any interest in war nor in taking advantage of the
loss of Joash's firm leadership. For fifteen more years he
remained the ruler of Judah, but with increasing opposition.
One day he was informed that there was a plot to assassinate
him by certain men who wanted to come into power in Judah.
Amaziah was so troubled by this report that he fled from
Jerusalem to the town of Lachish, about forty miles southwest of
the capital of Judah. It was very close to Philistia, and only
about seven miles from the east shore of the Great Sea. By means
of watchful agents and high rewards, Amaziah's residence was
found and reported to his opponents, who sent assassins to
Lachish to carry out their murderous orders. Amaziah's body was
carried back to Jerusalem, where he was buried with the former
kings of Judah. (II Kings 14:17-20; II Chronicles 25:25-28.)
Years before Amaziah's death, the king of Israel, Joash, had
been succeeded by a son, Jeroboam, who followed in the ways of
the other King Jeroboam who had begun his reign a hundred and
twenty-eight years previously. (II Kings 14:15-16, 23-24).
After the death of Joash, who had triumphed over the
Syrians, those ancient enemies again returned from the east to
reduce the northern nation Israel to a weakened state. God
inspired Jeroboam, in spite of his wrong pursuits, with the
desire to shake off the control of the Syrians and restore the
boundaries of Israel to where Joshua had proclaimed, according to
God's instruction, they should be.
This inspiration started out as a desire for power and
revenge. Jeroboam's ambition was greatly strengthened when a
prophet named Jonah disclosed to him that he, the king, was
destined by God to bring Israel out of its wretched state and
expand it once more almost to the size it was when Solomon
reigned.
Believing that the God of Israel would protect him in
whatever he did to develop Israel, Jeroboam's confidence was
increased. Like so many people of that time -- and this -- he
respected and even believed God, but at the same time he chose to
worship only the gods he could see.
Over the years, through many surprise attacks and battles,
Jeroboam took back all the cities, towns and land that had been
captured by Syria. He freed the Israelite prisoners, took the
Syrian capital, Damascus, and recaptured the city of Hamath, far
to the north. From there southward to the east coast of the Dead
Sea he reclaimed all territory that God had given to the whole of
Israel in Joshua's time. (II Kings 14:25-27.)


Prosperity and Idolatry

Jeroboam became the most powerful ruler of the ten tribes
since Israel had become divided. The larger and more prosperous
the northern kingdom became, unfortunately, the more careless the
people became in their attitude toward God. Many reasoned that
the growing prosperity was due to an increase in religious
activity.
However, this often consisted of a strange, contrived
worship of images that were supposed to represent a composite of
God and pagan deities. This would mean breaking the first three
Commandments. God did not -- and does not -- reward such worship
with prosperity.
This was the last time the northern kingdom, the House of
Israel, was to experience such national welfare and strength. The
years of that kingdom were numbered. Jonah, the prophet who had
predicted that Jeroboam would beat Israel's enemies back,
probably knew what Israel's future would be, and that God was
allowing the nation to be strong for a time before it would cease
to be a nation unless the people turned from idolatry.
Jonah must also have known that one way God was making the
Syrians conquerable was by allowing Assyria, a nation to the
east, to war with the Syrians. This growing country was gradually
swallowing up surrounding regions and becoming powerful at the
same time Israel was gaining strength.
Like the people of Israel, the people of Assyria became more
corrupt as the nation became more prosperous. The inhabitants of
Nineveh, the sprawling capital of Assyria on the Tigris river,
were especially lawless and reprobate. God was so displeased with
them that he decided to destroy the city, but not without first
warning the inhabitants so that any innocent people would have a
chance to escape.
Jonah was surprised when God told him that he should make
the long trip to Nineveh to warn the Assyrian people what would
soon happen, but the more Jonah thought about it, the less
enthusiasm he had for the task. He reasoned that if the people
repented after his warning them, God might spare them and he,
Jonah, would be branded a false prophet and lose his life.
Besides, he hoped that Nineveh would be wiped out. Otherwise, the
Assyrians would probably triumph over the Syrians and come
westward to attack Israel.
This prospect was part of God's plan. Through Jonah God had
warned the Israelites about their idolatry. They had refused to
heed. Now God intended to warn a Gentile people. If they were to
heed and be spared, it would be a sobering warning for Israel.
The prophet knew that he couldn't escape from God, but he
reasoned that if he could quickly get out of Israel, God might
choose another prophet there to go to Nineveh. He made a hurried
trip to the seaport of Joppa on the coast of Dan. There he found
a sailing vessel about to set out for another port close to what
is now known as the Rock of Gibraltar in Spain. That point was
about as far as he could get from Israel as fast as possible.
Jonah hoped God would forget about him. Furthermore, it was in
the opposite direction from Nineveh. (Jonah 1:1-3.)
Having paid his passage, Jonah went below deck to rest.
After his hasty trip to Joppa he was so weary that he fell asleep
at once. Later he awakened to find the ship's captain roughly
shaking him. He was aware of a howling wind, pounding waves and
violent rocking of the vessel.


Divine Fury Stops the Runaway

"Wake up, man!" the captain shouted. "How can you sleep
through this storm? If it gets any worse, we'll capsize! Whoever
your God is, pray to Him for your life! We've already had to
throw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship!"
Jonah struggled to his feet, crawled up the hatchway and
stared out at the billowing, spray-shrouded water crashing every
few seconds over the deck of the vessel.
"Someone on this ship is causing a curse on us!" the
superstitious sailors complained to the captain. "We must draw
lots to find out who it is!"
The captain agreed, not knowing how right the sailors were.
Jonah drew the lot, through God's influence, to point out that he
was the cause of the trouble. The crew swarmed accusingly around
him. (Jonah 1:4-7.)
"Who are you?" the sailors asked. "Where did you come from?
Why do you want to go across the Great Sea?"
"I am from Israel and I am a prophet of the God of Israel,"
Jonah answered. "I was foolishly trying to escape from Him
because of a difficult thing He required of me. Now I know that
my God has caused this storm to prevent my running away."
"We've heard of how terrible your God can be!" one of the
frightened sailors exclaimed. "What must be done to quell His
anger?"
"Throw me off the ship!" Jonah shouted above the noise of
the storm. "The wind will abate as soon as I am gone!"
The crew struggled stubbornly to move the ship shoreward,
but the east wind blowing from the land was too much for them.
These heathen sailors, who had gods of their own, surprisingly
raised their voices to Jonah's God to spare them and forgive them
for what they were reluctantly about to do. Only then did they
take hold of the repentant, praying prophet, lift him off his
knees and swing him over the leeward rail. The last they saw of
him, he was valiantly trying to keep his head above water, though
he knew he couldn't continue doing so much longer.
The sailors were amazed at how suddenly the wind abated.
They were so shaken by this miracle that they built a small altar
on the deck, offered a sacrifice and vowed loyalty to God before
sailing on westward over a calm sea. (Jonah 1:8-16.)
After being swept away from the ship, Jonah kept afloat for
a short time. Just when he became too weary to paddle and tread
any longer, he had the dreadful sensation of being sucked under
the water by some great force. From then on, for quite some time,
he wasn't certain what was happening. Vaguely he felt that he had
been drawn into some sort of soft, dark, cramped area. After that
he had the feeling of considerable movement about him, as though
his container could be moving about with many twists and turns.


The Miracle Fish

Hours went by. Jonah was certain that he was under the
surface of the sea, yet he was able to breathe. Eventually he
arrived at the fantastic conclusion that he had been swallowed by
a very large fish. Earnestly he prayed that he would be delivered
from his captor before he was consumed by its digestive process.
After what seemed a very long time, the prophet was startled
by a violent motion, as though he was being shot like an arrow
from a giant bow. After recovering from his confusion, he
realized that he was on a beach. Only a few feet away, in shallow
water, was a very large fish whose broad mouth, directed toward
Jonah, was slowly opening and closing as it gasped for oxygen it
could get only through water. From the fish's teeth hung shreds
of Jonah's torn coat. The prophet knew then that he hadn't just
imagined things.
The fish had swallowed him, carried him to some shore
unfamiliar to him, and had disgorged him on the beach! As Jonah
pondered these startling facts and how much he had to be thankful
for, the fish twisted violently to and fro. Finally it managed to
get back into deep water, where it disappeared. (Jonah 1:17;
2:1-10.)
Abruptly Jonah was aware that he wasn't alone. He was
surprised to see several men staring silently at him from only a
short distance away.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here," they demanded to
know. Jonah called out in Assyrian, "I am a prophet of the God of
Israel, and I am sent by Him with a warning message for your king
and your people!"
From a brief conversation with these men he was amazed to
learn that he had been three full days and nights inside the
fish, and that he was now standing on the south shore of what
later was called the Black Sea! God had brought him all the way
up through the Aegean Sea and had deposited him just north of
Assyria.
About eight and a half centuries later, Jesus pointed out
that there would be only one sign that He was the Son of God.
That sign was that He would be in the grave for three days and
three nights, just before being resurrected, just as Jonah was
held inside the fish for three days and three nights before being
freed. (Matthew 12:38-41.)


The Great City Nineveh

It was painfully clear to Jonah that God had brought him
close to Assyria in spite of his efforts to evade doing the thing
God told him to do. He realized, at last, that it was futile to
go against God's will. This was even plainer to him when the men
insisted on taking him to Nineveh.
God's purpose was to use them in getting the prophet to Nineveh
to warn that city of impending destruction.
From the town of Sinope, near where Jonah had landed, it was
about five hundred miles south to Assyria's sprawling capital.
There, on the streets teeming with thousands of people, Jonah was
pointed out as the man brought to Assyria by a huge fish.
Excited, curious Assyrians gathered to stare. Jonah was irked and
embarrassed at being put on display, but he realized that this
situation was created for what he must do.
Taking advantage of all the attention, Jonah repeatedly
shouted his message. "I have been sent by the God of Israel to
warn you that Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days!" (Jonah
3:1-4.)
The surprised crowd was silent for a few seconds. Then the
people began to mutter, many of them in anger.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 134
EVEN PROPHETS AND KINGS MUST REPENT

ON THE crowded streets of Nineveh, Jonah the prophet proclaimed
that destruction was coming to that city in forty days. (Jonah
3:1-4.) Some of his startled hearers moved menacingly toward him.
Others advised them to use caution.


A Gentile King Listens

News of this strange man with his disturbing message quickly
spread through the city. As the crowd increased, Jonah repeated
his warning, which was having an increasingly troublesome effect.
There were jeers and angry retorts, but most of the people
refrained from speaking out because of the miraculous report of
Jonah's coming out of a fish's mouth!
Suddenly two stern-faced officers emerged from the crowd,
strode up to Jonah and informed him that they had orders to take
him to the king of Assyria for questioning. The prophet was
dismayed. He reasoned that if he weren't put to death, he would
probably be imprisoned and die in the destruction of Nineveh.
Matters appeared grim for Jonah, but he was about to learn
that his fears were unfounded and that the Assyrian ruler was
considerably different from what he imagined him to be.
"I know about what you've been telling the people," the king
said to Jonah after the prophet had been escorted to the palace.
"Now I want to learn from you what this is all about."
Jonah explained who he was, why he was in Nineveh and that
he completely believed what he had been telling the people.
"Many reports about the great power of the God of Israel
have come to me over the years," the king observed. "I have heard
what happened to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah a thousand
years ago. Perhaps I am foolish to believe that it happened, but
I want no part of the wrath of your God. I can't change the ways
of my people overnight, but I can decree that they fast for the
next few days and cry to your God to change His mind and spare
us."
"How can you force people to be repentant?" Jonah asked the
king.
"I can't," was the reply. "My people may be a wicked lot,
but they do have a certain respect for authority and usually
follow their leader's example. My mistake has been in not
exerting enough authority and good influence over them. Therefore
I shall be the first to put aside my robes, dress myself in
sackcloth and pray to your God in public to spare us. Those who
refuse to follow my example will surely be the first to die."


The People Repent

Jonah was surprised that the king of this pagan nation was
affected so strongly by the prophet's warning. The ruler of
Assyria immediately ordered that all the Ninevites, including
their animals, refrain from eating and drinking.
Furthermore, animals as well as people were to be dressed in
sackcloth. The Ninevites were also commanded to forego their
regular pursuits and spend their time seriously calling on the
Great God of Israel, possessor of Heaven and Earth, not to
destroy Nineveh.
The people willingly obeyed the king's orders because they
were fearful of what would happen to them. Within hours the
tempo, mood and outlook of the people of this vast Gentile city
were abruptly altered. The people had changed from their wicked
ways. (Jonah 3:5-9.)
By this time the forty days Jonah had mentioned had almost
expired. Tension and fear mounted rapidly.
Jonah was free to go where he pleased. He left, but only to
go a mile or so from the east wall to take up a temporary
residence with his burro in a rocky spot from which he could
command a good view of Nineveh but could take safety behind
boulders if the annihilation of the city came about by some
exceedingly violent means. (Jonah 4:5.)
An ominous, nerve-racking silence came over Nineveh as the
hours dragged by. The fortieth day dawned. Thousands fearfully
wondered if the end would come through an earthquake, a hurricane
or by fire from the sky.
As the day drew to a close, Jonah stared from behind a
boulder, waiting in wearing apprehension for the terrible thing
he hoped for God to do. He firmly held the tether of his burro,
lest the animal bolt and run at some sudden loud noise or light.
The prophet shivered with suspense as the sun disappeared behind
Nineveh's walls and sank beyond the horizon of the distant
western desert -- the fortieth day was over and God had not sent
the evil Jonah so expected.
Those were supposed to be the fatal moments, but nothing
happened except the advent of darkness. Jonah was puzzled. All
night he kept a vigil beside the boulder. By the time the sun
came up over the eastern mountains, the prophet's perplexity had
turned to disappointment. He was resentful and even angry because
God had failed to do what He had threatened to do. (Jonah 3:10.)
"Back when you first told me to go to Nineveh I was afraid
that this thing would happen," Jonah said aloud irritably,
intending that God would hear his opinion. "That's why I took a
ship to the west. I knew that You are merciful, kind and slow to
anger, and that You very likely would decide to spare the
Ninevites if they showed any desire to repent. They did and You
changed Your mind. Now the Assyrians will think of me only as one
who has deceived them. When they find me, they'll kill me. I want
You to take my life. I would rather die by Your hand than by the
bloody weapons of Ninevites who are angry because I caused them
so much fear and terror." (Jonah 4:1-3.)


Jonah's Resentment

Jonah continued to kneel for a time, expecting God to snatch
his life from him at any moment. But as in the case of Nineveh,
nothing happened. Instead, the prophet was startled to hear a
distinct voice. He looked quickly around him, but the only living
thing he could see was his burro. It obviously heard nothing.
"You are angry with Me, your God," the voice uttered. "Do
you consider that wise? Why are you disappointed because the
people of Nineveh are still alive? Do you think that they are
more concerned with you than with knowing that they have been
allowed to live?" (Jonah 4:4.)
"I dare not show myself to these men who will become the
enemies of Israel as soon as they conquer the Syrians," was
Jonah's bitter answer.
"The Israelites have refused to repent after I warned them
through you what would happen to them if they continued in
idolatry," God pointed out. (II Kings 14:25.) "They don't have as
much respect for their Creator as do the Assyrians. Then why
should I not use the Assyrians to punish them?"
Jonah was miserable. Besides his mental distress, a physical
problem was rapidly developing. As the sun went higher, the heat
became very intense. Jonah tried to produce some shade by
constructing a kind of booth out from the boulder. All he had to
use were rocks and dried weeds and branches, and he wasn't very
successful. He feared to move elsewhere lest he be discovered and
attacked, though his fears were ungrounded. All he could do was
sit with his coat over his head and hope that he would survive
the almost unbearable rays of the blazing sun.
Next morning Jonah was startled to find that he was in the
shade of a large plant that overnight had sprung out of the
ground. Broad, green leaves were spreading themselves between him
and the sky, shielding him from the hot solar rays that had
plagued him earlier. He realized that this was something that God
had miraculously prepared for his relief. He was pleased and
thankful, but his unhappy attitude concerning Nineveh continued
to gnaw at his mind. (Jonah 4:6.)
Next day dawned hot again, but Jonah remained comfortable
under the wide leaves of the unusual plant. Then, as suddenly as
it had come up, the plant withered and its leaves shriveled.
Again the prophet was exposed to the almost unbearable heat. As
he sat staring at the remains of the plant, he even felt sorrow
for it because it had lived for such a short period of time. He
was concerned mainly about his comfort, but besides that he
regretted to see the beautiful plant die. He didn't know that God
had purposely caused a large, voracious worm to consume the
vine's roots.
A hot wind came up from the east to add to the prophet's
distress. That and his gnawing resentment were too much for him.
He fell into a state of unconsciousness. When he regained his
senses he was even more miserable than he had been before. He
desperately wished (for the third time) that his life would come
to an abrupt and merciful end. That was when the voice came again
to him.


Jonah Learns His Lesson

"Do you feel that you have good reason to be troubled
because of the gourd plant?" the voice asked.
"I have plenty of reasons to be troubled," Jonah answered.
"I'll be troubled until the day I die, and I hope it's soon!"
(Jonah 4:7-9.)
"You had nothing to do with causing the plant to grow," the
voice said, "but you had a feeling of sorrow for it because its
life was so brief. You believe that I was unmerciful in allowing
the plant to die so soon. If I should have spared that plant,
shouldn't I also have spared the great city of Nineveh, with its
thousands upon thousands of men, women, innocent children and
helpless animals?" (Jonah 4:10-11.)
There is no record in the Scriptures of what happened next
to Jonah. There is strong evidence that a monument uncovered in
the ruins of Nineveh in recent years had been built to honor this
prophet. Evidently he turned out to be a national hero or at
least an object of great respect by the Assyrians of that time.
Eventually, in later years, as Jonah feared and as God
indicated would happen, the Assyrians did come against Israel
because the Israelites wouldn't turn from idolatry. That invasion
meant the end, for many centuries, to the combined nationality of
ten tribes of Israel, most of the people God had chosen for a
profound purpose in this world and the world to come. (Exodus
19:5-6; Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18-19; I Peter 2:9.)


Results of Justice

During the reign of Jeroboam, king of the ten northern
tribes of Israel, the son of Amaziah began to rule the kingdom of
Judah. His name was Uzziah, also known as Azariah. (II Kings
14:16-21; II Chronicles 26:1.) He was only sixteen years old when
he became king, but because he looked to God for direction,
through Zechariah the prophet, he developed into a wise,
courageous ruler whose ambition was to strengthen his kingdom and
improve the welfare of the people.
God prospered Uzziah and gave him success in battle. Even
with his relatively small army the king overcame the Philistines,
who had been a growing threat to Judah since the invasion of the
ten tribes of Israel. The fortifications of Philistia's major
cities were destroyed, including those of Gath, Ashdod and
Jabneh. Uzziah's men then built towns near those cities, so that
the Philistines could be kept under control through garrisons
established in the new towns.
Before long the king's army had grown to 307,500 stalwart,
well-trained, splendidly equipped troops under the command of
2,600 able clan chiefs. (II Chronicles 26:11-15.)
To prevent trouble from the south, Uzziah's growing army
swept over territory as far as the border of Egypt, depriving
hostile Arabians of the means of making serious attacks on the
towns of Judah bordering the desert of the Sinai peninsula.
Many miles to the southeast, at the northern tip of the Gulf
of Aqaba of the Red Sea, Uzziah's men took over the seaport town
of Elath, which had formerly belonged to Judah. The port was
rebuilt and equipped for a continuance of the sea commerce
Solomon had started from that gulf on the east side of the Sinai
peninsula. (II Chronicles 26:2-7; II Kings 14:22.)
Moving in separate bands spread over wide areas, Uzziah's
army marched to the southeast and up around the south end of the
Dead Sea. There was little resistance until reaching the country
of the Ammonites, who met the invaders and were defeated. Instead
of destroying his victims, Uzziah demanded that they bring a
regular tribute to Jerusalem. (II Chronicles 26:8.)
Convinced that his nation was at least temporarily safe from
attack from three directions, Uzziah set about improving
conditions for raising sheep and cattle. Large flocks and herds
were raised on the plains bordering the Paran desert in the
northern part of the Sinai peninsula. In this lonely region
shepherds and herdsmen had often lost their lives and their
animals in surprise attacks by Arabians. To prevent this
fortifications were established at various places throughout the
grazing frontier. These included high towers from which watchmen
could see for miles over the plains and spot approaching
marauders in time to prepare for defense. Wells were dug as close
as possible to the fortified shelters and towers, so that men and
animals wouldn't have to move long distances for water,
previously available at considerably fewer locations.
Wells were also dug in areas where farming could be
developed and expanded. Although he had made war and defense
first in the order of things, Uzziah was far more interested in
agriculture. He felt that everything possible should be done to
balance agriculture and to get the most good out of the soil of
all regions -- mountains, valleys and plains. (II Chronicles
26:10.)
Having established strong projects of food production and
commerce, the king of Judah turned his attention to repairing the
aging walls of Jerusalem. Towers were built at various locations
along the walls. Special movable platforms were constructed on
the wall tops for the placement of extraordinary defense
machines, some to shoot clusters of giant arrows and others to
hurl heavy stones with tremendous force.
Such outstanding devices, never known before, were invented
and built by men who were very skillful, ingenious mechanics.
These unusual engines of war, generally powered by the sudden
release of tension in cables and springy planks, were objects of
wonder to all who saw them or heard of them. (II Chronicles 26:9,
15.)


Luxury Breeds Conceit

Over the years Uzziah became powerful, prosperous and quite
respected because he had honored and obeyed God. Unhappily, there
came a time when he began to think of himself as a very special
person. In spite of the wisdom he had used for so long, good
judgment began to fade the more he thought of himself as greatly
superior to other men.
One day when there were special services at the temple and
many worshippers were present, Uzziah decided that the
congregation would take more interest in the ceremonies if he
were to take over some of the functions of the priests. After
making a dramatic entrance up the steps to the temple, he turned
to the crowd.
"Inasmuch as this is a special day, your king will assume
the responsibility of burning incense on the incense altar," he
announced.
There was a murmur of approval from those in the audience
who weren't aware that only a priest was to burn incense at the
temple. (Exodus 30:7-8; Numbers 16:1-40; 18:1-7.) Those who were
aware of it only stared and probably thought that Uzziah had made
some special arrangement with Azariah the high priest. But
Azariah, standing off to one side, was surprised by the king's
words. His surprise gave way to grave concern as Uzziah strode
into the temple and toward the sanctuary.
"He must be stopped!" Azariah exclaimed in a low voice to
one of his assistants. "Bring all the priests to me at the
entrance of the sanctuary immediately!"
Moments later the priests gathered around Azariah, who
hastily walked into the sanctuary with his men.
"Leave this room at once!" the high priest firmly called out
to the king, who was standing by the incense altar.
Uzziah, holding a smoking censer, slowly turned and glared
at Azariah.
"The king of Judah does not jump at the command of a
priest!" he muttered angrily.
"Then I beg you to leave here before God shows His
displeasure!" the high priest implored Uzziah. (II Chronicles
26:16-18.)
----------------------------------------

Chapter 135
ISRAEL GOES TO WAR WITH THE JEWS

UZZIAH, KING OF JUDAH, changed by his growing attitude of
self-importance, unwisely started to take over a priestly
function at the temple. (II Chronicles 26:1-16.) Warned by
Azariah the high priest that the king would displease God by this
act, Uzziah was so angered that he was hardly aware of a sudden
quivering in the floor.


A King Not Above God

"It would take more than all of you to get me out of here
before I choose to leave!" Uzziah snapped. "And why should God be
displeased with me?"
"None but a son of Aaron the Levite should burn incense in
this sanctuary," Azariah pointed out. "You will surely bring down
the wrath of God for disobeying His laws!" (II Chronicles
26:17-18.)
The priests, moving toward Uzziah, nodded in assent. This
made the angry king even more upset.
Undaunted by a king, the priests continued approaching
Uzziah, who indignantly held his ground. Just as the priests were
about to reach him, they halted. Their expressions of
determination turned to those of surprise and dread as they
peered intently at him.
"A white spot has just appeared on your forehead," Azariah
informed the king. "I think it's leprosy!"
Although Uzziah instantly considered the high priest's
remark a trick, his free hand went to his forehead. The censer he
was holding crashed to the floor. He was horrified to feel an
area of soft, puffy, moist skin above his eyes. It was like
pressing his fingers into something dead, cold and mushy.
"Get him out of here before something worse happens!"
Azariah instructed the priests.
The foremost men seized the king and whisked him toward the
door, but Uzziah was so anxious to get out of the sanctuary that
he broke away from them and raced ahead. The congregation outside
was amazed and bewildered to see the king rush out of the temple
in such an undignified manner, and dart out of sight into a group
of aides and attendants. (II Chronicles 26:19-20.)
Azariah and his priests emerged just as another rumble, this
time very strong, came from the quaking ground. The earth shook
violently and the temple trembled. Screams of fear went up from
the congregation, which fled away. (Zechariah 14:5; Amos 1:1.)
This earthquake, one of the most severe in history, was a token
of God's anger because of what Uzziah had done. It did great
damage to the earth's surface for many miles around, but God
didn't allow a vast destruction of cities and lives because of
what happened at the temple. Nevertheless, thousands of people
had to race for their lives when huge fissures cracked open in
the ground. The Bible compares the earthquake to a terrifying one
that will occur when Christ returns to the earth only a few years
from the time this present-day account is written. (Zechariah
14:4; Matthew 24:29.)
Uzziah, also called Azariah, remained leprous until his
death several years later at the age of sixty-eight. (II Kings
15:1-7.) Until then, because of his contagious disease, he had to
live apart from others except devoted servants who chose to stay
with him. Even under these conditions he continued to be regarded
as the ruler of Judah, although others, including his young son
Jotham, performed most of the regal functions.
Having died a leper, Uzziah wasn't entombed in a royal
sepulchre, but was buried in a field near the regal tombs.
Unlike some other kings of Judah who had followed God and
had later fallen into idolatry, Uzziah worshipped only the one
true God all his life. His deplorable downfall came from
believing that he was above the Law and that he was too great a
man to have to observe certain special rules God had established
for deportment at the temple. (II Chronicles 26:21-23.)


Meanwhile, in Israel

For six months, during Judah's prosperity under Uzziah,
Jeroboam's son Zachariah ruled the ten tribes, called the House
of Israel. He continued the idol-worship his father had followed.
He was so indifferent to the welfare of the people that he was
very unpopular with them. He was murdered before a public
gathering by a man of high rank named Shallum, who had already
persuaded high officials and the guard to support him. No one
tried to arrest Shallum for this brazen act. He made himself king
immediately. (II Kings 15:8-12.)
Zachariah's death ended the reign of the descendants of
Jehu, king of Israel over a hundred years previously. God told
Jehu that because he had been obedient in destroying the family
of disobedient Ahab, his descendants for four generations would
rule Israel. (II Kings 9:1-10; II Kings 10:30-31.) Zachariah was
of the fourth and last generation. More generations from Jehu
probably would have reigned if Jehu hadn't allowed the customs of
Jeroboam I to remain the established religion.
Menahem, commander of the army of Israel, had started out to
the northeast to recapture towns and cities taken by the Syrians.
When he heard that Shallum had become king by doing away with
Zachariah, he was so angry and envious that he returned to
Samaria and put an end to Shallum after that king had been in
power only a month. (II Kings 15:13-15.)
Menahem proclaimed himself ruler, then set out again on his
military mission. He went back to Tirzah, a former capital of
northern Israel and the city he had been besieging when he
returned to Samaria. Menahem took over Tirzah and other cities to
the northeast. His goal was the strongly fortified city of
Tiphsah on the Euphrates river. He reasoned that capturing it
would be necessary for a stronghold against westward military
movements by Assyria. Besides, it would be an important garrison
against Syria.
When Menahem arrived at Tiphsah, he didn't surprise the
inhabitants, who had been informed of the Israelites' approach
hours before. The Israelite army commander demanded that heavy
barricading be removed and the gates opened. He promised that he
would spare the inhabitants if they would surrender, but that any
who resisted would die.


Menahem Grasps Another City

Before long Menahem found that he wasn't yet in a position
to make demands or carry out threats. The people of Tiphsah
stubbornly refused to do anything except wait. As the hours
passed the commander grew furiously impatient.
"These stupid foreigners are asking to starve or die of
thirst through a siege!" Menahem stormed. "I don't have time for
a siege, but I'm not leaving here until I take this city!"
Menahem's angry determination cost him many men in his wild
attack on Tiphsah. There were repeated attempts to scale the
walls, timed with the efforts of archers who shot their arrows
from fatally short distances. Finally, after what appeared to be
a fruitless struggle, a contingent of Israelites managed to get
over the walls, push back the defenders, pull down the barricades
and open the gates to allow the rest of the Israelite army to
pour into the city.
"Make the infidels pay for our losses!" Menahem ordered his
officers. "Slaughter those who hide as well as those who resist!
And do away with every pregnant woman you can find!"
The king's commands were carried out. Many were slain, and
Tiphsah fell to Israel. This was an example of the violence and
cruelty that characterized Menahem's rule during the next ten
years. Besides being murderously vengeful, the king maliciously
insisted on the worship of idols, even though he had a knowledge
of God. (II Kings 15:16-18.)
One day Menahem received a report that an army from distant
Assyria had crossed the Jordan river and was marching toward
Samaria. Within hours the bristling, excited king was leading his
army eastward to meet the invaders. When they came within view
and he saw that their numbers extended for miles across the
plain, his liking for war suddenly deserted him.
The king of Israel hastily arranged for a party of his
officers to go ahead with a flag of truce to meet the Assyrians
while he and his troops waited at a distance. This resulted, a
little later, in his being invited by Pul, the Assyrian king, to
ride forward for an exchange of words.
"I am surprised that a military man of your hostile
reputation would come to meet me in peace," Pul commented dryly,
critically eyeing the other ruler.
"If you come in peace, I welcome you in peace," Menahem
replied.
"Peace between Assyria and Israel depends on what you do to
make amends for what you did to Tiphsah," Pul bluntly stated.
"Many of the murdered inhabitants were my people!"
The usually barbarous and unfriendly Menahem struggled to
conceal his sudden fear and maintain diplomatic composure.
"Such a grave matter shouldn't be discussed in the middle of
a desert," he observed. "If you will be my guest at my palace in
Samaria, we can talk there in comfort."


The Cost of Land-Grabbing

Weeks later, while Pul and his top officers enjoyed
themselves in Samaria and the nearby Assyrian army occasionally
feasted on special food supplied by the Israelites, the two kings
came to an agreement.
Meanwhile, the distraught Menahem, gambling on the hope that
Pul could be appeased by a sum of money, decreed that those who
were prosperous among the Israelites should pay a special tax. In
spite of the sins of Israel, about 60,000 families still enjoyed
God's blessing of prosperity. Through the hurried efforts of
collectors, the tax money poured in. Equal to about two million
dollars, it was promptly turned over to the king of Assyria, who
took his army back to his home nation. He saw no reason to lose
any of his soldiers against the Israelites if their king chose to
buy his way out of a war. (II Kings 15:19-20.)
There were Israelites who were highly critical of Menahem
for taxing the people to escape trouble, but if the king had
chosen to stand against the invaders, Israel probably would have
been defeated. It was a matter of disaster being postponed to the
time God had picked to bring the Assyrians again to Samaria.
Menahem died shortly after this event. He was succeeded by
his son Pekahiah, who continued in the idolatry of his forebears.
His rule was cut short, after only two years, when one of his
captains burst into his palace, along with fifty men, and
assassinated Pekahiah.
This captain, Pekah, whose name was much like that of his
victim, seized the throne to hold control of the ten tribes of
Israel for the next twenty years, during which he carried on in
the idolatry of the rulers who had preceded him. (II Kings
15:21-28.)
But while the Israelites were having all this trouble, the
Jews fared much better because they had better leaders.
In the second year of Pekah's reign over Israel in Samaria,
Uzziah's son Jotham, twenty-five years of age, came into full
rulership of Judah. Happily for his kingdom, he lived and ruled
by God's laws during his sixteen years as king. Although he
worked to clean out idolatry from Judah, it was so deeply
ingrained in many of the people that he never succeeded in
removing it. (II Kings 15:32-35; II Chronicles 27:1.)
Jotham remembered his father's lesson and didn't go into the
temple. Like Uzziah in his better years, Jotham built
fortifications and observation towers in places where they were
needed. He continued to improve Jerusalem's walls, as well as
part of the temple. His ambition was to maintain and improve the
projects his father had started.
Because of his loyalty to God, most of the years of Jotham's
reign weren't marred by war. The king's first battle was with the
Ammonites, whom the army of Judah defeated. As vassals, the
Ammonites paid tribute in silver equal to about $200,000 as well
as over 90,000 bushels of wheat and the same amount of barley.
For three years they made the same payment to Judah. (II
Chronicles 27:2-6.) After that they rebelled against bringing it.
Jotham was so engrossed in a more serious matter that he didn't
have time to send an army to demand the tribute. The army of
Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, was overrunning much of the
territory of the kingdom of Israel. This was no small concern to
Jotham, who any day expected to learn that the Assyrians were
heading toward Judah, also.


The Assyrian Threat

The unwelcome report eventually came. Jotham's soldiers
prepared to defend Jerusalem. The war machines built in Uzziah's
time were set for action. What was more important, Jotham asked
God to spare his nation from the Assyrians.
According to ancient Assyrian records, the invaders went
almost to the northeastern border of Egypt, by-passing the towns
and cities of Judah and Philistia. They returned, but the only
places they spoiled were in the territory of the ten tribes of
Israel. Jotham's prayers had been answered. The Jews were spared,
but so were the Philistines. God possibly spared the Philistines
so that they could be used to trouble Judah during the reign of
the next evil king.
The Assyrians finally left Israel, but not without taking
thousands of Israelites as captives and leaving Pekah with only
half his territory. All the land east of the Jordan river was
taken, never to be regained by any king of Israel. The Assyrians
also took over many of the towns and cities of Syria. (II Kings
15:29; I Chronicles 5:25-26.) Thus Assyria became the common
enemy of Israel and Syria; and Rezin, the king of Syria, and
Pekah, the king of Israel, became allies in a plan to regain the
wealth and strength they needed.


Israel Plots with Syria to Fight the Jews

That plan was to capture Judah's capital, Jerusalem. If that
could be done, all of Judah could be theirs. But both Israel and
Syria had become so weakened in manpower that the forces they
sent against Judah were not strong enough to make inroads. (II
Kings 15:37.) Even if the armies had been twice as large, they
wouldn't have succeeded until the time God chose to allow them to
succeed.
Jotham died at the relatively young age of forty-one to
leave the leadership of the nation of Judah to his son Ahaz,
twenty years old. (II Kings 15:38; II Chronicles 27:6-9.) From
then on conditions grew worse in Judah. Ahaz, following the bad
example of all the kings of Israel, believed that it was foolish
to worship a God he couldn't see. He chose to worship objects
that were visible, no matter how lifeless. He saw to it that
images of Baal were produced and made available to his subjects
to worship. He was a base example to his people by putting his
children through fiery rites associated with heathen gods. (II
Kings 16:1-4; II Chronicles 28:1-4.)
The armies of Israel and Syria again came against Judah,
this time to successfully converge on Jerusalem. But the high,
thick walls and unusual protective devices were too much for the
attackers. (II Kings 16:5.)
The soldiers of Israel returned to Samaria. The Syrian
forces moved southward to the northeastern tip of the Red Sea,
where they drove out the Jews and captured the port of Elath,
which until then belonged to Judah. This is the first time the
people of Judah are called Jews in the Bible. (II Kings 16:6.)
The departure of the Syrians and Pekah's army didn't mean
the end of trouble for Ahaz. The Philistines had learned that the
army of Judah had been weakened by recent attacks. Their army
moved eastward to capture towns and villages in southwestern
Judah. About the same time the Edomites invaded Judah from the
southeast by bands of mounted soldiers who captured and carried
away people from the small towns. (II Chronicles 28:17-19.)
This was frustrating to Ahaz, whose army couldn't be
everywhere at once. He didn't want to break it up into too many
parts, lest there be another siege of Jerusalem. He needed help.
The only possible source was from distant Assyria, whose king had
no friendly attitude toward Syria. Ahaz sent messengers to
Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, to ask for military aid to ward
off the Jews' enemies, the Syrians, Israelites, Philistines and
Edomites. As payment for the help he hoped to receive, Ahaz
stripped the temple of most of its gold and silver and special
treasures and sent them to the king of Assyria. For good measure
Ahaz added some of the valuable objects from his palace. (II
Kings 16:7-8; II Chronicles 28:20-25.)
The next few days were difficult and trying ones for the
king of Judah. He was filled with anxiety over what the Assyrian
king would choose to do. If he made the decision to help Judah,
Ahaz desperately hoped that the help would come before the
Israelites decided to return and attack again.
Finally a special messenger came to speak to the king, who
impatiently demanded to know what the king of Assyria had to tell
him.
"But I am not from Assyria," the messenger said. "I've come
from southern Judah to report that the Syrian army is approaching
from Elath!"
----------------------------------------

Chapter 136
JUDAH IS STRONG ISRAEL IS WEAK

HAVING sent to the king of Assyria for help against his enemies,
Ahaz the king of Judah expected to learn that troops were coming
from the north to assist him. (II Kings 16:7-8.) Instead, a
messenger brought a discouraging report that the army of Syria
was approaching Jerusalem from the south.


