I Will Write It in Their Hearts

Taylor Halverson Taylor Halverson received a Master’s Degree in Biblical Studies from Yale University. While at Yale he furthered his studies in Biblical languages including Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. He also focused his studies on the history and culture of Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations and the context of scripture within the Ancient Near Easter Environment. He plans to begin a PHD program this fall in Biblical Interpretation. Taylor first became interested in the field of Ancient Near Eastern Studies while attending the Jerusalem Center in the early 90’s. Since then he completed his undergraduate degree at BYU in Near Eastern Studies and returned to Cairo for an intensive language study of Arabic.

This article was taken from Meridian Magazine

Scriptures: Jeremiah 16; 23; 39; 31

Introduction

Jeremiah lived at the crossroads of troubled times and troubled places. He stood as a witness and a representative of an old covenant dying away with the promise of a new covenant emerging. His message was both timely and timeless for it was directed to the people of his day, it spoke to later generations of Israelites and it yet speaks to us today as we open our scriptures and our hearts. In this lesson we will search the promises and covenants of the Lord, expressed through Jeremiah, which can be ours if we so desire, for the Lord has promised, “Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it” (Enos 1:15)

Blessings that Aid Our Scriptural Searching

We are fortunate in many respects as we study the life, time and writings of Jeremiah. We have more than fifty chapters of material in the Bible written by or pertaining to Jeremiah. We have enormous archeological and literary evidence and information of the history, culture and life of Ancient Israel, Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia (Assyria & Babylon [1]) that pertains to the time period of Jeremiah’s life. Furthermore, we have the second witness of the Book of Mormon to events and teachings of Jeremiah’s milieu (Lehi and Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem at the same time).

And finally, we have the words of modern scripture and modern prophets that continue to urge us, like Jeremiah of old, to trust in the Lord, to turn our lives to Him, to find peace and joy in penitent humility and security in the faith of a living God.

Living the Words of God

Let us now bring the words of Jeremiah to life. We will do so in several ways. First we will explore the historical and cultural background of Ancient Israel and surrounding nations during the lifetime of Jeremiah. Then we will look more closely at the life of Jeremiah, his call to be a prophet, the main contours of his message and key events in his life. Finally, we will discuss four chapters of his writings, commenting on the significance of the words preserved over the centuries for our benefit. Ultimately, however, the words of Jeremiah, as is the case with any living words from the Lord, will not live unless we enact them in our lives.

History of the Ancient Near East [2]

Quite often it is best for us to step back a century or so in time from the person or time period that is our main focus to begin our historical stroll. In that way, we can begin looking at the subject in a coherent, logical and chronological framework, as if we were silent participants in the flow of history as it approaches the time period or individual that is our main focus. Such an approach allows us a much broader view and understanding of the life situations that gave context for the people and institutions of later days.

So, let us take that approach with Jeremiah. We will leave aside, for the moment, questions about the life of Jeremiah, except to say that we are quite certain that he was born in the Kingdom of Judah around the year 640 BC and probably died in Egypt sometime after 587 BC. What was life like one hundred years before Jeremiah? What had happened in the ancient world during the century before Jeremiah’s birth? And what had specifically happened in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah?

The Century before Jeremiah

One hundred years before the day of Jeremiah, Israel and Judah existed as independent kingdoms. We remember that they had been one unified kingdom under David and Solomon (ca. 1000-925 BC), but political and religious ruptures tore the kingdoms apart around the year 925 BC[3]. For the course of two hundred years Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Judah, the Southern Kingdom, existed as separate political entities, at times enemies with each other, at other times collaborators and allies in alliances against outside political powers (usually against the Egyptians or the Assyrians).

Fall of the Northern Kingdom (Israel)

Around the year 740 BC Israel, the Northern Kingdom, had fallen into political, moral and religious decay. The timing could not have been worse. Though the Lord raised up prophets such as Hosea to correct the problems, the mighty Assyrian Empire was expanding with renewed vigor under the direction of Tiglath-pilesar the III. Having no desire to pay tribute to a foreign enemy, the king of Israel joined an alliance with the king of Syria to protect themselves and their interests, yet being small kingdoms they needed additional support. They hoped to find it in the unwilling Southern Kingdom of Judah.

But when Judah refused to join the ill-fated alliance of rebellion, the Syro-Ephraimite war began (734-732 BC), a war created to force Judah to join with Syria and Ephraim (Israel)[4]. Within a decade of the end of this conflict the pride of Israel had been leveled to the dust in literal humility.[5]

It was at this time that the Ten Tribes of Israel were taken into Assyrian captivity and lost to the records of history[6]. Judah escaped the wrath of Assyria at this time and again twenty years later under the inspired and courageous leadership of righteous king Hezekiah and his loyal counselor the prophet Isaiah[7]. Penitent righteousness had brought the saving hand of the Lord to the Kingdom of Judah.

