The Babylonian Captivity
November 12th, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-12-67 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and we have had the high privilege and joy of listening to the choir from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this morning. They get a little livelier and a little pert all the time, and that is fine. It sort of equalizes some of us who are going off the deep end. We are so grateful for our youngsters. God bless them every day.
Now, in our series on the Book of Daniel, this is the eighth one, the eighth sermon, all of which are sermons of background, getting acquainted with God, what God is like and how God works, which to me is the most important assignment in life. Is there a God? Is there? Well, what is He like, and what does He do? How does He work, and how are we involved in the working of the Lord?
It is very difficult for us – buried as we are and as enmeshed as we are in the events that come to us day by day – it is very difficult for us sometimes to see the hand of God. All we can see are sobs, and tears, and heartaches, and illness, and disappointment, and frustration, despair and death. That’s what we see. If you haven’t seen it yet, you will see it. You will not escape it. But when we see the sweep of God’s sovereign grace, there comes into view a pattern of God’s sovereign purpose, for us, for this world, and in it, everything that happens is a part of that mosaic design.
Now, in the sermon this morning which is entitled The Captivity of Babylon, not as a text to expound but the Book of Daniel begins: "In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim King of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it"; the captivity of Judah, the Babylonian captivity [2 Chronicles 36:5-21]. There are some things that we’re going to see in the sermon this morning. First: before God’s judgment falls, He warns again, and again, and again. The judgments of God, whether they fall upon a nation, on a family, or upon you and me, the judgments of God never fall unexpectedly and unannouncedly. They always are preceded by warning after warning after warning from heaven.
Second thing we’re going to see: in the hammer blows of God’s judgment, God always gives space for repentance, always. It is never too late to get right with God, never. I do not know of a more poignant or brilliant illustration of that than Nineveh. We have in these sermons outlined the combination of nations that destroyed Assyria and Nineveh, their capital city. Well, before that day of their ultimate and final destruction, there came a prophet by the name of Jonah, and he preached to the Ninevites the impending judgment of Almighty God [Jonah 3:1-4].
And in the third chapter of the Book of Jonah it says, "And the king of Nineveh put on sackcloth," and he commanded all of the people to put on sackcloth, even to dress the beast of the field in sackcloth, and for every man to turn from his wicked way and to cry unto God for mercy [Jonah 3:5-9]. And when Nineveh repented, God repented [Jonah 3:10]. Isn’t that unusual use of words? When Nineveh repented, the Book says, God repented. That is, when Nineveh turned, God turned. God always gives time and space for repentance. And if a man repents, God repents. If a man will turn, God will turn.
All right, the third thing we are going to see in the sermon this morning: when man sins, families sin, nations sin, states sin – when man sins and brings on the judgments of Almighty God, it does not frustrate God’s ultimate purpose. Out of the ashes of destruction and judgment, God raises up a purified and holy people who do His will in the earth. The sovereign designs of God are never destroyed. They are carried through, however men, families, and nations may sin.
Now, these are the things we are going to see this morning as we follow the story of the Babylonian captivity. It is easily seen why this would be a part of these ten introductory sermons on Daniel because Daniel is a captive in Babylon, and he belongs to the children of the captivity. Now, let’s begin.
God warned Judah again and again of an impending judgment. He did it first in the example of Israel, the northern ten tribes. As you remember, Jeroboam I – the first king of Israel, the northern ten tribes – Jeroboam I set up calves of gold in Bethel and in Dan [1 Kings 12:28-29], and the people became idolatrous [1 Kings 12:30]. And God sent prophet after prophet to warn the people of the impending judgment from God [1 Kings 16:1-4, 18:17-18]. The people hardened their hearts, and they refused to turn, so God raised up the bitter Assyrian whom He called "the rod of Mine anger, and the staff of Mine indignation" [Isaiah 10:5]. And that tremendous military leader and sovereign, Tiglath-Pileser, came and put Israel under tribute [2 Kings 5:19-20]. Then his successor Shalmaneser besieged Samaria and held it like a vise [2 Kings 18:9]. And his successor Sargon destroyed Samaria and carried away captive the ten tribes of Israel [2 Kings 17:5-23]. And the Assyrian came closer, and closer, and closer to Judah.
Finally, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem itself [Isaiah 36:1]. Had it not been for the righteous goodness of Hezekiah the king, and for the intercessions of Isaiah the prophet, Sennacherib would have destroyed the kingdom of Judah and the city of Jerusalem [Isaiah 37:1-35]. But as you know, an angel of the Lord destroyed in one night 185,000 of the army of Sennacherib, and the city was delivered [Isaiah 37:36].
But the people did not repent, and Sennacherib’s successor was Esar haddon [Isaiah 37:38], and Esar haddon came back, and under Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, who was a vile and evil king [2 Kings 21:1-2], he placed Judah under tribute. And his son and successor Ashurbanipal not only placed Judah and Jerusalem under tribute, but he took Manasseh the evil king in chains to Babylon, the capital of one of the provinces of Assyria [2 Chronicles 33:11]. In Babylon Manasseh repented, and God gave him back the throne of David, and he returned to Jerusalem [2 Chronicles 33:12-13]. But the people did not repent.
And when Assyria was destroyed, God raised up the Neo-Babylonian empire. It was a meteoric rise of a kingdom, and when it had done God’s chastening will, its demise was as sudden as its rise. God warning Judah, and not only by the example of the northern ten tribes and their destruction and waste, but God warned Judah by the prophets; Isaiah, more than a hundred years before the destruction of the kingdom, and Micah, more than one hundred years before the destruction of the kingdom; Isaiah and Micah. Isaiah 39:5-8, and Micah 4:10; those two prophets warned Judah by name that they would be taken captive to Babylon if they did not repent.
So the day of judgment finally fell, and what an unusual turn of life did it come. The last great king, the last good king of Judah was good King Josiah. And under good King Josiah, there was a tremendous revival, a marvelous outpouring, a glorious national revival [2 Chronicles 34:3-35:19]. And at the same time that the great revival was going on under Josiah, the Assyrian Empire crumbled and fell apart, and was forever destroyed.
What a golden opportunity for Judah to rise to the heights and the glory of God. But instead of following through in that glorious turning to God, that revival – instead, Josiah was followed by his sons, and each son was more wicked than the one before [2 Chronicles 36:1-9]. And God refused, God refused to forgive the continuing iniquity of His people. And in 605, Nebuchadnezzar came, carried Daniel and the seed royal away [Daniel 1:3-6]. In 598, he returned and carried the nation into captivity, leaving many in the land [2 Kings 24:11-14] and in 587, the third time he returned and destroyed the kingdom and the nation forever [2 Chronicles 36:10-23, Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:1-20].
Now, we’re going to look at the prophets and the kings of Israel. No one in Judah ever began to realize the vast changes that were coming in the nation when good King Josiah died. I am sure that most of those people in Judah and in Jerusalem expected the revival to continue. It did just the opposite. Each one of the sons of Josiah was vile and wicked. And after the name of each one of them, the Bible says "and he did evil in the sight of the Lord" [2 Kings 23:32, 37; 24:9, 19; 2 Chronicles 36:5, 9, 12].
When good King Josiah died [2 Chronicles 35:20-24], as you know, he was slain at Armageddon. He was slain on the field of battle by Pharaoh Necho. When Pharaoh Necho – and all these sermons go together. I don’t know if you can remember them or not, but last Sunday we spoke of the dissolution of the Assyrian Empire, and it was hammered apart by the Chaldeans, under Nabopolassar and his son, Nebuchadnezzar – and when Pharaoh Necho saw the dissolution of the Assyrian Empire, he saw an opportunity to make Egypt the crown, and king, and sovereign of the whole world. But in order to do it, he had to confront Babylonia, the Chaldeans, Nabopolassar.
So Pharaoh Necho took his great, vast, multitudinous Egyptian army northward to help the failing Assyrians in their fight against Babylonia. Well, Josiah had no love for the Assyrians, so he put his little army and himself at Megiddo in order to hamper the northward movement of Necho. And there Josiah fell on the field of battle [2 Kings 23:29-30, 2 Chronicles 35:23-24]. And Necho absorbed, occupied Palestine and Syria.
Now, the people of the city of the land of Judah and Jerusalem, when Josiah was slain, they took one of the sons of Josiah, by the name of Jehoahaz, and made Jehoahaz king over Judah and Jerusalem [2 Kings 23:30]. But Pharaoh Necho took Jehoahaz, and when he lost the battle at Carchemish and came back, he took Jehoahaz in fetters and in chains, and took him down to Egypt, where he died [2 Kings 23:33-34]. And Necho took another of the sons of Josiah, by the name of Eliakim, changed his name to Jehoiakim [2 Kings 23:34]. In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh Necho took Jehoiakim and made him the king over Judah [2 Kings 23:35-36].
