Upon the death of Solomon
in 931 B.C. the united kingdom of Israel was spit
with ten northern tribes pulling away and forming
their own nation using the name Israel. The two
remaining tribes in the south continued under the
name of Judah.
During the next 209 years
the northern kingdom of Israel continued its worship
of idolatry until in 722 B.C. God used the Assyrians
as His hammer of judgment. The southern kingdom of
Judah continued on for another 134 years after
Israel’s fall only to be judged for its spiritual
adultery by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (2
FALL OF JERUSALEM (586
The Northern Kingdom of
Israel fell captive to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The
reason was because of their idolatry. Shalmaneser
besieged Israel for three years and his successor,
Sargon, finished the task and carried the people
into captivity. The king of Assyria brought people
from other captured countries and settled them in
Samaria, who married the poorer people who remained
in the country. The upper class people were carried
away to Assyria who then inner-married with
Assyrians. As a result the religion of Samaria
became even more mixed with paganism. The resulting
mixed marriages were the Samaritans who were later
despised by the pure Jews who returned from Babylon
to reclaim the land.
The ten tribes of the
Northern Kingdom of Israel were carried to Assyria
never to come back to their homeland. Please keep in
mind that “many imaginary and untrustworthy accounts
have been given seeking to identify these Lost
Tribes with later peoples” (Russell Jones, Survey of
Old and New Testaments, p. 154).
Samaritans were a mixed
race resulting from the intermarriages of the poorer
residents of the Northern Kingdom who were left in
the land after the Assyrian captivity. Assyria
brought in settlers from other regions along the
Tigris and Euphrates River who intermarried with
these local people. The Jews in Judea hated the
Samaritans who worshipped a corrupted Judaism based
on the Pentateuch.
The Southern Kingdom of
Judah survived for another 134 years and fell to the
Babylonians in 586 B.C.
During the last 25 years
the prophet Jeremiah, realizing the nation’s decay
of moral and spiritual values had reaped its
harvest, remained faithful urging the people of
Judah to accept God’s punishment upon the nation.
Nebuchadnezzar, king of
Babylon, spoiled Jerusalem and took treasures from
Solomon’s Temple. Ten thousand of the leading men of
Judah were taken into captivity to Babylon. The
national leadership in Jerusalem continued to follow
their wicked ways until Nebuchadnezzar laid siege of
the city and a breach was made into the city wall.
King Zedekiah (Mattaniah, 597-586 B.C.) attempted to
escape, but was captured and taken to Babylon in
chains. The Babylonians killed his sons in his sight
and then blinded him. The walls of Jerusalem were
destroyed and the temple burned to the ground. All
of the city’s treasurers were taken to Babylon. The
remaining leaders of Judah were killed and the rest
of the people were carried into captivity to
Babylon. Only the very poorest people remained in
Judah in the hills who later fled to Egypt (2 Kings
It has been estimated by
scholars that about 50,000 people were marched into
captivity in Babylon. The important thing to note is
that the Babylonians did not replace the people of
Judah with other captives as the Assyrians had done
in the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. The land of
Judah and Jerusalem remained vacant for seventy
years until the Lord brought a remnant of His people
back to the Promised Land.
The Chronicler tells us
in vivid terms the reason for the exile (2 Chron.
36:14-16). “They mocked the messengers of God, and
despised His words, and misused His prophets, until
the wrath of the Lord arose against His people until
there was no remedy.” But even this captivity was a
part of God’s plan.
The prophet Jeremiah
wrote his “Funeral Hymn” as the walls burned down.
Lamentations of Jeremiah describe the vivid
agonizing emotions of the prophet as he weeps over
Jerusalem and God’s chosen people. The result of the
Babylonian captivity was a purging of idolatry from
the heart of the people of God.
Nebuchadnezzar was the
king of the most powerful nation on earth at this
time. His father, Nabopolassar, had founded the
Babylonian empire after defeating the Assyrians and
developing the commerce and massive building
program. He extended the empire as far as the
Three waves of
The Jewish captives were
settled along the Chebar River and treated as
colonists. They were given freedom to lead normal
lives as long as they remained politically loyal to
the Babylonian government. Daniel became a
government official. Many became quite wealthy in
Babylon and their families remained there after the
seventy years of captivity were over.
The first group of
captives to be led away to Babylon included the
prophet Daniel in 605 B.C. A few years later in 597
B.C. ten thousand captives, including the prophet
Ezekiel followed. Finally, when the city of
Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. the final captives were
led away to the banks of the River Chebar in Babylon
(2 Kings 24:1-18; 2 Chron. 36:11-21; Jer. 52:1-11;
Ezek. 1:1-2; Daniel 1:1-7).
The important lesson from
the captivity was the purging of idolatry from the
hearts of God’s people. They never forgot the
penalty of turning from Yahweh to follow other gods.
They were more faithful to Him in Babylon than in
Benefits of the
J. B. Tidwell summarizes
the benefits of the captivity for the Jewish people
(Introducing the Old Testament, p. 178).
The Jews became a separate people who did not want
to become like their neighbors ever again. The
Pharisees came from this era of Jewish history.
They became pure monotheistic, giving up idolatry
They developed theological literature and renewed
interest in the Law of Moses.
They repented of their sins against Yahweh.
The synagogues were established as a place of
worship centered on God’s Word, prayer, praise and
Judaism became personal rather than a formal
They became a missionary people to all the
During this time God placed a longing for the coming
of the Messiah in their hearts. The Pharisees were
especially instrumental in keeping the Messianic
hope before the eyes of the people.
JEWS IN EGYPT
Not all of the Jews were
taken into exile to Babylon, however. Some fled to
Egypt because of the deplorable conditions in Judah.
The prophet Jeremiah went with this group to
Tahpanhes (Daphne) on the Egyptian frontier where
they built a temple in Elephantine (cf. Jeremiah
The prophets of the
Babylonian exile were Jeremiah (in Jerusalem and
Egypt), Ezekiel and Daniel in Babylon.
RETURN TO JERUSALEM
The sovereign control of
Yahweh over His people while in Babylonian captivity
is clearly seen in the books of Daniel, Ezekiel,
Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. God continued to reveal
Himself through the post-exile prophets Zechariah,
Haggai and Malachi.
Even though God
disciplined His people, He did not abandon them. He
was there all the time watching over them until the
coming of His “Anointed One.” The theme of the
providential protection of God over the Jewish
people in exile is clearly presented in Esther. A
sovereign God is firmly in control over the pagan
kings of Babylon and Persia.
Just as the exile to
Babylon consisted of three waves, the return from
Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem occurred as a
“second exodus” to the Promised Land. God was
faithful to His prophecy through Isaiah 44:28-45:4,
and Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-5. Nehemiah claimed
these promises when prayed in 1:8-10. When Cyrus the
Persian captured Babylon in 539 B.C. the Jewish
captives were free to return to Judah.
The first group of Jewish
people returned to Jerusalem in 538-539 B.C. under
the leadership of Zerubbabel, the second group were
led by Ezra in 458 B.C. and Nehemiah led a group
back in 444 B.C. The rebuilt Jerusalem was much
smaller than the city before the fall. The book of
Nehemiah completes the historical account of the
Jewish people 400 years before the birth of the
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Index to this Series on
the Introduction to books of the Bible A Look at the
Captivity 586 B.C.