The Fate of the Southern Kingdom (Judah)

From a political standpoint, Hezekiah had refused to fully acquiesce to the Assyrians, and in essence was standing in outright rebellion against the mightiest empire of his day. Such a stance was not possible to maintain as the years wore on. After the turn of the century Hezekiah died (ca. 698 BC) and his young son, Manasseh, was installed on the throne.Assyria at this time was making plans to attack Egypt for its role in aiding resistance and rebellion to Assyrian westward expansion.

The offensive was launched in the year 674 BC with the submission of Egypt complete by the year 663 BC. Assyria was now the undisputed power of the Ancient Near East, rebellion or resistance was political suicide, if not literal suicide for king and people. It is no wonder that at this time Manasseh consented to a vassalage status for Judah. As a political move it was probably the wisest for the security of his people and nation.

However, we must not misunderstand why biblical writers spoke so disparagingly of Manasseh. It was not because he chose to (forego) Judah’s independence and sovereignty, but rather that he chose to Assyrianize Judah. This latter act was one of the reasons that the Lord’s prophets spoke out from time to time against making treaties with foreign nations; the prophets were worried that such treaties would lead to foreign incursions into the religious and cultural purity of the people of God.

In an effort to display the effects of submission and vassalage to the Assyrians, Manasseh imported many of their rituals and worship services. Soon altars to Assyrian astral deities had place next to the altar of Jehovah in the sacred temple of Jerusalem. The reform that his father, Hezekiah, had instituted to nationalize and centralize worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem was reversed by Manasseh. Indeed, Manasseh’s (ir)religious actions were very much like those of his grandfather Ahaz, idolatrous worship and religion that Hezekiah tirelessly worked to overcome with Isaiah throughout his reign.

Unfortunately, Manasseh’s predilection for “foreign” forms of worship went further. He allowed local shrines to flourish throughout the land of Judah, shrines dedicated to any number of gods and goddesses or where worshippers inappropriately invoked the name of Jehovah in adulterated expressions of religious fervor. Indeed, the Canaanite worship festivals of cultic prostitutions not only occurred at scattered local shrines but were freely incorporated into worship patterns at the Holy Jerusalem temple.

There also is evidence that the popularity of Assyrian forms of magic and divination were practiced in Judah, while quiet but abominable hints of human sacrifice surfaced. Ah, the peace and security of political stability at the expense of all that is lovely, virtuous and praiseworthy. One scholar describes the situation in the following words:

It is, to be sure, probable that much of this represented no conscious abandonment of the national religion. The nature of [worshipping Jehovah] had been so widely forgotten, and rites incompatible with it so long practiced, that in many minds the essential distinction between [Jehovah] and the pagan gods had been obscured. It was possible for such people to practice these rites alongside the [worship of Jehovah] without awareness that they were turning from the national faith in doing so.

The situation was one of immense, and in some ways novel, danger to the religious integrity of Israel. [The worship of Jehovah] was in danger of slipping unawares into outright polytheism. Since [Jehovah] had always been thought of as surrounded by his heavenly host, and since the heavenly bodies had been popularly regarded as members of that host, the introduction of the cults of astral deities encouraged the people both to think of these pagan gods as members of [Jehovah’s] court and to accord them worship as such.

Had this not been checked, [Jehovah] might soon have become the head of a pantheon, and Israel’s faith might have been prostituted altogether. In addition to this, the decay of the national religion brought with it contempt of [Jehovah’s] law and new incidents of violence and injustice (Zeph. 1:9; 3:1-7), together with a skepticism regarding [Jehovah’s] ability to act in events (ch.1:12). Hezekiah’s reform was canceled completely and the voice of prophecy silenced; those who protested—and apparently there were those who did—were dealt with severely (II Kings 21:16). The author of Kings can say no good word of Manasseh, but instead brands him as the worst king ever to sit on David’s throne, whose sin was such that it could never be forgiven (chs.21:9-15; 24:3f.; cf. Jer. 15:1-4). [8]

The Fall of the Assyrian Empire

The awful situation in Judah of religious and moral decay in the context of political submission would not last forever. The Assyrian empire had stretched itself beyond its capacity to administer, gathering many external and internal enemies along the way. The end was imminent.

From within, the Babylonians, a distinct ethnic and political (though subjected) entity to the southeast of the main Assyrian enclaves, threatened to rebel and topple the Assyrian hegemony. From without, the Egyptians on the southwest, the Indo-Ayrans from the north and the Medes from the west all pressed against the tenuous Assyrian borders.

