In my first post on the confrontation between Jeremiah and Hananiah, I wrote about some of the issues that differentiated Jeremiah from Hananiah. Both individuals were prophets and both were accepted by the people as legitimate representatives of Yahweh. However, their messages were different and their understanding of what Yahweh was doing in the history of Judah was not the same.
Before we deal with the confrontation between Jeremiah and Hananiah in the temple, it is necessary to review some of the historical events that led to this confrontation. What follows is a brief overview of major events that culminated with the deportation of Judah.
The accession of Tiglath Pileser III (745-727) to the throne of Assyria in 745 B.C. inaugurated a new era of Assyrian domination of the Ancient Near East. Those rulers who followed him, Shalmaneser V (726-722), Sargon II (721-705), Sennacherib (704-681) and Esarhaddon (680-669) became powerful overlords who extended Assyrian control ever Mesopotamia, Palestine, and even Egypt.
Manasseh (687-642), king of Judah, recognized that it was almost impossible to resist Assyria. He paid heavy tribute to Assyria during his long reign and officially recognized Assyrian gods. The introduction of Assyrian religious practices into the religion of Judah led to syncretism and to the rejection of many of the ancient religious traditions of the nation. Although Assyria did not force integration of the conquered peoples into their own culture, Manasseh willingly submitted to Assyria and became a faithful vassal as long as he lived.
During the reigns of Shalmaneser V and Sargon II the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria and became an Assyrian province. Judah made an attempt at independence under Hezekiah, but Hezekiah became a vassal of Assyria and paid tribute to Sennacherib. However, Judah avoided total conquest and integration because of the policy of appeasement adopted by Manasseh. Because of his total submission to Assyria, Manasseh was able to have a long and peaceful reign. His vassalage to Assyria guaranteed that Judah would retain her identity.
During the reign of King Asshurbanapal (668-627 B.C.), Assyria’s dominance of the Ancient Near East began to wane at the same time that the Babylonians began to take steps toward independence from Assyria. Josiah, King of Judah, took advantage of Assyria’s weakness and made a bid for political freedom for Judah. After the Book of the Law was discovered in the temple in 622 B.C., Josiah promoted a major reform to free Judah from the alien religious practices introduced by Manasseh and the political control Assyria had imposed on Judah.
The reform of Josiah was based on the stipulations found in the Book of the Law, probably an early version of Deuteronomy. Josiah was committed to bring Judah back to the old religious traditions established by the covenant which God had given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The book of Deuteronomy contains a version of the law of Moses. The law was reformulated to meet the social and religious conditions of seventh century Judah.
The election of Israel to become God’s special people (Exodus 19:5) was a free act of grace, however the election of Israel as the people of God came with the expectations that the people would obey God’s voice and keep the demands of the covenant. Both Israel and Judah abandoned Yahweh to follow other gods. After the deportation of the Northern Kingdom, Judah was facing God’s judgment because it too failed to live in obedience to Yahweh.
Josiah and the people made a covenant in which they agreed to abide by the stipulations of the covenant. Josiah’s major effort at reformation was the elimination of pagan cults and the destruction of the altars dedicated to pagan deities. The most important aspect of Josiah’s reform was the centralization of the religious life of Judah in the temple of Jerusalem. However, before Josiah could get his reforms firmly established, he was killed in 609 B.C. in a battle in Megiddo against Neco II, king of Egypt.
The death of Josiah brought radical changes to Judah. With Josiah’s death, the reform movement ended. King Neco placed Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son on the throne of Judah, even though the people despised him. Jehoiakim served as a vassal of Egypt and reversed many of the religious changes his father had established.
When Babylon and Egypt met in battle at Carchemish in 605 B.C., the Babylonians defeated Egypt and became the dominant power in the Ancient Near East. At that time, Jehoiakim became a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar. The defeat of Egypt in 605 B.C. and the accession of Nebuchadnezzar to the throne of Babylon assured Jeremiah that the end of Judah was near (Jeremiah 25:1). To Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar was “the Servant of Yahweh” who would act as the instrument of God’s justice (Jeremiah 25:8-11). In 601 B.C. Egypt and Babylon met again with heavy losses on both sides. Nebuchadnezzar returned home to reorganize his army. At that time Jehoiakim revolted against the Babylonians.
This act of rebellion caused Babylon to invade Judah and besiege Jerusalem in 597 B.C. Jehoiakim’s sudden death probably was the result of an assassination attempt. With the death of Jehoiakim, his son Jehoiachin became the new king of Judah. After three months on the throne, Jehoiachin surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar and was deported to Babylon, together with the members of the royal family, political and military leaders, intellectuals, and many skilled workers. After the deportation of Jehoiachin, the Babylonians made Zedekiah the new king of Judah. Zedekiah made a covenant of fealty with Nebuchadnezzar and served as a vassal of Babylon.
Zedekiah was a weak king. Encouraged by a strong anti-Babylonian factions in his court, Zedekiah plotted a revolt against Babylon. With the promise of Egyptian help, Zedekiah revolted openly against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar’s army attacked and systematically destroyed the fortified cities of Judah. The temple, the city, and the big houses of Jerusalem were destroyed in 587 B.C. Zedekiah fled the city at night, but he was captured near Jericho. He was taken to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah, a city in the northern part of Syria, where he was forced to see the slaughter of his sons. Then his eyes were put out. They bound him in fetters and he was sent to Babylon together with a second deportation of the population. With the deportation of Zedekiah, the monarchy of David came to an end.
In a future post, I will discuss the events that led to the confrontation between Jeremiah and Hananiah in the temple.
Studies on Jeremiah and Hananiah
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary