Video on the Genesis lifespans

This video discusses the long lifespans that are listed in the book of Genesis.  Some explanations are given as to why it is scientifically possible for people to have lived hundreds of years in Genesis while life is much shorter today.  See Genesis lifespans for the full text of this video.

Intermarriage after the exile

One of the main issues that pops up in both of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is intermarrying.  Christians are told not to be unequally yoked, meaning it is not in our best interests to marry a non-Christian.  This same principle applied to the Israelites in the Old Testament.

Ezra and Nehemiah take place after the Jews have returned from their exile in Babylon.  While the main focus of the two books is rebuilding the temple and the walls of Jerusalem, respectively, both men enact some spiritual reforms as well.

Ezra responds to the news of intermarriage in Ezra 9:1-4 by pulling out his hair – literally.

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.

Nehemiah comes to Jerusalem and deals with the same problem that Ezra addressed about two decades earlier.  But rather than take it out on himself, he takes it out on the offenders.  Nehemiah 13:23-25 tells Nehemiah’s violent reaction.

23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves.

Why were these intermarriages such a big deal?  It is not because God does not love anyone but the Israelites.  In fact, God would use Ruth, a Moabite, to become the great grandmother of King David and ultimately an ancestor of Jesus.  The real problem was that foreigners didn’t worship the Lord and ultimately had a corrupting influence on those who did follow the Lord.  Even though nationality is the surface issue, the real issue is the love of God.  Foreigners didn’t worship the Lord while the Jews were supposed to.

Even though those guilty of intermarriage likely don’t see the corrupting influence that exists in their spouses, it is always there.  Not even Solomon, the world’s wisest man, was immune to its influence.  Nehemiah points this out in 13:26-27.

Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”

Israel was surrounded by idolatrous nations throughout its history.  Solomon was the man who constructed the magnificent temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.  But he also ended up building temples to other gods to satisfy his wives’ desires.  He was guilty of bringing idolatry into Israel or at least made it more prevalent.  And it was because of the influence of his foreign wives.

The idolatry of Israel was much of the cause of its falling.  When the southern kingdom of Judah was carried away to Babylon, God gave them what they thought they wanted.  He all but told the Israelites, “You want to worship idols, let me put you in a place where you’ll have plenty of idols.”  In Babylon, the Israelites would be so surrounded by idol worship that they would become sick of it and never fall into it again.

But that doesn’t mean that the intermarrying of Ezra and Nehemiah’s days is harmless.  There is no mention of idolatry but the men realize that the guilty Israelites have placed themselves right back on the slippery slope that Solomon originally perched them upon.  Only this time Ezra and Nehemiah know their lesson from history and they are determined to not let the people fall into the trap once again.

For this reason both Ezra and Nehemiah react strongly to the news of intermarrying and do all that they can to prevent it from taking place under their watches.  It is not the act of intermarrying that causes the problem but rather the corrupting influence that came with it.  Ezra and Nehemiah are determined to prevent the people of Israel from falling into idolatry again.

Nehemiah: rebuilding the wall

The book of Nehemiah picks up not long after the book of Ezra closes.  However, it is a generation from the beginning of the book of Ezra when the exiles were given permission to return to Jerusalem.  In 539 BC Cyrus issued a decreed that the Jews could return to their homeland and he even sent with them the remaining articles from the temple that Nebuchadnezzar had captured 70 years earlier.

Ezra records the building of the temple in Jerusalem and finally Ezra arrives in Jerusalem with a second round of exiles in 458 BC.  Ezra leads the people in spiritual reforms and instructs them in the law of God.

Nehemiah picks up a decade later.  While the temple has been rebuilt in Jerusalem, the city is still in trouble.  The walls surrounding the city are in shambles.  Word comes to Nehemiah in 1:3:

 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” 

This is more than an issue of not looking nice.  We might consider it a disgrace if the yard to our church hadn’t been mowed in weeks and one of the windows had been broken and hastily covered over with a sheet of plywood.  The walls being broken down would be similar to that but there is a very practical problem here as well.  A city without walls in these days is a defenseless city.  Basically anyone could march right in and take what they wanted.  In theory, the city had the protection of the king, but it was a five month journey to Babylon, so they were pretty much left to fend for themselves.

