THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-12-67 10:50 a.m.
All of you who are listening on radio and on television may think that you are listening to the symphony orchestra of Dallas accompanied by a municipal choir. No, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I wish that we could have visited in the day when the temple services were in their glory. They worshiped God with five-thousand Levites, singers, standing in array in ranks on the steps of the temple. And they worshiped the Lord with three hundred eighty-seven instruments—cymbals, high sounding cymbals, stringed instruments, trumpets, organs—it must have been a glorious sight. And Lee Roy, I do believe that if God would let us live long enough, we might have a Levitical choir like that and an orchestra like that. The only thing is, I would arrange the church so we did not have it like this when they get through. Oh, the Lord be praised for these who sing and who play to the glory of God!
Now the title of the sermon this morning is The Babylonian Captivity, not as a text to be expounded, we shall come to that a little later. But as a background verse for the message that is delivered, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it” [Daniel 1:1]. And the message this morning is one out of ten. This is the eighth one regarding the background of the Book of Daniel. Daniel was a member of the captivity. He was a child of the captivity [Daniel 1:1, 3-6]. And for us to understand the day and the hour and the time of his message, we must also understand the background in which God moved, as He delivered these apocalyptic visions to His prophet statesman.
Now as I preach the sermon this morning, there are three things that you will find running through it. First: before God’s judgment falls, He warns again, and again, and again. No judgment of God ever falls in the life of a nation or of a state, or of a family or of an individual life—no judgment of God ever falls without announcement. God warns again, and again, and again! No judgment ever falls unexpectedly or unannouncedly; God warns of an impending visitation from heaven.
Second: in the midst of the hammer blows of God’s judgment, the Lord gives space and opportunity for repentance. There is never any time that is too late to get right with God; if we repent, God repents. The most poignant and classic example of that I know is in the life of Nineveh, the capital city of the merciless and cruel Assyrian Empire. God sent Jonah, His prophet and spokesman, to announce to Nineveh the impending judgment of the Almighty [Jonah 1:1-2, 3:1-2]. And in the third chapter of the Book of Jonah, it says that when the king of Nineveh heard, and when the people heard, that the king left his throne and put on sackcloth, and the people sat in ashes and sackcloth, they even clothed their beasts of burden with sackcloth and importuned God’s mercy. And the Bible says that when God saw that Nineveh repented, God repented [Jonah 3:5-10]. Isn’t that an unusual thing to say? When the people turned, God turned. And in the midst of the hammer blows of God’s judgment, He always gives space and time for repentance.
Now the third thing that you will see running through the sermon this morning: when men sin away their day of grace and the judgment falls, the sin of man cannot frustrate God’s sovereign purposes in the earth. Out of the ashes of a burning judgment, God will raise up a holy and a purified people to do His will.
Now with these things reminding us and before us, let us enter the sermon,The Babylonian Captivity. God warned Judah again and again and yet again, that if she did not repent and do right and obey God’s will, that God would raise up a chastening nation. That warning from heaven was given to Judah, first by the example of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the ten tribes of Israel. God sent word to Judah by Isaiah and said, “The Assyrian is the rod of Mine anger, and the staff of My correction, and the staff of My indignation” [Isaiah 10:5]. And in the example of the Northern Kingdom, Judah was warned of the impending judgment of Almighty God. Tiglath-pileser came in 745 and placed Israel, the Northern Kingdom, under tribute [2 Kings 15:19, 29]. Then his successor, Shalmaneser, shut up Samaria in a vise [2 Kings 17:3-5]. And his successor, Sargon [Isaiah 20:1], carried away the northern ten tribes into captivity and destroyed forever Samaria and the Northern Kingdom [2 Kings 17:6].
And the Assyrian drew nearer and closer and nearer to Judah with every passing day. Sennacherib finally came in  BC and besieged Jerusalem and shut it up [Isaiah 36:1]. And had it not been for the importunity and intercession of good King Hezekiah, and had it not been for the pleading of Isaiah the prophet, Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, would have carried away Judah and Jerusalem at that time [Isaiah 37:1-35]. But as you remember the story: in the night an angel came from heaven, and when Sennacherib awakened the next morning, one hundred eighty-five thousand of his troops were corpses [Isaiah 37:36]. But the people did not repent, and Hezekiah was followed by the wickedest king that Judah ever had; his name was Manasseh [2 Kings 21:1]. That’s the reason I sometimes wonder about God answering our prayers. Manasseh was born in the fifteen years that God gave Hezekiah when he turned his face to the wall and wept. And God added to his life—when God said he would die, God added to his life fifteen years [2 Kings 20:1-6]. And in those fifteen years, Manasseh was born [2 Kings 21:1]; the vilest and wickedest king that Judah ever had, whose sins God refused to forgive. Several places in the Bible, it says “And he sold them into captivity in Babylon because of the sins of Manasseh” [2 Kings 24:3].
Well anyway, following Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, the next great ruler of Assyria [2 Kings 19:36-37] came and levied tribute from Manasseh, the vile king of Judah [2 Kings 21:1-16]. Then finally, Ashurbanipal, one of the ablest monarchs of all time, one of the greatest military strategists, Ashurbanipal came and carried Manasseh in fetters to the capital of his Babylonian province, to Babylon [2 Chronicles 33:11]. There Manasseh repented, and God gave him back the throne of David and restored him into Jerusalem [2 Chronicles 33:12-13]. But the people did not change. And when the Assyrian Empire broke up, God raised up the Neo-Babylonian Empire; meteorically did it rise! And when it had performed its chastening purpose of God—as the Lord told to Habakkuk the prophet, “I have raised up the Babylonian, I have established them for correction, and I have ordained them for judgment” [Habakkuk 1:6, 12], and when God used the Babylonian Empire for the chastisement of His people, the Babylonian Empire faded from history like a meteor dies in the sky.
So the Lord God warned Judah by the example of the Northern Kingdom [Jeremiah 3:6-10]. And God warned Judah by the preaching of His prophets. Over a hundred years before judgment fell, the prophet Isaiah—in Isaiah 39:5-8 and the prophet Micah, in Micah 4:10—named Babylonia by name, as the kingdom and the place that would destroy Jerusalem, and into which the people would go captive. Then the judgment fell, and it fell in a most unusual way: the last good king that Judah had was Josiah. And in the days of Josiah, Judah experienced a marvelous revival, a glorious revival [2 Chronicles 34:3-7; 2 Kings 23:1-25]; and at the same time that Judah was experiencing the marvelous revival under good king Josiah, the Assyrian Empire was breaking up. It was a golden time for Judah; a golden time for the people of God. The Lord was opening before Judah and her king a wide-open door of glory. But instead of obeying the voice of the Lord, the sons of Josiah, one after another, plunged Judah into such sin as they had never known before, except under Manasseh [2 Chronicles 36:1-9]. And the judgment finally fell [2 Chronicles 36:10-23]. In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar came the first time [Daniel 1:1, 3-6]; in 598 BC, Nebuchadnezzar came the second time [2 Kings 24:11-14; Ezekiel 1:1]. And in 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar came the third time and then he didn’t have to come anymore, for he destroyed the temple and the city and the nation forever [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]—until the resurrection of Israel in May 1948, in your lifetime.
Now, we are going to look at the king and the kingdom and the prophet of God as he delivers God’s message. When the Assyrian Empire began to break up, the king of Egypt, Pharaoh-Necho, saw an opportunity to dominate the world. So when the Assyrian Empire began to break apart, Pharaoh-Necho took a vast army and occupied Palestine and occupied Assyria. And had he been able to destroy the Babylonian army at Carchemish, he would have been the ruler of the civilized world. As you know, Nabopolassar sent his son, Nebuchadnezzar, to face Necho at Carchemish. And the Egyptian army was destroyed, and the Egyptian empire was forever broken. It will never rise again [Ezekiel 29:14-15]—not since then, not today, nor tomorrow! And whatever nation banks, and builds, and backs on Egypt, according to the Word of God, shall be destroyed. Isn’t that strange? Isn’t that strange? After thousands of years, the Word of God still stands!