A Hired Friend

Again the best warriors of Judah readied themselves to
defend their capital. But Rezin, the Syrian king, had no
intention of repeating a futile attack against such strong
fortifications. His army moved safely on past Jerusalem, then
struck some nearby towns. By the time troops could spill out of
Jerusalem and start pursuing the attackers, the Syrians were well
on their way north with thousands of captives and loot, leaving
the towns in ruins.
The soldiers of Judah were too late to overtake the
attackers, who returned victoriously to Damascus, the Syrian
capital, where their captives became slaves. (II Chronicles
28:1-5.) Even this tragedy for Judah failed to move Ahaz to turn
from idolatry. But just when he was most discouraged and fearful,
he received the exciting report that the Assyrians had attacked
and captured Damascus, and that Rezin, king of the Syrians, had
been killed (II Kings 16:9.)
Ahaz was jubilant. He was convinced that his costly gifts to
Tiglath-pileser, the Assyrian king, had proved to be a worthwhile
bribe. He planned an immediate trip to Damascus, which was
occupied by the Assyrian king. Ahaz hoped to talk Tiglath-pileser
into moving westward and besieging Samaria.
The king of Judah went to Damascus and talked with the
Assyrian king, who had made his own plans and was indifferent to
those of Ahaz. He made it plain that he had already carried out
any obligation having to do with gifts Ahaz had given him.
Ahaz returned to Jerusalem with the bleak outlook of having
to deal with several enemies, particularly that of King Pekah of
Israel, without the aid of a strong ally. He needed help
desperately, but he preferred not to look to God for it. Instead
he foolishly reasoned that the pagan Syrian gods disliked him and
so had given the Syrians victory over Judah. He decided to
sacrifice to the Syrian gods in an effort to appease them and win
them over to helping him. (II Chronicles 28:23.)
Ahaz was so obsessed with this ridiculous idea that before
he left Damascus he sent orders to Urijah, high priest at the
temple at Jerusalem, to build an altar like one he had seen in
Damascus and to set it in front of God's altar toward the temple
gate. Messengers brought drawn plans for the altar to Urijah.
Although Urijah was a high-ranking servant of God, he gave orders
that the altar should be constructed and should replace the
sacred one that had long been in use. (II Kings 16:10.)
Urijah feared that Ahaz would demand his life if he failed
to do this abominable thing that was contrary to God's commands.
(Exodus 20:2225; 25:40; 26:30; 27:1-8; 38:1-7.) Obviously the
high priest wasn't dedicated to the duty of his high office.
Otherwise, he would have refused to build the pagan altar, and
would have relied on God for safety. It had always been common
knowledge among the Israelites that they should not make
sacrifices on any altar other than God's altar, even if it were
made after the same pattern. (Joshua 22:11-30.)
As soon as Ahaz returned to Jerusalem, one of the first
things he did was to go to the temple and look at the new altar.
Satisfied that it was like the Syrian altar he had seen, he
proceeded to use it for the first time by making sacrifices to
Syrian gods. This, in front of the temple, was an act of contempt
for God. (II Kings 16:11-13.)


Israel and Judah at War

There followed other brazen deeds by Ahaz. He gave orders to
the high priest that the main objects that had to do with
ceremonial worship of God should be moved to different locations
around the temple area. (II Kings 16:14.) This was contrary to
the way God had established their positions. (Exodus 40:6-7.)
Most of the remaining gold or silver articles and furnishings
both inside and outside the temple were removed and melted down
for reuse due to their metallic value. In spite of this
desecration, faithful followers of God still came in dwindling
numbers to worship at the temple. Ahaz put a stop to that by
closing the temple and forbidding any sacrificing except to pagan
gods. (II Kings 16:15-18; II Chronicles 28:24.)
This was a tragic time in the history of man. God's
patience, much greater than that of the most enduring human
being, was tried to an extreme. To add to what he had done at the
temple, the king of Judah decreed that altars should be
constructed in the major cities and towns of the land to
establish national worship of Syrian gods. (II Chronicles 28:25.)
Ahaz hoped that these pagan idols would be so pleased by
another nation turning to them that they would not only protect
Judah from surrounding enemies, but would somehow release Ahaz
from having to pay regular tribute to Assyria, something
Tiglath-pileser had demanded of Ahaz when the king of Judah was
in Damascus. He was anxious not to let his subjects learn that
the kingdom had fallen into such serious debt to the nation he
had hoped would remain an ally.
Growing idolatry in Judah might not have been quite so
abominable in God's sight if Ahaz and the people had never known
of the only real God. With most of them it was a matter of
choosing between their Creator and lifeless idols. This wasn't
much of a compliment to the One who had given them life. As Ahaz
constantly feared would happen, the report finally came that King
Pekah of Israel and his army had left Samaria and were headed
southward. Ahaz had to decide whether to keep the army in
Jerusalem and risk attacks on other towns in Judah, or send his
troops out to meet Pekah's. He decided to meet the enemy, just as
the angry God of Israel intended.
On a plain north of Jerusalem the two armies of Israel and
Judah came against each other in tragic strife, inasmuch as the
participants came from all twelve tribes of the whole of Israel.
Some of the first men to be slain were of high rank in the
government of Judah, including the prime minister, the governor
of the royal palace and an officer who was a close relative of
Ahaz. The quick loss of men like these threw fear into the
foremost ranks of the soldiers of Judah. That fear was obvious to
Pekah's troops, who waded in among them with growing fervor and
ferocity.
All day long the sound and fury of bloody battle continued.
By nightfall one hundred and twenty thousand soldiers of Judah
were dead on the wide field of fighting. (II Chronicles 28:5-7.)
Most of what was left of the army of Judah fled back to
Jerusalem, leaving Pekah's victorious troops to plunder nearby
towns and capture the inhabitants. When the pillagers left for
Samaria, they took with them two hundred thousand men, women and
children, as well as a huge amount of loot.


Israel Relents -- Somewhat

Herded along by its captors, this great crowd was almost
within sight of Samaria when a group of prominent men of Israel
met the returning army. The group's spokesman was a prophet named
Oded, who addressed the top officers of the soldiers of Israel.
"Who are these people with you?" the prophet asked.
"They are captives we took in Judah," the army commander
replied proudly. "Probably you already heard that we all but
destroyed the army of Ahaz. Then we captured these people to
become servants in our nation."
"This is against God's will," Oded firmly stated after
glancing over the foremost of the miserable captives. "You didn't
win a victory over Judah because you were more righteous or more
battle-wise. God gave you the ability to defeat Judah in war to
punish them for their sins. But capturing these people was a
cruel and unnecessary deed. They are our brothers and sisters
because of our common ancestors who came out of Egypt. To regard
them as servants is wrong. If you keep them in bondage, God's
wrath will come on Samaria. The sins of Israel are already too
great and too many to have this thing added." (II Chronicles
28:8-11.)
"Then what do you suggest we do with these prisoners?" the
commander asked in an irritable tone.
"Release them so that they can return to Judah," was Oded's
simple answer.
"Let them go after all the trouble we've taken to get them
here?" the commander sputtered angrily. "Do you actually think
that just because you are a prophet anyone is going to take you
seriously in this matter?"
By now a growing crowd from Samaria had come up behind the
leaders of Israel, who drew closer around Oded and the army
officers.
"All of us here agree with Oded," one of the leaders
answered the startled commander. "We of Israel have done many
things to anger God. If we take these people as servants, who
knows what punishment will come to us? Do not move them one step
farther into Israel! And don't take for yourselves any of the
booty you forced them to carry with them!"
The officers stared at those around them. The commander
wasn't accustomed to being told by a civilian what to do, but not
knowing how the king stood on the matter, he hesitated to take a
stand against Oded and these men of high position. After a few
moments of glaring at his opposers, he barked a command to his
officers and aides and strode angrily away. The crowd from
Samaria watched in silence as the army of Israel solemnly filed
by on its way to the capital. (II Chronicles 28:12-14.)
Aided by the crowd that had joined them, the leaders of
Israel started the task of taking stock of the loot from Judah.
From it they obtained clothing and shoes for that part of the
captives who had been seized at night while in bed, and had been
given no time to properly dress.
From the food taken from Judah the captives were given a
meal that was long overdue. Then they were accompanied back
toward Judah as far as the city of Jericho, which had been built
on a different site from the Jericho that had been destroyed.
Donkeys carried the elderly people and cripples, who had suffered
from being forced to march toward Samaria.
From Jericho it was only a few miles to the various towns of
northern Judah from which the people had been taken. Having
delivered them to their country, the men of Israel returned to
Samaria and their hometowns to the north, hopeful that God would
be merciful to the ten tribes because of what had been done for
the captives from Judah. (II Chronicles 28:15.)
Ahaz, brooding over the defeat of his army by that of
northern Israel, was relieved to learn that his captured people
had been returned. But instead of thanking God, who had made it
possible through His followers in Israel, he continued in
idolatry throughout the remaining years of his life. He was
buried in Jerusalem, but not in the royal tombs of the kings of
Judah. Obviously God decided which kings, because of their
obedience to Him, should be buried in the royal sepulchers, and
caused those who had charge of the burials to make the proper
decisions. (II Chronicles 28:26-27.)


Meanwhile...

Years before the death of Ahaz, King Pekah of Israel was
murdered according to the plan of a man named Hoshea, who had
schemed to do away with Pekah so that he could become ruler. (II
Kings 15:30; 17:1.) Civil war followed. Hoshea had to ask the
Assyrians for help to restore him to the throne.
Hoshea followed in the evil ways of the preceding kings, but
not with the idolatrous fervor most of the others had practiced.
During his reign the Assyrians, led by King Shalmaneser,
again came to Samaria. Hoshea didn't have the military strength
to resist tribute. He submitted to Shalmaneser and gave him
costly gifts and the promise of regular tribute and even
allegiance. (II Kings 17:2-3.)
Satisfied with how matters had turned out, the Assyrians
went on to further conquests, leaving Hoshea as little more than
a puppet king whose conduct would have to favor Assyrian
interests if Hoshea wanted to retain rulership of the ten tribes
of Israel. Hoshea tried to squirm out of his miserable situation
by seeking a strong ally. He sent messengers to the king of
Egypt, who was a powerful ruler at that time, to suggest that
both nations should unite against Assyria to prevent the invader
out of the north from taking them over one by one.
The king of Egypt took measures for the defense of his
nation, but did little to help Israel. Hoshea, meanwhile, was so
certain that Egypt would unite with his nation against Assyria
that he refused to pay the regular tribute. At the same time,
someone in Hoshea's employ sold information to the king of
Assyria that Hoshea was planning an alliance with Egypt.
Shalmaneser was angered to learn that the ruler of Israel would
dare scheme against him. He immediately sent a small part of his
army to Samaria, where Hoshea was questioned by Assyrian
officers.
"Why haven't we received the regular tribute?" they asked.


The Result of Godlessness

"If you didn't receive it, those who took it to Assyria must
have been robbed and killed," Hoshea untruthfully stated. "I have
been meaning to contact your king to ask if they stayed in
Assyria after delivering their valuable cargo."
"Why do you waste words?" one of the officers asked. "We
have sources of information right here in Samaria. We know that
the tribute wasn't sent."
"You question the word of the king of Israel?" Hoshea
indignantly sputtered.
"We do," the officer replied. "And we know that you are
guilty of conspiring with King So of Egypt against Assyria!"
Hoshea's forced indignant expression faded to one of genuine
panic as Assyrian soldiers closed in on him. The royal guard was
powerless to help because it had been outnumbered and removed by
the Assyrians. The Israelite soldiers realized that any
opposition to their enemies would bring the entire Assyrian army
down on Samaria.
"You are under arrest for plotting against King
Shalmaneser!" the ashen-faced Hoshea was told.
Stunned beyond argument or resistance, Hoshea quietly went
with his captors, who took him to his own dungeon in Samaria and
clapped him in chains. He was released after the delayed tribute
was paid, plus a heavy bail. This happened in the sixth year of
Hoshea's reign, which continued for three more years. (II Kings
17:4.)
The Bible doesn't mention Hoshea much after that. Whatever
his final fate, the fate of his kingdom, comprised of the ten
tribes of Israel, was worse. Shortly after Hoshea was imprisoned,
Shalmaneser again came westward with his entire army to overrun
parts of Syria and Israel. (II Kings 18:9.) His goal was Samaria,
which he surrounded by thousands of his troops. The outnumbered
army of Israel, mostly bottled up in the capital, dared not come
out to attack. As long as the invaders stayed, the people in the
capital remained prisoners. Meanwhile, Samaria's walls proved to
be so strong and well manned that the Assyrians had to be content
with waiting till the besieged Israelites would become so short
of food and water that they had to surrender.
A week passed, but there was no sign of distress from
Samaria. Then a month passed. Two months went by. Then a third.
Shalmaneser had come west prepared for several weeks of stay in
Israel, but now his food was running low and water was a problem.
It had to be hauled from towns near Samaria to the Assyrian camps
that had been set up around the capital. To increase the food
supply, Assyrian troops combed the nearby territory and towns to
take their needs.
The weeks went on, but there was no sign of weakening from
Samaria. From time to time the Assyrians attacked the city, but
always were driven back by showers of arrows, spears and stones.
This didn't greatly discourage Shalmaneser, who believed that
each time was the final effort of the Israelites to defend
Samaria before hunger and thirst forced a surrender. But the city
was so well supplied that the siege dragged on for two years!
----------------------------------------

Chapter 137
ISRAEL CONQUERED JUDAH SPARED

AFTER beginning the siege of Samaria, King Shalmaneser of Assyria
returned to his country, leaving only part of his army to
continue to bottle up the soldiers and civilians in the capital
of the ten tribes of Israel.
The Israelites were discouraged when they saw that enough of
the Assyrian army had been left behind to surround the city, but
they had hopes of overcoming the lesser numbers of Assyrians and
breaking the siege. (II Kings 17:1-5; 18:9.)


Samaria Under Siege

This they tried to do by withdrawing the guards from the
walls for a few days, so that it would appear that they no longer
had the strength to carry on. This, plus the fact that no smoke
was coming up from the city, caused the hopeful enemy troops to
cautiously close in at night toward the walls with the intention
of battering in the gates or scaling the walls with hooks and
ropes. Unhampered, they eagerly set to work, but only minutes
afterward all sorts of deadly objects descended on them. There
was a noisy, mad scramble to get away from the wall and the
Israelite soldiers who had suddenly appeared atop it.
If the Israelites could have repeated this strategy, in
which more than a few Assyrians lost their lives, Samaria might
have been freed. But the Assyrians weren't to be fooled again in
that manner. There was no other possible way for the Israelites
to exhaust their enemies except to go out and meet them in
battle. Plans were made for that, but the Israelites postponed
this last measure too long. The main part of the Assyrian army
suddenly returned. The approaching thousands spread out around
Samaria, causing all hope to be lost by the Israelites.
The Israelites kept on holding out week after week. Finally
Assyrian patience came to an end. The Assyrian kings were
ambitious men, and they didn't intend for the army of Assyria to
be tied up any longer in the siege. They ordered an assault on
the main gates of Samaria, using only a small number of soldiers
at a time to man a battering ram.
There was opposition from the wall, but as fast as the
Assyrians carrying the ram were cut down, others raced in to
replace them. At the same time Assyrian archers kept rushing up
to send volleys of arrows up to the top of the wall.
This continued for hours. Many men on both sides lost their
lives while the gates were being pounded to splinters. Behind the
gates were stone blocks. More men died as the stones were
laboriously removed. The soldiers of both nations met in
hand-to-hand combat. Weakened by lack of food, the Israelite
troops were no match for the greater number of Assyrians, who
poured inside the city and had civilians and soldiers under their
control within a short time.


The Almost-Lost Ten Tribes

The occupants of Samaria expected to be slaughtered, and
many were, as God had warned. (Hosea 13:16.) But total
annihilation wasn't according to the Assyrians' plan, which had
to do with the value of slaves. The Israelites were rounded up
like so many cattle, along with others from other towns and
villages of the ten tribes, and forced to march to Assyria with
the victors. (II Kings 17:6; 18:11.) Later, Assyrians returned to
herd more thousands of Israelites, scattered throughout the
countryside, out of their land.
Thus, two hundred fifty-three years after the twelve tribes
had divided into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the
kingdom of Israel abruptly ceased to exist. The people had again
and again rejected God's rules for the best way of living and had
turned to idolatry. (Judges 2:11-13; Psalms 106:34-41; 78:56-66.)
God had repeatedly warned them, through priests and prophets,
what would happen if they continued in idolatry. (II Kings
17:7-13; Jeremiah 7:24-26.) But most of the Israelites wouldn't
heed. (Daniel 9:6.)
Now, at last, the Israelites were dragged away from their
homes and into slavery in foreign lands even beyond Assyria. (II
Kings 17:18, 20-23; 18:11-12.) God had long been patient. (Psalms
78:25-41; 86:15.) But at last His patience gave way to anger
because this part of the people He had chosen to be the greatest
of nations had broken their promise to the Creator to keep His
Commandments. (Exodus 19:6; 24:7; Joshua 24:2022; II Kings
17:14-17.)
Scattered across hundreds of miles of territory and mingling
with people of heathen nations, and later wandering through many
lands, the people of Israel eventually lost their identity as
Israelites and Sabbath observers, and in time came to be regarded
by others as Gentiles. What had once been a great nation was
swallowed up, to be known for a very long time only as the "Lost
Ten Tribes."
Hundreds of years previously, after the Israelites had come
out of Egypt, God promised them that if they would worship only
the Creator and observe all His laws, they would receive all the
promises made to Abraham because of his obedience, and would
become the most prosperous and powerful of nations. (Leviticus
26:1-13; Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Jeremiah 7:22-23.) At the same time
God warned them that if they rebelled, they would fall into
slavery to their enemies, and would remain a scattered, landless
people for a period of seven prophetic times (Leviticus 26:14-35;
Deuteronomy 28:15-29; Joshua 24:13-20.)
A time in this case was a year of twelve thirty-day months.
Seven times, or 2,520 days, was equal to 2,520 prophetic years --
a day for a year. (Numbers 14:34.) So 2,520 years passed after
Israel was taken captive in 721-718 B.C., before the Israelites
regained their freedom and wealth. By then, in A.D. 1800-1803,
they had completely lost their identity. They had migrated or had
been taken to distant islands and continents. Most of them became
the inhabitants of the United States and Great Britain, and
didn't realize that they were largely descendants of the tribes
of Manasseh and Ephraim.
Some peoples in various regions of the British Isles,
however, still regarded themselves as Israelites until recent
centuries. And some groups of people brought that knowledge to
America with them. Even now, however, close to the year A.D.
2000, relatively few Britons and Americans realize that they are
descendants of the ancient, ten-tribed House of Israel, whom they
think of only as Jews.
The Jews were only of the House of Judah, and not nationally
of the House of Israel, although racially they are Israelites in
the sense that they were once a part of ancient Israel before the
twelve tribes split into two kingdoms. In the same sense many
Americans speak of themselves racially as being Irish, Scottish,
English, or German, not knowing their ancestry. As for the people
of the kingdom of Israel, they are erroneously regarded as
Gentiles, inasmuch as most people think of Earth's inhabitants as
either Jews or Gentiles.
God's promise of prosperity for Israel, headed by Ephraim
and Manasseh, was made to Abraham because of his obedience.
(Genesis 26:1-5.) The fulfillment of that promise ceased when
Israel was taken captive and wasn't again carried out until
Israel's period of punishment was ended. It didn't come about
because the Israelites were great, or worthy of it, but because
God always keeps His promises. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8.)
Modern Israelites, having become rich and powerful nations
since A.D. 1800-1803, have attributed their blessings to their
own resourcefulness, and even to their being "Christian" nations.
Their resources and resourcefulness have come from God especially
to carry out His promise. Actually, they are far from being true
Christian nations. Wrong use of their wealth and power, because
they lack the wisdom and obedience that God wants them to have,
is draining them of the very strength that they have been given
by their Creator. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 32-33; Jeremiah 10:23-25.)


Israel's Land Desolate

The emptied cities of Israel didn't remain unoccupied long.
The kings of Assyria immediately ordered that they should be
filled with people from other conquered nations and surrounding
vassal territories. (II Kings 17:24.) There were few routes
between countries. Therefore it was likely that columns of
miserable Israelite prisoners trudged within yards of Assyrian
subjects moving in the opposite direction, who probably were not
eager to leave their own land and go to the empty homes of the
vanquished. If the Israelites learned what was happening, their
desire to escape was lessened, inasmuch as there was nothing for
them to return to, and the whole region was carefully watched
over by well-organized Assyrians.
When the first colonists from other conquered places were
moved in, they were dismayed to find that hostile lions were
roaming about. Some of the lions even established themselves in
empty city buildings. Dislodging them cost a number of lives. The
new colonists began to think that some god of that region had
sent the beasts to trouble them because they had failed to
worship him according to Israelite customs they didn't know
about. They believed that there were many gods, most of whom had
dominion over certain territories.
Deaths from the lions increased. Finally the new peoples
sent messengers to the king at Nineveh to ask that some Israelite
priest be returned to his native country to instruct them how to
appease the local god, so that he would remove the ferocious
animals.
The king of Nineveh agreed, and a priest was sent back to
the land of Israel. At Bethel, a city that had been a center of
worship, the priest took up residence to start teaching the
Assyrians. Although some knowledge of the Creator spread among
them in the months to follow, the Assyrians couldn't believe that
there was only one God. They still preferred to worship their own
gods, accompanying it with a limited deference or acknowledgment
and lip service to the God of Israel, hoping that their
occasional sacrifices and prayers would earn them protection from
the lions. (II Kings 17:25-41.)
Eventually most of these beasts were slain or dispersed. By
that time the religious practices of many of the inhabitants were
deplorable combinations of idol worship and weak observance of a
few of God's laws. The pagan part, naturally, was predominant.
Although the colonist who was afraid of the power of God more
than his idols wasn't difficult to find, pagan worship was easier
and more agreeable to the Assyrian mind, which had been smothered
for centuries in looking to animal-type idols for shallow and
often wanton religious expression.
Among these idols were those which resembled fish, horses,
bulls, eagles, and combinations of animals and men -- a god for
every whim. Readers of this story will agree that it was
abysmally ignorant of men to look to animal images for
supernatural help. But could it be that some readers know people
who believe that a rabbit's foot in one's pocket or a horseshoe
over a doorway brings "good luck" to the possessors? The sobering
fact is that many people still believe that certain lifeless
tokens, symbols and images have mysterious powers, and go so far
as to kneel and pray to some of those images.


Judah More Obedient Than Israel

Back in the third year of the reign of Hoshea, last of the
kings of Israel, a son of evil King Ahaz began to rule Judah. He
was Hezekiah, an astute young man of twenty-five years. Strange
as it seems, he was much the opposite of his dissolute father.
(II Kings 18:1-3; II Chronicles 28:27; 29:1-2.)
One of Hezekiah's first important acts, carried out in the
first year of his reign, was to reopen the temple at Jerusalem.
It had been closed about sixteen years previously because Ahaz
had turned to idolatry and had stripped the temple of its
valuables to pay the king of Assyria for help against Judah's
enemies.
"God's house must be cleaned up," Hezekiah informed the
Levites and priests. "Cleanse yourselves so that you will be fit
for this task."
Hezekiah made it known that because of the sins of his
father and many others in the nation, Judah had come into years
filled with all kinds of trouble. He declared that it was time to
turn to God and renew the covenant all of Israel had made with
the Creator years before.
"The temple must be ready for use as soon as possible," he
continued in his talk to the Levites and priests. "There is much
to be done before functions can be reestablished. Cleaning is the
first thing. It must be thorough and complete." (II Chronicles
29:3-11.)
This was good news to the priests, who had long been
thwarted in their duties because of idolatry in Judah. At last,
because of God's working through Hezekiah, the opportunity had
come for them to continue the work that had been forced to stop.
Fourteen leaders of the tribe of Levi rounded up the
required Levite workers. On the first day of the first month of
the year, Nisan, the cleaning of the temple started. Shovels,
mops, brooms, scrub brushes, scrapers and tubs of water went into
action. While their helpers cleaned other parts of the buildings,
the priests scrubbed and polished the sacred inner part of the
temple and its furnishings. Rubble, dirt and grimy water were
brought out and dumped into Kidron brook, a nearby stream that
was swift and strong in the spring. It carried the refuse on to
the Dead Sea.


The Temple Rededicated

By the end of the sixteenth day the whole temple had been
cleaned. (II Chronicles 29:12-17.) Floors, walls and even
ceilings had been scrubbed and mopped. The priests came to
Hezekiah to report that the altar had been made like new, and
that the vessels that Ahaz had rejected as not being good enough
for the king of Assyria had been repaired, and polished, and that
the missing equipment had been replaced by substitutes that
should at least temporarily suffice. (II Chronicles 29:18-19.)
Hezekiah was pleased at what had been accomplished, although
he had strongly hoped that the temple would be ready for use at
Passover time, which was to be observed on the fourteenth day of
Nisan. It was two days too late to begin at the proper date.
Besides, the temple should be rededicated, and not all the
priests were fully prepared ceremonially to resume their duties.
Hezekiah didn't waste any time. He wanted to be certain that
the temple, the priests and all their helpers would be ready a
month later for observance of the Passover. By announcing the
date to be the same day of the next month, the king wouldn't be
acting contrary to God, who had instructed Moses that the
Passover should be observed the fourteenth day of the second
month (Iyar) if circumstances made it impossible to observe it in
the first month. (Numbers 9:9-12.)
Early next morning Hezekiah informed the leaders in and
around Jerusalem that there should be ceremonies that same day to
institute the use of the temple and establish again the functions
of the priests and their helpers. (II Chronicles 29:20.)
It turned out to be a most eventful day. Many inhabitants of
Jerusalem and its environs flocked to the temple. Cattle, sheep
and goats were brought for sin offerings to make atonement not
only for Judah, but for all Israel. While the sacrifices were
being made, the Levites sang songs composed by David,
accompanying themselves with trumpets and other kinds of
instruments David and the prophets had employed for making music
at the house of God.
After making sacrifices and musical praise to the Creator,
Hezekiah announced that the priests and their helpers had well
demonstrated that they were consecrated to their work. Then he
invited the people attending to bring their sacrifices to make
thank offerings.
The response was so great that the priests fell behind in
dressing the animals. Ordinarily they were to be the only ones to
prepare the sacrifices, but in this case they had to call on
their helpers for aid. There was a total of seventy bullocks, a
hundred rams, two hundred lambs, six hundred bulls and three
thousand sheep. (II Chronicles 29:21-36.)


Israel Still Unrepentant

Hezekiah next sent messengers to most cities and towns of
Judah and Israel to proclaim that the Passover would soon be
observed in the second month at the newly opened temple.
"Return to your God, and He will return to you," the king of
Judah wrote on the proclamation. "You who are still free from
Assyria should especially thank your Creator at this time of
worship. Don't go the way of your fathers and brothers who gave
in to idolatry and were left helpless. Yield yourselves to God
and escape His anger. If you turn to Him now, He will preserve
you from your enemies, sickness and want and will bring your
captive brethren back home. Join us at God's house in Jerusalem."
(II Chronicles 30:1-10.)
Hezekiah's messengers were careful to avoid the Assyrian
soldiers who occupied part of Israel, particularly Samaria. Even
many Israelites, mostly of Manasseh, Ephraim and Zebulun, laughed
threateningly when they read the message from Judah.
"You have a lot of nerve to come up here and tell us which
god to worship!" some of the Israelites scoffed. "Get back inside
those walls at Jerusalem while you're able. We and the Assyrian
soldiers have only one thing in common. We don't like preachers!"
----------------------------------------

Chapter 138
A RIGHTEOUS KING

HEZEKIAH'S messengers were sent throughout Israel and Judah to
spread the news of the reopening of the temple at Jerusalem. But
they were scoffed at and threatened by idol-worshippers,
especially in the territories of Manasseh, Ephraim and Zebulun.
(II Chronicles 30:1-10.)


Greatest Passover Since Solomon

"Don't try to convince us we should worship someone we can't
see!" the messengers were told. "Go back to your temple and
prostrate yourselves, or you might find yourselves prostrate here
in Israel for reasons you don't like!"
But not all the Israelites laughed at or ridiculed the
messengers. Many of Manasseh, Ephraim, Asher, Issachar and
Zebulun welcomed the news from Judah. Most of these, among many
others, managed to get to Jerusalem before the appointed time.
The city swarmed with people eager to observe the Passover.
Filled with zeal, bands of them roamed through streets and
buildings, ferreting out hidden altars and pagan images that had
been used during the reign of idolatrous Ahaz. The altars were
torn down and thrown into the gushing stream called Kidron, to be
washed far from Jerusalem by the spring torrent.
The king of Judah was elated at the way the Passover turned
out. It proved to be the greatest in attendance, as well as the
most joyous, since the time of Solomon! There was only one
temporarily adverse note. A few of the people, even including
some priests, had failed to properly prepare themselves,
ceremonially and mentally, for a fitting observation of the
Passover.
When Hezekiah discerned this, he asked God to pardon the
careless ones. Because he was obedient to God, his prayer was
answered, and for a week there was joyous worship in the Days of
Unleavened Bread, a time that God's Church still observes by
praising the Creator in word and music, but not through meat
sacrifices on altars.
The people were so enthusiastic that the government and
church leaders took counsel and decided to continue worship
services for another week. Hezekiah and the princes gladly
arranged for two thousand bullocks and seventeen thousand sheep
to be brought in to make more feasting possible. On the last day
the priests asked God's blessing on those present, who dispersed
with thankfulness that they had been able to come and enjoy the
occasion. (II Chronicles 30:11-27.)
After leaving the temple, all the people didn't return to
their homes immediately. Most of the men traveled throughout
Judah, seeking idols and idol-worshipping places as they had done
in Jerusalem. Zealously they smashed the images, cut down sacred
groves and tore apart the altars. Those few who still favored
these objects offered no resistance, not wishing to be recognized
as idolaters.
The horde of idol-destroyers then swept northward into
Israel to successfully continue the purge, but not without
opposition. Some of the owners of images there tried to defend
them, but failed because of the inspired eagerness of the
followers of God. Ultimately they cleaned most of the pagan
objects out of all Israel. Then they returned to their homes. (II
Chronicles 31:1.)
Meanwhile, Hezekiah set about reestablishing a more
permanent order of matters at the temple, including the specific
ranks, courses and duties of the priests and other Levites. He
planned how functions could be improved by more closely
conforming to the manner in which they were carried out when the
temple was new. (I Chronicles 23:1-6.)
Hezekiah also decided how much the king should contribute
for offerings. (II Chronicles 31:3.) David, Solomon and other
conscientious kings of Judah had furnished much for special
offerings. Hezekiah wanted to follow their good example. (II
Samuel 8:9-12; I Kings 8:5, 63; I Chronicles 22:2-4, 14-16; II
Chronicles 7:4-5, etc.)


It Pays to Tithe

Also, in the times of the kings who followed God, the people
supplied the needs of the Levites and the temple by paying
tithes. Hezekiah reminded the people of this tithe. The response
was more than enough. During the months that followed, there was
such a surplus of animals, grain, wine, oil, honey and valuables
that places had to be prepared to store or keep them.
The overabundance from the people reflected God's blessing
on Judah because of the obedience of the king and his example and
influence. (II Chronicles 31:2-12, 20-21.)
This change for the better didn't mean that there would be
no trouble in the nation from then on. Judah was still under the
burden of paying regular tribute to Assyria because of the heavy
commitment made by King Ahaz. Besides, the Philistines were a
constant threat from the west.
At that time the army of Judah wasn't very powerful, but in
time Hezekiah patiently brought it up to much greater strength. A
surprise attack on the Philistines pushed them back westward to
the city of Gaza, their capital, only a few miles from the Great
Sea (Mediterranean). Thus were regained some of the towns that
had formerly belonged to Judah. (II Kings 18:1-8.)
Encouraged by this triumph over one ancient enemy nation,
Hezekiah continued to build up his army. About twelve years after
he had become king, he at last felt that his fighting force was
strong enough to repel invasion by the most formidable army of
that time -- that of Assyria.
Hezekiah then did something he had long wanted to do. It was
time for paying the regular tribute to the king of Assyria.
Instead of paying it, the king of Judah sent a message to
Sennacherib, king of Assyria, informing him that Judah could no
longer be considered one of Assyria's vassal nations, and
therefore it owed no tribute. (II Kings 18:7.)
This was a bold act against such a powerful leader, but
Hezekiah felt that it was a necessary step. He wasn't overly
concerned about Sennacherib's reaction. As a matter of further
preparedness, however, he heightened Jerusalem's walls and
strengthened the fortifications. He believed in doing all that he
could to prepare for the worst. Whatever he couldn't do for Judah
would have to come as protection from God. (II Chronicles
32:5-8.)


The Conquering Assyrians

A few months after Hezekiah's message was sent to
Sennacherib, a startling report was speedily carried into
Jerusalem.
"Hordes of Assyrian soldiers are swarming southward west of
Samaria, and are invading us through western Judah!" Hezekiah was
informed. "They're swallowing up all our towns that are in their
path!" (II Chronicles 32:1; II Kings 18:13.)
"It would be foolish to pursue them," one of Hezekiah's
officers Observed. "Perhaps they're going to invade Egypt. If
they plan a full-scale attack against Judah, why would they
travel so far beyond Jerusalem?"
"That's what I want to know," Hezekiah said. "Send scouts
and lookouts to find out all they can and report as soon as
possible."
When the scouts sent messengers back to Jerusalem, it was
with the discouraging news that the Assyrians had thoroughly
plundered the towns in their path, and had made captives of the
citizens. They had halted at the walled city of Lachish on the
main highway to Egypt. They were besieging Lachish, which could
indicate that Lachish was as far west as they planned to go.
The king of Judah was troubled. It was evident to him that
this invasion was the result of his refusal to pay tribute to
Sennacherib. A showdown at Jerusalem obviously wasn't very far
away. Hezekiah called an immediate meeting of his advisors to
determine what should be done next for the defense of the
capital.
They decided that the most effective thing they could do, in
the probable event the Assyrians came to Jerusalem, was to cut
off the water supply by plugging up wells and springs outside the
city. This was done after rural residents had stored much water
in hidden places, although this measure was certain to bring
hardship to farmers and stockmen. A crew of many workers even
managed to divert and cover the stream called Kidron, so that it
wouldn't be recognizable or easily accessible.
The king carried out every possible emergency measure. More
shields and weapons were hastily produced, including machines
that would loose showers of arrows and spears. Officers and
leaders were assigned to various areas to keep people organized
for resistance to invasion. (II Chronicles 32:2-6.)
By this time a large part of the citizens of Jerusalem and
its environs were filled with fear, having heard that a gigantic
Assyrian army was about to swallow up the whole nation of Judah
and take the people into slavery as the invaders had done with
the unrepentant inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel. (II Kings
18:9-12.)
Hezekiah was troubled by this fearful mood of his subjects.
Now that so many of them had turned back to God, he had hoped
that their faith in God would be stronger. But at the same time
he realized that it was difficult to be calm with multiple
thousands of enemy soldiers not many miles away. He tried to
encourage them by going to the main gates of the city, where he
could contact the largest crowds and speak directly to them.
"Don't be dismayed by what you have heard of the Assyrians,"
he told the people, who gathered in large numbers to hear him.
"The army of the invaders is truly a powerful one. But our power
can be even greater if we trust in God to strengthen us. Remain
obedient to Him, and there will be no reason to be afraid."
The king's remarks soon spread to others who hadn't been
present, giving them assurance and greater will to prepare and to
resist if necessary. (II Chronicles 32:7-8.)