When Nehemiah hears the report that the city’s walls lie in ruin, he weeps.  After Nehemiah cries out to the Lord in prayer, chapter 1 closes with a matter of fact statement “I was cupbearer to the king.”  Nehemiah’s heart is broken by the state that Jerusalem is in, but God has placed him in a position to do something about it.  A cupbearer in the ancient world was not just a servant.  It was one of the most trusted positions.  The job of a cupbearer was to first drink from the king’s cup in order to make sure that it hadn’t been poisoned.  As such, he had close access to the king and had been entrusted with the king’s very life.  Nehemiah would have been in the presence of the king on a daily basis thanks to his job.

Of course being in the presence of the king regularly wasn’t without its drawbacks.  During this era, servants were not allowed to be sad around the king.  The idea behind it was quite simple – the king didn’t want to be brought down by the problems of his mere servants.  Nehemiah hid his sadness from the king until he couldn’t keep it from his face any longer.  When the king asked, Nehemiah gave him the cause of his sadness.

When King Artaxerxes responded by asking Nehemiah what he wanted in light of the circumstances that made him so sad, Nehemiah quickly said a prayer.  Nehemiah models prayer throughout the book but this prayer is his greatest in my opinion.  We aren’t told what he said and he obviously didn’t have much time to pray before responding to Artaxerxes.  This shows what it is like when one prays continually the way Paul instructs us.  It is not about the words that we say or how we say them.  Instead it is about our attitude.  Nehemiah lived in an attitude of prayer.  It was so ingrained into him that even when he only had a split second before needing to respond to the king, he still thinks to pray for success.

Even though the passage makes no mention of it, Nehemiah 2 is an important date in Biblical history.  The year is most likely 444 BC when this conversation takes place between King Artaxerxes and Nehemiah.  When he is told to go and repair the wall surrounding Jerusalem, this starts the prophetic clock ticking on Daniel’s prophecy concerning seventy sevens.  You can read much more about it on the Spreading Light Ministries page but in short, this proclamation starts the countdown until the day that Christ will be crucified.  If anyone had understood the prophecy at the time, they could have counted down to the day when Jesus would walk into Jerusalem as the Passover lamb to be crucified.

Nehemiah heads to Jerusalem and begins to survey the wall.  It is in bad shape, as he expected, and he begins to form a plan to complete the task.  The job would be difficult enough considering its magnitude but Nehemiah must also deal with opposition from some of the local people who don’t want to see the wall rebuilt.  Men by the names of Sanballat and Tobiah will do all that they can to stop Nehemiah and the Jews from rebuilding the wall.  Each time they try something, Nehemiah responds with a new plan to keep the people working.

When Sanballat and Tobiah mock the Jews, Nehemiah prays and asks that God would punish them for opposing His work.  When the enemy makes plans to lead an army against Jerusalem, Nehemiah prays and posts a 24 hour guard.  When they persist in trying to kill the workers, Nehemiah splits the people into two groups.  Half work while the other half stands guard.  They continue working from sunrise until sunset.  Four times Sanballat and Geshem attempt to lead Nehemiah away with a ruse but he refuses to leave each time by saying that the work is too important.  The enemy uses slander when they write a letter to Artaxerxes claiming that Nehemiah and the Jews planned to rebel but Nehemiah ignored it.  And finally they bring a false prophet to try to trick Nehemiah into taking refuge in the temple but Nehemiah sees through the scheme.

Despite all of the opposition, the wall is completed in an incredible time, only 52 days.  Now, it is difficult to say how big the city of Jerusalem was at this time.  I have read multiple different theories on the size and population of the city.  But no matter what size it really is, this is an incredibly significant accomplishment.  They are not building a fence around the city, they are building a wall that has to be high enough and deep enough to repel enemy forces.  If the city is relatively small at this time, as some believe, that would mean that this task is accomplished by a relatively small number of workers – perhaps only a few hundred.

No matter the size, the speed at which this task is accomplished impresses even the enemy.  Nehemiah 6:16 says:

When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.

