The Destruction of Jerusalem

Every few hundred years, there are events that redefine a nation, a people, at its very core. Consider the shift in internal vision and circumstance that propels, occasionally, a geographical backwater to a leading world force for a season as was Portugal, Holland, and England; or the change in values and identity that transforms a nation as with the French Revolution (“liberté, égalité, fraternité”), the Meiji Restoration of 1870s Japan that opened it to the pursuit of modernization and empire, or the Declaration of Independence that resumed the Athenian experiment with democracy after a hiatus of nearly 2200 years.

This week’s lesson on the fall of Jerusalem is one such pivotal event. With the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem in 587-86 BC (scholars debate the calendrical correlation), biblical history turned, irrevocably, from the narrative of a small, dynastic, Levantine ethno-state, to the story of monotheism surviving, then thriving, in the intellectual theater of Hellenistic and Roman Europe and Western Asia. Not a small accomplishment for a fringe belief!

David’s forging of the Kingdom of Israel out of internecine tribal conflict and the Philistine existential threat was a brilliant accomplishment borne on the failures of Saul and Ish-baal[1] (2 Sam 2:9-10), its first two would-be kings. David strengthened an alliance of the wary tribes with clever political moves: a capital in Jerusalem, a formerly nonaligned city in the buffer tribe of little Benjamin between Judah and Ephraim; the appointment of two head priests, one, Abiathar, a descendent of Eli from the northern territories at Shiloh, and possibly of Mosaic lineage, the other, Zadok, from the south, of Aaronid descent. But such savvy is seldom seen in the sons of strongmen state-founders. Wise as he was, Solomon sowed the seeds of eventual dissolution of the unified kingdom. His tax-men ravaged the twelve districts he created crosscutting old tribal boundaries, casually leaving his home tribe, Judah, exempt from the rolling monthly “forced labor” (the same term appears in Exodus referring to the taskmasters as “officers of the missîm”). A grudge over royal succession bygones drove Solomon to exile Abiathar, the northern priest, to the town of Anathoth, over a hill to the northeast of Jerusalem. And here we telescope through 400 years to find Jeremiah of Anathoth, a son of the priestly family of Hilkiah, who some have suggested was Hilkiah the former High Priest, prime mover of Josiah’s recent reforms. Certainly the timeline adds up.

With Josiah, killed by a random arrow piercing between the armor at Megiddo in 609 BC, died the hope of a Davidic restoration of Israel. The dashed hopes were too profound to articulate. He had been the hope of Israel. Jeremiah wrote a lament for Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:25). Who since David had served God as fervently and whole-heartedly? The successors were washes: a son, Jehoahaz (reigned 3 months), a second son, Jehoiakim (reigned 11 years), then grandson, Jehoiachin (reigned 3 months), then, third son Zedekiah (reigned 11 years).

Jeremiah’s theology also lines up with Hilkiah’s discovery of the law scroll in the temple during Josiah’s reign, commonly identified as the book of Deuteronomy. If Hilkiah of the scroll discovery were his father, it might explain Jeremiah’s deep connection with Deuteronomy. Scholars have noted the deep interplay in language, phrasing, and theological perspective between the two works. The book of Deuteronomy is the charter document for the history of Israel as recounted in the historical books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. It sets out the promise of national prosperity based on faithful adherence to the tenets of the covenant between God and the people of Israel. The curses are outlined as the sure result of disobedience. The Davidic kingship becomes the incarnation of God’s ideal leadership of Israel. As marked out in Kings and Chronicles, unfaithfulness on the part of individual kings leads to national collapse, and ultimately, with a succession of bad kings, exile. With this in mind, Josiah, who “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2 NIV) was the last great hope for deliverance as the Babylonian war machine plowed through Assyria and down toward Judah. But would the last king of Judah listen to the words of warning?

Jeremiah of Anathoth is positioned as an outsider to the royal court of Zedekiah. Not that Jeremiah was unknown to the king. Far from it. But he seems to have been rather unpopular (e.g. Jer. 36-38). As Isaiah was sawn asunder by good-king Hezekiah’s errant son, Manasseh, it seems unlikely a reforming high priest would be favored by Josiah’s counter-reformist successors. However, Zedekiah gave some thought to Jeremiah who was particularly hated by the elites of Jerusalem. Why?

One must look back a century to the time of Isaiah and Kings Ahaz and Hezekiah. When the Assyrian empire was expanding west and gobbling up small states in Syria with an eye cast south toward Damascus and Israel, the kings of those two states, Rezin and Pekah, tried to force Judah to join the anti-Assyrian coalition. Isaiah advised Ahaz to decline this fatal resistance, and when the combined Syro-Ephraimite forces besieged Jerusalem, Isaiah proclaimed the sign, “A young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (meaning 'God is with us'). He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted" (Isaiah 7:14-16 RSV).

Jerusalem didn’t fall. Damascus and Samaria were subsequently crushed by Assyrian armies. Jerusalem alone stood between Assyria and the borders of Egypt. But time passed, and when Hezekiah later rebelled against the Assyrian indemnity incurred by his father, the Assyrians returned to crush Judah. Again, Jerusalem was spared, miraculously to those who observed: the Egyptian army advanced causing Assyrian recalibration; multitudes of the Assyrian army were slain; rumors called home the Assyrian king—all of these explanations are given. But what capital had ever survived the Assyrian war machine? From this grew what scholars now call the “Jerusalem orthodoxy,” a theological belief held by many in the city during the 7th century BC, that God would always spare His city. Its divine charter would never fail. The Davidic promise was irrevocable; a scion of David would always sit on the throne in Jerusalem.

Jeremiah begged to differ. He fearlessly proclaimed a different vision of divine favor. Jerusalem, no less, would be held to the Deuteronomic covenant. Jeremiah minced no words, “This is what the LORD says: Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, 'The Babylonians will surely leave us.' They will not! Even if you were to defeat the entire Babylonian army that is attacking you and only wounded men were left in their tents, they would come out and burn this city down” (Jeremiah 37:9-10 NIV).

And so it was. On the 10th of Av in the lunar calendar (Jer. 52:12), Nebuzaradan, commander of the imperial guard, “set fire to the royal palace and the houses of the people and broke down the walls of Jerusalem” (Jer. 39:8).[2] The unthinkable had happened. Jeremiah had been right.

Now Jerusalem was a pile of rubble. The temple smoldering embers. The earthly residence of God, demolished. The survivors would grapple with the meaning of this loss. How could exiles worship without temple and priesthood? Could sin be remitted in a foreign land without priestly intercessor and temple institutions? Would prayers to God be potent in a foreign land full of foreign gods? How did the foreign nations fit into God’s plan?

And so this was the next of those redefining pivot points of history for the Judahite nation, henceforth to become known as Jews. Theological views were stretched and broadened. Belief in the universal God spread with the Jewish diaspora, to the point that in the 1st century AD, “God-fearers,” those who believed in the Jewish monotheistic God but didn’t fully convert to Judaism, proved ready converts to early Christianity. The rapid expansion of Christianity wouldn’t have happened without this groundwork.

Sometimes it is the crushing collapse of certainty and cherished dogmas that ushers in a wider view of God and His plans. But Jeremiah would have us hold fast our faith. “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).

Kent V. Bramlett, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Archaeology and the History of Antiquity

HMS Richards Divinity School, La Sierra University

[1] Later referred to as Ish-bosheth, substituting bosheth (shame) for baal.

[2] According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:6), the fire began on the 9th of Av and burned through the 10th, thus aligning with the destruction of the 2nd temple on the 9th of Av, both thus being commemorated on the day of mourning, Tisha B’Av.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7219
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Thank-you Kent for your comprehensive contribution… One comment, though I think perhaps not in your control, it would be very helpful to have these articles a few days earlier. Australia and New Zealand are in an earlier Timezone . This arrived early Sabbath morning. ( help editor?) Jim Bussau

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Let’s not forget that there was a lot of divine intervention involved in the establishment of the Davidic dynasty. Had God not chosen him to replace the rebellious Saul, who knows how things would have played out after the death of Saul and Jonathan.

Someone was whining about studying the OT so much: “When was the last time the letters to Christians were topics?”

Not long ago (this year, in fact), we studied the Gospel of Luke–a letter to “most excellent Theophilus.” Is that NT enough for you? What’s wrong with the OT? Jesus and Paul quoted extensively from it, and its prophecies predicted the Messiah, His time of arrival, and His mission. Only as we understand the OT properly, can we gain the full benefit of the NT.

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Being in NZ I agree. I check every day to see if this week’s lesson has been posted, and really appreciate when it’s done early in the week, as I find the comments can be really helpful too.

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The Destruction of Jerusalem, 4 December 2015 | Kent V. Bramlett said two wise and eloquent statement at the beginning and end of the article: “Every few hundred years, there are events that redefine a nation, a people, at its very core.” And the second, “Sometimes it is the crushing collapse of certainty and cherished dogmas that ushers in a wider view of God and His plans.”

