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Jeremiah by William Smith



The few remaining years of the Jewish kingdom ran rapidly down and their story is soon told.

When Nebuchadrezzar deported King Jehoiachin in 597, he set up in his place his uncle Mattaniah, a son of Josiah by that Hamutal, who was also the mother of the miserable Jehoahaz.(469) The name of the new king Nebuchadrezzar changed to Sedekiah, Righteousness or Truth of Jehovah,(470) intending thus to bind the Jew by the name of his own God to the oath of allegiance which he had exacted from him. When Ezekiel afterwards denounced Sedekiah on his revolt it was for despising the Lord's oath and breaking the Lord's covenant(471) -- a signal instance of the sanctity attached in the ancient world to an oath sworn by one nation to another, even though it was to the humiliation of the swearer.(472) So far as we see, Sedekiah was of a temper(473) to have been content with the peace, which the observance of his oath would have secured to him. But he was a weak man, master no more of himself than of his throne,(474) distracted between a half-superstitious respect for the one high influence left to him in Jeremiah and the opposite pressure, first from a set of upstarts who had succeeded to the estates and the posts about court of their banished betters, and second, from those prophets whose personal insignificance can have been the only reason of their escape from deportation. It is one of the notable ironies of history that, while Nebuchadrezzar had planned to render Judah powerless to rebel again, by withdrawing from her all the wisest and most skilful and soldierly of her population, he should have left to her her fanatics!

There remained in Jerusalem the elements -- sincerely patriotic but rash and in politics inexperienced -- of a |war-party,| restless to revolt from Babylon and blindly confident of the strength of their walls and of their men to resist the arms of the great Empire. Of their nation they and their fellows alone had been spared the judgment of the Lord and prided themselves on being the Remnant to which Isaiah had promised survival and security on their own land: for they said to the Exiles, Get ye far from the Lord, for unto us is this land given in possession.(475) Through the early uneventful years of Sedekiah, this stupid and self-righteous party found time to gather strength, and in his fourth year must have been stirred towards action by the arrival in Jerusalem of messengers from the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon, all of them states within the scope of Egyptian intrigues against Babylon.(476) For the time the movement came to nothing largely because of Jeremiah's influence, and Sedekiah is said to have journeyed to Babylon to protest in person his continued fidelity.(477) Either then or previously Nebuchadrezzar imposed on Jerusalem the Babylonian idolatry which Ezekiel describes as invading even the Temple.(478)

The intrigues of Egypt persisted, however, and, in 589 or 588, after the accession of Pharaoh Hophra,(479) at last prevailed upon Judah. Sedekiah yielded to the party of revolt and Nebuchadrezzar swiftly invested Jerusalem. Roused to realities the king and all the people of Jerusalem offered their repentance by a solemn covenant before God to enfranchise, in obedience to the Law, those slaves who had reached a seventh year of service. But when on the news of an Egyptian advance the Chaldeans raised their siege, the Jewish slave-owners broke faith and pressed back their liberated slaves into bondage.(480) This proved the last link in the long chain of lies and frauds by which the hopelessly dishonest people fastened upon them their doom. Egypt again failed her dupes. The Chaldeans, either by the terror they inspired or by an actual victory on the field, compelled her army to retire, and resumed the siege of Jerusalem. Though Jeremiah counselled surrender and though the city was sapped by famine and pestilence, the fanatics -- to whom, however reluctantly, some admiration is due -- held out against the forces of Babylon for a year and a half. Then came the end. The walls on the north were breached. Sedekiah fled by a southern gate, upon an effort to reach the East of Jordan. He was overtaken on the plains of Jericho, his escort scattered and himself carried to Nebuchadrezzar's head-quarters at Riblah on the Orontes. Thence, after his sons were slain before his eyes, and his eyes put out, he was taken in fetters to Babylon. Nebusaradan, a high Babylonian officer, was dispatched to Jerusalem to burn the Temple, the Palace and the greater houses, and to transport to Babylon a second multitude of Jews, leaving only the poorest of the land to be vine-dressers and husbandmen.(481) This was in 586.

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