The Priestly Theocracy #3
The Jewish captives will learn to become priestly in Babylon and learn to trust in God away from home. The seventy years in captivity proved that Israel could live without the temple, the city of Jerusalem, and without the endless sacrifices that most people could not afford. Mary and Joseph had to bring “a pair of turtledoves, or two pigeons” to the priest for giving birth to Jesus (Luke 2:24). This was not in the Ten Commandments, but it was a health code favoring the need for a priest.
And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the door of the tent (temple) of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement for her; then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burned offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean” (Leviticus 12:6-8).
Yahweh revealed to Jeremiah how these sacrificed became part of the law. These amendments were to take the place for the people’s sins and for their transgressions. The people were lead to believe that these rituals atoned for their sins. And that God’s Presence in the temple was the evidence that their sins were forgiven.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat the flesh. For in the days that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people, and walk in all the ways that I command you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers” (Jeremiah 7:21-26).
Hundred fifty years earlier, Isaiah uttered the same complaint to Israel as Jeremiah had for Judah:
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats.
When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abominations to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers; I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken (Isaiah 1:11-20).
These offerings and these sacrifices became traditions strong enough to set the Laws of God aside. This was one of the major problems Jesus had come to correct. The Gospel of Matthew recorded this encounter with the Pharisees:
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of the tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.’ But you say, ‘If any one tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.’ So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of me.’” And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:1-11).
The first Christians were very eager to use grace as an atoning offering and sacrifice for sins. Grace became a pardon for all the sins man has and continues to commit. How disappointing it must have been to read Paul’s verdict that grace was not a permit to sin! But “grace” was and “grace” still is a reward for having abandoned a sinful life in Christ:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:1-11).
The prophet Hosea was sent to lay the blame for misinterpreting grace at the feet of the priests:
Yet let no one contend, and let no one accuse, for with you is my contention O priest. You shall stumble by day, the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame. They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways, and requite them for their deeds.They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the harlot, but not multiply; because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish harlotry (Hosea 4:4-10).
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophet, I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. But at Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As robbers lie in wait, for a man, so the priests are banded together; they murder on the way to Shechem, yea, they commit villainy. In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s harlotry is there Israel is defiled. For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed (Hosea 6:4-11).
The man with the most disturbing message for Judah and the house of David was Jeremiah. He was the son of a priest from the small town of Anathoth. Jeremiah was sent to Josiah, king of Judah in Jerusalem. And he told the King Josiah to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Jeremiah also told King Josiah to become Nebuchadnezzar’s resident and vassal for seventy years. The captivity was necessary to test a remnant of Judah, to determine whether the captives could survive in an environment away from Jerusalem and away from the temple. They were told to learn how to live in the world. Jeremiah was told to tell Zedekiah king of Judah:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘This is what you shall say to your masters: “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now the lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.
But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says the Lord, until I have consumed it by my hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie which they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation which will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to till it and dwell there, says the LORD.’”
To Zedekiah king of Judah I spoke in like manner: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the LORD has spoken concerning any nation which will not serve the king of Babylon? Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for it is a lie which they are prophesying to you. I have not sent them, says the LORD, but they are prophesying falsely in my name, with the result that I will drive you out and you will perish, you and the prophets who are prophesying to you.”
Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying “Thus says the LORD: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are prophesying to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the LORD’S house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon,’ for it is a lie which they are prophesying to you. Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon and live. Why should this city become a desolation? If they are prophets, and if the word of the LORD is with them, then let them intercede with the LORD of hosts, that the vessels which are left in the house of the LORD, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem may not go to Babylon. For thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the pillars, the sea, the stands, and the rest of the vessels which are left in this city, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon did not take away, when he took into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem—thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels which are left in the house of the LORD, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem: they shall be carried to Babylon and remain there until the day when I give attention to them, says the LORD. Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place (Jeremiah 27:4-22).
Jeremiah was further instructed to tell the captives what they had to do to gain the confidence and the respect of their captors and their task masters. They were to honor their God by their deeds, and not just by their offerings and by their sacrifices. They were to do more than just to face Jerusalem and just to pray:
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and you diviners who are among you deceive you and do not listen to the dreams which they dream, for it is a lie which they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them says the LORD.
“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Because you have said,’The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’—Thus says the LORD concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs which are so bad they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they did not heed my words, says the LORD, which I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, says the LORD,’—Hear the word of the LORD, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall slay them before your eyes. Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The LORD make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire, because they have committed folly in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors; wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words which I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, says the LORD’ (Jeremiah 29:4-23).
How did the kings, the prophets, and the priests respond to Jeremiah? They put Jeremiah in a dungeon with the intent to kill him, and they resisted the Babylonians. In his first attempt, Nebuchadnezzar had no intention to dismantle Judah. Judah’s history and their technology was valuable to him. To enhance his own kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar only took what he needed. Nebuchadnezzar wanted Judah to continue to create and to produce. He wanted Judah’s people to be productive in their culture, in their agriculture, and in their architecture for their people’s benefit. The first exiles, under king Jehoiachin, surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar and they were spared. And Judah was left in tact and in the hands of his uncle Zedekiah. Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar; therefore, he was not spared and neither was Jerusalem or the temple. In spite of all the trouble the Jews made for Nebuchadnezzar, he did not end the existence of Judah:
At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city, while his servants were besieging it; and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eight year of his reign, and carried off all the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the LORD, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the LORD had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives and all the craftsmen and the smiths; none remained, except the poorest people of the land. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon; the king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land, he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, seven thousand, and the craftsmen and the smiths, one thousand, all of them strong and fit for war. And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah (II kings 24:10-17).
In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—which was the nineteenth year of the King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuchadnezzar, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the LORD, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuchadnezzar the captain of the guard carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vine-dressers and plowmen.
And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the LORD, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried the bronze to Babylon. And they took away the pots, and the shovels, and the snuffers, and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service, the fire pans also, and the bowls. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. As for the two pillars, the one sea, and the stands, which Solomon had made for the house of the LORD, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weight.
The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and upon it was a capital of bronze; the height of the capital was three cubits; a network and pomegranates, all of bronze, were upon the capital round about. And the second pillar had the like, with the network.
And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest, and three keepers of the threshold; and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the men of war, and five men of the king’s council who were found in the city; and the secretary of the commander of the army who mustered the people of the land who were found in the city. And Nebuchadnezzar the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. And the king of Babylon smote them, and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was taken into exile out of its land.
And over the people who remained in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, he appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, governor (II Kings 25:8-22).
While in captivity, how did the remnant adjust to the Babylonian way of life without losing its identity and its theocratic faith? The counsel of Jeremiah was well received by Nebuchadnezzar, and the first exiles were well treated. They even were given chances to be in the king’s service. Jeremiah’s advice influenced the Persian kings to let the exiles, who wanted to go back to Judah to do so with their assistance. Those exiles who did not return became prosperous under Babylonian and Persian reigns. In the next chapter, we shall discuss Daniel and his friends, Mordecai and Esther, and Ezra and Nehemiah who rose in fame and rank. Jeremiah was not taken into exile with the first captives because the Babylonians regarded him as a valuable servant. And therefore, Jeremiah deserved a reward for counseling the surrender to the king of Babylon. Before the Babylonians returned to end the rebellion in Judah under Zedekiah, the Jews that fled to Egypt. The Jews took Jeremiah with them and killed him. Jeremiah’s life ended. However, Jeremiah’s message lived on — and because of Jeremiah’s message, a remnant was preserved to bring Jesus the Christ into the world.