While Nehemiah’s main task was the reconstruction of the wall around Jerusalem, like Ezra, he also enacted some social reforms.  Perhaps chief among these was his strong reaction to the intermarrying of Jew and Gentile.  While the situation caused Ezra to pull out his own hair, Nehemiah inflicts the pain on the culprits by pulling out their hair.

It also comes to light that Sanballat and Tobiah have supporters amongst the Jews which is how they knew what was going on in Jerusalem so often.  Nehemiah doesn’t respond kindly to this, including kicking one of the priests out of the temple for marrying Sanballat’s daughter.

Nehemiah’s leadership, alongside of Ezra’s, is certainly significant among the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from the exile.  Nevertheless, when one thinks of Nehemiah they will likely first think of the tremendous accomplishment that he achieved in rebuilding the wall in 52 days.  After that, they should think of him as a man of prayer who prayed in all circumstances and made it to be a regular part of his life.

Ezra: the return from exile

The book of Ezra is a relatively short book that details great joy for the Jews but also some sadness as well.  Like many things in life, it depends on one’s perspective whether the news is good or bad.  In the book of Ezra, the people are allowed return to their homeland.  However a relatively small number of them do.  Returning to Jerusalem and being allowed to rebuild the temple is a great thing for the Jews but Jerusalem and the temple don’t come close to comparing to the former glory that they had.  This is cause for sadness.

The book of Ezra opens a full generation before Ezra is actually involved with Jerusalem.  It opens in the first year of King Cyrus, the Medo-Persian king.  Ezra doesn’t appear until almost 70 years later but nevertheless he is the one who records the story and he does play a major part of the book at the end.

At the beginning of the book, the Jews are in Babylon, having been exiled there since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the temple along with it.  The prophet Jeremiah makes it clear that the Jews will spend 70 years in exile and 2 Chronicles references Jeremiah’s prophecy as well.

This gives us a bit of trouble with our dating system because we know when Jerusalem fell and we know when Cyrus allowed the Jews to return and there aren’t exactly 70 years in between.  What most likely has occurred here is that are three separate attacks on Jerusalem and three sets of deportations occurring in 605, 597 and 586 BC.

In Daniel 9, Daniel understands from reading the prophet Jeremiah that the Israelites are to be in exile for seventy years.  He then prays to God for mercy for Jerusalem and His people.  It is doubtful that Daniel believes that he will change God’s mind regarding the seventy years.  Instead it seems likely that Daniel is pleading with God to start the seventy-year countdown with the first deportation and not the last one.

Even using the first deportation in 605 BC we can’t easily reach seventy years as Cyrus’ decree occurs in 539 BC according to traditional dates.  The seventy years are important and God hasn’t shortened that length of time but it seems likely that God credits the time that the people will still be away traveling and perhaps even the time that the city was first under siege as they were essentially under another’s rule at that time.

In addition to this, years were likely counted differently with 605 BC counting as year one of exile rather than year zero the way that we count birthdays.  We must also account for the fact that the new year doesn’t start on January 1 in the Jewish calendar but rather sometime in March.  This also helps to account for the discrepancy.  Whatever the case, seventy years have passed by God’s counting as it was prophesied that the Jews would be away from their homeland as punishment for that long.

There is another important prophecy that is fulfilled in the book of Ezra.  Not only does Cyrus allow the Jews to return home at just the right time, even his existence is prophecy.  Almost 200 years before he came to power, Isaiah prophesied about Cyrus and called him by name.  Isaiah 44:24-45:25 speaks of Cyrus and what God had appointed him to do, long before Cyrus was even born.

When Cyrus issued the decree to allow the Israelites to return home he also released the articles which had been taken from the temple before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it.  While there is no temple to return them to, this at least gives the people a connection to their past and allows them to use some of the items that they have been using for centuries.

Zerubbabel leads the first group of Israelites back to Jerusalem.  Later Ezra will come with a second group and Nehemiah will come with a third.  Ezra 2 records that there are approximately 50,000 Israelites who return home to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel.  While this is a significant number, it is only a fraction of those who were in Babylon.  It is just a tiny portion of the number of Israelites who left Egypt centuries earlier when Moses led 600,000 men, not counting women and children.

