In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and besieged it.…
Jehoiakim was the son of one of the best kings that ever sat upon the throne of David. His father, Josiah, was a fearer of the Lord from his youth. In a period of great degeneracy, he was enabled to live a holy and consistent life. Convinced that religion is the true source of national prosperity, and that sin is the procuring cause of national calamity, Josiah exerted his royal influence to promote the revival of godliness among his subjects. The land, however, was ripe for vengeance, and in wrath against it the days of this excellent prince were shortened. He was "taken away from the evil to come." In the flower of his days, he was slain in the battle of Megiddo, while fighting against Pharaoh-Necho king of Egypt. After the death of Josiah, his son Jehoahaz was raised to the throne. This appointment being offensive to the king of Egypt, he deposed Jehoahaz, after a reign of three months, and selected, as his successor on the throne of Judah, Eliakim, another son of Josiah, who, on that occasion, had his name changed into Jehoiakim. The exaltation of such a prince to the throne, in so corrupt a state of society, was a token that judgment was nigh. So early as the third year of his reign, the land was overtaken by the first stroke of calamity. The minister of Divine indignation was Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. From the days of Manasseh, the land of Judea was tributary to Babylon. But when Pharaoh-Necho conquered Josiah, he obtained the superiority of Judea. Babylon and Egypt were then rival monarchies, struggling with one another for the ascendancy of the world. When, therefore, Nabopolassar king of Babylon heard that Pharaoh had taken Jerusalem and other towns in Palestine, he resolved to make an effort for their recovery. Through age and infirmity, being unable to head such an enterprise in person, he assumed Nebuchadnezzar his son into partnership with him in the empire, and sent him into Syria. Having conquered the Egyptians on the Euphrates, he marched into Judea and took Jerusalem. Secular history is generally written, just as it would have been, if no agent had the least influence on the affairs of the world, besides those who are visible to our senses. It traces the actions of man, as if man was all. It takes no notice, or but little notice, of God. But Scripture history is written on a different plan. It begins with God, as the creator of the world, and throughout, it exhibits him as its governor, everywhere present, and always operating. In an especial manner, it traces all the revolutions that take place in kingdoms — their origin — their progress — their decline and fall — to his sovereign and holy will, as the ultimate cause. "And the Lord gave into his hand Jehoiakim king of Judah, — a mode of expression which signifies that Divine displeasure was the true and proper cause of this calamity. In a period of defection from God, superstition often usurps the place of religion. When men have ceased to confide in God himself, they often place their confidence in something pertaining to him, and trust in it for protection from danger. To reprove such a spirit, God usually permits that in which they confide to fall into the enemy's hand. But while they had no confidence in God, they placed the most overweening confidence in the temple. They thought, that so long as it remained among them, they was safe. In one of the earlier messages of Jeremiah, God warned them against this delusion (Jeremiah 4:4, 12, 13, 14). This threatening God now began to execute. Literally, "judgment began at the house of God." Having entered the temple, Nebuchadnezzar carried away part of the vessels of the Lord's house. These he took into the land of Shinar, the ancient name of the region in which Babylon was situated, and placed them in the treasure-house of his god. Considering the place from which these vessels had been taken, and to whose service they had been consecrated for ages, they may certainly be regarded as one of the most remarkable trophies that ever a conqueror presented at the shrine of his deity. But victories obtained over God's people, when they are also triumphs over God himself, will in the end be found pregnant with disaster. Thus, when the Philistines took the ark captive, God glorified himself in a very remarkable manner. And, when he summons the nations to the overthrow of Babylon, one reason mentioned is, to take vengeance on her for what she had done to his temple. "Make bright the arrows; gather the shields; the Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes; for his device is against Babylon to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of his temple." In a subsequent chapter of the Book of Daniel, we shall meet again with these vessels, and see them prostituted, by an impious monarch, to bacchanalian purposes. Jerusalem was taken in the third year of Jehoiakim. We are not, however, to suppose that this was the end of his reign. Having humbled himself, and promised to pay tribute to the king of Babylon, he was restored to his throne, and reigned seven years. Having then rebelled a second time, Jerusalem was again taken, and he bound in chains, to be carried to Babylon, but died by the way. The final overthrow of Jerusalem did not take place till the eleventh year of Zedekiah's reign, about eighteen years after this period. When we consider that the sins of the Jewish people were so numerous, varied, and aggravated, and that they had been accumulating for ages, it might have been expected, that they would have suffered the seventy years of threatened captivity, from the time when the final stroke of vengeance came upon them, in the reign of Zedekiah. But, "for the sake of the elect, the days were shortened." The seventy years of the Babylonian captivity did not begin when the temple was destroyed, but when the vessels of the temple were taken away — not when the nation was removed, but when Daniel and a few others of noble birth were carried into Babylon.