Now, in those days of Jehoiakim, king over Judah, when the Battle of Carchemish was fought and Nebuchadnezzar came south in pursuit of Pharaoh Necho, why, he came, and this is the siege of Jerusalem. And while he was there, word came that Nabopolassar his father had died, so [Nebuchadnezzar] left off his conquest of the south, his journey toward Egypt, and returned back to Babylon to be crowned and to consolidate his victories at home. And when he returned, he carried with him Daniel, and some of the treasures in the temple, and members of the seed royal, mostly just to make his court more brilliant and scintillating [2 kings 24:11-14, Daniel 1:1-2, 6].
Now, Palestine and Judah came under the sovereignty of Babylon and the King Nebuchadnezzar. So, after a few years, Jehoiakim, relying upon the arm of Egypt, Eliakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian kingdom [2 Kings 24:1]. And when he did that, Jeremiah the prophet stood up and said, "This means death for the people and destruction for the kingdom [Jeremiah 27:1-7], for God’s will is that we now serve the Babylonians, and God’s will is not that we depend upon the broken staff and the bruised reed of Egypt."
When Jeremiah stood up and delivered that prophecy from the Lord, Jehoiakim the king became his bitter enemy, and Jehoiakim placed Jeremiah in prison and refused to let him enter the temple or to speak to the people [Jeremiah 37:3-15]. So Jeremiah, being interdicted from speaking to the people, called Baruch and dictated to Baruch the word of the Lord. And Baruch took the prophecies of Jeremiah – they’re written here in the Bible – took the prophecies of Jeremiah and read them to the people in the temple in Jerusalem [Jeremiah 36:4-8].
And someone came to Jehoiakim the king and said, "Jeremiah the prophet speaks." And Jehoiakim fetched the roll that Jeremiah had dictated to Baruch, and in the winter palace, before a burning fire, as the scroll was read to Jehoiakim, the king took the scroll and with his pen knife cut it, piece at a time, piece at a time, as it was read, and burned the Word of God in the fire [Jeremiah 36:22-23]. That brought from Jeremiah and from God a blistering condemnation [Jeremiah 36:27-32].
You know, I think that obtains today as it obtained then, when men dishonor the Word of God, God has a judgment for them, whether it’s a minister, whether it’s a pulpit, whether it’s a church, whether it’s a college, whether it’s a seminary, whether it’s a denomination. When men dishonor God’s words, there is judgment, and listen: "Therefore," Jeremiah, sending this word to Jehoiakim,
Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah; They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah, my brother! or Ah, my sister! they shall not lament for him saying, Ah my lord! or Ah his glory!
He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.
When Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, according to the Word of God, the reaction of Nebuchadnezzar was swift and fierce, and he came and for the second time besieged Jerusalem [2 Kings 24:1]. And a few days before it fell, Jehoiakim died [2 Kings 24:6]. And I would suppose he was assassinated, and he left the throne to his eighteen-year-old son, Jehoiachin, I-N, chin [2 Kings 24:8]. His name was Jehoiakim, and he left the throne to Jehoiachin, his eighteen-year-old son.
Jehoiachin reigned about a hundred days. He reigned three months [2 kings 24:8]. And at the end of three months, the city fell in 598 BC [2 Kings 24:11-14]. The second time Nebuchadnezzar came, the city fell, and this carrying away is called in the Bible and is known in scholarly literature as the captivity. For Nebuchadnezzar, this time in 598 BC, Nebuchadnezzar took to Babylon the king Jehoiachin [2 Kings 24:15], and Jehoiachin was a prisoner in Babylon for thirty-seven years. All through the lifetime of Nebuchadnezzar, Jehoiachin was a prisoner in Babylon, and it was only upon the death of Nebuchadnezzar and the reign of his son, Evil-Merodach, that Jehoiachin was liberated [2 Kings 25:27], and this you can read in the cuneiform monuments of Babylon that they are unearthing today.
And as long as he lived, the captives of Judah looked upon Jehoiachin as their king. For example, the Book of Ezekiel begins, "Now it came to pass that" – where he was, by the River Chebar – "the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity" [Ezekiel 1:1, 2]. And they dated their government and their life by the captivity of Jehoiachin, who was carried by Nebuchadnezzar in 598 BC to Babylon. And with Jehoiachin, the king, there was carried the queen mother, the craftsmen, the soldiers, the best of the land, and all of the treasures of the temple and of the king’s house [2 Kings 24:12-16].
And Jeremiah the prophet wrote to them, saying that "Your captivity will last seventy years, therefore build houses and plant vineyards and cultivate crops, for God will visit you after seventy years" [Jeremiah 29:10, 28]. Now, wouldn’t you think that the people under that tremendous duress would turn to God and would importune the mercies of the Almighty? Wouldn’t you think so? Isn’t it strange how hard God’s people can be? Even Nineveh turned [Jonah 3:5-10]. Nineveh repented, but not Jerusalem, and not Judah, and not God’s people.