Why did so many of the Jews remain in Babylon?  The simple answer is that they had a good life there.  While they were under the rule of a king who was not an Israelite, this probably didn’t bother many of them.  As long as they prospered it didn’t matter who led them.  Another very practical reason why some of them didn’t return to Jerusalem is that there was no returning for them.  In other words, they had been born and raised in Babylon and it was the only home that they knew.  Only the oldest of the Jews even remembered Jerusalem and their homeland.  For most, Babylon was home.

The exiles who did return to Jerusalem had a lot of hard work ahead of them.  They were returning to rubble.  They were going back to reoccupy homes that had been abandoned, they were starting everything from scratch.

The first task in the rebuilding was to rebuild the altar.  This is accomplished relatively quickly and sacrifices are offered on it.  Next, the foundation for the new temple was laid.  While this was a jubilant time for many, others who had seen the former temple wept.  This was undoubtedly over the feeling of loss of the temple but probably also because the new temple would not compare to Solomon’s temple.  Ezra 3:10-13 records what happens:

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:

“He is good;
    his love to Israel endures forever.”

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. 13 No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

When those around Jerusalem heard that temple was being rebuilt, they stirred up trouble in an attempt to stop construction.  They even sent a letter to King Artaxerxes who ordered the Israelites to stop building.  This opposition held up the building project for fifteen years.

The prophets Zechariah and Haggai encourage the people to resume building the temple despite the opposition from the neighboring people.  This causes the enemies of the project to write another letter to the king.

This time the letter writing backfires when things are pressed with King Darius.  He orders a search of the royal archives and discovers that Cyrus had in fact ordered that the Jews be allowed to rebuild their temple.  King Darius goes further than just reversing the halt of construction.  He orders that the entire project be paid for from the royal treasury.  He also issues a penalty of death to anyone who alters his edict, so no one dares challenge the Jews again.

After the long delay, the temple is finally completed rather quickly around 516 BC.  This is about twenty years after construction was started on it but only a few years after construction was resumed.

It is not until almost 60 years after the completion of the temple that Ezra shows up on the scene in 458 BC.  King Artaxerxes (but not the same one as before) grants Ezra permission to go to Jerusalem with a group of Jews who wish to return.  We aren’t certain because the Bible doesn’t say and historical records are unclear but Artaxerxes may have had very good motivation to do this.  It is possible that the king if half Jewish.

We know for a fact that Artaxerxes’ father was King Xerxes and we also know that Xerxes becomes married to Esther as we’re told in the book of Esther.  So while the record is not clear, it is certainly plausible that King Artaxerxes is Esther’s son.  Even if Artaxerxes is the son of another mother, he likely would have been influenced in some way by Esther and his father’s own revelation concerning the Jews.

So this sheds some light on why Ezra is instructed to go to Jerusalem to teach the people the ways of God.  Ezra is a priest and someone who is well educated.  He is instructed to not only teach the Jews in the area but all of the people are to be told about God’s ways.

Ezra comes to Jerusalem with offerings from the king.  He also comes with reforms for the new inhabitants of Jerusalem. He is greatly distressed to learn about the intermarriage that has taken place and deals with it swiftly.

Ultimately, even though the book of Ezra bears his name and he makes an appearance in it, much of the action takes place before his time.  The temple is rebuilt by the time Ezra arrives but he faithfully records the story of its construction and the obstacles that were overcome in order to accomplish this task.

The Fall of Judah

In 931 BC the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms as was foretold during the reign of Solomon.  Ten tribes left under the reign of Jeroboam to form the northern kingdom or what is referred to as the kingdom of Israel (not to be confused with the nation of Israel).  The tribe of Judah remained loyal to the throne of David and Rehoboam.  The twelfth tribe is practically unaccounted for in scripture at times as there are times when the split is clearly defined as ten tribes to the north and the remaining tribe to the south.  Nevertheless, the tribe of Benjamin does remain allied with Judah.  Judah is clearly the more significant tribe however as King David and all of the kings of the southern kingdom will come from Judah.  The southern kingdom is referred to as the kingdom of Judah.

