Chapter 17 “The Kingdoms’ Fall”
Legacies are fragile things. Hezekiah had been King of Judah for nearly three decades. His reforms were sweeping, his achievements notable, his accolades many. He is listed among the few who “did what was right before the LORD His God.” After his death, his son Manasseh ascended to the throne and unraveled his father’s spiritual heritage. Manasseh’s reign marked a spiritual relapse from which the kingdom of Judah would not recover. He made a mockery of Hezekiah’s faithful reign and did more evil than any of his predecessors.
King Manasseh set up altars in the LORD’s temple where worshipping the stars accompanied worship
of Jehovah. He filled Jerusalem with the blood of innocents and turned his own heart and his people’s hearts away from God. Manasseh was eventually captured by the Assyrian king and led off to Babylon in utter humiliation. At last, he turned to the LORD who had compassion on him and eventually allowed him to return to Jerusalem. God re-enters the story to give ultimate forgiveness even to the worst of kings.
But God’s people would not return to Him. They ignored the prophet’s warnings. So God did what He said He would do—He sent foreign armies to raid Judah. Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar laid three sieges against Judah and Jerusalem. The first came against King Jehoiakim and the second against King Jehoiachin. Nearly 10,000 Judeans were captured and taken away to Babylon. The king and the prophet Ezekiel were among their prisoners.
Ezekiel’s visions are some of the most colorful in all ancient literature and foretold of Jerusalem’s certain doom. God commissioned Ezekiel to speak truth to the exiles who disregarded their guilt, even when faced with such stern judgment. He refused to give up. He called Jeremiah to alert the adulterous people that they must own up to their reckless sin. And God also sent word that the worst was yet to come.
Zedekiah was Judah’s last and most pitiful king. His government was controlled by Babylon and he and the people rejected God, broke His Law, and defiled His temple. The time for judgment had come, so God arranged the final battle: King Nebuchadnezzar vs. King Zedekiah. The outcome was certain. An 18-month blockade left Jerusalem’s inhabitants weakened by famine. Zedekiah made a last ditch plea for help from the prophet Jeremiah, but no one much cared for Jeremiah’s response. He reported that Jerusalem would not be saved and he urged surrender as their only hope of survival. Most regarded his claims as treasonous.
In 586 BC, the Babylonian army broke through the walls of Jerusalem. They demolished the city, looted the temple, and led the people away to Babylon. Jeremiah was among the few who were left behind. He grieved the loss of his beloved city and mourned the sin of God’s people. He knew that Judah could have been saved, but even in his sorrow, this weeping prophet stood firm on the sure promises of God. He trusted that God would have compassion on the remnant who remained in Jerusalem.
It had been eight centuries since God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. Now they were exiles in Babylon. Hope vanished. But God told Ezekiel that all was not lost. He reminded His people that He would one day cleanse and restore them. He assured their return to the homeland. And He promised that He would be their God.
To illustrate His point, God showed Ezekiel a valley of dry bones and asked, “Can these bones live?” When Ezekiel spoke God’s message to the bones, they came to life and stood like a vast army. This astonishing demonstration confirmed that even exile in Babylon would not hinder God’s great Upper Story and foretold a future resurrection for the faithful. Life would return to Israel’s dried up bones. God
would make them a nation again. He would bring them back to their land. Only He could.