The King Wavers

Later, alone in his quarters, the king paced the floor. It
wasn't that his faith in God's protection had suddenly vanished.
It was that he was wondering how much more hardship and loss of
life God would allow in Judah before rescuing the nation from the
Assyrians.
"Perhaps I have been too stubborn," Hezekiah thought.
"Perhaps my refusal to pay tribute will cost the lives of many of
my people."
The king of Judah thereupon made a decision that changed
matters somewhat, though not necessarily for the better.
Messengers shortly afterward delivered a message to the Assyrians
at Lachish. (II Kings 18:14.) It was for Sennacherib. Hezekiah
trusted that it would be forwarded to the Assyrian emperor,
wherever he was.
The message reached Sennacherib, whose face broke into a
satisfied grin as he heard these words interpreted for him in his
native tongue:
"It is obvious that my decision not to pay tribute to you
has caused you great offense, for which I am regretful and ask
your pardon. My nation does not want to indulge in war. Advise me
what you require of Judah for the departure of your entire army
without warfare. Whatever you ask will be paid."
(Signed) Hezekiah, King of Judah
Not long afterward Hezekiah received this reply from the
king of Assyria:
"Deliver to me three hundred talents of silver and thirty
talents of gold. Then I will take my army back to Assyria in
peace."
(Signed) Sennacherib, King of Assyria and the World
Hezekiah was stunned by this demand, which today would be
equal to several millions of our dollars. Nevertheless, the king
of Judah had promised to pay it, and he was determined to do so
in spite of a difficult situation. That situation was that he
didn't have the required amount of gold and silver. His personal
finances and palace treasures couldn't meet such a demand. Taxing
the people, even locally, would require too much time. Besides,
such a measure wouldn't be good for the morale of his subjects,
to whom he had recently spoken concerning faith in God for their
protection.
There was only one resort -- the temple.
Much as he regretted having to do it, Hezekiah gave
confidential orders to the Levites that the gold and silver of
the temple, including the precious metal that had been applied to
the doors and pillars, should be removed and brought to the
palace. This, with what Hezekiah could supply from palace
treasures, added up to the amount Sennacherib had demanded. The
total treasure, intended to insure Judah against war with the
invaders, was dispatched to the Lachish area and turned over to
Sennacherib's officers, who had it conveyed to their emperor. (II
Kings 18:13-16.)


The Insolence of Plunderers

Anxious days passed for Hezekiah. He constantly hoped to
hear that the Assyrians were starting to clear out of Judah.
Instead of receiving encouraging news, he was shocked by the
report that thousands of Assyrian troops and cavalry were heading
toward Jerusalem.
At first Hezekiah tried to calm himself with the thought
that the Assyrians were simply going to pass by the capital of
Judah on their way to their home country. Perhaps Sennacherib was
going to stop and thank him for the gold and silver. This wishful
thinking came to an end when he saw the first columns of the
tremendous army come over a rise and soon spread out around the
city.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians flocked to the broad
wall top to watch the invaders mass before them. Three Assyrian
officers and their aides took up a position from where they could
command the best attention of the onlookers. (II Kings 18:17.)
"I am Tartan, King Sennacherib's treasurer and general!" one
of the richly uniformed men loudly shouted. "My king has sent us
to give a message to your king! Send him out on the wall to hear
it!"
"Sennacherib's general has a message from his king for you,
sire," an excited servant quickly informed Hezekiah.
"I know," Hezekiah nodded. "I heard his raucous voice and
his insolent tone. I don't intend to jump at his command. If the
king of Assyria must use representatives, so shall I."
A little later three of Hezekiah's men of top rank appeared
on the wall. They were Eliakim,
Shebna and Joah. These were the steward of the royal household,
the king's chief secretary and his official recorder and keeper
of the archives. After they were introduced, another of the three
Assyrian officers waved for attention.
"I am Rab-shakeh, chief of the wine cellar and cupbearer to
the world's greatest king!" he called out in Hebrew. "We didn't
think your king would dare expose himself to us! My king wants to
know how the faint-hearted Hezekiah can protect his nation from
destruction by locking himself and his army inside high walls!
Surely he wasn't foolish enough to believe that the miserable
bribe he recently sent would buy freedom from us!" (II Kings
18:18-20.)
Standing by a window where he could hear every spiteful
word, the king of Judah suddenly felt very ill when he learned
that he had made the tribute payment in vain. The treacherous
Sennacherib's promise to leave Judah without more war was merely
a ruse to bring reproach on Hezekiah before the mighty Assyrian
army moved to strike at Jerusalem!
----------------------------------------

Chapter 139
A TYRANT'S BOAST AND DIVINE JUSTICE

HEZEKIAH soon learned that the king of Assyria had accepted the
special tribute from Judah without honoring the promise to cease
war. The humiliation and distress of Hezekiah, king of Judah,
wasn't easy to bear. (II Kings 18:13-17.)
But there wasn't time to brood. Rab-shakeh, one of the
Assyrian officers, was addressing the people of Judah who were
standing on top of the wall. He continued his loud tirade against
Hezekiah.


An Officer's Boast

"Where is the military power of your king, who is so foolish
as to rebel against the powerful Sennacherib?" Rab-shakeh roared.
"Could it be that your Hezekiah is waiting for the Pharaoh of
Egypt to come galloping to his rescue on his overrated horses? If
that's the way it is, your king is due for disappointment,
because Pharaoh is about as dependable as a broken reed in the
Nile River!
"And don't ask us to believe that it will do your king any
good for him to rely on his God! Hezekiah forced you to stop
sacrificing to your God in your favorite high places and made you
crowd in before only one altar in only one temple! How can help
be expected from a God who was thus offended?
"Why are you people willing to face death by famine merely
because your king tells you that your God wants to save you from
Sennacherib? Don't you know that for generations the Assyrians
have crushed other nations whose gods were never able to protect
them? Your God isn't even as powerful as those other gods!
"Since Pharaoh won't help you, we will make a wager. We'll
give you two thousand horses that are superior to any you could
find in Egypt!
Then you can send your army out to fight if you dare. Or do
you think you could scrape up anywhere near two thousand riders
from among all of you?
"Now listen to this, which will surprise you! Because your
God doesn't care for you anymore, He has asked us to destroy you
if you resist." (II Kings 18:18-25.)
With this, Rab-shakeh stepped aside for Rabsaris, the chief
of Sennacherib's attendants. He continued in the same blasphemous
vein.
By the time he finished, the audience was somewhat stunned
by all the loud bragging and lying. Then Eliakim, Hezekiah's
chamberlain, held up his arms to get the attention of the
Assyrian officers.
"If you have more to say," he called down to them in the
Assyrian language, "considerately talk in your native language
instead of Hebrew. The three of us understand Assyrian, and we'll
pass on your remarks to our king. No good will come of our people
hearing what you have to say."
"King Sennacherib didn't send us to speak just to you and
your king!" Rab-shakeh bellowed back in Hebrew. "We came here to
tell all of you that unless you come out to us peacefully, you'll
soon have nothing to eat or drink except what comes from your own
starving bodies!" (II Kings 18:26-27.)
Rab-shakeh continued: "Now hear me, you people of Judah! The
mighty Sennacherib warns you not to believe your king when he
tells you that your God has the power to save this city! It is a
lie! Your only hope is to come out to us! Then you will be free
instead of prisoners inside those walls, and you will be given
farms to live on in comfort. Many of you will be favored by being
taken to a bigger and a richer land where there is an oversupply
of grain, grapes, olives and honey! Do you have the wisdom to
choose these good things, or do you choose to foolishly follow
your fanatical king to your death?" (II Kings 18:28-35.)


The King Appeals to God

There wasn't a sound of reaction from the people of Judah,
who had been instructed to remain silent regardless of what they
heard. This was disappointing to the Assyrian leaders, who had
hoped that there would be some in the crowd who would become so
fearful and frantic that they would start clamoring for immediate
surrender. He should have realized that when people have strong,
concerned leadership, they obey their leaders. Many of the people
quietly left the walls, while the more curious stayed to see what
the Assyrian leaders would do next. Eliakim, Shebna and Joah were
so upset by the situation that they tore their coats in the
ancient manner of Israelites who were greatly grieved. (II Kings
18:36-37.)
Hezekiah had retired to where he couldn't hear the loud
shouting of the Assyrians, but when Eliakim told him all that had
been said, he, too, was so overwhelmed by grief that he ripped
his coat. Then he removed his royal attire and dressed himself in
sackcloth, an Israelite custom of expressing extreme sorrow. He
went to the temple to pray.
"We must take this matter of impending attack to God through
the prophet Isaiah," Hezekiah later told Eliakim. "You know where
Isaiah lives. Take Shebna and some of the leading priests with
you. Request the prophet to ask God what we should do." (II Kings
19:1-2.)
Isaiah had lived a long time in Judah. Back in the last days
of King Uzziah he had become a faithful and obedient follower of
God's laws. (Isaiah 1:1.) One time when he was in the temple, he
was startled to see God sitting on a high throne surrounded by
shining, six-winged creatures known as seraphim, who were moving
about in a haze of smoke and calling out in praise of the
Creator. (Isaiah 6:1-4.)
"I am going to die!" Isaiah muttered fearfully to himself.
"I am not worthy to see God and live! I am one of a nation of
people with unclean lips!"
The vision was so real to Isaiah that it was as if he were
actually before God's throne. To add to his fright, one of the
seraphim flew to a fiery altar, picked up a glowing coal with
tongs, and headed straight for Isaiah as though to deliberately
burn him. Isaiah couldn't move. The coal was pressed against his
mouth, but there was no pain.
"Now that this has touched your lips, you have been purged
of sin," the seraph said, and flew off to leave Isaiah puzzled
and trembling. (Isaiah 6:5-7.)
"Whom shall I send to warn the people of Judah of what they
will face in the future?" a voice thundered.


Isaiah's Commission

Isaiah looked up to see the God of Israel gazing expectantly
down on him.
"Send me!" Isaiah called out, surprising himself with his
readiness to volunteer for something he didn't yet know about.
"So be it," God nodded. "You are chosen to tell the people
of the misery to come to them unless they turn from their
idolatry. They won't listen and they therefore won't understand,
but they won't be able to say that I didn't warn them. I shall
instruct you from time to time what to say to them. Your warnings
will only cause them to become more blind and deaf and have less
understanding because they will refuse to change their ways.
Nevertheless, continue warning them."
"But if they won't listen, how long must I continue doing
this thing?" Isaiah asked.
"Until the people have been herded from their cities and
fields and have been forced to go to other parts of the world,"
God answered. "Long after that, a tenth part of them shall
return, like a planted tree seed, to start a new national
growth." (Isaiah 6:8-13.)
Like one coming out of unconsciousness, Isaiah slowly
realized that he was in the temple, and not in heaven, and that
he had seen only a vision of God and the seraphim. He understood
that it was a commission from God, and that for the rest of his
life it would be his duty to prophesy as God would direct.
Down through the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham, Isaiah came to
public and royal attention because of his predictions. But in
Ahaz's day he was generally ignored. Before the predictions came
true, he was usually ridiculed. But by Hezekiah's time, because
so many in Judah had turned back to God, Isaiah gained national
respect. Hezekiah considered him the man closest to God in Judah.
That is why Eliakim and Shebna were sent to him. (II Kings 19:2.)
Isaiah wasn't surprised when he saw the two officials at his
door. They were dressed in sackcloth, as were the priests who
accompanied them. Having been given a strong sense of
discernment, Isaiah was aware of why his visitors had come.
"I know the king is dismayed by the close presence of the
enemy," the graying prophet told them, "but God has already made
it known to me that there is nothing to fear. Tell the king that
Rab-shakeh has left to ask Sennacherib what to do next. Tell him
that bad news will come to the king of Assyria and cause him to
change his plans. He will return to his country, where God will
cause him to be murdered." (II Kings 19:3-7.)
Meanwhile, to the southwest toward the border of Egypt,
Sennacherib had ended his siege of Lachish. He decided, next, to
move his army northeastward toward Jerusalem, to another walled
city, Libnah. This is where Rab-shakeh found him. (II Kings
19:8.) Sennacherib then received a troublesome report that the
king of Ethiopia, a nation also known then as Upper Egypt, was on
his way north with an army to help the soldiers of Lower Egypt
push back the Assyrians. (II Kings 19:9.) Sennacherib immediately
decided to pit all his troops against Judah's capital. If he
could take Jerusalem, he was certain that the whole nation would
be his and that Ethiopians would be defeated. However, he still
had hopes of sparing his army from a costly battle by frightening
Hezekiah into surrender without any fighting.


Sennacherib's Blasphemy

The king of Judah soon received this letter from the king of
Assyria: "I, Sennacherib, king of the world's most powerful
nation, herewith advise you that I am moving the main part of my
army to Jerusalem to join my troops who are already there. When
all my troops and all my battering rams are put into action, they
will reduce the walls of your city to rubble. But I am as fair as
I am powerful. I do not war for the sake of war. I liberate men
from their attachments to weak and deceptive gods. No god has yet
been able to protect his people from me. Neither will your God.
It would please me and save thousands of the lives of your people
if you would arrange to surrender to my troops who are already
there. Then, when I arrive with the part of my army that is with
me, we can calmly and reasonably discuss a good future for your
people.
"But if you are so foolish as to trust in your God, who has
deceived you by boasting of His ability to protect Jerusalem,
your future will be short and bloody! I shall smash and plunder
your city and drag away as slaves any who escape my spears,
arrows and swords! Your fanciful God won't be able to do any more
for you than the gods of other nations did for their people whom
I killed or captured!" (II Kings 19:10-13; II Chronicles
32:9-19.)
Hezekiah was so perturbed by this letter, delivered directly
by Sennacherib's messengers, that he went at once to the Temple.
There he spread the letter out before God and kneeled down to
pray.
"God of Israel, Creator of the universe," Hezekiah began,
"please listen to me. See in this letter the blasphemous words of
the king of Assyria and how he has tried to belittle you. He
boasts that the gods of other nations have failed to save those
nations from his invasions. To brag about being more powerful
than lifeless idols of wood, stone and metal is nothing. The
troublesome part is that he has swallowed up one nation after
another because they trusted in idols instead of trusting in your
supreme power. Rescue us from this pagan scourge, I beseech you.
Then people everywhere will learn that you are the one and only
true God." (II Kings 19:14-19; II Chronicles 32:20.)
When Hezekiah returned to his palace, Eliakim and Shebna
were waiting for him with the encouraging message from Isaiah.
They informed the king of Judah that God had heard and would
answer the prayer he had uttered at the temple, asking for help
against the Assyrians.


God's Justice

"With God as your strength, there is no reason for you to be
fearful or discouraged," Isaiah's message read. "Even the young
women of Jerusalem hold Sennacherib in such contempt that they
laugh at the mention of his name, though his troops are just
outside the city. God has been greatly angered by his blasphemy
and his boasting about the nations he has conquered.
"This swaggering tyrant, suffocating in his egotism, would
be shocked out of his shirt if he could know that he never would
have become king of Assyria or won even one small battle if the
God of Israel hadn't allowed it. Any success he had in conquering
other nations was because the Creator chose to use him to carry
out a small bit of a plan formed centuries ago.
"Now God is through with him, and because of his despicable
acts and words against our God and against you, God will send him
back to his country. Then the fields and orchards the Assyrians
have ravaged will produce of themselves, in spite of their
mutilated condition -- a miraculous sign of God's power and
willingness to help Judah. Those who have been driven off their
farms, and are taking refuge in Jerusalem, shall return safely to
find fruits, grains and vegetables starting to grow without
attendance.
"As for Sennacherib, he shall not set foot inside this city.
Not one arrow shall be shot against it from an Assyrian bow. No
enemy soldier shall approach the wall with his shield in front of
him.
The Assyrians shall not put even a shovelful of dirt against
the wall to start building a bank from which to attack you. God
will protect Jerusalem because He wants to, and because of the
covenant He made with King David more than three hundred years
ago. All this God has made known to me so that I should inform
you." (II Kings 19:20-34.)
Calmed and comforted by Isaiah's message, Hezekiah couldn't
help but feel shame and regret for having fallen into doubt,
especially after trying to strengthen and encourage his people by
telling them there was nothing to fear as long as they obeyed and
trusted God. When the inhabitants of Jerusalem heard what Isaiah
had to say to their king, most of them felt almost jubilant.
By this time the sun was setting. Darkness came. It was the
eve of the Passover, the 14th of Nisan -- the first month of the
spring of the year. That night (II Kings 19:35), all that could
be learned of the Assyrians was that they were very busy, judging
from the shouted orders and the clatter of arms and equipment.
This was followed by the sounds of obvious revelry for the next
two or three hours. That was followed at midnight by an ominous
silence.
Either the Assyrians had decided to sleep for the night --
or they were silently carrying out some plan of attack.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 140
THE SUNDIAL OF AHAZ

IN SPITE of the Prophet Isaiah's declaration that no harm would
be done to Jerusalem by the Assyrians, there was tension and fear
among some of the citizens. (II Chronicles 32:9-10, 18-20; II
Kings 19:32-34.)
It was a dark night, and thousands upon thousands of enemy
soldiers were out there where they couldn't be watched. The
people of the city could only guess what the Assyrians were doing
or preparing to do. Jewish records say this night was the evening
of the Passover Festival, in the first spring month of the year.


A Fantastic Promise!

"Not one arrow shall be shot against Jerusalem from an
Assyrian bow."
That bit of prophecy from Isaiah's encouraging message kept
running through Hezekiah's mind. Before dawn he arose and went up
to one of the wall towers to see what the enemy would be doing
when daylight came.
With the first gray light there was an odd but relieving
discovery. There were no Assyrian soldiers in sight around the
city. All that could be seen, when the sun rose, were many rows
of pitched tents and some horses and chariots in the distant
campsite.
"Perhaps it's a trick to try to draw some of our troops
outside the wall," an officer observed. "All of them couldn't be
sleeping this late."
The apparent absence of men in the vast Assyrian camp was a
real puzzle. One guess was that the enemy troops were hiding in
their tents.
Suddenly another army came into view in the southwest. Their
banners soon proved them to be Assyrian. They marched into the
quiet camp and a few of their number were seen to go scurrying
about. Then they quickly reassembled and speedily departed
northward. But still no one came out of the tents. Was this all
some sort of trick?
"We have to learn what's going on, and the only way is to go
out there and find out," Hezekiah told his officers. "But I don't
want anyone ordered to go to the enemy camp to investigate. The
fairest way would be to call for a few volunteers."
So many bold soldiers were curious about the Assyrians that
there were far more volunteers than the number needed for the
scout patrol outside Jerusalem's walls. Hezekiah and his
officers, as well as many others on the wall top, watched the
eager volunteers intently as they warily advanced toward the mass
of tents.
The intrepid little band of investigators reached the enemy
camp safely and cautiously approached the nearest tent. On
peering inside, they saw only a pile of army blankets. A closer
look, however, revealed dead Assyrian soldiers sprawled under the
blankets!
The next few minutes were almost beyond the belief of the
soldiers of Judah. They rushed from tent to tent to find corpses
in every shelter. Tens of thousands of Assyrian soldiers had
apparently died in their sleep of some mysterious cause! The
whole besieging army was dead. This explained why Sennacherib and
his other army had so suddenly departed northward.
When news of the death of the enemy was taken to Jerusalem,
Hezekiah and the people were as dumbfounded as they were
relieved. God had passed over His people and had punished the
Assyrians just as He had done in Egypt under Moses on the first
Passover.
A part of the army was sent out to seize anything of value
left behind by the Assyrians. Later that day thousands of
soldiers of Judah buried and counted the corpses, whose number
came to one hundred and eighty-five thousand. (II Kings 19:35.)


A Pagan's Dilemma

There was celebrating in Judah the next day, especially in
Jerusalem. There was more than just music, dancing and feasting.
The temple porch was packed with people who came that day, the
15th of the month, for the celebration of the Feast of Unleavened
Bread, commemorating deliverance out of Egypt. Now they added
praises to God and gave thanks for the great and mysterious
miracle that had kept the Assyrians from Jerusalem. Probably
there wasn't anyone more thankful than the king, who felt as
though his nation had suddenly been freed from a deadly noose.
While the people returned to their farms and regular
occupations and started repairing cities and towns damaged by the
invaders, King Sennacherib and his other army moved on to Assyria
without delay. Many months before, the arrogant Assyrian ruler
had swept ruthlessly westward from his nation to the Great Sea
and then southward to Egypt, cutting a wide path of conquests by
virtue of the vast size of his army. To return to Nineveh with
only a fraction of his fighting force was one of the most
humiliating things that could happen to this profane and boastful
man. But he couldn't stay away to avoid his disgraceful situation
and yet continue to share the kingship. There were others who
were anxious and ready to replace him. He was on the verge of
regretting the statements he had made about the Creator. The
strange annihilation of one of his two armies was something he
couldn't help but connect with the God of Israel.
Nevertheless, after he returned to his capital he continued
for years to worship in the shrine of the pagan god Nisroch, whom
he regularly asked for help in holding the conquests he had made.
As the years passed this didn't look very hopeful unless he could
continually muster and train new armies, even though he had left
many men in these cities and nations to try to keep them subject.
(II Kings 19:36.)
If Sennacherib expected swift and powerful results because
of his prayers and sacrifices to Nisroch, there was, of course,
only disappointment. Nearly 29 years passed.
"Why is it that my god never performs any miracles for me?"
he one day asked his advisors. "There are many reports that the
God of Judah has done and still does great things for His people.
Is there some secret way of really gaining the help of a god? If
there is, I want to know!"
The scowling king accented his demand with a loud blow of
his fist on the arm of his chair. There was a strained silence
until one of the advisors hesitantly spoke up.


The Tables Are Turned

"You have spoken of something difficult to discuss, sire,"
the man began. "Have you not heard how the Syrians, Moabites and
certain other people make their most effective appeals to their
gods?"
"I'll ask the questions," Sennacherib shouted impatiently.
"Just tell me what you're talking about."
"I'm referring to the sacrificing of human beings," the
advisor replied uneasily, "especially a firstborn son."
"Of course I've heard of that," the king snapped. "Do the
people of Judah follow that custom?" "I know of no recent
instance," was the answer. "But there is a legend that hundreds
of years ago a HEBREW patriarch by the name of Abraham was
commanded by God to kill his firstborn son and burn him on an
altar. The legend goes that Abraham started to carry out his
God's will, but at the last moment was prevented from causing his
son's death. However, he had proved his willingness to obey his
God. And God was so pleased that He not only rewarded Abraham,
but also promised protection and prosperity to Abraham's
descendants." (Genesis 22.)
The scriptural record of what happened to Sennacherib at
that time is limited. Other records, though less dependable, tell
about the Assyrian king's plan to gain help from his god Nisroch
by going to greater extremes than those of the Syrians and
Moabites. He was particularly impressed by the story of Abraham,
even though Abraham hadn't been required to carry out God's
original instructions. Sennacherib reasoned that if a god could
be pleased by the sacrifice of a son, that god would be doubly
pleased by the sacrilege of two sons.
The two sons he had in mind were Adrammelech and Sharezer,
both of whom he was aware were strongly ambitious to succeed him
as ruler of Assyria. He believed that if he could win Nisroch's
favor, he would be given the power and success he needed to
reestablish himself
as what he had long claimed to be the greatest king in the world.
To carry out his diabolical plan, Sennacherib needed the
help of trusted servants, at least one of whom turned out to be
trustworthy to his sons instead of to him. When the sons heard
what the king intended to do, they reversed matters by hiding in
the pagan temple and slaying their father while he was bowed
before the image of Nisroch. (II Kings 19:37; II Chronicles
32:21.)
With the king disposed of, it could have been a matter of
which son would dispose of the other to gain the throne. But
neither was to become a ruler. Even though their crime had been
committed in secret, they were so strongly suspected that they
realized it would mean death to remain in Nineveh or even
anywhere in Assyria. They managed to slip out of the city and
escape to Armenia, a nation to the north in whose land were the
mountains on which Noah's ark came to rest after the flooding of
the earth. (Genesis 8:4.)
The throne of Assyria was immediately taken over by a third
son of Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, who inherited his father's
ability for arrogant boasting. Eventually he referred to himself
as powerful, heroic, gigantic, colossal and the king of kings of
Egypt, where his army won a major battle.
When news of Sennacherib's death reached the surrounding
nations, the people of Judah and many in other countries felt
that the God of Israel had caused the Assyrian king to die
disgracefully before a pagan idol because of his insulting the
true God, his attacks on Judah and his deceitfulness and threats.
This resulted in increasing respect for Judah's God.


Hezekiah's Illness

Meanwhile, we return to another part of the story 29 years
before. Just when Hezekiah was at the peak of his power and
usefulness and when Judah was reeling from Sennacherib's
invasion, the king's health began to wane. The wearing pressures
of months and years were taking their toll. Hezekiah's illness
became so serious that he was soon confined to bed. Fearing that
his life could be near its end, the king sent to the prophet
Isaiah for help.
"There is nothing I can do for you," the prophet told the
king, "except advise you to wind up all personal and state
affairs that need your attention, especially those having to do
with choosing your successor. God has purposed to take your life
very soon."
Even though he realized that he was facing death, Hezekiah
was shocked and dismayed to learn that God was going to let him
die, obviously without answering a prayer from the prophet. On
further thought, he realized that even the prayers of a man very
close to God, such as Isaiah, couldn't always be expected to
alter the purpose of the Creator of the universe.
Perhaps God had told Isaiah that his exhortation would be
useless in this matter of when the king was to die. The situation
didn't lessen Hezekiah's esteem for the value of prayer. He knew
this was the time to do his own intense petitioning, regardless
of the presence of his attendants and Isaiah. Twisting around so
that he could hide his face toward the head of his bed, which was
against a wall, he silently but fervently called on God.
"I beseech you not to take my life now," Hezekiah prayed.
"Except for the times I have made foolish blunders, you know I
have kept your laws. You promised long lives to the kings of
Judah who would be obedient. If I have been useful until now,
would I not continue to be useful over more years? Let me
continue to be of service to you and your people. Extend my life
long enough for me to bring a son into the world to take my
place. Don't let the grave swallow me. From there how can I
praise you or lead your people? At least don't take me until I
can be sure that the Assyrians won't return to trouble our
nation!" (II Kings 20:1-3.)
Hearing muffled sobs coming from the king's bed, Isaiah
sadly turned and quietly left the room, whispering for the
attendants to do the same for a while. As he passed through one
of the palace court gardens on his way out, a clear voice came to
him.


A Promise and a Miracle

"Go back to the king, Isaiah. Tell him that I have heard the
prayer that he has just uttered, and that I am aware of the
causes of his tears.
Tell him that I shall heal him. Three days from now he will
be able to walk to the temple and give thanks. (II Kings 20:5.) I
shall add fifteen more years to his life. Hezekiah soon shall
have the son he desires and time to carry out plans for the
nation's continued prosperity. During the rest of his life I
shall continue to protect Jerusalem for my own sake and that of
my servant David. These blessings shall come to Hezekiah because
of his obedience."
When Hezekiah heard Isaiah's surprising news, he was
overjoyed. At the same time it was difficult for him to fully
believe that God had so suddenly dropped His intention to take
his life.
"You have given me great hope," he told the prophet, "but
how can I be certain that I shall be healed in three days and be
able to go to the temple? Is there any kind of unusual sign by
which you can prove these things?"
Isaiah pondered for a few moments, then pointed through a
window to an object in the adjoining court.
"There is the massive sundial of your father, Ahaz," the
prophet observed. "The shadow cast by its gnomon on its steps
clearly indicates the time of day. If God will promptly move that
shadow backward or forward by ten steps, will you believe you
will be healed? It's up to you to decide which way the shadow
should be moved."
"It wouldn't be a great thing for the shadow to go forward
supernaturally as it did when my father died," Hezekiah replied.
"I'll believe I'll be healed if the shadow moves BACKWARD ten
steps, which would be an even greater miracle."
In spite of the pain caused by inflammation in his body,
especially when he moved, the king asked his attendants to prop
him up so that he could distinctly see the shadow cast by the
sundial pole across one of the steps that indicated the hours.
After Hezekiah was fairly comfortable, Isaiah gestured for
silence. (II Kings 20:8-11; II Chronicles 32:24.)
"I implore you, God of Israel," the prophet spoke out, "to
set back the sundial shadow ten steps, so that the king of Judah
shall witness your intent to heal him!"
Hezekiah, Isaiah and the attendants watched the heavens in
intense fascination as the sundial shadow began to move BACKWARD!
----------------------------------------

Chapter 141
THE DECLINE OF JUDAH

AILING King Hezekiah was speechless to see the shadow of his
giant sundial gnomon moving BACKWARD at a rapid rate. Whether or
not the king realized it, it required a most awesome situation to
cause such an unusual sight -- a sudden reversal in the earth's
direction of rotation! But it was no more difficult for God to
alter the earth's rotation temporarily than for a pilot to stop a
modern jet that travels hundreds of miles per hour. The surface
of the earth travels about 1000 miles an hour around its axis. So
it need not have taken more than several minutes to slow down the
earth, reverse rotation and then start it going again as before.


Miraculous Recovery

A miracle is a supernatural occurrence having to do with God
temporarily suspending or canceling certain of His physical laws.
In addition He often uses natural means which people don't always
understand.
In any event, Hezekiah was shown exciting proof that God
would heal him, and he was very grateful. Whatever means God used
to do the healing, He first wanted the poisons out of the king's
body. Isaiah instructed servants to apply a special fig poultice
to the most painful and swollen area of the inflammation, so that
the accumulated toxins would be drawn out. True to the prophet's
prophecy, Hezekiah was so improved by the third day that he had
the strength to go to the temple to thank God for His help and
the promise of fifteen more years of life. (II Kings 20:1-11; II
Chronicles 32:24; Isaiah 38.)


Royal Visitors From Babylon

Judah continued recovering from the Assyrian assault.
Prosperity increased. Believing that his nation faced a
trouble-free future as long as idolatry was kept down, Hezekiah
began to amass treasures. Every valuable gift that came to him
from men of other lands added to the collection. Besides, he sent
men afar to acquire objects of gold, silver and rare stones. They
obtained costly spices, precious ointments and many unique items
of unusual value. (II Chronicles 32:27.)
Among the worthy presents the king received was one from
Baladan [Merodach-baladan], ruler of Babylon, a city-state in the
country of Babylonia, south of Assyria. Babylon had been a
province of Assyria for several years, and long before
Sennacherib's disastrous army loss in Judah, Baladan moved
without success to free Babylon from Assyria. Having heard of the
unusual powers of Judah's God, as well of Judah's growing wealth
and power, Baladan was anxious to establish friendly relations
with Hezekiah. It was his desire to use that friendship, however,
for personal advantage.
To impress the king of Judah, Baladan sent his gift by
ambassadors instead of by regular messengers. These men also
brought a letter for Hezekiah, who was as surprised at its
contents as he was at the arrival of the men from distant
Babylon, the ancient city near which men once tried to reach the
sky by building a high tower. (Genesis 11.)
King Baladan wrote that the bearers of the gift were men of
high rank and that he knew the officials of Judah would treat
them accordingly. He mentioned the mysterious destruction of
Sennacherib's troops in Judah and Hezekiah's miraculous recovery
from what was regarded as a fatal illness.
Baladan wrote that he would like to know more about the
powerful God of Judah, the growing prosperity of the nation and
Hezekiah's treasures. Before the letter ended, there was a strong
suggestion that Judah and Babylon should plan to unite against
Assyria if that nation should threaten either of them again.
Hezekiah should have been suspicious of these overly curious
ambassadors, but he wasn't. He was pleased by this attention from
another king, even though Baladan's kingdom was small. Hoping to
enhance his prestige and gain the favor of a ruler who later
might prove to be of value to him, he showed the alert
Babylonians all his personal treasures, special costly army
equipment and the wealth of the temple. Gullible Hezekiah even
took them on a tour of the nation to let them see the outstanding
farms, ranches, quarries, mines and other features of the land.
(Isaiah 39:1-2; II Kings 20:12-13.)
Days later, when the Babylonians left, there was little they
didn't know about Judah's economy and manpower. Shortly after
their departure, Isaiah came to talk to the king.
"At the risk of your considering me overly curious," the
prophet told Hezekiah, "I would like to know the identity of your
recent guests."
"That should be no secret to you," Hezekiah replied in a
respectful tone, realizing that the prophet possibly knew about
them even before they arrived. "They were special ambassadors
from Babylon. Their king, Baladan, sent me a gift and a letter by
them."
"What did this king have to say?" Isaiah asked.
For answer, Hezekiah produced Baladan's letter, written in
Hebrew. As the prophet read it he scowled a little and shook his
head.
"Did you disclose anything to these men?" he queried.
"I showed them everything they asked to see," the king
hesitantly answered. "I have so much to be proud of here in
Judah. Is it unwise for me to take pleasure in displaying to
foreigners the good things God has allowed us to have?" (II Kings
20:14-15; Isaiah 39:3-4.)
Isaiah stood up and thoughtfully gazed out a window for a
short time.
"Didn't it occur to you that what these Babylonians learned
here could be used against Judah some day?" the prophet asked.
"Haven't you considered what God thinks of your growing pride in
your increased possessions?"
A surprised reaction welled up in the king toward the
prophet for speaking to him so bluntly, but before words could
come out, he had a sudden awareness of a vanity that had been
growing in him without his recognizing it before.
"Perhaps I have been thinking about material things more
than I should," Hezekiah admitted.


Result of Trusting Enemies

"That's more than possible," Isaiah remarked. "Obviously you
were favorably impressed by the Babylonians, but God wants you to
know that you should have no league with these pagan people.
Those emissaries were allowed to test you, to see how you would
react to their flattery and also to see how much of a display you
would make of your possessions. Remember this, because God has
spoken it: There will come a time when an army will come from
Babylon to seize all that is in this palace. The invaders will
ransack the city, ruin the temple and plunder the land. They'll
herd our people to Babylon and surrounding nations, where they'll
become slaves. Your descendants will become SPECIAL slaves --
keepers of the bedrooms of the king of Babylon!"
Hezekiah was stunned. For a few moments he paced about the
room, occasionally glancing at Isaiah as though he wanted to
question the prophet.
"If that's the way God says it will be, then it's certain to
happen," Hezekiah finally remarked in a resigned tone. "I am
thankful that it won't happen in the peaceful years I have left."
(II Kings 20:16-19; II Chronicles 32:31; Isaiah 39:5-8.)
"I, too," Isaiah answered, "am thankful that these terrible
things won't occur in your time."
After the prophet had gone, the full impact of his words
reached Hezekiah's understanding. Isaiah wasn't talking only
about an enemy victory from which Judah would recover. He was
talking about the end of Judah as a nation!
In his years that remained, Hezekiah dedicated himself to
the best interests of his country. He saw to it that large
supplies of grain, wine and oil were maintained. He continued to
promote farming and to increase the raising of sheep and cattle.
The greatest engineering project during Hezekiah's reign was
the laborious cutting of a tunnel 1,177 feet through solid rock
under Jerusalem. Through the tunnel water was conveyed from a
spring outside the city to a large pool inside. Previous to the
filling of the pool area, the inhabitants of Jerusalem had to get
their water by lowering buckets forty feet into a well. (II
Chronicles 32:27-30.)
Hezekiah's greatest accomplishment, of course, was the
stopping of most idolatry in Judah and restoring proper worship
at the temple.
The son Hezekiah had wanted when he was so ill was born to
him three years after his recovery. Having been given fifteen
more years of life, the king was succeeded by a boy only twelve
years old. His name was Manasseh. (II Chronicles 32:32-33; II
Kings 20:20-21; 21:1.)
In his last years and months, the king must have been
painfully conscious of the approaching date of his death,
although probably he didn't know the exact day. He died at the
age of fifty-four, after about twenty-nine years as ruler of
Judah. Hezekiah was buried in one of the main sepulchers reserved
for the descendant kings of David.