From the time of the split until the time that the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, the kingdom of Israel was dominated by evil kings.  The kingdom of Judah on the other hand had a mix of good and bad kings.

The northern kingdom is also marked by turmoil as several kings are assassinated or otherwise meet untimely deaths.  There are multiple families who control the throne in the northern kingdom including 5 “dynasties” that have at least one son follow in his father’s footsteps.  The southern kingdom has much more stability as the line of David controls the throne the whole time.  Stability is also found in the number of kings.  The northern kingdom had nineteen kings while the southern kingdom had only twenty.  This is despite the fact that the kingdom of Judah continues on for almost another 150 years after the destruction of the northern kingdom.  Longer average reigns obviously brings about additional stability.

If one were to rate the kings of Judah as simply good or bad, bad would win out but not by a strong margin.  There are eight kings who could be considered mostly good to very good: Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah.  Hezekiah is the best among these kings.  The average of their reigns is 33 years each.

On the other hand, there are twelve kings who might be considered mostly bad to downright wicked.  Manasseh is the worst of these men and Athaliah, the only woman to reign in Judah is also among the wicked.  Their average reign is only about ten years each but it is worth noting that Manasseh reigns for 55 years which is longer than any other king in Judah or Israel.  Despite being the most wicked king, Manasseh is humbled by the Lord and led into captivity in Babylon.  There he repents of his wickedness and God restores him to the throne.

Even though the southern kingdom didn’t get off to a great start under Rehoboam who was the cause of split of the nation of Israel, things start to go downhill around the time of the fall of the northern kingdom.  There were plenty of bad kings before this time and two of Judah’s best kings reign after this but 722 BC is probably a good place to start if one is telling a narrative of the fall of the southern kingdom.

Hezekiah is the best king of Judah and he is probably second only to David in all of Israelite history.  However, it is during the sixth year of his reign that the northern kingdom falls.  Assyria will then place pressure upon Judah for the life of the empire, only to cease when Babylon comes to power.

Hezekiah is a righteous king and he does away with the idols that have appeared in Judah.  Likewise, he does not bow to pressure from Assyria.  God strikes the armies of Sennacherib dead overnight, killing 185,000 who were ready to attack Jerusalem.  Nevertheless, Hezekiah does have a flaw.

The prophet Isaiah comes to Hezekiah and tells him to get his household in order because he is going to die.  Hezekiah prays and God grants him another fifteen years to live.  During this time Manasseh is born to Hezekiah.  Judah’s best king will be succeeded by Judah’s worst.

Likewise, after Hezekiah’s life has been extended, envoys from Babylon come to visit him.  In his pride Hezekiah shows them all of the wealth that he has accumulated.  Isaiah returns once again to inform Hezekiah that all of the wealth that he boasted of would one day belong to the Babylonians.  This is not a direct punishment because of Hezekiah’s pride however and Hezekiah does repent of this.  Nevertheless, it is a warning that the Babylonians would come and that all of Hezekiah’s boasting was foolish and worthless.

Manasseh largely undid all that his father Hezekiah did.  He built new altars and high places to idols and did all kinds of things that were detestable to the Lord.  Even though he reigned in Judah for fifty five years, there isn’t much recorded about him aside from his wicked idolatry.  God chose to humble Manasseh however.  He was carried into captivity in Babylon where he repented of his wickedness.  This should have served as a warning to the rest of the kingdom that Babylon was powerful and that God could and would use them to accomplish his will.  Even though Manasseh learned his lesson and tore down the idols that he had constructed, the damage was already done.

Manasseh’s son Amon was wicked like he was and he continued the practice of sacrificing to idols.  He was assassinated after only two years on the throne and Josiah was made king.

Josiah is the second youngest king of Judah, coming to power when he was only eight years old.  His reign represents one final opportunity for the kingdom to repent.  Even though disaster had already been prophesied, undoubtedly God would have postponed it for a while longer if Judah learned from Josiah.

Josiah is a righteous king and he begins to seek after the Lord at the age of sixteen.  At the age of twenty he destroyed the idolatry in the land and cleansed the temple like Hezekiah had before him.  While the temple was being cleansed, the book of the law was discovered and read.  Upon hearing it and realizing how wickedly the kingdom had acted, Josiah tore his robes.