The country stands on the cusp of major change. After the most recent tragedy in San Bernardino, gun control is just one of the formerly taboo subjects that has come out of the political closet, once again. Today, a majority of Americans support stricter gun laws, a majority support a more progressive tax system and most favor same-sex marriage. A majority of voters even support the idea of legalizing marijuana. What do God’s people say to their communities in this context?

The laws have not caught up with this dramatic change in attitudes, and entrenched interests will fight what amounts to a quiet but pivotal social revolution. The coming year will see continuing battles in the courts, in the media and in legislatures, as the forces of change – now representing the majority – seek to upset the status quo. Where are the ideas and inspiration coming from that can give hope and meaning? Are the sermons in our churches relevant to what is happening around us?

Then there’s that strange, unbecoming political show, the one with the ticking clock, known as the 2016 Election. Donald Trump’s poll ratings and attraction grows bigger every day. Many who thought certain candidates would be on top now realize how wrong they were.

Those are just the most immediate of the ongoing dramas adding stress to holiday dinners, energy to television shows and liveliness to family debates. The United States is reassessing matters that many thought had been settled. It wasn’t very long ago that the views from the most conservative elements of the political establishment dominated the social agenda. In recent months, however, we have reached a tipping point. Once again, the people are leading their leaders. Public views, especially among the young, hold that gender discrimination is not only wrong, it’s silly. As a church we are still reluctant to ordain women.

Attitudes are changing in other ways that seemed unthinkable not long ago. Who would have thought Americans would favor legalizing drugs? Two-thirds of voters under age 30 support legalizing pot, bringing the overall total to 51%, and giving a boost to referendum campaigns on the issue.

With just a few days before the start of 2016, the issues facing America are serious, the disagreements are intense, and the range of views is wide. And yet, the country is facing its choices with nervous anticipation. Something is happening in America. Where are the Jeremiah’s today?

Kent could not have framed it better than when he wrote in his piece: “Sometimes it is the crushing collapse of certainty and cherished dogmas that ushers in a wider view of God and His plans. But Jeremiah would have us hold fast our faith. “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).

----Is anyone listening to Jim’s plea? This is a recurring problem, in the USA as well, please!
“One comment, though I think perhaps not in your control, it would be very helpful to have these articles a few days earlier. Australia and New Zealand are in an earlier Timezone . This arrived early Sabbath morning. ( help editor?) Jim Bussau”

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… and so the players in this cyclical play remain the same throughout the centuries - to this day.

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Sabbath School is 30-50 minutes long. Why don’t teachers just copy the approach in this article and basically do history comments on Israel’s kings and make one short point of application?
Think about it…Are there any SDA women weeping for Tammuz in the SDA churches? Are any elders outside the church building bowing down facing EAST and worshipping the SUN?

Those with more than superficial insight will know that the idols in the church are the church institution, the bible and Jesus’ blood. Of course that will offend some, especially when they don’t realize that highly esteemed, popular SDA scholars have mentioned some of the same things.

All of the lessons through this one were basically diagnostic/problem revealing. Next week’s lesson is the remedy/solution. I hope someone writes an article for Spectrum because Lesson 11 is the most important for the quarter.

What does it mean and how is it accomplished—God writing laws in the heart?

And because Lesson 11 has old covenant material in the earlier portions of the lesson…those teachers who usually never get past Tuesday will end up doing a disservice to their classes by giving the new covenant little or superficial exposure.

a very clear summary of Hebrew history. more to the current situation would be the lament of Christ over Jerusalem. Our day is much like AD 70. Passion rules religion rather than religion subduing passion. Tom Z

Why are the SS lessons so often based on the OT? When was the last time the letters to Christians were topics? It is easy to study the mistakes and difficulties encountered by the Hebrews when they ignored God, but their problems cannot all be ours today.

Christ’s message, the Gospel and the New Covenant guides us, not the Law with its hundreds of absolute rules and sacrifices. Christians have been freed from the Law and now Love, as Christ commanded, is our guide.

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I REALLY appreciated this combination of scholarship and spiritual insight. I enjoyed all of it, but two points will live in my memory! First, the spiritual pride of the “Jerusalem orthodoxy”, held by people who were engaging in syncretistic pluralistic worship of multiple Gods, but even so were just thought God would uphold them. And second: “Sometimes it is the crushing collapse of certainty and cherished dogmas that ushers in a wider view of God and His plans.”

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Religiosity as a Substitute for Relationship.
Religiosity ---- Works program to get God to like and accept the person or groups of people.
Relationship — a Grace program. God drawing person or groups of people back into Edenic status. God never discarded His Creation. Christ came “to change Man’s view of God.” Not God’s view of Mankind.

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