When Nebuchadnezzar in 598 took Jehoiachin, the young king, to Babylon, and most of the riches and treasures of the land and of the people, he placed over the kingdom of Judah and of Jerusalem, he placed another son of Josiah, the uncle of Jehoiachin, by the name of Zedekiah. His name was Mattaniah, and Nebuchadnezzar changed his name to Zedekiah. And Zedekiah, as Jehoiakim, reigned eleven years in Jerusalem [2 Kings 24:17-18].
And the same and identical thing happened in the life and reign of Zedekiah as happened in the life and reign of Jehoiakim. He turned to Egypt instead of turning to God and listening to the voice of the prophet of God. He turned to Egypt and sought his freedom and his liberty and the independence of his nation in the bruised and broken staff of Egypt. And Zedekiah, prodded by a pro-Egyptian party, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar [2 Kings 24:20, 2 Chronicles 36:11-13]. And when he did that, he violated again the great deliverances and the mighty prophecies of Jeremiah that are written here in the Bible [Jeremiah 37; 1-8].
Now Zedekiah, it seems to me, in his heart, regarded Jeremiah and the Word of the Lord, but the Bible says he seemed to be helpless against the Jews who wanted to turn to Egypt. So Jeremiah was first imprisoned [Jeremiah 37:15], then as he delivered the word of the God against the sins of the people and what they were doing in leaning upon Egypt, they took Jeremiah and let him down in a pit, in a miry cistern, to die [Jeremiah 38:6]. And Ebedmelech, an Ethiopian eunuch, went privately to the king, Zedekiah, and spoke of the soon death of God’s prophet Jeremiah in that slimy mire, in the bottom of the pit [Jeremiah 38:7-9].
In the meantime, Nebuchadnezzar swiftly returned the third time, in January of 588 BC. And once again the armies of the Chaldeans and for the third time surrounded Jerusalem, but this third time, Nebuchadnezzar resolved in his heart that he would destroy the city and the kingdom and the nation forever. It would never rise again [Jeremiahm 39:1-10, 52:4-30, 2 Chronicles 36:17-21].
And the city began to starve, and pestilence was rampant. And when Ebedmelech, the Ethiopian eunuch, went to the King Zedekiah and said Jeremiah is perishing in that slimy pit and will die, Zedekiah gave word to Ebedmelech privately to lift Jeremiah out of the miry pit, and it took thirty men, so disastrous was the famine. It took thirty men along with Ebedmelech just to lift the prophet Jeremiah out of the miry pit [Jeremiah 38:10-13].
As the days wore on, the city starved, and Nebuchadnezzar breached the walls, and in the summer of 586 BC, one-and-a-half years, in the summer of 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar breached the walls of the city, and they plowed up Jerusalem in heaps. They destroyed the temple built by Solomon, they destroyed the wall, they destroyed the city, and they took the rest of the population captive to Babylon [2 Kings 25:1-21].
The poor, some of the poor in the land were left under a governor, a puppet governor by the name of Gedaliah [2 Kings 25:22]. And Jeremiah was kindly entreated by Nebuchadnezzar [Jeremiah 39:11-14]. He could go with the captives to Babylon or he could stay in the land [Jeremiah 40:4]. Jeremiah chose to stay in the land [Jeremiah 40:6], and wouldn’t you think by then that God’s people would have repented? They were as hard of heart as ever. And they assassinated Gedaliah [2 Kings 25:25], the puppet governor, and forced Jeremiah to accompany them down into Egypt, into which country they fled [Jeremiah 43:5-7]. And there Jeremiah died, in Egypt.
Zedekiah, the king who had rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, was taken to the headquarters of the Babylonian army in Riblah, in central Syria on the Orantes River. And there before the eyes of Zedekiah his sons were slain, and then the eyes of Zedekiah were pushed out, plucked out, and he was carried in fetters and in chains to Babylon where he died [Jeremiah 39:6-7]. And the province of Judah itself was destroyed and made a part of the territory of Samaria, and the kingdom perished from the face of the earth.
Five great things came out of the Babylonian captivity. I have said, didn’t I tell you as I began this sermon, when sorrows come, judgment comes, tears come, heartache comes, it is hard for us to see the hand of God. But in the sweep of the centuries, the purposes of God, however we sin, the purposes of God and His sovereign grace, the purposes of God are never frustrated. Out of that Babylonian captivity came five great things.