Josiah inquired of the Lord as to what was to happen to the kingdom because of its wickedness.  God’s response is recorded in 2 Chronicles 34:23-28:

23 She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me,24 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people—all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. 25 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all that their hands have made, my anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.’ 26 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 27 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. 28 Now I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here.’”

Judah would be punished for its sin as the kingdom of Israel already had.  Nevertheless because Josiah acted humbly toward God, the disaster would not happen in his lifetime.

Disaster would come shortly after the days of Josiah however.  The remaining kings of Judah were all bad.  Josiah dies in 608 BC and the Babylonians would be on the doorstep of Jerusalem by 605 BC.  Jehoiakim is king when Babylon first attacked in 605 BC.  There would be three waves of attacks and deportations.  In the first wave some of the royal family is deported to Babylon.  Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (their names that they are given in Babylon since few word recognize their Hebrew names) are among those who are carried off in the first wave.

In 597 BC Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem and carried Jehoiakim off in bronze shackles.  Jehoiachin succeeds him to the throne but lasts only three months.  Nebuchadnezzar installs Zedekiah as the last king of Israel.  He is essentially a puppet king who is allowed to reign under the thumb of Nebuchadnezzar.  Even so, he rebels and the Babylonians come back to Jerusalem again in 586 BC.  This time there is no escape as the remaining inhabitants, all aside from a few poor people left to tend the vineyards and farmland, are carried off to Babylon.  The temple is set on fire, the walls are broken down, and Jerusalem is no more.

The city of Jerusalem would lay desolate for seventy years until King Cyrus of Persia permitted the people of Judah – Jews as they had become known in Babylon – to return to the land.  2 Chronicles 36:21 tells us why the land was left empty for seventy years.

The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.

The people of Israel would remain under the rule of another even after they were allowed to return to their land.  It won’t be until 1948 that the Israelites become a nation again and have their own sovereign leader.

Hezekiah: the second greatest king

Unlike the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom of Judah had a mix of good and bad kings.  Obviously some were better than others but there is one who stands out from the rest in both his righteousness and even his historical significance.  That king is King Hezekiah.

2 Kings 18 tells us that Hezekiah came to the throne in the third year of King Hoshea of the northern kingdom.  Usually these markers mean little aside to historians who are trying to line up the reigns of the northern and southern kingdoms and see how they fit in with the other kings of the region.  This time it is quite significant though as Hoshea is the last king of Israel.  Hekekiah becomes king of Judah six years before the northern kingdom would be wiped out by the Assyrians.

As we shouldn’t believe in coincidences when it comes to God, it shouldn’t be considered a coincidence that Judah’s strongest king sits upon the throne at the time of its greatest need.  2 Kings 18:5-7 puts Hezekiah’s greatness in context:

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.

Hezekiah’s strength comes from his faith in the Lord.  In addition to serving the Lord, he also tore down the Asherah poles and destroyed the places of idol worship in the land.  We are even told that the bronze serpent that Moses had been instructed to make to heal the Israelites in the desert was still around 700 years after it was used.  It was called the Nehushtan at this time and the people were burning incense to it so Hezekiah had it destroyed.  Hezekiah saw that something that was a beautiful piece of Israel’s history had become a stumbling block to them and he knew that it was his duty to honor God first rather than history.

Hezekiah’s greatest adversary was Sennacherib, king of Assyria.  While he laid siege to the cities of Judah and threatened Jerusalem, God protected the city.  The Assyrians boasted how none of the other gods were able to stand against them but God responded to Hezekiah’s prayers.  2 Kings 19 records a prophecy of Isaiah that speaks of Sennacherib’s downfall.  That very night the angel of the Lord went through the Assyrian camp and quietly struck down 185,000 troops.  Sennacherib returned home and was murdered by his sons as he worshipped in the temple of his god.

The turning point in Hezekiah’s life happens sometime after God’s victory over the Assyrians.  Hezekiah becomes ill and Isaiah the prophet is sent to him to instruct him to get his house in order because he is going to die.  Hezekiah pleads with the Lord and God gives him another 15 years to live.  As a sign, the sun moves backwards so that the shadow on the stairway of Ahaz went back ten steps.

As with David, even though Hezekiah loved the Lord, he is not without fault.  Hezekiah’s pride gets the best of him as he accomplished much and gained great wealth.  After Hezekiah had recovered from his illness, he received envoys from Babylon.  It is worth noting that Assyria is the major power in the world in Hezekiah’s day and Babylon is hardly worthy of note.  Ordinarily envoys from a distant place that is not a world superpower would hardly be worth recording and it probably happened many other times without record.

Hezekiah shows the envoys from Babylon all of the great wealth that he has accumulated.  It is obvious that this is an attempt to impress his visitors and not a display of God’s greatness and His blessing upon the king and kingdom.  Because of this, Isaiah is sent to Hezekiah with another message.

Hezekiah is told that there will come a day when all of the treasures that he just boasted about would be carried off by the very Babylonians that he just boasted to.  In addition to this, some of his very descendents will be carried off to serve as eunuchs for the king of Babylon.

Hezekiah’s reaction to this news appears out of place and perhaps it is an indication of his pride at this time or perhaps he just isn’t thinking properly.  He takes this bad news of the future desolation of Jerusalem and his descendants as good news.  He sees it as a sign that harm will not fall on him and his kingdom during his reign.  While this would be true, it is obviously missing the point.

Despite this confusing act by Hezekiah, he does realize the errors of his ways and repents of his sin.  2 Chronicles 32:26 records: Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah.

During the extra 15 years that Hezekiah was given his son Manasseh was born.  This might be considered a mixed blessing as Manasseh was probably the most evil king that Judah had.  Manasseh reconstructed the idols and high places that Hezekiah had destroyed and led the people deeper into idolatry.  Manasseh essentially undid everything that his father Hezekiah had done.   Then the Lord humbled him and had him deported.  Once Manasseh cried out to God and repented God returned him to Jerusalem and the throne.

Hezekiah’s life had far more good points than bad points.  Like his ancestor David, he followed the Lord and sought repentance for his shortcomings.  He brought about revival among the Israelites that had not been seen since the time of David.  That is his greatest legacy for the kingdom of Judah.

The fall of Israel

The northern kingdom of Israel started with a lot of promise but it was never realized.  Before Solomon’s death Jeroboam was told that the nation of Israel would split and that he would rule ten tribes.  God also promised that if Jeroboam followed the Lord, He would make his family line into an everlasting dynasty.

Unfortunately for Jeroboam that promise was a conditional one.  Soon after the nation split, Jeroboam sets up golden calves in Bethel and Dan.  He hopes that the people will decide to worship in these locations rather than travel to the temple in Jerusalem where he fears he will lose his people and his kingship.  This is all it takes to ruin Jeroboam’s kingship and God promises to destroy his family line.

The northern kingdom is full of wickedness and wicked leaders.  There isn’t a good one in the approximately 200 year history of the kingdom.  There are 19 kings who rule the kingdom of Israel although a few of these are short lived.  Zimri reigns for only seven days before being killed by Omri, the next king.  Zechariah lasts six months on the throne before he is killed by Shallum.  Shallum only survives one month before he is assassinated by Menahem.

Turmoil is the best word to describe the reigns of the kings of the northern kingdom.  Of the nineteen men who ruled, eight were assassinated.  Another two died in battle or from other accidents.  The last king to rule the kingdom of Israel was imprisoned by the Assyrians and ultimately deported.  All in all, this leaves less than half of the kings of the northern kingdom who died natural deaths.

There are five dynasties to rule the kingdom of Israel.  By dynasties in this case I mean kings who had at least one son succeed him as king.  These dynasties all end however, often with the entire household wiped out so that there would be no one who could even lay claim to the kingship through succession.  This is indeed what happens to Jeroboam’s line as foretold through Ahijah that every male in his household would be cut off – that means they would be killed.

Even though none of the kings of the northern kingdom are good, one tends to stand out above the rest in his wickedness.  That king is King Ahab who is possibly surpassed in his wickedness by his wife Jezebel.  Ahab greatly expanded the idolatry in an already idolatrous kingdom.  Jezebel is said to have 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah eat from her table.