A Swing to Religious License

Unfortunately for Judah, young Manasseh was guided and
influenced by profane men who were in favor of returning to
idolatry. It wasn't long before Hezekiah's headway against pagan
religions in the nation was offset by a decline in the worship of
God and a revival of permissiveness and an interest in
neighboring religions.
As Manasseh grew older, there seemed to be no limit to the
heathen practices he allowed and even promoted. At first he
favored reestablishing private and public places for idol
worship. Then he decreed that altars should be built throughout
the nation for sacrificing to the god Baal, one of the chief
pagan deities of the Canaanites. His next move was to prepare
special shrines for worshipping the goddess Astarte, whose
rituals were disgustingly lewd. These swift plunges into idolatry
were more than enough to rouse the Creator's scourging anger. But
Manasseh didn't stop there. He deliberately defied God by setting
up these pagan altars, idols, images and obscene symbols in the
holy temple!
Of course, God's priests were driven from the temple first.
Then their quarters were changed into a chapel for the worship of
stars and planets. Even Molech made a comeback in Judah when
followers were invited to build places of worship in the Valley
of the Dram or Tophet -- known in New Testament times as Gehenna.
The metal idol was heated to red-hot by fires built inside
the belly.
To the thunderous accompaniment of drums, the parents placed
their own babies into the glowing hands of the idol in worship of
their horrid god. The purpose of the drums was to drown the
agonizing screams of helpless infants, sacrificed by their very
own parents.
How different from the worship of the Living Creator God who
says that this kind of worship is so awful that he couldn't
imagine the children of Israel ever doing it. (Jeremiah 32:35.)
Faith was replaced by superstition. Like vultures the
wizards, witches, sorcerers, and mediums returned to feed on that
superstition.
Convinced that worshipping and relying on Israel's God was
foolish, Manasseh did more to turn his nation to idolatry than
did the pagan nations God had destroyed. He was even worse than
blasphemous King Ahab, because he required his people to worship
the idols he brought to Judah. Those who were loyal to God and
refused to have part in pagan religious rites were arrested and
tortured. If they still refused, they were put to death. (II
Kings 21:1-9; II Chronicles 33:1-9.)
Because of the misused power of one man, Jerusalem, the city
of peace, became a city of despair, terror and death. Those who
tried to obey God lived in constant fear of criminals and of
Manasseh's soldiers. Those who became idolaters became debased
and miserable.
Manasseh apparently began to doubt that Israel's God
existed. Manasseh was one of the most foolish kings who ever
lived for deliberately antagonizing his long-suffering Creator,
who began to act by giving instructions to the prophets who were
hiding in Judah.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 142
MANASSEH REPENTS!

As KING Manasseh grew more powerful, he began to force the people
to follow him more and more deeply into pagan practices. Because
of his evil deeds, God began to act by sending His prophets with
warnings for the people of Judah.


God's Warning

"Warn Manasseh and the people," God told them, "that because
the king has stooped to abominations greater than those of
surrounding nations of the past, whom I have destroyed, and has
forced his subjects to do the same by torturing and murdering the
faithful, I will bring terrible times on Judah. If people could
hear what their fate will be, their ears would almost burn at
listening to the fearful facts.
"As Samaria fell, so shall Jerusalem. I shall wipe out the
city as one wipes out a dirty dish by turning it upside down and
scooping out the leftovers. I shall forsake this nation. The
inhabitants will fall into the hands of their enemies, to become
slaves just as the people of Samaria and the northern tribes of
national Israel went into captivity.
"Ever since I brought my people out of Egypt more then eight
hundred years ago, they have troubled me and tried my patience.
Their king has now become one of the basest offenders by
conducting himself like an insane man. He won't be allowed to
continue in his murderous manner much longer." (II Kings
21:10-16; II Chronicles 33:10.)
The prophets who received this message were Joel, Nahum,
Habakkuk and Isaiah. And they wrote down God's warnings in their
books which are now part of the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old
Testament. At great personal risk, these men managed to make
public what God had told them. When reports reached Manasseh, he
laughed derisively, but the more he thought about these men
having the boldness to give him warnings, supposedly from the God
he loathed, the more irritated he became.
"The doomsday dolts are at it again!" he scoffed. "I want
them brought here to explain just how their God plans to stop me
from doing what I please!"
Some, if not all, of the prophets were arrested at this
time. Scriptural and secular references indicate that the elderly
Isaiah was one of them. Tradition says that because Manasseh was
angered by Isaiah's loyalty to God and his warnings, he had the
prophet sawn in two. These religious persecutions are described
in the New Testament "faith chapter," Hebrews 11, especially
verses 36 to 38.
It was an unusual thing, even in ancient times, for a nation
to be surprised by large enemy forces that had already penetrated
its borders. There were generally spies and frontier lookouts on
duty to pass back information even on small bands of strangers.
But because God willed it, this early warning system failed
to work for Judah shortly after Isaiah's horrible death. The
people of Judah had a sudden, sickening awareness that Assyrian
troops were moving swiftly through the land. The sentries on
Jerusalem's walls knew nothing of what was happening till they
saw the enemy soldiers swarming toward the city's main gate. (II
Chronicles 33:11.)
"Your king is our prisoner!" an Assyrian officer called out
when the invaders were just beyond an arrow's range of the walls.
"If you want him back, open the gates and send your citizens out
to us! If you send soldiers, your king will die right here!"
Leaders of Judah under Manasseh were shocked when they saw
that their king was indeed a prisoner of the Assyrians. Obviously
he had been captured while on a trip outside Jerusalem. The
leaders of Judah decided to send out a few hundred citizens in
exchange for Manasseh.
The unfortunate ones, mainly women and children, were
roughly herded outside through gates that were briefly opened,
then slammed shut before enemy troops could try to force an
entrance. Those thrust out of their city immediately became
captives of the Assyrians, who expressed their anger at the small
number of citizens given them.


King Manasseh in Captivity

"More! More!" roared the invaders. "Isn't your king's life
worth more than this paltry few?"
The officers of Judah had no choice but to quickly force
more people out through a gate opened only a minute or so. Again,
as before, soldiers of Judah remained inside where they could be
more effective in the defense of the city. Again the Assyrians
pounced on their prey and bellowed for more. This convinced those
in authority in Jerusalem that the Assyrians had no intention of
releasing Manasseh. They refused to send out any more people.
Having taken other captives from other undefended areas of
Judah, and not wishing to carry on a long siege of well-defended
Jerusalem, the Assyrians departed with their prisoners. They
didn't take Manasseh's life as they had threatened. Instead they
took him with them, forcing him to walk in heavy loops of
clanking chains. This cruel man who had challenged his Creator
could scarcely believe that he was in the hands of his enemies.
It was much easier for him to believe almost two months and
hundreds of long miles later when he was led disgracefully
through the streets of the city of Babylon. (II Chronicles
33:9-11.)
"Can this actually be the mighty king of Judah? He lacks the
apparel of one of royalty. He doesn't even have the bearing and
dignity of a ruler!"
The contemptuous speaker was Esarhaddon, king of Assyria and
son of the murdered Sennacherib. The setting was his palace in
Babylon, the city-state he had forced back under Assyrian
domination. Manasseh, weighted down with his metal fetters, could
only stare back with undisguised hatred as his conqueror
belittled him before the Assyrian notables who were present.
"This man must learn that Judah shall at last become a
vassal nation," Esarhaddon continued arrogantly. "Obviously he
isn't yet convinced. Put him in the lower dungeon, and keep him
there until he surrenders his nation!"
Thus started months of miserable confinement for Manasseh,
who didn't believe that he would long remain in prison because
his many pagan gods would come to his rescue. As the weeks went
by, Manasseh exhorted these false gods and goddesses one by one
to deliver him from the Assyrians. Stunned because nothing
occurred in his favor, Manasseh began to doubt the powers of the
gods to whom he had been faithful for years. Doubting the powers
of these false deities, he began to wonder if it could be
possible that the God his father had worshipped could possibly
exist and have the tremendous power that was claimed in ancient
Israelite records.


Manasseh Finally Repents

Miserable and desperate, the king of Judah finally concluded
that it might be worth the effort to pray to the God of Israel
for help.
There was no response.
But there was a strange awareness that belief in pagan gods
was a futile and foolish pursuit. With this start toward wisdom,
and through continued fervent prayer to God, Manasseh was
encouraged by a growing assurance that he was at last beginning
to contact the one real Supreme Power. From then on he began to
strongly regret all the things he had done to lead Judah back
into idolatry which his father, Hezekiah, had worked to remove
from the nation.
Regret turned into genuine repentance, which God always
recognizes. Manasseh's repentance was so intense and genuine that
God caused the king of Assyria to change his plans about Judah
and Manasseh.
God always blesses ANYONE who sincerely repents. Manasseh's
repentance (II Chronicles 33:12-13) was one of the most profound
in all the Bible. The record of it serves to show that our God is
so filled with compassion that He will honor the sincere
repentance of anyone, no matter how black his deeds have been.
Surely no king of Israel or Judah ever provoked God's wrath more
with his blatant idolatry even to the point of bringing an idol
into God's very own temple. II Kings 21 chronicles the record of
his rotten deeds. Only the unregenerate Ahab could begin to rival
Manasseh in wickedness. (II Kings 21:3.) Yet our God is so
brimful of mercy that He honored even Ahab's humility even though
he never really repented. (I Kings 21:29.)
God will forgive any person who makes a full surrender to
Him without any reservations -- no matter how terrible, or how
many, have been his sins. God will forgive them all. (Matthew
12:31.)
The Apostle Paul himself said that BEFORE conversion he was
"a blasphemer and a persecutor, and injurious." He actually
counted himself the "chief of sinners." Yet he obtained mercy,
that in him first Jesus Christ "might shew forth ALL
LONG-SUFFERING, FOR A PATTERN to them which should hereafter
believe on him to life everlasting." (I Timothy 1:13-16.)
God made sure that His Word was replete with examples of the
real repentance of grievous sinners. So no one should ever say,
"My sins are so bad that God couldn't possibly forgive me." And
no matter how you may feel about your personal sins, that same
merciful God stands ready TO FORGIVE YOU upon genuine repentance.
(Psalm 86:5.)


Manasseh Released From Captivity

"This stubborn king of Judah will never willingly surrender
his nation to us," Esarhaddon told his officers and leaders.
"Even if he did, his people would put up a resistance I can't
afford. It would be wiser to send Manasseh back to Jerusalem. His
nation would then become a stronger buffer state between us and
our troublesome Egyptian enemies. At the same time, we can always
demand tribute from these Israelites, and one we can continue to
exact. Is this not better than paying many Assyrian lives to
overcome Judah? The nation can be of greater benefit to us if it
remains strong and productive."
Naturally there was no evident opposition to the king's
wish, although there must have been military men present who were
disappointed to learn that their commander had decided not to
wage a mad, bloody war on the kingdom of Judah.
Shortly after Esarhaddon's statement, a prison attendant
came to free the astonished king of Judah from his dismal cell
and escort him to comfortable quarters where he could bathe and
be dressed in fine apparel. Servants were present to wait on him,
but at his first moment of privacy Manasseh threw himself on the
floor and poured out thanks to God for this startling miracle of
release from a dark dungeon. He was more surprised and thankful
when he learned that he was about to be escorted by Assyrian
soldiers back to Jerusalem. (II Chronicles 33:12-13.)
There was much celebrating in Judah -- and especially in the
capital -- when Manasseh returned to his kingship. At the same
time there was surprise and gloom among the king's former ranking
favorites when they learned of the great change in their leader.
"He keeps talking about the 'God of Israel' instead of our
gods," an officer remarked concernedly to others. "Something must
have happened to his mind while he was in prison!"
"There is no doubt of it," another agreed. "I heard that he
intends to try to restrain the people from worshipping any god
except the God his father worshipped. That will take some doing,
because not many people will want to be tied down to observing
the harsh laws of the old God of Israel."


The Struggle to Change

Unhappily for many, that was exactly what Manasseh set out
to do. He removed the pagan images from the temple, cleaned and
repaired the altar, reinstated Levite priests to reestablish
offerings to God and began a systematic movement to comb out
idols and pagan altars from all of Judah. At the same time he
sent out a royal decree that the God of Israel was the only deity
to be worshipped in the nation.
Most of the surprised people obeyed by simply sacrificing to
God at the places where they had formerly sacrificed to idols.
This was a step in the right direction, but God expected
sacrifices to be made only at His temple in Jerusalem. Manasseh
soon learned that turning a whole nation from paganism to the
only true God would be a long and next-to-impossible undertaking.
Meanwhile, he expanded the size of Jerusalem and
strengthened and heightened a large part of Jerusalem's walls. He
then appointed capable and trusted officers to take charge of
Judah's other walled cities, which were subject to possible
attack from Egypt or Philistia, and to probable attack from
Assyria if the regular tribute to that nation failed to be paid
on time. (II Chronicles 33:14-17.)
Manasseh didn't live to see his nation receive the
protection and prosperity that would have resulted from the
people turning wholeheartedly to God. He was entombed in a family
burial place on his own property instead of being buried with
most of the kings of Judah. In his time Manasseh caused great
trouble in his nation, but he was the only idolatrous king who
sought to make such an extreme change for the better in his way
of living.
At Manasseh's death his son, Amon, immediately became king
of Judah at the age of twenty-two. (II Kings 21:17-18; II
Chronicles 33:1820.)
Again it was the old story -- a new, young king going just
the opposite of his father's intentions. Amon followed almost
exactly the example of his father Manasseh's first years of
reign. He even managed to recover many of the hidden carved
images his father had caused to be made, and set them up again to
be worshipped. Judah was again steered back into perilous, mad
idolatry.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 143
JOSIAH'S CRUSADE AGAINST IDOLATRY

AFTER King Manasseh had repented, he started leading Judah back
to the worship of God. But he died before he completed the
gigantic task of reforming the nation. His son and successor,
Amon, did not follow the good example of Manasseh's later years,
but followed, instead, the bad example of his earlier years.


Idolatry Breeds Violence

Historians have pointed out, with good reason, that most of
the successors of idolatrous Israelite kings had very short
periods of rulership. So it was with Amon, whose servants plotted
against him and murdered him by the time he had ruled only two
years. The people of Judah, however, were so angry because of
their leader's assassination that they succeeded in finding all
those connected with the act and put them to death. (II Kings
21:19-26; II Chronicles 33:21-25.)
By this time, Amon had been buried close to his father in
the family burial place near the royal palace.


Josiah's Crusade Against Idolatry

Although only eight years old, Amon's son Josiah was the
next ruler of Judah. Even though he was first guided by his
advisors with various beliefs and ambitions, by the time he was
about sixteen he had a growing desire to really follow the ways
of his ancestor David, whose accomplishments greatly interested
him.
By the time he was twenty years old, Josiah began to rid his
kingdom of idols by outlawing the presence of pagan altars and
images. At the same time he sent out crews of men to tear down
and destroy any objects connected with idolatry. They went
throughout Judah and even into the land from which most of Israel
had been removed. The last use of heathen altars, just before
they were wrecked, was for burning the bones of the profane
priests. Their bones were found buried near the altars at which
they had officiated when sacrifices had been made to idols. (II
Kings 22:1-2; II Chronicles 34:1-7.)
During the years those changes were being made, proper
activities were restored at the temple, which again required
repairing because of rough usage while careless and rowdy idol
worshippers held their profane ceremonies there. Worshippers of
God came from far and near, even from the tribes of Israel; and
they brought offerings. At last there was a considerable
collection of silver at the temple given as offerings by God's
worshippers. When Josiah was about twenty-six, he ordered
officials to use the silver to buy new timber and stone and to
pay the wages of carpenters, builders and masons for mending the
worn and broken parts of the temple. (II Kings 22:3-7; II
Chronicles 34:8-13.)
Meanwhile, Hilkiah the high priest excitedly reported to his
friend Shaphan, the king's secretary, that he had found the Book
of the Law in the temple. (II Kings 22:8; II Chronicles
34:14-15.)
This Law on the original scroll of sheepskin, comprising the
first five books of the Old Testament, had for a long time been
at the side of the ark. (Deuteronomy 31:2426.) And Jehoshaphat in
his time had copies made for the teaching of the Law all over the
nation. (II Chronicles 17:7-9.) Later, during some time when the
temple was overrun by idol-worshippers, most copies of the Law
were destroyed. This official temple master copy was missed by
the destroyers, probably because some astute and faithful priest
concealed it rather than have it destroyed by those who wanted to
do away with God's laws.
When Shaphan, Hilkiah and others presented the ancient but
well-preserved sheepskin scroll to the king, his excitement was
no less than that of Hilkiah. Josiah was so interested that he
immediately asked that Shaphan read some original scriptures
aloud, so that they might know what God requires of men and
nations. (II Kings 22:9-10; II Chronicles 34:16-18.)


The Laws of Peace

Shaphan read aloud certain chapters from the book of
Deuteronomy -- that part having to do with God's promises of
blessings for obedience and the curses that would follow
disobedience. (Deuteronomy 28.) Josiah became so perturbed that
he violently tore his robe. In those times that was an action
that indicated great distress. (II Kings 22:11; II Chronicles
34:19.)
"According to what you just read, as Moses wrote it," Josiah
exclaimed, "this nation is overdue for a terrible time of God's
wrath! I want you to go at once and inquire of God if anything
special can be done to cause God to be merciful to us!"
"There is a true prophetess here in the city by the name of
Huldah," Hilkiah said in a desperate tone.
"Seek her out," Josiah ordered. "Ask her what will happen
and what we should do."
Hilkiah, Shaphan and three other men of rank left right away
to find the prophetess Huldah, to whom God had given special
ability to understand some of His intentions. (II Kings 22:12-14;
II Chronicles 34:20-22.)
God must have previously given Huldah understanding for
Josiah's benefit, because she had an immediate answer for her
visitors.
"Tell the man who sent you that God will indeed bring deep
misery to the people of Judah because of their turning to false
gods," Huldah said. "God's warnings, like His promises, never
fail. There is nothing that can be done now to alter God's plans.
But He wants the king of Judah to know that he, Josiah, won't go
through the soon-coming time of curses and desolation for his
nation. Because Josiah has repented and has faithfully worked to
turn his people back to the right way, he will be mercifully
taken to his grave and will be spared the evil to come." (II
Kings 22:15-20; II Chronicles 34:23-28.)
When Josiah learned what Huldah had to say, he was
disappointed that his people would not COMPLETELY repent. As a
result there wasn't much he could do to prevent God's wrath from
eventually falling on Judah. Nevertheless, the king determined to
make the most of the time he had left. He called for the people
-- especially the leaders -- to meet with him at the temple to
hear a reading from the Book of the Law. He hoped that all who
heard would be sobered and anxious to seek God. After the
reading, probably by Hilkiah the high priest, Josiah stood up
before the crowd.


The People Follow Josiah

"God of Israel, we have heard your laws read just as you
gave them to your servant Moses," the king called out in prayer.
"We know that your laws are just and good, and that only by
living by them can we be happy, healthy, prosperous and safe. We
realize now, more than ever, that disobedience toward you will
surely result in misery, sickness, poverty and trouble. We would
like to declare to you that it is our desire and intention, with
your help, to put aside ways that aren't good for us or pleasing
to you, and wholeheartedly live by your rules only!"
A loud murmur of approval came from the people and their
leaders. (II Kings 23:1-3.)
"We can get off to a good start by seeking out and
destroying all idolatrous things that still remain in Judah,"
Josiah told the people. "I daresay there yet remain even in the
temple articles that have to do with idolatry. I request the high
priest and those under him to look closely again for such things.
If any are found, let them be removed at once from the temple!"
Obviously someone had been careless in this matter. Many
pots, bowls and other equipment used in pagan ceremonies in the
temple were hastily rounded up and carried out. Later they were
tossed into a huge fire outside the city. The ashes of wooden
objects and the fragments of metal things were taken to be dumped
at the site of the city of Bethel. This place had been an
important seat of activities for God's servants, but later became
defiled by pagan priests who claimed they represented God.
Josiah doggedly set out to remove every vestige of idolatry
from Judah and even part of the land of Israel north to Samaria.
Hiding pagan priests were found and punished. The dwellings of
those who had been pagan temple prostitutes, both male and
female, were burned or torn down. (II Kings 23:4-20; II
Chronicles 34:29-33.)
At Bethel, Josiah's men even dug up the remains of heathen
priests and burned them on the altar there, thus carrying out the
prophecy made three hundred and fifty years before, when God
inspired one of his servants to declare that one day a man named
Josiah would burn the bones of the pagan priests on that altar.
(I Kings 13:1-3, 26-32.) However, the bones of the true prophet
who had spoken this weren't touched. (II Kings 23:17-18.)


God's Purpose Stands

After these things had been accomplished, the time came for
the Passover, which many observed with special fervor because of
Josiah's success against idolatry. Josiah had worked diligently
to wipe out idolatry and sorcery from his nation and from
territory of the Israelite tribes to the north. He fervently
hoped God would spare his country from the curses the people
bring on themselves when they forsake the God of Israel for pagan
gods and demons. (II Chronicles 34:1-7.)
Josiah also knew that God would be pleased because the Book
of the Law had been found and much of it read to the people. To
add to all this, the king saw to it that the Passover that year
was observed with unusual solemnity and great ceremony. Many
thousands of animals were sacrificed, thirty-three thousand of
which Josiah contributed from his flocks and herds. (II Kings
23:1-28; II Chronicles 34:8-33; 35:1-19.)
But the king's good works didn't alter God's intention to
punish the nation because of their turning from Him. (II Kings
23:21-27.) Sometime later Josiah was one morning informed by an
excited officer: "Thousands of Egyptian troops are pouring into
our land!"


Josiah's Political Dilemma

The king's hopes for continued protection for Judah were
dependent on his being careful not to endanger his life. But
Josiah, and the nation, got smug and careless. Josiah's hopes
were almost wiped out when he learned that an Egyptian army with
thousands of troops and cavalry and hundreds of chariots was
moving along the coastal area of western Judah. (II Chronicles
35:20.) This, Josiah reasoned, was the beginning of God's
punishment of Judah, come in the form of a mighty fighting force
that could devastate the whole nation in less than a week.
However, the next report to reach the king gave him some comfort.
"The Egyptians are continuing northward on the plains by the
sea. No troops or chariots have turned inland."
Though relieved at the news, Josiah remained perturbed
because a foreign army was on his soil. He wanted an explanation,
as soon as possible, for its being there. Even before he could
send emissaries to the Egyptians, representatives came from none
less than Necho, the Egyptian king, who was with his army.
The spokesmen told Josiah: "Our King Necho wants to assure
you and your people that there is no reason for concern, because
we have no intention of war or any harm to your people or their
possessions. We wish only to pass harmlessly through your land on
the way to Carchemish on the Euphrates river. Our king intends to
free that city from the king of Babylon, who has no right to it.
"Our king trusts that you will have no desire to interfere
with his plans. Otherwise, Judah shall surely suffer heavily,
inasmuch as God has told him that we should go against the
Chaldeans at Carchemish. Any who interfere with God's will shall
surely be dealt with in a terribly harsh manner!" (II Chronicles
35:21.)
"So be it," Josiah said after the Egyptians had departed.
"Let them kill each other off. I don't intend to become embroiled
in a war, though not because of being threatened by some pagan
who claims to speak for God. If the Egyptians win, we'll no
longer be vassals to the Chaldeans. Their victory over the
Assyrians didn't rightfully mean that we should switch allegiance
to the king of Babylon."
"If the Egyptians don't win, we'll suffer for it" an officer
reminded the king. "As long as we are vassals to the Chaldeans,
we will be expected to serve as a buffer between Babylonia and
Egypt. If we fail to confront the Egyptians, we'll probably pay a
higher price in lives if the Chaldeans demand an accounting from
us."


Josiah Picks a Fight

"But the latest report is that the Egyptians have already
passed through Judah and are moving along the plain of Sharon,"
Josiah pointed out. "How could we possibly overtake them?"
"There's still time," the officer explained. "Probably
they'll be turning eastward at the valley of Jezreel to take the
highway to Damascus for the benefit of their chariots. We could
rush an army northward past Samaria and intercept them after
they've changed directions!"
Josiah acted at once, though with mixed feelings. (II
Chronicles 35:22.) He didn't want to start a battle, but neither
did he want reprisals from Babylon for standing idly by.
The two armies came within sight of each other in the valley
of Megiddo, near where the most terrible battle in the history of
man will take place in the lifetime of many now reading these
words (Revelation 11:14-19; 16:15-17.)
"I went to the trouble of warning that stubborn king of
Judah," Necho muttered angrily to his officers when he saw the
approaching army. "Perhaps we can save time and effort by first
removing him from the scene. Instruct the archers to close in at
a reasonable distance from these Jews' chariots. Tell them to
watch carefully for the royal chariot and make certain that their
arrows reach both passenger and driver."
The Egyptians supposed that the king of Judah would be
easily distinguishable in a special chariot, but Josiah had
considered that, and came into battle in an ordinary cavalry
chariot. During the first careful pass the two forces made at
each other, the Egyptian archers couldn't find what they were
looking for. They finally discharged clouds of arrows at all the
chariots of Judah. One of those arrows landed, as if by chance,
deep in Josiah's body.
"Put me in another chariot and get me out of here before the
Egyptians discover they have wounded me," Josiah muttered weakly.
(II Chronicles 35:23.)
The king was quickly transferred to another chariot and
carried back to Jerusalem, where he soon died. (II Kings 23:29.)
Perhaps the king of Egypt was a long time learning that one of
his archers had fatally wounded the king of Judah. There was a
sudden retreat of the army of Judah, and that was what mainly
mattered to the Egyptians, whatever the cause. Having shoved the
army of Judah aside, Necho moved on unhindered toward the
northeast.
Because Josiah was so greatly respected and because his
death foreshadowed the death of the nation, there was great
mourning upon his death, even by many who didn't care for his
staunch stand against idolatry. Asked to speak at the king's
funeral was the young prophet Jeremiah. He was a friend of
Ahikam, an intimate of Josiah and son of Josiah's confidential
secretary Shaphan. (Jeremiah 26:24; II Kings 22:812; II
Chronicles 34:20-21.) Jeremiah delivered a most unusual eulogy
because of Josiah's accomplishments for God. His observations
were later set to music and sung and played for centuries to come
on special occasions. (II Chronicles 35:24-25; Lamentations.)
Josiah was buried in one of the sepulchers of the kings of
Judah. He was the last king of that nation who followed God, and
God promised he would die without having to go through the misery
that was to come to Judah. Although Josiah died of a battle
wound, the nation was at peace, and he died in a peaceful state
of mind far from the battlefield. (II Kings 23:30; II Chronicles
35:26-27.)
----------------------------------------

Chapter 144
JEREMIAH WARNS JUDAH

ACCORDING to Josiah's wish, his grandson, then eight years old,
was to succeed him. But he was removed from any opportunity to
reign after ten days' time. Neither did Josiah's eldest son,
Eliakim, succeed his father because the people of Judah believed
he would regard the king of Egypt as their master. Instead, they
put Eliakim's younger half-brother Jehoahaz on the throne.
Meanwhile, the Egyptians were not victorious over the
Babylonian king as they had hoped to be.
The Chaldeans pursued the Egyptians southwestward for
hundreds of miles. Later, with the Chaldeans on their way back
home, Necho had freedom to demand of Jerusalem that Eliakim
should be made king. Jehoahaz was therefore king only three
months because King Necho of Egypt considered Judah his vassal
nation and thought only he should have the right to decide who
should be made king. As a gesture to prove that his will should
be carried out in every respect, the king of Egypt decreed that
from then on Eliakim should be known as Jehoiakim.
Jehoiakim continued to rule Judah for the next eleven years,
even though he wasn't the choice of the people who followed God.
During those years, there was an unhappy return to idolatry and a
constant heavy tribute, mostly in gold and silver, to the king of
Egypt.


A Reluctant Prophet

As for Jehoahaz, he was taken by the Egyptians to their
country, where he died. (II Kings 23:31-34; II Chronicles
36:1-4.)
As a result of allowing his nation to fall back into
idolatry, Jehoiakim had his share of troubles. One of his sources
of worry was the prophet Jeremiah, who had been around in
Josiah's time, but who because of his youth didn't earn much
respect until he had spoken at Josiah's funeral.
Jeremiah was probably only in his late teens when God first
contacted him, telling him that long before he was born God had
chosen him to be a prophet to warn many nations of their wrong
ways and what would come to pass unless they turned to observing
God's laws.
"But how can I speak to nations?" Jeremiah asked. "I would
have to talk to kings, and kings wouldn't listen to me because I
am only a boy."
"You shall grow in wisdom," God told him. "Besides, I shall
tell you what to say in every situation. You are not to fear
anyone, regardless of his rank or his fierce or scornful
expressions. I won't allow harm to come to you."
Obviously in a vision, Jeremiah felt his lips being touched
by God's hand.
"This day I have put words in your mouth," the Creator said.
"I am setting you over the nations and kingdoms with the power to
root out and destroy, but I shall also give you the power to
plant and build."
This meant that Jeremiah was to do far more than warn Judah
and other nations of calamities to come. God would also reveal,
through Jeremiah, where the captive and scattered House of Israel
would again be started as nations, eventually, in other parts of
the world. (Jeremiah 1:1-19.)
In time, with the passing of generations, many Israelites
forgot their identity. Migrating among other nations,
ever-increasing numbers came to regard themselves as Gentiles.
Most of them, as this is written still do. Through Jeremiah and
others of God's servants who would be born much later, the
Creator planned that the Israelites of the ten-tribed House of
Israel would eventually recognize themselves and no longer be
lost, and would remember the commission their ancient ancestors
had been given and the covenant between their people and God.
Jeremiah spent his early years in the priests' town of
Anathoth, only a few miles north of Jerusalem. Because of being
bothered by people who despised and troubled him, he moved to
Jerusalem. There he could be lost in the nonreligious capital
crowd instead of being conspicuous in a small ministerial town
where many priests were growing lukewarm and didn't like to have
a zealous prophet around. Jeremiah became respected in Jerusalem
after having much to say at Josiah's funeral and having already
gained the friendship of some of the more upright men of King
Josiah's acquaintance.
Jeremiah's first major trouble during Jehoiakim's reign came
about when he was told by God to go to the temple and warn all
who came there that unless they would live by God's laws, God
would cause Jerusalem to become as ravaged as the ancient town of
Shiloh, the town where the tabernacle was set up when Israel
first came into the land of Canaan. (Joshua 18: 1; Psalm 78:60;
Jeremiah 26:6.) Shiloh had been destroyed by the Philistines
hundreds of years before Jeremiah's time. (I Samuel 4:10-12.)
"God has told me that unless the people of Judah repent of
their evil ways and wholeheartedly return to obeying Him, this
city will soon become a place that will be spoken of only with
scorn, ridicule and contempt!" Jeremiah shouted to the crowds who
came to the temple to try to make themselves right with God by
making token offerings and pausing for what would appear to be
periods of prayer or religious reflection.


Who Believes a Prophet?

This was too much for many in authority who had long tired
of what they called "Jeremiah's prophecies of doom." Self-styled
prophets of God and many of the people, and even priests at the
temple, joined in seizing Jeremiah and accusing him before the
multitude.
"You have uttered curses against Jerusalem and the temple of
God!" they shouted angrily. "For this reason you deserve to die!"
When the king's counsellors heard about Jeremiah being held
by the priests and others, they immediately arranged for a quick
trial. (Jeremiah 26:1-10.)
"Why should we delay what should be done by holding an
unnecessary trial?" Jeremiah's accusers heatedly asked. "It's
plainly evident what he has done and what the penalty should be!"
"Why should any of you speak against God?" Jeremiah asked in
his own defense. "It was God who sent me to the temple to warn of
trouble to come. Why not obey God and thus avoid the evil things
that will otherwise come to you? Do what you will with me, but if
you kill me you will bring greater calamity on yourselves and the
people of Jerusalem because of unjust treatment of one of God's
chosen servants."
There was a noisy babble of voices as the priests and their
supporters derided Jeremiah's remarks. Some were still demanding
the prophet's life. Hastily the princes and the king's
counsellors conferred with the representatives of the people, the
chiefs of the clans.
"We can't agree with you that this man should be punished by
death because of prophesying," the king's counsellors and the
princes told the prophets and the priests. Then certain respected
older men reminded the crowd: "Other prophets have made dire
predictions and they weren't executed for their remarks. Why
should Jeremiah be the exception? When King Hezekiah heeded the
warning of the prophet Micah, and called on God, remember how God
spared Hezekiah and the nation? Wouldn't it be wise for us to do
as Hezekiah did?" The most influential man speaking for Jeremiah
was Ahikam, the son of Shaphan who was a friend of Hilkiah,
Jeremiah's father. (Jeremiah 26:11-19, 24.) Reluctantly the
envious priests and self-appointed prophets bowed to the will of
the counsellors, and Jeremiah was released.
At the same time a prophet named Urijah had publicly
declared essentially the same things Jeremiah had stated. He,
too, was being sought to be punished by death for making gloomy
remarks about what would happen to Jerusalem and the temple.
Having heard that Jeremiah had been arrested, and that he would
share Jeremiah's fate, Urijah lacked faith that God would protect
him, and managed to escape from Jerusalem and reach Egypt, where
he succeeded in hiding for a time. Jehoiakim, king of Judah, was
so angered that a prophet he disliked should evade a trial that
he sent men to Egypt to ask King Necho to find Urijah and turn
him over to the emissaries from Judah. Necho cooperated. Urijah
was found, given over to the men of Judah, and slain as soon as
he was brought back to Jerusalem. If he had joined Jeremiah to
face his accusers, probably his life would have been spared.
(Jeremiah 26:20-23.)
In those days King Jehoiakim heavily taxed his people to
enable him to pay the high tribute demanded regularly by the king
of Egypt. (II Kings 23:31-35.) Meanwhile, Jeremiah continued his
warnings. Some people considered him a traitor to his country
because he spoke of Babylon as a greater power than Egypt, and
therefore a greater menace to Judah. This greatly irritated the
king, who owed his office to the ruler of Egypt, whom the Jews
were expected to look up to as the most powerful of rulers.
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign, God told Jeremiah
that he should write down all the warnings He had given Jeremiah
to speak to the public and declare them all again at one time to
the people at the temple. Jeremiah dictated them to his
secretary, a man named Baruch, who wrote them on a heavy scroll.
"Perhaps when people hear at one time all of the calamity I
plan to bring on them, they will be sobered," God observed to
Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 36:1-3.)
God didn't require that Jeremiah should be the one to again
warn the people at the temple. The prophet was relieved. He knew
that the scheming priests and false prophets, especially those
from Anathoth, his home town, would seek his life if he appeared
again at the temple. (Jeremiah 11:21.) God had told Jeremiah not
to fear anyone, but he had been staying out of sight, knowing it
would be unwise to deliberately go about and tempt his enemies.