I. Nebuchadnezzar invested Jerusalem, and took it, by the union of his own skill, and the courage of his army, and yet it is here said, "the Lord gave Jehoiakim into his hand." From this, we may learn, that there is a twofold agency concerned in all the events that take place in this world, — the agency of man on the earth, and the agency of God in the heavens. This twofold agency, however, is not co-ordinate. God and man are not possessed of equal efficiency in the production of events, Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem, but it is the Lord who gives Jehoiakim into his hand. Jehovah is the God of gods, and the King of kings, the First Cause of all events, as well as the First Cause of all beings. Men may form their plans, and gratify their passions, with the most entire freedom from all control, and yet they will only do "what God determined before to be done." This is the fundamental truth of religion, whether natural or revealed; the denial of which shows as great a lack of philosophy, as of piety. If the material, or intelligent, creation, was in any respect independent of God, this would sap every rational ground of confidence and composure. I know few duties more necessary to be inculcated, than this, of connecting outward events with the Divine government. Jehovah is, to a great extent, practically deposed from his throne of providence. Even many who profess to believe in his supremacy, "put a reed into his hand for a sceptre." Speculations on the state of the world too generally overlook the influence of God in the affairs that are occurring. In contemplating the world and its affairs, we should beware of looking only to the hand of man. Let us look beyond the creature, to the Creator.
II. The political causes, that led to the overthrow of Jerusalem, are apparent to all. These causes are not stated in the Book of Daniel. They are, however, fully developed in the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. In mentioning irreligion, as the radical cause of God's controversy with Judea, it is unnecessary to produce proofs of the assertion from Scripture. While the outward forms remained, there was such a want of true godliness, that Jehovah loathed and abhorred his own ordinances. And, when a people cease to fear God, or decline in this, their national character will begin to lower. They will cease to be distinguished for those loftier sentiments, which have their origin in the more strictly spiritual department of human nature, and which, more than anything else, tend to cherish wisdom, courage, genius, and patriotism. When the religious feeling of a country begins to decline, it will be marked by a growing disregard for God's holy day. Sabbath desecration is placed prominently among the causes of God's wrath against Judah. Religion is the parent and the nurse of all genuine morality. As might have been expected, from the low state of religion, we find the prevalence of immorality stated as one cause of this calamity that came upon Judea. "Run ye," said God to Jeremiah, "to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it "(Jeremiah 5:1-6). Zephaniah in like manner represents the corruption of manners as extending to all classes. "Her princes within her," says he, "are roaring lions, her judges are ravening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons; her priests have polluted the sanctuary and done violence to the law." There are some sins particularized by all the prophets. Among these none is mentioned more frequently than deceit. With the prevalence of this the prophet Jeremiah was so affected, that at the beginning of the ninth chapter of his book, he breaks forth in these heart-rending strains, "O that mine head were waters," etc. (Jeremiah 9:1-8). Covetousness is specified as another sin (Jeremiah 6:12, 13). Covetousness is represented as producing fraudulent dealing, and corrupting the sources of justice, because of which the Lord was displeased (Micah 6:10, 11). Pride and luxury are also mentioned (Isaiah 3:16-24). The prevalence of immorality, and particularly, the prevalence of deceit, covetousness, and luxury, may, generally, be considered as symptomatic of the last stage of nations. These operate disastrously in two ways. First, They expose to danger, because they are offensive to God. Secondly, They operate, naturally, to produce a dissolution of the social body. Luxury has the same influence on the social health, that an Asiatic climate has upon an European frame; it enervates and debilitates, and causes premature decay, and death. And deceit is like a secret poison, pent up within the bowels of the empire, and gliding fatally, yet imperceptibly, through its veins. And covetousness is like a vulture preying on a diseased and disabled victim, while its blood is still warm, and its breath has not gone forth. And general immorality is like begun mortification, a disease that has no successor in the list of maladies. Irreligion and immorality, when combined, never fail to produce a bitter and malignant aversion to the cause of holiness and truth, and to their adherents. Before the overthrow of Jerusalem, the spirit of irreligion did not exist in a state of apathy. It was roused to great fierceness; it stood forth in the form of malignant contumacy, and defiance against the Lord. His warnings were rejected, his denunciations were scorned, his prophets were persecuted.
III. We shall only mention two things illustrative of the circumstances in which the captivity came.
1. The overthrow of the Jewish state came gradually. Manasseh was first carried captive, then Josiah was slain in battle, Jerusalem was then taken four times by the enemy, twice in the days of Jehoiakim, again in the days of his son, and finally in the reign of Zedekiah. From this we may learn, that national destruction is sometimes a gradual thing. It comes in successive shocks, some at a greater interval, and others at a lesser interval. We are not to suppose, because the sins mentioned prevail in any land, that it shall be instantly overthrown. It is with nations as with individuals, — the impenitent person shall perish, but God may spare him to a good old age. Caution is, therefore, necessary, lest we should commit the honour of Christianity, as good men have often done, by denouncing judgment as certainly at hand. Sin will assuredly Bring it; but the times and the seasons are in the Father's hands.
2. A second thing very observable is, that before each of these successive shocks of national disaster, God made use of means to promote the reformation of the country. Before the calamities that came upon the land, in the days of Manasseh, godly Hezekiah, had endeavoured, during a lifetime, to promote a revival of true religion. The reign of Josiah immediately preceded this disaster in the days of Jehoiakim. In the interval between the death of Josiah and the destruction of the temple, they were warned by divinely-commissioned prophets. Among others, God employed Jeremiah, a man in whose character, zeal for God was finely united with tenderness to man. And it has been God's ordinary way, to use means for reforming nations, before their overthrow. The flood came and swept away the ungodly world, but did not God give them warning? Nineveh was not overthrown till she was called to repentance by the ministry of Jonah. If God's government be a moral government, then moral evil must be the cause of all physical sufferings, and of all political difficulties. Moral evil is the crime, the political evil is the punishment. Moral evil is the disease, political evil is but the symptom.
Parallel VersesKJV: In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.