Chapter 3: The Captivity Intervention
by David Schnittger
The Bible presents Yahweh God as both transcendent and immanent. By transcendent, we mean that He stands beyond and is unaffected in His essential being by the circumstances of earth and the universe. By immanent, we mean that He is, at the same time, concerned and intimately involved in the affairs of this universe, and, in particular, with mankind. As such, God has chosen to be responsive to man’s actions, whether judging and punishing sin and unbelief, or granting merciful intervention in response to man’s repentance and faith. It is the latter subject that we will explore in this series of articles. We have already looked at the Exodus intervention under Moses. This article will deal with the Babylonian Captivity intervention under King Cyrus.
In this article, we are going to examine the Divine intervention that took place with Judah at the time of the Babylonian Captivity. We are going to look at the main points of this intervention and then discern whether there is a pattern evident in this intervention. In subsequent articles, as we look at other examples of national intervention, we will explore whether this same pattern is evident. The purpose of this study is to discern the times in which we live to see if America is in the midst of yet another gracious Divine national intervention.
PREDICTION OF CAPTIVITY
By way of review, the United Kingdom that existed under Saul, David and Solomon split under Jereboam and Reheboam. The northern ten tribes was known as Israel and the southern two tribes was known as Judah. Israel was conquered and dispersed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The southern kingdom, in a state of apostasy was warned by the prophet Jeremiah that, unless they repented, they would be conquered and go into captivity by the Babylonians:
They said, Turn ye again now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that the LORD hath given unto you and to your fathers for ever and ever. And go not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me not to anger with the works of your hands; and I will do you no hurt. Yet ye have not hearkened unto me, saith the LORD; that ye might provoke me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt. Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Because ye have not heard my words, Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing and perpetual desolations. Moreover, I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years (Jeremiah 25:5-11).
PROSECUTION OF THE CAPTIVITY
Just as God promised through Jeremiah, because of the waywardness of the people of Judah, the Babylonians invaded Judah in three successive waves, eventually bringing them into captivity. The first invasion took place under the Judean king Jehoiakim in 606 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 24:1). The second invasion took place under Jehoachin in 597 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 24:11). The third and final invasion took place under Zedekiah in 586 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 25:1). 2 Kings 24:10-17 provides an overall description of these events:
At that time (Jehoiachin’s reign) the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city, and his servants did besiege it. And Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers: and the king of Babylon took him in the eight year of his reign. And he carried out thence 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 which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, as the LORD had said. And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon, and the king’s mother, and the king’s wives, and his officers, and the king’s wives, and his officers, and the mighty of the land, those carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. And all the men of might, even seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths a thousand, all that were strong and apt for war, even them the king of Babylon bought captive to Babylon. And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his father’s brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah.
THE DESOLATION OF JERUSALEM
Nebuchadnezzar was rapacious in his violence toward the people of Judah and unsparing in his greed. This is recorded in Lamentations 4:11, 12: The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof. The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem. The devastation of the captivity cut to the very hearts of those that were wrenched from their homeland and made to languish in brutal captivity. This is captured so eloquently in the following Psalm of Lament:
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 mist 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?
PROMISED DELIVERANCE FROM THE CAPTIVITY
In the midst of their bondage and despair, the LORD does not leave His people without hope. Along with the promise of 70 years of captivity, there is the promise of eventual deliverance: For thus saith the LORD, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again unto the place whence I cause you to be carried away captive.
THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE DELIVERANCE
In fulfillment of the promised deliverance from the captivity, we have the record of that deliverance actually taking place. It was on the night of the decapitation of the Babylonian government that Belshazzar the king hosted a great feast with a thousand of his top leaders. In the midst of their drunken revelry, a mysterious messaged appear on the wall of the king’s palace. Daniel was called upon to render the interpretation in Daniel 5:25-31:
And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the things: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.
The fall of the city of Babylon was a military miracle in itself. Babylon was considered impregnable by virtue of its massive walls. It was particularly impregnable because of the vast area within the walls where food could be stored and even produced and because of the Euphrates River which flowed through the city. Cyrus is said to have stationed a portion of his army at the place where the river entered the city and other portion where it left. The rest of the army deepened the canals in the Euphrates Valley and diverted the river temporarily. In October, 539 B.C., on the night of Daniel’s prophecy, the army marched into the city by way of riverbed taking the city without battle. The Medo-Persian army decapitated the Babylonian leadership gathered for their drunken orgy, effectively toppling the Babylonian empire.
PROMISED DELIVERER FROM THE CAPTIVITY
In the midst of Judah’s travails, as recorded in Psalm 134, God raised up an unexpected deliverer. Cyrus was the ruler of the entire Medo-Persian Empire. He was not a Hebrew, nor did he worship the Hebrew’s God. Yet, listen to the way he is described in the word of God:
That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thy by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by the name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me (Isaiah 44:28-45:4).
This is an amazing prophecy! The Persian emperor Cyrus was named by God about 150 years before he was born, and about 100 years before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the temple carrying the people of Judah into captivity in Babylonia. The Persian Empire will later conquer Babylon and eventually Cyrus became emperor and fulfilled Israel’s prophecy made about 175 earlier. Notice in this Isaiah passage, this pagan king is referred to as “my shepherd” and one whom the Lord called “by name.” The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in 538 B.C. is seen in Ezra 1:1-3:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus, king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged e to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
In the nineteenth century, the archaeological discovery of the “Cyrus cylinder” confirms the historicity of the decree of Cyrus. This cylinder, inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform in the name of King Cyrus the Great, was found in 1879 in present-day Iraq and dates back to the sixth century B.C. This cylinder described not only the capture of Babylon, but also Cyrus’ permission for the people captured by the Babylonians to return to their homelands. Although the Hebrews are not mentioned by name, the text refers to the repatriation of deported people which would certainly include the Hebrews. Scholars have linked one particular passage from the cylinder to the decree of Cyrus referenced in Ezra:
From . . . Assur and [from] Susa, Agade, Esnunna, Zamban, Meturnu, Der, as far as the region of Gutium, the sacred centers on the other side of the Tigris, whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there [i.e., in Babylon], to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and return to them their dwellings (emphasis added).
Consequent to the decree of Cyrus a large group of Hebrews did return to Judah in 538-537 B. C. under the civil leadership of Zerubbabel, the governor, and the religious leadership of Joshua, the high priest. This group of approximately 50,000 people completed the construction of Zerubbabel’s temple in 516 B.C. and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall in approximately 444 B.C.
THE CAPTIVITY PATTERN OF DIVINE INTERVENTION
I believe we see in the captivity narrative the continuation of the pattern of divine intervention first seen at the Exodus. Let me summarize it as follows: A needy people cry out to God in desperation. God has respect to their cry and raises up an imperfect person, who, against the resistance of the establishment, is God’s agent to affect deliverance. In the next article, we will see if this pattern holds for the “Nineveh deliverance.”