God’s People, part 98: Exiled

Read Lamentations 4

“On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land.” (2 Kings 25:3 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Circle_of_Juan_de_la_Corte_-_The_Burning_of_Jerusalem_by_Nebuchadnezzar_s_ArmyPart 98: Exiled. I always love when people say that they can’t read the Bible because it is “boring” and it “puts them to sleep.” It makes me laugh because it couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bible is comprised of 66 books, within which we find genres such as history, poetry, philosophy, action, adventure, mystery, drama, romance, suspense, and certainly horror. Don’t believe me on the last one? Then let us look at the events that led to exile.

As you know, from when we discussed King Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar II besieged Jerusalem because Zedekiah had double crossed him and allied himself with Egypt. It is easy, if we are not absorbing what we are reading, to gloss over this event as if it happened in a flash and was no big deal. If we are not intentional we can read it like we read a paragraph in an American History textbook summarizing the Battle of Gettysburg.

So, if you didn’t already, I want you to read 2 Kings 25:1-21 and Lamentations 4. Read them slowly and carefully and you will, no doubt, find your skin growing cold and your blood curdle in your veins. What happened during the siege of Jerusalem is nothing short of gory horror. The terror of the people of Judah can still be felt, their screams still echoing in the collective memory we find in etched in the Bible.

Flavius Josephus (b. 37 AD – d. 100 AD), a Jewish historian who was working for the Romans, recorded that the siege lasted 18 long months. On the other hand, the author of 2 Kings tells us that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, allowing nothing to enter nor to leave, on January 15th of the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign. That siege didn’t end until July 18th of the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign according to the New Living Translation of the Bible. If you do the math, that means that the siege lasted somewhere between 18 and 30 months.

As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for people to starve. Lamentations paint the grisly scene in elaborate detail. If you are squeemish, you might want to skip past the next part:

The wailing of hungry children endlessly filled the air. People were begging and crawling through the garbage dumps to find anything they could to eat. The wealthy were as ragged as the poor, their faces blackened with dirt and soot. Once fattened by their wealth, they were now nothing more than walking skeletons.

The luckiest among the citizens of Jerusalem were killed by the sword or in some other violent fashion; yet, many were not so lucky. The living wasted away to nothing, slowly starving to death. Things got so desperate that the starving mothers began to cook their babies, eating the meat off of their little bones in order to survive. The Lamenter does not let us know whether the babies were alive or dead when they were cooked, but the horror of it is not something you can not easily shake off.

Boring, right? The kind of history lesson that just puts you right to sleep. Sarcasm aside, this was a horror that Jewish people still have in their collective psyche to this very day. From that point on, the Jews lost and never really gained their sovereignty back as a kingdom, minus a short century or so under the Hasmonean Dynasty. While Israel did become a nation again in 1948, the nation of Israel now bears little resemblance to the Kingdom it once was.

The city fell, Zedekiah tried to escape but he and his sons were captured. He was forced to watch his sons be slaughtered in front of his eyes, which were then gouged out of his head. He, and many of the Jewish aristocracy were exiled from their city, taken in captivity back to Babylon. The golden age of this great kingdom, the kingdom that David forged centuries earlier, was no more. The Lamenter gives us a clue as to why: “Our king—the LORD’s anointed, the very life of our nation—was caught in their snares. We had thought that His shadow would protect us against any nation on earth” (Lamentations 4:20 NLT)!

From Saul onward the Israelites placed their hopes in a human king to protect them, rather than relying on, trusting in, and obeying God. The question I would like us to reflect on is this, are we any different? Do we place our trust in God? Do we? Do we trust God enough to obey what God teaches us, or do we save the Bible for church, but place our trust in our nations’ leaders to protect and save us? In my observation, the latter seems to be the case by and large. If you are someone who places your trust in human leaders, presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, or dictators, I would like to challenge you to reflect on the Siege of Jerusalem and the exile of God’s people.

There is only one Lord and Savior: Jesus Christ. All others will fall extremely short every time.

Lord, steer me away from putting my trust in human leaders and help me to place my trust solely in you. Amen.

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