First: the people were never again idolatrous, never. Never. Could you imagine a Jew bowing down before an image? Could you imagine a Jew bowing down in a heathen and an idol temple? They were forever cured and delivered from idolatry. There are three great religious groups who refuse to bow down before graven images. One is the Jew; he will not bow down. Second is the Mohammedan. He was raised up in 622 AD as a reaction and a judgment of God against the idolatry in the churches. You’ll never see a Mohammedan bow down before a graven image. Third, you will never see a New Testament Christian bow down before a graven image; never. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,neither shalt thou bow down before it" [Exodus 20:4-5].
And those three groups – the Jew, and the Mohammedan, and the New Testament Christian – you will never see bowing down before a graven image, whatever you name the image. It doesn’t make any difference whether in the Greek you call it Jupiter or whether in this era you call it Joseph or some other name. You’ll never see a Jew, you’ll never see a Mohammedan, you will never see a New Testament Christian bow down before a graven image. And the captivity forever delivered Judah and the Jew from idolatry.
The second thing that came out of the bitterness of the captivity is the synagogue, and this is a synagogue. This is the pattern of the synagogue. The second thing born out of the sorrow of the captivity was the synagogue. That is, the gathering of God’s people to hear the Word of the Lord, the gathering of the Lord’s people to sing, the gathering of God’s people to pray. The synagogue was born in the captivity.
The third great thing that came out of the captivity was the Holy Bible, the canon of the Scriptures. Ezra the scribe gathered together the scrolls of the Word of the Lord [Nehemiah 8:1-9]. Jeremiah, for example, gathered together the scrolls of the Word of the Lord, and in the synagogue, on the Sabbath day, they read and they delivered God’s message. That is the worship of the synagogue, to listen to the Word of the Lord.
The fourth great thing that came out of the captivity was that godly remnant who were purified, made holy in the fires of the judgment of Almighty God. The remnant, the seed that turned to heaven, and they did turn. That’s why I had you read the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm. It is full of sadness, yes, full of unspeakable sorrow – you can feel it in the words. But it is also full of the love of God, and the love of God’s people, and the love of the holy place in Jerusalem.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
The people turned from heathenism and from idolatry to a great love for God. And out of that remnant came the Joseph, and the Mary, and the Peter, and the John, and the James, and the Paul. Out of that remnant, that godly remnant, came the seed that brought to us the Messiah, the Christ. And those first apostles and missionaries who sowed the entire Greek world down with the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. That came out of the captivity.
And the fifth and last thing that came out of the captivity was the universal spreading abroad of the knowledge of God. From one side of the civilized world to the other, wherever the Jew – the diaspora – wherever the Jew was dispersed, there was the Bible read. There was Moses preached. There was the high morality of the Mosaic legislation delivered in a festering, and corrupting, and idolatrous civilization. So much so that when the first Christian missionaries began to preach, everywhere before them they found the Book read, they found the Bible known, they found Moses preached, and it was the sowing of the seed that fruited in the glorious Christian empire that has covered the face of the earth.
I must conclude. All of us are tried in the furnace. All of us are spoken to by the Lord. All of us hear the voice of God in our hearts, all of us do. All of us. When I harden my heart, judgment comes. Disaster comes. Interdiction comes. Burning comes. Judgment comes. But if I heed the warnings of the Lord, and listen to the voice of God, forgiveness comes, mercies come, blessings come. God’s love and redeeming grace overflow and abound.
I must turn. I must repent. I must confess my sins. I must get right with God. I must do God’s will. I must. I must, or I am lost. God bless me as I turn, as I confess, as I open my heart to the voice and the warning of Jehovah Lord. And God forgive me, and God save me, and God bless me, and my family, and my household, and our people, and our nation.
Now, as we sing our appeal, somebody you, to give himself to Jesus; a family you, to come into the fellowship of the church; as God shall say the word, as the Spirit shall open the door, as God Himself shall press the invitation to your heart, come now. On the first note of the first stanza, "Today, pastor, I give my heart to Jesus. Today my whole family, we’re coming to put our lives in the circle of this dear church." A couple you, or one somebody you; as we sing our appeal, come now. On the first note of the first stanza, make it now, do it now. While we stand and while we sing.
THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. God’s judgment
A. He warns again and again and again
B. Always God gives space for repentance in the midst of judgment
C. Sin of man cannot frustrate God’s purpose
II. Warnings of God to Judah
A. Example given via Israel-northern kingdom and ten tribes into tribute
B. Sargon carried away northern kingdom, destroyed Samaria forever
C. Blunt prophesies of Isaiah and Micah
D. Inevitable judgment
III. Kings and the prophets
IV. God’s heavy judgment on Judah
A. The nation no more idolatrous
B. Birth of the Septuagint
C. Canon of Scripture
D. Faithful remnant