If Russia had Bibles and would read it, and the Kremlin would open it, there would be a different kind of a policy. But they’re blinded to the sovereign grace of God. There is not any God to them.
Going back, Pharaoh-Necho was destroyed and his kingdom forever broken. Egypt will never rise to be a great power again: not then, not later, not now, nor forever, according to the Word of God [Ezekiel 29:14-15]. Now Pharaoh-Necho, when he went northward and occupied Palestine and Assyria, placed on the throne of Judah—instead of Josiah, whom he slew at Armageddon [2 Kings 23:29-30]—[Necho] placed on the throne of Judah, a son of Josiah by the name of Eliakim whose name he changed to Jehoiakim—i m—Jehoiakim [2 Kings 23:34]. And when Necho was destroyed, Nebuchadnezzar came down and he let Jehoiakim remain on the throne of Jerusalem [2 Kings 23:36].
Now instead of accepting the will of God, and instead of listening to the prophet of the Lord [2 Kings 24:2], Jehoiakim sought to find rebellion and victory in Egypt when God said that Egypt would never rise again and never be a power again [Ezekiel 29:14-15]. So when Jehoiakim, the king of Judah and Jerusalem, turned away from depending on God and placed his trust in Egypt [2 Kings 23:35], and rebelled against Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar [2 Kings 24:1], the prophet Jeremiah stood up [Jeremiah 35:1-32]. And when he denounced Jehoiakim for trusting in Egypt, and not trusting in God, the prophet Jeremiah incurred the bitter anger and the enmity of the king of Judah, Jehoiakim.
Jeremiah therefore called Baruch, an amanuensis, and he dictated God’s word to Jehoiakim and to Judah, and Baruch wrote it down [Jeremiah 36:4]. Then Baruch stood in the temple and before the people and read to them the word of the Lord written here in the Bible [Jeremiah 36:5-8]: the prophecy of Jeremiah. And when Jehoiakim heard of it, the king, he fetched the roll, and he had the roll of the prophecy of God read before him. He was in the winter palace, and there was a fire burning in the grate. And as the scribe read to the king the word of God, the king took his penknife and cut the scroll, piece by piece; and threw it in the fire to be burned [Jeremiah 36:22-23]. And when Jehoiakim thus disgraced the word of God, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah saying:
Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah; There shall be no 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 beyond the gates of Jerusalem.
“Yeah, but preacher, that was six hundred years before Christ!”
“The flower fades, the grass withers; but the word of God shall endure forever!” [Isaiah 40:8] No man, and no people, and no college, and no seminary, and no pulpit, and no preacher can do dishonor to the Word of God and not find a judgment falling from heaven! That goes for Russia! That goes for any nation in the earth. That goes for any pulpit and any preacher; it goes for any denomination and any institution. When the Word of God is dishonored, there falls from heaven an inevitable judgment. “He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem” [Jeremiah 22:19].
So when word came to Nebuchadnezzar that Jehoiakim had turned to Egypt and had rebelled [2 Kings 24:1], the Lord God sent Nebuchadnezzar the second time [2 Kings 24:10]. The first time was in 605 [BC] when he conquered Necho and when he besieged Jerusalem [2 Kings 24:7], and left off the siege to return to Babylon because his father Nabopolassar had died. And he was crowned, and he consolidated his victories at home. And when he went to Jerusalem—when he went to Babylon from Jerusalem—all these sermons go together. I’ve been through this the last time: he took with him Daniel and several of the seed royal. That was in 605 [BC] [Daniel 1:1-6].