The prophet Elijah confronts and defeats the prophets of Baal in an epic showdown which takes place on top of Mount Carmel.  All 450 prophets of Baal are slaughtered and this sends Jezebel into a rage as she calls for Elijah’s death.

1 Kings 21 is quite an enlightening passage that shows the character of both Ahab and Jezebel.  When Naboth is unwilling to sell his vineyard to the king he goes home sullen and angry.  Jezebel begins to plot and scheme in order to obtain the vineyard.  She has scoundrels give false testimony concerning Naboth and he is stoned to death so Ahab can take possession of the vineyard.

Elijah is called to speak to King Ahab and pronounces judgment upon him.  Disaster would fall upon him and his family for their sins.  Just like Jeroboam’s and Baasha’s families before him, his family would be completely destroyed with not a male left.

1 Kings 21:25-26 records the extent of King Ahab’s wickedness:

(There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife.  He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)

Nevertheless Ahab actually takes God’s pronouncement of punishment seriously and responds humbly.  It is unclear from scripture whether this is true repentance – in other words, whether we might bump into King Ahab in heaven someday – but God responds favorably to Ahab’s change and obviously God isn’t fooled by just an outward show.  All that God had told Elijah to proclaim will still come true but God decides not to bring disaster upon Ahab’s family during his lifetime.

Ahab was killed in battle while in his chariot.  They washed the blood from his chariot in Samaria where the dogs licked it up as was foretold.  Jezebel later meets a similarly gruesome fate as she is thrown from a window and her body is trampled by horses.

Although there were no righteous kings of the northern kingdom, we might say that Jehu was the least evil.  He was anointed by God to become king and he was dedicated to the task of fulfilling the prophecy against Ahab’s family.  He succeeded in destroying the family line of Ahab as well as personally killing his predecessor Joram.

King Jehu was also responsible for slaughtering the prophets of Baal and destroying the temple of Baal.  His undoing was the same as Jeroboam however.  He didn’t turn away from the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.  But because he had carried out the will of the Lord in the destruction of the line of Ahab and destroyed Baal worship in Israel, God blessed his line to the fourth generation so that Jehu’s lineage is the longest lasting among the northern kings.

The end of the northern kingdom starts to draw near during the reign of Menahem.  During this time the Assyrians are rising to power and gaining influence.  King Pul of Assyria invaded Israel and Menahem paid a tribute of a thousand talents of silver in order to keep Assyria away.

Things really unravel during the reign of Pekah.  It is then that Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria, came and attacked and took several cities of Israel.  Pekah is assassinated by Hoshea who is the last king of Israel.  Much of Hoshea’s reign is spent under the service of King Shalmanesar of Assyria.  He paid tribute to Assyria until he was caught trying to seek the aid of Egypt.  Then Assyria came and laid siege to the city of Samaria and eventually it fell after three years.

In the year 722 BC the northern kingdom is destroyed and lost forever.  The kingdom of Judah would continue on for almost another 150 years but the northern ten tribes of Israel would be wiped out and lost forever.

2 Kings 17 records the downfall of the kingdom of Israel and the reason for it was quite simple.  The people did not worship the Lord but instead had turned to idols.  They did detestable things in the eyes of the Lord.

While 2 Kings records that some of the Israelites were deported to Assyria, something else happened as well.  The city of Samaria was resettled.  People from all over Assyria came into the land and settled there.  They brought with them their own culture and their own gods.  While the people acknowledged the Lord, they also worshipped other idols as well.

In addition to this intermixing of culture and religion, the people became intermixed as well.  The people from all over intermarried with the people of Israel.  They soon lost their national identity as Israelites and their tribal affiliations were lost as well.  The ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom became known as the lost tribes of Israel.

This intermarrying led to a group of people who were half Israelite and half Assyrian or otherwise Gentile.  700 years later this people group still existed in Jesus’ day and was known as the Samaritans.  The Samaritans were despised by the true Israelites because they were looked upon as half-breeds, containing only a part of Israelite blood.  This was all a result of the northern kingdom falling to the Assyrians.