A Crisis Approaches

"If I again proclaim all that is on your scroll," Jeremiah
told his secretary, "the priests and prophets will again try to
have me killed. You they probably would ignore just because you
aren't me. Be my spokesman. Go to the temple on the special fast
day that has been set for a few days from now, and read aloud all
you have written. On such a solemn day some might repent and be
spared from the misery God is going to bring on Judah."
Baruch was at first uneasy at carrying out the prophet's
wishes, but he complied without complaining. He faced a large
audience on the day when people were fasting because they
believed that might appease God and cause Him to protect them
from their enemies. Many concerned people listened attentively,
but there was no way for Baruch to determine how much they were
affected.
One young man, Michaiah, a grandson of Shaphan, who had been
King Josiah's secretary, and was friendly toward Jeremiah, was
greatly impressed. He ran to the king's house, where there was a
meeting of Judah's princes and counsellors of Jehoiakim. Michaiah
excitedly told them about the terrible things Baruch had said
would come on the nation.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 145
JEHOIAKIM BUYS TROUBLE

AT THE TEMPLE young Michaiah heard Baruch read the scroll that he
had written for Jeremiah. In it were dire warnings of trouble to
fall on Judah just as had already fallen on Israel. Michaiah,
grandson of the Levite prince Shaphan, who had been King Josiah's
secretary and was friendly toward Jeremiah, ran to the palace and
reported what he had heard. His audience was the assembled
princes, that is, the chiefs from the tribes of Judah and Levi
who had been chosen as the king's counselors. They were
impressed.
"Right or wrong, this man is risking death and deserves an
honorable hearing," one of the princes spoke out. "He should come
here to read his scroll to us so we can hear all he had to say."
The princes agreed. Baruch was brought to them to read his
scroll. They were so alarmed at what he read that they took the
scroll and told Baruch to leave at once.
"Get back to Jeremiah and tell him to hide himself or get
out of Jerusalem," they warned Baruch. "And go with him. The king
may be very angry when he hears what you have written from the
prophet's mouth!" They knew the false prophets and some priests
would be angered by Baruch's reading all of Jeremiah's warning
prophecies to the people at the temple. (Jeremiah 36:1-19.)


Scroll of Jeremiah Burned

While Baruch hurried back to Jeremiah, the officials went to
the king, hoping they could persuade him to prevent Jeremiah's
enemies from seizing the prophet, whom most of them believed was
a spokesman from God. On their way, they left Baruch's scroll in
the office of Elishama, the king's secretary.
"This Jeremiah is too intent upon upsetting my people!"
Jehoiakim muttered angrily after he heard what his visitors had
to say. "I want that scroll brought here and read to me! Then
I'll decide what to do, and I don't want any of you men trying to
talk me into helping this troublemaker!"
A little later one of Jehoiakim's men started reading aloud
from the scroll. The king sat glumly on a couch by a blazing open
hearth fire, necessary to offset the chill of a winter day. The
princes stood uncomfortably about, waiting to see how the king
would react to what he was hearing.
The reader had gone through only three or four columns of
Jeremiah's dreadful warnings when Jehoiakim sprang up and
snatched the scroll from the surprised aide. With his other hand
the king grabbed up the scribe's razor from a nearby table and
angrily cut the scroll to throw it into the fire. Then three of
the startled princes tried in vain to persuade the king not to
burn the scroll.
"You could be burning the very words of God!" one of the
three remonstrated.
The king wouldn't listen.
"I said no!" he scowled. "This dismal thing deserves to be
burned!"
The whole scroll was burned. (Jeremiah 36:20-25.)
The three officials who were concerned about the scroll were
Elnathan the son of Achbor and Gemariah the son of Shaphan
(Achbor and Shaphan were conscientious officials whom good King
Josiah had sent to confer with the prophetess Huldah -- Jeremiah
36:12, 25; II Kings 22:12-14) and Delaiah the son of Shemaiah,
who was probably the same Shemaiah who had contributed many
cattle to Josiah's great Passover sixteen years earlier. (II
Chronicles 35:9.) These men illustrate the importance of good
parental example and training.
Disappointed, all the princes departed. Then Jehoiakim sent
three of his officers to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch. But the two
were nowhere to be found. God had caused them to be warned
through the princes and had provided a secret place for hiding.
(Jeremiah 36:26.)
While more and more men futilely searched for the prophet
and his secretary, the king paced impatiently back and forth past
the ashes of the scroll. By then he was more troubled than angry.
He had heard read a prediction that the Babylonians (Chaldeans)
would soon attack Jerusalem. This was the startling statement
that had caused him to slash and burn the parchment.
Jeremiah and Baruch didn't waste their time while in hiding.
At God's command they began to prepare another scroll. This one
contained more details and added predictions, including one that
had to do with Jehoiakim.


Jehoiakim's Penalty

"Because the king of Judah has followed idolatry and has
spurned my warnings, he shall soon become a victim of the
Babylonians," God told Jeremiah. "Later, he shall come to a
shameful death. For him there will be no royal burial. His body
shall lie outside the walls to be covered by frost at night and
bloated by festering heat in the daytime. I shall also punish his
descendants, his servants and all the people of Judah who have
refused to listen to me." (Jeremiah 36:27-32.)
For a long time the prophet and his secretary managed to
remain concealed from the king's police. When the added prophecy
concerning his death eventually reached Jehoiakim, he was angrier
than ever and sent his men even outside of Jerusalem to seek for
Jeremiah and Baruch.
God had said it would happen. So it occurred one day that
part of the army of Babylon, commanded by one of King
Nebuchadnezzar's generals, set out for Judah.
When Jehoiakim heard that troops, chariots and cavalry were
pouring across the Jordan River in the region of Jericho, he
became undignifiedly excited.
"Send every man to his station on the wall fortifications!"
he shakily ordered his officers. "These pagan impostors can
perhaps overrun other cities of Judah, but don't let them take
Jerusalem!"
Jehoiakim didn't attempt any defense of the towns, villages
and farms in the path of the approaching enemy. He feared that
Judah's army would be defeated, leaving Jerusalem without enough
soldiers to fully man the gates and walls.
From the vantage point of the walls, the king and his men
could see the Babylonians long before they arrived. As they
spread out around the city, it appeared that their numbers were
less than had been reported crossing the Jordan.
"This is their whole army?" Jehoiakim asked.
"Surely not, sir," one of the officers answered. "Most of it
is probably still in Babylon. And there could be many thousands
of them concealed behind the hills off to the north."
Just as Jehoiakim was thinking that his army could probably
defeat the Babylonians who were within sight, a group of enemy
officers rode up perilously close to the archer-lined wall in
which were the main gates.
"We bring a message from the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar of
Babylon!" one of them yelled in Hebrew. "Our king has ordered us
to deliver it directly to Jehoiakim, your king! Either open the
gates immediately to let us in or send out your king with any and
all he wishes to accompany him!"
"Our king has nothing to discuss with invaders!" a Jewish
spokesman shouted back from the wall a few minutes later.
"By that you are admitting your king is a coward who is a
king over a nation of cowards!" the Babylonian bellowed back.
"We should have gone out to meet these dogs before they
reached Judah!" Jehoiakim angrily muttered to his officers.
To Jehoiakim's growing frustration, the Babylonian continued
his insults. Even people of the city who were out of range of his
voice learned what he was saying almost as soon as he said it.


Foolish Bravado

"Call my best warriors to accompany me!" the king of Judah
growled wrathfully. "I'll show my people that I have a few words
to say to these heathen!"
"Your words will CERTAINLY be few if you do that!" an
officer warned him. "Surely you aren't about to fall for their
scheme to get the gates open or capture you!"
"Just do as I tell you!" Jehoiakim snapped, glaring. "I'll
go out only a short way. If they dare approach, my archers and
lancers will bury them in spears and arrows!"
In spite of reminders from other officers that Jerusalem
might be lost if the gates were opened, Jehoiakim was intent on
having his way. To the gratification and surprise of the enemy,
the main gates of Jerusalem swung inward. Out rode Jehoiakim on a
handsome charger, surrounded closely by soldiers bristling with
bows, spears and swords. The moment they were outside the wall,
the gates slammed shut behind them and the huge bars thudded into
place.
Instantly Jehoiakim experienced a frantic feeling of being
cut off from safety. He was more aware of it when he heard the
swiftly increasing sound of horses' hoofs. Suddenly all was
confusion as he was knocked off his mount when his men, grouped
too closely around him, wildly struggled for room in which to
wield their weapons on the Babylonian cavalrymen who rushed them.
As the king of Judah regained his senses, he gradually
realized that he was among strangers. There were voices babbling
in a language he couldn't understand, and the painful pressure of
chains around his wrists, ankles and neck. Smirking, unfriendly
faces were poised over him.
"You are fortunate to be alive -- perhaps," one of the faces
told him in Hebrew. "Some of the soldiers with you were killed by
your own archers and spearmen on the wall. Some of my men lost
their lives too, but you owe your life to my men who managed to
bring you to this tent."
"Don't assume that I'm thankful to be your prisoner,"
Jehoiakim muttered bitterly. "Whatever it is that you require of
Judah can be discussed after I'm freed from these chains and
returned safely inside Jerusalem. Otherwise, my city will
disgorge a horde of fighting men who will wipe you out!"
"I can't believe that," the Babylonian general answered,
while his officers grinned knowingly. "While you were
unconscious, we threatened to kill you unless Jerusalem's gates
were opened to us. There was no response. Those chains will
remain on you during our trip back to Babylon. There you can
explain to our king why you've been paying tribute to a lesser
nation like Egypt instead of to Babylon. You'll have about two
months and hundreds of miles to think up some good answers."
That night the misery from his chains convinced Jehoiakim
that he wouldn't be able to bear weeks of such discomfort. Next
morning he asked for a chance to talk to the Babylonian
commander, who received him coldly. (II Chronicles 36:5-6.)
"If you're here to waste my time asking for some favor,
forget it," the Babylonian advised.


False Peace Purchased

"I'm here to suggest that we exchange favors," the king
said. "If you will release me to return safely inside Jerusalem,
I will give you any tribute for as long as you demand it."
"In that event, there would be no more tribute to Egypt,"
the commander finally replied. "You would have to swear full
allegiance to Babylon!"
This Jehoiakim eagerly did, but his eagerness faded when the
commander stated what Babylon would require as a regular tribute.
The king doubted that he would be able to meet such heavy demands
for very long, but he promised to comply because his life was at
stake.
"You have made your solemn commitments," the commander
reminded Jehoiakim. "Be warned now that if you fail in this
matter, my king will come to Judah to exact payment in the form
of ravaged cities and many Jewish lives! I shall carry out our
first part of the agreement by freeing you of your shackles."
At a signal from their commander, Jehoiakim's guards cut his
chains. As they rattled to the floor, the king felt that he could
breathe freely for the first time in many hours.
"And now for our next part of the agreement," the Babylonian
continued. "That is to depart from your land and allow you to
return inside your city. That we shall do as soon as you arrange
to get together the first tribute payment and have it delivered
to us here where our tents are pitched."
Jehoiakim was stunned. He had believed that Judah would
deliver the first payment by caravan some days later. Getting the
required items together on such short notice was impossible.
"Why do you look so startled?" the Babylonian inquired,
grinning slightly because of Jehoiakim's obvious misery. "Aren't
you prepared to deliver it?"
"Not right now. It would take several days to obtain some of
the items from scattered towns and farms," Jehoiakim explained.
"Then for this time we'll overlook things such as cattle and
sheep and foodstuffs and take the total amount in gold, silver
and brass. Surely you can easily obtain those items in your great
city."
"Let me return there safely, and I'll see that the required
amount is brought out to you." Jehoiakim said shakily, knowing
that he was in for much more trouble if the commander wouldn't
agree.
"If it isn't here by noon, my men will spread over your land
and we'll take it for ourselves by the sword!" the commander
warned, motioning for his prisoner to leave.
Tremendously relieved, but smarting under the indignity of
having to hike, unescorted, back to Jerusalem's gates, Jehoiakim
was further humiliated when he had to go to some length to
identify himself to guards before thousands of his people on the
walls. Once he was safely inside, there was cheering and applause
because of his return. But the people showed little enthusiasm
when Jehoiakim told them of his problem.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 146
TYRANNIZED BY BABYLON

THERE was loud cheering when the Babylonians released King
Jehoiakim and allowed him to re-enter Jerusalem. It would have
been much louder and more enthusiastic if Jehoiakim had been more
popular with his subjects and his soldiers, many of whom didn't
have much respect or admiration for him. Right away he called
together his officers and advisers. They all congratulated him on
his return, but few of them appeared overjoyed. Nor did they show
much enthusiasm when he told them of his problem.


The Temple Looted

"I want this thing done right now, even if you have to strip
the temple of its valuable utensils!" Jehoiakim roared, suddenly
angered by the situation. "Then I intend to find out who is
responsible for the decision that I should die by the hands of
the enemy while everyone else remained safely here!"
Long before noon the valuables from the temple were borne
out to the Babylonians, who would have been foolish to try to
charge through the gates while they were open. Shortly after the
tribute was delivered, the triumphant invaders took down their
tents and moved away to the north. (II Chronicles 36:5-7; Daniel
1:1-2.)
To all appearances it looked as though Judah -- and
Jehoiakim -- had come through another crisis. But there was
greater trouble and misery ahead, as the prophet Jeremiah was
still foretelling.
Jehoiakim was busy for months trying to weed out from his
government those in high offices who opposed him. At the same
time he tried to convince his people that he had done his part in
saving Judah from the Babylonians, and that from then on it was
their responsibility, if they wanted to remain free, to
contribute willingly all that was asked of them.
Two years dragged by, during which there were disturbing
reports that the king of Egypt was furious when he learned that
Jehoiakim had disavowed Egypt and had declared loyalty to
Babylon. There were also rumors that the Egyptians were mustering
and training an army superior to any they had raised before.
These things gave heavy concern to Jehoiakim, whose weakened
nation lay in a perilous location between the two great competing
powers. And because they had forsaken God for idols, God was not
helping Jehoiakim and his people. (Jeremiah 22:1-19.)
During those two years, and for quite a while afterward,
Jeremiah remained concealed, except to reliable friends. Several
old family friends had repeatedly befriended Jeremiah -- Delaiah
the son of Shemaiah, Elnathan the son of Achbor, and several sons
and grandsons of Shaphan the Scribe. (II Kings 22:8-13; Jeremiah
26:24; 29:1-3; 36:11-13, 25.) The king's police no longer sought
Jeremiah with their former fervor, although if any had come face
to face with the prophet, they would have arrested him.


Another Crisis

When it was about time to start equipping the caravans for
bearing the third year's tribute to Babylon, Jehoiakim realized
that he would have to make a decision. If he continued the heavy
payments, he would be making even more enemies in Judah. He would
also be running the risk of attack from the Egyptians, to whom he
preferred to give allegiance. But if he withheld the promised
tribute to the Babylonians, he could expect the threatened
ravaging of his nation.
Jehoiakim decided to withhold the payment. He hoped that he
could make a reconciliation with Egypt before the Babylonians
would bother to send an army to collect their dues. Mostly he
hoped that his overlords would consider the trip too costly, and
give it up.
Time passed. Babylon and Egypt were so busy sparring with
each other for supremacy that neither bothered to invade Judah
for a while. There was no word from Babylon, and no report from
Jewish spies in the Euphrates River region that any great number
of Babylonian troops had been seen moving west. The king of Judah
happily began to think that he had made the right move.
Then the unexpected happened. Fierce bands of well-armed
Syrians, Moabites and Ammonites, mounted on fine steeds, began to
make surprise night attacks on Judah's towns and villages. Murder
and looting grew by leaps and bounds. These attackers were too
fast and wily to be captured. Almost overnight much of Judah fell
into the power of the savage invaders, whose numbers increased
steadily. (II Kings 24:1-4.)
One morning, guards on Jerusalem's walls were startled to
see, with the first light, a large number of mounted soldiers at
a safe distance from the gate. They were being joined by many
other horsemen who resembled the raiding Syrians, Moabites and
Ammonites.
"Look at those cavalrymen they're joining!" a guard
exclaimed. "They're holding the flag of Babylon!"
The large Babylonian cavalry force was joined by many
Syrian, Moabite and Ammonite troops. Except for the Babylonians,
these were the soldiers who had been terrorizing people in many
small towns and villages in Judah. The Jews learned later that
these soldiers had been hired by Babylonians, and had gradually
left their homeland in such small bands that they weren't at
first considered a menace. Collectively, they comprised a
sizeable threat even to Jerusalem. Although they had no catapults
or battering rams, there were enough of them to bottle up the
city. (II Kings 24:1-4.)


A Desperate Plight

The sight of the invaders struck fear into Jehoiakim. This
was Nebuchadnezzar's stark answer to Jehoiakim's unwise decision
to hold back tribute. Now he would have to pay dearly for it. The
only possible way out was to rush troops against the invaders at
the risk of losing the city.
"We have urgent business with your king!" a Babylonian
officer bellowed in Hebrew. "Send him out to us -- NOW!
Otherwise, we'll rip through every unprotected village and farm
that hasn't already felt our swords!"
In the special wall lookout with his officers, Jehoiakim
heard and shuddered.
"If they do as they threaten, at least we'll get them away
from here," Jehoiakim observed unfeelingly.
Most of his officers -- the ones who had relatives and
property elsewhere in Judah -- openly glared at him.
"After they're out of sight, we could send troops after
them," a leading officer suggested.
"No!" Jehoiakim snapped. "I don't want any trouble with the
Babylonians!"
"No trouble?" the staff officer inquired incredulously.
"We've had nothing but trouble with them for weeks!"
"You know what I mean," the king answered irritably. "I
don't want to antagonize them. I don't even want the gates closed
against them. Go see that they're opened so that our visitors,
however warlike, won't consider Jerusalem an armed fort that has
to be besieged. I'll be in my quarters in the event our visitors
insist on coming inside to make their demands."
As Jehoiakim walked shakily out of the lookout, his officers
stared at him as though he had suddenly gone mad. Nevertheless,
the king's orders were carried out. The gates were opened to the
Babylonians, who soon took advantage of this surprising
opportunity to get inside the city.
"Before we go in, be sure that the gates are securely fixed
to remain wide open," the Babylonian commander instructed his
men. "We can't risk any part of us being trapped."


The King's Ignoble End

A small number of the invaders cautiously rode inside, while
hundreds of cavalrymen swarmed close to the gates, ready to dash
inside in the event of any resistance. The first thing the
Babylonian commander and his picked men intended to do was to
seize the king of Judah and hold him prisoner under threat of
death as an example of what would happen to anyone who failed to
pay tribute to the Babylonians.
But Jehoiakim, who had now realized that Jeremiah was right
about it being wise to cooperate with the Babylonians, was so
frightened that he hid himself. Only a few hours later he was
discovered.
The Babylonian commander was so irked by the time and
trouble used in ferreting out the king that he had Jehoiakim
tossed from one of the highest parts of the wall. They then
dragged his broken body outside the gates like a dead beast
without allowing a funeral to be held, much less a royal
interment.
"Let no one move or bury that carcass!" the Babylonian
commander shouted to his men.
For several warm days and cold nights the body of the king
of Judah lay outside Jerusalem, just as the prophet Jeremiah had
predicted. (Jeremiah 22:1-19; 36:27-31.) There were those in
Judah who wanted to give their king a royal burial, but the
invaders didn't allow Jehoiakim's body to be touched except by
insects, animals and vultures. Thus ended, at age thirty-six, the
life of a king who chose to ignore God and live according to his
cruel, selfish and pagan desires. (II Kings 24:5-6; II Chronicles
36:5-8.)
This was far from the end of trouble from the Babylonians,
who didn't feel that matters could be settled simply by a king's
death. Many Jewish nobles and men of high rank and ability were
also put to death. More than three thousand others were taken
captive and forced to march to Babylon, hundreds of miles
distant. (Jeremiah 52:24-28.) The stronger ones were made to help
carry valuable items plundered from the temple. Among the
prisoners was a young man by the name of Ezekiel.
Jehoiachin, eighteen-year old son of the late king, was
immediately made the next ruler of Judah. The Babylonians
impressed the young new king with the necessity of his regarding
them as absolute conquerors of Judah, and himself completely
subject to the will of the king of Babylon.
In spite of the circumstances, Jehoiachin followed in his
father's idolatrous ways and showed only disdain for Jeremiah's
warnings and advice. To make matters worse, he showed little
inclination to bow to the Babylonians, whose commander was so
incensed that he seriously considered doing away with the young
king of Judah. To add to his troubles, Nebuchadnezzar began to
fear that Jehoiachin might feel so strongly about his father's
death that he would lead his nation in a serious revolt against
the Babylonians.


A Woebegone Young King

Much to the surprise of Jehoiachin, the Babylonians
descended upon Jerusalem again and demanded its surrender.
Jehoiachin, hoping to avoid bloodshed, had the gates opened and
led his mother and his officials out in surrender. But the
Babylonians were not in a kindhearted mood. They quickly rounded
up and chained about ten thousand of the men of influence,
priests, leading craftsmen and best soldiers of Judah.
Jehoiachin's main cause of surprise was that he, his mother,
government dignitaries and his close friends were added to those
thousands.
Oblivious to wails of complaint and shouts for mercy, enemy
soldiers herded the captives outside the city. Stunned at this
sudden, dismaying turn of events, the young king dropped his
youthful dignity and loudly demanded to talk to the Babylonian
commander, who eventually rode to him on his richly outfitted
mount.
"When I was seized and put in chains, I was so surprised
that I was speechless!" Jehoiachin shouted indignantly,
struggling to hide his fear. "The least you can do, failing to
show due respect for a king, is explain what you intend to do
with us."
"We didn't explain because we wanted to spare your being
perturbed if you knew the facts," the Babylonian grinned. "Like
your father, you have failed to show the cooperation we expected.
You've been king for three months and ten days, yet you've made
no move to make the tribute payments your father withheld from
us. Our patience is at an end. The matter will be resolved by
taking you and these people of yours to our land, where we intend
to put all of you to good use. Besides, we'll take a fair amount
of your valuables."
Jehoiachin stared in unbelief. Finally he managed to express
himself.
"The king of Egypt will avenge this inhuman treatment!" was
the only thing he could think to say to try to impress the
commander.
"The king of Babylon would welcome the king of Egypt to try
it," the commander smiled. "If your father hadn't relied on
Egypt, but on Babylon instead, he would be safe on the throne of
Judah right now, and we wouldn't be here to take tribute from
you."
Jehoiachin continued staring, finally finding his voice for
the second time.
"You mentioned taking valuables," he said. "How can you take
valuables from us when you have already bled us dry of such
things?"
"There are still some items of great worth in your God's
temple," was the reply. "We won't leave here empty-handed."
What the unhappy Jehoiachin didn't know was that many
bundles of loot from the temple were already being packaged, to
be tossed over the wall and picked up by soldiers surrounding the
city. Much of this loot included gold stripped from the walls of
the temple.
Unwilling to talk any more with the frantic young king, the
Babylonian commander turned his horse about and rode off,
shouting orders to his men in their native tongue. Guards passed
among the prisoners, removing the heavy chains so that they could
carry items they were forced to bear.
The outlook of tramping over hundreds of miles of rough and
barren ground was a bleak one for Jehoiachin and his people, but
there was nothing to do now but comply. Even with proper
leadership and arms, the Jews wouldn't have dared move against
the Babylonians and their well-armed, superior numbers.


Babylonian Captivity

Only a fraction of the invaders were needed to take the Jews
east. The others, including most of the Babylonians, stayed in
their camps close to Jerusalem, where they still had unfinished
business. It was to direct the Jews in deciding what man would be
the next king. The Babylonians insisted that it should be
Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle.
"You will make him your king right away," the Babylonian
commander told the Jews. "If there is any delay, we shall take
more of you to Babylon. And because your new king will be
controlled by us, we shall start by changing his name. From now
on he is to be known as Zedekiah." (II Kings 24:8-13; II
Chronicles 36:9-10; Ezekiel 1:1-3.)
The dignitaries of Jerusalem and the representatives from
other areas solemnly and obediently carried out the ceremonies of
making Zedekiah king. The Babylonians were satisfied, having
investigated Zedekiah's political beliefs, and having been
informed that he wasn't in favor of any trade or diplomatic ties
with Egypt.
Zedekiah was fully aware why the Babylonians had chosen him
to be the next ruler of Judah. Actually he wasn't so much against
allying with Egypt as the Babylonians had been informed, but in
the weeks while the invaders still stayed around, he was very
careful to give them the impression that he would faithfully
please his master in all matters.
Convinced that Judah would turn out to be a profitable
vassal nation under Zedekiah's rule, the Babylonians and their
allies disappeared a8 abruptly as they had appeared many weeks
previously.
With the enemy obviously gone, people began moving in and
out of Jerusalem again. At last it was possible to learn the
extent of loss of people and property to the invaders. At least
eight thousand men and about two thousand women and children had
been taken captive. Seven thousand of the men were husky young
soldiers who could be used at hard labor. A thousand were skilled
workers in many crafts, especially smiths, so they couldn't make
more armaments for Judah. The Babylonians had purposely chosen
these capable men to deprive Judah of leadership in order to
better please King Nebuchadnezzar. (II Kings 24:14-17; Jeremiah
29:1-2.)
Soon a few neighboring nations, including Egypt, heard what
had happened to Judah. Their leaders were quite concerned that
Judah's army hadn't been used effectively. They sent
representatives to Jerusalem to try to convince Zedekiah that
their nations intended to stand fast against Babylon, and that if
Judah would join them, the combined forces of the western nations
could successfully hold out against any attacks by Babylon.


Jeremiah's Warning Ignored

Despite what had occurred in his country, Zedekiah began to
seriously consider what these men had to say. It was so difficult
for him to come to a decision that he sent for his prophets to
ask their advice. He knew about Jeremiah, but because he
continued in idolatry practiced by the kings preceding him, he
didn't want anything to do with a prophet of God.
"Egypt is growing in strength," the false prophets reminded
their king. "So are the other nearby nations. It would be wiser
to be friendly with neighboring nations than try to please one so
distant."
Jeremiah was perturbed when he heard how the king's prophets
had advised him, and how Zedekiah had decided to stop sending
tribute to Babylon. He sent a message to the king, telling him
that his prophets were wrong, and that it would be a fatal move
for Judah to break the agreement with the Babylonians. (Jeremiah
27:1-22.) The king's prophets were naturally angered at
Jeremiah's warning to Zedekiah, even though Jeremiah was ignored.
One of them, Hananiah, publicly declared at the temple that God
had spoken to him there, assuring him that Babylon had passed the
peak of power, would rapidly weaken from then on, and within two
years wouldn't have enough strength to ward off nations that
attacked. Hananiah furthermore contended that God had told him
that Jehoiachin and all the Jewish prisoners would be returned to
Judah, along with all the treasures that had been taken from the
temple. (Jeremiah 28:1-4.)
"Under these circumstances, what foolishness it would be to
continue sending our much-needed wealth to a pagan nation
hundreds of miles away!" Hananiah shouted to the crowd. "If
Jeremiah, who calls himself a prophet, wants to be a subject of
King Nebuchadnezzar, we'll not prevent him from walking to
Babylon!"
Now that Jehoiakim was dead and Jehoiachin taken captive,
Jeremiah was again free to come and go as he wished. God had
instructed him to make wooden yokes, or collars, symbolical of
servitude, to send to the heads of the nations which wished to
rebel against Babylon. They were to be reminders that they were
going to remain as vassals to Babylon or be punished by God
through the Babylonians. Jeremiah was told to wear one of the
collars as a reminder to everyone who saw him. (Jeremiah 27:2.)


Jeremiah Ridiculed

Jeremiah was in the temple when Hananiah made his speech. In
spite of his being the object of laughter caused by the false
prophet's snide closing remark, he walked up to speak to
Hananiah.
"I wish you were right. It would be good if our people could
return and the temple properties were restored. A prophet will
prove to be a true one if he teaches what is in Scripture and if
he warns of an event, and the event comes to pass at the given
time. I say that Babylon won't fall for many years, but will in
fact once again take Jerusalem. As for our people who have been
taken away, they shall remain slaves for many more years!"
(Jeremiah 28:5-9, 13, 14.)
Hananiah glared at Jeremiah, then reached out to vigorously
yank the wooden collar from the prophet's neck and smash it on
the floor.
"Nebuchadnezzar's yoke of bondage on all nations will be
broken like that within two years!" he called out to the crowd as
Jeremiah walked away.
At another time when Hananiah was at the temple trying to
convince more people that God had revealed the future to him,
Jeremiah stood up and accused him of lying. He declared that God
would punish him by taking his life within a year. Hananiah made
a great display of indignation to try to hide his embarrassment
and fright. Within less than two months Hananiah was dead. Many
people, including the king, were sobered by this event. (Jeremiah
28:1, 10-17.)
Nevertheless, Zedekiah persisted in turning against Babylon
and in continuing in idolatry. Meanwhile, Jeremiah faithfully
kept on informing the people of dire warnings from God. He also
wrote letters to the Jewish captives in Babylonia, encouraging
them to keep up family life and bring up children for a time when
liberation would come. (Jeremiah 29:1-14.) Among the captives who
were happy to hear from Jeremiah was Ezekiel, later chosen by God
as one of the great prophetic writers.
The beginning of the end started for Judah with a paralyzing
report to Zedekiah that a massive army was crossing the Jordan
above the Dead Sea with King Nebuchadnezzar as commander!
(Jeremiah 39:1.)
----------------------------------------

Chapter 147
SIEGE -- WARNING -- DEFIANCE -- GRIEF!

KING ZEDEKIAH of Judah trembled with a fear he had never known
before when he heard that a mighty Babylonian army was
approaching his nation. About all he could do, outside of barking
out a few frantic commands, was to regret his unwise decision to
rebel against the king of Babylon and to curse all who had
influenced him to make it. (II Kings 24:20; 25:1; II Chronicles
36:9-13.)


Besieged!

The people of Jerusalem were fearfully amazed at the numbers
of troops and cavalry that moved in around the city. There were
also many chariots and a few formidably huge catapults and
battering rams on wheels. All this proved that Nebuchadnezzar
intended to make every effort and use every means to take the
capital. If he should succeed, it would mean a quick end to the
whole nation.
Days passed and there was no attack. There was only a strong
voice from the Babylonian camp, occasionally exhorting the Jews
to open the gates and come out peaceably to save themselves or
eventually die from lack of food.
Lack of food, however, wasn't a matter of great concern to
the Jews. There were vast stores of foodstuffs in the city --
enough to last for months. And as long as the enemy remained
unaware of the source of their underground water supply, there
would be no problem there.
Days added up to weeks, and weeks turned into months. From
time to time the Babylonians tried to get their hooks and rope
ladders fastened to the wall tops under cover of darkness, but
showers of arrows, spears and rocks always wiped out the would-be
intruders.
The enemy also tried using the battering rams, but those who
manned them died by Jewish weapons before the rams could reach
the gates. To try to even the score, the invaders hurled boulders
over the walls with their catapults. But this was done only with
a heavy loss of men, because the catapults had to be moved within
the Jews' arrow range. Otherwise, the boulders merely smashed
ineffectively low against the walls.
As the tempo of these exchanges was stepped up over the
months, it became alarmingly obvious to the Jews that their food
supply was diminishing much faster than they had thought it
would. In the first place, they hadn't believed that the
Babylonians would stay so long.
The enemy needed food and water, too, but it was available
simply by raiding nearby farms and villages. Outside of
unforeseen circumstances, it was possible for the Babylonians to
stay for years. Comfortable in his huge, elaborately furnished
tent, Nebuchadnezzar had no intention of moving until the Jews
were starved into submission.
Now that food finally had to be severely rationed, Jeremiah
made another appeal to Zedekiah to save himself and his people by
going out and surrendering to Nebuchadnezzar.
"God has told me that if you do this thing," Jeremiah wrote
to the king, "the Babylonians will spare our lives. But if you
wait until they have to force their way in, there will be much
bloodshed because you have broken your promise to the Babylonians
and are refusing even to ask for mercy." (Jeremiah 21:8-14.)
Of course this angered Zedekiah, even though he was almost
convinced that the prophet was right. There were moments when he
was on the verge of taking Jeremiah's advice.
To add to the miseries of Jerusalem's inhabitants, a
contagious sickness developed. As usual, the poorer people and
refugees living in squalid conditions suffered most, though few
of any class escaped the weakening illness. Even Zedekiah
suffered because of his profound personal troubles.
"Whoever failed to lay in a larger supply of my favorite
wines isn't going unpunished!" he warned complainingly.


Is the Siege Lifted?

Conditions rapidly became more serious. Soldiers were given
the largest rations, but the limited amount of food wasn't
sufficient to keep them fit. The immediate future appeared so
dismal that many people began to repent of their wrong ways and
to try to make up for them at the last moment. One matter that
especially reached the Jewish conscience was the over-holding of
servants. One of God's laws was that bondservants should have
their freedom after six years of service. (Deuteronomy 15:12-15.)
Many masters had held their servants well past the release time,
even though Zedekiah had made a public reminder that they should
be given their freedom in the seventh year, which was in progress
at that time. Almost overnight there was much relinquishing of
servants, who were given the legally required money, valuables
and property to get them started on their own just when their
futures appeared impossible.
With the city on the brink of disaster, God once again
instructed Jeremiah to warn Zedekiah of what would soon happen.
This time the prophet was to give the warning in person. The king
was surprised that Jeremiah had the courage to come to his palace
and trouble him with more disturbing pronouncements.
"God has sent me to you with more reminders of what is about
to occur," Jeremiah began. "He wants you to be convinced that
because of our national sins, the Babylonians will succeed in
entering and burning this city and slaughtering many. You shall
attempt to escape, but you shall be captured and taken by King
Nebuchadnezzar, who shall send you to Babylon to die. Perhaps you
will be relieved to learn that you shall be afforded an honorable
and ceremonious funeral -- in Babylon. It would be wise to
consider these things. There is still time to save many lives by
surrendering to the Babylonians." (Jeremiah 34:1-7.)
If Zedekiah hadn't had a deep secret fear of God he
preferred to conceal, he might have signaled his guards to seize
the prophet. Instead, he motioned them to escort Jeremiah safely
from the palace.
Things became so intolerable in Jerusalem that many were
considering joining together to force open the gates and rush out
to the besiegers. This would probably have been at least
attempted had it not been for a puzzling turn of events. One
morning it was noted that there was a great stir in the
Babylonian camps. Tents came down. Within a short while troops,
cavalry and chariots were moving off to the south! (Jeremiah
37:5.)
The Jews couldn't believe their eyes. Or ears, because the
huge army created quite a clatter as it departed. Greatly
perplexed, weakly jubilant but very suspicious, they reasoned
that this might be a ruse to lure them out in search of food, and
that the enemy might suddenly return to slaughter any who left
the city. Hours passed. Finally bands of Jewish soldiers ventured
out to hurry to nearby farms and villages to try to find food.
One might imagine that there would be a mass rush to get out of
Jerusalem, but most were afraid to leave and many were too ill or
too weak.


The End of Repentance

The sudden change of events caused some changes in
Zedekiah's attitude. The miserable, subdued feeling that had been
growing on him almost fell away. He was relieved to be able to
more freely believe that Jeremiah's gloomy prophecies weren't
necessarily going to take place.
There were other changes in the attitudes of some other
people in Jerusalem. Now that it appeared that the crisis had
passed, most of those who had freed their servants rounded them
up and put them back at their menial work. Besides, they took
back the money, valuables and property they had given them at a
time when it appeared that these things might not have any future
value to the givers. (Jeremiah 34:8-11.)
There had been much praying and repenting taking place in
Jerusalem in recent days, but now much of this came to a halt
with those who assumed that the city was again free and that food
would soon be available.
Everyone was intensely curious about what had caused the
Babylonians to leave and where they had gone. Zedekiah was
anxious to know the answers. He sent scouts to follow the plain
path of the moving army. The scouts' failure to return was
evidence that the invaders didn't wish to allow themselves to be
followed. Though the king's belief in Jeremiah had been shaken,
he was certain that the prophet would know more about what was
going on than anyone else.
"I want you to go to Jeremiah and tell him that I would like
him to pray for the safety of Jerusalem and the people," Zedekiah
instructed two men of high rank and reputation. "When he learns
that I'm asking for his help, he might give encouraging
information without your having to ask, whereas if you question
him, he'll likely say nothing or start giving nothing but
horrible predictions." (Jeremiah 37:1-3.)
"I am surprised that our king has sent you to ask me to pray
for Jerusalem," Jeremiah told Zedekiah's representatives after
they announced the reason for their call. "My prayers wouldn't be
very effective while the people of Jerusalem and the king prefer
not to do things God's way.
"What Zedekiah really wants right now is to learn where the
Babylonians have gone and if they're coming back. He would also
be pleased to hear that I have been wrong in my predictions. I
have not been wrong. Everything I have mentioned will come to
pass.
"The Babylonians have gone to meet the Egyptian army, which
set out days ago for Jerusalem with the intention of driving off
the besiegers. Even now the two armies are confronting each
other. The Egyptians shall flee back to their nation, and the
Babylonians shall return at once to again surround Jerusalem.
"This time they'll enter and burn the city. God has told me
that even if Judah's soldiers should severely wound every enemy
soldier, He would still see to it that the Babylonians would
miraculously rise up and carry out the divine intention that
Jerusalem should be destroyed!" (Jeremiah 37:4-10.)
Zedekiah was surprised, troubled and angered when he heard
what Jeremiah had to say. He had no trouble believing that the
Babylonians had gone to meet the Egyptians in battle, but he
wanted to doubt that the Egyptians would be defeated.


False Accusations

In those few days of respite from the besiegers, there was
heavy traffic through Jerusalem's gates, even though most of the
inhabitants feared to-venture out. Those who came and went were
mostly those searching desperately for food. Only a small amount
was brought in, because the enemy had already scoured nearby
regions for it.
Jeremiah was among those headed out of the city. He had
important business to take care of in a small town close by. He
would have preferred to go there and stay, inasmuch as he
believed there would be greater safety there than in Jerusalem,
but he didn't plan to leave his friends and Baruch his secretary.
As he approached the gates, an officer stepped out to block his
way.
"I know you are Jeremiah," the officer said. "I also know
that you are deserting to the Babylonians. You're probably going
to them right now with some kind of information!"
"Not at all," Jeremiah calmly explained. "I am on my way to
the town of Anathoth to take care of some personal business."
"Sure you are!" the officer exclaimed mockingly. "That
personal business is with the enemy, but I'm going to spoil your
plan. Come with me!"
With a sharp sword pointing toward his ribs, the prophet
didn't have much choice of directions in which to go. In a few
minutes he realized that he was being taken to the king's palace.
"I think I know you," Jeremiah observed as he strode briskly
along in front of his captor. "Aren't you Irijah, a grandson of
one of the king's prophets, Hananiah?"
"I am," the officer replied with a grim grin. "I'm sure you
remember predicting my grandfather's death. Obviously, you begged
your God to bring this about so that you could gain the king's
trust. Now I'm going to even the score by turning you in as a
traitor to Judah, caught in the act of sneaking off to the
enemy!"
In a courtroom in the royal palace, Jeremiah was taken
before some of the princes of Judah, who were angry with him
because he was advocating that Judah should surrender to Babylon
instead of relying on Egypt. They displayed their feelings by
taking turns viciously slapping him in the face. Irijah stood by,
greatly enjoying the cruel performance. Finally he walked into
the milling group and seized the prophet.
"This man is ill!" he quipped. "He needs a long rest. I know
just the place for him. It's in the home of Jonathan the court
secretary next door -- in the dungeon!" (Jeremiah 37:11-15.)
Jeremiah was jailed there. It was a cold, dank,
rodent-infested cell with barely enough light to see by, and only
in the daytime. The prophet endured the misery of this filthy
place until the king heard what had happened to him, which was
several days later. Zedekiah was irked because this thing had
been done without his knowledge. The possibility that Jeremiah's
God would be angered worried him. A short while later the prophet
was enjoying warmth and food in the king's private quarters.


Temporary Relief

"This doesn't mean that I'm releasing you from prison," the
king said. "It could depend on what you have to tell me. Has your
God had anything more to tell about the Babylonians?"
"He has," Jeremiah replied, thankfully masticating one of
the few bits of food before him.
"Then tell me, man!" Zedekiah impatiently commanded, hoping
that there might be some encouraging predictions for a change.
"God told me again that the Babylonians shall surely capture
you!"
Zedekiah clapped his hands to his head and frowned at
Jeremiah, who stood up and faced him.
"What great offense have I committed against you or anyone
in Judah that I should be imprisoned?" the prophet asked. "Was it
wrong of me to stand against your lying prophets, who insisted
that Nebuchadnezzar would never come against Judah? Because I
have tried to help Judah by proclaiming God's warnings, why
should I die in the filth of the dungeon below the house of
Jonathan the court scribe? I've not asked for any favors before,
my king, but now I'm entreating you to spare me from being sent
back to a place where a human being can't live very long!"
Jeremiah was risking stirring up the king's ire by what
Zedekiah might consider complaint and criticism, but the prophet
knew that it would probably be his only opportunity to speak out
on his own behalf. The king said nothing for a few moments. Than
he called to a guard.
"Take this man back to prison!" he instructed.
The guard motioned curtly to Jeremiah, whose hopes for a few
more days of life sank with the king's orders.
"Don't return him to the dungeon where he was," Zedekiah
added, "Put him in the main prison in a cell adjoining the jail
court so he can have a daily walk. And tell the jailer that I
want this man to receive clean water and a piece of bread every
day as long as it is available." (Jeremiah 37:16-21.)
Although Jeremiah was very grateful for the better cell with
more light, as well as more hope for living, it was still
miserable to be cooped up.


From Terrible to Worse

As Zedekiah expected, the princes of Judah who had hoped for
Jeremiah's slow death in the dungeon were quite irritated on
learning what the king had done. They came to him to complain
that the prophet's continued statements about a Babylonian
victory were spoiling the Jewish soldiers' will to fight.
"This man is a valuable tool of the enemy," they told the
king. "As long as he is alive, whether in or out of prison, he'll
have an undermining effect on the morale of our army. But once it
becomes known that he no longer lives, the soldiers will conclude
that his God didn't care enough about his rantings to back them
up by sparing his life. A dead prophet doesn't have much
influence."
Zedekiah had enough worries without being at odds with his
counsellors, the princes. He wanted to spare Jeremiah because he
secretly feared God, but at the same time he wanted to avoid
trouble by not offending the princes.
"I am not convinced that Jeremiah deserves death," Zedekiah
told the princes, "but I am weary of this conflict you are having
with him. Whatever you do now I won't oppose. It's up to you if
you want his blood on your heads."
Only a little later Jeremiah saw his jailer approaching,
presumably to bring his daily ration of bread and water. But
instead of passing food to his inmate, he unchained the door bar,
pulled the heavy door back and motioned to Jeremiah to step out.
Another man appeared carrying a coil of rope. Jeremiah walked
along between them, as he was ordered, through several dismal
passages and down some stone steps. They stopped at last in a
dingy stone room with a wide, dark hole in the floor. It was so
dark in the hole that Jeremiah couldn't see anything but
blackness in it. With no word of explanation, the men tied the
rope around Jeremiah's chest and pushed him into the dark hole.
Little by little he was lowered into the gloom. Suddenly he felt
the chill of cold mud oozing up around his feet and legs. The
rope slackened, allowing him to sink gradually into the slimy
mire! (Jeremiah 38:1-6.)
----------------------------------------

Chapter 148
ORDEAL BY SIEGE

FORCIBLY LOWERED into the deep mire of a dungeon pit in the
prison at Jerusalem, Jeremiah could feel himself gradually
sinking. The more he struggled, the deeper he sank. His shouts
for help were futile. (Jeremiah 38:1-6.) Now that his eyes had
become adjusted to the gloom, he could see that the men who had
brought him there, at the orders of the princes, had departed and
left him helpless in a stinking cesspool.


A Noble Ethiopian

One of King Zedekiah's trusted attendants, an Ethiopian by
the name of Ebed-melech, happened to learn what had happened to
Jeremiah through men who were discussing the prophet's plight and
were greatly amused by it. This black man was one of the king's
favorite officials because he was alert, intelligent,
conscientious and had proved himself trustworthy. Being a fervent
follower of God, he was shocked that God's servant should be
treated so cruelly. He hurried and reported the incident to his
master, even though he realized that the king, an idolater, might
not wish to be bothered by the matter.
"Those responsible have done an evil thing that could cause
more misery to fall on Jerusalem," Ebed-melech respectfully
suggested to Zedekiah. "There is no more bread left to keep
Jeremiah from starving, but unless he is rescued soon, he could
die in a much shorter time by smothering in the mire of the
cesspool!"
Although Zedekiah had told the princes that he wouldn't
interfere with their depraved treatment of Jeremiah, he was so
angered by the way they were trying to cause the prophet's death
that he decided to step in again to save him.
"Do what you can to rescue that man and bring him back to
the cell where he was," the king instructed that trusted aide.
"Just don't try anything by yourself. I'll give you thirty palace
guards to help protect you from any trouble you run into."
The first thing Ebed-melech did was obtain ropes and an
armful of old rags. When he and the thirty men arrived at the
pit, they let the ends of the ropes down to Jeremiah and tried to
pull the prophet up. But he had sunk up to his shoulders, and
pulling him created a suction that held him so firmly that the
pressure under his arms was quite painful. The Ethiopian had
expected this difficulty. Tossing the rags to Jeremiah, he called
down to him to stuff them between his arms and the ropes, so that
the men could pull harder without hurting him too seriously.
After the prisoner was lifted to freedom from the miry trap,
Ebedmelech saw to it that he had an opportunity to bathe and put
on clean clothes before being taken back to his cell. He also
managed to bring him a little food. (Jeremiah 38:7-13.)
Following a rest, the prophet was surprised to be taken to a
room in the temple, where Zedekiah was waiting to talk privately
with him.
"You've told me before what you believe will take place here
soon," the king said. "Now I'm asking you to tell me again,
including anything that's new or anything you've withheld, and
what I should do."
"I've angered you many times by what I've said," Jeremiah
observed, shaking his head. "If I say anymore, how do I know but
what you'll become so angry that you'll have me beheaded? As for
advice, you won't accept any from me."


Zedekiah's Half-Strong Promise

Zedekiah wanted to be thought of as strong and a doer of
good. But he had refused to repent and he was afraid of his
political advisers. He glanced quickly around to make sure that
he and Jeremiah were alone, then moved a step closer to the
prophet.
"I swear that no matter what you have to say, I will not put
you to death," the king earnestly declared. "Neither will I turn
you over to anyone who seeks your life. May God end mine if there
is no truth in what I say."
Zedekiah's sincerity was evident to Jeremiah, who decided to
give the king a complete account of what would soon happen.
"What I have to say isn't anything I've made up," the
prophet explained. "This is what the one and only God has
revealed to me. To begin, King Nebuchadnezzar is no longer in
Judah. He and part of his army have gone to the city of Riblah in
Syria. The whole Babylonian army has defeated the Egyptians, who
have fled back to their country. The victors haven't pursued them
because they are anxious to return here and continue the siege of
Jerusalem.
"You would be wise to go out and surrender to
Nebuchadnezzar's generals. If you do, you will save your life and
the lives of many others, and the city won't be burned. If you
don't, the enemy will break down the walls, pour into Jerusalem
and set fire to it. Many people will be slaughtered. Many will be
captured -- including you and your family!"
"Months ago I turned against the Babylonians," Zedekiah said
after a period of thought. "Now if I suddenly surrender, and have
to join my countrymen who are already prisoners in Babylonia,
they will never cease mocking me." (Jeremiah 38:14-19.)
"If you surrender, that won't happen," the prophet pointed
out. "It could happen if you are captured, but I doubt the
Babylonians would let you live that long. I implore you, sir, to
bury your pride and save yourself and your people! If you refuse,
you will be mocked by the women of your harem, who will seek
safety by willingly turning themselves over to Babylonian
officers. The children you have had by these women will become
slaves to the enemy!" (Jeremiah 38:20-23.)
Zedekiah swallowed nervously, still afraid to trust God,
although he wanted to help God's prophet. He glanced cautiously
about, then stared earnestly at the prophet.
"Don't tell anyone else what you have told me today," he
warned. "Keep silent about these things, and I'll keep my promise
that you won't die by my order or at the order of the princes. If
they ask you if you talked to me, and tell you that they'll see
that you live if you tell them what we talked about, tell them
that you wanted me to spare your life, and I promised that you
wouldn't be taken back to that dungeon under Jonathan's house."


Evil Princes Outsmarted

At a gesture by the king, Jeremiah's guards, waiting at a
respectful distance, approached and escorted the prophet back to
his cell. It wasn't long before he was visited by the princes,
who had been informed of his meeting with Zedekiah, and who hoped
to learn if he had made any kind of contact with the Babylonians
through Jeremiah.
"Tell us about the conversation you had with the king at the
temple, and we'll do what we can to see that you are freed from
this place," one of them told Jeremiah.
"I told the king that I don't deserve to be put back in a
dungeon where it isn't possible to keep on living," Jeremiah
answered. "He assured me that I wouldn't die by his hand or
yours."
This reply didn't tell the prophet's visitors much, but it
caused them to confer among themselves.
"The king must have a good reason for sticking up so
staunchly for this fellow," one of them remarked.
"Whatever it is," another said, "I don't think this
miserable prophet has the ability to be a spy for the Babylonians
or a secret messenger for the king -- especially as long as he's
behind bars. Let's leave him where he is and, for the present,
forget about him."
Jeremiah drew a breath of relief as he watched his visitors
stride away. (Jeremiah 38:24-28.)
Just as the prophet had told Zedekiah, most of the mighty
Babylonian army soon returned to Jerusalem, whose inhabitants
fearfully realized that they were woefully unprepared for another
siege -- even a short one. Food had been difficult to obtain.
There was never enough to stock for the future. In spite of the
many days the siege had been lifted, many people were on the
verge of starvation. Besides, sickness was still taking its toll.
Frenzy and dismay settled on the inhabitants. Even while the
enemy was still miles away, excited men slammed the gates shut
and barred and reinforced them with huge props. Anyone who
happened to be on the outside was cut off from returning.
"Let no one in from now on!" was the order. "They could be
Babylonian spies or soldiers disguised as Jewish food deliverymen
or even as our troops!"
As for the king, he knew that he didn't have long to make up
his mind what to do, though probably his decision would be simply
determined by what he wanted to do, regardless of the
consequences. For the time being, he was busily conferring with
his officers who were frantically organizing their soldiers for
defense.


The Ethiopian Honored

Again the Babylonians spread out around the city, pitching
tents at a safe distance. They built corrals for their horses and
for the livestock they had taken on their way back from their
victorious encounter with the Egyptians. It was obvious that they
were determined to take up where they had left off, and were
prepared to stay for a longer period than the city could hold
out.
When Jeremiah heard of the return of the enemy, he managed
to get word to Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian, to come to his cell.
The black man came at once, wondering if the prophet needed his
help again, but he received a more pleasant surprise.
"I have some good news for you from God," Jeremiah told him.
"He has asked me to inform you that because you have put your
trust in Him and have obeyed His laws, there is no need for you
to fear the Babylonians. You won't be wounded or killed by them."
(Jeremiah 39:15-18.)
Thankful for this encouraging information, Ebed-melech went
back to his duties, one of the few people in Jerusalem who could
harbor any hope under the fearful threat of the Babylonians.
Within only a few days many of the city's inhabitants were
so desperate for food that they were forced to consume animals
that weren't meant for man to eat. Horses, donkeys, cats, dogs
and even rats and mice became common fare. When these items were
exhausted and the final stages of starvation set in, a few people
secretly resorted to the horrible, grisly pursuit of cannibalism.
Possibly these miserable humans would have preferred to give
themselves up to the Babylonians, but no one was allowed outside
the walls. The misery and death could have been prevented if one
man, the king, had walked through the gates and given himself up
to the besiegers. (Jeremiah 21:1-10; 32:23-24; 38:17.)
While matters were worsening inside the city, things were
changing on the outside. Using teams of chariot horses, the
Babylonians brought load after load of soil as close to the wall
as they could safely come under cover of their own shielding. As
the days passed, the loads of soil grew into rising mounds that
eventually became as high as the walls they faced.
Under cover of careful but difficult shielding, the invaders
dumped much more soil over the mounds on the wall side, thus
extending the mounds closer and closer to the walls.
Fortifications were built atop some of the higher mounds so that
it was possible for Babylonian soldiers to face
Jewish wall guards at the same height, and well within range of
spears and arrows. Huge catapults were pushed up other mounds,
making it possible for boulders to be easily hurled to the wall
tops and even beyond.


Final Phase of Siege

After some months of struggling under the lethal handicap of
soaring spears, hissing arrows and catapulted hot boulders, the
Babylonians managed to finish the fortified mounds that were part
of their plan of attack. Early one morning the Jews on the wall
tops were startled to see that the mounds were fully manned. More
ominous was the sight of battering rams on wheels, soon
surrounded by burly troops with especially wide shields.
The Babylonians had obviously been prepared to attack with
the first sufficient light of day. The shrill blowing of horns
and loud shouting caused much excitement and stir among the men
on the walls. They didn't know exactly what to expect, but when
they saw the huge battering rams rapidly advancing toward the
walls, they realized that this wasn't going to be a matter of
simply killing off one Babylonian ram crew after another.
Jewish archers and spearmen swarmed to the wall edge to
discharge their weapons down on the troops rushing forward with
the weighty rams, only to find themselves the targets of spears
and arrows from the nearby Babylonian fortifications. After their
one fusillade, which wasn't very effective against the wide,
horizontally held shields of the enemy ram crews, the Jewish
archers and spearmen were forced to dodge for shelter.
To add to their peril, Babylonian catapults bombarded the
wall tops with smashing boulders, some of them nearly red hot.
The conflict had hardly begun, but it was obvious that the Jews
were going to have a difficult struggle in defending their
capital.
The long, heavy rams, pushed by the running Babylonians,
slammed noisily against the walls, cracking the stone and mortar.
As quickly as possible the crews dragged their mammoth weapons
back out of spear and arrow range, where fresh crews took over
and aimed the rams into the cracked areas. This time, sizeable
chunks of stone fell away under the crashing blows of the iron
noses of the log shaped hammers. The walls were being pierced!
It was yet a long way through the walls, but the encouraged
invaders kept the rams in action. With each thunderous blow, more
of the stones cracked and fell away, constantly enlarging the
openings. This limited success cost many Babylonian lives.
Comrades on the mound fortifications weren't able to entirely
prevent the Jews from hurling or shooting their share of
missiles.
Killed and wounded on both sides were immediately dragged
off and replaced, inasmuch as there was only limited space for
soldiers, and neither side could afford to lessen its efforts.
The frantic struggle was made grimmer by screams and groans of
men in pain, the hissing of arrows and boulders, the thuds of
spears against wood, stone and flesh, the pounding of the rams,
the shouts of excited officers and the general clatter of this
unusual kind of battle.
The frantic pace had to lessen when twilight came, and stop
completely when darkness set in. This was to the advantage of
both sides. They could rest and prepare to continue the battle
next morning. Neither side could gain much of an advantage during
darkness.


The Walls Breached!

It was almost impossible for Jewish officers to tell how
much damage had been done to the walls. They couldn't look down
and determine the size or depth of the gouged-out holes, although
several soldiers on the wall top claimed that the rams' metal
noses had appeared to penetrate several yards during the last
attacks.
When Zedekiah heard this report, he was gripped with fear.
For a time he considered a personal surrender to the enemy as
soon as morning came. Then he reasoned that it would be the same
as suicide to expose himself during a continued battle, and
decided that the wisest course would be to gather his family
together, if worst came to worst, and try to escape from the city
by a secret exit known only to a few.
At dawn the attack and defense were resumed with greater
fury. For a while the Babylonians greatly deepened the breaches
in the walls. Progress was later slowed when some of the ram
trucks began to fall apart from rough usage. Some of them had to
be withdrawn. Others were put to work in teams, so that the
deepening breaches would become wider. One of the rams was
finally applied to a gate. The unshatterable hardwood proved to
be tougher than stone. However, when bolts and iron straps
started to shake loose, the attackers decided to continue.
That afternoon, despite their reverses, the Babylonians
completely broke through the wall at one point. About the same
time, the battered gate began to fall loose. The invaders kept up
the hammering because they wanted the openings to be wide enough
to admit several men at once. They knew that if they tried to
enter single file, the Jews could easily pick them off.


The King Deserts

When Zedekiah learned that the enemy was about to try to get
troops into the city, he excitedly ordered some officials,
attendants and servants to prepare to accompany certain members
of his family in swift departure. All his wives and children
weren't included because there were some with whom he didn't care
to be burdened. The more in the party, the less chances of escape
there would be.
Accompanied by picked guards, the king and the chosen part
of his family rushed to a secret passage which took them under
the north wall of the city. It emerged in a bouldery area
uncomfortably close to a part of the line of Babylonians
encircling Jerusalem. Darkness was coming on, making it possible
for the escapers to quietly move from boulder to boulder until
all reached a ravine out of sight of the enemy. Just then the
sound of many voices welled up from the city, indicating that the
invaders were inside and clashing with the defenders. (II Kings
25:1-4; Jeremiah 29:1-4.)
For a few moments the king paused to listen to the frenzied
sounds of battle, then turned on his intended way to safety in
Egypt. He was resigned to the painful loss of his nation and
city, but he exulted in having escaped from the enemy. Terror
would have replaced exultation if he could have known what would
happen in the next few hours.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 149
JUDAH FALLS APART

KING ZEDEKIAH of Judah escaped from Jerusalem just before the
Babylonians broke into the city. The king and part of his
immediate family, accompanied by a remnant of his army, hurried
on through the darkness on their intended way to safety in Egypt.
(II Kings 25:1-4.)


Zedekiah's Flight Ends

"We can't go on walking like this," Zedekiah complained to
an aide. "We need animals to ride on, especially for the women
and small children."
"I'm sorry, sir, but it would be most unwise to allow anyone
to see us," the troubled aide explained, "for if we tried to
obtain horses or donkeys from anyone living around here we would
be seen. If we leave as much as one small clue to show the
direction which we have escaped, we would be inviting the enemy
to swiftly overtake us."
The king didn't like to be corrected in this manner, though
he knew the aide was right. There was no choice but to move on
through the darkness as quickly and quietly as possible.
Back in Jerusalem, the Babylonians streamed through the
breach in the wall and through the broken gate in such numbers
that most of the would-be defenders fled and hid themselves
wherever they could. They were ferreted out and slain, though not
without casualties to the invaders, who blundered into ambushes.
Even the temple was searched, where only priests, their helpers
and a small crowd of fearful worshippers were found. Zedekiah's
palace had already been overrun. Of course the king and his royal
guard weren't found there. This was disappointing to the
Babylonians, whose search then became doubly intense. Every
building, room, passage, corridor and stairway they could find
was combed.
"We've searched even down in the prison dungeons," an
officer soon reported to one of Nebuchadnezzar's generals.
"My guess is that the king of Judah and part of his army
have somehow escaped from the city," one general told another.
"If that's so, it had to be through some underground means,"
another officer observed. "We'll have to keep looking till we
locate it and find this Zedekiah. It would be better for us never
to return to Nebuchadnezzar than to do so without the king of
Judah!"
The Babylonian general had guessed well. Someone -- probably
a servant -- had earlier informed frantic Jewish soldiers of the
secret entrance to the underground passage by which the king's
entourage had already departed. The soldiers had hurried through
it, scattering in all directions when they reached the open.
Meanwhile, the invaders were unable to find anyone, even through
threats of lingering tortures, who knew anything about the
passage. All who knew its location had already used it.
It was almost daybreak when some Babylonian soldiers finally
stumbled across the entrance. On finding how far the passage
extended, it was clear how the escapers had managed to elude the
human ring around the city.
The faint light of dawn plainly showed many footprints
leading off confusingly in all directions. However, expert
trackers soon discovered a profusion of tracks left by a group
that had obviously stayed together. A Babylonian cavalry squadron
raced off to follow the distinct trail.
A few miles ahead of them to the east, Zedekiah and his
group still plodded along. With daylight, the king was relieved
to learn that they had already trudged all the way to the plains
of Jericho. He intended that they should cross the Jordan and
swing around to the right on a curve toward Egypt.
Suddenly there were shouts of alarm from several who pointed
excitedly to the west. Zedekiah and the others turned to see the
mounts of a few hundred cavalrymen pounding down the road. Within
minutes the king of Judah and his company were captives of the
Babylonians!


Jeremiah Befriended

The Babylonian officers were elated when Zedekiah was
brought before them.
"You've caused us much trouble in finding YOU but we
couldn't give up, because our king is anxious to meet you," one
of the generals remarked, grinning heartlessly. "In fact, he is
so anxious to meet you that we will break camp and personally
escort you to Riblah in Syria, where he presently is staying.
In the meantime enemy troops were rounding up the
inhabitants. The healthier and more capable ones became captives.
The elderly, weak, sick and those incapable of any trade, craft
or profession were simply ignored. (Jeremiah 39:9-10.) Even
prison inmates were checked over. Those who were at least capable
of manual labor were freed from prison in Judah to become
prisoners of Babylonia. The prophet Jeremiah was among them.
All able captives were put in chains and herded to the city
of Ramah, a few miles north of Jerusalem. While this was taking
place, other enemy troops were moving about in other cities,
capturing thousands more Jews and moving them to Ramah also. This
was to be the starting point of the march for the combined
captives of all Judah. From there, long lines of thousands would
go on the miserable march to Babylonia. (II Chronicles 36:11-21.)
While this was being arranged by the Babylonians,
Nebuzar-adan, captain of the guard, was informed that Jeremiah
was among the prisoners. Because the prophet was favorably
regarded by Babylonian leaders for his trying to convince his
countrymen that they should regard Babylonia as their master,
Nebuzar-adan was perturbed.
"Release him at once and bring him to my tent!" he ordered.
"He should never have been taken prisoner!"


Jeremiah's Wise Decision

A little later an aide appeared with Jeremiah, now free from
his chains.
"We didn't intend that this should happen to you,"
Nebuzar-adan explained in a conciliatory tone. "King
Nebuchadnezzar and many of us realize that through you, your God
warned your people what would happen unless they followed your
God's instructions. Now it's happening. You aren't to be taken
along with the others, although you are free to accompany your
countrymen to Babylon if that's your wish. For you there will be
no chains and no labor. After you arrive at Babylon, I'll see to
it that you will be well taken care of. On the other hand, if you
prefer to stay in Judah, so be it."
For a moment Jeremiah was tempted to say he would go to
Babylon. There he would have his needs supplied. If he remained
in Judah, it would be a struggle to find enough to eat. Besides,
his own people could continue to treat him as a bothersome
eccentric. But thinking his position through made it plain to him
that his place was in his own nation. There God might still have
some use for him.
"It would please God if I stayed," the prophet announced.
"That's good," Nebuzar-adan grinned. "You can go just as
soon as I have some food prepared for you to take. And here's
something to partly pay for the trouble we've caused you."
The prophet blinked at the gold pieces Nebuzar-adan pressed
into his hand. No reward was expected or necessary. He expressed
his gratitude to the captain, and greater gratitude to God when
he arrived at a lonely spot southeast of Ramah.
"One more thing," Nebuzar-adan added. "To replace King
Zedekiah, we have chosen a man to govern Judah we can depend
upon. His name is -- is -- "
"Gedaliah," Jeremiah smoothly interrupted.
"Why, yes!" Nebuzar-adan said, surprised. "No announcement
has been made of his appointment. How did you know?"
"God tells me many things," the prophet smiled.
"I believe you are indeed the prophet of a powerful God,"
the captain observed. "As such, with the welfare of your nation
at heart, you should probably be close to the seat of government.
Gedaliah's administration will be from Mizpah instead of
Jerusalem." (Jeremiah 39:11-14; 40:1-6.)
Jeremiah was pleased with Gedaliah's appointment because he
was a grandson of Shaphan, whose family had repeatedly befriended
Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 26:24; 36:11, 25.)
The Babylonian soldiers and their allies now turned north
toward Syria, taking with them Zedekiah, his family and some
foremost army officers and leaders of Judah.


Turmoil and Intrigue

Meanwhile, the scattered remnant of the army of Judah that
had escaped from Jerusalem gathered at Mizpah to find out if
Gedaliah wished to reorganize the military force. Mizpah also
became crowded with Jews who had fled to nearby nations when the
Babylonians came. Having heard that the invaders had left, they
returned to their nation and came to the new seat of government
to inquire about the status of their country.
Gedaliah proclaimed to all that they should make a special
effort to produce from the land as much as possible to try to
make up for what the enemy had taken.
"We must also work diligently to prepare for the time when
the Babylonians will return to take tribute," Gedaliah told them.
"We are a captive nation, and we are bound to give the conquerors
whatever they demand." (Jeremiah 40:7-12.)
Shortly after Gedaliah's advice to the people, several
military leaders came to Gedaliah to inform him that they had
heard that Ishmael, a man they all knew who was of royal stock in
Judah (Jeremiah 41:1 and I Chronicles 2:41), had returned from
the land of the Ammonites. He had fled there for safety when the
Babylonians had come.
"We have learned that Ishmael is bitter and envious because
you have been appointed governor by the Babylonians," the
captains told Gedaliah. "We overheard some workers who knew that
Baalis, king of the Ammonites, has talked Ishmael into taking
your office."
"That's ridiculous!" Gedaliah exclaimed, after several
moments of staring skeptically at his informers. "I can't believe
Ishmael would try to do that. Besides, HOW could he do it?"
"He has promised Baalis that he'll murder you!" was the
startling reply.
"If this is supposed to be a joke, I fail to appreciate it,"
Gedaliah frowned. "I suggest that you refrain from eavesdropping
on your harvest hands, who obviously have used you to start an
evil rumor."
The men's faces fell as Gedaliah strode away. Because they
were concerned for the governor's life, it was disappointing not
to be believed. One of the men, Johanan, later came alone to see
Gedaliah, and asked to speak privately to him.
"If you're here to apologize for that accusation made
earlier, it isn't necessary," Gedaliah said. "Ishmael is the one
who deserves the apology."
"I came back to make an important suggestion," Johanan said,
ignoring the governor's remark. "Conditions are bad enough in
Judah without allowing them to become worse. People are looking
to you for leadership. If something should happen to you, what
remains of our nation will probably fall apart."
"Are you talking about Ishmael again?" Gedaliah asked
sternly.
"Let me dispose of him before he disposes of you!" Johanan
earnestly urged. "No one except the two of us will know anything
about it! I'll be doing Judah a favor!"
"How can you be so wrong about someone?" Gedaliah angrily
asked. "If anything happens to Ishmael, I'll hold you responsible
and deal with you accordingly!"
Johanan gave up and left, realizing that there was little he
could do to prevent any trouble from Ishmael. (Jeremiah
40:13-16.)


Ishmael's Rampage

About two months after the Babylonians had departed,
Gedaliah invited Ishmael to a state dinner. He believed that if
this man felt any envy toward him, this friendly gesture would
probably dispel any ill feelings. Other guests included several
Jewish leaders under Gedaliah, military men and the few
Babylonians who had stayed as representatives of Nebuchadnezzar.
The governor had assumed that Ishmael would bring an acquaintance
or two. He was surprised when he showed up with ten burly,
grim-faced men who were referred to only as close friends.
After all were seated and served, Gedaliah was pleased to
note Ishmael's sociability. The governor thought how unfortunate
it would have been to have believed and acted on the negative
reports about Ishmael.
Suddenly Ishmael and his ten men leaped up, whipped short
swords from under their clothing and swiftly attacked every other
man in the room. In a very brief moment Gedaliah and his guests
-- except the murderous eleven -- were dead or dying. (Jeremiah
41:1-3.)
Ishmael's next move was to prevent all servants from fleeing
from the building simply by cutting them down. For two days the
assassins held the governor's house without outsiders knowing
what had happened. Then it was reported that a group of eighty
men from the territory of Israel wished to confer with Gedaliah.
"They want to burn incense at the temple ruins to show their
sorrow because of the state of affairs," Ishmael was told.
"They've shaved their beards, torn their clothes and slashed
themselves."
"Then it's only a group of religious fanatics," Ishmael
observed. "But we'll have to get rid of them. We can take care of
them as soon as they're inside."
Ishmael walked out of the building to see the men solemnly
approaching, heads down, as though they were in a funeral march.
He assumed the same gait. He even managed to effect tears, to
pretend that he was deeply moved and sympathized with their
interests.
"We are here to ask permission to go to the site of the
burned temple, that we may make our offerings there," one of the
men told Ishmael.
"As spokesman for the governor, I can tell you that you will
be welcome there," Ishmael said in a hushed, solemn tone. "But
first why not come into the house? You must be thirsty after your
walk."
The moment the visitors were inside, the fiendish eleven
charged at them with swords poised. When the terrified men
realized what was happening, those who weren't immediately
attacked fell on their knees and begged to be spared.
"We have great quantities of precious food hidden
underground!" they wailed. "There's a fortune in oil, honey,
wheat and barley! It's all yours if you let us go free!"
By this time seventy were dead or dying. Ishmael decided to
spare ten of them, at least temporarily, for turning over their
food to him. First the corpses had to be hidden. This was no
great problem, inasmuch as they were added to the other victims
who had been dropped into a nearby pit that had been made as a
water reservoir more than three hundred and forty years
previously.


Help at Last?

Ishmael's bloody accomplishments caused him to become even
madder and more daring. He and his men ventured into the streets
of Mizpah to seize people and hold them in Gedaliah's house.
Faced with death unless they cooperated, certain male captives
agreed to join Ishmael in his insane cause. His purpose was to
stamp out the frail government of Judah and seize the inhabitants
of Mizpah to sell them as slaves to the king of the Ammonites.
Before long almost all in the little city were bound together in
small groups. They could walk but had little use of their arms.
Ishmael and his men worked swiftly, knowing that Jews from nearby
regions would probably band together to resist as soon as they
heard what was happening.
Fortunately, the news reached Johanan, a friend of murdered
Gedaliah, who wasn't in Mizpah. He quickly gathered and armed men
to rush in pursuit of the bloody kidnappers, who by then were
desperately herding their captives northward toward the road to
Ammonite territory.
Not far from the city of Gibeon, about eight miles northwest
of Jerusalem, the captives were overjoyed to see Johanan and his
men hurrying toward them. Ishmael, however, didn't share their
sudden hope. (Jeremiah 41:4-13.)
"Get them moving faster!" he roared at his men. "Beat them
with the flat sides of your swords! We can't let anyone stop us
now!"
----------------------------------------

Chapter 150
NO SAFETY IN EGYPT

ISHMAEL and his ten men were attempting to herd a group of their
Jewish countrymen to the land of the Ammonites. The captives had
been forced to walk only a few miles when Johanan, a friend of
the murdered governor of Judah, began to catch up with the
mounted assassins and their prisoners.


Men Request God's Counsel

Ishmael realized that he would surely be overtaken by
Johanan and his superior number of charging men. He suddenly
decided to give up his captives and large supply of food and make
a dash for safety. Without even taking time for any instructions
to his men, he spurred his horse into a frantic gallop to the
east.
Seeing their leader leaving, the other ten attempted to
follow. Eight of them escaped Johanan's onslaught. The other two
were left lifeless on the ground as the rescued captives were
escorted back to Mizpah by Johanan and his men. Meanwhile,
Ishmael and his eight remaining murderers rode on, eventually to
report to King Baalis that the leadership of Judah had been
destroyed.
There was a growing concern among the Jews over what would
happen when Nebuchadnezzar learned that his puppet governor and
several Babylonian representatives had been murdered. Johanan,
especially, was worried.
"The king of Babylon will be so angry that he is likely to
send his army to wipe out what little is left of Judah," Johanan
told his men. "We wouldn't be safe in our own country. It might
be wise for us to get out of Judah while there's still time."
"But where is there to go?" asked one.
"To Egypt!" was Johanan's surprising answer. "The king there
would probably help any he considers as being at odds with the
Babylonians. Surely the Babylonians wouldn't go so far as to try
to war against a powerful nation merely to avenge a few deaths."
Johanan's suggestion was spread swiftly among the Jews. But
some of them, including Johanan, belatedly decided that it would
be wise to try to find out what God's will was in the matter. To
do this, they went to Jeremiah. The prophet had left Mizpah with
the Jews because he wished to stay with the remnant of his
people, and especially with King Zedekiah's daughters, who were
his special charge. Jeremiah didn't think the time had come that
they should leave their country.
"We can't decide whether to stay here and risk being killed
by the Babylonians or give up our land and go to Egypt," they
explained to the prophet. "We would be pleased if you would ask
God what we should do."
"My God is your God," Jeremiah told them. "I will pray to
Him. Whenever and whatever He answers, I'll report it to you."
"We will do whatever our God says," they promised Jeremiah.
"We are anxious to obey His will." Most of the Jews expected to
hear from the prophet almost right away, but it was ten days
before he sent word for them to assemble for an answer. (Jeremiah
42:1-7.)


But Speedily Reject It

"Hear what our God has revealed!" the prophet called out to
them. "He wants you to know that you should stay in your land.
You who have homes in Mizpah should return there without fear of
the Babylonians, whom God won't allow to harm you. Because you
have looked to God for guidance, He will not punish you as most
of your countrymen are being punished. As long as you remain in
Judah, your numbers will increase and there will be plenty to
live on. On the other hand, if you ignore God's advice and refuse
His help by insisting on going to Egypt, you won't find safety
there. Neither will you find enough to eat to keep you alive. If
you aren't slaughtered by the sword or if you don't starve to
death, you will die in Egypt by horrible diseases. You may leave
here if you choose, but be warned that those who insist on going
to Egypt will never return!" (Jeremiah 42:8-22.)
To learn that they could have God's protection without
having to leave their homes and their nation should have been
good news to the Jews. Their reaction, however, was anything but
joyful. There was only an awkward silence. Most of them appeared
uncomfortable. Some even scowled with obvious irritation.
"You should happily welcome God's promise to take care of
you as long as you stay here in your country," the prophet
continued. "It's easy to see that you aren't pleased. That's no
surprise to me. You promised to go by what God directed, but you
never intended to do so unless He approved of what you still plan
to do, which is to go to Egypt. Idle curiosity was your only
reason to ask me to contact God for you. And regardless of God's
warning, you still believe that if you go to Egypt, you can come
back any time you choose. That will be quite an accomplishment
after you are corpses."
These were antagonizing words to the people, especially to
Johanan, who had suggested that they go to Egypt, and to a man
named Azariah, who was the one who had originally suggested the
idea to Johanan. These two, followed by a group of leading men
under them, strode up to Jeremiah.
"Why do you talk to us this way?" they loudly demanded. "God
surely wouldn't forbid us to go to Egypt, yet you declare that He
did! Isn't it a fact that your friend Baruch, who secretly wishes
the Babylonians to destroy us, talked you into lying to us in
this matter?"
"You are the ones who speak an untruth," Jeremiah contended.
"Baruch, my secretary, has proved his loyalty to Judah by
helping me declare God's warnings to our people."
"You and Baruch have been friendly with the Babylonians, and
that's proof of why you don't fear them!" Azariah muttered.
"We're only wasting time talking!" someone shouted. "Let's
get started so that we can reach Egypt before the Babylonians get
here!"
There was much to be done, but before dawn the Jews were on
their way, walking beside their burros or trudging under their
own loads. As Jeremiah and Baruch stood gloomily watching the
long line move by, Johanan and Azariah walked up to them.
"Aren't you taking any belongings with you?" Johanan asked
them.
"We're not going," Jeremiah replied. "God has warned us to
stay out of Egypt, and we intend to obey."
"And we don't intend to leave you behind!" Azariah snapped.
"If you're important to God, surely He'll spare you wherever you
are. And as long as you're with us, we can look forward to
protection for all. I'll send some men with you to help you pick
up your belongings."
Regardless of their firm intentions, the two had no choice
but to join the exodus.


Warnings in Egypt

Journeying southwest past the south tip of Philistia and
across the Shur desert in the upper part of the Sinai peninsula,
the Jews came to the Egyptian city of Tahpanhes, about fifty
miles east of the east mouth of the Nile River. There they stayed
for a time, awaiting permission to go farther into the nation,
which they weren't allowed to do unless and until they could
prove they weren't enemies. (Jeremiah 43:1-7.)
While in Tahpanhes, where Egyptian workmen were building a
summer house for the king, Jeremiah was told to again remind the
Jews that being in Egypt would give them no safety. God
instructed the prophet how to explain it to his countrymen. There
was a brick kiln only a few yards from the nearly finished
building. Choosing a time when many of the leading Jews were
grouped together gazing at the new structure, and when workmen
weren't present, Jeremiah and Baruch carried several heavy stones
to the kiln and placed them in the clay.
"God wants me to tell you," Jeremiah explained, "that these
same stones will soon be used on this very spot in building a
foundation for a throne room for King Nebuchadnezzar." (Jeremiah
43:8-13.) "How ridiculous!" scoffed Azariah. "What would the king
of Babylon be doing with a throne room in Egypt? Pharaoh wouldn't
allow it to be built anywhere here, and certainly not right next
to a house of his!" "Pharaoh won't have anything to say about it
because the Babylonians are going to invade this nation,"
Jeremiah patiently continued. "They will kill many Egyptians.
Many more will starve. Part of them will die of disease. Others
will be taken captive. The Babylonians will burn the temples of
the Egyptian idols, as well as the gods of wood. The idols will
be smashed, and their gold taken to Babylon. Egypt's wealth will
all be taken. Nebuchadnezzar will accomplish this as easily as a
shepherd puts on his coat. The Egyptians won't have the strength
to stop him. When he leaves at the time he chooses, he will have
broken their will to fight.''
"I'm not convinced that you're right about coming here to
Egypt," Johanan said in a low voice to Azariah. "If Jeremiah is a
true prophet of God, we aren't going to have much of a future."


Zedekiah's Doom

By this time part of the Babylonian army and its special
captives, still in chains, had long since reached the city of
Riblah in Syria, where King Nebuchadnezzar had temporarily
retired after personally leading his army against Egypt and
Judah. There, more than two hundred miles northeast of Jerusalem,
Zedekiah, most of his family and officers were brought before
Nebuchadnezzar, who eyed them critically. (Jeremiah 39:4-5 )
"That is Zedekiah, king of Judah," an aide informed the
Babylonian king as guards brought Zedekiah out of the crowd of
captives. For long, awkward moments Nebuchadnezzar stared at
Zedekiah, who stood in discomfort and humiliation, which he now
expected to be followed by death.
"Months ago I decided that you would pay with your life
because of breaking your sworn allegiance to me," Nebuchadnezzar
addressed Zedekiah. "Now that I see you, I'm going to change that
decision and spare your life."
Zedekiah's hopes soared on hearing this, but before long he
had reason to harbor much more hatred and fear of the Babylonian
ruler. At a word from Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah and his sons were
separated from the other captives and led outside to an
enclosure.
"My king suggests that you carefully watch what is about to
happen here," a Babylonian officer told Zedekiah. "It is the last
event you will see."
The former king was puzzled by this ominous statement. Then,
almost before he could realize what was going on, his sons were
lined up and slaughtered by Babylonian soldiers. Even while
Zedekiah stood gasping in horror, he was bound tightly to a post
and his eyes brutally seared out by a hot iron.
Not long after this shocking event, Nebuchadnezzar started
back to Babylon, about five hundred miles to the southeast.
Zedekiah and the other captives, bound and guarded, had to make
the long, rough trip by foot far behind the triumphant Babylonian
king.
As soon as they arrived at Babylon, Zedekiah was imprisoned,
where he later died. (Jeremiah 39:6-8.)


Many True Warnings

As God had repeatedly warned through prophets such as
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many others, Judah's idolatry
resulted in a scattering of the people in almost the same way in
which the Ten Tribes had been scattered about one hundred and
thirty-three years previously. Rebellion against God had resulted
in the shattering of both kingdoms, although Judah wasn't
swallowed up and lost in surrounding nations as the Ten Tribes of
Israel were. If these kingdoms had obeyed God, the people would
have remained safe and prosperous in their own land. (Jeremiah
34.) Now the prisoners, slaves and outcasts learned that food and
shelter were difficult to find. Meanwhile, the homes from which
they had been driven were taken over by wild animals and their
fields and orchards were choked with weeds and brush.
While two kings of Judah -- Jehoiachin and Zedekiah --
languished in Babylonian prison cells, many Jews captured
previously by the Babylonians were living as exiles in colonies
along the Chebar River about two hundred miles north of Babylon.
Among these exiles was a young man named Ezekiel. (Ezekiel
1:1-3.) He had a most unusual vision in which he was told by God
to tell his people, who still followed idolatry, that they should
give up the worship of false gods and turn to the only true God
or suffer even greater miseries than they had gone through.
Ezekiel obeyed, but few paid much attention to him. Along
with his strong warnings from God, he made many predictions that
paralleled some made by Jeremiah. He even foretold Zedekiah's
attempted escape from the Babylonians at Jerusalem, and about his
loss of sight and being brought to Babylon. (Ezekiel 12:10-13.)
Even after Ezekiel's countrymen along the Chebar River heard that
these things had come about just as Ezekiel said they would, most
of them doubted that God had chosen him to be a prophet. This was
as God told Ezekiel it would be. Nevertheless, because he was
obedient and had a special concern for the exiles, the prophet
faithfully continued to repeat God's warnings and prophecies to
the people.
So did Jeremiah. Before the fall of Jerusalem, he wrote
letters to the people Ezekiel was with, encouraging them to keep
up their family lives and look forward to a time when their
children could return to their homeland after the Babylonians
would fall from power. (Jeremiah 29:132.)
Ezekiel predicted many things, including the victorious
invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 32:1-18) and the
fate of the Jews who had gone there contrary to God's warning
through Jeremiah. Meanwhile, Ezekiel married and established a
home in one of the Jewish communities north of Babylon. Although
the Jews generally ignored his prophecies and admonitions, they
had unusual respect for him and often came to him for advice. In
spite of their stubbornness in ignoring many of the warnings he
passed on from God, they believed that God had endowed him with
good judgment and the power to foresee the future.


No Escape

Ezekiel was meant to be more than a prophet to the Jews. He
kept the people informed and comforted, and he encouraged all who
sought wisdom and tried to forsake their wrong ways. Many of
them, naturally, failed to appreciate what he did for them for
twenty-two years. Little did they guess that his writings, many
of which were quite puzzling, would eventually be read all over
the world for centuries and be interpreted in many different
ways, mostly erroneous.
One of the things Ezekiel wrote about had to do with the
future of Israel after the Messiah's second coming to earth from
heaven. (Ezekiel 36.) Another matter, among many others, was how
people would be resurrected and what tomorrow's world would be
like when David would again rule Israel and all the nations of
the earth under the Messiah. (Ezekiel 37.)
Inasmuch as both Ezekiel and Jeremiah were inspired by God,
their prophecies agreed, proving that they were indeed the
Creator's true servants. Among the subjects in which they both
spoke was the prediction that God would certainly provide a
successor to the throne Zedekiah had lost. God had already
promised David that He would forever establish David's kingdom,
but one might wonder how that would be accomplished after the
murder of Zedekiah's sons and later the death of Zedekiah.
At that time Jehoiachin, former king of Judah who had been
taken captive by the Babylonians, was still alive but was
spending his time in a Babylonian dungeon. He had sons who were
of the royal line, but they were prisoners and none of them while
in prison could become king of a nation that had ceased to exist.
After its restoration, one of Jehoiachin's grandsons was made
governor by the king of Persia, but he was never crowned king.
There were indeed men of the royal line who were qualified to
become king decades later at Jerusalem, but that didn't happen,
because it wasn't according to God's plan. God had decreed that
his line would never again sit in Judah on the throne of David.
(Jeremiah 22:24-30.)
Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel stated that the throne would be
established elsewhere. (Jeremiah 21:11-12; Ezekiel 17:1-6,
22-24.) They also foretold the invasion of Egypt by
Nebuchadnezzar, to occur a few years after the fall of Jerusalem.
By that time, the Jews were scattered throughout Egypt. As might
be expected, many of them fell in with worshipping Egyptian
idols. That danger was one of the reasons God had told them not
to leave Judah.
Jeremiah was still warning his people that if they continued
in any kind of idolatry they would be killed or captured when
Nebuchadnezzar would surely come to overrun Egypt. (Jeremiah
44:1-30.) Most of the Jews still believed that the prophet was
somehow in league with the Babylonians, and didn't take him
seriously. A few, including Baruch and the daughters of Zedekiah,
regarded Jeremiah as God's spokesman and their leader and
remained faithful to God.
It was a fearful shock to those who disdained Jeremiah when
they learned that the Babylonian army was indeed moving into
Egypt!
----------------------------------------

Chapter 151
DAVID'S THRONE RE-ESTABLISHED

THE ARRIVAL of Nebuchadnezzar's army at Egypt's northeastern
border was perhaps even more dismaying to the self-exiled Jews
than it was to the Egyptians. They began to realize that what the
prophet Jeremiah had told them would happen really would happen.
(Jeremiah 44:24-30; 46:13-26.) Having treated God's prophet
without respect, they now began to fear both God and the
Babylonians.


No Safety in Egypt

The arrival of the invaders at this time was due to unusual
circumstances in Egypt, as reported in ancient histories. For a
long time the citizens had been increasingly unhappy with their
ruler, Pharaoh Apries. When Apries learned that his people were
on the verge of a national revolution, he sent one of his
generals, Amasis, on a tour of the nation to try to calm the
people down with so-called goodwill speeches intended to paint
Pharaoh as a ruler they should learn to appreciate.
To the surprise of both Pharaoh and Amasis, the citizens
were so impressed by Amasis' oratory and manner that a large
crowd of them forcibly insisted that Amasis become their leader
and seize the throne from Apries. Amasis couldn't resist this
doubtful opportunity to become the ruler of a powerful nation. He
became the champion of the revolution.
Apries organized enough of an army to make a feeble attempt
against Amasis' army, but he was defeated in an initial battle.
News of this came to Nebuchadnezzar, who decided that this
was the opportune time to invade Egypt, and punish the nation for
its many attempts to bring Judah into rebellion against the
Babylonians.
Nebuchadnezzar picked his time well. Even Pharaoh's army
rebelled and refused to fight for him. Within days Egypt fell
victim to the Babylonians and Apries was killed. Nebuchadnezzar
naturally proclaimed Amasis as the new ruler and returned to
Babylon. He took most of the Jews and many Egyptians with him.
Thus more of Jeremiah's prophecies were carried out, including
the one that Nebuchadnezzar would overcome Egypt as easily as a
shepherd puts on his coat. (Jeremiah 43:8-12.)
Before the Babylonians started rounding up their captives,
Jeremiah and Baruch safeguarded Zedekiah's daughters and a few
loyal Jews who had been taken into Egypt against their will. All
were miraculously spared by the invaders. All other Jews were
killed or captured and herded off toward Babylon. The hopeless
captives miserably remembered that Jeremiah had told them they
would deeply regret leaving their land against God's instruction.
The Babylonians departed with their spoils and apparently
took Jeremiah and his little group with them. A few days later
they arrived in Judah but not to stay long in a place that had
become so utterly desolate. Ravaged cities had turned into the
habitations of animals and birds. Fields and orchards were full
of weeds.


Royal Family Transplanted

Jeremiah and his little band might well have survived there,
but God had instructed the prophet to take Baruch and Zedekiah's
daughters and go elsewhere. Jeremiah obeyed God and, taking leave
of Nebuchadnezzar's army, led Baruch and Zedekiah's daughters to
a seaport on the Great Sea, possibly Joppa. There they embarked
on a sailing ship to the far country of Spain, about two thousand
miles to the west. Irish and Celtic-European annals have
preserved the record that a young Irish prince, who was in
Jerusalem when the city was taken, stayed with Jeremiah in all
these travels and married one of the Jewish princesses in
Jeremiah's care.
To learn where Jeremiah and his companions went after going
to Spain, it's necessary to flash back almost twelve centuries to
the time of Judah. Judah, remember, was the father of the Jews,
one tribe among the twelve tribes of Israel. Through that small
part of Israel God planned to carry on the "scepter," or reigning
line of His chosen people (Genesis 49:10).
But the birthright line of Israel was given to Ephraim and
Manasseh. (I Chronicles 5:1, 2.) These latter two tribes and
their descendants by the millions were to receive the material
blessings promised because Abraham had obeyed God, even to the
extent of being willing to sacrifice his only son. (Genesis
26:1-5.)
Judah, one of Abraham's great-grandsons, was the father of
twin sons, Zarah and Pharez. Just before they were delivered,
when the midwife realized there were twins, she was especially
careful to note which would be born first. That one would be the
royal seed through whom the reigning line, or "scepter," would be
carried on.
As it happened, a hand emerged first, whereupon the midwife
tied a red thread around the little wrist to show which child was
the first to start from the mother. However, that baby drew its
hand back and the other twin emerged. (Genesis 38:27-30.) Zarah,
with the red thread around one wrist, was rightfully first from
his mother, but only in part.
The other child, Pharez, was the one through whom the
reigning line in Judah was first passed on, though generations
later God combined it with the line of Zarah. David, Zedekiah and
Christ were of the Pharez line. But Zedekiah's daughter was
destined to marry into the Zarah line.
God used the prophet Jeremiah in re-establishing the throne
of David by sending him and his group by ship via Spain to the
island known later as "Ireland".
There, long before King David's time, a colony of Israelites
called the "Tuatha De Danaan" arrived and subdued the people
called "Firbolgs" who had inhabited the island before them and
ruled for hundreds of years. Later more Israelites, called
"Milesians," arrived from Scythia, this time of the line of
Zarah. One of Zedekiah's daughters who came with Jeremiah married
a prince who was a descendant of Zarah. This prince became king
at his father's death. Inasmuch as his wife was a princess of the
Pharez line, the Pharez and Zarah lines were united and David's
throne was re-established in Ireland to continue as God promised.


People of Israel Relocated

There are many detailed facts about this fascinating matter.
Most of them have been uncovered in the last few decades along
with surprising revelation of what happened to the supposedly
"Lost Ten Tribes" of Israel, an absorbing story in itself.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel had much to say about it, but the key to
understanding much of what these two prophets wrote about is to
realize that the Jews were not included in the ten-tribed House
of Israel, although the Jews were Israelites.
Ezekiel wrote that Zedekiah's throne would be overturned
three times. (Ezekiel 21:25-27.) The first overturn was
accomplished when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Israelite
prince who married one of Zedekiah's daughters became king, and
the throne was transplanted thousands of miles away. The dynasty
that resulted lasted down through many generations in Ireland.
Eventually, the throne was overturned a second time when it
was removed from Ireland and established in Scotland. The third
overturn was much later when it was removed by Edward I to
London, where it exists today. As this is written, Queen
Elizabeth II occupies the throne that came down all the way from
King David! Christ will occupy that same throne after the third
prophesied overturn and its final re-establishment in Jerusalem.
While the seat of Israelite rulership was being changed from
place to place, more and more Israelites were migrating to
Europe. Having escaped over the centuries from their Assyrian
captors, in the area of the Black Sea, they moved northward and
westward to flourish in many regions -- even across the Atlantic
Ocean to North America, where their numbers compounded.
God's promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were steadily
carried out, insomuch that the descendants of Ephraim under the
rule of Davidic kings became large, wealthy and powerful,
culminating in the British Empire and the Commonwealth. The
descendants of Manasseh developed into the most powerful single
nation on earth -- the United States in North America. Both
fulfilled the prophecy of Israel, their father. (Genesis
48:14-20.)
Careful study of the Bible and history together shows that
descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, the elder son of Joseph,
are the principal inhabitants of the United States. But most
Bible scholars refuse to accept this fact.
Most of the people of the British Commonwealth are descended
from the tribe of Ephraim, the youngest son of Joseph. In both
nations are also people of many lands who have come to share in
the wealth and freedom. Relatively few citizens of both nations
know themselves to be Israelites, although it was a fairly common
belief a few centuries ago. Today most consider themselves
Gentiles.
This error makes understanding Bible prophecy almost
impossible for them. It's a matter of God giving special
understanding to those who choose to be obedient to His laws.
Most refuse to recognize the vital importance of these
permanently living laws because they consider them "Jewish" and
assume they were discarded and cancelled by Christ.


The Seventy Years' Captivity

About the time Jeremiah was still trying to convince Judah
to shun any alliance with the Egyptians, there was living in the
Babylonian capital a young lad named Daniel. Daniel had been
taken captive from Judah in the time of King Jehoiakim. Many
other Jews shared Daniel's circumstances, in which their captors
sought to determine which of the captives could be of the most
value in contributing to a superior culture.
Nebuchadnezzar's nobles were particularly pleased with
Daniel's abilities, given to him because God had long since
chosen him to be a prophet and to find favor with his captors.
With three other young princes who also proved to be unusually
intelligent, Daniel went through a three-year period of intensive
training in the knowledge of Babylonia's most learned men.
(Daniel 1:1-7.)
Because Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azaraiah had grown up
as followers of God, even when almost all the rest of the royal
family were turning against God, they weren't swayed by the pagan
philosophy of the Babylonians. Of course, their instructors
naturally hoped and tried to influence their religious beliefs.
Their names were changed. Daniel was to be known as
"Belteshazzar"; Hananiah was altered to "Shadrach"; Mishael was
given the name of "Meshach"; Azariah was renamed "Abed-nego."
Their original names had to do with God, whereas their new names
had pagan meanings. When the period of instruction was at an end,
these four close friends stood out as the topmost among the
trainees.
It was the custom that the same kind of food that was served
at the king's table was also served to the youths in special
training. This meant that unclean foods and such as were
previously offered to idols would often be brought to the young
men. The four friends agreed that they wouldn't follow such a
diet but would remain faithful to God and be at their best
physically and mentally. (Leviticus 3:17; 7:22-27;
11:1-47.)
"We must take a stand on this matter," Daniel observed.
"Even if meat hasn't been offered to idols, we can't know if it
has been properly drained of blood, which we know should not be
eaten. As for liquids, we're given more wine than water. If we
continue this way, we'll make little headway. We'll have to try
to have our food changed."
The next time Melzar, the man in charge of them, came to
bring scrolls to study, Daniel diplomatically reminded him that
they were there for the purpose of developing physically and
mentally but that they couldn't make much progress if they ate
food prepared mainly for epicurean appetites and not necessarily
for nourishment.
"But Nebuchadnezzar himself chooses what you should eat,"
Daniel's overseer informed him. "He eats the same kinds of food,
and he is convinced that it is the best food available anywhere.
Perhaps you don't appreciate this rare and costly fare because
you don't know that much of it comes from distant lands, even at
the expense of human lives. You four fellows didn't eat the
oysters that were brought at great expense all the way from the
Persian Gulf. And you didn't touch the special stew made of
squirrels brought from the mountains. Nor the exquisite papyrus
wine from Egypt. And you didn't even taste the...."
"We truly appreciate being offered these specialties,"
Daniel interrupted. "My point is that the health-giving qualities
of food are more important than unusual flavors and costliness.
We can't speak for others of our countrymen in training, but we
prefer cereal grains, vegetables and water for the time of our
training."
Melzar stared in disbelief.
"You'd soon starve on only those things!" he exclaimed
impatiently. "My superiors would demand to know why you had
become so thin and weak. If they found out how poorly I had been
feeding you, Nebuchadnezzar would have me beheaded!"
"I assure you we would never starve," Daniel told Melzar.
"If you could manage to provide us with only vegetables, cereal
grains and water for the next ten days, we'll prove to you that
we'll be healthier than the men who gorge themselves with the
king's favorite foods."
Melzar blinked worriedly, unable to understand that Daniel's
simple choice of food and drink could do anything but enfeeble
the four young men. (Daniel 1:8-13.)
"At the risk of losing my life, I'll do as you ask for ten
days at the most," Melzar reluctantly agreed. "Meanwhile, if I
notice that you are failing, I'll start giving you only the
richest foods to build you back up before your lack of
nourishment is discovered."
For the full ten days Melzar managed to bring Daniel and his
companions the food they wanted. Even in that short time the four
youths developed a healthier appearance than that of the other
trainees who ate unclean meats and drank so much wine. Melzar was
amazed. (Daniel 1:8-16.) Of course, he didn't understand that the
God of Israel had a hand in the matter because the four young
Jewish men were obedient to Him in the matter of avoiding food
that was unclean in the Creator's sight.
At the same time, because of that obedience, God gave them
special wisdom and good judgment. Added to that, Daniel was given
unusual understanding in interpreting visions and dreams. This
ISN'T to say that Daniel was a psychiatrist. Visions and dreams
by certain people sometimes have special meanings from God.
Daniel was given the ability to know if visions and dreams had
important meanings and what those meanings were. With God's help,
he had a great advantage over "wise" men and magicians, who often
were influenced by demons.
At the end of the three years of training, Daniel and his
three close friends were adjudged the healthiest and most learned
and intelligent of all the trainees. Nebuchadnezzar himself
tested their knowledge and decided that they were far more
mentally keen than any of the others whom the Babylonians had
chosen to train. (Daniel 1:17-20.)


Nebuchadnezzar's Dream

Not long after this happened, the king of Babylon had a
dream that greatly troubled him because it was so sharp and clear
at the time and seemed to have strong bearing on the future. By
the next morning, as dreams usually do, it had mostly faded from
remembrance. Still it bothered him. He called in his magicians,
astrologers and Chaldean philosophers, hoping that there was
someone among all these who could tell him the meaning of his
unusual dream.
"May you live forever," these men gravely and dutifully
announced, according to the manner of greeting a king in those
times. "We understand that you have had a very unusual dream
whose meaning you would like to know. Tell us about it, and we
shall interpret it for you." (Daniel 2:-1-4.)
"I can't tell you about the dream because it has gone from
my mind," Nebuchadnezzar explained. "You will have to use your
powers to find out what the dream was about as well as its
meaning. If you fail, you will be put to death and your homes
will be knocked down and used as places for manure piles."
This chilling statement brought deep fear into the so-called
"wise" men. Every one of them knew he was incapable of knowing or
even guessing what the king's dream was about, unless possibly
with the help of demons. But it was their job to try to create
the impression that they had supernatural knowledge and powers.
"On the other hand," continued Nebuchadnezzar, "anyone who
is able to tell me my dream and the meaning of it shall be highly
rewarded and honored. Now speak out. Your lives depend on what
you have to say!" (Daniel 2:5-9.)
There was a hurried, hushed consultation of the astrologers,
magicians and philosophers while Nebuchadnezzar looked on
impatiently. At last the group broke up. A spokesman approached
the king, bowing low and smiling hopefully.
"Please try to remember what you dreamed, O mighty ruler,"
he begged. "Then we will tell you what the dream means."
"I've already told you that I've forgotten!" Nebuchadnezzar
snapped. "It's obvious that you're all stalling because you don't
know what to say! It's also obvious that you got your heads
together just now to agree on some kind of lie!"
"I humbly remind you, sire, that your request is most
unusual," the spokesman hesitantly mumbled. "No man, not even an
astrologer, magician or philosopher, should reasonably be
expected to have an answer to such a difficult question. Only the
gods are capable of knowing such things and they rarely
communicate with man."
Of course, this was quite the wrong thing to say to
Nebuchadnezzar. It was an act of desperation, done with the hope
that the king would appreciate a frank approach and would
reconsider his drastic threats of punishment. It didn't turn out
that way.
"Out!" Nebuchadnezzar bellowed. "I want all of you out of my
palace immediately! All sorcerers, magicians, philosophers and
astrologers are to die!"
Unhappily, this included Daniel and his three close friends.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 152
ADVISER TO NEBUCHADNEZZAR

ANGERED BECAUSE the so-called "wise" men of Babylon failed to
guess
the content of the dream he had forgotten, King Nebuchadnezzar
rashly ordered all of Babylon's magicians, sorcerers and
philosophers to be slain.
The king even included the top scholars who had been
rigorously educated over a period of three years. That meant that
Daniel and his three close friends, Hananiah, Mishael and
Azariah, were on the list to be executed, even though they hadn't
been among those summoned to tell and interpret the king's dream.
(Daniel 2:1-13.)


Daniel's Bold Chance

Daniel was naturally quite startled and dismayed when he was
approached by Arioch, the captain of the king's guard, and was
told that he and his three friends were to be taken to prison for
execution because no one was wise enough to tell and explain
Nebuchadnezzar's dream.
"This is incredible!" Daniel exclaimed. "We had no part in
failing the king. If he had called on us to help, we would have
given him the answers. If he still wants to know them and has the
patience to postpone the executions he has ordered, I will make
the matter known to him."
Arioch stared at Daniel, thankful that there might be a
reason for Nebuchadnezzar to cancel or at least postpone the
executions, which the captain of the guard deplored.
"If you can explain the king's dream, I'll take you to him,"
Arioch declared. "Meanwhile, I'll postpone your friends' arrest
as long as I can."
Arioch then hastened to see the king, but soon returned to
Daniel and told him:
"Nebuchadnezzar wants you to carry out your claim to tell
and interpret his dream," Arioch told Daniel. "He promised that
he would hold off the executions until he hears what you have to
say. Frankly, he doubts your ability. His anger will mount even
higher if you fail!"
A little later Daniel stood before Nebuchadnezzar, who eyed
him critically.
"This is the young man of the captives of Judah who can tell
you about your dream," Arioch nervously introduced Daniel.
"Then tell me now!" the Babylonian king commanded, staring
at Daniel. "If you fail, many heads will roll before this day is
over!"
"But God hasn't yet told me about your dream," Daniel told
the king. "I'll need time to contact Him."
"I'll give you one day," the king promised. (Daniel
2:14-16.)
Daniel went immediately to his three friends, Hananiah,
Mishael and Azariah, to tell them what had happened. He requested
that they ask God to reveal Nebuchadnezzar's dream and its
meaning so that they and all the others would be spared from
execution.
The four men prayed fervently about the matter. God answered
by causing Daniel to dream a very clear dream revealing the one
that Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten and its meaning. Daniel was so
thankful that he gave a special prayer of praise for their
deliverance, though the four young Jews and the Babylonian "wise"
men were still subject to death. Then Daniel hurried to Arioch,
who was anxious to see him. Arioch took him directly to
Nebuchadnezzar.
"The men you summoned to tell and interpret your dream were
given an impossible task," Daniel began, noting that the king was
visibly irritated by those first few words. "The task was
impossible because they didn't have the help of the God of
Israel, who wishes to make known to the king of Babylon what will
happen in the future. Your dream and its meaning haven't come to
me through any special ability of my own, but only because my God
has made these things known to me to pass on to you for your
special benefit." (Daniel 2:17-28.)


Nebuchadnezzar Needs Daniel

"Then if you have this special knowledge from your God,
disclose it!" Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed impatiently, leaning
forward in expectation.
"You dreamed that there was a colossal human image before
you," Daniel began. "It was bright and terrible. His head
appeared to be made of polished gold. His chest and arms were
like silver, his belly and thighs of brass, his legs of iron and
his feet part of iron and part of clay."
Nebuchadnezzar's glum expression abruptly turned to one of
intense interest.
"That was what I dreamed about!" he interrupted, getting to
his feet. "Now I remember! Then something happened to the image,
but I don't recall what it was."
"You dreamed that a large stone, symmetrical, yet uncut by
human hands, fell from the sky and crashed with great impact on
the feet of the image," Daniel continued. "It shattered the feet
and pulverized the legs of iron. Then the thighs and belly of
brass crumbled under the impact; the chest and arms of silver
fell apart and the head of gold toppled over to smash into tiny
fragments. A strong wind came up to blow away the pulverized
pieces of the fallen image as though they were chaff from a
threshing floor. Meanwhile, the stone that struck the image
became larger and larger until it became a gigantic mountain that
filled the whole earth." (Daniel 2:29-35.)
"That's exactly what I dreamed!" Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed.
"I forgot it, even though it was clear at the time. It bothered
me afterward because I believed it had some special meaning."
"Indeed it does," Daniel agreed. "The God of Israel wants
you to know that He has given you your great power so that you
are above all other rulers in the world. You have been given
power over most men and your power extends even to the animals in
the world because man is ruler over them. The head of gold on the
image you dreamed about refers to you and your powerful kingdom.
As the most powerful king in the world at this time, it is
fitting, according to the Eternal God's wish, that you should
know what the future holds. That was the reason for the dream you
were given.
"The chest and arms of silver mean that another kingdom,
inferior to yours, will rise to power after your nation declines
in strength. The belly and thighs of brass indicate that a third
kingdom will replace the second kingdom in strength, and it will
have rulership over other nations. The legs of iron mean that a
fourth strong kingdom will eventually follow, but because iron
and clay can't be fused together for lasting strength, that
kingdom won't be well united.
"During the lifetime of that kingdom, the one and only true
God will set up a Kingdom that will replace all others and last
forever. In your dream His Kingdom was the stone that struck the
image on the feet, smashing the whole body, and growing swiftly
into a mountain that encompassed the entire world. Now you know
what will come to pass. This knowledge has come to me from my
God, who is incapable of any untruth." (Daniel 2:36-45; Titus
1:2.)
Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed that he humbly prostrated
himself before Daniel in a sincere, but awkward, attempt in the
worship of God by bowing to a servant of God.
"The best way to worship God is to obey Him," Daniel pointed
out. "Then you will receive the blessings and protection that
can't possibly come from any other source."


Nebuchadnezzar's Image

Daniel's strong advice didn't dampen the king's enthusiasm.
He loudly declared to all present that Daniel's God was the God
of gods and the Head of all kings, and he made it known that he
wanted the fact published abroad. Furthermore, he heaped gifts on
Daniel and made him chief of the governors of the "wise" men of
Babylon, an office of doubtful importance in Daniel's estimation.
On the more practical side, Daniel was made ruler of the
province of Babylon, the city-state capital of Babylonia, where
he would be one of the king's chief officials. Because Daniel's
three close Jewish friends had great ability and knowledge and
had helped him with their prayers, Daniel suggested that they
also be given high positions. Nebuchadnezzar was pleased to place
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego (Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah)
in offices of high rank under Daniel in the province of Babylon.
(Daniel 2:46-49.)
Nebuchadnezzar's recognition of God's greatness was a step
in the right direction, but he still had a long way to go. The
more Nebuchadnezzar thought about his power, the more he thought
all the world's leaders should pay special honor to his kingdom.
So he made plans for building a high statue. It was built on the
Babylonian plain of Dura so that it could be surrounded by great
throngs of people. Including the pedestal, the image towered
nearly a hundred feet above the plain. On a sunny day its bright
and shimmering golden surface could be seen from many miles away.
The king went to great lengths to inform people about the
image. Dedication ceremonies were announced. Important men of
Babylonia were commanded to be present. Those included princes,
governors, high army officers and all high government officials.
(Daniel 3:1-3.)
On the chosen day of the dedication, a vast crowd assembled
around the towering figure. The commanded dignitaries included
only a small fraction of the throng, made up mostly of thousands
of average Babylonians and many people of surrounding satellite
nations. Some came merely from curiosity. Others felt it
necessary to be present at an unusual event during which a king's
idol would be dedicated.
There was the usual activity and excitement in a large crowd
of those times. Following the throngs of people were yelling
peddlers with carts or shoulder bags of food. Other hawkers
worked slyly to extract money from parents by promoting cheap
merchandise made to appeal especially to small children. It was
as good a day for thieves and pickpockets as it was a miserable
day for mothers, who had no place to take their whimpering,
bawling, needful offspring.
About noon heralds appeared on the base of the gold-plated
image. There was much raucous hornblowing to get the attention of
the people. After ceremonies of a shallow nature, there was an
announcement by a person with an exceptionally powerful voice.
"Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon and king over kings
everywhere, wants you to know what is required of you who hear
these words," the herald bellowed. "When you hear music from the
orchestra that will soon play from the base of this pedestal,
every one of you is to bow before this great image! Any who fail
or refuse to do so will be seized by the king's guards and thrown
into a large, roaring furnace prepared especially for criminals
and those who fail to conform to the king's will!"
People hadn't expected to hear anything like this. Most of
them had their favorite idols, toward which they had varying
degrees of loyalty. But because it was the custom to worship more
than one idol -- inasmuch as each was believed to give his
special benefits -- the edict from the herald posed no great
problem for most of the hearers. And the special benefit of
worshipping Nebuchadnezzar's idol was very plain. It was the
difference between living or being burned to death!
When the large orchestra by the pedestal broke out into
strains of music in the minor key, the crowd went to its knees.
Many tried to demonstrate special deep humility by dropping their
foreheads to the soil, hoping that these extreme actions would
somehow win them special favor. (Daniel 3:4-7.)
Acres of bowed human backs shone in the noonday sun. Some
who didn't understand, such as small children, remained standing
or simply sat down. (It must have been difficult for
Nebuchadnezzar's guards to decide who the disobedient were,
especially since they, too, had their foreheads pressed to the
ground.) As for Daniel and his three close friends, they simply
waited for the music finally to end and signal the close of the
period of worship.
Nebuchadnezzar was pleased with the way matters turned out.
He was even exuberant -- until some high-ranking Babylonians
appeared before him to flatter him on his efforts to launch a new
deity and then to inform him that there were those in his own
government who had deliberately refused to bow down before his
image.
"There must be some mistake," the king smiled indulgently,
looking away to show indifference. "No sane, responsible person
in my organization would dare defy my orders."
"The three foreigners, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego
certainly did!" the envious Babylonians quickly informed him.
Besides refusing to bow when they were told to yesterday, we
happen to know that they've never paid respect to any of our
gods! You have shown respect for their God. Should they not show
deference for at least one of yours?" (Daniel 3:8-12.)
"I'll take care of the matter," the king muttered, irritably
waving his informers away.
They triumphantly departed, convinced that action would be
taken against the three Jews. They had carefully omitted Daniel
from the charges because they knew that the king regarded him so
highly that speaking against him might bring down royal wrath on
their heads.


The Punishment

Nebuchadnezzar wasn't used to being disobeyed. The mere
thought of anyone ignoring his wishes gave him great displeasure.
So he called for Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. By the time they
had been brought before him, the king had developed his anger
into full bloom.
"I have been told that you, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,
failed to bow before my golden image," the king declared testily.
"I have also been told that in all the years you have enjoyed the
good things of my kingdom you have never shown your appreciation
by thanking any of my gods. Are these things true?"
"They are," one of them answered. "We are thankful for many
things, but we thank and worship only the one true God, the God
of Israel."
Previously, Nebuchadnezzar had threatened to have anyone
hacked into pieces who refused to regard the God of Israel as God
above all gods. But the men's answer so infuriated him that he
lost all regard he might have had for God.
"You were told that any who refused to bow down to my golden
image would be thrown into a hot furnace!" the king shouted.
"That's where you're going from here! Who is the God who is going
to step in and save you from THAT?"
"Our God is able to!" they answered. "But whether or not He
chooses to save us, we have no intention of worshipping other
gods or bowing down before that lifeless image you have set up!"
(Daniel 3:13-18.)
"Get men in here at once to bind these three!"
Nebuchadnezzar bellowed, his face livid with rage. "And go tell
the furnace foreman to get the furnace as hot as he can possibly
get it!"
Servants scrambled to obey. Moments later powerful soldiers
strode into the room to roughly seize and tie up the three Jews,
who were soon prone and helpless on the floor.
"Now drag these infidels to the furnace and shove them into
it when it's at its hottest!" the king roared.
Strong arms pulled Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah across the
floor, down stone steps and through the courtyard. A little later
at the smokebelching furnace, they were propped up so that they
could watch men feverishly tossing large pieces of pitchy wood
into the massive metal and stone firebox, which began to glow
dully when the roaring flames from the crackling wood were at
their hottest. Great surges of searing heat billowed forth,
reddening the skin of the stokers.
Nebuchadnezzar was on hand to gloat over the event, as were
the informers who had started it. While the heat was increasing,
so was the crowd of curious, morbid onlookers. Some ventured so
close to the furnace door that they were scorched by bursts of
heat, and they ran howling for safety.
At a signal from the king, the three victims were grabbed by
the men who had tied them and dragged them as close to the
furnace door as their handlers could stand to go. They were then
tossed through the door into the raging flames. (Daniel 3:19-23.)
This was the last act of the soldiers. Tongues of flame
leaped at them. They collapsed the next instant and fell to the
ground. Their clothing and skin broke into flames. They burned to
death in the torrid gusts of air outside the range of the huge
flames. None dared risk his life in an attempt to rescue them.
King Nebuchadnezzar quickly turned his glance back to the
bottom of the flaming pit. What he saw shocked him. Never in his
life had he seen such a thing.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 153
NEBUCHADNEZZAR GOES INSANE

SHADRACH Meshach and Abed-nego (whose Jewish names were Hananiah,
Mishael and Azariah) had just been thrown into the special, great
furnace in Babylon because of their refusal to worship King
Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. (Daniel 3:1-20.)


God Rules Furnaces, Too!

The king was disappointed in the satisfaction he imagined he
would receive by seeing the three Jews consumed by the flames. To
start, they had spoiled his sadistic fun by failing to scream for
mercy. On top of that, he had lost some of his best soldiers,
famous in his kingdom for their physical strength, when they
burned to death upon hurling the Jews into the furnace.
"If only I could see their ashy, scorched skeletons lying in
there in the embers," Nebuchadnezzar thought.
By now the horrible heat of the giant furnace was
diminishing, as no further fuel had been added. Morbidly curious
to learn if anything could be seen through the wide furnace door,
the king inched forward as close as the heat would allow him, and
stared inside.
It was almost impossible, through the eyeball-drying, torrid
gusts, to make out the heat-distorted embers glowing in a
blinding fusion, but for some reason the king stood resolutely
against the heat, his attention riveted by something unusual.
"Weren't there only three men thrown into the furnace?"
Nebuchadnezzar asked, blinking in bewilderment and pain.
"That's right," aides answered.
"But I can make out four people in there!" the king
exclaimed excitedly. "And they're walking around!"
"The heat distorts things and makes them unrecognizable,"
the aides answered concernedly. "You should leave this place now,
sire, and return to the comforts of your palace!"
"Don't try to cause me to lose sight of what I'm seeing!"
Nebuchadnezzar snapped angrily, carefully backing up a few steps.
"I tell you I see four men walking around in there as easily and
calmly as I would walk around in my palace! And the appearance of
the fourth one is similar to a Son of God! Look in there for
yourselves!" (Daniel 3:21-25.)
The king's nearest aides, along with many bystanders,
carefully peered at where Nebuchadnezzar's excited finger was
pointing.
"I see them! I see them!" several people started loudly
exclaiming at once.
As more and more bystanders witnessed the miraculous scene
of men walking about in a sea of withering flame, gasps of
disbelief and even cheers filled the air. The most moved and
enthusiastic witness was the king himself.
"Come out, come out, you servants of the Most High!"
Nebuchadnezzar yelled, wildly waving his arms.
There were more gasps of surprise and wonder as the three
men obediently strode out of the furnace door and walked up to
Nebuchadnezzar. The king stared in wonderment, noting that the
hair and clothing of the victims hadn't been touched by the
flames. Nor was there even the smell of smoke on them.
High-ranking Babylonians crowded around to gaze in disbelief, but
none were more amazed and impressed than Nebuchadnezzar.


Praise for God -- But No Repentance!

"The God of these men has shown His great power!" the king
of Babylon loudly announced to all who stood about. "The God of
the Jews is so powerful that He has swept aside my decree that
all people should worship my golden image! Therefore I now decree
that all people over whom I have dominion must show respect to
the God of these men above any other god! Any who refuse to
worship Him or speak against Him shall be hacked into small
pieces and their homes shall be turned into dumps for barnyard
refuse!" But Nebuchadnezzar was still far from repentant.
With this the three Jews were swiftly escorted to
comfortable quarters, but only after Nebuchadnezzar had satisfied
his curiosity about the fourth person he had seen in the furnace.
"But what happened to the fourth person who was with you?"
Nebuchadnezzar asked. "Where did he go?"
"He returned to the throne of our God," was their general
reply.
Following their trial of faith in the furnace, God blessed
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego for their obedience, and they
were promoted to even higher positions of importance under Daniel
in Nebuchadnezzar's powerful and growing kingdom. The incident
greatly altered the king's attitude for the better, but he had
still much to learn about how great God really is. (Daniel
3:26-30.)
He also had much to learn about how insignificant he really
was compared to God, even though he was the head of the most
powerful nation on earth. Nebuchadnezzar had such a consuming
awareness of his power and possessions that his mind was obsessed
with it.
Long before that, Daniel had reminded him that these things
had come only through God's hand, and that God could take them
back at any time. The king of Babylon could only conclude that he
must be a very special person in God's sight to be given such
special things.
"If I'm a person distinctive enough for all I've
accomplished and accumulated, then I'm too distinctive to be
deprived of it," Nebuchadnezzar mused.
Little was he aware of what was soon to happen to him
because of his egotistic overconfidence in himself. One night he
dreamed an unusual dream that troubled him so much that he
decided to call before him those who were supposed to have
special knowledge in such matters, so that he could determine the
meaning of the dream from them. Thus, on a certain day, the
king's throne room was jammed with magicians, astrologers, and
prognosticators, all anxious to please Nebuchadnezzar and receive
his rich reward.


Nebuchadnezzar's Dream

"Listen carefully while I relate to you my strange dream,"
the king addressed them. "Afterward I don't want to be bothered
by anyone who is merely guessing at the meaning of the dream. I
want a sensible explanation, and I shall deal harshly with anyone
who dares take up my time with ridiculous remarks and shallow
philosophizing.
"I dreamed that I was standing in a wide expanse of open
country, where there was a great tree. The tree grew swiftly
until its side branches filled the sky and its top branches went
up past the clouds. Mammoth leaves cast a vast shade area across
the earth, and all kinds of beasts sought shelter there. Gigantic
flocks of birds came to live in the farreaching branches. Beasts
and birds alike fed well on the tree's huge fruits growing in
unbelievable abundance.
"Then down from the sky swooped a being whose voice filled
all of space as he shouted out that the tree should be cut down,
and that its branches should be removed, the leaves shaken off,
the fruit scattered and that the beasts and birds should flee for
their lives.
"The stump of the tree was to be left and encircled by a
protecting band of iron and brass, but exposed to the elements
for a period called 'seven times.' Any who can interpret this
dream should step forth and speak up!"
There was a restless shuffle in the crowd, but not a man
stepped forth. Probably some of the would-be interpreters
remembered a previous time when Nebuchadnezzar angrily threatened
to behead all who were unable to explain one of his dreams. In
any event, not one of the many magicians, astrologers, and
prognosticators came forth with anything to say, whereupon the
king dismissed them.
For a while Nebuchadnezzar sat glumly silent, disappointed
that none of his so-called "wise" men could help him. Suddenly a
hopeful thought came to him.
"Why didn't I save time and effort and simply send for the
man who interpreted my dream years ago?" he asked himself,
gesturing for a servant. "Send word to Belteshazzar the Jew to
come to me as soon as possible!"
"Belteshazzar" was the pagan name the king had given to
Daniel, who soon arrived before Nebuchadnezzar. The king
recounted to him all he had told his former audience.
"Not one of those learned men was able to tell me what my
dream meant," the king observed discontentedly, "but I know you
won't fail me because you are constantly in touch with the gods."
"I have only one God," Daniel smilingly reminded the king.
"Then ask your one God to show you the meaning of my dream,"
Nebuchadnezzar insisted.


Daniel Interprets the Dream

Daniel was troubled. The meaning of the dream was plain to
him as soon as he heard it, but he was hesitant to startle the
king by coming out bluntly with unpleasant facts. As the minutes
dragged by and Daniel was still preoccupied with his thoughts,
the king realized that there was something Daniel wished he did
not have to tell him.
"If there's something you think I wouldn't want to hear,
don't let it prevent your speaking out," Nebuchadnezzar said, at
the same time desperately wondering what bad news he was about to
hear.
"I'm afraid that only your enemies would be pleased to hear
what I have to say," Daniel answered.
"But I'm sure that I want to know what it is even more than
they do," the king retorted.
"Here is the meaning of your dream," Daniel began, knowing
there was no point in trying to spare the king's feelings any
longer. "The colossal tree you saw in your sleep is you. You have
grown in such power in the world that many rely on you for
protection and sustenance, just as did the animals in your dream
that fed off the tree's fruits.
"The one you saw in your dream who came out of the sky and
decreed that the tree should be cut down was a messenger from
God. God has decided that you need to be taught humility and to
be shown how insignificant your pomp and majesty are when
compared to the God who made the heavens and earth."
Nebuchadnezzar was on his feet now, staring blankly out a
window at his beautiful Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
"Just how does your God plan to teach me this humility you
speak of?" the king asked in a sarcastic tone.
"Your dream was meant to tell you that," Daniel promptly
answered. "The cutting down of the tree means you will lose your
position as king of Babylon."
"You mean my enemies are going to take over my nation?"
queried Nebuchadnezzar.
"Not at all," Daniel explained. "For seven years you will
have no power over Babylon or any other nation, but God will
protect your kingdom for you. Before this happens it would be
wise to depart from sinful pursuits, including the worship of
idols. God would also be pleased if you distributed a part of
your great wealth to the poor among your people who are in such
need of food and shelter. If you do that, God would surely
postpone the miserable events that otherwise will soon come upon
you." (Daniel 4:21-27.)
Nebuchadnezzar was naturally quite miffed with these
statements from Daniel. Even though he had just declared Daniel's
God to be considered the most powerful of deities, he didn't like
to be told how he should worship. As for contributing to the
poor, he reasoned that he would have no wealth left if he gave to
all who were in need. Nebuchadnezzar ended the audience abruptly.
This relieved Daniel, who was spared informing the king HOW he
would lose control of Babylon. The fact was that Nebuchadnezzar
was going to go insane!
As the months passed and the political and financial affairs
of Babylon remained in a promising state, the king began to doubt
that Daniel's interpretation of the dream was true. There was no
indication of trouble ahead. On the contrary, matters appeared
better than ever, what with the wars of expansion apparently in
the past.


The Haughty One Humbled

A year after his dream, Nebuchadnezzar was walking in his
palace, particularly pleased at the sight of the lavish
surroundings.
"Feast your eyes on all that!" he exclaimed proudly to
guests as he gestured widely toward costly walls and buildings of
the city. "There's no place in the universe like Babylon, the
city I have built through my great power for the honor and glory
of my majesty!"
Just as the king finished uttering this extremely vain
remark, he was startled by a thunderous voice from the sky!
"Nebuchadnezzar, you are to lose your kingdom," the voice
boomed. "Within an hour you will be an outcast from this city of
your haughty pride! Instead of living with men, you will be
forced out into the fields and forests to live with animals! For
the next seven years you will even act and look like a wild
beast! It will take you that long to fully realize that God
decides every man's state, and gives to and takes from whomever
He chooses!"
The king suddenly crouched crazily at the base of a fountain
and gazed wild-eyed with his mouth wide open. He looked as though
he wanted to say something, but only loud gasps and grunts came
past his distorted lips. His shocked guests and aides backed away
from him, obviously more perturbed by his conduct than by the
thunderous voice, which possibly was heard only by
Nebuchadnezzar. The king fell to his hands and knees and ran
awkwardly along the street. Women screamed and men seized them
and pulled them away from the struggling figure.
A crowd began to gather, but everyone kept a safe distance
from the prone figure. The king's aides were afraid to seize the
stricken man. "Mad man! Mad man!" was the shout that spread
around the streets, and that drew only more of a crowd. Even the
members of Nebuchadnezzar's family, when they heard of his
condition, made no moves to have him taken away privately. God
willed it that way. (Daniel 4:28-33.)
Very likely Daniel, who had long been next to the king in
authority, kept the government running smoothly while
Nebuchadnezzar was insane. Daniel and his three friends could be
expected to return Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom to him in good
condition when he recovered.


" -- With the Beasts of the Field"

Meanwhile, little was seen of the former king. Occasionally
he would be glimpsed in some distant wooded area digging for
something to eat, but if he knew he was being watched, he would
scurry away like a startled animal.
As the years passed and Nebuchadnezzar was seen less, Daniel
had a growing desire to learn how the former king was making out.
Daniel had no intention of helping him in any way, because he
realized God was dealing with the insane ruler, and would keep
him alive through the seven rugged years. By following the clues
of farmers and hunters, Daniel found where Nebuchadnezzar was
living at the time. It turned out to be a small cave. There
Daniel almost came face to face with Nebuchadnezzar, whose hair
and beard were long and matted. Even his fingernails and toenails
were thick and long like those of an animal, which indeed he had
become after years of living like one. It was difficult to
believe that such a creature had once been the most powerful
ruler in the world, but it was more difficult to believe that he
would soon return to that same position. If Nebuchadnezzar saw
Daniel watching him, he gave no sign of it. He simply ambled down
to a small stream, where he took a long drink. After that he
munched on grass and dug vigorously in the ground, with his long
nails, in search of roots. Shocked at the sight, Daniel returned
to his home, thankful that he could know that God would restore
Nebuchadnezzar to be a wiser man than he had been almost seven
years before.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 154
FALL OF BABYLON THE GREAT

SATISFIED THAT Nebuchadnezzar was basically in good health,
though insane and living like an animal, Daniel returned to his
home to await the time when the former king of Babylon would
regain a normal mind.


Sanity Returns

When Nebuchadnezzar had spent seven years in his miserable
state of mental derangement, the former king's sanity suddenly
returned to him. (Daniel 4:33-34.) It was as though he abruptly
became conscious of himself after seven years of being only
conscious like an animal. He stared down at rags, a long unkempt
beard, and claw-like nails.
"What am I doing like this in these rocks and bushes?" he
asked himself.
Having noted a distant farm hut, he went there, only to be
met by the screams of terrified small children, who fled to the
hut to hide, and by a protective father who appeared at the door
brandishing a sickle.
"I want to know the way to the city," Nebuchadnezzar said.
"It's that way," the man pointed. "Be on your way, and don't
show up here again!"
Not everybody Nebuchadnezzar met that day was so unfriendly.
A few felt sorry for this strange outcast. Through their help, he
was able to get cleaned up, be trimmed of his long hair, beard
and nails, and be respectably clothed. After that it was no
problem to obtain transportation into Babylon, which he did
possibly in the cart of a friendly woodcutter. During the long
ride Nebuchadnezzar was lost in thought and troubled by what had
happened to him since the moment he had been showing guests
around his palace. What was immediately plain to him was that a
long time had elapsed since then.
There was much confusion at the gates of the palace in
Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar showed up there to announce his
identity.
"In case you haven't heard, Nebuchadnezzar no longer
exists!" a young guard sneered.
"Don't talk to him like that!" an older guard snapped. "That
is King Nebuchadnezzar!"
From that moment on the palace was in an uproar. Those who
hoped never to hear of Nebuchadnezzar again were understandably
shocked when they recognized the former ruler. Those who were
loyal to the former king greeted him joyously.
Now that the events of the past seven years were made clear
to him, Nebuchadnezzar could view himself well. He had tried to
exalt himself to God's level. And God had made him drop to the
level of animals, wild donkeys and such having been his only
company in the hills and plains for a long time. Nebuchadnezzar
now had a clearer picture of God, too Realizing that God had
mercifully corrected him brought the meaning of something new to
him -- humility. He was for the first time more ashamed of his
actions as king than he was of those during his insanity. When
that happened, God saw to it that Nebuchadnezzar was firmly
reestablished on the throne of Babylonia. He was a much wiser
ruler the rest of his days, during which he was honored more than
ever by many peoples of all nations. (Daniel 4:34-37.)
Nebuchadnezzar wrote the decree found in the fourth chapter of
Daniel's book to teach others the lessons he had learned.


Belshazzar's Feast

Nebuchadnezzar died after forty-three years of ruling
Babylonia. He was succeeded by his son Evil-merodach, under whom
conditions in the kingdom began to worsen. However, one of the
new king's acts was laudable. He freed Jehoiachin, the king of
Judah who had been brought by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon and
imprisoned nearly thirty-seven years previously.
To show honor to the vassal king, Evil-merodach therefore
allowed Jehoiachin the privileges of sharing the royal food in
the palace. (II Kings 25:27-30.) This probably didn't last very
long because after only a very short reign Evil-merodach was
assassinated and another took his place.
During similar sudden changes for the next few years, the
kingdom's power steadily waned. By the time an idolatrous man
named Belshazzar had become co-ruler with his father, Nabonidus
(apparently a son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar), the empire was in
serious trouble. Media and Persia, two nations to the north and
east, had sent their armies heading toward high-walled Babylon,
whose fall could mean the fall of all Babylonia.
Even under such ominous circumstances, Babylon seemed
impregnable. Belshazzar disdainfully held a riotous feast for a
thousand of his officials. As the evening progressed and wine
flowed more freely, Belshazzar staggered to his feet and motioned
for the music and chattering to cease.
"Why are we drinking to our gods from such ordinary cups?"
he asked loudly. "Why not use the gold and silver vessels brought
long ago from the so-called holy temple in Jerusalem? I say that
it's time for those vessels to be put to a better use than in
serving the God of Judah!"
There were raucous cheers. Servants hurried to bring out the
costly containers, distribute them in the crowd and pour wine
into them.
"Here's to our soldiers out on the walls!" Belshazzar
bellowed, shakily holding aloft a gleaming golden goblet brimming
with wine. "May they never run out of boiling water to pour down
on the steaming heads of our bothersome besiegers!"
There were ripples of laughter, especially from the king's
wives and concubines, who also were present. Everyone stood up,
extended various containers of wine, roared approval and quaffed
the beverages. Then the music continued and the people settled
back to loud drinking of toast after toast to their many and
varied gods. (Daniel 5:1-4.)


The Handwriting on the Wall

Just as waiters were struggling into the big room with huge
trays of food, a woman screamed, bringing a moment of silence to
the crowd. People pointed to the wall above the stage where the
king and his favorites were sitting.
Still laughing at something that had been said at his table,
Belshazzar glanced up. His expression abruptly changed. The color
drained from his fear-stricken face. Within only a few feet of
his head was what appeared to be a huge human hand, the
forefinger tracing letters in the plaster with such pressure that
it made deep, plain writing!
People were so paralyzed with fright at this awesome sight
that they were hardly able to move. They watched with horrifying
fascination as the hand wrote several groups of strange letters
on the wall. Then the hand faded away. A few women fainted.
Everyone stared at the wall, many trembling with fear. Belshazzar
was suddenly aware that his knees were knocking against each
other, and that his vertebrae felt as though they had dissolved.
He tried to call out, but it took several efforts to gain his
voice.
"Call the astrologers, the Chaldean scholars and the
magicians!" he finally was able to mutter.
The men Belshazzar had summoned dutifully filed in. The king
pointed to the wall.
"Tell me what that writing means!" he demanded excitedly.
"To any one of you who can do this, I promise magnificent
clothing, a golden chain necklace and that he shall become the
third one in power in the Babylonian empire!"
These "wise" men, as they were called, swarmed around the
wall to study the writing, but not a one of the astrologers,
scholars or magicians could make anything of it. They had to
admit that the writing was utterly meaningless to them.
Disappointed and still apprehensive, Belshazzar hesitatingly
dismissed them, convinced that there was some ominous message on
the wall he should know about. (Daniel 5:5-9.)
In contrast to the former festive atmosphere that had
prevailed in the banquet room, there was now a restless sobriety.
Food and drink no longer had much appeal. People were more
interested in leaving than in feasting. At this point a matronly
woman followed by attendants entered the room and walked toward
Belshazzar.
"O king, live forever!" she respectfully said, bowing.
"What brings you here, queen-mother?" Belshazzar asked
testily. "I heard you didn't approve of this gathering."
"I've just learned what happened," the queen-mother
answered, glancing uneasily at the wall. "Don't give up hope of
learning the meaning of that writing up there. Right here in this
city is a man who used to be chief of the wise men.
Nebuchadnezzar gave him that rank when this man showed unusual
knowledge and understanding. As one who had the wisdom of the
gods, he had the ability to interpret dreams and reveal hidden
meanings. If you call on him, he should be able to help you."
"Who is this man?" Belshazzar asked, leaning forward
expectantly.
"His Jewish name was Daniel, but King Nebuchadnezzar renamed
him Belteshazzar, almost like your name," was the reply.
After a while a soldier brought in Daniel, now an aging man
who had lost his high rank in the kingdom soon after King
Nebuchadnezzar's death.


Belshazzar Learns His Fate

"I have heard of you and your unique abilities," Belshazzar
said. "I have already asked many men to tell me the meaning of
these letters on the wall, but they have failed. If you succeed,
you shall receive the reward of being third man in power in this
kingdom. Besides, you will be given fine clothing and a splendid
necklace of gold!" (Daniel 5:10-16.)
"I don't have any desire for your rewards," Daniel told the
king. "I prefer that you keep them or turn them over to someone
else after I've given you the meaning of what is written on the
wall. First, though, there are some other things you should know.
Years ago your grandfather King Nebuchadnezzar gained great
possessions, majesty, glory and honor. All that made him a proud,
vain man who took or spared lives according to his whims. He
wouldn't admit that it was the God of Israel who had allowed him
to have his wealth and power. Therefore, God took his kingdom
away from him and cast him out to live with animals until he
could learn that God's will prevails above that of any man. Even
though you knew all this, you, too, Belshazzar, have tried to
elevate yourself. This very evening you ventured to show others
your disdain for your Creator by using the vessels from God's
holy temple for the profane purpose of drinking to the lifeless
gods you foolishly worship. Because you have refused to humble
yourself and raise the God who has given you the breath of life,
God sent a hand to write you a warning!
"The words you see on the wall mean that your kingdom is at
an end, that you have proved yourself to be an unwise ruler, and
that the enemies at your gates have already begun to take your
empire!" (Daniel 5:17-28.)
There was silence in the room as Belshazzar stared at
Daniel. A deep fear showed in the king's face, but there was also
resentment because Belshazzar was being told that he was an
unwise ruler.
"You can't say that I don't at least keep my promises to
you!" the king exclaimed.
In spite of his alarm at what he had just heard, Belshazzar
managed to order his servants to bring a fine coat and a gold
chain to put on Daniel at once, and directed one of his officers
to proclaim that Daniel would be elevated to the third-ranking
man in power in Babylonia. When Daniel left the palace, he was
attired the way the king said he would be and was shown the
courtesies extended to royalty. (Daniel 5:29.)
Meanwhile, days before, Median and Persian soldiers had
started to work hard on the ambitious project of temporarily
diverting the Euphrates River from its natural course through the
city of Babylon into a marshland off to the side. This they
accomplished, surprisingly, by digging a channel through one bank
and piling huge amounts of stones into the river to shunt a most
of its water, for a time, into the channel they had dug. Inasmuch
as the Babylonians were penned up in their city, they certainly
couldn't interfere, and apparently didn't even know what was
being done.


The City Taken

With that part of the riverbed that ran through the city
almost dry, troops of the Medes and Persians, led by men named
Darius and Cyrus, marched at night through the riverbed mud to
almost the very heart of the city. There they found a carelessly
left open gate which led from the river through the walls along
the river into the city proper. Troops poured into Babylon to
confound the citizens and soldiers with utter surprise. Before
morning the attackers were in command, having actually come
within the outer limits of the city while Belshazzar and his
guests drank in the banquet room of the palace.
The king, meanwhile, had retired to his quarters. He was
frightened and distressed by what Daniel had told him. To add to
his misery, he began to imagine that he was being watched and
followed by someone or ones who meant him harm. Doubling his
personal guard didn't give him a feeling of security. Nor did it
protect him. Clever assassins succeeded in taking his life that
night in spite of his guards. King Belshazzar didn't live long
enough to see his city overrun by the besiegers he had scorned!
After the conquest of the Babylonians, it was decided that
Darius, ruler of the Medes, should stay in charge of Babylon
while Cyrus, ruler of Persia, went back to his affairs in Persia.


First of Exiles Return

The first of the Jewish exiles to start back for their
homeland after being captives of the Babylonians were led by
Zerubbabel, prince of Judah. Their long caravan of about fifty
thousand people also included over seven hundred horses, more
than a hundred mules, over four hundred camels and almost seven
thousand donkeys. There were also herds of cattle and flocks of
sheep to be used as food along the way and for starting new herds
and flocks when they arrived in the homeland.
Directly from Babylon to the land of Judah was more than
five hundred miles, but between the two places was the vast
Syrian desert, an area too arid for crossing with animals other
than camels. There were too many animals to carry water for,
which meant that the Jews would have to take a route twice as
long in order to stay close to streams. Therefore, instead of
setting out westward toward Judah, they started northwest along
the west side of the Euphrates River, following it for roughly
four hundred miles until they came to a region where smaller
streams emptied into the Euphrates from mountains to the west.
There they turned west and then south to move along the foothills
of the mountains in northwestern Syria. This part of the route
took them past Damascus, Mt. Hermon and along the northern part
of the Jordan River. From there they came down into the land of
Judah to end a trip close to a thousand miles long and which
required about four months to make.
This was an exciting, happy type of journey, but not every
event during the trip was joyful. There were deaths as well as
births. Hostile bands of nomads occasionally made night raids to
steal anything of value or even to drive off unprotected sheep or
cattle.
Conditions were bad in Jerusalem, whose walls were broken,
the interior charred by fire and the temple utterly demolished.
Although a large part of the Jews chose to settle there, there
was a general scattering of them all over Judah because of an
effort to locate in the regions and homesites their forebears had
left. Ravages by the elements, animals and roving junk pickers
had left most buildings uninhabitable. Tents and crude makeshift
structures had to be set up to house the new citizens until they
could repair or rebuild the old houses that were falling apart.
As soon as the people were established in fair comfort, the
men were summoned to Jerusalem by Zerubbabel and Jeshua to
rebuild the main altar at the temple site so that they could
begin as soon as possible to make burnt offerings in the mornings
and evenings. The altar was set up even before a new temple floor
had been laid because they feared the people who lived nearby,
and believed that this hurried act of obedience would give them
greater protection from God.
When it came time for the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews
obediently observed it, having looked forward eagerly to the
privilege of having this special time for themselves. This was to
be the most joyous time of the year, but under the circumstances
the Jews probably didn't observe it with the unrestrained joy
they otherwise would have done. They were so thankful to be in
their own country, though, that they gave liberally at the two
offering times of the Feast. There was such a great amount of
riches taken in that it was possible, with permission from King
Cyrus, who still held Judah as a vassal nation, to purchase
lumber for building a second temple from the nearby cities of
Tyre and Sidon. Arrangements were also made to hire skilled
craftsmen from these places to come the next year to carry out
the intricate work the Jews weren't trained to do.
By the time the floor of the temple was completed, Jeshua
had appointed men from the Levites for various functions. These
assistant priests and priests were attired in the proper
vestments for a dedication ceremony. Blowing trumpets and
striking cymbals, these men led the people in happy songs of
gratitude. This was followed by a loud chorus of joyous shouts.
At the same time there was loud wailing, in the far eastern
fashion of showing sadness, by older men who had seen the
original temple. They wept openly because they regretted that the
new one would lack the size, beauty, majesty and furnishings of
the first one.
Time passed while the Jews concentrated on cleaning up the
rubble from the walls and brought in material to rebuild the
broken parts. At the same time they managed to do a little work
on the temple, but small progress was made. Meanwhile, their
Samaritan neighbors became more and more disgruntled because of
the construction that was taking place on the walls. Slowing up
work on the temple and finally stopping the work wasn't too
difficult for the Samaritans because it involved only one site.
But it was impossible for them to hamper the work at dozens of
places throughout Jerusalem.
Years passed. It was now sometime after the death of Cyrus'
son that Darius the Persian became king. He proved to be in favor
of the Jews.
In the second year of the reign of King Darius, two Jewish
prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, were inspired by God to stir up
their countrymen into continuing work on the temple in spite of
the threats of their enemies. These men had come from Babylon
with Zerubbabel. Having lived many years close to God, they more
clearly realized the importance of getting on with the temple.
Besides, they had more faith than did most Jews that God would
protect those who would try to carry out the work God expected
them to do.
"We have reason to believe that King Darius would favor work
on the temple starting again," they told Zerubbabel, Jeshua and
other leaders.
Encouraged, but at the same time beset with misgivings, the
Judean leader eventually called together the temple workmen, who
anxiously renewed their work, though concerned about how long
they could continue without enemy interruption. As might be
expected, the watchful Samaritans soon noted what was happening.
When Governor Tatnai was told what was taking place, his
reaction was disappointing to the Samaritans. Instead of replying
that he would come with troops, he sent a letter back indicating
merely that he would look into the matter. A few days later the
Samaritans saw Tatnai and a few aides riding southward through
Samaria, apparently on their way to Jerusalem. There were no
troops in the entourage, which could mean that the governor
didn't intend to force the Jews into anything.
Obviously a fair person who didn't accept the exaggerated
and hostile reports of the Samaritans, Tatnai came to Zerubbabel
and simply asked him by whose authority he was allowing his men
to work on the temple, and why Jerusalem's walls had been partly
reconstructed with the strength of fortress walls.
"Our authority comes from the God of heaven and earth,"
Zerubbabel respectfully replied. "Years ago a great king of
Israel was instructed by our God to build a temple here. Long
after it was built, our forefathers angered God, causing Him to
bring King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon against them. Nebuchadnezzar
destroyed the temple and took our people as prisoners to Babylon.
Some of those people are here with us. Others and their
descendants still live in or near Babylon. In the first year of
the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, Cyrus decreed, according to
the desire of God, that the temple should be rebuilt by our
people. Many thousands of us returned to Jerusalem with
permission from the king, who gave us back the gold and silver
vessels Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the house of God. These we
have here ready to be put back in use in the temple, which we
haven't been able to finish even in the last sixteen years. That
is because our enemies have constantly tried to prevent our
work."
Tatnai asked a few more questions and then left, leaving
Zerubbabel and Jeshua wondering what would come of the governor's
visit. The Samaritans wondered too, when they saw the governor
and his aides returning to Syria. On reaching his office, Tatnai
made a report to send to King Darius, describing in detail his
visit to Jerusalem.
"If you are in favor of it, I suggest that the Persian
records at Babylon be searched to learn what was written about
King Cyrus in this matter," Tatnai concluded. "Please let us know
if the Jews should be allowed to continue their construction.
Your decision will be carried out as soon as we receive word from
you."
On reading Tatnai's report, King Darius ordered the royal
records to be searched, but it was soon discovered that all but
recent records had been moved to the Persian summer palace at
Achmetha, up in the mountains about three hundred miles northeast
of Babylon. There a scroll was found which clearly described what
King Cyrus had done concerning another proposed temple at
Jerusalem.
"This tells me just what I want to be sure of!" was Darius'
pleased exclamation. "Now I'm going to make another decree to fit
in with that of my famous predecessor, King Cyrus. It should
straighten out those in Samaria who have been troubling the
people of Judah!"
In his message to be made public, especially in the areas of
Samaria, Judah and Syria, Darius ordered that work on the temple
at Jerusalem shouldn't be hampered by anyone, that the tribute
usually coming to Babylon from vassal nations to the west should
go to the Jews in any amount they needed to continue building the
temple and that the priests there were to be furnished bullocks,
rams, lambs, wine, wheat, salt and oil.
"All I ask in return," explained King Darius, who had
respect for the God of Israel, "is that the priests include me
and my sons among those for whom they offer sacrifices and say
prayers. I hereby declare that anyone who defies or ignores my
wishes in this affair will have boards stripped from his home for
building a gallows for hanging him. As for his home, may it never
be used again for anything except an outhouse. May the God of
Israel destroy any who would harm the temple of God at Jerusalem!
Let this decree be carried out speedily."
Darius' decree was carried to the western vassal nations
with haste, bringing angry surprise and dejection to the
Samaritans and relief and joy to the Jews. They had felt that
Darius would favor them, but they didn't expect such vigorous
support from him. The Samaritans, fearing that they would be
watched by Persian agents, almost immediately ceased troubling
the Jews, who at long last felt a freedom they hadn't experienced
since coming to their land.
For the next four years work on the temple progressed so
well that the building was finished in the sixth year of the
reign of Darius. Because of the former harassment from their
enemies and their periods of lack of dedication to their work,
the Jews were twenty years in carrying out their project.
The dedication ceremonies marked the most eventful day since
the Jews had arrived. It was a time of triumph, joy and
thankfulness. Everything was set in careful order for the
functions of the priests and their assistants. Offerings included
a hundred bullocks, two hundred rams and twelve male goats. Some
of these animals, as God would have it, were furnished by the
same people who had tried for years to prevent the building of
the temple.


Conclusion

From this point onward, the events from then to now are
mostly recorded in advance, as prophecy. But prophetic writings
do not directly lend themselves to inclusion in such a narrative
as "The Bible Story."
The account brings us up to the restoration of Judah under
the Persians, a type of the future restoration of all twelve
tribes to the Promised Land.
There is, of course, considerable history in the New
Testament. But we do not plan to cover that in "The Bible Story."
In conclusion, let us remember that the book of Daniel with
the story of the handwriting on the wall prefigures the state of
the world now. The handwriting is on the wall of world
civilization today. The voice of a modern-day Daniel is going out
to all the world via the WORLD TOMORROW telecast, "The Plain Truth"
magazine and other educational services of the Worldwide Church of
God. How many will heed the warning?
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