Destruction and Deportation (2 Kings 25:8-21; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21; Jeremiah 39:8-10; 52:12-30) November 29-30
About a month after the captivity of Zedekiah, in the Hebrew fifth month of Ab or Av (corresponding to July-August), came the demolition of Solomon's temple, the palaces and buildings, the removal of all the valuable items to Babylon and the destruction of the city's walls. This was no easy task—as is born out by the use of the whole Babylonian army to tear down the walls.
As is often the case in Bible translation, the English does not truly convey the sense of the original language. Mastering the Old Testament comments regarding 2 Kings 25: "In Hebrew, the first twelve verses of the chapter are one long sentence, each verse beginning with 'and.' Clause is heaped upon clause in a kind of cadence, as if each one were another tick of the clock counting down Jerusalem's final hours" (Vol. 9: 1, 2 Kings by Russell Dilday, 1987, p. 505).
A lot of detail is given concerning exactly what was taken from the temple. Many items had been taken in previous invasions. Now the temple was stripped bare before it was razed. Strikingly absent is any mention of the Ark of the Covenant, which has fueled suspicions that it was secreted away to some hiding place beforehand (though we cannot now know for sure). As mentioned in comments on a previous plundering of the temple, it is interesting to note that after the fall of Babylon to the Persians, the Jews who are permitted to return to Judah at that time are given temple items to go back with according to a detailed accounting (Ezra 1:7-11)—perhaps made possible by the fact that Daniel was a high official of Babylon who could well have had a hand in this.
Concerning the temple, there appears to be a contradiction as to what day of the month Nebuzaradan, the Babylonian captain of the guard, arrived and destroyed it. In 2 Kings 25:8 the date given is the seventh while Jeremiah 52:12 says it was the tenth. John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible says that the difficulty may be solved "without supposing different copies, or any error: [Nebuzaradan] might [have] set out from Riblah on the seventh day, and come to Jerusalem on the tenth; or he might come thither on the seventh, and not set fire to the city till the tenth; or, if he set fire to it on the seventh, it might be burning to the tenth, before it was wholly consumed. The Jews account for it thus: 'strangers entered into the temple, and ate in it, and defiled it, the seventh and eighth days; and on the ninth, towards dark, they set fire to it; and it burned and continued all that whole day, as it is said, Jer 6:4'" (note on 52:12). The Jewish oral tradition gives the ninth of Av as the date for the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians—as well as the date for the destruction of the second temple by the Romans more than 600 years later (Tosefta Ta'anit 4:10; Ta'an 29a). The anniversary of the destruction of Solomon's temple was commemorated as "the fast of the fifth month" (Zechariah 8:18)—still observed by the Jews on the ninth of Av as the anniversary of the destruction of both temples. Indeed, a number of other great tragedies have befallen the Jewish people on this date over the centuries.
Another possible solution to the apparent discrepancy is that the date given in Jeremiah 52:12, the tenth, actually applies to verse 15 regarding the deportation of the people—and that everything in between is a parenthetical inset explaining what had already happened up to this point.
Not everyone, we learn, was deported at this time. The Babylonians knew the value of the land and, rather than leaving it totally desolate, they allowed some of the poorer people to stay behind to care for the vineyards and fields.
Certain important people were chosen for execution, such as the high priest Seraiah, grandson of Hilkiah, the faithful high priest of Josiah's day. "Although Seraiah was executed at Riblah ([2 Kings 25] v. 21), his son Jehozadak was simply deported (1 Chr. 6:15). Through Jehozadak's line would come Ezra, the priest and great reformer, who one day would return to Jerusalem and take up Seraiah's work (Ezra 7:1). The second martyred priest Zephaniah may be the priest mentioned by Jeremiah (Jer. 21:1; 29:25). Jerusalem would be less prone to future rebellions with the chief religious and civil officials gone" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 2 Kings 25:18).
Of course, many were carried away at this time—though much less than had already been carried away more than a decade earlier. Bear in mind that the figures given in Jeremiah 52:28-30 concern only the city of Jerusalem. Many more people were taken from the rest of Judah. Observe also that, according to verse 30, a final deportation would occur a few years after the current one.
The exile would continue "until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths" (2 Chronicles 36:21). "According to the Law of Moses the land was to lie fallow every seventh year (Lev. 25:4). This became known as the sabbatical year. Judah's exile in Babylon allowed the land to enjoy the Sabbaths it had missed [because the people had failed to obey God's law] (see Lev. 26:33-35)" (note on 2 Chronicles 36:21).
Being driven into captivity was a hard plight. As one source explains: "It was indeed a subject for an artist to depict, the long march of the exiles on the way to their distant home. Delicate women and little children forced to travel day after day, irrespective of fatigue and suffering; prophets and priests mingled together in the overthrow they had done so much to bring about; rich and poor marching side by side, manacled, and urged forward by the spear-point or scourge. All along the valley of the Jordan, past Damascus, and then for thirty days through the inhospitable wilderness...whilst all the nations round clapped their hands" (F.B. Meyer, Jeremiah, 1980).
Mastering the Old Testament comments on 2 Kings 25: "The reader cannot help but be struck by the passionless tones of the narrative in this chapter. Not once does the author show his feelings, even though he is describing the tragic downfall of his country" (p. 505).
"Nor," the same source goes on to say, "can the reader help but be impressed with the revelation throughout these chapters of God's patience and His reluctance to punish. More than four hundred years had passed since Solomon first disobeyed God and introduced the children of Israel to pagan idolatry. Faithfully, through all those years, a steady stream of prophets clearly proclaimed the warnings of punishment. Varying disasters confirmed their messages, vividly previewing what was to come if the people did not repent and turn to God. With steadfast love, God tried again and again to seek and save His people, but they mocked His warnings, killed His prophets, and would not listen to His reproof. So finally the hour struck and the impending crash came. The harshness of the judgment is somehow softened by the recognition that the Lord is indeed long-suffering toward His people. But His patience and steadfast love are balanced with justice. The destruction is a reminder that we must not presume on His grace and mercy" (pp. 505-506).
This stands as a witness against those who would portray the God of the Old Testament as invariably harsh. It also serves as a warning that the God of love will extend His patience only so far. No one can dispute the fact that today's world blatantly disobeys and disregards God's laws. It can only be a matter of time before He says, "That's the end..."
Supplementary Reading:"The Bible and Archaeology: The Downfall of Judah: Exile to Babylon,">The Good News, January/February 1999, pp. 22-24, 28.