Now in 598 [BC], upon the rebellion of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar came the second time [2 Kings 24:10-16]. And a few days before Jerusalem fell in 598 BC, Jehoiakim died. I think he was murdered, he was assassinated and he was buried and cast out in disgrace. And that left the kingdom and the throne to Jehoiachin, an eighteen-year-old son of Jehoiakim [2 Kings 24:8]. And after a reign of three months, Nebuchadnezzar breached the walls and besieging the city, occupied it [2 Kings 24:8-12]. And this is referred to in the Bible and in the stories as the great captivity. And he took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon [2 Kings 24:15]. And Jehoiachin remained a prisoner in Babylon for thirty-seven years. As long as Nebuchadnezzar lived, Jehoiachin was in prison. It was only when Nebuchadnezzar died and Evil-Merodach his son came to the throne that Jehoiachin was liberated [2 Kings 25:27]. And that you will find on the monuments, the cuneiform inscription in Babylon.
Now to the Jew in the captivity, Jehoiachin was their king. For example, the prophet of Ezekiel, in the first chapter and in the first verse, began:
Now it came to pass . . . by the River Chebar in Babylon 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 . . .
Jehoiachin remained the king of Judah and Jerusalem, though for thirty-seven years, he remained a prisoner under Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.
Now in this 598 carrying away, Nebuchadnezzar took the king, and the queen mother, and all the royal family, and all of the artisans, and all of the soldiers, and the best of the land [2 Kings 24:14-16]. And he took away all the treasures in the temple and all the treasures in the king’s palace [2 Kings 24:13]. Having such a disaster as that befall Judah and Jerusalem, would you not have thought that they would have repented and got right with God? No! It was worse than ever before. When Nebuchadnezzar took away Jehoiachin, the young king as a captive to Babylon, he placed on the throne another son of Josiah, the uncle of young Jehoiachin; he placed another son of Josiah on the throne and he changed his name from Mattaniah to Zedekiah, and Zedekiah reigned eleven years in Jerusalem [2 Kings 24:17-18].
Now I want to be fair and kind to the memory of Zedekiah. I would think that in the heart of Zedekiah, he wanted to befriend Jeremiah and to listen to the prophecies and the word of the Lord; at least, he saved the life of the prophet. But he had a recalcitrant and an obstreperous and an unrepentant people, and again they turned from trusting God and looking to God. And they turned again to an alliance with Egypt. When God said Egypt will never be, would never rise to be a power again [Ezekiel 29:14-15], they turned to Egypt, instead of turning to God [Jeremiah 42:15-22]. And the prophet Jeremiah arose again and delivered God’s message to the people in Jerusalem and to Zedekiah, the king. This time, they decreed Jeremiah, the man of God, they decreed his death. They first imprisoned him, then they let him down into a slimy pit to die [Jeremiah 38:6]. There was an Ethiopian eunuch by the name of Ebed-Melech, who went to King Zedekiah and pled for the life of the prophet Jeremiah [Jeremiah 38:7-9].
By that length of time Nebuchadnezzar, hearing of the rebellion of Zedekiah, came the third time and the last time; he never needed to come again. And he shut up Jerusalem in a vise [Jeremiah 52:4-6]. And so tragic was the starvation [2 Kings 24:3], that when Zedekiah gave permission to Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian eunuch, to take Jeremiah out of the miry pit, he also sent with him thirty men [Jeremiah 38:10]. They were so emaciated and so starved it took thirty men to raise, just to lift, the one man Jeremiah out of that slimy pit [Jeremiah 38:11-13].
Nebuchadnezzar came in January 588 BC, and the siege lasted for a year and a half. And in the summer of 587 BC Nebuchadnezzar breached the walls [2 Kings 24:4], and this time he destroyed all of the city; he destroyed Solomon’s temple, he destroyed the city itself [2 Kings 25:9-10]. He wasted the cities of Judah and he carried all of the remainder of the people into captivity, leaving just a few of the poor of the land behind, over whom he placed a governor named Gedaliah [2 Kings 25:12-22].
Now with Jeremiah the king was very gracious; gave him the opportunity to go to Babylon with the captives or to stay in the land with the poor, and Jeremiah chose to stay in the land with the poor [Jeremiah 39:10-14, 40:2-6]. But the people were still unrepentant, and they took Jeremiah and forced him to accompany them as they fled into Egypt after the assassination of Gedaliah, their governor [Jeremiah 43:6-7].
Zedekiah the king was brought before Nebuchadnezzar at his headquarters at Riblah, at the Orontes River in the center of Syria; and there his sons were slain before his eyes [2 Kings 24:6-7]. And there, Zedekiah’s own eyes were burned out and he was carried in fetters to Babylon where he died [Jeremiah 39:6-7]. And Judah in its rebellion was finally abolished as a state and was made a part of the province of Samaria. And as a nation, it was destroyed forever—until May of 1948.
Now there are five things that arise out of the sorrow and the tragedy of the Babylonian captivity. And I’ve now come to the third thing I wanted you to watch, I wanted you to see during the days of this tragic, tragic trial. The first was: God warns again, and again, and again. God warns, and when the judgment hammer blows of God falls, if there is repentance, God repents. And in the days of Josiah there was great revival, and the Assyrian empire was broken up. And they had a golden future, but they sinned away their day of grace, and the judgment of God fell and the nation was destroyed, and the people were carried into captivity.
Now the third thing: but the sin of man cannot frustrate the overpowering sovereignty of God. Out of the ashes of a judgment of the Lord, God will work some great and marvelous purpose of grace for His people. Now when judgment falls on us and when we face disaster, and when our sins bury us, and when all of the troubles and sorrows of life descend upon us—and if you don’t have them, you will! And, why, you think “Dear God, how?” and “Dear God, why?” and “Dear God, I don’t understand!” I met that yesterday in the hallways of Baylor Hospital. For a little section of time, for a little circumscribed viewpoint of a human life, it is hard for us to see, but give God the centuries and the millenniums, and His great designs are easily seen. And everything that happens fits in the mosaic of that holy purpose.
So it was in the tragedy of the sorrow of the Babylonian captivity; the waste of the nation of God’s people and the destruction of the temple and the destruction of the holy city; out of that sorrow and tragedy came five great things! First, the Jew was never idolatrous again. Never! Can you imagine a Jew bowing down before a graven image? Can you imagine a Jew bowing down before an idol? It is unthinkable! In the Babylonian captivity, he turned from heathenism and he turned from idolatry forever and forever! There are three great people, religious people, who refuse to bow down before a graven image. One is the Jew; he will never bow down and worship before an image. Second: the Mohammedan whom God raised up in 622 AD, to destroy idolatry in the churches: the Mohammedan will never bow down before an image. And the third: a New Testament Christian will never bow down and worship before a graven image. Whether his name is Jupiter, or whether his name is Joseph, or whether his name is any other name. There are three great religious groups who will not bow down to worship before images: the Jew, the Mohammedan, and the New Testament Christian.
And out of that captivity came that tremendous monotheistic worship of a spiritual God who cannot be made in the likeness of creatures. And the second commandment, obey, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image… Neither shalt thou bow down and worship before it” [Exodus 20:4-5]. That’s the first thing that came out of the captivity, out of the sorrow and trial of that day: the refusal of the Jew ever again to turn to idolatry.
Second: out of that sorrow and tragedy of the captivity came the birth of the synagogue. The gathering of God’s people together to hear the Word of the Lord, to sing their praises, to bow in worship and in prayer; this is a synagogue service. It was born out of the captivity. And from the day of the captivity until now and until Jesus comes again, the institution of the synagogue [Matthew 4:23], the “gathering together,” the sunagogos, the gathering together of the people, will always be somewhere in the earth. It may be in a den; it may be in a dive; it may be in a dark place in persecution, in cruel trial, as some of the underground in Russia today, as some of the underground in China today. But there will always be that sunagogos, that synagogue, that “gathering together” of God’s people to hear the Word of the Lord, and to sing, and to pray, and to praise God [Hebrews 10:25]. The synagogue was born in the captivity.
Third: the canon of the Bible was born in the captivity. As the people gathered in those services, the scrolls, holy and precious, became dear as life itself. And Ezra the scribe gathered together the scrolls of the Mosaic Law and the scrolls of the prophets; and read them and explained them to the people [Nehemiah 8:1-9]. And out of the captivity came the Bible, the Word of God, the canon of the Holy Scriptures.
Fourth: out of the sorrows of the captivity came that holy and purified remnant who, turning from heathenism and idolatry and paganism, lifted up their hearts in a new love for Jehovah Lord and for His people and for the city [Isaiah 1:9]. That’s why for our Scripture I had you read the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm. And it was told me, “And the boy will sing it,” so I had him sing it. You can feel the heartbeat of a new love for God out of the tragedy of the captivity:
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 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.
Out of that captivity there was framed, there was forged in the fire of God’s burning a holy and a purified people [Titus 2:14]. And in that seed God gave us the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son and our Savior. And in that holy seed, there are numbered Joseph, and Mary, and John, and Peter, and James, and Paul, and the first missionaries and emissaries and evangelists of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. That came out of the captivity.
Fifth and last: the last great blessing that came out of the captivity was in the Diaspora, in the dispersion of God’s people [1 Peter 1:1]. The name of Jehovah and the legislation and word of the Book became a commonplace wherever civilized men spake and read, and gathered together. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, for example, at the great, first Jerusalem conference, James the pastor of the church says that all over the civilized world, Moses is preached and people know of the Word of God [Acts 15:21]. Whether the man is in Ethiopia, or whether the man is in Libya, or whether the man is in Egypt, or whether the man is in Syria, or is in Cappadocia, or he’s in Achaia, or he’s in Macedonia, or he’s in Asia; wherever in the civilized world men were, and spake, and gathered, and read—there the Diaspora, the scattering of the Jews made God’s name known, and made this Book a part of the literature of the world, so that when the apostles and the evangelists and the ambassadors from the court of heaven preached Jesus in Alexandria, or preached Jesus in Carthage, or preached Jesus in Ephesus, or Antioch, or preached Jesus in Thessalonica, or in Athens, or in Corinth, or in Rome itself, there were a people prepared to the Lord, knowing God’s Book, ready to receive God’s message of grace in Christ Jesus.
Oh, how many times do we look upon tragedy and disaster as being, “This is the end of the way, this is the destruction of all destructions,” when out of it God hath purposed in a design, possibly, we cannot see or enter into some great and holy purpose of grace for us and for His people.
His purposes do ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
[“God Moves In a Mysterious Way,” William Cowper]
And as we enter this Book of Daniel, to see God’s prophet statesman stand in a heathen court before an autocratic monarch and deliver God’s message [Daniel 2:25-49], is like looking upon the archangels in heaven itself.
Our time is far spent and we must sing our hymn of appeal. And as we sing it, a family you, to put your life with us in this dear church; a couple you, or one somebody you, “I ask God to forgive me my sins, and I bow in the presence of the great Lord and my Savior.” While we sing this hymn, would you come? “I ask God to come into my heart. I ask Jesus to save me. I ask the angels in heaven to write my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. And here I come, openly, publicly, to avow, to acknowledge, to commit my way to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10]. Here I am!” Or a couple you, or a family you, come on the first note of the first stanza, come. Where you are seated, decide now for God. And when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. Do it, make it now, while all of us stand and sing.