Trusting in the security of their borders and their military might, the Assyrians felt quite at ease in their prosperous cities such as Nineveh and Asshur[9]. Babylon struck the first blow against Assyria (ca. 652 BC), but in many regards it was an unexpected foe for at the time Babylon was ruled by an Assyrian governor who was none other that the Assyrian emperor’s brother. This internecine conflict played out in the theater of a civil war of sorts. In the end, Ashurbanipal[10] gained the upper hand and his treasonous brother committed suicide. However, the damage was already done.

Peoples within the empire and neighbors without saw the Assyrian weaknesses and sallied forth in continuous attempts to gain their independence or take the empire for themselves.

After forty years (ca. 616 BC) the situation had become desperate for the Assyrians. They no longer held tyrannical and fearsome power over the hordes of Near Eastern populations. However, not all groups desired their ultimate demise. Ironically, it was the Egyptians, erstwhile enemies of the Assyrians just fifty years before, who came to the aid of the Assyrians in order to maintain a weak, but viable government on the northern frontiers of the Fertile Crescent. This was done, in effect, to keep the advancing Babylonians and Medes at bay.

The Egyptians had no desire to have a repeat of new and emerging empires follow the Assyrian example of invading Egyptian soil. However, the coalition failed and Assyria as an empire was effectively erased from the history books by 610 BC.Before we move on let us briefly put this into context.The year that the Assyrian Empire fell (ca. 610 BC) Jeremiah was probably thirty years old. Lehi, a contemporary of Jeremiah, may have been about the same age or perhaps a little bit older. No doubt that Nephi, Sam, Lemuel and Laman were already alive, the older brothers approaching perhaps their teenage years.

Thus we begin to have a better sense for the international political turmoil of the time, turmoil from which Judah was certainly not entirely shielded, being on the great geographical axis between Mesopotamia and Egypt and turmoil which undoubtedly informed the life experience of Lehi and his family.

A New King for Judah

We will momentarily move the clock back once again to the year 640 BC. However, we are not yet ready to shine our full focus on Jeremiah (this being the year of his birth). Let us first discuss the political and religious scene within Judah now that we have a clearer backdrop of the international problems that framed life in Judah. Previously we considered the wicked ways of Judean king Manasseh son of Hezekiah. To the relief of not a few religious purists he passed away around 641 BC only to be succeeded by his like-minded son Amon[11]. That his ways of religious adultery would not be tolerated by all is born out in the fact that after but two years on the throne of David an assassination plot ended his life.

Amon’s young son, Josiah, was then heralded as the new king of Judah at the tender age of eight. No doubt that the first many years of his reign were orchestrated by powerful court officials who had their own agendas, many of which were supported by religious reformers. What many of the people most desired was political independence.

Among the religious reformers this independence would be displayed by expanding Judean borders to encompass what was once the entire geographical domain of David (Judah had been reduced to but a small petty state at that point encompassing only 25% of what had been the former glory of Israel’s golden age) and reinstalling national and centralized worship of Jehovah at the national shrine know as the Holy Jerusalem Temple. As long as foreign powers held political dominance over Judah, the religious reformers and religious purists believed (and with some justification) that commingled religion, worship and rites would forever profane the sacred places of Judah.

Independence for Judah

As Assyrian hegemony waned and Josiah grew bolder the propitious moment of action arrived. In 628 BC, king Ashurbanipal died and his ineffectual son took the throne. Josiah, then a courageous young man of twenty years, seized the opportunity to work independent of any Assyrian lordship. He effected both political independence and religious reformation (following in the steps of his grandfather Hezekiah).

He began by expanding the Judean borders, first to reclaim the area of Samaria (what had previously been the domain of the Ten Northern Tribes of Israel until they had been conquered and deported a century before by the Assyrians) and then later military attempts were made to regain the Galilee region[12].

His religious reforms included cleansing the Jerusalem temple of religious and political symbols and rites associated with the Assyrian empire and Assyrian pagan religions. He also enacted a return to the purity of Israelite worship of Jehovah, advocating one national, centralized location where such legitimate worship could take place. The local family, community and village shrines throughout the countryside were summarily closed and any priests of Jehovah were required to incorporate themselves with the authorized priesthood at Jerusalem.

We cannot delve into all of the social upheaval that such reforms would cause, but it is clear that not all people were happy with or socially and economically benefited from such reforms.

Book of the Law Discovered

One of the greatest aspects of the religious reform was the unanticipated discovery of the book of the law (most likely our present day Book of Deuteronomy or some version of it) in the year 622 BC. As the priests were obeying orders to cleanse the temple of disrepair Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered the sacred book, which was soon delivered to king Josiah, who read with much sorrow, for the people had so fully forgotten the Lord that even their most revered scripture had been forgotten and lost somewhere in the piles of refuse of what should have been sacred temple precincts.

Such a discovery only fueled Josiah’s enthusiasm and desire for religious reform. In an awesome display of covenantal ritual he read the book of the law unto his people and committed them to obey the voice of the Lord. In covenantal unity and affirmation the people took upon themselves the name of Jehovah, to serve him and to keep his commandments according to the words written in the book of the law (see 2 Kings 23). [13]

A New Golden Age?

A renewed Golden Age appeared to be dawning over Israel once again. A legitimate and righteous heir of David sat upon the God-instituted throne. But the religious awakening of returning to the true worship of Jehovah would not last. And interestingly, the national independence disappeared soon thereafter (ca. 608 BC). What was the cause of such rapid reversals of fortune in the course of some forty years (subjection to the Assyrians until 628 BC, independence after 628 BC and subjection to a foreign power once again beginning ca. 608 BC)?

Misfortune for Judah

After the Assyrian empire fell into demise, emergent kingdoms warred over the loot (land and property) of such a vast empire. Egypt was one in particular who wanted to reassert power in the region. With that intent the Egyptian army took the 1000-mile march from Egyptian lands to Mesopotamia to take a stand against the rising Babylonian empire. For reasons that we do not entirely understand, Josiah sought to thwart the Egyptian march through his countryside, which had to pass by the strategic fortress city of Megiddo which lay in the fertile Jezreel valley (about 50 miles north of Jerusalem).

On the ill-fated day of battle, Josiah lost his life and thus passed with him the promise of national independence and religious reform. Summarily Josiah’s son Jehoahaz became king of Judah at the age of twenty-three, this being the year 609 BC. [14]

Loss of Independence for Judah

When the Egyptians returned from the failed military expedition against the Babylonians (609 BC), they removed Jehoahaz from power and in his place installed his brother Eliakim on the throne (he assumed the throne name of Jehoiakim)[15], perhaps because he would be more loyal to Egyptian interests. Judah’s independence disappeared at this point for Egypt had also put Judah under tribute. Jehoiakim did not walk after the ways of his father Josiah to do righteousness. Instead, the religious awakening that had begun with Hezekiah and that was vigorously renewed with Josiah once again was reversed, much like Manasseh had done. Those who understood the ways of the Lord condemned such wickedness, though often it put their very lives in jeopardy. In this regard, Jeremiah the prophet was particularly vulnerable as was Lehi who eventually had to flee Jerusalem with his family.

The Wickedness of Jehoiakim

Under heavy tribute the economic and temporal conditions of the kingdom of Judah foundered. Unfortunately, the moral backbone that may have supported such trials and tribulations was seriously lacking due to Jehoiakim allowing for popular forms of pagan worship and ritual to reenter public and private life instead of turning to the Lord God. In such destitute circumstances, Jehoiakim displayed his total disregard for the well-being of his people. He moved forward with great arrogance to build himself a beautiful and spacious palace by means of forced labor. This wickedness Jeremiah vigorously denounced (see Jeremiah 22:13-19).

Changing Vassalage

Some six years (603 BC) after the Egyptians put the Judean kingdom into vassalage status, the Babylonian empire was sufficiently strong enough to contend with the Egyptians. Into the lands of Palestine the Babylonians poured on their way to conquer Egypt. Though wicked, yet having enough political wisdom to see the turn of events, Jehoiakim astutely threw in his allegiance with the Babylonian overlords, submitting to be their vassal and to pay the annual tribute.

Jerusalem under Seige

Jehoiakim had no desire for such vassalage status, so when the opportunity arose, he rebelled. This rebellion lasted for about 3 years (601-598 BC) before the Babylonians could return to Palestine and put down the insurrection. But Jehoiakim died just before the Babylonian war machine arrived to Jerusalem (597 BC). For a brief three months his young eighteen year-old son Jehoiachin held the Judean throne.

When the Babylonian army arrived, they put down the Judean king and deported a large portion of the most important people of the city back to Babylon. In essence, the fall of Jerusalem took place in stages, the earliest stage occurring in 597 BC while the majority of the destruction and deportation was not complete until 587 BC, the traditional date of the “Fall of Jerusalem.”

Kings of Judah

Zedekiah Becomes King of Judah

The Babylonians installed a new king on the Judean throne in 597 BC, one that they believed would be loyal to them and faithfully pay the tributary taxes on a regular basis. This king was named Mattaniah and he assumed the throne name of Zedekiah, the same Zedekiah mentioned by Nephi in 1 Nephi 1. Unfortunately for Zedekiah and his people, Zedekiah had the same blood of his seditious brother Jehoiakim.

So, after ten years of such behavior the Babylonian desired no more. They marched upon Jerusalem, put the people to the sword, burnt the temple to the ground and removed anyone of consequence to Babylon. Thus passed away the era of the 1st Solomonic temple.[16] And thus came an end to the rule of kings over Israel and Judah.

Footnotes are found HERE BEAUTIFUL

Advertisements

I would like to hear from you

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: